Friday, February 15, 2008

Arlen Specter and Spygate, again:

Arlen Specter finally had his big meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. [Inquirer] Things didn't go too well it seems, both of them came out of the meeting with totally different accounts of what happened. At an impromptu press conference after the meeting, Goodell said he hoped the Senator understood "the facts better now." According to Goodell, he told Specter that Bill Belichick claimed he didn't know it was illegal to use the tapes while the game was in progress. That, apparently, was good enough for Goodell. (Don't you wish Goodell was the cop who pulled you over for speeding and all you had to say was you didn't know the speed limit?) Specter, later on, after rushing off to the Judiciary Committee to cast his vote for torture, said that he didn't actually understand the facts better now.

He still wants to know why the League punished the Patriots five days before they even received the tapes or any documentation on the incident involving the Jets and then swiftly destroyed said evidence. At his press conference, after his vote for torture, Specter laughed, according to the Inquirer, when told of Goodell's explanation that the NFL didn't have a vault to store the tapes. Specter, a former Philly prosecutor, said, "If there's an admission of guilt, you always protect the evidence."

Goodell says the Spygate case is closed, unless new evidence is produced (which they'll doubtless destroy as soon as they get it.) When asked whether there would be any further investigation Goodell replied, "We're not following up, the Senator is."

I hope he does, because one of the juicy tidbits that came out of the meeting was that Bellichick had been taping other teams since 2000 and Patriot employees had been thrown out of games in Detroit and Green Bay in 2006. (If you see one roach, that means there's a thousand behind the wall.) Specter, as advertised, asked Goodell if there was any evidence the Patriots taped the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, and Goodell said there wasn't (though, if there was he would have destroyed it!). Specter was skeptical saying that "They had played earlier in the preseason, so the opportunity [for cheating] was present. But Commissioner Goodell said there wasn't." Specter added, that information obtained by his office indicated information taken from taping could be transmitted to the QBs helmet during games. Well, duh!

I don't get the point Specter was trying to make about the preseason meeting. What barring at all would that have on the Super Bowl? Teams don't show anything in preseason, they use standard plays anyone could figure out.

In any event, the issue of former Patriot's employee and film buff Matt Walsh came up and Specter urged the League to give him immunity from possible criminal prosecution to tell all he knows. (Man, the Republicans are all about immunity these days!) There is no indication Goodell is going to go along with that, according to this latest Inquirer article.

As mentioned above, Specter had to cut the meeting short to run over to the Senate to vote to against a bill that would ban all "enhanced" interrogation techniques employed by the CIA and limit such techniques to those authorized in the Army Field Manual. The bill passed 51-45, despite Specter's and John McCain's best efforts. Here's a weird one, McCain, the victim of much torture, said there was no contradiction in his vote. "We always supported the CIA to use extra measures. I believe waterboarding is illegal and should be banned." What the hell does that mean? Are we sure McCain's elevator still goes to the top floor? That sounds just loopy.

Extra note:

Although, the article I'm quoting from is taken form the NYT news wire (the Inquirer fired most of their news staff and can't report their own stories anymore), the editors apparently stuck this little bit into the piece: "All Philadelphia-based senators voted for it, except for Arlen Specter, who voted no."

All Philadelphia-based senators? There's only one from Philly and that's Specter, and Pennsylvania, like most states only has two senators, so what the hell does that mean? This kind of crack reporting is what we're now paying $.75 for?

I fought the law and Ma Bell won:

The last I heard W. and Cheney were on their way down to Congress to rough up the House a little over their reluctance to rubber stamp their domestic spying program. The Senate did their bit by voting to protect the telecoms, but the rabble in the House is proving to be a little more difficult. Nona Pelosi & Co. are balking at giving the phone companies a pass for letting the unitary executive sift through every phone call every American made for five years or so without any legal authority. [WaPo] Cheney, obviously, is there to provide the muscle and W. is there to play on the fears of the House members that they'll be accused of helping the terrorists by refusing to let W. spy on whoever he wants, whenever he wants, no strings attached.

W. is panicking everybody by saying that if the temporary spying law expires this weekend; the government won't be able to spy on the people they need to be spying on. As Suzanne Spaulding, a security expert with 20 years in the government, pointed out on ATC last evening, the government already has the authority granted by the FISA court to continue the wiretaps they currently have and if something else pressing comes along, they can go back to he FISA court. I mean, it's not like the judges on the FISA bench are exactly liberal "activists" or anything. This isn't the national security crisis W. and Cheney are painting it as.

What's really behind all this fearmongering is money. Lots of money the telecoms are going to lose if Congress doesn’t let Ma Bell off the hook for robbing the 7-11. W. got a little hot under the collar yesterday and warned that if the House didn't give the telecoms retroactive protection from lawsuits for breaking the law, "They won't participate, they won't help us." Some how I'm having a little problem with that line of thinking. If the US government actually has a legitimate concern about a particular phone they need to listen in on, then they can go to the FISA court and get a warrant. The issue here is that the phone companies allowed the NSA to suck up every single phone call made in the US for years and years without asking the government what legal authority they had to do it.

In the future, perhaps after losing a few billion dollars in lawsuits, they'll get the idea that they can't break the law and get away with it. You know that old Bobby Fuller song "I fought the law?" Well if W. and them get their way the new lyrics will be: "I fought the law and I won!"

The Summer War redux; this time in the spring?

Well it looks like Israel is gearing up to go another round with Hezbollah and possibly Hamas, too. Ehud Barack, Israel’s defense minister, recently threatened to eliminate Hamas in Gaza and on Wednesday the Mossad apparently tied up a loose end from the Summer War with Hezbollah in 2006. The senior Hezbollah commander, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in downtown Damascus by a car-bomb, near an Iranian school and a Syrian intelligence office, according to the WaPo. Naturally, Israel denied any involvement, but they deny they have the bomb, too, so that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

Mughniyeh was reportedly in charge of the very successful effort to defend southern Lebanon during the Summer War, so it would seem that Israel intended to get such a talented opponent out of the way before resuming the war, this time, of course, getting it right. As always in these matters, who knows for sure what is going on, but the fact that they decided to go after this guy now -- a person who has been on Israel's and the United States' target list since the 80's -- is a bit of odd timing unless you consider; that Israel has really had it with Hamas in Gaza; the political situation in Lebanon is in complete chaos; they're not buying the latest US NIE that Iran has stopped it nuclear weapons program; and Ehud Olmert hasn't got a leg to stand on in preventing the IDF from starting another war if they want to.

Sure a war right now would pretty much blow W.'s and Olmert's Annapolis peace initiative out of the water and dash W.'s hopes for his dream of a legacy in that regard, but the IDF never lets domestic or foreign political considerations get in the way when it comes to defending what it thinks is Israel’s national security interests. Maybe, W. has an inking of this, that's why he's got his PR flaks talking up his anti-AIDS legacy in Africa these days.

Certainly, knocking off such a celebrated Hezbollah hero is guaranteed to elicit a violent response from Hezbollah. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, dutifully playing along, is now talking all out war. The WaPo reports that Nasrallah issued a video accusing Israel of striking outside of the "traditional battlefield" and promised a borderless war against Israel, which can only mean attacks on Israeli targets anywhere in the world. Nasrallah, says, "You have crossed the borders. Zionists, if you want this type of open war, then let it be, and let the whole world hear: We, like other people, have a sacred right to defend ourselves, and everything we can do to defend ourselves, we will do."

Obviously, neither side is content to just use Lebanon as their cannon fodder this time around. And when the inevitable retaliation by Hezbollah occurs -"The big . . . question arising from the killing in Damascus is not whether Hezbollah will respond, but how and when," Israeli columnist Yossi Melman, writes [AP] -- where ever it occurs, Israel will surely respond in kind and round and round we go, where it stops nobody knows.

I'm assuming both sides are thinking this is a good time to get their war on; it’s almost springtime, the traditional season for murder and mayhem. Iran is probably content to get its dire economic situation at home out of the political debate with parliamentary elections coming up and Israel probably figures the US media's fixation with the battle between Hillary and Barack will keep most American's attention off the IDF's characteristically disproportionate response upon the civilian populations of both Gaza and Lebanon. And if the US elections don't do the trick, there's always Pakistan's coming disintegration to focus the mind.

Something tells me W.'s presidency is really going to go out with bang this year: A war in Lebanon could easily spill over into Iraq, which is right next door to Iran -- expect Muqtada al-Sadr to end his ceasefire if things get hairy for Hezbollah -- which is right next door to Afghanistan, which is right next door to Pakistan. And while that's all going on, maybe China decides to take care of their little Taiwan problem, or the new premier of Russia, Vlad the Impaler Putin, figures this is the right moment in history to regain some respect for the Russian Bear in Kosovo. At the best of times, this administration has never been able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Let's see W. & Co. do both plus juggle of bunch of knives and ride a unicycle on a banana peel.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oh, what the hell, nail the Patriots anyway:

So, maybe Arlen's protestations of his own integrity are slightly suspect and he's wasting our time and tax money pursuing this non-issue, but wouldn't it feel good to see Bill Belichick have to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee? I mean, how the mighty have fallen! Here's is a guy who was regarded as a coaching genius, the architect of potentially one of the greatest NFL teams in history, now mired in a cheating controversy.

His reputation and the reputation of the Patriots franchise is on the line and it doesn't help their case any that Belches and his arrogant, pretty-boy QB Tom Brady have turned out to be such classless jerks. What NFL coach runs off the field of a Super Bowl before time has even run out? Did he run over to Tom Coughlin and shake his hand? No, he made a beeline for the head ref to chew him out about some bad call or some other perceived slight. Very classy. (And that red flag he through for that 12-men on the field call was a real class act, too, btw.)

I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that the Patriots are the most hated team in the league these days. You know, as a Dolphins fan, I've never really had any animosity towards the Patriots one way or the other. I know their fans hate us for all the years of domination, but that's their problem. No, ask any Dolphins fan and they will tell you all our hate is reserved solely for lowly, stinking, Gang Green.

At one point, I even kind of respected what the Patsies were doing, but the way they went out in the Super Bowl is a real disgrace to every team that's ever made it to the ultimate game. Come to think of it, even before they got to the big game, they were running up the scores on teams and not making any pretense that they thought that they were good enough to go undefeated. And that fake "clock play" they pulled on us in Miami (which didn't work) -- trying to catch us like Dan Marino famously caught the Jets back in the glory years -- was a real slap in the face. The Miami Dolphins aren't just any other team, most teams in the league respect that, but not the Patriots and that's why they're no class assholes.

Just keep in mind Patriots fans, we may still be a few years away -- what with having to reconstruct the entire team from scratch -- but we do play you all twice a year and we're not going to forget. Kicking a team when they're down is bad enough, but don't do it to a team in your own division! If you have to run it up do it to the Cardinals, they're used to it, but the Miami Dolphins? Pay back is a bitch and we're going to get ours! One other thing I'd like to point out before I wrap this tirade up; the difference between teams like the Dolphins, the Steelers, Dallas, the Giants, or even (gag) the Raiders, and upstarts like the Patriots or the Bangles, teams that have spent most of their existence in the league sucking, is that these storied franchises are the flagships of the league. They're the teams people who love the game of football associate with greatness and glory; the very best of the NFL.

All those games in a row the Patriots won, all 18, mean absolutely nothing without winning the big one, something fans of all the greatest teams know. Brady & Co. talked a lot of smack and strutted around the league like they were God's gift and then choked when it really came down to it. The New York Giants obviously wanted it more. There will be no talk of the greatest team ever, no undefeated season; nothing, zero, zilch.

There's only one undefeated team and you're never going to take that away or share it with us. Greatest Team Ever! In 1973, an even better Miami Dolphins team than the one that went undefeated the year before, destroyed the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl VIII.

As NFL films announcer and Philadelphia King of Television News John Facenda put it: "Minnesota had been decisively defeated, but it was more a result of Miami Dolphin brilliance than their own failure. Minnesota had simply met the irresistible force and had been crushed by it. Defensive end Carl Eller summed it up best when he said:

'I have never seen a more dominating team than the Miami Dolphins. All afternoon I had the feeling the outcome had already been determined from on high before we even took the field. It seemed I could hear Scottish bagpipes keeping time as they came after us wave after wave, gaining ground so easily they seemed to be floating in suspended animation. It was a weird, surreal scene as if we were on the sidelines watching our own struggle powerless to do anything about it. After a while it became obvious they could not be stopped.'"

Put that in your musket and smoke it Boston!

Spygate: Arlen Specter style:

Meanwhile, Arlen Specter, the honorable Senator from Pennsylvania who always talks a good game about standing up to his administration's egregious violations of the law and our cherished constitutional protections -- yet in the end always goes along with them -- has got his panties all in a twist about something really important: Investigating the NFL and especially the New England Patriots for spying on other teams.

Not only had the NFL destroyed the all the evidence about the Patriots' video taping of the New York Jets' defensive hand signals during the first game of the season, it also emerged a few days before Super Sunday that an employee of the Patriots had video taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough in 2004, the day before the underdog Patriots beat them in the Super Bowl.

On Feb. 5 the Inquirer published an interview with Specter and reported that he was talking tough.

"Specter said his continuing interest in Spygate came not from being an unabashed Eagles fan [Ha!], but from his concern that the Patriots' actions may have violated federal law -- specifically, laws that make the stealing of 'trade secrets' a violation subject to penalties of up to $5 million for corporations, $500,000 for individuals, and prison terms of up to ten years under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996."

I don't know about you but that sounds pretty serious; Specter said, though, "I'm being very careful not to overplay the matter." Oh, parish the thought! Just because he also likened Spygate to Baseball's Chicago Black Sox scandal at the beginning of the last century, one shouldn't get the impression he's going a little overboard with the whole thing.

"When you deal with the integrity of sports," Senator "Magic Bullet" says, "you're dealing with something that's very, very important." Uh huh. Also again, not to say he's a homer for the Eagles or anything, but he says "I think it's something that Philadelphians have a lot of interest in."

The Daily News Attytood blog caught this gem on a local radio talk show:

"Were the Eagles cheated out of a Super Bowl victory? That's the first question Sen. Arlen Specter hopes to be asking the NFL today, he stated unequivocally this morning on WIP radio (610 AM).

"Absolutely, that's going to be my lead question, Angelo," he said to sports-talk host Angelo Cataldi."


I'm sure there are a great many fans around the country, not just Eagles' fans, who are now concerned about Bill Belichick's famed halftime "adjustments" and the effect video taping the opposing teams plays might have had on the outcome of a lot of close games. Hell, I'm sure there are bookies out there as well thinking about it, too. I don't know, however, if it's as important as letting the phone companies retroactively get away with letting W. vacuum up billions of Americans' phone calls for three years or so.

This all couldn't have anything to do with Specter receiving some $358,483 from Blank Rome, the cable industry's lobbying firm, or the $153,600 he got from Comcast since 1989, could it? [] It is a bit of strange timing that the cable companies just happen to be fighting it out in the courts with the NFL over their crappy NFL channel at the moment.

All purely coincidental, I'm sure: Specter says, "I'd have to go back and see how much a percentage it is of the $23 million I've raised over the years. . . It's a fraction of 1 percent and has nothing to do with what I'm doing here."

Inquiring minds want to know Arlen.

Old Spygate: Hillary takes a powder. Bush wins, again!

The WaPo reports:

"The Senate yesterday approved a sweeping measure that would expand the government's clandestine surveillance powers, delivering a key victory to the White House by approving immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with intelligence agencies in domestic spying after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
On a 68 to 29 vote, the Senate approved the reauthorization of a law that would give the government greater powers to eavesdrop in terrorism and intelligence cases without obtaining warrants from a secret court."

That's great, real profile in courage you 17 Democrats who caved on this! Wasn't there some sort of election in 2006 that was going to put a stop to this whole running-roughshod-over-the-Constitution thing? After all, what they're basically saying by giving the telecoms immunity is that it's OK to break the law. Moreover it's OK to break a law they wouldn't have even found out was actually being broken if it hadn't been for the NYT letting the cat out of the bag in 2005. (In the end, Sirs, have you no shame?)

Back in July, just before all of official Washington headed off for their August vacations and then onto elections in November, W. used the "T" word to cow skittish Dems into knuckling under once again. After being called out by their constituents for being the craven cowards they were for capitulating to W. the Dems in the House and Senate vowed to come back and review the law and made a lot of brave sounds about stopping the president from spying without a warrant and holding the phone companies to account, but it was all apparently a big show. 'Oh we're scared of a presidential veto; we'd better just shut up do what we're told.

Nice of Hillary to show up for such an important vote! Oh what, she didn't.

In the House there's a lot less interest in accommodating a lame duck president with approval ratings slightly higher than painful dental surgery. John Conyers on the House Judiciary Committee says his colleagues won't go along with the Senate bill, so we can only hope that all hope is not lost, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nineveh in November.

Remember when Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack spent a few days in Iraq last summer and came back with the news that the Iraq war could be won after all? Back then they wrote of their trip to Northern Iraq and commented on all the progress going on there:

"We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside."

Yes, the Iraqis sure stepped up to the plate. Mosul is now considered one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq. Supossedly, according to Nuri al-Maliki and his US "parteners" the city is where AQI has decided to make their last stand. (Where have we heard that before?) I think Fallujah was the place they made their last stand a couple of times a while back.

In any case, news of the war over there being pretty much over, is being greatly exaggerated. The media might be absolutly and unalterably transfixed with Obama, Hillary and John, but American soldiers are still fighting and dying in Iraq. In Diyala province, in Baghdad and in Mosul.

Last night on ATC Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported on her visit to Mosul and the 3rd Platoon, 3rd Squadron of the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment who are getting blown up and shot up at an almost pre-surge rate. On one Sunday this past week she reports: "U.S. forces were hit with eight IEDs, eight rocket-propelled grenade and shooting attacks and the car bombing. It was considered a light day. "

In the case of Mosul, the tactic used in Baghdad and al-Anbar of buying off the insurgents and turning them into "concerned citizens" [CLCs] isn't going to work in Mosul. There are too many ethnic groups that would be vying for the money and weapons.

From Navarro's report:

"'No single tribe wields that kind of power in Mosul,' says Maj. John Oliver, the operations officer for the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. 'The city is too fractured, too disparate, for any one group of people to really wield that much authority.' Oliver says Mosul is a fairly well-integrated multi-ethnic city with Christians, Shia, Yazidis, Kurds and Sunni Arabs. 'So all we would get if we tried to arm CLCs . . . in Mosul is you'd empower one group versus another, and you'd probably make the problem worse rather than better,' he says. Instead, commanders say, the 1,400 U.S. soldiers in the city are being bolstered by 9,000 Iraqi army troops, many of them Kurds, who are expected to do most of the work of securing the city."

Right, leaving it to the the Peshmerga will work, unless that is, they suddenly decide to pack up and head north to where the Turks are still straffing and bombing Kurish villages on the border. The Kurds aren't exactly pure as the driven snow in Mosul. The Kurdish authorities in the autonomous region have their eyes some territory in the northern parts of Nineveh and Diyala province which they'd like to annex. Over the past few years, as well, the Sunni insurgents have been chasing Kurds out of Mosul in order to ethincally cleanse the city for the Sunnis.

A NYT article back in May of last year (at this blog) quoted the province's deputy governor, Kasro Goran, saying "I compare the Sunni Arabs to the Bosnian Serbs: Their behavior, their way of thinking, their way of acting. They are for killings, they are for mass graves. Not all of them, but a majority of them . . . We can kill every day 50 Arabs in the streets. Every day, everywhere, in Mosul and outside of Mosul. But we don't so that, because we know they want us to do that."

Well, now is their chance. I

Frankly, I don't think the US knows what the hell to do about Mosul and Nineveh. Due to the Sunnis sitting out the elections in 2005, the Kurds now hold on to a disporportunate amount of power, which all the other ethnic groups resent, so the best thing to do now is turn over the fight to the Kurd's militia the Pashmerga?

Loose thinking like that could threaten to upset Pax Patraeus right in time for the November elections. Now wouldn't that be a kick in the pants for John McCain?
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