Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Thinking about Bush's Excessive Powers

Through some odd circumstances, I've met a number of writers in my life. I've noticed that some of the most elegant, precise and finicky writers tend to be conservative and, for some reason I've never been able figure out, most of them wear bow ties and have little concept of what's going on outside their tiny universe. Poets can even be more finicky about their language. I once saw a poet autograph a book by first scribbling a half dozen corrections the owner of the book probably would have been happy to do without.

I'm glad there are writers, both conservative and liberal, who have managed to tame the various gremlins of blogging. They are a model for the rest of us. But I'm less concerned about models than I am about people with something to say. Kmilyun of Bifurcate in The Road has a post that's worth thinking about:

We are sacrificing our privacy and freedoms for the cause of National Security while our President demands extraordinary powers (see post here) The legal protections that are essential to our democratic society; due process, presumption of innocence and rights against unreasonable search and seizure, arbitrary detention and punishment, interception of personal communications without warrant are being ignored. (example link to for each) Infrastructures for strategic mass surveillance and dissemination of propaganda are in place to support governmental agendas. (See Govt. pdf docs: Information Operations Roadmap, Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures)

InfraGuard is Federal Bureau of Investigation program “that began in the Cleveland Field Office in 1996. It was a local effort to gain support from the information technology industry and academia for the FBI’s investigative efforts in the cyber arena. The program expanded to other FBI Field Offices, and in 1998 the FBI assigned national program responsibility for InfraGuard to the former National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and to the Cyber Division in 2003. InfraGard and the FBI have developed a relationship of trust and credibility in the exchange of information concerning various terrorism, intelligence, criminal, and security matters.” Info Businesses are surrendering their databases to government agencies. Among them are commercial airlines, Universities, driving schools, Double Click, and Choice Point.
There are more links in the post that are definitely worth checking.

Gonzales: More to NSA Spying

Many careful observers of the Bush administration have felt there is a great deal more to the NSA spying scandal than anyone has admitted so far. One of the better observers, Laura Rozen of War and Piece, begins a post with the question: "What else is there?" You can almost see Ms. Rozen raising her eyebrow when she read the following two paragraphs in the Washington Post:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales appeared to suggest yesterday that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance operations may extend beyond the outlines that the president acknowledged in mid-December.

In a letter yesterday to senators in which he asked to clarify his Feb. 6 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales also seemed to imply that the administration's original legal justification for the program was not as clear-cut as he indicated three weeks ago.
I could be wrong about what Gonzales is trying to tell the Senate, but this sounds like legalese for: uh, er, there's a few things we didn't tell you. The American people have a right to know what Bush is doing in their name. Or what he's hiding.

I suppose we can expect more struggles on this issue even within the Bush administration as those who believe they're above the law battle with those who wish to honor the oath they made to uphold the law and the US Constitution.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Republican Comments

I spent several years on the AOL Message Boards. I made an effort to be one of the calmer voices but sometimes I was truly stunned by the kind of thoughtless comments that were made, mostly from the right (I wish I could say the left was free of thoughtless comments but that wouldn't be true). One of the more common phrases that was used on the right was, "Nuke 'em!"; it seemed a particularly pointless phrase that poisoned many discussions (unfortunately there are signs that our president is thinking seriously about those words). I still don't quite understand what it was all about. Some of the more outrageous comments probably came from adolescents who found their way to the boards. But the rest?

Accidental Blogger has a list of some of the more thoughtless comments made by prominent Republicans which, on one level, are tamer than the ones I saw on the AOL boards. I have no doubt the list could be considerably longer. Here's three that were listed:
Bob Dornan (Rep. R-CA)
"Don't use the word 'gay' unless it's an acronym for 'Got Aids Yet?"

George Bush Sr. (President of the United States)
"I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

Jerry Falwell
"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."
Accidental Blogger uses Stephanie Miller as a source. Miller doesn't source her quotes but she has a radio show which suggests the quotes have probably been researched. Given comments made by Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter in recent months, the comments above seem about par for right wing conservatives these days. I have to admit Bush Sr.'s comment surprised me; I had the impression he was more tolerant than his son. It's hard to say anything about the other comments. Most religions of the world, including Christianity, are based not on self-righteousness, but on the idea of love and compassion; there are many in the world, both here and abroad, who appear to have not gotten the message.

Others are saying it so I'll say it too: we have a lot of work to do. I, for one, don't have a whole lot of answers, except to keep speaking the truth as best I can.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Majority of Americans Oppose Dubai Deal

The Rasmussian Poll notes that only 17% of Americans approve of the Dubai port deal:
From a political perspective, President Bush's national security credentials have clearly been tarnished due to the outcry over this issue. For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

It is important to note that the question about trust on national security issues was asked first, before any mention was made of the Dubai Ports issue.

The preference for the opposition party is small, but the fact that Democrats are even competitive on the national security front is startling.
When it comes to national security, a failing presidency is not reassuring.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on the Dubai Deal

Even if all our ports were controlled by American corporations, it's clear not enough has been to assure a reasonable level of security. Only 2-5% of containers entering our country are even checked. On 9/11, the terrorists exploited a weakness in the way we handle hijacking (despite warnings to our government that terrorists might turn aircraft into weapons). If the terrorists ever do get a nuclear device (not an easy thing to do but devastating if they succeeded in doing so), they will be looking for weaknesses in our port security. It seems to me that the owners of the Dubai corporation that will take over our ports could be thoroughly professional and honest but that doesn't obviate the fact that the security of our ports would be more exposed, not less exposed by the deal. The fact that many of the port documents and details about the ports will be in Dubai rather than on American soil is not reassuring.

American Pundit has an interesting observation on Bush's less than reassuring words:
President Bush threatened to veto Republican Congressional leaders' attempts to slow down or stop the sale saying, "I can understand why some in Congress have raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a result of this transaction, but they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully."

Huh? Last time I checked our Constitution, Congress was an integral part of "our government". "Our government," as well as the American public have some legitimate national security concerns about this deal. President Bush needs to address those concerns by making the vetting process more transparent.
'Our government' is usually the kind of phrase a president uses when talking to other nations, not when talking to Congress, particularly since Congress also has the constitutional right and obligation to look carefully at issues like this. I'm not going to criticize Bush every time he makes one of his famous verbal gaffes but given the way that he unilaterally bypasses Congress and the fact that his administration has made a long series of blunders and misjudgments, maybe it's time for Bush to be a little less arrogant and to listen to Congress.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blog Learning Curve

I was growing curious as to why Cold Flute wasn't receiving comments. Ahhhh, a friend pointed out, maybe you have the moderate comments function enabled. Better check.

Yep. That was it. There were five comments waiting to be posted.

Comments are now open. And particular apologies to panopticonman and S.W. Anderson of Oh!pinion for letting their fine comments wait in limbo for so long!

John Edwards Speaks on Unions

When's the last time Bush has done anything for the working man? Or the working woman? Or for families where both parents are working to make ends meet? Guest blogger David Breeden writes on John Edwards over at Donkey Path:
My father, who cast his first vote for Franklin Roosevelt and has stood by the party through thick and thin since, said in the last election, “I wish that Kerry would get out of the way and let Edwards run.” My father has a sixth-grade education and I have a PhD, so I explained to him about Kerry’s experience and such. Now I think I was the one who needed the education. My father, who was born in a two-room shack and spent forty years in a labor union, heard something I did not: John Edwards can speak to the old, laboring, Democratic base.

Who cares about labor? It appears that John Edwards does. He is currently barnstorming the nation in support of Unite Here, a union representing service-sector employees such as people working in hotels, foodservice, and textile manufacturing. Why should anyone but a bleeding-heart labor radical like me care about them? Well, partly because eighty percent of North Americans work in the service sector. Partly because one in four US workers makes less than $8.70 an hour. This is a national disgrace. It is also an opportunity to remake the Democratic Party.
I don't know who I'm going to support in 2008 but John Edwards is definitely worth a look. Read the whole post; despite Karl Rove's self-serving comments, things are happening among the Democrats.

Is Bush Serious about Homeland Security?

Some believe the NSA spying scandal has a smell that has nothing to do with catching terrorists though it is obviously important to have intelligence on terrorists who are a real threat to the US. Bush appears to be playing the terrorism card to avoid potentially embarrassing investigations.

In general, it's been noted by many people that Bush uses terrorism to score political points and that he isn't shy about using the fear factor to improve his numbers and to do things behind the scenes that other presidents would not be able to get away with. It's also been noted that on a number of fronts Bush has not done nearly enough to improve homeland security. The lack of security at our ports have been a major issue since 9/11. Now we find that a company owned by Arabs will be take over several of our ports. I'm all for improved relations in the Middle East but I'm not willing to hand over our national security to an Arab country. Both Republicans and Democrats are calling for the deal to be cancelled. Here's an article from the BBC:
US President George W Bush says he will veto any law blocking a deal giving an Arab company control of six US ports.

The threat came as Bill Frist, leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, said he would move a blocking law if the government did not delay the deal.

The deal would put six of the largest ports in the hands of Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates.

Some lawmakers say the US will be more vulnerable to terrorism but officials say safeguards are in place.

The ports are currently run by British ports and shipping firm P&O, which has agreed a $6.8bn (£3.9bn) takeover by DP World.

The other ports are Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami.

President Bush called on opponents to explain why they opposed a Middle Eastern firm taking over when they did not oppose a British company being in control.

"I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, 'We'll treat you fairly'," he said.
Bush never fails to amaze us. Treating people fairly is not something Bush is known for. It would be more plausible to assume that some favors here are involved.

The Sad Tale of Iraq

Adam of Logic Tells Us has some thoughtful observations on Iraq which he summarizes in his last paragraph:
Irony has a dastardly way of reverberating through history, especially in Iraq. It was genocide against the Shi'ites that helped cause Saddam to be removed from power. It has been mass murder (pardon my French, "collateral damage") and torture by the US that has removed him from power, and now the Sunnis are feeling the effects of their own wicked medicine: mass murder and torture. A cynic might say that it seems fair, an eye for an eye as the Babylonians contended, but that's what got us here in the first place.
Given the complexity of Iraq, framing these things is not easy but Adam makes an excellent point: at great cost, Bush has managed to replace one group of thugs with another group of thugs. And the damages keep rising.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Right Wingers Fear Al Gore

The right wing attacks on Gore have been increasing of late. One of their key themes is that he's irrelevant which seems an odd theme to pursue if he is irrelevant. No, it's not too difficult to understand what's going on. Al Gore speaks the truth about the current administration and that makes the White House nervous just as Joe Wilson's truthful comments about the false claims by the administration that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from Niger led to odd meltdown by the vice president and Scooter Libby. I'm not going to link to right wing commentary. Simply type in Al Gore on Google and readers will find what I mean; his recent speech in Saudi Arabia obviously struck a nerve with the lunatic fringe. Here's a brief summary of the speech as reported by ABC News:
Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment.

Gore said Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and held in "unforgivable" conditions. The former vice president said the Bush administration was playing into al-Qaida's hands by routinely blocking Saudi visa applications.

"The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake," Gore said during the Jiddah Economic Forum. "The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States."

Gore told the largely Saudi audience, many of them educated at U.S. universities, that Arabs in the United States had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."

"Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it's wrong," Gore said. "I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."
Right wing commentators have been criticizing Al Gore for even showing up at the economic conference. Now that's strange since Tony Blair's wife also spoke at the same conference. If anyone deserved criticism, it was Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron:
Also at the forum, the vice chairman of Chevron Corp., Peter Robertson, said President Bush's desire to cut U.S. dependence on Mideast oil shows a "misunderstanding" of global energy supply and the critical role of Saudi Arabia.

In his State of the Union address this month, Bush pledged to cut U.S. dependence on Middle East oil by 75 percent by 2025.

"This notion of being energy independent is completely unreasonable," Robertson said at the economic forum, which opened Saturday.
Given Chevron's record profits, Mr. Robertson comments are not exactly unbiased nor in the best interests of the United States.

By the way, Gore also criticized Iran and called on Arab nations to take a stand against Iran's nuclear program. In a time when we need cooler heads to deal with the Middle East and Iran, it seems to me that Gore is one of those more reasonable voices we've been looking for. But the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party seems to have an itch to start WWIII with Iran for reasons that are not in the best interests of the United States. If Americans don't want another pointless war, they need to make their voices heard.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Libertarians and Corporations

Lean Left links to an interesting post by Doctor Biobrain (maybe the blogosphere should work on slightly better names!). Anyway, 'Doctor Biobrain' has an interesting post on libertarians but what caught my attention were the comments on corporations:
But those who call themselves “libertarians”, particularly of the Republican variety, aren’t in agreement with that. More often than not, they’re mainly in support of business rights. In particular, Big Business. And here’s the thing: More often than not, individual rights are in direct conflict with business rights. I’m not at all sure how libertarians haven’t figured that one out, but it’s so obvious as to be ridiculous. And because Big Business is nothing but a collection of individuals, the libertarian position is often that of granting special rights to certain individuals, over the rights of other individuals; with the distinguishing factor being whether the individual is acting on their own behalf, versus that of their business. And when stated like that, it’s obviously a big absurdity. These libertarians believe that some people have more liberty than other people.
Or that there is one set of rules for the wealthy and another set of rules for the rest of us. I have no real problem with the concept of corporations but it seems to me that when corporations forget their responsibilities to workers, consumers, their neighbors and even the government, we have a problem. In a democracy, corporations exist at the discretion of the people and when things are working the way they should, corporations are held accountable by the people.

In our early history, all the rights and limited liabilities of corporations were given if it was clear a corporation provided something for the common good such as transportation canals and the manufacture of goods that helped our young country maintain its independence. We are, as a nation, flirting with a situation where corporations are being allowed to be more powerful than the government or the electorate. That is not a good thing. If it was important to limit the powers of King George III, it is also important to limit the powers of Chairman George.

We need better laws to protect the American people from corporate thugs. I have no problem with honest corporations, but making it easier for the next Enron to hide its irresponsible behavior, which is basically what the current Republicans in Congress seem to specialize in, is not the way to go. Keep in mind that Republicans are still blocking an investigation of where all the reconstruction money went in Iraq that was paid to our corporations. And Republicans are still letting corporations write legislation that isn't in the best interest of all of us.

Diebold Voting Machines in California

Why is it that the most controversial decisions in government just happen to come out on Fridays? And why is that Republicans are in love with Diebold voting machines? Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has the latest on Diebold machines in California:
In one of those moves that make you wonder how much Diebold has contributed to his campaign for election this fall, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, who was appointed to the job by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good government Republican after Democrat Kevin Shelley made enough ethical mistakes to warrant his departure, waited until late Friday to announce that he was letting Diebold back into the state for this year’s elections. This came after McPherson had earlier bounced Diebold equipment because of security lapses in other states, and after he had sent the issue to the federal government for Diebold to demonstrate its compliance with the security provisions of the Help America Vote Act.
I've worked on election boards with honest Republicans. It simply is not difficult to count ballots and to do it right and agree on results. Back in the days when we did hand counts, generally only about one or two ballots out of a hundred would be rejected, usually for a double vote. Optical scanning is not free of potential abuse but if people are committed to honest elections, it's very simple to verify that the electronic scanning of card ballots is accurate by doing random hand counts of those ballots. I have no faith in Diebold computer voting whatsoever. The entire computer and electronic sector is having security problems and I have seen nothing that makes me believe the Diebold machines come close to passing security issues.

The issue for 2006 is basic and simple: a return to a government that is reasonably transparent and honest.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

In The Era of Truthiness

David R. Mark of Jabbs has a post on truthiness:
If you haven't heard of truthiness, it's defined as: "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true."

Sound familiar? Perhaps because truthiness is so rampant in the spin the Bush Administration and its cohorts in the conservative media feed us daily. Maybe that's why truthiness was selected by the American Dialect Society as the word of the year for 2005.

Here's how Colbert, satirizing Bill O'Reilly, describes it:

COLBERT: And that brings us to tonight's word: Truthiness.

Now I'm sure some of the word-police, the "wordanistas" over at Websters, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word!" Well, anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen.

Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I want to say it happened in 1941, that's my right.

I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats or Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.
The rest of the Colbert quote in Mark's post is pretty funny.

Truthiness reminds me of a debate more than twenty years ago among writers. There was one group of writers who said what matters is what's true. Another group of writers said what matters is what sounds good. For my taste, the second group was too often easy to see through when I read their work. But actually this is a complicated issue.

The best writers always use the heart and mind but they try to stick to the truth as they know it.

Plausible myths are one of the big dangers our society faces at the moment. Cultures need their mythologies but they need to make those mythologies real in a humane sense. A classic example in American culture would be the concept of democracy. Democracy is sort of a myth but most Americans, particularly moderates and liberals, want to make it real.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cheney Political Cartoon

J Macdonald, resident blogger and cartoonist of Macdonald's Animal Farm has a great cartoon that pretty much sums up the vice president:
No president or vice president have ever had more creative excuses than Bush and Cheney; I'm sure we'll see more as these two incompetents continue their reckless run.

Another Conservative Criticizes Bush

Max of Max Speak notes that conservative and former Reagan administration figure Bruce Bartlett has written a book, Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the American Legacy. Mr. Barlett, despite being having considerable credentials as an economist and conservative was apparently fired from his think tank job for writing the book. Max has a few choice words to add about the current Republican environment:

You look at the clowns warming seats at all the well-oiled conservative think tanks in town and consider that there is no place for Bruce. Which leads us to 3M, the MaxSpeak Meme of the Millenium:

The Republican Party has utterly rubbished its principles for the sake of political power, and the intellectual standing of its apologists has descended to the level of sea slugs.
There are still principled Republicans around. It's just that far too few of them are in office or in a position to have influence. I suspect that Karl Rove, Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich, just to name a few, have seen to that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Abu Ghraib Revisited

Still more pictures are surfacing concerning the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Raw Story has a set that seems more bloody than some of the others I recall. Jeanne of Body and Soul has made a point to stay on top of these stories and provide useful information. This is a dismal story because it is obvious much more went on, and not just at Abu Ghraib. And there's still far too little accountability for a system that not only tolerated torture but that makes absolutely no sense.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Grumbling by Friends of Man Shot by Cheney

Even Republican friends of Whittington are skeptical of Cheny's account and the spin coming out of the White; here's the story from Slate (as found in Firedoglake, 2nd story):
When the quail flush, hunters are surrounded by panicked birds. Each hunter is supposed to fire forward, but in the adrenalin spike of the flush, it is easy to lose your bearings. That is why it's good practice for someone who is not shooting to be in charge of the hunt. The hunters are supposed to maintain a horizontal line as they move forward, but this is easier than it sounds in rough country. When someone falls behind—someone, for instance, like Harry Whittington—the person in charge calls a halt until the line forms up again. Whittington, as we know, dropped back to pick up a bird. This happens all the time in quail hunting; the question is, why did the other two hunters keep going? Perhaps, veteran quail hunters are speculating, no one was in charge on the Armstrong Ranch, leaving the three hunters in Dick Cheney's party on their own...


Whose fault was it? If there is anything that Harry's friends at the Vaughn Building are angry about, it is not the shooting itself but the attempt by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to place the blame on the victim. It's the shooter's duty to know what he is shooting at and where his companions are. A shooting accident is always the fault of the shooter. Always.
I consider it entirely possible that when Whittington recovers, he will fall on his sword and accept the blame for the accident. In no way will that excuse Dick Cheney from his obligation to accept responsibility for his act. Why is it so hard for the gentlemen in Washington to admit when they have made a stupid mistake?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

World Opinion after 9/11 and Now

Kevin Hayden of The American Street reminds us of how it was after 9/11 and how it is now:
Remembering 9-11 is easy, but do you remember 9-12 through 11-9?
— Iran’s Ayatollah Imami Kashani spoke of a catastrophic act of terrorism which could only be condemned by all Muslims, adding the whole world should mobilise against terrorism. [link, to the next three paragraphs, as well]

— In Iran, Tehran’s main soccer stadium observed an unprecedented minute’s silence in sympathy with the victims.

— The US Consul General in Jerusalem reported that he has received a huge stack of faxes from Palestinians and Palestinian organizations expressing condolences, grief and solidarity. He himself was pained to see that the media chose to focus on the sensational images of a few Palestinians rejoicing.

— The terrorist act was strongly condemned by every single Palestinian organization including Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas, Workers Unions and Committees, Human Right organizations (AlHaq, Law, Palestine Center for Human Rights), student associations, municipalities, mosques and churches, etc.

— Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, supreme jurist-ruler of Iran: “Killing of people, in any place and with any kind of weapons, including atomic bombs, long-range missiles, biological or chemical weopons, passenger or war planes, carried out by any organization, country or individuals is condemned. … It makes no difference whether such massacres happen in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Qana, Sabra, Shatila, Deir Yassin, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or in New York and Washington.”

— President Muhammad Khatami of Iran: “[T]he September 11 terrorist blasts in America can only be the job of a group that have voluntarily severed their own ears and tongues, so that the only language with which they could communicate would be destroying and spreading death.”

— Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), prominent British Muslim: “I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: the Qur’an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims at this sorrowful moment.”
It's important to remember that this is just a sampling. The list of those who expressed their sympathies is much longer. The opportunity to build better relations with any number of nations was great at that time. Very quickly, the Bush administration was able to gain cooperation with dealing with terrorists. But by January, Bush had thrown away the opportunity for better relations. Iran and Iraq, who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks were declared members of the axis of evil (North Korea was on that list as well and was the only nation at the time with a serious nuclear program; Bush's clumsy and arrogant policies have still not resolved various issues with North Korea). Bush has failed to take advantage of any number of opportunities to improve our nation's security and the general temper of the times through diplomacy. Even relations with Russia, China and India are not as good as they were six years ago. And Europe and the rest of the world are bewildered by what is happening in Washington.

I would like to add a personal note about Kevin Hayden's post. Four years ago, I would have been bothered by some minor rhetorical flourishes that Mr. Hayden uses in the second half of his post. By the standards of 2006, those flourishes are mild and certainly nothing compared to the rhetorical excesses of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson and any number of other right wing pundits who manage to get air time in the media. When Rep. Jack Murtha was essentially called a coward on the floor of the House of Representatives, we obviously had to take that as a sign of further deterioration of what passes for political discourse in this era. I have to catch my own excesses at times. It's not easy. This is a serious time and it requires thoughtful language to reach those in a position to save our democracy. I think of people like Larry Wilkerson and Scott Ritter, both Republicans who have serious reservations about what is happening in a Republican-controlled Washington. There are even strange allies like Bob Barr when it comes to condemning the spying on Americans by the NSA. No doubt we need humane humorists, cartoonists and satirists to relieve some of the tension. But the real work is rousing America to the dangers that exist not overseas but in Washington, D.C. itself.

Bush's NSA Legal Bamboozlement Campaign

It's unfortunate that spin, stonewalling, coverup, arrogance and outright lies are a few terms that come to mind when looking at Bush's efforts to defend his NSA program(s?) that allow spying on Americans. But we also shouldn't overlook the multiple interpretations being used to try and justify the spying. As each legal argument begins to crumble, someone jumps into the breach and comes up with yet another legal argument to defend Bush's policies. One wonders if any of these defenders have any idea what the NSA is actually doing? I'm inclined to doubt it.

I can't pretend to keep up with all the legal ins and outs and resent trying to since it doesn't require rocket science to know a lot of right-wing flim flam is going on. I do know we have a president who neglects any number of issues when it comes to homeland security. I do know that Bush's policies are rarely as straight forward as they need to be for Americans to trust those policies. The Anonymous Liberal is following some of these issues closely and seems to suspect that even afterwards at least some of the people who have worked for Bush don't believe in the integrity of the arguments:
The Bush administration has so far refused to turn over its internal legal memos justifying its controversial warrantless surveillance program. The New York Times has reported, however, that there are two key opinions: one written in late 2001 by the infamous John Yoo, and the other in 2004 by the then head of the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith. As I explained in some detail in a previous post, I strongly suspect that the original Yoo memo relied almost exclusively on a robust reading of Article II, or as Professor Jack Balkin calls it, "Yoo's Article II on steriods theory." This is a purely constitutional argument, and a radical one at that. I suspect that the more recent memo, written by Goldsmith, more closely mirrors the Administration's current arguments and relies predominantly on a broad reading the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as providing statutory authority for bypassing FISA.
I remember back in 2002 when Bush signed into law a corporate reform bill that came as a result of all the nonsense going on at corporations like Enron. After Bush signed the reform into law, he immediately issued some executive orders watering down the laws. As one example, he made it more difficult for corporate whistleblowers to receive legal protection. This is not a president on the side of the American people.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Social Security Blues

Last year, when Bush was trying to peddle his plan to have Social Security give less by pretending his plan would give more, I took a look at the current version of Social Security. It wasn't a comprehensive look but I was surprised at how ungenerous Social Security can be in some situations.

For example, a lot of people's bodies start giving out in their early sixties but Social Security only partly addresses the issue. Yes, you can retire at 62 on a lower monthly amount than if you retired at 65 or 67, but if you can work part-time, there are penalties for doing so above $12,000 a year. The penalties are lifted at age 65 which doesn't do much good for someone who doesn't quite qualify for disability but who counted on the extra income in the last years of fulltime employment and is unable to work fulltime.

Another issue is that I'm not sure Social Security truly keeps up with real inflation as opposed to what the government says the rate of inflation is. In California, for example, if you retire on say $1800 a month, your rent and utilities have a good chance of being at least half that amount.

S.W. Anderson of Oh!pinion writes a post on more games that Bush is playing with social security:
How perfectly, quintessentially Bush. The president’s 2007 budget includes a provision to eliminate the meager $255 Social Security benefit paid to a surviving spouse on the death of their mate.

No crumb of provenance is too small for this self-proclaimed “compassionate conservative” to sweep off the tables of his fellow Americans, especially those who work for modest income.

I believe the minimum payment for burying or cremating a relative is something like a $1000 in California. Bush should be tripling the death benefit, not eliminating it.

It's been clear for some time that Bush is no conservative. He's simply a reactionary who would have felt comfortable in the Gilded Age of the 1890s.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Right of the Public to Know

At Truthout, Larry C. Johnson has a very fine post about the Valerie Plame case and a ruling by Judge Tatel. Johnson also makes a distinction between the NSA spying leak to the press and the leaking of Valerie Plame's name that nails the issue involved (the typo correction is mine):
Tatel's incisive opinion makes [it] clear that he understands the difference between someone who leaks information designed to hurt U.S. intelligence assets, as happened in Valerie's case, and someone who leaks information about government malfeasance, as happened with the leak to James Risen that the Bush administration was spying on Americans. The key issue for Tatel was "harm" to the United States versus the public's right to know.

American Pundit Reviews Al Franken Book

I have to admit that I'm sometimes a little leery of political books by celebrities. I stopped reading one of Michael Moore's books because he kept getting too creative with his material. Now most of what Moore writes is on the mark but I'm old-fashioned and like my commentary straight up. But Michael Moore reaches people the rest of us can only dream of reaching so in the end I'm for him. When I listen to Al Franken on Air America, I have quibbles but at at the end of the day I'm for him as well.

If I'm old-fashioned and like my commentary within throwing distance of agreed-upon facts, readers can imagine how I respond these days to book written by people like Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly: I'm usually cross-eyed by the second page. It was only about sixteen years ago, before the Limbaugh era, that conservative writers made an effort to work with the facts that were part of the known universe; usually the only differences revolved around what those facts meant. A long time ago, George Will was consistently that kind of writer.

Things have obviously changed. It now takes humorists, muckrakers, satirists, lyrical writers and even plodders like myself to get the message out to America that everything is not well with the things the Bush/DeLay machine are doing in our names. American Pundit has a review on Al Franken's latest book, The Truth. Wow, now there's a refreshing concept. Here's an excerpt from the American Pundit review:
Al Franken's humor is hit or miss for me. Sometimes he's rolling-on-the-floor funny, but much of the time he falls flat. Luckily, his latest book is heavy on the truth and wickedly dry on the humor. This one's a hit.

Franken dissects the "fear, smears and queers" strategy that gave President Bush 50.73% of the vote in 2004. I'd never heard of Terror Management Theory before, but the Bush campaign really has the fear mongering down.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Continuing New Orleans Ordeal

President Bush stood there in Jackson Square promising to rebuild New Orleans. Karl Rove was very proud of how he set up that photo opportunity for his boss. It was a dramatic setting. Words were spoken that other presidents would have been proud to speak. And yet... And yet.... Our president, the Commander-in-chief, the leader of the free world, seems to make many promises that he does not keep.

Jeanne of Body and Soul notes a Reuters article that the mayor is seeking foreign aid:
NEW ORLEANS, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city. Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.
We can spend over $200 billion giving democracy to Iraq but we can't rebuild an American city on a reasonable time scale? As Jeanne notes: "Okay, this is humiliating." Humiliating or not, something is very wrong in our nation's capital.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More on Journalism

There's a major debate going on and not many Americans know it. It's about journalism in general, and the debate is sometimes about the effect blogs are having on journalism. For a post on the first part, here's Atrios of Eschaton:
The Roundtable

The weekly political "journalist" roundtables have long been one of my major media pet peeves. You get two versions of them. The first version is the Washington Week in Review version which is all "objective" journalists who come on to discuss the issues of the week. Who are constrained by their positions to be "objective and balanced" and cannot really express opinions. Except they are there to express opinions. So the only opinions they can express are those things which are "conventional wisdom." Which is usually just the coalesced Gang of 500/The Note talking points. Which are heavily influenced by the conventional wisdom production machine of cable news talk shows. Which all skew conservative.
Be sure to see the rest.

The truth is, there's not much to recommend what passes for "conventional wisdom" these days.

Investigative Reporting

Josh Marshall reminds us once again why bloggers have a use when it comes to the right of Americans to be informed. Keep in mind that the internet and blogging enable us to go back and forth holding the politicians and the media accountable. One of Talking Points Memo new writers, Paul Kiel, quotes the San Diego Union Tribune, a conservative but honest newspaper that doesn't mind going after stories other news outlets ignore. Here's part of Paul's post from Talking Points Memo:
Wilkes convinced Doolittle with $85,000 (from himself, his employees, his lobbyists) in contributions over three years. In return, PerfectWave won Doolittle’s support for $37M in earmarked appropriations. In a Washington Post story on this last week, Doolittle responded with a statement that "he frequently supports 'well deserving projects throughout the state.'" And "his support of PerfectWave Technology ‘was no exception and based completely on the project's merits and the written support of the military.'"

Now, forget for the moment about the "project’s [alleged] merits" (see the Daily Muck for more on that) – let's focus in for a moment on Doolittle's claim about "written support of the military."

The Post apparently just took Doolittle's word for it. In any case, they didn’t follow up on his claim about having written support from the military. But the San Diego Union-Tribune did.
The Bush, DeLay, Rumsfeld, Cunningham, Rove crowd are good at technical statements that turn out to be lies on close examination. Written support that comes more than two years after funding for a military project does not qualify as legitimate at the time the decision was made.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

More Memos from the British

Once again, more memos from the British reveal the extent to which Bush was pushing for war in Iraq. Here 's the latest from Think Progress:

The Independent confirms a report by the Guardian on a newly-revealed British memo. The memo claims that Bush made the decision to attack Iraq two months prior to the war. Furthermore, the memo states that Bush was thinking about baiting Iraq into a breach of UN resolutions by “flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colors.”

This most-recent memo is just the latest in a series of official British government documents that have revealed shocking information about how Bush misled the nation into Iraq (see the original Downing Street Memo and the British Briefing Papers revealed previously by ThinkProgress).

There are two things all these memos share in common: 1) none of the memos’ validity has been disputed, and 2) the U.S. media has been slow to cover every single one of them. In fact, while reputable British papers such as the Guardian, the Independent, and the Financial Times have already reported on the most recent memo, no American newspaper has.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Trouble with Quotes

I happen to be fond of quotes and have used them over at Donkey Path. I was looking for a good quote the other day from Roosevelt and I stumbled on a quote that didn't feel right.

The quote was in the 2003 edition of And I Quote (by Applewhite, Evans and Frothingham). The book is divided into sub-sections with such names as: accountability, religion, government and dozens of others. In one of the sub-sections called 'liberals' is a quote from Franklin Roosevelt that goes:

"...one who has both feet planted firmly in the air..."

That seemed an odd quote to me and I wondered if it might have been from early in FDR's career because it was later obvious that he was proud to be a liberal. It turns out to be a misquote. And given the ellipses at the front and back of the quote, I should have been suspicious that the quote was not entirely in context. Nor does the book give the source for its quotations though I would expect such a book to be reliable.

I found what I believe to be a more reliable quote in The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations by Tony Augarde (1991) which does give sources for its quote. Here's the full quote from the Oxford book:
I am reminded of four definitions: A Radical is a man with both feet firmly planted—in the air. A Conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward. A Reactionary is a somnambulist walking backwards. A Liberal is a man who uses his legs and his hands at the behest—at the command—of his head." (from radio address, 1939)
Now that's the FDR I recognize.

I have no idea what the story is about the first quote. It's not only taken out of context, it's also slightly altered. I have no idea if the authors had an agenda when they made the error. Maybe one of them went to a country club and heard a speech using the misquoted version; maybe the event was a worthwhile charity for wayward billionaires. But the quote should have been checked. And the authors should have realized the quote was inconsistent with FDR.