Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Sad Case of Senator John McCain

Just as the nation is beginning to realize that we cannot trust George W. Bush and that the Republican leadership in Congress could care less about the average American, Senator McCain continues to go in deep with every group of Republicans Americans find themselves turning away from. McCain is even having trouble noticing the failures of his party and the growing number of scandals. If McCain is still a Republican maverick, he has a funny way of showing it. Jonathan Singer of Mydd has the story:
When I called John McCain "the quintessential cynical politician who will do anything to win an election" and Paul Krugman made a similar charge earlier this month, no doubt there were more than a few Beltway types who were shocked -- shocked -- that anyone would call into question their coronation of the Arizona Senator. After all, everyone knows that John McCain is a maverick who doesn't care about partisan politics, who subverts his own ambition to do what's right, right?

Just as McCain's embrace of President Bush in 2004 and his coddling of Jerry Falwell in recent months has begun to open up the eyes of the American people -- his lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton in a head-to-head matchup has been halved in recent months -- an interesting article by David D. Kirkpatrick in today's issue of The New York Times offers further proof of McCain's willingness to sell out his purported beliefs and, indeed, the American people in order to advance his ambitions.
Senator McCain's perceived honesty and independence is the only thing that ever made him interesting. But since his endorsement of Bush in 2004, he's been playing catch up with the current Republican style of doing business. It hasn't been a pretty sight to watch.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Is Bush Still a Regular Guy?

The biggest fiction about Bush is that he's just a regular guy. Most Americans do not come from a line of wealthy politicians, have Saudi princes for friends and have money thrown at them by friends of their fathers. Bush's public relations handlers have been somewhat successful at creating an illusion but there have been incidents that leave no doubt that Bush is thin-skinned. And it was in evidence again Saturday night. Here's an excerpt from the Editor & Publisher:
A blistering comedy “tribute” to President Bush by Comedy Central’s faux talk show host Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner Saturday night left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close.

Earlier, the president had delivered his talk to the 2700 attendees, including many celebrities and top officials, with the help of a Bush impersonator.

Colbert, who spoke in the guise of his talk show character, who ostensibly supports the president strongly, urged the Bush to ignore his low approval ratings, saying they were based on reality, “and reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

He attacked those in the press who claim that the shake-up at the White House was merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “This administration is soaring, not sinking,” he said. “They are re-arranging the deck chairs--on the Hindenburg.”

Colbert told Bush he could end the problem of protests by retired generals by refusing to let them retire.
Bush may be a disaster as a president but comedians are appreciating all the help he's giving them. I'm sure Colbert was just trying to thank him.

Former Bush Official May Plead the Fifth

It's Amazing. Even though Republicans control the courts, the Congress and the White House, they still manage to get themselves into legal trouble. The New York Times has the story:
Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the former commissioner of food and drugs, is under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury over accusations of financial improprieties and false statements to Congress, his lawyer said Friday.

The lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, would not discuss the accusations further. In a court hearing held by telephone on Thursday, she told a federal magistrate that she would instruct Dr. Crawford to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination if ordered to answer questions this week about his actions as head of the Food and Drug Administration, according to a transcript of the hearing.


Dr. Crawford resigned in September, fewer than three months after the Senate confirmed him. He said then that it was time for someone else to lead the agency.

The next month, financial disclosure forms released by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2004 either Dr. Crawford or his wife, Catherine, had sold shares in companies regulated by the agency when he was its deputy commissioner and acting commissioner. He has since joined a Washington lobbying firm, Policy Directions Inc.

Crawford had the gall to become a lobbyist as well. Now here's a question. If Bush officials are simply going to invoke the Fifth Amendment, why do Congressional Republicans worry so much about swearing some of these people in when they come before committees?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Anti-war Poem for Cheney

A number of hawks in the Bush administration have never served in the military. Except for the sixth and seventh lines, the following poem by British poet Siegfried Sassoon makes me think of Vice President Dick Cheney:

Base Details

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I'd live with scarlet majors at the base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honor. "Poor young chap,"
I'd say—"I used to know his father well:
Yes, we've lost heavily in the last scrap."
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die—in bed.

—Siegfried Sassoon (1918)


Bush Waffles on Energy

Last January, Bush said America needs to do something about its addiction to oil. He changed his mind the next day. Several times in the last week, he again has said we need to do something. And then he does nothing. Somebody should do a good post on all the times Bush has contradicted himself on energy, oil, global warming and the environment. The Decider-in-Chief can't make up his mind what his facts and energy policy are.

The volatility in the energy markets is probably here to stay awhile but even if it isn't it's years past the time we should be doing something about it. But first, we better start talking realistically about what's going on. Different people have different ideas out there and it's worth hearing what they have to say. Here's the Energy Bullentin with a speech by Bill Clinton, the last president who actually knew how to make FEMA effective:
...The second thing that I would like to talk briefly about is global warming. I believe that it is the only existential threat that, those of you who are students here, your generation faces. It could literally undermine your ability to raise your children and grandchildren. A whole spade of new books and studies have come out in the last couple of months, and I will just cite two or three. A dig through the ice pac in Antarctica, deeper than any before it had achieved has enabled us to measure the pattern of climate warming in the last two hundred years. The climate is warming more rapidly than anytime in the last two hundred thousand years. Homosapiens stood up on the planes of the savannah in East Africa somewhere between 130,000-150,000 years ago. This goes back before the time when our species was on the planet. The last ice age receded 15,000 years ago that allowed people to move across the globe. They were five civilizations on earth five thousands years ago. We are playing with serious fire.

The Indians and Chinese are in this huge fight now to see who can get the most oil. We may be at a point of peak oil production. You may see $100 a barrel oil in the next two or three years, but what still is driving this globalization is the idea that is you cannot possibly get rich, stay rich and get richer if you don’t release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That was true in the industrial era; it is simply factually not true. What is true is that the old energy economy is well organized, financed and connected politically. The new energy economy is underfinanced, under organized, entrepreneurial and in need of the type of research and development work that we routinely did when we were trying to sequence the human genome or go into space. But just with existing technologies for conservation and clean energy, we can more than meet the Kyoto protocols if we were remotely serious about the targets and in the process create jobs in the developed and developing world on a scale that is otherwise unimaginable to me. It is just a question of whether we accept this, but I can only tell you that I have studied this data seriously. I consider it an existential threat to your future.
The Energy Bullentin has another article, this one by Jan Lundberg, that talks about Peak Oil and the start of a long-delayed conversation on energy:
That’s conversation, not conservation. We’ll get the latter only if (1) we have the real conversation or (2) we get hit over the head with heavy pre-petrocollapse warnings. I’m glad to say that it’s not just the second factor shaping up.

Change is in the wind. However, the nation is dominated by small minds tied to the fossil-fueled status quo, instead of listening to big-picture energy analysts such as Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and consultant Robert Hirsch. These power-house scientists spoke at a Pentagon-sponsored presentation, "Energy: a Conversation about Our National Addiction" on April 24th within a stone’s throw of that five-sided building - ironic, as the Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. I attended this Energy Conversation and bring you, the concerned reader, a rundown of what was presented.

Many awareness-raising events concerned with peak oil and petrocollapse are taking place lately. The news media, mainly concerned with price sensation, are helping somewhat to awaken the oil-addicted population, albeit with narrower concerns than the End of the Oil Age. Recent headlines include "Beijing’s Pursuit of Oil" and "Consumers Face a New Reality." The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a peak oil resolution on April 11, 2006. It acknowledges the threats posed by peak oil and calls for the establishment of a city-wide study to assess San Francisco's vulnerability to peak oil.

At least George W. Bush opened some floodgates of attention this year by announcing the U.S. is "addicted to oil." He thus allowed others in government to come out of the woodwork on energy issues. This may be Bush II’s main legacy, as little and late as it was at this point in history. For those Americans that were still asleep, we are now all pretty much on the same page as to oil dependence and the likelihood of higher prices and tighter supply. It is time to turn the page and learn about such basics as energy production ratios (net energy), the liquid-fuel nature of the energy crisis, and the impossibility of delaying peak oil and its effects if we are indeed at the historic high of global extraction.

Honestly curing ourselves of addiction means we don’t try to maintain supply. Is that what we’d like to see for heroin addicts, to assure a "fair" price and fight for unlimited access? Just as with heroin, the only sensible course is to stop the habit. Get off petroleum starting now. Sorry, there’s no handy substitute - except culture change, as a lieutenant colonel enthusiastically told me.

Energy and oil are one of those issues Americans can't just leave to the experts and policy buffs. I don't know what the answers are yet and I feel I'm still learning the facts but we have spent far too much time ignoring energy and other related issues over the last twenty years. There are powerful forces in Washington and the media that were happy there was no dialogue. Without dialogue, there is no democracy. Let the dialogue begin.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

World Oil Reserves: What Are the Actual Numbers?

One of the problems with knowing how much of an energy crisis the world faces or doesn't is knowing how much proven reserves the oil-producing countries have. Some countries are open about their figures and some countries aren't. Critics of OPEC point out that the reserves announced by some OPEC members cannot be verified thus begging the question of whether new oil finds can keep up with rising demands for oil.

Apparently some Kuwaitis would like to know the answer to how much oil reserves Kuwait has (bold emphasis mine):
Five lawmakers yesterday filed a draft law calling on the government to limit oil production in line with actual proven reserves, which have been claimed to be lower than the officially stated figure of 100 billion barrels. The four-article bill stipulates that the new production figure should not exceed the percentage of actual output in the past two fiscal years divided by proven reserves. The bill was signed by MPs Ahmad Al-Saadoun, Mussallam Al-Barrak, Mohammad Al-Khalifa, Hassan Jowhar and Waleed Al-Jari, all members of the Popular Action Bloc.

The draft law was filed in light of the controversy raised recently on the actual size of proven Kuwaiti oil reserves after the Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) reported in January that Kuwaiti reserves were only half of the announced figure of 100 billion barrels. PIW also claimed that proven reserves amounted only to 24.2 billion barrels, citing internal Kuwaiti records it claimed it had seen.

The government of Kuwait apparently denies the allegations and offers its reasons which may be valid or may be spin. I don't know the answer. Instead of wasting time dismantling the UN, perhaps Bush should push for a worldwide agreement for more openness in oil data and a system to verify the data. Without proper data, it's difficult to know just how much trouble we can expect in the near term. Congress too should be looking for meaningful solutions instead of grandstanding for the cameras. Truly productive hearings on energy issues would be useful instead of the usual Republican rhetoric. The attitude of Bush and the Republican leadership remains puzzling since I would imagine that Republican rank and file would like to know the answers just as much as anyone else.

Enron's Kenny Boy

A good policy is difficult unless you have good quality input. One of the problems with Cheney's energy task force in 2001 is that it focused merely on the needs of energy insiders in the oil business. Enron was one of the corporations Cheney called on for advice. At the time, Enron was one of several companies manipulating the home energy market in California; the motive was pure greed.

There's more to it than that. Enron represented American arrogance at its finest. While building gas-powered generating plants in India that India didn't need, Enron executives were busy helping themselves to the company till; even company-related purchases were extravagent, including major art works, interior design that would be the envy of Hollywood and even unnecessary remodeling of Enron's corporate headquarters to satisfy executive egos.

Arianna Huffington has more to say on the connection between the Bush administration and Kenneth Lay: a reminder, here's what we must not forget:

Lay didn't become "Kenny Boy" and an intimate FOG (Friend of George) because of his folksy charm. Enron and its executives doled out $2.4 million to federal candidates and parties in the 2000 election -- including $113,000 to the Bush/Cheney campaign. Lay and his wife also gave $100,000 to Bush's 2000 inaugural fund (Skilling chipped in $100,000 of his own), and another $5,000 each to the Bush-Cheney 2000 Recount Fund to help assure there'd be an inauguration. What's more, Lay even gave W's folks a ride to their son's 2000 inauguration on an Enron plane.

It was money well spent, buying Lay and his company what Rep. Henry Waxman has called "extensive access" to the epicenter of American political power. Access and influence.

For instance, in the early days of the Bush administration, while Enron was still flying very high, Lay and his company were given unprecedented input on the makeup of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with regulating Enron's core business. Lay was allowed to personally put the screws to FERC chair Curtis Hebert in an effort to change his views on electricity deregulation. Hebert resisted, and was soon replaced by Pat Wood, Lay's handpicked choice.

There's more. There's always more.

Bush's failures over the last five years are many. Even now, it's obvious that our former oil executive is useless even in his one area of expertise. He has wasted five years without a energy policy worthy of the name.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dubai in the News

Russian customs apparently caught a serious diamond smuggler; Douglas Farah has the details:
Russian authorities in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport this week arrested a Russian national carried 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of diamonds strapped to his body, according to the Itar-Tass news agency. The unidentified man was traveling from Dubai. It was reported to be the largest confiscation of diamonds ever.

It is interesting that the diamonds come from Dubai, one of the most rapidly growing diamond cutting and sales centers in the world. In light of the ties between al Qaeda and diamonds in the past, this development should be closely watched.

There's another version of the story that said some of the diamonds were first found in the luggage. I don't know enough about this story to make much out of it. Russia has become a strange country and a Russian caught smuggling diamonds probably doesn't say much. It is, of course, curious to see Dubai in the news. Dubai, after all, came close to taking over a number of our ports.

Republicans in Congress, however, still refuse to take port security as seriously as they should; Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has that story:
Remember all of the talk during the Dubai ports deal about how Congress was going to take the lead from the Bush Administration on improving port security? Remember all the GOP House members who talked a good game about container inspection?

After weeks of lobbying by retail and shipping industry interests, and at a time when the House GOP leadership is trying to force through a watered-down lobbying “reform” measure, when no one was looking today these same House GOP members voted against requiring all containers to be screened. But they did manage to pocket the campaign contributions from the industry though.
I wonder what exactly went into the pockets of the Republicans: diamonds? (My apologies for the sarcasm but Rep. Cunningham during his crime spree was at times being paid in household furnishings, including an expensive Persian rug).

I should point out that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan are considered our allies. Good international relations are important but the more I read the more uneasy I feel; I don't feel Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condi Rice have a good understanding of what's going on in the world. I would like to know where the experts are who do.

Cost of the Iraq War

My wife brought home a copy of Rolling Stone, the one with Bush in his dunce cap. The magazine also contained a searing story on head traumas from the Iraq War. I remember early on doctors talking about the huge numbers of head traumas but it has remained somewhat a hidden story. But this week, MSNBC also has a story on the head traumas:
More injured troops are surviving the war in Iraq than any other. But because of the terrible force of IED explosions, more are surviving with brain injury than in any other war.

Jason Poole was on his third tour in Iraq when, as he puts it, he got “blasted.”

“I was unconscious for two months,” Poole says. “And then I woke up in Bethesda, in Washington, D.C.”

That was at the Naval Medical Center. For two years now Jason has been treated at the Palo Alto VA Hospital — one of four specialized centers for rehabilitation of the huge numbers of brain injured troops. The program uses intense, individualized physical and mental rehabilitation.


Poole says he accepts that he will always have difficulty with speaking and memory.

“From the day I was born I've always been happy,” Poole says. “I know I got blasted and basically I came alive, you know, but basically it's just that I'm still happy.”

Thousands of other vets are facing the same challenge of accepting their new selves.

I wish the young man well, and the others.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Pelosi on Big Oil's Republican Friends

Republicans Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist are promising action on gasoline prices and oil company profits. They didn't do anything the last time prices went up right after Hurricane Katrina though Bush was forced to release some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because of a serious shortfall. But Republican poll numbers are suddenly falling and the November elections aren't far away. Suddenly Hastert and Frist care about the average American. Where have they been the last five years?

Susie of Suburban Guerilla carries House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's choice words for Big Oil's favorite politicians:
If you want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and therefore improve our national security situation, you can’t do it if you’re a Republican because you are too wedded to the oil companies. We have two oilmen in the white house. The logical follow-up from that is $3 a gallon gasoline. There is no accident. It is a cause and effect. A cause and effect.


The middle class squeeze is on, competition in our country is affected by the price of energy and of oil and all of a sudden you take a trip outside of Washington, see the fact that the public is outraged about this, come home and make a speech, let’s see that matched in your budget, let’s see that matched in your policy, let’s see that matched in and you’re separating yourselves yourself from your patron, big oil, cut yourself off from that anvil holding your party down and this country down, instead of coming to Washington and throwing your Republican colleagues under the wheels of the train, which they mightily deserve for being a rubber stamp for your obscene, corrupt policy of ripping off the American people.

Putting our energy future and therefore our national security into the hands of two mediocre former oil executives is no longer acceptable. Leaving our energy future entirely in the hands of oil companies is also no longer acceptable. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans should be demanding full investigations into what's going on with energy. But we can't rely on Republicans for an honest investigation or to keep their word when the cameras are on them. And Democratic politicians need to be careful that they fully understand what is going on.

The Question Bush Cannot Answer

I'm tempted to post Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" this Friday. To my mind, the poem is not about the soldiers in the poem who are simply doing their job the best they can; the poem staggers the mind because we become aware of those who make decisions without understanding the decision they have made. Bush prides himself on being 'the decider' but he can't be bothered to ask the simple question: "What happens next?"

There was never any question that we could overcome Saddam Hussein's military force. But the question that Bush refused to deal with along with Cheney and Rumsfeld was: "Who do we need to do in the afermath?" The war in Iraq was voluntary and the timing was of our own choosing; Bush and his top advisers knew war was coming for roughly a year. But there was no real planning for the aftermath. The State Dept. tried to be involved in that planning but Rumsfeld would have no part of it. For that alone, Rumsfeld should have been fired long ago.

The same issue is now being raised with Iran. We have the power to badly cripple Iran's nuclear program. But that's not the issue. The issue once more is, "But what happens next?"

Think Progress has a short list of some of the people opposed to Bush's possible war in Iran:
ThinkProgress has created a graphic database featuring quotes from prominent analysts and officials who believe there are no good military options in Iran. The document will be updated as more experts weigh in — if we’re missing someone, let us know HERE or in the comments section.
Brzezinski, for one, should be on the list.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shades of Carter and the Gas Lines

Bush will probably have a million excuses for the gasoline shortages and high prices. When California had high electric bills back in late 2000 and 2001, Bush blamed the problem on market forces. It turns out that some of Bush's friends in the energy sector (Bush nicknamed Kenneth Lay of Enron 'Kenny Boy' and flew in his corporate jet at times during the 2000 campaign) were not only gouging California, they were manipulating supplies to drive up prices. Of course, the noise that Bush had made about attacking Iran has itself been a factor.

Yes, there are other reasons prices are high. We're not exactly seeing gas lines yet (I can remember thirty cars being in front of me in the 70s) but the East Coast has been having supply problems presumably because of a changeover in formulation. Some gas stations have had to close:
As if rising prices weren't enough, the tanks have run dry at some Philadelphia-area service stations in the last few days as the refining industry stumbles through a change in the formulation of gasoline.

Oil refiners are phasing out a petrochemical that makes gasoline burn cleaner but which also has been found to contaminate groundwater. Refiners are switching to corn-based ethanol.

The changeover is creating supply-chain bottlenecks because much work must be done at fuel terminals and service stations to handle ethanol.

The maintenance-related shutdown of one area refinery, production problems at another, and the change from winter-blend to summer-blend gasoline are exacerbating the problems.

"There is truly a dearth of supply in the Philly and New York markets today," Wayne Hummel, of Liberty Petroleum L.L.C., said yesterday. His firm supplies 40 stations in the Philadelphia region.

Republicans, who have been Big Oil's best buddies for over twenty-five years are getting nervous and following the Bush method when his numbers are in danger: lie first, tell the voters what they want to hear and return to business as usual when nobody's looking; Think Progress has the story:
Today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) released a joint letter with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) calling for congressional investigations into possible price gouging by oil companies: "We believe that protecting American consumers in these unprecedented market conditions is of paramount importance. […] Consistent with our constitutional authority, we will ask the committees of jurisdiction to conduct oversight of these important questions."

Congress should investigate gasoline price gouging, but it is unclear whether Frist will follow through.


[Last year,] the Senate Energy and Commerce held hearings in which executives from Exxon and Chevron tried to defend their companies’ record profits. Yet committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) refused to swear them in, and in the end, nothing was accomplished.

The American people deserve better this time around. If hearings do occur, these oil CEOs should be called in as witnesses, but they should be required to tell Americans the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about their business practices.

How many real investigations has the Republican leadership in Congress conducted in the last five years? And how many real investigations have they blocked? No one will be holding their breath on this one.

Eighth General Calls for Rumsfeld to Resign

Unofficially, the number of generals who are publicly critical of Rumsfeld must be somewhere around fifteen. Officially, the count appear to be eight generals calling for Rumsfeld to resign according to Raw Story (and they got it from an interview on Fox News):
Ret. Marine General Paul Van Ripper has become the 8th retired U.S. General to call for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, according to an interview with Fox News.

Ripper retired before Rumsfeld took office, but is currently engaged in war games with two branches of the military. He claims that many currently serving share his view.
No one represents what's wrong with Bush's foreign policy more than Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. It's time for Bush to fix the problems and if he's unwilling to do so, it's time for voters to send a messsage in November.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Oil Having Technical Problems

The Oil Drum has an illuminating post that discusses a number of reasons oil prices are high and why they may remain high for a few years. It doesn't look like gasoline prices are going down anytime soon—except maybe at election time. The fundamental issue at the moment may boil down to the fact that current technology is having trouble keeping up with demand, possibly, I suspect, due to poor planning over the last five years.

But the fundamental problem is that merely to replace what has been lost in the previous year due to expected oil depletion, oil companies now have to dig an increasing number of wells just to keep pace. This has been going on for decades but there's been a sharp increase in the need for new wells since the production per well is dropping and there aren't enough drilling rigs to go around at the moment. And over the last five years demand for oil has exploded because of the booming economies of India and China and the general neglect of alternative energy.

Make sense? No? Okay, just read the article.

Moyers on Living Religion and Using Religion

One of the more famous programs on PBS was the one Bill Moyers did some years ago on "Amazing Grace," a song written by a former slave trader who later became an opponent of slavery. Whether one is Christian, agnostic or a member of another faith, "Amazing Grace" has the power to take people back to their religious roots.

In Truthout, Moyers has a long excellent essay on religion, the many meanings of what it means to be a Baptist, the early history of religion in our country and how religion is being used by cynical movers and shakers who are in a hurry to acquire wealth and power. Here are a few excerpts:
James Dunn and Bill Leonard are Baptists. What kind of Baptist matters. At last count there were more than two dozen varieties of Baptists in America. Bill Clinton is a Baptist. So is Pat Robertson. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist. So is Jesse Helms. Al Gore is a Baptist. So is Jerry Falwell. No wonder Baptists have been compared to jalapeno peppers: one or two make for a tasty dish, but a whole bunch together will bring tears to your eyes.

Many Baptists are fundamentalists; they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible and the divine right of preachers to tell you what it means. They also believe in the separation of church and state only if they cannot control both. The only way to cooperate with fundamentalists, it has been said, is to obey them. James Dunn and Bill Leonard are not that kind of Baptist. They trace their spiritual heritage to forbearers who were considered heretics for standing up to ecclesiastical and state power on matters of conscience. One of them was Thomas Helwys, who, when Roman Catholics were being persecuted by the British crown, dared to defend the Catholics. Helwys went to jail, and died there, for telling the king of England, King James - yes, of the King James Bible - that "Our Lord the King has no more power over their [Catholic] conscience than ours, and that is none at all."

Baptists helped to turn that conviction into America's great contribution to political science and practical politics - the independence of church and state. Baptists in colonial America flocked to Washington's army to fight in the Revolutionary War because they wanted to be free from sanctioned religion. When the war was won they refused to support a new Constitution unless it contained a Bill of Rights that guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom from religion. No religion was to become the official religion; you couldn't be taxed to pay for my exercise of faith. This was heresy because, while many of the first settlers in America had fled Europe to escape religious persecution at the hands of the majority, once here they made their faith the established religion that denied freedom to others. Early Baptists considered this to be tyranny. Said John Leland: "All people ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that each can best reconcile to their own consciences."


Yes, indeed: God does work in mysterious ways.

In addition to finding Jesus, Tom DeLay also discovered the power of money to power his career. By raising more than two million dollars from lobbyists and business groups and distributing the money to dozens of Republican candidates in 1994, the year of the Republican breakthrough in the House, DeLay bought the loyalty of many freshmen legislators and got himself elected majority whip, the number three man in Newt Gingrich's "Gang of Seven," who ran the House.

Here's how they ran it: On the day before the Republicans formally took control of Congress on January 3, 1995, DeLay met in his office with a coterie of lobbyists from some of the biggest companies in America. He virtually invited them to write their own wish list. What they wanted first was "Project Relief" - a wide-ranging moratorium on regulations that had originally been put into place for the health and safety of the public. Soon scores of companies were gorging on his generosity, adding one juicy and expensive tidbit after another to the bill. On the eve of the debate 20 major corporate groups advised lawmakers that "this was a key vote, one that would be considered in future campaign contributions." On the day of the vote lobbyists on Capitol Hill were still writing amendments on their laptops and forwarding them to House leaders.


It is the vast difference between the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus.

Yes, the religion of Jesus. It was in the name of Jesus that a Methodist ship caulker named Edward Rogers crusaded across New England for an eight-hour work day. It was in the name of Jesus that Francis William rose up against the sweatshop. It was in the name of Jesus that Dorothy Day marched alongside auto workers in Michigan, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. It was in the name of Jesus that E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield stood against a Mississippi oligarchy that held sharecroppers in servitude. It was in the name of Jesus that the young priest John Ryan - ten years before the New Deal - crusaded for child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor. And it was in the name of Jesus that Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to march with sanitation workers who were asking only for a living wage.

This is the heresy of our time - to wrestle with the gods who guard the boundaries of this great nation's promise, and to confront the medicine men in the woods, twirling their bullroarers to keep us in fear and trembling. For the greatest heretic of all is Jesus of Nazareth, who drove the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem as we must now drive the money changers from the temples of democracy.

Thomas Jefferson was not a Baptist but he fought for legislation in Virginia so that Baptists, in particular, and everybody else in general, could practice their beliefs in good faith as they saw fit without interference from the government and without the government telling them what to do. That legacy is being forgotten and distorted. Religion that is used to acquire money and power is no longer religion, but a cynical tool to acquire money and power from those who really want nothing more than to have their beliefs respected and that's something all sides need to understand. Most people want their lives to be meaningful whatever that might mean; in a democracy, that is something that should unite us, not divide us.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Senator Reid on Iran

I have no idea if Bush intends to start a war with Iran or whether all the recent criticism is forcing the plan to be returned to the back burner. With Bush, one never knows. Who would have ever imagined the level of incompetence shown by Bush and Rumsfeld in Iraq as just one example? Think Progress has a post on Senator Harry Reid's view on Iran:
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has joined the long list of national security officials, Iran experts, and others who argue that no good military options exist in Iran.


...The Iran nuclear crisis can likely be resolved using diplomatic, economic, and political power. Unfortunately, as Reid understands, the Bush administration has proved utterly incompetent at employing the full range of U.S. powers in the past.

Here more from the Washington Post (via Think Progress):
The Bush administration is relying too heavily on other countries in the international effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to Sen. Harry Reid.

Reid, D-Nev., said the administration should be taking the lead, but instead is relying on Germany, France and Great Britain to convince Iran to end its uranium enrichment program.

Bush seems to have a habit of making a lot of noise for public consumption and then spending weeks sitting on his hands instead of engaging in the 'hard' work of being president. But he likes dramatic moments like walking the deck of the Abraham Lincoln with a sign that says, 'Mission Accomplished.' We may yet see this president go to war once again without a plan and without a clue.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Poem from World War Two

Czeslaw Milosz was a Polish poet and writer who lived in America for the second half of his life. In 1980, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote a number of poems about World War Two that are searingly honest and painful and in places self-critical; no one is spared. Poland was the victim of German aggression but the full story is complex as all stories of war are complex. For example, in the months before the war, Poland participated in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Poland was completely unprepared for war and was famous for sending horses out against German tanks. On the other hand, France and England entered World War Two because of the attack on Poland but they never came to its aid; soon, they were fighting for their own survival and although the Allies eventually prevailed, the sovereignty of Poland was not fully restored until decades later.

Milosz was in Poland during the duration of the occupation and wrote the following poem in 1945; years later, he translated the poem into English.


You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed
of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.
You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new
Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty,
Blind force with accomplished shape.

Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge
Going into white fog. Here is a broken city,
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave
When I am talking with you.

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with officials lies,
A song of drunkards of whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophmore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds
To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds.
I put this book here for you, who once lived
So that you should visit us no more.

—Czelaw Milosz, 1945


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lafayette Democrats Blog

I've been meaning to look around for more quality political sites on the progressive side of the aisle. Technorati, which lists several thousands of political blogs, doesn't catch everything and I've been looking around to see what else I can find. A good active site that I've found is Lafayette Democrats. The main blogger is Anthony Fazzio but they have multiple bloggers and therefore a range of opinions. Here's a longish excerpt from a recent post by Mike Stagg (I usually go for shorter excerpts so I hope Lafayette Democrats don't mind) who reminds the Democratic National Committee of Louisiana's early Democratic successes against George W. Bush and then, of course, the hurricanes:

Welcome to Louisiana, Democratic National Committee! Thank you for choosing Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular as the site for one of your 2006 meetings.

We are grateful for the attention.

But, don't think for a minute that just showing up and contributing some bucks to our sales tax coffers in any way approaches settling the debt we are owed by you, the party, and the nation as the place where the resistance to Bush/Cheney emerged, the implosion began and then tipped to the point of creating an imperiled presidency.


But, there's one more matter on the why we're owed: the storms of 2005.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped final tatters of competence from the facade of the Bush administration. People around the world were stunned by the images of Americans standing on the roofs of their houses pleading for food and rescue; shocked by the scenes of people dying on the street in front of the New Orleans Convention Center while the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security denied knowing there were any people gather there at all; dumfounded by the incompetence of Bush-appointed head of FEMA Michael Brown and how his scapegoating sought to shield the Bush administration’s record of cronyism.

Two weeks later, Hurricane Rita devastated southwest Louisiana and east Texas, but the horror of the impact of that storm paled in the wake of the federal failures after Katrina. The worst kept secret of 2005 and 2006 is that the federal response to Hurricane Rita has been every bit as incompetent and ineffective as it was for Katrina.

One result of more than 1,000 Louisianans being killed by the storms and their floods, tens of thousands having been displaced from their homes, hundred of thousands forced to evacuate the communities which they'd always called home, has been that the Bush administration has lost credibility with all but the most diehard Republican loyalists.

It was too high a price for us to pay, but Louisiana's misfortune has extracted a political price from Bush and Republicans that will haunt them this year and for decades to come.

While his Iraq adventure/war has seriously damaged his presidency, it was the failure of his administration to protect and shelter Americans in their homes, in their cities in the wake of natural disaster that finally undid George W. Bush. That happened here. It happened in our state, in our cities, to our people. It happened to us.

While they cover a wide range of issues, a quick scan of Lafayette Democrats in the monthly sections also shows that they have written a number of posts concerning the aftermath of Katrina and Rita (and how many times during the Bush presidency has the word 'aftermath' been used for administration bungling?). As a Californian, the treatment of the residents of the Gulf states troubles me deeply. If such bungling and neglect can happen to Louisiana, it can happen to earthquake-prone California. Who will the plains states turn to if there are severe droughts? Who will the states in the Mississippi valley turn to if there is flooding? Who will New York turn to if there are more terrorist attacks? We're all in this together. If the Democrats have a theme this year, it should be that it's time again for all Americans to look out for one another.

Promoting Democracy Impossible While Cheney and Rumsfeld Remain

Bush talks a lot about democracy but rarely makes good on his word. I can remember before the Egyptian elections Bush talking about what a shining example of democracy Egypt was. But, as usual, it was just talk trotted out for the cameras. When the cameras aren't rolling, the story can be tragic as we hear from Shadi Hamid of Democracy Arsenal:
The language was eloquent, colored with the requisite hues of Wilsonian radicalism: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Today, 14 months later, Ayman Nour, a courageous liberal, dissident, and leader of the al-Ghad Party, is suffering – some say dying – in prison. The Egyptian regime is destroying him, his family, and the movement he helped give birth to last year. This, we should note, is the same Egyptian regime which receives $2 billion in economic and military aid from the US each year. Where is the Bush administration’s outrage now ? Where has its celebrated love of freedom gone ? There is, instead, silence.

For me, the most troubling part of the article was the obvious ineffectiveness of Condi Rice. She's getting better press these days than she was when she was National Security Adviser but she's not the one creating Bush's foreign policy. Who are the two people in the Bush administration with the most power and the least interest in democracy? As long as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld remain in office, whatever effectiveness Condi Rice can muster will be limited. And whatever talk there is about democracy will be more illusion than reality.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rumsfeld Should Resign

Some news reports say it's five generals who are calling for Rumsfeld to resign or be fired or to step down. Bush cannot keep defending incompetence and arrogance. Alone on a Limb says it's ten generals who have gone public on Rumsfeld:
Six, no Seven, no Eight, no Nine, make that
Ten Generals Speak
Some of these guys would probably take issue with me on a number of issues, but I think they agree with me that the Bush Pentagon has done a poor job. Hear some excerpts of their words.

“More than half the American people now believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They’re right.” - General Wesley Clark

UPDATE: Terrell of Alone on a Limb has now found thirteen generals critical of Rumsfeld, not ten.

Bush and the Responsibility of Journalists

The lack of realism that Congressional Republicans bring to the foreign policy failures of the Bush presidency continue to hurt the country; name-calling and blind support are not a policy. Rather than deal with what is a growing foreign policy crisis within the administration, it seems the solution for many Republicans in Congress is to throw more pork barrel at the voters in an effort to buy them off.

If nothing else, it would help the country if more journalists would bring a great deal more realism to our understanding of Bush's failed presidency. Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher has an article on the responsibilities of the press in all this (thanks to Americablog for the link):
So let’s assume, as Nixon might put it, that we do have George Bush to kick around for another almost-three-years. How worried should we be about the possible damage he might inflict -- and what can the press do about it?

Consider Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times today, and its implications.

Friedman, who still supports the Iraq war, opens by declaring that given a choice between a nuclear Iran and an attack on that country engineered by the White House, he would choose the former. That’s how little he trusts the diplomatic and military chops of Bush, Rumsfeld, Condi and Co. He cites “the level of incompetence that the Bush team has displayed in Iraq, and its refusal to acknowledge any mistakes or remove those who made them.”

But then he goes on: “I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver's licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now -- or take a taxi. ... You will not be driving alone. Not with my car.”

The problem -- the crisis -- is that Bush and Co. likely WILL be driving the “car” for 33 more months.

Friedman knows this: “If ours were a parliamentary democracy, the entire Bush team would be out of office by now, and deservedly so. ... But ours is not a parliamentary system, and while some may feel as if this administration's over, it isn't. So what to do? We can't just take a foreign policy timeout.”

Perfectly said. Again, the crisis, even if he didn’t call it that: “We can’t just take a foreign policy timeout.”

Friedman, however, is very late in doubting the competence of this crew, and he still backs away from the scary wider view. What to do? he asks. He suggests that Rumsfeld depart, of course, and then he gets into specifics of how diplomacy might work re: Iran. That leaves hanging the reality of Bush continuing to serve as Master and Commander of the Iraq war and all other foreign policy into 2009.

Unfortunately, Friedman still has the Jim Reston itch, which is the belief a rational New York Times writer can influence an irrational president; the problem is not Iran or Iraq as enormous as those problems are. The problem is a reckless and incompetent presidency that needs to be reined in. Nothing serious progress in foreign relations can take place until that happens.

Murtha Listens, Rumsfeld Does Not

Every day that Rumsfeld stays on the job is a day Americans should be asking where our country is going. Bush talks a lot about democracy, but it has been clear from day one that Rumsfeld could care less about any democracy project. Projecting power and buying more technology for the military has been Rumsfeld's primary interest, not elections and not the Iraqis themselves. Bush cannot resolve the contradiction until he fires Rumsfeld.

Murtha was recently asked about his thoughts on Rumsfeld; the Pittsburg Tribune-Review has the story:
U.S. Rep. John Murtha is not surprised six retired generals have called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign because of his handling of the Iraq war.

Murtha, who in November called for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, said Tuesday at California University of Pennsylvania that he has talked with many U.S. military leaders in the past four months.

"I've been speaking for a lot of people in the military who are afraid to come forward and speak themselves. The difference between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld is that I listen to our military leaders, and I'm not sure he does."

On the Lighter Side

I came across this great picture of a flying penguin. I know penguins can't fly but it's a great picture!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Sign of Rumfeld's Desperation

You know a right-wing Republican is in trouble when they go to Rush Limbaugh to try and restore their credibility. Firedoglake has the story:
There are two signs that a Republican is in trouble. One is they start talking about Bill Clinton. The other is they book an interview on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. It’s a coveted spot. A request and opportunity that can’t be denied.

Rush Limbaugh rarely does interviews on his show. It’s all bluster, all b.s., all the time. But when his boys and girls get in trouble, they can always count on Rush inviting them in for a little informal chat. He’s done it with Deadeye. Yesterday he did it with Rummy.

Rush Limbaugh is not in charge of the Pentagon so I don't bother to keep track of his whoppers anymore but it was a sign of the times some years ago, in the 90s, when Limbaugh was introduced at a gathered as 'a distinguished journalist.' Yikes. Imagine the arm-twisting that must have taken place get that little introduction!

Rumsfeld: "We know where the weapons are."
Bush: "Bring it on!"
Cheney: "insurgency in its last throes..."
Rumsfeld again: "Stuff happens."

Do we really need a third war in Iran? How many Americans want to trust these three incompetents?

Bush and the Consequences of Attacking Iran

Bush's best opportunity for diplomacy with Iran was shortly after 9/11 when Iran had a moderate government and the people offered what seemed to be genuine concerns about the 9/11 attack. Being mostly a Shiite country, Iran has nothing to do with al Qaida or Osama bin Laden. I'm not sure how things stand at this point since Bush has put so little into diplomacy but clearly putting Iran into the axis of evil was not a good first step.

I've been reading a fair number of articles on Iran. For example, here's a post by Michael Levi that I'm not sure is on the right track or not when he argues that many are ignoring:
...the one key Iranian need – assurances against attack – that no clever nuclear energy arrangement can address. This blind-spot seems to be a common problem with a host of recent Iran proposals, like one by Geoff Forden and John Thompson that would provide Iran with booby-trapped centrifuges, and one by Moscow that would enrich Iranian uranium on Russian soil. Until we have any prospect of addressing the security question, we’re not going to get anywhere. And recent developments in Iran aren’t driving us in that direction.
Although it was already noted on Donkey Path almost two weeks ago, Americablog suspects Iran is another political game being played by Bush:
George Bush has decided to use Iran as a foil to help his sagging poll numbers and to help Republicans in the fall congressional elections. I'm going to discuss why this is true, and what the Dems should do about it.

Iran is ten years away from developing nukes.

I'll say it again, TEN YEARS away. That would be TEN YEARS at the earliest, according to the best estimate we have. And that's not according to some peacenik liberal, it's according to the best estimate of US intelligence.
Over at Tony Karon's Rootless Cosmopolitan, the argument is made that Iran is the real reason the generals are speaking out against Rumsfeld at this time:

There’s no obvious reason by the logic of the current situation in Iraq, or decisions that may be made shortly, for the generals to choose this moment to launch their offensive. They all believe that the U.S. needs to remain in Iraq as long as it takes to stabilize it in some way (although they may well differ with the administration on what that might involve).

But given what Seymour Hersh’s sources in the military and intelligence communities are telling him about plans for military action against Iran, there’s certainly a clear motive for those seeking to save the U.S. military from further calamitous misadventures to pick a very public battle with the administration over its handling of strategic matters.

Having watched the Iraq debacle take shape in no small part because those from the military establishment in a position to do so (think Colin Powell) failed to publicly challenge what they could see was a disaster in the making, the generals are clearly inclined to act preemptively this time. And given the diverse range of pressures and variables in the Iran equation, they also know that an attack on Iran is not a done deal, and can be prevented.
Over at Donkey Path, we've been looking at the Iran issue for some time beginning back in January. Here are other posts on Donkey Path concerning Iran: here, here, here, and here.

It's difficult to predict the possible consequences of attacking Iran because of a multitude of factors that Bush and his advisers are unlikely to take into consideration. Already, we're seeing high oil prices. The price of dealing with Iran could very well be a much stronger Russia that already is no longer as interested in democracy as it was ten years ago. There are also a series of unintended consequences that may include the rise of new terrorist groups besides al Qaida. By attacking Iran, we could, through an unintended but simple chain of events, be damaging the economies of the very people most likely to buy American products. This is not to minimize the potential problems that Iran poses but we clearly need a national debate on the issue and we need to think through what we're doing and we need to recognize that we have time; a rush to war is not in our interest.

I'll leave with one last thought: some of America's enemies may see advantages for an incompetent and reckless president Bush continuing on his course if it means a weaker America and openings for others. It seems to me that's a dangerous supposition for everyone.

Monday, April 17, 2006

More on Feingold's Censure Proposal

The polls around the country show that Americans are catching on to Bush and his Republican friends. If there are still elected Republicans in in Washington who care about the future of this nation, it's time to knock off the political games and think seriously about how to hold Bush accountable before he finds more holes to dig himself into along with the rest of the nation.

Congress has options and no one should pretend those options don't exist. Grounds for impeaching Cheney and Bush exist and Republicans know it. But if they are shy about taking the most serious of constitutional steps, there are others that can still with the incompetence and recklessness of the administration. Those steps include censure, budget cuts that hamper Bush where his recklessness is most obvious, legislation to tight what Bush can do and Congressional investigations that aren't merely whitewash jobs.

When Feingold first proposed his censure resolution, he was heaped with scorn, but as J. Kingston Pierce of Limbo points out in his long post, Feingold's proposal has legs:
By April Fool’s Day, Feingold’s proposal appeared to be going nowhere. The New York Times seemed sure to condemn it to unsanctified ground, when its editorialists proclaimed both censure and impeachment “the dream of liberals.”

But then the American Research Group conducted a nationwide survey that discovered a plurality--46 percent--of respondents saying that Bush should be censured “for authorizing wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining court orders.” Suddenly, the idea of censure didn’t seem like such a sop to the left wing, after all. Last Sunday, both Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and his former 2004 presidential running mate, John Edwards, endorsed the censure idea--Kerry on NBC’s Meet the Press, and Edwards during a campaign swing through Iowa.

And now, Craig Crawford, an MSNBC commentator and Congressional Quarterly columnist, is floating the notion that Democrats could employ a promise to censure Bush as one of the best reasons for voters to elect a Dem majority in the Senate come November.

For five years, Republicans in Congress have given Bush a blank check and a free ride. If nothing else, Democrats need to promise that there will be accountability for Bush's failed foreign policy and that there must be changes and we must get our nation back on track.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bush: Marketing versus Sales

Bush is one of those types who thinks he can market anything. He may not understand foreign policy or world affairs but he understands marketing. That's why Karl Rove is his number two man. So far, the two men have had a pretty good run but there are many people from the past whose marketing luck ran out after running things like a Ponzi scheme; making sales from Ponzi schemes, besides being illegal, involves nothing more than making promises that are never fulfilled; it's a strategy not destined for an indefinite run.

Suzanne Nossel of Democracy Arsenal points out a few things Bush ought to remember from the corporate world, including the difference between marketing and sales:
Don’t Confuse Marketing with Sales – The Administration has put heavy efforts into trying to market the Iraq War through speeches, outreach, and artfully worded statistics. But sagging poll numbers show that no one’s buying. To get the public to buy into this war would have required addressing their fundamental qualms – the shaky rationale, poor planning, and absent international support. The biggest marketing blitz in Hollywood can’t sell tickets to movies people don’t want to see.
Keep in mind that a low level sales pitch is already being made for war in Iran. And the heaviest sales this time might take place after a strike. The American people need a word with Congress before things get out of hand.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Night Poetry

Here's another old Chinese poem (ca. 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.) on the fate of either a soldier or government official wandering on official orders far from home; I'm inclined to think it's a soldier for various reasons. The author is unknown. Translations of the poem vary widely; this is a variation on a Arthur Waley translation.


On and on, always on and on
Away from you, parted by a life-parting.
Going from one another ten thousand miles,
Each in a far corner of the world.
The way between us is hard and long,
Face to face how shall we meet again?
The Tartar horse is swift on the north wind,
The bird from Yue nests on the southern branch.
Since we parted the time is already long,
Daily my clothes hang looser from my waist.
On and on, the clouds obscure the white sun,
The wandering one has forgotten home.
Thinking of you has made me old,
The years and sorrow running to their close.
I've been cast away in the shifting winds;
Better to hope that you eat your rice and thrive.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rep. DeFazio Reminds Bush of Constitution

MyDD has the full contents of a letter Rep. DeFazio has sent to Bush concerning the need for Congressional approval before Bush launches any war against Iran where no immediate threat is involved; here are the first two paragraphs:
We are concerned by the growing number of stories that your Administration is planning for military action against Iran. We are writing to remind you that you are constitutionally bound to seek congressional authorization before launching any preventive military strikes against Iran.

As you know, Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power "to declare war," to lay and collect taxes to "provide for the common defense" and general welfare of the United States, to "raise and support armies," to "provide and maintain a navy," to "make rules for the regulation for the land and naval forces," to "provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions," to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia," and to "make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution...all...powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States." Congress is also given exclusive power over the purse. The Constitution says, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law."

A concern many people have is that Bush will secretly try to get Iran to launch an attack; already there are reports of possible military activities by our special forces. Bush might also get legalistic by arguing that Iran is already involved in Iraq. Of course, Iran has offered to sit down and have talks with the US on both Iraq and uranium enrichment; Bush, who claims to be in favor of diplomacy has not seriously taken Iran up on its offer. Nor has Bush seriously sat down with the Russians and Chinese to discuss these issues; Russia and China are probably crucial to some kind of settlement or cooling period.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bush, Cheney and the Leaks

It's always looked odd that Cheney and Bush were questioned together without being under oath. More than ever, the president and vice president need to come clean with the American people. We need to know why they were so wrong about the WMDs in Iraq. We need to know if they were involved in the leaks. We need to know if they were selectively leaking in order to make a better case for war in Iraq. We need to know who was authorized to leak the material. Was it just Scooter Libby or were there others? It seems to me there are many more questions that need to be answered.

Once again, it's useful to go back even a few days and review what has happened; here's an ABC News article on the Joe Wilson interview last Sunday:
In an exclusive interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson called upon the White House to "come clean" and release the transcripts of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the CIA leak investigation.

Wilson, whose wife's secret employment by the CIA was revealed following the leak of classified intelligence information, insisted, "I think it is long past time for the White House to come clean on all of this."

When asked whether or not Wilson and Valerie Plame, his wife, intend to file a civil suit against the White House, the former ambassador replied, "We're holding keeping all options open at this point."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan at a press conference on Friday was barraged by questions about a court filing in the CIA leak case in which Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, told prosecutors that he was authorized by President Bush to leak classified information to rebut charges made by Wilson.

Senator Pat Roberts, who seems to put his loyalty to the president and the Republican Party ahead of his loyalty to his country, has refused to properly investigate the abuse of evidence in the months before the war in Iraq. Isn't it time for members of Congress to do their job and demand real investigations instead of accepting White House controlled whitewashes?

Did Bush Control What Was Leaked?

In his blog, Whatever Already!, Murray Waas raised the question several weeks ago of whether the Bush Administration had authorized the leak of classified information. He was talking about Bob Woodward instead of Judy Miller, but it's instructive to go back a few weeks and reread his article.

I don't believe any of this leak stuff is properly nailed down yet given the cast of characters in the White House trying to make Fitzgerald's job difficult but it looks like Cheney authorized Libby to do some selective leaking and that Cheney was authorized by Bush who allowed the leaking. Selective leaking still puts Bush (as well as Cheney) on the hot seat since using government agencies to lie to Congress is an impeachable offense and it's clear the leaking was about justifying the war on Iraq without bothering to mention the evidence contradicting the claims of the president.

We know the Niger/Iraq uranium nonsense was bogus, we know the aluminum tubes claim was bogus and we know that the mobile weapons lab claim was bogus and we know top officials of the Bush Administration were quite aware of the evidence contradicting their claims. If Bush was involved in selective leaks, then how did he know what to leak? Here's an excerpt from Murray Waas's blog from Feb. 23, 2006:
Did the Bush administration “authorize” the leak of classified information to Bob Woodward? And did those leaks damage national security?

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”

Later in the same letter, Rockefeller said: “Given the Administration’s continuing abuse of intelligence information for political purposes, its criticism of leaks is extraordinarily hypocritical. Preventing damage to intelligence sources and methods from media leaks will not be possible until the highest level of the Administration cease to disclose classified information on a selective basis for political purposes.”

The Truth Is Stronger Than Bush

The truth is coming out and George W. Bush doesn't like it. In 2003, as the facts became more obvious about the truth in Iraq, I was like a lot of people: I didn't know whether Bush was incompetent, was surrounded by incompetents, had lied to himself or had knowingly lied to the American people about the case for war in Iraq.

The pattern continues. Bush has claimed that only three provinces out of the eighteen in Iraq are experiencing serious problems. It turns out the truth is almost the reverse. This article about an internal administration report is several days old, but given all that is happening, it's important to put it out there again:
An internal staff report by the U.S. Embassy and military command in Baghdad provides a snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation in each of the 18 provinces, rating overall stability of six provinces "serious," one as "critical" and only three as "stable."

The report is a counterpoint to some recent upbeat public statements by top U.S. politicians and military officials.

In 10 pages of briefing slides, the report, titled "Provincial Stability Assessment," underscores the shift in the nature of the Iraq war three years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Warnings of sectarian and ethnic frictions are raised in many regions, even in provinces generally described as nonviolent by U.S. officials.
Only three provinces are described as stable. Only three. Bush and his friends owe the American people an apology for continuing to push false information. We as a nation have a right to know what Bush is doing in our name and to have the facts.

Bush Numbers Harden

What does a country do when a president loses all credibility? Laura Rozen of War and Piece links to a story by Charlie Cook in The National Journal:
In the new ABC News/Washington Post poll (conducted April 6-9, surveyed 1,027 adults, margin of error +/-3 percent), Bush's job approval was at 38 percent compared to a 60 percent disapproval rating. But while 20 percent strongly approved, 47 percent strongly disapproved. In the April 3-5 Associated Press/Ipsos poll of 1,003 adults (margin of error +/- 3.1 percent) that gave Bush job ratings of 36-percent approval to 62-percent disapproval, the strong approval was just at 18 percent while strong disapproval registered at 42 percent.
Only 18-20 percent strongly approve of the President? Maybe Bush's right wing base is smaller than some think.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster links to two articles giving more evidence why Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld cannot be trusted.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More on Niger/Iraq Story?

The Italian elections raise the question of whether there might be more revelations on who exactly concocted the forged documents concerning the phony Niger/Iraq uranium connection and how the Italian government may or may not have been involved in the charade.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who along with people like Eriposte of The Left Coaster and Laura Rozen of War and Piece, has been following the story for some time (and has scooped the mainstream media on several occassions) has been asked whether we might find out more about the story after the Italian elections and a change in power. Marshall offers some possibilities, some good and some bad, but is generally skeptical about any further developments in the Niger/Iraq story at the Italian end, but I appreciate the honesty and even the humor of his last paragraph which is something the mainstream media is often loath to admit about itself:
These two points, I know, rather contradict each other. But they are the sum of what I know. Will things change? Maybe. There are some hints of it. But I remain skeptical.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Continuing Problems after Katrina

The lack of sustained progress on the part of the government continues in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Hattiesburg American of southern Mississippi notes that the next hurricane season is approaching:
Darlene Seymour and her family are facing tough choices. Hurricane season is two months away, and the D'Iberville resident is still living in a government-issued trailer.

Seymour said she's in the process of rebuilding - her home was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina - but construction won't be finished until July.

"We know that we could be threatened with a storm before then," Seymour said.

If that's the case, the Seymours will join thousands of Mississippi residents in what could be the biggest evacuation the state's ever seen.

"We're anticipating that when they say 'hurricane' this time, everybody's going to go," said Lamar County Emergency Management Coordinator James Smith.

State and county officials are urging residents to pay close attention to the news, and, if local authorities call for an evacuation, to leave early.

Smith said there's some concern that residents will try to take their trailers provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency on the road.

"We discourage that strongly," Smith said. "It's going to tie up the roadways more than normal, could slow down the evacuation process and put people at risk."
Kmilyun of Bifurcate in the Road has recently returned from Mississippi and says the areas damaged by Katrina are not receiving the national attention they should:

It is obvious that everything we experience changes our perspectives and how we perceive and interpret our existence on this globe we call earth. My vacation to visit my friends in Mississippi is on my list of altering experiences. I left with wonderful memories of a exciting visit with my friends, tours of Stennis, Fredericksburg, and New Orleans. I reveled in the excitement of seeing the U.S.S. Cairo in person and played with the displays at the NASA exhibits. I also came home moved deeply by the enormity of the hurricane damage.

The sheer size of it all, miles upon miles, it seemed to never end. All the lives affected. It has left me with many, many questions and frankly just stunned that after eight months the clean up efforts, well, heck, in our country, my county, it almost seems that we have just turned our backs on them.

There's more from Bifurcate in the Road on Katrina here and here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Poem from World War I

Here's a poem by Wilfred Owen who served in World War I and died one week before the November 11, 1918 armistice that effectively ended the war.

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

—Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


The New Energy Era

Most Americans are still not aware of how complex an issue energy is becoming in economics, politics, national security and foreign affairs. Energy requires attention. Gasoline prices at the pumps, alternative energy, nuclear energy, the availability and transportation of natural gas, the decisions of oil companies, the politics of the Middle East, potential fuel shortages and so on matter and will matter more on the coming cold nights in Chicago and the Northeast in the coming years. I highly recommend the long article by Heading Out in The Oil Drum; here are the first two paragraphs of an excellent real-life detective story as Heading Out puts the pieces together:
The story in today's Washington Post was largely related to the problems that Gazprom, the company that, as noted earlier in the week, now produces 25% of the world's gas, are having. The article sees "a looming decline in gas production" from Russia's current fields, while the Russian public still sees natural gas as an abundant cheap resort where less than 10% of residential and industrial gas consumers have gas meters. This is obviously going to be a problem for Western Europe, and perhaps the U.S. since both are planning on getting help with supply from Russia, and if their domestic demand is rising while supplies are falling, the export supply is going to decline quite rapidly.

However, it is a small paragraph in the story that caught my eye. "In recent years Russia has boosted gas supplies by squeezing Turkmenistan to sell gas to Russia at a deep discount. But Turkmen gas production is poised to decline..." [snip] ...this seemed odd to me, since Tuesday's post was all about Turkmenistan agreeing to sell China some gas. So I thought I'd, as they say, take a closer look.
I'm no expert when it comes to energy but I've been paying close attention for a number of years and particularly in the last eight months. For experts and even layman like myself, it was not hard to follow where Heading Out's story was going. The world is changing very fast. And the current leadership in Washington is not prepared to deal with it. There are solutions but they require a seriousness in Washington that has not existed for some time.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More on Bush and Libby

Larry Johnson at the TPM Cafe has more to say on Libby's statements and how it connects to Bush:
By the summer of 2003, it was clear that the skeptics in the intelligence community were right. So, what did our fearful leader do? According to Scooter Libby, President Bush ordered him to spread disinformation with the press. The President tried to cherry pick intelligence and feed the line to gullible reporters that Joe Wilson's claim about Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium from Niger was wrong.

What we now know, without any shadow of doubt, is that Joe Wilson's version of events, namely, that Iraq had not tried to obtain yellowcake uranium in Niger, was accurate. In fact, the CIA had to recant on the President's 16 words in the State of the Union address, which claimed the opposite was true.

Today's revelation is simple and riveting--the effort to smear Joe Wilson went to the very top of the White House. This was not an operation of rogue political operators. Instead, we have a rogue President....
George W. Bush can be summed very simply: he lied his way into war, then lied about the lies.

Did Bush Lie about Valerie Plame?

Has Bush been lying to the American people about who outed Valerie Plame since July of 2003? There are an endless number of questions involved here. Josh Marshall has some questions:
Here's a question. If I understand this right, Scooter Libby has sworn under oath that Vice President Cheney told him that President Bush had authorized him to disclose classified information.


If it isn't true that Vice President Cheney told him that, then Vice President Cheney must know that Libby has again perjured himself. I would think the Vice President has an affirmative duty to come forward and say that Libby's testimony is false.

If Libby is at least telling the truth about Cheney (but maybe not the date which may have been earlier), then Bush and Cheney have been sitting on the truth for almost three years despite a legal investigation. That amounts to an obstruction of justice.

It's time that Bush and Cheney be questioned separately and under oath. If the courts have decided a sitting president can be questioned about a silly sex affair, it is absolutely essential that Bush and Cheney be questioned about a crucial national security crime involving the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Remember what Libby may really be saying: the outing of Valerie Plame was no accident, it was deliberate.

Democrats Fighting Back

Whenever Republicans get in trouble, their first reaction is to blame the other guy. Jack Abramoff has been a Republican operative and lobbyist for over twenty years years but the media got conned into selling the line for a few weeks that the Abramoff scandal was a bipartisan affair when it was clear to anybody paying attention that it was a wholly Republican-funded operation. Progressive blogs and the Democrats finally got the record straight, much to the embarrassment of newspapers like The Washington Post. But the games continue and the media often refuses to give Democrats credit for doing their job. Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly argues, along with Amy Sullivan, that the Democrats in Congress are beginning to be more effective:
...Democrats have actually been surprisingly united and effective over the past year despite their minority status and the media's insistence on pushing their favored storyline of Dems as hopelessly divided and timid. The reality is that the sell-by date on that storyline expired long ago.

Consider. Democrats successfully killed a Social Security privatization plan that nearly everyone thought was a lock for passage. Harry Reid forced the Intelligence Committee to investigate prewar intelligence by shutting down the Senate. Nancy Pelosi worked shrewdly with Jack Murtha to give him the maximum possible attention for his pro-withdrawal message. (Yes, really.) George Miller single-handedly forced George Bush to rescind his suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act following Hurricane Katrina. And Chuck Schumer was the driving force behind criticism of the Dubai port deal.

So why don't Democrats get more credit? Louise Slaughter, a feisty Democrat who led the opposition to Ethics Committee rule changes last year, blames it on journalists who simply refuse to abandon their favored narratives...
If it weren't for Democrats, Bush and his fellow Republicans would be digging a deeper hole for this country than they already are. But the Democrats need more clout to hold Bush and other Republicans accountable. Democrats may or may not win a majority in Congress this fall, but even a small increase of Democrats this fall will make it easier to stop the worst nonsense that has been seen in Washington in several generations. Given the seriousness of Bush's failures, it would help the nation if the mainstream media would bring an end to their tall tales about Democrats, tall tales that have been provided courtesy of partisan Republicans who aren't much interested in discussing the issues affecting this nation or helping average hardworking Americans.

Rumsfeld Snooping on the Clintons?

Rumsfeld doesn't seem shy about spying on his fellow Americans and that's why we need to be concerned about the lack of warrants when it comes to using the NSA to spy on Americans. The potential for abuse is too great.

Steve Soto of The Left Coaster points out the misuse of Pentagon officials for examining the Clinton's private financial data:
With the war on terror going so well in Iraq, Rummy has assigned his staff to dig into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s financial records. And I’m sure that these same staff have no NSA files to compare against, right?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Saudi Arabia's Position on Iran

There seems to be much confusion around Iran these days. Here's one story from The New York Times that says the Saudis are 'deeply concerned' about Iran's nuclear program:
Rachel Bronson, the CFR's top Middle East expert and author of a new book on Saudi-American relations, Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership With Saudi Arabia, says that she does not expect Saudi-American relations to approach the closeness of the Cold War years, when the two countries were allied against the spread of Communism. "We should expect it to be a rockier road, although I do expect the relationship to muddle through," says Bronson, a senior fellow and director of Middle East Studies at the CFR.

"Saudi Arabia is extremely concerned over the possibility of Iran's nuclear proliferation," Bronson says, "and is very concerned about its seeming relentless bid to acquire a successful nuclear program." She notes that the strict form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia has its current origins in 1979, following the rise of Ayatollah Ali Khomeini in Iran.
And here's another article from the Khaleej Times, a UAE newspaper, that says something a bit different:
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it was not concerned about Iran’s Gulf war games, saying Teheran did not pose a threat to its neighbours.

But Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal hinted Riyadh did not back possible Iranian talks with the United States on Iraq.

Iran has tested military hardware in a week of naval war-games, including a land-to-sea missile that analysts say is designed to sink ships in the Gulf, the route for about two-fifths of the world’s globally traded oil.

“It is not the first time they have had manoeuvres,” Prince Saud told a news conference. “We do not believe that they are a threat to any of their neighbours.”

The missile tests come amid a standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme, which the West fears is geared towards building an atomic bomb, a charge Teheran denies.

The Saudi foreign minister called for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

“We don’t see a danger in Iran acquiring knowledge of energy science for peaceful means,” he said. “The best policy is not to ... expand the number of states that own weapons of mass destruction and to end the acquisition of these weapons in the region.”
In this second article, the Saudis seems to say: no, we don't want more neighbors with nuclear weapons, but no we're not particularly concerned. So we are in a situation even more muddled than the year before the Iraq war. Let's see now, what is Bush's record of competence on Iraq.....?

Rice just admitted the other day that the US has made a thousand tactical mistakes in Iraq (she was shy about admitting strategic mistakes though there have been plenty of blunders in that category too). If Bush is in charge of dealing with Iran, are the Republicans in Congress absolutely certain they want Bush in charge? Are they sure he has the answers this time? Maybe we should all be concerned.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Do Republicans Endorse Theocracy?

I know Republicans who are bothered that their party is dominated by right-wing Christian fundamentalists; there's a thread in American history that runs through both political parties: religion is sacred and personal, not something to be imposed by others and not something to be manipulated for political or monetary gain. Gulf Coast Progressive posts a transcript of Lou Dobbs of CNN interviewing Kevin Philips, a Republican strategist and now author of American Theocracy, a book critical of how religion is being used by Republicans:
“--------DOBBS: Former Republican Party strategist Kevin Phillips joins us here tonight. His new book is called "American Theocracy." It is a provocative indictment of the administration's foreign and economic policy, and examines, among other things, how the religious right is driving this administration's policy. Kevin, it is going good to have you with us. Mr. Philips political acumen has been correct in the past, let’s hope that it’s not too late to reverse these trends.”


DOBBS: This is an indictment, clearly and straightforwardly. What drove you to the conclusions that you've reached?

PHILLIPS: Well, there are a lot of, I suppose, launching pads for this. But one, as many years ago I wrote a book called "The Emerging Republican Majority," was sort of the outline of the Republican coalition.

DOBBS: What was it, what, 37 years ago?

PHILLIPS: Ah. 1969 is when it was published. It started before the election. But what's happened to the Republican coalition in the last 10 years especially is it's been moved more and more towards religious yardsticks. People who go to church. People who favor religion defining government. People who have just a whole set of concerns that go beyond economics. One of the reasons I think we have kind of screwed up economic politician in some ways is that a lot of Americans have stopped worrying about the economy because they're waiting for the second coming.

DOBBS: And you mean this quite literally?

PHILLIPS: I mean it quite literally.

DOBBS: You talk about 30 to 40 percent the electorate is caught up in scripture, exerting their influence, even power, over the White House and the Republican party. You're comfortable that it's that large a number of people, and that indeed that influence is felt that strongly within the White House?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think so. And it's partly because a considerable number of Republicans and conservatives and evangelicals believe that religion should guide politics and they have no hesitation about pushing their view on a whole host of issues. Whether it be the biblical aspect of the Middle East or science on the White House.
I don't buy Phillips numbers of 30-40%; I think the numbers are about ten points lower. On the other hand, Phillips may be concentrating only on those who vote which may raise the numbers somewhat. And I suspect the numbers over the last twenty years have been driven somewhat by well-financed people like Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others who seem to have a knack of putting money before religion; of course, people like Tom DeLay and Senator Frist (remember the awful video diagnosis?) manage to be the darling of many of these monied religious figures. At a time when Americans are becoming more thoughtful about religion and wondering if some of these monied religious figures have been misleading them, it's puzzling that John McCain is giving up the last remnants of his legendary integrity to gain their endorsements.

Wesley Clark 2008 Run?

One of the fascinating things about blogs is the growing number of blogs dedicated to a special issue or even a particular candidate. The blog called, A Wes Clark Democrat, has a post on Wesley Clark that of course is favorable to Clark but informative; here are the first two paragraphs:
My reasons to support Clark are four fold, and the basic reasons are interrelated. I really like Clark on the issues, which is over half of his appeal to me, and I'll expand on that below. I rank this at over 50% because if Clark took the wrong stand on an important range of issues, it wouldn't matter how I felt about him otherwise. The remaining three reasons are all closely bunched for me, but they are key to my support of Clark, because while it isn't easy for me to find other Democratic politicians to agree with on issues, it isn't near impossible either. Number Two. I love Clark for his character, his independence, and his personal integrity, which may come in a close second for my reasons to support him. Clark is an honest man who has always believed in making personal sacrifices on behalf of his nation. That is the mark of a leader I can respect. Clark has always walked that walk. I can spend a lot of time writing about that because I have spent a lot of time thinking about that and what about Wes Clark appeals to me. Perhaps I will write more on it in a follow up post. In my mind, of those considering a Democratic run for President in 2008, Wesley Clark and Russ Feingold top the pack for me on both these two points, with Wes and Russ breaking away from the rest on honesty, independence and character.

My last two reasons are these. Ability and Electability. I'll talk about them in that order but my stress here is on Ability, because we already spend a lot of time on these boards talking about Electability. Most by now know how bright Wes Clark is; first in his class at West Point, a Rhodes Scholar with three advanced degrees from Oxford etc. Clark also has extraordinary personal courage, which has been demonstrated in dramatic ways periodically throughout his life. Our next President will need both. Clark is highly skilled at analyzing complex problems and arriving at realistic risk assessments for all the response options available. He has a demonstrated ability to think outside the box, to see possible ways of approaching a problem that are not conventional wisdom. Factoring in the real likelihood of resistance to a proposed course of action is a tactical skill that many politicians are lacking in, but that ability allows a political leader to craft a strategy for accomplishing his or her goals that goes beyond their ability to choose the right position to fight for. Clark is unrivaled in that regard.

Wesley Clark, along with John Edwards, Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton and possibly Mark Warner, are the five Democratic candidates I take seriously in 2008; there are other possibilities, including John Kerry, and maybe in time I should take a look at them as well. I would like to post on all the candidates from time to time.

In 2004, Wesley Clark was a novice politician and entered the race late in 2003; if he has overcome the pure campaigning errors that he made in 2004 in his first run for office, he could be a force. Given the current environment and the increasingly number of revelations of wrongdoing on the part of Republicans in Washington, I suspect Clark, more than most candidates, could make a convincing argument that he would put the good of the nation ahead of politics.

Postscript: I have two minor criticisms of the blog, A Wes Clark Democrat. First, the site should open itself to comments. Second, when it posts commentary by others, it ought to include a brief comment on who those people are. Otherwise, it's a fine blog.