Archive for the ‘Bush’ Category

Mr. Giggles Goes

Oh No!

Mr. Giggles has resigned. He just up and quit. This just up at the Washington Post,

Embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has resigned from his post, according to an administration official, ending a controversial cabinet tenure that included clashes with Congress over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and the nature of efforts to spy on U.S. citizens.

The official said Gonzales submitted a letter on Friday saying he had decided to step down, but the announcement was withheld until he met with President Bush at the president’s Crawford ranch. His resignation will be announced at a press conference scheduled at 10:30.

Gonzales’ decision was first reported by the New York Times on its Web site.

Gonzales’ resignation marks the loss of another Bush loyalist at a time when his support in public opinion polls has been lagging. Though Bush had voiced continued support for Gonzales, a longtime ally from Texas, the attorney general’s support in Congress had withered after a series of run-ins that prompted some lawmakers to allege he had committed perjury.

I wonder whether he’ll get a chair next to Ari on the back porch some day? Will Karl invite him over for family BBQs?

Goodbye Mr. Giggles. Your bizarre banter in front of televison cameras and congress will be missed.

Considering all the other things you have done in the last couple of years, warrentless wiretapping, politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys, possible purgery, making White House leason aide hotties nervious while not talking about cases you were involved with – um… hell, let’s just cut to the chase – your excessive bend to fascism – will perhaps be less missed. At least by most of us. I’m sure George W. is cut to the quick.

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The flavor of words

I have never experienced synesthesia, but I think I have a fairly reasonable understanding of what it would be like; hearing colors, feeling sounds, experiencing the taste of words are all something I can understand at a subconscious level.

But like so many things taste is cultural.

That’s why, to a man bathed in the baptismal waters of modern fundamentalist Christianity, someone like George W. Bush, the flavor of the word “crusade” is a word with positive connotations. He associates it not with a physical war but with a social movement.

And in a very real sense, Bush and the people who craft his speeches and form his verbal soundbites are right. In America, crusades are largely social and not physical. We find the overt Campus Crusade for Christ but also find it natural to describe crusades to help the homeless and crusades against poverty.

Crusades are about spreading Good News, harmony and help; not oppression or hate. Crusades are about aiding the needy, showing the blind the error of their ways; leading the lost back to the path leading to salvation. From the perspective of the average fundamentalist Christian, a crusade is not negative – it is basically about helping others.

Unfortunately, to non-English speakers not immersed in the American cultural discussion, the word crusade has a far different flavor. In Muslim countries the bitter aftertaste of the word “crusade” is steeped in the historical realisation that very word is related to religion. Just as crucifixion has become the English word for a form of execution most closely related to the death of a religious figure, crusades were originally used to carry that religion out into the world, specifically into and against the Muslim religion and cultures. The crusades were a century’s long attempt to replace local Middle Eastern cultures with a Christian dictatorship. Perhaps more ominous, it was an attempt doomed to failure.

Seen in that light, the presidential confusion generated by the controversy shortly after 9/11 when George W. Bush declared a crusade against terrorism – a crusade to free the world from the evil of unexpected horrors – was understandable.

Now, if one can imagine the same word having a positive, glowing, warm feeling for one person while at the same time having a discordant, spikey, uncomfortable feel to the other, than it is a small leap to understanding why the same effect can be reversed. Words like jihad and intifada with one cultural feeling in Arabic are interpreted in an entirely different light by others in the English speaking west.

Whereas Americans would have shaken their heads in wonderment had Bush claimed “We will carry the fight to them in a global jihad against terrorism,” his meaning would have been far more clear and precise to Asian and Middle Eastern Islamic listeners.

What most people don’t understand is that is next impossible for people in the one culture to use a word imported from one language and translate the word back into the original while keeping the new cultural baggage associated with them. The more similar meaning of what have become two completely unrelated concepts, the more likely mistranslations will occur. The flavors become lost and distorted – like putting a five course meal through a blender, the ingredients remain the same but the result is less than appetising.

To show how this works in a slightly less politically charged atmosphere, I turn to a something near and dear to the hearts of many red blooded Americans – beer – or at least the containers you drink it from. For English speakers, the classic German vessel used to drink that oh-so-Teutonic ambrosia is called a “stein.” Unfortunately, native German speakers have absolutely no understanding of that use of the word for “rock.” The origin for the misunderstanding is likely very simple. The proper German word is “Krug” (related to the word pitcher). This word can, in some cases, be extended to the word “Steinkrug” if the vessel in question is made not of glass or porcelain but of clay. Since Steinkrug was likely too long for foreign ears to pick-up and remember. The word got shortened and imported into English as stein and not krug. Again, it’s important to realise that the word stein does exist in the German language but it has little to do with late night binges and Saturday morning hangovers and far more to do with something one shouldn’t throw the first one of and glass houses.

The flavor of words caused a small flap in early August when the principal of a recently founded New York bi-lingual school was forced by political pressure to step down. Debbie Almontaser lost her job due to her understanding of a word in based not in the language she uses in America, but in the language it originally came from. The story is even worse. As best as I can understand from the New York Times ($elect) article, she was fired after a controversy was created after an interview with the New York Post from a question clearly designed to spark exactly this brouhaha. From the Washington Post coverage,

Principal Debbie Almontaser said her mission was to foster tolerance and understanding. But she resigned Aug. 10 after the New York Post quoted her talking about definitions of the word “intifada.”

Almontaser’s critics say she failed to immediately condemn the slogan “Intifada NYC” on a T-shirt displayed by a group with no connection to the school. She later condemned it.

“You don’t want to have a school that confirms people’s worst fears,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
[,,,]
At core in the debate is a linguistic disconnect. The word “intifada” crystallized in its current Arabic meaning during the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s and early ’90s. It is seen by many Arabs as a valid term for popular resistance to oppression, while for many English speakers it has come to conjure images of violent attacks on civilians.

The right-wing punditry attacked the woman for all the things they see as being wrong in America. She was running a bi-lingual school, Arabic-English; this is in and of itself suspect because as we all know you can’t learn Arabic without learning the motives and religion of the Muslim religion and creating a madrassa. (It’s not like having a bi-lingual charter school, Hebrew-English, being run in Hollywood Florida run by an Orthodox rabbi. That’s OK. Hebrew has nothing to do with religion.) The mote of an Arabic-English school is a beam in the eye of the right-wing radicals.

Almontaser was attacked because she was an educator, someone who wanted people to understand not the westernised meaning of intifada but the current meaning in Arabic. Why an intifada is about protest but that protest can take many forms. That kind of cultural understanding leads to the very bedrock of multiculturalism. If children in New York start to read Middle Eastern newspapers and realise that there are good and bad sources of information, Arabic pundits as acerbic as any Fox News anchor. If the children in New York would begin to realise that the “them” in the “us and them” are just as much the bad guys in Hamas as the bad guys in RNC, then billions of dollars in propaganda will have been wasted.

Finally, Almontaser was probably attacked for simply being who she is; a proud, intelligent, Muslim woman, willing to openly wear the symbolic sign of her religion – a head scarf. The very same group of people who barked long enough and loud enough to get this woman fired would go into a mouth-foaming rage at the thought of a school system judging someone for wearing a cross or a Star of David on a T-Shirt or as a lapel pin. Almontaser was attacked because she is a woman capable and willing to accept a difficult and complex job and not stay at home, out of sight taking care of the children; a cultural tick that seems to be shared equally between fundamentalist Christians and Muslims.

But then again it isn’t about equality, or fairness, or even about the word itself. It’s about perception.

Which brings me back to George W Bush.

I think he would be shocked and amazed if people were to accuse him of fighting a global jihad to impose American culture on the world in general and the Middle East specifically. He would be shocked if he really thought people felt his invasion of Iraq was about crushing a 1500 years of Middle Eastern culture to replace it with western – or perhaps better American – values. An invasion bent on killing all who oppose his plans; the utter destruction of all those who want to live under different values.

If only Bush could make his critics understand that is far from his purpose. People would finally understand and accept that he is merely leading a world wide crusade to bring American ideals to the oppressed people of the world and specifically those in the Arab countries. He wants to help in the deepest most substantial way he can find, bringing harmony, hope and Good News.

It is all too clear once you understand the flavor of words why one side doesn’t understand the other. The problem is bitterly apparent.

Parsing the President

I just though I’d give you some of my asides to yesterday’s Presidential speech. People will probably latch on to the Vietnam references, but to be honest the entire thing was a train wreck, start to finish.

Bush’s attempt to link Iraq with WWII, Korea and Vietnam fall short of everything related to reality. And he starts off by distorting reality once again. Remember. Bush is speaking in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organisation he would have a little difficultly getting in to.

I stand before you as a wartime President. I wish I didn’t have to say that, but an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, declared war on the United States of America. And war is what we’re engaged in.

This is true, because he can’t stand in front of them and tell them he is proud to count himself among their ranks, the people who fought “in places from Normandy to Iwo Jima, to Pusan, to Khe Sahn, to Kuwait, to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.“ At the same time, his war in Iraq wasn’t waged against the people who attacked America on September 11th. It wasn’t true then; his repeating it doesn’t make it any truer now.

For those of you who wear the uniform, nothing makes me more proud to say that I am your Commander-in-Chief. Thank you for volunteering in the service of the United States of America. (Applause.)

Of course he conveniently forgets that many of the people who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam were drafted and didn’t volunteer. He does realise that was the reason he joined the National Guard, right?

But here’s what we do agree on: We agree our veterans deserve the full support of the United States government. (Applause.) That’s why in this budget I submitted there’s $87 billion for the veterans; it’s the highest level of support ever for the veterans in American history. (Applause.) We agree that health care for our veterans is a top priority, and that’s why we’ve increased health care spending for our veterans by 83 percent since I was sworn in as your President. (Applause.) We agree that a troop coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan deserves the best health care not only as an active duty citizen, but as a military guy, but also as a veteran — and you’re going to get the best health care we can possibly provide. (Applause.) We agree our homeless vets ought to have shelter, and that’s what we’re providing.

Well. If Bush hadn’t have invaded Iraq, he probably wouldn’t need that huge budget. Where is that money coming from – subprime lending?

And wait a minute! Bush has increased health care spending by a total of 83% since he became president!? Sir, might I remind you, when you became president, the U.S. wasn’t at war? Wouldn’t being at war sort of demand that spending go up not just a little, but drastically? Is 83% even close to being enough to cover the huge expenses now being encountered?

Finally, Bush wants to help homeless vets. Let’s see. Why do they become homeless? Financial stress because the guard pays less than civilian jobs? No. Losing your hands in the war and then going broke because the military misplaced paperwork and wrongly issued payment? Nah! Post traumatic stress disorder? No, no, no. Subprime loans!? Yeah, that’s it! Not war related at all. Good out! (Of course Bush really only wants to supply shelter through faith-base organisations. One has to wonder if Iraq isn’t just a weird way to convert America?)

The enemy who attacked us despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.

If this story sounds familiar, it is — except for one thing. The enemy I have just described is not al Qaeda, and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden. Instead, what I’ve described is the war machine of Imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.

So “they” still despise us? Are the Japanese are still our enemies? (Bush used the present tense when he said “the enemy who attacked us despises freedom.” Oops.)

He still doesn’t get it though. Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with Iraq, it had to do with oil embargos and global militarisation in a completely different age. Viewed through contemporary Japanese eyes, it was arguably an unavoidable conflict. It also wasn’t designed to be a complete surprise, the Japanese just couldn’t type fast enough to get the Declaration of War to the State Department in time. (Of course the State Department already knew what was coming because it had already been intercepted, decrypted and distributed.)

When did Sadaam or Bin Laden send their declarations of war?

There are many differences between the wars we fought in the Far East and the war on terror we’re fighting today. But one important similarity is at their core they’re ideological struggles.

WWII was as much economic as ideological. Korea was a power struggle between China and the U.S. for supremacy in S.E. Asia. Vietnam was the paniced reaction of right wing American hawks looking for a place to fight communism.

Afghanistan, while it might have something to do with 9/11, is largely an international effort to attempt to bring a stable government into a region historically ruled by local tribes and warlords. Whether the American effort will be any more effective than the Soviet attempt or the 3 prior British tries remains to be seen. It has as much to do with ideology as the current boom in Afghan opium planting has to do with traditional agriculture.

Iraq was and is completely unrelated to the events in 2001 and to any ideological reasoning. Can Bush point to a single speech he gave in 2002 saying America had to invade Iraq for ideological reasons? A single speech. A single bullet point?. He knew that then, he knows that now. But he’d like to use rhetorical tricks to obfuscate the issue. Intermingling WWII; Korea, Vietnam and 9/11 and convincing everyone they are the same kind of conflict; a verbal bait and switch.

And does Bin Laden really despise American freedoms? No more than Bush does. (Then again both have different definitions of the word freedom.)

Bush really needs to spend more time reading Al Quada speeches instead of listening to his own propaganda. You see, even Bin Laden says things like “Security is an important pillar of human life. Free people do not relinquish their security. This is contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden, for example.“ Despises American freedom? *sigh*

The militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam were driven by a merciless vision for the proper ordering of humanity.

Not like the Christian Identity folks in America, right?

Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world. This enemy is dangerous; this enemy is determined; and this enemy will be defeated.

But aren’t we trying kill them to impose our ideology across a vital region of the world? Isn’t that the point?

At the outset of World War II there were only two democracies in the Far East – Australia and New Zealand.

Which is interesting seeing that much of Asia, including India, Cambodia and Vietnam, was under European colonial control in 1939. Korea had been a Japanese colony since 1876. And then there were the Philippines, an American colony/territory/protectorate. Don’t blame the lack of democracy on the wrong people Mr. Bush. It was the collapse of the colonial system in the 1950’s that brought democracy, not the Japanese surrender.

In the aftermath of Japan’s surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom.

These were the same people putting Japanese-Americans in prison camps without a trial, but I won’t go there.

Others critics said that Americans were imposing their ideals on the Japanese. For example, Japan’s Vice Prime Minister asserted that allowing Japanese women to vote would “retard the progress of Japanese politics.”

It’s interesting what General MacArthur wrote in his memoirs [This is the guy who wanted to use nukes in Korea, right?] He wrote, “There was much criticism of my support for the enfranchisement of women. Many Americans, as well as many other so-called experts, expressed the view that Japanese women were too steeped in the tradition of subservience to their husbands to act with any degree of political independence.”

Is he honestly trying to compare the suffrage of Japanese women to the spreading of American ideals? He does realise that women could vote in those Asian democracies, Australia (1902) and New Zealand (1893) long before America chose to take that step in 1920? American ideals, Mr. President?

His misrepresentation of the Shinto religion is foolish. He does realize that one of the main requirements for allowing the Japanese Emperor to stay in power was his renouncing his godhood? It would be a little like Islam taking over America and saying that Jesus fellow just isn’t all that important.

Shinto got changed not abandoned because it wasn’t compatible with democratic values. That’s why people said it wouldn’t work. The Americans didn’t abolish the imperial throne, they changed the religion. Perhaps that’s that what Bush has planned for Islam: banning Mohamed.

And the result of all these steps was that every Japanese citizen gained freedom of religion, and the Emperor remained on his throne and Japanese democracy grew stronger because it embraced a cherished part of Japanese culture.

No. The requirement that Japanese attend Shinto shrines as a patriotic duty was dropped. Freedom of religion was incorporated in Japan in the middle of the 19th century. Under the patriotic fever of the militant 1930’s, it became very unpopular to be anything but Shinto in Japan. Currently there are people in America who think that it is a patriotic duty to be a Christian – some of these people are Republicans. Do you think it is easy to be an open Muslim in America, President Bush?

You know, the experts sometimes get it wrong.

Like the clowns who told you that there were WMD’s in Iraq?

Instead, I think it’s important to look at what happened.

Yeah. So do I.

After the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in 1950, President Harry Truman came to the defense of the South — and found himself attacked from all sides. From the left, I.F. Stone wrote a book suggesting that the South Koreans were the real aggressors and that we had entered the war on a false pretext. From the right, Republicans vacillated. Initially, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate endorsed Harry Truman’s action, saying, “I welcome the indication of a more definite policy” — he went on to say, “I strongly hope that having adopted it, the President may maintain it intact,” then later said “it was a mistake originally to go into Korea because it meant a land war.”

Wasn’t the whole 38th parallel thing an American idea, drawn by the Dean Rusk (the guy who helped start Vietnam) and Charles Bonesteel just 4 days before Korea was completely liberated. An artificial border drawn simply because there wasn’t any way to get American troops any farther north before the Soviets occupied half of the former Japanese colony? And wasn’t the North Korean invasion more or less pre-emptive? (You know, like Iraq) Didn’t the American Congress drag their heels on arming South Korea because the then “democratic” president, Syngman Rhee, kept instigating a war with the North? Otherwise wouldn’t it have been better to arm South Korea to avoid a conflict altogether?

Finally, there’s Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I’m going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.

You’ll limit yourself to one argument because that’s just about the only analogy you can find that works. The killing did end Mr. Bush. Of course to claim that people thought peace would immediately reign is a bit of a canard really. Could you give a quote there? You know as well as I do that the civil war could only end when America left, when America stopped propping up a dictatorship. (It certainly wasn’t a democracy.) Americans (and the rest of the world) wanted America out of Vietnam because America shouldn’t have been there in the first place, not because most thought the killing would immediately stop.

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”

His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”

His comments about Bin Laden and Zawahiri are telling. Both seem to understand history far better than Bush does. Bin Laden and Zawahiri understand why America pulled out of Vietnam. Bush, or his speech writers, apparently don’t.

It wasn’t the price for withdrawing from Vietnam that was high in international standing, it was the belated costs of going in in the first place.

Remember Mr. President. Bin Laden and Zawahiri can only invoke Vietnam/Iraq comparisons because you ordered the unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Let me repeat that last, you ordered the unnecessary, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. There will likely be hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq when America leaves and that will be a tragedy. But those are on your conscience Mr. Bush; not that of the American people you duped into believing your hawkish propaganda.

If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits. As we saw on September the 11th, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to the streets of our own cities. Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home. And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America.

Let’s turn this around, shall we. Isn’t Iraq the number one recruiting tool for Iraq and wannabe terrorists right now? Did America increase the size of it’s armed forces after World War II and we were emboldened by the victory over Germany and Japan. Didn’t “victory” end the war and disarmament start almost immediately? Didn’t the same thing happen after the end of the Korean war. And did the domino theory actually pan out after Vietnam? Did Central Asia completely fall into communist hands? Did America start fighting on the streets of Peking or Moskow? Did Vietnamese students start infiltrating college campuses in America and changing the bell curve in their favor?

Why exactly would Iraqi’s want to follow the Americans home? Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds or maybe thousands of committed terrorists who would be willing to come to America and create mayhem and chaos. But that is not the war being fought in Iraq. Al Qaeda is only a small portion of the fighting there; most Iraqis are fighting for control of Iraq.

Afghanistan, where the brain of Al Qaeda is located, is starting to fall back into Taliban and extremist hands specifically because our resources are stretched too far. You remember Afghanistan? That’s where Bin Laden is supposed to be.

Here’s what they said: “Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences.” I believe these men are right.

Shawcross and Rodman!? Excuse me? Let me give you a couple of more quotes from these two “experts.”

Peter Rodman

[The future of the United States] will be forced more and more to choose between its convictions on what is essential to spare the Middle East from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, on the one hand, and deference to the more assertive resistance of other major powers that either do not share the U.S. alarm or are driven by other motives.

…the key to multilateralism is not what one thinks of the United Nations but what one thinks of the United States. Those who believe the United States guilty of too many sins in the past—and these include some Americans—will be eager to see restraints on American unilateral action. Those who believe that global freedom and peace and the cause of human rights have more often than not been advanced if not sustained by the United States, acting out of some combination of its own self-interest and a general interest, will find multilateralism a potential source of paralysis. (1999)

William Shawcross

Tony Blair’s enemies have behaved in a shocking manner over the liberation of Iraq and its elusive weapons of mass destruction. Opponents of the war predicted all manner of disasters – millions of refugees, famine, thousands of deaths in battle, and revolution on “the Arab street” throughout the region. None of these horrors happened. Instead, it is obvious that the coalition has indeed freed Iraqis from a monster and created a new reality in the Middle East – one which just might offer the region hope. (2003)

Hmmm. I wonder if I would trust these guys to park my car? They sure don’t seem to be able to predict the future very well. Why should we listen to them now? Oh. They’re experts. (See above)

But then Bush manages his coup de grace.

The American military graveyards across Europe attest to the terrible human cost in the fight against Nazism. They also attest to the triumph of a continent that today is whole, free, and at peace. The advance of freedom in these lands should give us confidence that the hard work we are doing in the Middle East can have the same results we’ve seen in Asia and elsewhere — if we show the same perseverance and the same sense of purpose.

Bush should stop trying to conflate stateless terrorism with terrorist states. Nazi German created far more graveyards that can attest to the horrible human cost of a regime willing to invade other countries, to ignore human rights, to torture prisoners, to set up lawless prison camps out of the country. He shouldn’t talk about Nazi Germany while making tenuous links to the deaths following the American withdrawal from Vietnam .

There is one group of people who understand the stakes, understand as well as any expert, anybody in America — those are the men and women in uniform. Through nearly six years of war, they have performed magnificently. (Applause.) Day after day, hour after hour, they keep the pressure on the enemy that would do our citizens harm. They’ve overthrown two of the most brutal tyrannies of the world, and liberated more than 50 million citizens.

But the stakes those people see aren’t the stakes Bush is fighting for. They reenlist because they honor the uniform. They reenlist and keep fighting because there is a fight going on and you don’t desert comrades in arms. They keep trying to perform even though the substance, both human and material, is wearing out and breaking. But they don’t reenlist because the Bush policies are working.

Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year.

I thought we didn’t “do” body counts anymore. I thought we gave that up because it was an ineffective measure of success in Vietnam. I guess he didn’t learn that lesson. Oh. Right. He wasn’t there.

Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him. And it’s not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position — that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship.

Wow. With the exception of the comment about Maliki being a good guy (How can he be? He’s a politician.), I actually agree with that statement. Levin’s brain-dead comments after returning from Iraq were the most irresponsible comments in the summer slump.

But a free Iraq will be a massive defeat for al Qaeda,

A free and peaceful Afghanistan first would have been even better.

Prevailing in this struggle is essential to our future as a nation. And the question now that comes before us is this: Will today’s generation of Americans resist the allure of retreat, and will we do in the Middle East what the veterans in this room did in Asia?

I quote a Salon article written by Jessica Kowal in November 2003

The United States volunteered to fight the Vietnam War, too, in the context of a global war against an evil enemy, communism. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon told Americans that a small country halfway around the world was essential to American security. U.S. leaders ignored that region’s long opposition to occupying forces. They lied to get troops into the war, and lied throughout the war. Defying reality, they insisted the U.S. was making “progress” as the situation deteriorated, and blamed critics for encouraging “the enemy.”

Hmmm.

Bush ends his speech on an interesting note.

The greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator. So long as we remain true to our ideals, we will defeat the extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will help those countries’ peoples stand up functioning democracies in the heart of the broader Middle East. And when that hard work is done and the critics of today recede from memory, the cause of freedom will be stronger, a vital region will be brighter, and the American people will be safer.

If your ideals don’t include Creators – then I guess there is no belief in liberty, correct? But wait. Al Qaeda wants a theocracy! That means a Creator – liberty! Hey. Mr. President. They’re on your side!

Seriously, no president in recent history has done more to erode the ideals of America with the suspension of Habeas Corpus, secret prisons, torture and the pre-emptive invasion Bush so sadly keeps trying to defend. Bush was the one to invade Iraq before the job in Afghanistan was finished.

To assume that America will be really safer as long as there is a reason to hate, as long as people can find an excuse to wage war and as long as there are presidents willing to provide extremists with a reason to hate America?

Mr President sir, you are more deluded than I thought.

Petraeus Report to be Written in WH

The Scream by Edward MunchYes, I’m still alive. I’m just not writing because everything is just so mind numbingly depressing.

Karl Rove leaves the White House to go pre-buff Bush’s post-presidential legacy and then move on to use whatever dirty tricks he can find to discredit the Democratic party during the 2008 elections. I suspect he is leaving government service not because he thinks it is time but because the kind of partisan activities he has in mind would be so immensely illegal from a White House position that even Rove got cold feet. (Maybe he just misses his RNC e-mail account.)

Then there is the whole FISA/Wiretapping thing with the Democratic congress happily feeding constitutional rights to Barney, rolling over and going woof every single time anyone in the White House says boo before skittering off into a summer news vaccuum.

The increased sound of war drums being pounded in the direction of Iraq is becoming deafening. It looks like the U.S. is planning once again to make a feign to the U.N. before invading. That is why they are planning to release the plans about declaring the Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organisation during the U.N General Assemby next month.

Then we find out that, as opposed to being under fire and in retreat, Alberto Gonzales is planning to “fast track” the death penalty in California and other states. Perhaps because we need to make room on death row for all those terrorists who have been arrested thanks to the TSP and other “undisclosed monitoring activities?” You know, those pesky terrorists we can’t try in criminal courts because we tortured them in violation of their constitutional rights and can’t try in military courts because we tortured them in violation of the Geneva convention? Those folks like Jose Padilla now being convicted of “having engaged in a criminal conspiracy to be nothing so much as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.'”

There is the media offensive underway by the “journalists” and “experts” that went on their eight vacation daysight seeing tour inspection of Iraq Baghdad with day trips to see “the troops” or perhaps better “military commanders” out in the field. That trip being plastered across the media starting with the NYT Op-Ed by “war critics” Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon (so absolutely debunked by Glen Greenwald) to yesterday’s William Kristol appearance on the Daily Show. (Neat how all those folks were on the same “fact finding junket”, huh?) The spin machine is cranking out positive stories about the Iraq situation well in advance of the September 15 deadline for the Petraeus report.

And then. this morning, I find out, buried in the LA Times article about the Iraq status report, that it will be written, not by Petraeus, or even in the DoD – but in the White House.

Administration and military officials acknowledge that the September report will not show any significant progress on the political benchmarks laid out by Congress. How to deal in the report with the lack of national reconciliation between Iraq’s warring sects has created some tension with in the White House.

Despite Bush’s repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it actually will be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And while Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report’s data. The senior administration official said the process has created “uncomfortable positions” for the White House because of debates over what constitutes “satisfactory progress.”

The spin goes on. (Oh Karl, we miss you already. Thank God, he and George Bush exchanged telephone numbers.)

Mind-numbingly depressing. No?

How Many Dead Americans Is Sadaam Worth

Oh. The wonders of YouTube … and a little time,

Retorical question from Dick Cheney about the deaths in the Gulf War.

But for the 146 Americans killed in action and their families it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether we went on to Baghdad and took addtional casualties in an effort to get Sadaam Hussain, was how many additional dead Americans is Sadaam worth? And our judgement was not very many and I think we got it right.
– Dick Cheney

Did I mention that was in 1994?

The best part. The video is from the American Enterprise Instititue.

(Hat Tip Unfogged via Kieran Healy/Crooked Timber)

‘Mericans Don’t Torture…

No. They murder.

From the AP Wire story that probably got dropped or buried in most American newspapers, (Fox News Version)

A Marine Corps squad leader was convicted Thursday of murdering an Iraqi man during a frustrated search for an insurgent.

Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, 23, also was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, making a false official statement and larceny. He was acquitted of kidnapping, assault and housebreaking.

Hutchins, of Plymouth, Mass., could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He had been charged with premeditated murder but the military jury struck the premeditation element from the verdict. Sentencing deliberations for Hutchins were set to begin Friday morning.

Hutchins stood rigidly and stared straight ahead in the silent courtroom as the verdict was read. A few minutes later he answered a procedural question with a loud and clear, “Yes, sir.”

His wife, sitting in the public area behind Hutchins, sobbed silently with her head bowed.

A second soldier was also found guilty, not of murder but of larceny and housebreaking. From the same source,

Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 24, of Manteca, faced up to life in prison. He was also found guilty of larceny and housebreaking, and cleared of making a false official statement.

Magincalda was not accused of firing any shots, but was charged with murder for participating in the plot.

A military psychiatrist testified Magincalda developed post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression as a result of combat.

“He was essentially a broken shell,” Dr. Jennifer Morse said. “This was a young man who was gone, who was clearly haunted by his memories.”

This is the legacy of the Bush administration.

I’m sure the administration will play this down as an isolated incident, a single squad that got out of control.

WHAM. Winning hearts and minds. That was the phrase used in Vietnam. These kinds of things also happened in Vietnam. Even today we know they were also isolated insidents; not indicative of the larger American/Vietnamese interaction but highly indicative of the moral of the American soldiers; the amount of frustration at not being able to win or even play the game.

WHAM. Winning hearts and minds. This was the number three story on Al Jazeera this morning. I doubt the same will be true in America. Somehow, I suspect the Arab world is listening. Is America listening? Whose hearts and minds got just a little more jaded today?

George W. Bush told a presidential scholar clearly and definitely that “Americans don’t torture.” I would argue that might be a debateable point.

But the fact is Mr. Bush; Americans do murder. Sleep well at night?

Pop Quiz Interrupts Summer Phantasies

Do you remember your last couple of months of High School? You know; you already had your acceptance letter from a college, most your classes were winding down and your interests in things academic were on a back burner?

I suspect that is a little how Alberto Gonzales felt while leaving the Senate hearing on Tuesday afternoon. He had made it! Even if congress planned to do something; the wheels of Justice turn slowly. Especially if you’re one of the people standing on the brakes.

Eighteen months is a very short time in Washington and, just like a high school senior with a couple of months and finals left, Gonzales probably felt he could coast from here. Just a couple of difficult papers, one or two orals and then freedom. At least that is the tone of the post I expected to be writing today. About how General Giggles was more or less home free for the next few months.

Why did I think that? Let’s look at this not from the perspective of the American people; let’s look at this from inside the Bush bunker.

There are 18 months left and we are facing a 5 week congressional break is coming up at the end of next week. Senators and Congresspeople are busy trying to get bills passed so the visit back to home states can be greeted with big checks and pork laden rhetoric. The administration thought there wouldn’t be any time to start anything major against the AG until fall. By then the Iraq report would be taking most of the limelight and even more time would pass. Nothing would get started until shortly before Christmas (another break!).

And it looked like it was going to work. Despite strong words from both Patrick Leahy and Arin Spector, both men are willing to give the Justice Department enough time to re-craft (or warcraft) the comments made by Gonzales into a more reality oriented piece of legal weaselling, dodging wrongdoing but never actually approaching the abyss of truth. Both senior Senators, although fed up with Gen. Giggles, are “eagerly” awaiting the possible “corrections” from the DOJ.

As has also been often mentioned, in the current political climate, Bush would have difficulties getting Senate conformation for any Gonzales replacement. It’s not like no one has ever reported that the administration isn’t quietly looking for ‘Berto II. As a matter of fact, looking at the number of open posts in senior administration positions, I suspect Bush would have difficulties finding anyone to take the job.

The idea has also been floated, that the Bush administration both needs and wants Gonzales to stay. With so many, shall we say, dodgy legal moves over the past six years, administration officials might feel that Gonzales the last line of defense. After all, they still have to keep working and you can’t work if you have to delete an e-mail before you have time to read it. And as Scooter Libby can say, those legal fees get pressing if you don’t have a large number of fund-raisers behind you. I doubt there are that many hard-core, deep-pocketed Republicans to protect the entire White House staff.

Gonzales can also be fairly sure that his seat is right now secure because there is no reason for Bush to fire him at the moment. There is no direct need to boost his poll numbers during the off season. October might be a different story when relief is sought from the “Iraq report” onslaught after the next set of benchmark progress is published. But during the summer slump? Nah!

Thus I figured General Giggles was safe for the next year and a half.

But remember what happened to Donald “he’ll stay until the end of the term” Rumsfeld? Rumors of his replacement were also widespread and always denied. He looked a bit miffed the day he got canned. That might be what is going on here. And Bush might not have much choice.

I was amazed at how fast congress responded to Gonzales’ newest silliness.

First came the documents – who knew there would be documents, don’t these people understand shredding? (Is Oliver North available for consulting?) The comments from Democratic participants in the Gang of Eight* meetings were to be expected; the absolute lack of response from the Republican side (Tom Delay anyone?) is more puzzling. But I seriously doubt that anyone, at least anyone as far outside Washington as I sit, would have expected yesterdays testimony from Robert S. Mueller III, FBI director, disputing Gonzales testimony. That made the White House attempts at claiming everything is political theatre a little difficult to swallow.

But to see four senators respond within two days with a request to the Solicitor General to see if perjury charges could be brought? Two days?! I’m stunned.

I suspect the aides in Gonzales’ office are working around the clock to attempt damage control on this. But the task isn’t easy. From the Washington Post, quoting Schumer during yesterday’s press conference,

“He tells the half-truth, the partial truth and anything but the truth,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), as he and three other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department yesterday to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied to Congress about the NSA program.

I suspect this is a pop quiz Gonzales and the administration hadn’t expected. No more coasting. They thought they’d have a week to rewrite reality, five weeks of quiet to massage (or massage parlor) various lawmakers, and a September filled, not with the Department of Justice, but the Department of Defense. Now they are facing a summer of Justice, not much to fill the news cycle and lots of time for the democrats to explain the case to the American public.

I hope all those aides got travel cancellation insurance when they booked their vacations. Stupid pop quizzes!

Enabling a Third Term

Bush’s Third Term?I’ve been giving some thought as to just exactly how the White House plans to achieve a third term for Bush. Never mind that it might be illegal or that Bush’s poll numbers are abysmal. None of that has stopped them before, they’ll just change or distort the law and the facts. If you think I’m absolutely insane, I encourage you to think back to the stunt the White House pulled last summer.

Remember Rockey Vaccarella, the guy who drove from Louisiana to Washington with a “FEMA” trailer? The guy who just wanted to talk to Bush about what “a heck of a job” he was doing rebuilding the Gulf Coast? The guy who “just happened” to make enough of a media splash to be able to meet the president? You remember that this “normal guy” just managed to mention that Bush should get four more years. (And it’s not like he misspoke and took back the comment later. )

Ever since that happened, despite what Faux News and spokeshottie Dana Perino said at the time, I’ve been wondering how the administration is planning to achieve exactly that, a third term.

(By the way liberal media. Wouldn’t it make a great story to hunt that clown down this year?)

Sure. A third term would have been easier with a Republican controlled House and Senate and I suspect back in August 2006 the administration fully expected to achieve that. Then again, remember back when Ron Suskind profiled the White House, reality and faith? Remember the words of the “senior administration aide?”

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

“We create our own reality. And … we’ll act again, creating other new realities” That phase has stayed in my head as well.

Now, perhaps I’m paranoid, perhaps I’ve been watching too many horror movies, but a couple of things have wondered across my radar in the past couple of weeks that I’d like to juxtapose.

The first is the rather unsettling Executive Order the Bush Administration quietly published on July 17th. The order entitled “Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq” The order that allows the government to seize the property of people who, as it says in part

Section 1. (a) Except to the extent provided in section 203(b)(1), (3), and (4) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(1), (3), and (4)), or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,

(i) to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of:

(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people; [my emphasis]

This order, had it been issued as a Papal Bull say 500 years ago, reads to me like nothing more than an act of excommunication. A method of destroying and outlawing opponents without immediate recourse to the courts. Indeed, if one seizes all of someone’s assets, it get’s really difficult to hire lawyers to defend yourself.

It is clear this passed muster in Gonzales’ Department of Justice, but they aren’t the people mentioned as executors, it is the Secretary of the Treasury with the Sec State and the Secretary of Defense.

That might be why Senator Clinton got rather upset when she got mail from the Pentagon in response to requests about possible plans for the withdrawal of American troops. The response came from Under Secretary of Defense, Eric Edelman. It read in part

Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.

The letter was dated July 16, 2007.

That is how Bush achieves a third term. He can claim the “Democrat party” is undermining the Iraqi government, seize their assets and declare a national emergency. There can be no election because none of the candidates have funds.

Fortunately, the real SecDef, Gates sent a follow-up letter this week to smooth ruffled feathers.

But you sometimes just have to wonder about the timing. Synchronicity? Fate? Planning? Prayer circles? The similiar language comming from the White House and the Under SecDef in the same week has to make you think of “created reality.” Doesn’t it?

How do you think they will manage the third term?

My General Giggle Notes

I was going to write a different post here, but I thought I’d just share my notes on Tuesday’s Mr. Giggle visit in the Senate. I’ll post my take tomorrow.

Sen. Leahy: Did you mislead us about the violations of the Patriot Act?
Gonzales: Tee Hee. Oops
Sen. Leahy: What’s with the 17 remaining open US Attorneys positions
Gonzales: We’re working on it.
Sen. Leahy: What’s the DOJ’s stand on the Contempt Question
Gonzales: I say nothing!

Sen. Specter: What about the Ashcroft hospital visit
– Gonzales: Just a chat among friends, after emergency meeting with the Gang of Eight
Sen. Specter: Were you there to get approval for NSA wiretapping?
– Gonzales: We never asked.
Sen. Specter: What about executive privilege
– Gonzales: Sorry, that’s under privilege
Sen. Specter: Death Penalty?
– Gonzales: Did I ever hear anything about the death penalty. Can’t recall

Sen. Kohl:
How do we get Guantanamo closed?
– Gonzales: Love to, Let’s just blow up America now.
Sen. Kohl: Filling US Attorney posts?
– Gonzales: What’s with the US Attorney questions?
Sen. Kohl: Why doesn’t DOJ enforce price fixing laws against OPEC?
– Gonzales: We can’t do that. Rich corporations and foreign countries might get grumpy

Sen. Hatch: Bla bla bla. I won’t go into it. His lips were brown when he finished..

Sen. Feinstein: Who wrote the list of people to be fired?
– Gonzales: What list!? You know more than I do! I just signed it.
Sen. Feinstein: How many people have you fired?
– Gonzales: No idea, people come and go. It’s so confusing!
Sen. Feinstein: You want change, why has the new DOJ Voting Rights manual been raped?
– Gonzales: (Rats, she read the book) Um. We’ll look into it.

Sen. Kyl: Guantanamo, good for the US?
– Gonzo: It’s good for me
Sen. Kyl: bla, bla, bla

Sen Cardin: Why were the names on the list
– Gonzales: Good, God fearing reasons. But exactly? No idea.
Sen Cardin: Gang of Eight meetings are classified – Did you just leak classified material?
– Gonzales: It’s OK. GW will retroactively declassify it if necessary.
Sen Cardin: Hiring of career lawyers – has that been fixed? – Gonzales: Just like the voting book.

Sen Grassley: I want my documents (snit)
– Gonzales: Yes, sir
Sen Grassley: Fraud in Iraq?
– Gonzales: Working there is like working in a war zone!
Sen Grassley: Custer Battles case
– Gonzales: waffle, waffle, waffle

Sen Whitehouse: Were activities okayed before Ashcroft went to the hospital
– Gonzales: This is just way too complex to explain to Senators!
Sen Whitehouse: Did you have a document to seek reapproval of the “Program”
– Gonzales: Yes, but we didn’t ask. So there!
Sen Whitehouse: Can Whitehouse control litigation in the DOJ
– Gonzales: (You can’t prove it if we use RNC e-mail accounts) Nah!

Sen. Sessions: Bla, bla, bla. Michelle Malkin illegal immigration, bla, bla bla
Sen. Sessions: Isn’t there a problem with crack sentences being too high?
– Gonzales: They just aren’t high or tough enough!

Sen Schumer: There was only one secret program?
– Gonzales: Yes
Sen Schumer: But you testified that there had been no dissent from DOJ officials…
– Gonzales: Oh. You mean THAT secret wiretapping program. No. No. This was about something completely different.
Sen Schumer: ?!
– Gonzales: Really
Sen Leahy: ?! @#+§$! ?!
– Gonzales: No. Really. Scouts Honor.

Sen Durbin: Executive order on torture. DOJ look at that?
– Gonzales: Sure
Sen Durbin: Any feelings on it?
– Gonzales: No, we in the upper management of the DOJ are robots
Sen Durbin: Would it be legal for foreign countries to treat Americans this way?
– Gonzales: Um. By our laws or theirs?
Sen Durbin: No, Really
– Gonzales: La, La, La, La… I can’t hear you.
Sen Durbin: Guantanamo, why no convictions?
– Gonzales: Too few kangaroo courts

Sen Feingold: @#+§$! @#+§$!!!
– Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Feingold: Have you lied under oath?
– Gonzales: I don’t lie, I weasel
Sen Feingold: Potential liability helps privacy laws
– Gonzales: (Danger, Danger, Non Sequitor) Sure

Sen Kennedy: Torture policy, Can we get the memos on that?
– Gonzales: We have no memos. We give no paper. We are not human.
Sen Kennedy: Torture bla, bla, bla
– Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Kennedy: Peace Corps! They used the Peace Corps to get diplomats to attack Democrats!
Gonzales: Heh, Heh. Good one, huh?
Sen Kennedy: Did it happen at the DOJ?
– Gonzales: Um. I know nothing!
Sen Kennedy: Why only 2 civil rights cases in voting issues.
– Gonzales: We forgot to fudge the data.

Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you know she was evil?
– Gonzales: No. She was kind of hot.
Sen Leahy: Monica Goodling – did you talk to her about what had happened.
– Gonzales: She was distraught. Did I mention she is kind of hot?
Sen Leahy: Did you tell us you hadn’t talked to anyone?
– Gonzales: I thought you were asking about something else
Sen Leahy: Why deny benefits to public servants
– Gonzales: (Because that would cost money) I’ll look into it.

Sen Specter: If we want to put you in jail, who do we talk to?
– Gonzales: (Just try, sucker!) That would be the Solicitor General.
Sen Specter: TSA not the intelligence activities. Boy, you in a heap of trouble.
– Gonzales: Giggle
Sen Specter: Back to the death penalty, bla, bla, bla
– Gonzales: I don’t remember anything
Sen Specter: @#+§$!
Sen Specter: Oxycontin judgment. Were you on drugs?!
– Gonzales: We got a good price

Sen Whitehouse: I am on the intelligence committee. @#+§$!
– Gonzales: …
Sen Whitehouse: Remember the Ashcroft memo? The one linking the Whitehouse to the DOJ like Siamese twins. The memo you were concerned about.
– Gonzales: Sure
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you sign one similar?
Gonzales: Heh, Heh
Sen Whitehouse: Why did you add the Office of the Vice president, the VP council, the VP Chief of staff etc.
– Gonzales: (Because Cheney uses mind control?)  Because the VP – um – asked? No. Memo. What memo?
Sen Whitehouse: The moral is miserable in the DOJ. You are scum
– Gonzales: Yes, I am. Giggle

Sen Cardin: The meeting with the Gang of Eight. That is classified.
– Gonzales: It was

Sen Schumer: Why were you in the hospital?
– Gonzales: Just visiting
Sen Schumer: Who sent you?
– Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer: No, really. Who sent you?
– Gonzales: Can’t say
Sen Schumer:
No, really, really. Who sent you?
– Gonzales: No, really, really. Can’t say. They’d eat my soul.

Sen Specter:
We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
– Gonzales: heh, heh

Sen Leahy: We’re kind of grumpy have you noticed?
– Gonzales: heh, heh

Angry

Although Bush’s poll numbers seem to have stopped or at least slowed on the way to the pit of political desparation, the latest Washington-Post/ABC poll still won’t give him much joy.

The war has been the single biggest drag on the president’s approval ratings.

Thirty-one percent give him positive marks on handling the situation in Iraq, which is near his career low on the issue. The last time a majority approved of the president’s handling of the war was in January 2004.

Even among those Americans who said they had served or had a close friend or relative who served in Iraq, 38 percent approve of Bush’s handling of the conflict.

Read that last paragraph again.

Now I’ll quote from a Minnesota National Guardsman serving in Iraq, nearing the very end of his 22 month (yes, you read that right) deployment,

The word around the campfire is that our replacements were told to ‘give us a wide birth’ because we are ‘angry’. I don’t know if this rumor is true, but I know that at this point I don’t have the energy to be angry.

The new Marines are the same guys that were supposed to relieve us four months ago. I can think of several people that would be much better off if they had, but it was not up to our replacements. That decision was made by fat men in white suits.

George W. Bush claims to support the troops. William Kristol claims that George W. Bush supports the troops. The only people who still believe that mantra seem to be those who only vote Republican.

And the troops coming home. I guess they are “angry.” How do you spin anger?

No Sleeping Says Prince Charming

“The monster”

Ah. Thank goodness!

After a couple of weeks where the Bush administration had things come out on a Wednesday or a Thursday, I was starting to think they had lost their touch. Maybe they found out I cared.

In an executive order issued Friday, Bush again reiterated the US stance on torture,

Bush’s order requires that CIA detainees “receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.”

A senior intelligence official would not comment directly when asked if waterboarding would be allowed under the new order and under related _ but classified _ legal documents drafted by the Justice Department.

However, the official said, “It would be wrong to assume the program of the past transfers to the future.”

A second senior administration official acknowledged sleep is not among the basic necessities outlined in the order.

Remember. This executive order comes out about three weeks after Mr. Bush assured high Presidential Scholars that “America doesn’t torture people.” From the Boston Globe,

Before the scholars posed for a photo with Bush on Monday, she handed him the letter. He put it in his pocket and took it out after the photo shoot. Reading silently to himself, the president looked up quizzically at Oye and said, according to her, “We agree. America doesn’t torture people.”

The scholor who handed the letter to Bush, signed by approximately a third of the students honored, was the daughter of a former detainee; her mother is of Japanese decent, her family interned during the Second World War. One can understand why she cares. (Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, helped fund Hitler which might show why he cares.)

But hey: Let’s give Bush credit. – America doesn’t torture. Um – Right? Let’s see how America used to defined torture. This from an article also in the Washington Post, this time from March 2005

The State Department’s annual human rights report released yesterday criticized countries for a range of interrogation practices it labeled as torture, including sleep deprivation for detainees, confining prisoners in contorted positions, stripping and blindfolding them and threatening them with dogs — methods similar to those approved at times by the Bush administration for use on detainees in U.S. custody.

Look again at the reported language in the new executive order. None of those things are excluded. They just stopped being torture. Because torture is everything the Bush administration decides it won’t do.

According to the definitions in the 2004 State department report – sleep deprivation was still considered “torture”. Under the entry for Saudi Arabia,

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Criminal Procedure section of the Basic law prohibits torture and Shari’a (Islamic law) prohibits any judge from accepting a confession obtained under duress; however, authorities reportedly at times abused detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry of Interior officials were responsible for most incidents of abuse of prisoners, including beatings, whippings, and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs. There were allegations that these practices were used to force confessions from prisoners.

I guess in the last three years, that paragraph wouldn’t be allowed any more.

Once again Prince Charming has decided to spin a fairy tale where sleep is optional and reality is whatever he choses to release to the public. Just don’t let him near Sleeping Beauty – she’ll be looking like a hag in no time.

But at least I can go back to sleeping well. Bush & Co. stayed true to form by releasing the executive order on a Friday afternoon. They aren’t slowing down any; They just have too much democracy to destroy, so little time for destroying

F**k Yourself Isn’t Just For The Senate Floor

Remember Dick Cheney’s perfect personality mirror but minor verbal misstep when he told Patrick Leahy to “go f**k yourself” on the floor of the U.S. Senate? It seems the White House is going to make it an official policy.

All the other news outlets are pointing out that yesterday the House Judiciary Committee ruled that excecutive privilege cannot be used to protect documents in the district attorney firings. Many feel this would be a first step towards filing contempt charges against current Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten for refusing to give congress the information it requested. (That would be in addition to former White House Council Harriet “no-show” Miers for those not keeping score.)

The Washington Post has headlined with the story (from an unnamed source) that the Department of Justice will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges base on executive privilege. Ever.

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals. Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, “whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts.

This is the political version of taunting “bring it on” to a professional wrestler.

I suspect this will leave people like William Kristol jump for joy and constitutional and political scholars sputter. I have no doubt that Gonzales won’t mind. It means even less for him to do or have to deny.

As news outlets have been pointing out since the Senate chose to being pursuing Miers, there are two different paths which congress can follow. Since 1934, congress has usually used the civil contempt option requiring the Senate to defer to the Justice department for prosecution of the case. Criminal contempt proceedings, popular in the 1800’s have fallen out of style but remain solely in the legislative realm. The Senate’s Sergeant at Arms has long had the legal power to arrest people, like journalists or presidents, but hasn’t needed chosen to use that power much lately.

There are the logistical difficulties. Even though the office of the Sergeant at Arms is the largest in both size and budget, the Senate has neither the personal nor space to confine anyone. I suspect that is the loophole the White House is betting on. Further, whether the Democrats can muster enough support to actually arrest either Meirs or Bolten is doubtful. Does anyone know what the rules are there?

No matter whether you are on the side of the President,

David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel’s office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a “unitary executive.” In practical terms, he said, “U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president’s will.” And in constitutional terms, he said, “the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch.”

Or you side with more “traditional” legal scholars

But Stanley Brand, who was the Democratic House counsel during the Burford case, said the administration’s legal view “turns the constitutional enforcement process on its head. They are saying they will always place a claim of presidential privilege without any judicial determination above a congressional demand for evidence — without any basis in law.” Brand said the position is essentially telling Congress: “Because we control the enforcement process, we are going to thumb our nose at you.”

Rozell, the George Mason professor and authority on executive privilege, said the administration’s stance “is almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president’s view. . . . It’s allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers.”

his issue will now define the Bush presidency almost as much as the Iraq war. Setting up these kinds of sideshows also saps the political strength of the Democratic opposition. No matter how weak the attack, even the strongest elephant donkey can be overcome by billions of rat attacks.

This is will be an official “go fuck yourself” to the House and Senate. Will they put up with it?

Using His Kristol Ball

He’s at it again.

William Kristol, Fox News überpundit and Weekly Standard editor managed to get an Op-Ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. His point, if you have not already guessed, is to point out just how wonderful a president Bush will considered – in retrospect of course.

With current poll numbers in a Nixonian nosedive, one wonders how Kristol manages to come to this rather reality estranged viewpoint. As mentioned, both in the first sentence of the piece and perhaps the only one in the Op-Ed with any relationship to the laws of reality as we know them, Kristol comments that he will “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.”

Why yes, Mr. Kristol, you will; here’s mine.

Kristol starts by looking at the wonderful things that have happened in the years of the Bush presidency. Things like no more terrorist attacks on US soil, a strong economy and * cough * an obviously winning strategy in Iraq.

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

First, the no more terror attacks on US soil. True. The sky also didn’t turn green and the Germans haven’t elected a new Hitler and the 60% of Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government still haven’t left the country either. Funny that Kristol doesn’t assume these to be accolades of the current administration. Perhaps we only have to give him time.

But what about those pesky little terror attacks. Madrid, London, – London again (sort of), Glasgow (sort of). Kristol is right that the US has largely avoided al Quaeda terror attacks in recent years. Of course the same could have been said of Bill Clinton in 1999. But hey, why go there?

There was the largely forgotten and never explained Anthrax attacks that took place – um –after 9/11?

Then there was that pesky little hurricane thingy that destroyed New Orleans and reshaped the Gulf Coast. Not terror but the federal response, lead and coordinated by Bush, was terrifyingly bad.

We could look at last week’s report by the GAO that a fake firm, basically a mailbox and a telephone number, would have been able to purchase the materials for a dirty bomb. No not an attack, but terrifying.

Perhaps the only reason al Quaeda doesn’t attack is because there isn’t any reason. America is doing a just fine self destructing all by itself, thank you. Perhaps that is why Chertoff has a stomach problem. Maybe he was simply eating salmonella infested spinach picked by “undocumented workers” his department seems unable to keep out of the country.

Which brings me to the economy.

What does Mr. Kristol have to say?

After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

What do those pesky facts show?

Well, I’ll just ask the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the yearly reports come out in August, (perhaps the reason for Mr. Kristol writing this Op-Ed now) I have to reach back to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 released in August 2006.

A quick graph of those incomes (adjusted to 2005 dollars) by quintile shows that current income still hasn’t reached the level of 2000. But the rich are still getting richer having increased from a meager 49.8% of the total share of income in the year 2000 to 50.4% by 2005, an all time high. (Click for full size version)

Mean Household Income by Quintiles 1986 - 2005

And a few more tidbits from the report:

  • ”The Gini index, one of the most widely used inequality measures, did not measure a statistically significant change in household income inequality between 2004 and 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469), although the individual annual differences since then were not statistically significant.” (pg. 8 )
  • After 4 years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005— higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available. (pg. 13)
  • “The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. [up from 14,5% in 1999]” (pg. 20)
  • The percentage and the number of children (people under 18 years old) without health insurance increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively. (pg .21)

Then there is the minor fact that gasoline prices have now almost doubled since George W. Bush took office.

Kristol then comments that even progressives would have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive supreme court judges. I’d say no problem Mr. Kristol. I’m sure you would agree that Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chaves are impressive international statesmen. Impressive is such a malleable word, isn’t it? As to making the claim that Roberts and Alito are conservative constitutionalists, I guess I would say that you might think so. Of course, if you assume the constitution is based on enlightenment principles and not on the ten commandments, it could have been worse.

Kristol then moves from domestic fantasies into international ones.

He starts off pointing out that “the war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well”. I won’t even go there except to reference the attack of the 10 foot tall marijuana plants. Something Mr. Kristol is certainly glad to see based on what he must have been smoking while writing this piece.

He then proceeds to wave his hand at any Pakistani problems and assumes that “Bush will deal with them.” Oh. Great.

Generally, in Mr Kristols world everything else is – well…

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We’ve deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we’ve had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we’ve gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

Hmm. The recent Pew report might present reality a bit differently. Let’s see.

In the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. – down from 42% as recently as two years ago – and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

I’m actually surprised Mr Kristol didn’t make more of Americas improving relationship with “Christian” Africa.

That Russian – slippage? I have to admit, that is a neat turn of a phrase. And it is amazing what happens when the Bush White House basically rolls back to pre-Bush positions in order to “contain” North Korea. You remember, North Korea gets heating oil; they shut down reactors. Rocket Science! (Well, hopefully not.)

And then Kristol get’s to the heart of the matter. That teeny-weeny, eensy-bitsy, tiny detail he’d been avoiding the whole Op-Ed: Iraq. Here Kristol starts harkens back to the days of Ulysses S. Grant and pushes Petraeus into the forefront. Bush is no longer Commander in Chief but the guy who picked the guy who’s going to win in Iraq. Or maybe not.

I’m starting to think that Patraeus will be named Patsy by September and it seems I am not alone.

After Kristol wins Iraq, the path is clear for him to move into the Bush library (has anyone agreed to let it be build near them yet?) and start creating legends. Of course, as opposed to most presidential libraries, the George W. Bush library probably won’t be all that interesting to scholars who go to look at the original documents. Those have all been cleverly moved to RNC e-mail accounts that were unfortunately “de-archived.”

Sorry Mr. Kristol, no happiness there. Oh. But then again maybe facts don’t bother Mr Kristol.

You might notice something about my post. I have links to where I got the information to refute Mr Kristol’s “facts.” His Op-Ed is largely – no – completely link free; just like his reality. There is no reason to back up statements with facts. Facts are just so yesterday.

One can only look forward to the days when the Washington Post finally decides to stop publishing this balderdash.

In the meantime. If Mr. Kristol’s last comments are any indication of his betting ability, I’d love to get in a game of poker with him. His crystal ball seems a bit smudged.

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

A Democrat’s Lincoln Dilemma

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mi, has an OpEd up in the Washington Post describing the Democratic dilemma with the current war funding. He compares his problem with the similar situation that Abraham Lincoln, paragon of Republican presidents, had while in Congress and while America was at war with Mexico,

In his only term in Congress, Abraham Lincoln was an ardent opponent of the Mexican War. He introduced a series of resolutions that challenged President James Polk to show the “spot” of American soil on which Mexicans had spilled American blood, and he voted for an amendment stating that the war was “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President.”

But when the question of funding for the troops fighting that war came, Lincoln voted their supplies without hesitation.

Levin goes on to again lay the ground work for another round of timetable discussions.

By setting a policy that begins with putting into law a timetable for starting a troop reduction, rather than trying to stop funding, we offer the best chance for stabilizing a country that we invaded while also sending the message to our troops that, even though we oppose the president’s policy, we are united behind them.

Support for our approach has grown steadily. In June 2006, our measure received 39 votes. In March, it received 48 votes. In April, it received 51 votes, including those of two Republican senators. By contrast, only 29 senators so far — none of them Republican — have voted for a funding cutoff. That’s a long way from the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster or the 67 needed to override a veto.

The OpEd is the first shot in the latest round of political skirmishes over the war and funding.

It should be noted, that the last Congressional loss, strong rhetoric followed by an equally weak withdrawal, caused a continuing drop in public support for Congress. It is now, according to Charles Franklin at Political Arithmetik, lower than Bush when aggregated across every major poll; 27.9% to 29.9%.

Political Arithmetik - Congressional Approval 11/6/2007

Political Arithmetik - Presidential Approval 19/6/2007

I think the Democrats are taking the wrong tact here. I would argue Congress must actively push the media to poll the American people on the soundbite “Does the American people want us to fund the war without a timetable?” That should be the talking point, nothing else.

If the answer comes up overwhelmingly no, the strategy becomes far simpler. Present Bush with a bill including a timetable with the clear caveat that that is the last legislation. There would be no proposal to deny funding, the house leadership simply will not schedule any further legislation for funding the war. The money will dry up without a vote and the Democrats can point to Bush as the person responsible.

If the answer to the polling comes up approving unconstrained funding, then a completely different tactic is necessary. The Democrats need to rethink their basic positioning. If the American public is willing to support funding for an unlimited, unending war, the Democrats can then push the president, not to withdraw but to win. Make success the marker and not the funding. Push the Republican party to show why their policies aren’t working and why the American public should keep funding a losing battle.

If the answer is a weak no, the Democrats are on course, sailing without a real course through uncharted waters, without a destination or timetable. Bush won’t sign it, the Democrats don’t need to support it. Just give Bush the funding after a token fight for another 3 months and wait until Christmas.

I am reminded of the book March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. Published in 1984, it highlights how governments manage to blunder into making absolutely stupid mistakes despite overwhelmingly negative signs. Tuchman uses as examples Troy, the Renaissance Popes, the British government during the American Revolution and America’s own first true folly: Vietnam. It is a book all Democratic aides should be reading. In many ways, all four tales echo today’s Washington.

In Tuchman’s account, in every case, the majority of the public, the experts and even a large number of politicians knew the path lead to ruin. They followed it anyway; despite the Lincoln dilemmas. It is time to stop the folly.

A Soldier’s Guide

An epic BBC series on the First World War produced in the 1960’s had one episode featuring the proverb, purported to be Arab, that “Allah created hell and it wasn’t bad enough; so He created Mesopotamia and added flies.” This was the kind of knowledge being given solders headed to Iraq during WWI and that arose from an officer corps dredged largely from the classically trained aristocracy. (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?)

By the WWII, the handbooks had become more prosaic, offering such gems of wisdom like “If you see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not queer” and “Iraq Is Hot! … Probably you will feel Iraq first-and that means heat.” There is also a wonderful warning to avoid the holy cities of Kerbala, Najaf, samarra, and Kadhiman. (Who’d ‘ve known?!)

Now Sharon I don’t do UFOs Weinberger and Noah Shachtman have uncovered parts of the equally entertaining “Soldier’s Guide to the Republic of Iraq,” issued to US soldiers on the eve of war in 2003. (What are you still doing here? Go read their stuff! They are real journalists with books, sources and stuff.)

Still here? Hmm..

Among the quotes they found:

  • There is little virtue in a frank exchange. Getting down to business may always occur at a later meeting or a more informal setting such as dinner.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility… if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.
  • Arabs operate by personal relations more than by time constraints.
  • Arabs, by American standards, are reluctant to accept responsibility.
  • Arabs do not believe in upward mobility or social status; they gain status by being born in the right family.
  • Arabs do not shake hands firmly. If an Arab does not touch you, it usually means that he does not like you.
  • It is said that the Arab likes to feel your breath in their face. As you back away, the Arab will continue to shuffle forward. This is known as the “diplomatic shuffle.”

So, while American soldiers were wondering what music to play while dancing the “diplomatic shuffle,” the administration figured the soldiers would be in and out so fast it wouldn’t matter what had been published.

Except it didn’t work out quite that way. Now a couple of the above sentences look rather suspicious in light of the “We stand down as they stand up” course the Bush administration stayed so long. You see, at least the soldiers were being told that “…if responsibility is accepted and something goes wrong, the Arab is dishonored.”

I wonder if Bush didn’t get the memo.

Controlling the Count

In addition to his Global War on Terror, George W. Bush also started an initiative to end homelessness. According to his own 2004 “Record of Achievement” (after that they apparently stopped recording and perhaps started shredding):

  • In 2003, the Bush Administration announced the largest amount of homeless assistance in history, $1.27 billion to fund 3,700 local housing and service programs around the country.
  • President Bush has proposed the Samaritan Initiative, a new $70 million program to provide supportive services and housing for chronically homeless individuals.
  • The Interagency Council on Homelessness has been revitalized, bringing together 20 Federal agencies to coordinate efforts to end chronic homelessness in 10 years.

Now, this is all fine and good. I am a big supporter of Housing First initiatives (placing the “chronically homeless” in permanent housing) because I really think they help the overall homeless situation. But, there are a couple problems with these kinds of large, centralized programs. The first is that the larger number of “temporary homeless” seem to be lost in the rush to fund housing first projects and second, the number of homeless becomes an important political signpost showing how well a local government is doing.

I don’t have much to say about the first point. I would prefer to point to the excellent article by Violet Law (what a great name!) at the National Housing Institute. Her piece looks at the trade offs between focusing primarily on housing first and taking a slightly more balanced approach.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a “chronically homeless person” is an individual who has been without a home for at least one year and is diagnosed with mental illness or drug or alcohol addiction. Housing First focuses on serving this segment of the homeless population.

While the cities that have adopted Housing First have reported a reduction in their chronic homeless population by the hundreds or even thousands in the last decade, homeless advocates are increasingly alarmed that this solution, executed with little increase in federal funding, is threatening to short-change other homeless populations, such as families with children and teenagers who have aged out of foster care, in favor of one narrowly defined group. “We wish [the Bush administration] had picked up the whole agenda of ending homelessness for all,” says Nan Roman, president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).
[…]
While the benefits of permanent housing programs are manifest, some advocates for the homeless are increasingly speaking out against the Bush administration’s position that Housing First is the panacea for ending homelessness-especially now that ICH and the administration are seeking to reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Act, which was, in 1986, the first piece of federal legislation to address homelessness. The administration’s draft version of the reauthorized legislation calls for making permanent the Samaritan bonus-the current incentive to provide permanent housing for the chronically homeless. Those who oppose this incentive charge that the singular focus on the chronically homeless population is at best a misguided effort to solve the complexities of homelessness by defining it too narrowly and simplistically. Some opponents of the administration’s proposed reauthorization bill, mostly from the National Coalition to End Homelessness, support competing legislation introduced in Congress in February, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which they say would allocate homeless assistance funding in a more balanced manner.

Now. I am not exactly a homelessness activist, I do try to keep my self informed. I am also a self-admitted statistics geek. Therefore imagine my surprise when Carl Bialik, the WSJ’s Numbers Guy, combined both in a post discussing the brouhaha in New York City over this years homelessness count. NYC pegged the number of homeless at 3,755 dropping from 3,843 in 2006 and 4,395 in 2005. So, things appear to be looking up.

Not so fast Bat Man! Apparently one of the researchers involved in the count resigned because he felt they were undercounting.

Once each winter, the New York City government sends thousands of volunteers into the streets and subways to count the number of people who are homeless. The goal is to get a sense of how well the city is doing at alleviating the most severe kind of homelessness, which could be deadly on a frigid night.

This year, the January count produced an estimate of 3,755 unsheltered homeless people. (The city’s Department of Homeless Services trumpeted the findings in a press release, reporting the count was down 15% from two years earlier.)

But Julien Teitler, an associate professor of social work and sociology at Columbia University who was hired by the city to assist in its count, disputed the city’s total. Prof. Teitler recently told the New York Times that city officials were “arbitrarily adjusting” figures in a way that would produce a lower count.

Bialik based his report partially on the information from a New York Times article highlighting the problems with the study. The dispute is over the method involving decoys to test whether volunteers are correctly counting; a quality control check if you will.

Under Dr. Hopper’s direction, Columbia recruited dozens of “decoys” to go to the same areas and stations as the volunteers. The decoys posed as homeless people.

The volunteers were instructed to ask people who were lingering on the street, in parks or in the subways or if they had a place to spend the night — unless the people were asleep, in which case they were not to be disturbed.

Decoys, if questioned by the volunteers, were instructed to identify themselves and to give the volunteers stickers to record their locations. Otherwise, the decoys were instructed merely to keep track of whether they saw the volunteers pass by.

By keeping track of the number of decoys in a given area and comparing that to the number of decoys actually found, one can estimate how many homeless were missed in a given area. The problem stems from how one actually counts the decoys.

Unless some stupid statistics professor shows up and claims that you need to adjust the numbers up. Dr. Teitler has discontinued his involvement over the process because he feels the decoys aren’t being used correctly. His method would increase the current value to 4,039 homeless.

So this is just about 250 people right? Not exactly.

For me the real meat of the NYT article wasn’t about the statistics, but the politics.

New York City is three years into a five-year “action plan” announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to end chronic homelessness and reduce the street population by two-thirds, all by April 2009. The results so far are mixed. The number of homeless adults in city shelters has fallen noticeably since 2004, but the number of homeless families is at a record high.

So it came as welcome news on May 2 when the city announced that the third annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate had shown a slight decrease in unsheltered homeless people.
[…]
The city’s Department of Homeless Services said the estimate “shows the city is on track” to meeting the goal of reducing unsheltered homelessness by two-thirds.

Oh! So if you are on track and you are managing the Department of Homeless Services you are doing a good job. You might even get a promotion some day. No reason to want lower number right?So there is no reason to worry. The government has everything under control.

Well. Everything but the numbers.

God sends Bush an SMS

Maybe George W. Bush doesn’t have a hotline to the really big Guy.

This didn’t get much coverage in the major media, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum Vatican. Cadillac One stalled.

But this hasn’t completely escaped the focus of the media. From the – ehem – Russian News Agency

After braving an upset stomach in Germany and being greeted by crowds of protesters in Poland and Italy, the U.S. president probably thought things could not get much worse – and then his car broke down Saturday.
[…]
On Saturday, Bush arrived in Italy, where he held talks with Pope Benedict XVI, but later during his tour of the city his limousine broke down and a reserve vehicle had to be rushed in.

Moreover, the new limo was too big to squeeze through the gates of the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. leader had to walk the remaining distance.

Since GW did actually make it to the Vatican meeting, this was probably more of an instant message that a formal signal from God.

But I can see where this is leading. The only question is in which direction the message is going. Tim LaHaye thinks the Pope is the Antichrist. The pope refuses to consider joint church services between Catholics and Protestants.

I just wonder who exactly was the intended recipiant of this holy hiccup?

Yes readers and readettes. This is obviously a sign. Perhaps the best evidence of God I’ve seen recently.

(Hat Tip Amara Graps, guest blogging at Asymptotia)

A Tale of Two Tales

Matt Nisbet has a must read post up about two articles covering Bush’s climate plan. Actually it’s less about the idea itself than how the media is reporting it.

The curious part? The two articles based on the same underlying story – written by Climate Change media guru Andrew Revkin -present the context completely differently. As can be seen from the titles – from the

New York Times – Bush Climate Plan: Amid Nays, Some Maybes

International Herald Tribune – Bush critics warming to his plans for cutting emissions

Remember these are the same articles.

Now – go, read all three pieces; then perhaps you should go find a teddy bear and slowly rock yourself because in a world where “reality” is that changeable – we are so screwed.

A Cowboy’s Pipedream

Today’s post is less an organized story, than merely the overwhelmed whining of someone seeing the world moving in the wrong direction.

I had planned on questioning George W. Bush’s decision to invite Vladimir Putin to his fathers “compound” in Kennebunkport Maine.

After several months of cooling relations and increasingly heated rhetoric, I found the idea that Bush thinks he can actually accomplish something in a quiet personal atmosphere to be less than realistic. Russia is retreating farther and farther into an isolationist, nationalist position that can best be compared to the position America has taken since Bush first took office; taking unilateral positions on international policies without worrying about whether diplomacy might solve the issue or if the unilateral “solution” might actually make things worse.

While I suspect the two men have much in common personally; I seriously doubt they have much common ground politically.

Take for example Putin’s press conference last week with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, due to take his turn as the EU President in June. As reported in the Washington Post,

Anti-American rhetoric has become a staple of Kremlin-controlled television and many Russian political speeches, a reflection according to analysts of both genuine grievances and a desire to assert Russia’s revival as a world power under Putin. The Kremlin views Western lecturing on democracy in Russia as an attempt to derail Putin’s carefully orchestrated succession plans.

Putin said last week that criticism of human rights is an attempt to make Russia “more pliable” on other issues. “The death penalty in some Western countries — let’s not point fingers, secret prisons and torture exist in Europe, problems with the media in some countries, immigration laws which in some European countries are not in line with the general principles of international law or democratic order — these things, too, fall under common values,” Putin said after meeting with Portugal’s prime minister Tuesday.

He went on to say: “Let’s not talk about having immaculate, white fluffy partners on one side, and on the other a monster who has just come out of a forest with claws and corns growing instead of legs.”

This needs to be put in the perspective of the American insistence on stationing 10 missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and a new radar system in Poland. A move that irritated EU members and prompted Putin to warn “We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg and to stuff it with new weapons.”

Not to be outclassed on new weapons front, the test of a new intercontinental missile was then promptly presented by Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, widely considered to be Putin’s heir apparent. (This was also, might I note, after a failed postponed US anti-missile defense test on May 26th.)

Then I look at the G8 conference planned in Potsdam next week; what could be considered a prelude to the Bush-Putin private snuggle-up.

While largely ignored by the American press, the German newspapers have been filled with reports of measures taken to reduce the “risks” coming from anti-globalization activists. From the time worn tactics like fences, water throwers and increased police presence to new and innovative ideas.

The German Interior Minister, had supported a plan to hack and scan private computers in order to identify “terrorist” (anti-globalization) activities. (Perhaps he got the idea from Alberto Gonzales?) The idea was rejected in early May by the German Supreme Court.

Echoing Putin’s attacks on the West’s “problems with the media,” Spiegel-Online (German) is reporting today that journalists are being denied accreditation to the G8 conference or have their accreditation revoked. In some cases the reasoning seems more than suspicious,

The federal press office surprisingly refused credentials to the G8 press center to a long time editor of the Berlin newspaper taz. The journalist told SPIEGEL ONLINE, that the refusal had been made without giving any specific reason and referred to a corresponding recommendation from the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation* (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA). On inquiry, the BKA refered him to the Berlin State Office of Criminal Invesigation (Landeskriminalamt, LKA). But they were surprised. According to Lee, the LKA finally admitted that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) had raised objections to the accreditation of the journalist.

Lee is responsible for right and left wing extremists and social movements at the taz. In recent weeks he has increasingly reported on the G8 summit.

The LKA had twice investigated him, says Lee. However both times a positive recommendation had been made: “I don’t even have a traffic ticket.” [my translation]

It should be noted that the taz is a left-wing, but largely mainstream newspaper. According to the article, focused around Lee’s plight, at least 20 journalists have been denied access to the summit. Of course German politicians claim that freedom of the press, even a hostile press, is one of the most important rights in democracies. Sounds like America.

While the press policies might impress the American president, Bush has now decided he needs to “lead the world” in combating Global Warming. A move calculated to irritate Angela Merkel who has been pushing for specific limits on CO2 emissions at the G8 next week.

Although the American press is largely reporting that Merkel gave “positive responses” to Bush’s ideas, Merkel is far too political (perhaps polite) to attempt a verbal bushwhacking. People living in Germany often find that Merkel’s methods for political manoeuvring are far more subtle than most male politicians. She either says nice things or says nothing; nevertheless she often gets her way in the end with her opponent sidelined, marginalized and finally forced to do what she planned.

Merkel wants concrete results from the G8 conference, Bush wants to start a new round of talks to delay the process; Merkel has a PhD in Physics, Bush occasionally reads books. Merkel got nowhere with Putin; Bush want a barbeque in Maine.

Interestingly, I would argue the West, not only America but Germany, France and Britian (who, one would assume, will “stay the course” even post-Blair) has approached Russia in recent years. The West has gotten far more authoritarian and repressive. Even as the public and NGO’s point to democratic problems, the politicians, east and west have become far more similar in recent years (see the coverage of the Condi and Sergey show).

Unfortunately the current resurgence of Russian power was largely unexpected by the White House and they seem to be scrambling to react. Perhaps that is the reason why the Iraq Czar was named; to free up Russian expert Rice and National Security Advisor Stephan J Hadley for other international problems.

Finally, does Bush even have the mindset to change things? From Georgie Anne Geyer at the Dallas Morning News in a column about Iraq as a (terror) export nation and describing Bush,

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.” [Reference to the Rapture perhaps?]

To think that having Putin over for a couple of days, with Rice at the breakfast table in pajamas and perhaps the twins gallivanting on the lawn probably won’t do more than increase the Bush/Putin personal friendship.

Anything else is just a cowboy’s pipedream.

[*Yes, the Germans have lots of investigative offices. In American terms, the BKA is like the FBI for crime, Verfassungsschutz is like the FBI tracking “political” groups (like neo-Nazis and the RAF), Finally the LKA can be seen as a local state police. I hope that clarifies slightly.]