Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Evolving Politics

One major misconception about evolution is that it finds the best possible, permanent solution to a problem. Sure, evolution has managed some long term success stories; sharks for example have changed little in the past several million years because they managed to become optimized for their environment very early. But summa summarum, most evolutionary solutions only make a temporary appearance before disappearing into the mists of time, 99.9 percent of all species that have existed are now extinct.

Then again evolution isn’t about finding the best permanent solution, it is about finding the best solution to a problem right now. Further, evolution works by tweaking the apparatus it has available either by finding unique recombinations of current tools or slight modifications to already working systems.

It’s that idea of not being a permanent solution that’s makes the idea of human ideas driven by meme oriented mental evolution is so scary. Take for example politics (Please!).

If you were to define the most important characteristic in a successful politician what would you choose? Honesty? Integrity? Intelligence? The foresight not to attempt to have sex in airport bathrooms?

I would argue, wrong on all counts. The most important factor is the ability to be elected to public office. That is proceeded by an ability to get support and funding to run for office in the first place. An inherent likeability, a willingness to lead, a certain lust for power are all key ingredients. None have directly to do with the ability to do a good job. And often that is why we see politicians at every level of government spiral out of control, spouting foolish nonsense because understanding problems isn’t what they are good at; getting elected is.

The most important characteristic in modern politicians is getting into office. Once there, baring any major screw ups on your part or on the part of your political party, you will probably be able to stay in office. That is the trait being selected for. The people supporting democracy, journalists, pundits, lobbyists and bureaucrats are all under a similar selectivity. Journalists are selected not for necessarily writing the truth but for writing things people read (look at Judith Miller). Successful pundits need not produce truth but appropriate platitudes. Lobbyists work incredibly hard to keep the system functioning for their benefit. Most bureaucrats work hard (and for the most part honestly) to achieve their local goals; whether those goals are well meaning or well placed is another question. I’m not claiming these people are corrupt. They are simply perfectly adapted to the systems and enviroments they inhabit. That is the point.

(Note: this is similar to the effect that usually chooses managers in modern companies. The skill (or luck) in generating short term successes, either by impressing the appropriate bosses or producing above average statistics one or two quarters in a row is an important part of moving up corporate hierarchies. The people who have advanced in that manner have a tendency to pick similar people to work for and with them. Thus the system perpetuates itself. The memes get replicated.

The army works in much the same way as can be seen in Fred Kaplan’s must read NY Times piece.)

Now think about the American Revolution and of origins of the modern democratic meme about 250 years ago.

There were a number of factors which led to the success of the American Revolution but perhaps the most important is that it really wasn’t necessary in the first place. Despite what most hard core Conservatives might think, people living in America already had more freedoms than the people in England. As a whole, as a population, even the people in England weren’t suffering any more than the French, the Prussians, the Spanish or any of the other populations in Europe. Oppression is a relative term. If revolution was always a direct consequence of oppression, the medieval feudal systems wouldn’t have lasted for centuries. It was the meme of liberty that caused the unrest leading to the separation of America from her motherland, not any oppressive taxation or real misrepresentation.

That same liberty meme was far less successful elsewhere.

France, the next country to become infected with the virus of democracy, revolted not simply because of the idea, but because the economic system collapsed and the meme was able to move in and take over as a dominate thought. Because the underlying social structures were in such bad shape, the liberal reforms that worked so well in the U.S. were unable to grow in France. Thus you find the Terror and Napoleon’s bloody dictatorship following a popular revolution instead of a time of consolidation and lawmaking like in the U.S. And looking back, far more revolutions follow the French path than the American one. Imposed Democracies work even less often: (Iraq *cough Weimar anyone?)

Democracy was an idea attempted both in ancient Greece and republican Rome but it stilled died out twice. After 1750 years of dormancy, enlightenment thinkers began again to toy with the idea at the beginning of the 18th century; selectively breeding the meme if you will, honing it to perfection. In the U.S. Constitution, those thinkers produced a thoroughbred capable of winning races for centuries to come.

Ultimately, it turns out that during the Industrial Revolution and modern period, democracy as a system is more effective an authoritarian methods at generating wealth and power. Thus democracy managed to spread across the Europe. Slowly, often after several attempts, most countries developed a system of democratic values reflecting some measure of popular support for their government.

Other systems got tried. Stalinist communism for example, more resembled the authoritarian systems that preceded it than the liberal or socialist ideas it pretended to promote. Fascism is another example. A populist mix of authoritarian ideas and democratic preaching that has become a staple factor somewhere in the world since it’s rise in Italy and Germany.

Now, remember, evolution is blind. It wants a solution to today’s problem. It is trying to fill the niches in today’s fitness landscape. The question is: is democracy the best system there can be? Churchill put it best when he quipped, “democracy was the worst system of governance except all those other systems which have been tried from time to time.”

Let’s go back to the racehorse analogy.

The best racehorse bred at the end of the 18th century would probably be a very good horse today. But would it be able to win modern races? Probably not.

People assume democracy is somehow different. That ideas that worked well in largely agricultural, pre-industrial societies can hold up against the test of time. This is the very core of much of Libertarian ideology with it’s accompanying worship of the American Founding Fathers.

This resilience to the travails of time doesn’t necessarily follow from an evolutionary viewpoint. Like a species destroyed by a virus, democracy could be brought down, not because it isn’t good, but because the social and technological landscape changes. The fittest political system need no longer be defined the same way.

The memes used by politicians, pundits and pollsters have become far more sophisticated. The breeding techniques if you will for creating the perfect politician, the perfect party, the perfect movement are becoming better and better. Unfortunately, these techniques have little to do with solving the problems society is faced with. These techniques have little to do with producing long term solutions to permanent problems. They are about solving the most important problem of the day: surviving into the next electoral term; winning the next election. Having an effective politician who changes things for the better is just an added bonus; a spandrel if you will. It is really isn’t the ultimate goal anymore.

I can’t think of a time when I have heard or read about politicians repeating the line “I take full responsibility for..:” whatever it is they’ve screwed up most recently. Why have we been increasingly subjected to this litany of responsibility? Because under earlier mutations of democracy, the very mistakes and misdeeds being repeatedly purpetrated today would have been followed by a resignation and discrace yesterday. Today the person simply stays put or moves horizontally and seamlessly from the public to the private sector, to produce the same mistakes there before moving back to the next step up the public ladder several years later.

Western democracies, led by America, are slowly devolving into something far different from what they were conceived to be. It really isn’t clear whether this change can be reversed or even slowed. I don’t like this idea. It is however a feeling I simply can’t shake.

The symptoms of sickness are clear. An ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots; the willingness of the rich and leadership classes to literally, physically separate themselves from the rest of the populuation. Think gated communities and charter schools. Are these the precursors to modern castles and monasteries in tomorrow’s incarnation of a feudal system?

Perhaps the most troubling thing isn’t the idea that democracy might collapse but that mankind might even manage to create a new dark ages, a time when learning and science dwindle away. The difference in losing civilization today as opposed to any previous time in mankind’s history is that this time it is likely to be permanent. The easily accessed reserves of metals, coal and oil have been harvested. These are perhaps the most important keys to moving from pre to post industrialization. If civilization falls, it will be a long time, geologic time, before it ever returns.

So. Think about it.

Is democracy slowly following the Dodo into extinction? Can it adapt without mutating into something unrecognizable as democracy? Or was the idea of liberty, a government by and for the people just a dinosaur waiting for the next meteor to strike?

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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? Petraeus Who?

Remember that guy running the show in Iraq? You know who I mean, P… P… Put… Pat… um Robertson? NoNoNoNoNo!Petraeus! **snap** Yeah! That’s him!

Yesterday at the press gaggle (and I really don’t what to know where that phrase originated), Dana Perino, Deputy White House spokeshottie, pointed out that it was never going to be Petraeus’s report in the first place,

Q Dana, there’s a report out today that the September Iraq report will be written by the White House, and not by Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus. Is that accurate?

MS. PERINO: Well, let me remind you of a couple of things. The Congress asked for these reports from the President; they asked for the President to report to the Congress. And so the July 15th report will be no different to the September 15th report, in terms of how that works. And the President has said that he’s going to take the recommendations from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and then he will consult further before deciding on any possible next course of action.

Funny. What was her boss, Tony Snow, saying just two weeks ago?

Q Tony, the administration has been continually saying to wait until September, and to wait until the testimony of General Petraeus and saying that his testimony will be the clearest sense of how well the surge militarily is working and what should happen going forward. General Petraeus has also made, in the past, assessments about the quality of the Iraqi security forces, in Mosul specifically, and in the country generally, that proved to be overly optimistic by a considerable margin. Given that come September he’s basically going to be asked to grade a plan that he, himself, crafted and has implemented, what confidence should the American people have that his assessment of his own work will be objective and honest?

MR. SNOW: You’re impugning General Petraeus’s ability to measure what’s going on?

Q I’m asking how he can give an objective assessment of his own work.

MR. SNOW: Well, I think the first thing you ought to do is take a look again at the report that was filed to Congress, the interim reported July 15th — no sugarcoating there. You take a look — and they try to use real metrics on it. General Petraeus is a serious guy who sees his mission not as a political mission, but, in fact, as somebody who reports facts.

Now, let us keep in mind that the full burden of this report does not fall on his shoulders. A lot of the key judgments, especially about politics, will fall on Ambassador Crocker. So this is — although I know a lot of people talk about “the Petraeus report,” in fact, you have a report that is a joint report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And so we trust him.

Oh. I see. The White House trusts Petraeus to tell the truth. I guess they just “can’t handle the truth.

But then again neither can the Congress nor the American public.

You see, after the LA Times was nice enough to let us know that the White House would be writing the Petraeus Iraq report, today we find out today that, for some reason, the White House would also prefer neither Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker appear in public hearings.

From this morning’s Washington Post,

Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration’s progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May. “The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in response to questions yesterday.
[…]
White House officials suggested to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that Petraeus and Crocker would brief lawmakers in a closed session before the release of the report, congressional aides said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates would provide the only public testimony.

Um. OK.

So why not have the people who actually write the report testify? They can’t testify because they would be under Dick Cheney’s bizarre mind control powers Presidential privilege since the report is being written in the White House?

Oh. OK.

Note: This charming information comes out on the same day as the devastating, terrorist attack in Iraq which has claimed up to 250 lives and destroyed the villages of Qataniyah and Adnaniyah north of Mosul.

This horrible attack will likely fit the Administration’s claims that al Qaeda is responsible for everything bad that happens in the world. (Are Republican children chastised with – “Be good or Bin Laden will get you?”) The attack also points out the extremely strange cancers growing within the body politic in Iraq. From Al Jazeera,

Hoda Abdel Hamid, Al Jazeera’s Iraq correspondent, that the areas where the attacks happened are considered “soft targets” because there is no large presence of Iraqi or US security forces.

“Over the past few months we have seen bolder attacks which are going further north … so it is also a message from the attackers saying ‘you might some success in one area but we can easily move to another area and there are many soft targets around the country’.”

The Yazidis, primarily a Kurdish sect, believe in God the creator and respect the Biblical and Quranic prophets, but the main focus of their worship is Malak Taus, the chief of the archangels.

In April, a Yazidi teenager was stoned to death after she reportedly fell in love with a Muslim and ran off with him. The incident appears to have sparked an increase in attacks on members of the sect.

Terrible attack. What do we learn?

The “Surge” has put out the worst fires in Baghdad but sectarian fires are cropping up around the country and there is little or no likelihood of near term Sunni-Shiite cooperation, therefore Petraeus is likely to recommend cutting back U.S. military presence anyway.

Um. Wait! Petraeus? Petraeus who?

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)

Why Bridges Fall and Radios Fall Silent

Much has been made of the recent collapse of the Saint Anthony’s Bridge in Minnesota. Today’s Washingtion Post headlines a story about how the advanced technology given to local governments in response to 9/11 has fallen into disrepair and disuse because the local governments did not have the money to fund the long term maintenance.

In 2003, the FBI used a $25 million grant to give bomb squads across the nation state-of-the-art computer kits, enabling them to instantly share information about suspected explosives, including weapons of mass destruction.

Four years later, half of the Washington area’s squads can’t communicate via the $12,000 kits, meant to be taken to the scene of potential catastrophes, because they didn’t pick up the monthly wireless bills and maintenance costs initially paid by the FBI. Other squads across the country also have given up using them.

“They worked, and it was a good idea — until the subscription ran out,” said Mike Love, who oversees the bomb squad in Montgomery County’s fire department. At the local level, he said, “there is not budget money for it.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the area has received more than $1 billion in federal money to strengthen first responders and secure the region. That money has bought satellite phones, radios, protective suits, water-security monitors and a host of other items.

But local officials are grappling with how to maintain the huge infusion of equipment. Like a driver whose 5-year-old luxury sedan has worn-out brakes, cracked tires and engine problems, local governments are facing hefty bills to keep their gear working.

Thus, what was an excellent idea ended up being a rather expensive flop. Excellent equipment that isn’t used or can’t be used because there isn’t enough money to continue the upkeep.

That seems to be the story of the American infrastructure. Once something has been created, all problems are solved – move along, move along.

Anyone who owns a car, knows this isn’t true. Not only do you need to purchase the vehicle, you need to continue maintaining it. As the car ages, the maintenance costs don’t decrease or remain stable, they increase until it becomes necessary to scrap the car and replace it. That will probably need to happen in the next few years with most of the interstate bridges in America.

Interestingly for all those people who would simply like to privatize the current system – fat lot of good that will do.

For those with limited historical background, it might be good to remember that all the railroads in America in the last century were either completely private or public/private joint ventures. That didn’t save them. They collapsed under the weight of increasing infrastructure costs coupled with a change in demographics. The same thing will happen to the American Interstate System.

A rail/road system might have been an option, loading cars and trucks onto trains for long distance travel. It might have even been more economical than building completely new interstates, but that wasn’t well understood at the time. The future was freedom, the future was in interstates. That’s the legacy we are now inheriting.

And even the privatised systems will walk into the maintenance trap. This can be shown in fast forward in the case of plank roads, popular in the 1840’s . The idea was to make toll roads not of rock or stone, but of a relatively cheap material, wood. You charge people to use the road and the cost of replacing the road is far enough off that it either wasn’t seriously considered or completely underestimated. This lead to a boom in plank road building. It also lead inexorably to the collapse of the system 10 years later as the planks began to rot and needed replacement.

Five years ago, the GAO produced a rather positively titled report “HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE, Physical Conditions of the Interstate Highway System Have Improved, but Congestion and Other Pressures Continue.”

On the surface one would think the problem might be in the idea that there just aren’t enough highways. Systems must be created to clear up the major problem, congestion and everything else is secondary. Ah, but how relative secondary can be.

The really unnerving graph doesn’t show up until the final pages. Preceded by the following quote,

Another factor negatively affecting the condition of Interstate pavement and bridges is the age of the infrastructure. For example, half of the Interstate bridges are currently over 33 years old. (See fig. 7.) Officials from one state we visited explained that many of their state’s Interstate bridges were built about 40 years ago and are reaching the end of their estimated 50-year design life. In addition, officials in 45 states believe age may jeopardize their bridge conditions: officials in 38 states expect age to negatively affect their pavement conditions 10 years from now.

one finds the following graph (click for full size).

Year Interstate Bridges Were Built

Privatize away. Who is going to build the new bridges? Where does that funding come from?

Perhaps Rome wasn’t build in a day; neither was the American Interstate Highway System. But when a lot of things get built at the same time, a lot of things need repair and replacement at the same time. Fixing things isn’t nearly as sexy as building new stuff; there isn’t any red ribbon to cut on a newly refurbished stretch of highway. Just a sigh and the sad realisation that the next job is right around the corner. Replacing things that are worn out is even worse; it’s a thankless job to get people back to a perceived status quo. (That bridge was fine, it hadn’t collapsed yet.)

One of the problems Rome faced at the end was the fact that income was no longer able to support the infrastructure built up over hundreds of years. Ask yourself the very real question: where does America stand now? Is New Orleans back to normal? That was a challenge to the American willingness to rebuild a specific area.

As the challenges spread and the pressures increase, will the old bridges fall just as the new radios fell silent?

Source: Agencies

While I read Al Jazeera every morning, I really don’t expect much in the way of new news. I get something far more important though: I find out how people in the Middle East might be interpreting US and international events.

I also see a lot of stories that would have passed under my radar.

Today, Al Jazeera posted a blurb about the two US marines cleared in the shooting deaths of 24 people in Haditha.

What actually struck me though, was neither the fact that this got a significant place on the premier Middle East news site nor the fact that neither McClatchy, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor nor even the International Herald Tribune chose to headline the piece.

The NYT does have both the AP and the Reuters articles up. Only the Washington Post gave it a small link on the front page but the story was fairly detailed. From the Reuters piece,

A U.S. Marine general dropped all charges on Thursday against two Marines in the shooting deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha, scene of what Iraqi witnesses said was a massacre by American troops.

The dismissal of charges means neither Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt nor Capt. Randy Stone will face a court-martial in connection with the events at Haditha, which have brought international condemnation of U.S. troops.

Five Marines still face charges in the November 19, 2005, shooting of two dozen unarmed men, women and children in Haditha, which prosecutors say came in retaliation for the death of a beloved comrade, Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, who was cut in half by a roadside bomb.

Sharratt, 22, had been charged with three counts of premeditated murder and Stone, 35, with dereliction of duty for failing to properly report the civilian deaths.

Defense attorneys conceded civilians were killed at Haditha but said they died during chaotic fighting with insurgents after the roadside blast.

What only becomes clear from the WP piece is that Sharratt was involved in a shooting that happened several hours later,

The finding by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, exonerates Justin L. Sharratt, 22, of Canonsburg, Pa. In a two-page document, Mattis not only cleared Sharratt of legal charges but also called him “innocent” in the general’s eyes. The dismissal came after an investigating officer found that Sharratt acted appropriately when he shot a group of armed men while searching a house in Haditha hours after other members of his unit killed numerous women and children in an alleged killing spree through two other houses. [my emphasis]

What I find far more interesting than the news of the soldiers, was the spin Al Jazeera put on story.

The fact that the attorney, who was new, inexperienced and probably more than a little gung ho, didn’t get court martialed for investigating is understandable if debatable. The fact that Sharratt didn’t get in trouble for a completely different shooting also makes sense. These two facts show why it was a non-story to western news agencies.

Ah. But Al Jazeera is different. They presented an edited version of the Reuters story missing the fourth paragraph talking about what the people were accused of and without any mention of a separate encounter (admittedly missing from the Reuters narrative). This gives the impression that both men took part in the civilian shootings.

Then again. Al Jazerra doesn’t even reference the source directly on the website. I have only seen them use the subscript “Source: Agencies” to identify where the information came from. Even if the story has been taken from a single article or “Agency”. It makes a nice trick to distance itself from the Western tainted news sources.

Again I think it is less important to understand the story and more important to understand how the story has been presented.

Spin is spin and every little bit creates more and more momentum towards building attitudes. If you don’t watch the spin, you don’t understand the motives.

Of course the same goes for the US sources. Which paragraphs got deleted in your newspaper?

He Said She Said

Chinese WhispersRebecca Watson, Skepchick and amazingly cool writer, has made to round three in NPR’s contest looking for a new radio talent. (hat tip: Phil Plait, congratulations and good luck Rebecca on the contest and a quick nudge to geeky web comic XKCD , the focus of Rebecca’s most recent interview.)

But a quote stuck in my mind after listening to her most recent entry. She is being interviewed by one of the local radio personalities. The first question is very appropriate.

David Bowery(?): Give me an example of something or someone you believe in.

Rebecca Watson: Wow. That’s an interesting question because I’m often accussed of not believing in anything. That’s just my thing. I’m always questioning.

I believe…I believe in science. I believe in logic and I believe in reality. I believe in – I believe in a certain point of view were you can look at the world for what it actually is as opposed to what you want it to be. And you can explore the world and see the beauty in it with that kind of perspective.

While I would love to agree with this, I am starting to doubt that people work that way. More and more books are being written about cognitive dissonance, two people seeing the same thing but interpreting the event or “reality” completely differently. As a matter of fact, that very idea is a central theme in Daniel Gilbert’s wonderful book Stumbling on Happiness.

I got yet another example of this while reading the right wing blog Capitan’s Quarters this morning.

Conservative blogs have been attacking a series of extremely negative reports in the New Republic, reportedly written by a soldier in Iraq. The issue got so far out of control that the previously anonymous blogger outted himself and his unit. The Army started investigating; conservative bloggers smelled blood.

This is how conservative blogger Ed Morrissey begins the entry describing the New York Times article.

Despite the oddly-worded non-denial denial from the New Republic yesterday, the Army did determine that allegations made in its magazine by Scott Beauchamp were false. The New York Times reports this morning that their investigation showed no substantiation for Beauchamp’s stories of petty mischief and ghoulish behavior on the part of his fellow soldiers.

An Army investigation into the Baghdad Diarist, a soldier in Iraq who wrote anonymous columns for The New Republic, has concluded that the sometimes shockingly cruel reports were false.

We are not going into the details of the investigation,” Maj. Steven F. Lamb, deputy public affairs officer in Baghdad, wrote in an e-mail message. “The allegations are false, his platoon and company were interviewed, and no one could substantiate the claims he made.” … [ellipsis in original post]

Yesterday, The New Republic posted another note on its Web site saying its editors had spoken to Major Lamb and asked whether Private Beauchamp had indeed signed a statement admitting to fabrications. “He told us, ‘I have no knowledge of that.’ He added, ‘If someone is speaking anonymously [to The Weekly Standard], they are on their own.’ When we pressed Lamb for details on the Army investigation, he told us, ‘We don’t go into the details of how we conduct our investigations.’

That the Army would deny the accusations doesn’t really surprise me much. The Army also gave a medal to Pat Tillman for bravery under enemy fire. They then denied any problem with the story, but piece by piece the truth emerged over the last months, morphing from enemy combatants, friendly fire to what might now be murder. (The last, a claim I doubt. But who can tell any more?)

Anyway. For Morrissey it is enough that the Army is denying everything and the NYT has backed him up. Right?

I don’t see that tone in the article. I give you the three paragraphs just after the ellipsis Morrissey so cleverly inserted for his readers.

The brief statement, however, left many questions unanswered. Just last week The New Republic published on its Web site the results of its own investigation, stating that five members of the same company as Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, who had written the anonymous pieces, “all corroborated Beauchamp’s anecdotes, which they witnessed or, in the case of one soldier, heard about contemporaneously. (All of the soldiers we interviewed who had first-hand knowledge of the episodes requested anonymity.)”

Private Beauchamp had revealed his identity after The Weekly Standard online and conservative bloggers expressed doubts about their veracity. As the Baghdad Diarist, he wrote that one soldier had jokingly worn the remnant of a child’s skull on his head. In another issue, he said he and a soldier had mocked a terribly disfigured woman sitting near them in the mess tent. Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic said that after Private Beauchamp revealed his identity, the Army severely curtailed his telephone and e-mail privileges.

Private Beauchamp is married to a reporter-researcher at the magazine, Elspeth Reeve. [my emphasis]

Thus it seems to be my understanding of the English language posed against Ed Morrissey’s description of what was said in the Grey Lady. It’s a case of he said she said.

My problem is I think he did read the story as confirmation of his (and Michelle Malkin’s) ideas.

The Washington Post also has a much longer article describing the whole teacup tempest. They end their coverage with the following quote,

Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, called the Army’s refusal to release its report “suspect,” adding: “There is a cloud over the New Republic, but there’s one hanging over the Army, as well. Each investigated this and cleared themselves, but they both have vested interests.”

As far as I can tell, the Army solved the problem by ordering the soldier to sit down and shut up. Whether he was describing reality wasn’t important. The conservative bloggers and the Weekly Standard chose to continue the attacks and say – see he’s not saying anything any more – thus Private Beauchamp was lying. It’s not like the Army might have busted him for violating OPSec regulations when he named his unit and then put him under extreme presure. The Army wouldn’t do that; would they?

That’s all in the eye’s of the beholder. Or if you don’t follow the links, he said, she said, they said, he said, they did…

Want to know what I say? Rebecca – there is no reality. *sigh*

Jaw Dropping Quote of the Day

From Captains Quarters, Ed Morrissey manged

Today, the Washington Post joins the New York Times in its passion to write exposés about Jeri Thompson, the wife of presidential candidate Fred Thompson. With two glaring exceptions, the piece actually appears rather balanced and fair, although it appears that Republican wives get a lot more critical attention than Democratic wives in this cycle:…

Um. What!

Let’s see. Absolutely no critical coverage about Democratic wives?

Michelle Obama:

Giving up her job WP and Salon (“It had to be hard for the high-achieving candidate’s wife to give up her career — and I’m in a feminist fury about”)
Reluctant Political Spouse Newsweek?

Elizabeth Edwards:

Cancer with “should he stay in the race punditry” CNN, or Time
need I mention Ann Coulter? ( MSNBC, ABC. FOX) (Repeat the slur a thousand fold while “reporting” it?)

Hillary’s “Wife” – Bill:

CBS
Forbes
USA Today
And the oldie but Goodie, from the last year’s NYT … and the justification

But all that is nothing compared to two articles about Jeri Thompson. And the NYT article he is so grumpy about got widely trashed in liberal blogs who felt it was below the bra strap.

Nothing negative about Democrats? So what if there is the occasional comment that Jeri Thompson is perhaps soon to be First Hottie. (Just a hint Ed: I think she knows she’s good looking. After all she doesn’t dress like Mother Teresa does she?)

And wait! Thompson isn’t even a candidate yet Ed. Why don’t you push for answers on that question? When will he joint the race. Isn’t the question of why national newspapers write articles about the wives of people who aren’t running for president a far more pressing issue?

‘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?

Keeping Score on Gonzales

For those who have lost their scorecard on the General Giggles case, Laura Rozen, journalism Goddess and War and Piece blogger, has a quick run-down of exactly just what all those Congresspersons, Senators and Department of Justice weasels have been getting on about.

The administration is and has been engaging in a shell game in trying to wriggle out of accountability and Congressional oversight and now accusations of perjury on its warrantless domestic spying programs. Shortly after the activity was first revealed by the NY Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau in late 2005, Alberto Gonzales immediately dubbed the domestic spying program “the Terrorist Surveillance Program.” As in, of course, what American could argue with surveilling the communications of the terrorists, wherever they may be? But when in deciding whether to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Congress asked him whether there had been any internal administration dispute over the activities, Gonzales said no, none. Congress was not asking specifically about the Terrorist Surveillance Program – that was Gonzales’ shell game to call it that and say in hindsight that that was his understanding of the narrow scope of their question. Congress was asking whether anyone in the administration had concerns about the White House bypassing the FISA court in authorizing warrantless domestic spying and indeed, as it turned out, there had been such grave concerns that a dozen of the top Justice Department and FBI officials had been prepared to resign over it. But Gonzales answered there had not been any concerns at all, everyone was so convinced of its legality.

She goes on to explain in clear terms just why Gonzales has either been listening to the little bats in his belfry or just outright lying. Her complete rundown is well worth the read, I don’t think anyone has put it better.

She also compares whole situation to the classic sketch by Abbot and Costello.

So here’s a short dramatization of Congress questioning Mr. Giggles. (Hint: Congress is played by Lou Costello, Bud Abbott plays the completely helpful and truthful Mr Gonzales.)

If Abortion Were Illegal…

what should happen to the women who have abortions?

That question was asked of a number of abortion protesters. They seemed stumped. From the Anna Quindlen column at Newsweek

Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. “Usually when things are illegal there’s a penalty attached,” he explains patiently. But he can’t get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Here’s that “curious little mini-documentary”

Best exchange.

Q: And what should happen to those women who have illegal abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: Well…
A: I don’t know what should really happen to them. I would hope that they would in time come to see what they’ve done and be sorry for it. But, I think we need to treat them with love.

Q: If abortion is made illegal, should women be sent to jail who have abortions?

A: [pause]
A: [shrug]
A: I’ve never really thought about it.

Q: How long have you been working in this movement?

A: A couple years.

Hmm. Does anyone else see a minor disconnect here?

Of course the video, produced by AtCenterNetwork.com, might have cut out all the really amazingly clever answers outlining the exact penalty structure, but if you watch the video, you notice this is not a major theme in rallies. Only one of protesters actually managed to come up with a minorly coherent answer.

According to Quindlen, George H. W. Bush was asked the question over 20 years ago and came up with the answer, “I still haven’t worked out the penalties”. Quindlen’s full column should be read in full and needs more links, blog time and – um – links. A little love thrown at AtCenterNetwork would be nice too. Help me out here folks.

Perhaps this is something the far right needs to work on. Just a hint guys. You can use the prairie dog video for practicing “the look” but you’ll have to get ghetto blasters for the scare music…

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHjFxJVeCQs]

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Why Do The Insurgents Need Iran?

OK. The Iran rhetoric as cooled off for a couple of days but like a case of herpes, I’m sure it will return.

The question is, why is the US government so sure that the Iraqi insurgents even need Iran to support them? The US is doing fine all by itself.

From a new GAO report,

Although the former MNSTC-I commander reported that about 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 items of body armor, and 140,000 helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces as of September 2005,18 the MNSTC-I property books contain records for only about 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80,000 items of body armor, and 25,000 helmets.19 Thus, DOD [Department of Defense] and MNF-I [Multi-National Forces – Iraq] cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005. [my emphasis]

And then there were all those billions in cash that went – um – missing.

But hey! What’s 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, etc. among friends!? Really.

As David Oliver, the former Director of Management and Budget of the CPA put it. “Billions of dollars of their money disappeared, yes I understand, I’m saying what difference does it make?”

I mean, as the French say. C’est la vie guerre.

(Hat Tip: Noah Schachtmann/Danger Room)

Cheney Doesn’t Like Juries…

And he’s not too hot about the Senate or the American people either.

According to Dan Eggen in the Washington Post yesterday, the VP pointed out that he disagreed with the jury’s verdict of Scooter. One has to wonder if Cheney feels the verdict was wrong because Scooter didn’t lie or because Scooter fell on his sword for Cheney.

Eggen continues with,

Cheney declined to explain his view but said he agreed with Bush’s actions: “I thought the president handled it right,” he said during an interview with CBS Radio. “I supported his decision.”

Which is an interesting internal contradiction. If the verdict was wrong, why shouldn’t the President have completely pardoned Scooter? Or was the decision OK because Scooter really didn’t have to pay the $200,000 dollar fine himself? Please Vice President Cheney. Inquiring voters want to know.

The interview then spun completely out of control with Cheney declaring his undying love for General Giggles or “Al” as “Dick” likes to call him. Less than two sentences later he again attacked Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Republican Senator Arlen Specter (Pa) for saying that Gonzales’s credibility was tarnished. I wonder if the anaesthetic from his heart surgery was still effecting his perception. He didn’t use his typical language for speaking about Leahy.

But hey, General Giggles still has credibility? Really? It’s not like they had any difficulty finding people to defend him on the Faux News. Right? What?! They did have a bit of a problem? What did Chris Wallace have to say this weekend?

By the way, we invited White House officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Attorney General Gonzales. We had no takers.

I wonder why Dick didn’t move forward for that venue?

But perhaps the most telling comment in the whole article is how Cheney views the current Capitol Hill “spat.”

“I think the key is whether or not he has the confidence of the president, and he clearly does,”

Again. It doesn’t matter if the DOJ is a motivational morass; it doesn’t matter if no one actually believes a word General Giggles utters; it doesn’t even matter whether he does a good or even mediocre job. The only thing is that he have the confidence of the president (and follows vice presidental orders).

That’s cool. Since we have long known that the president is faith and not fact based, we now have confirmation from the vice president that Gonzales is scum, pandering to the wishes of the president and only a mere puppet in the hands of a stage manager like Cheney. Thank you Mr. Vice President.

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

Mr Giggles Gets Nailed

I’m sorry. Let no one ask why I call him Mr Giggles! (about minute 3:10)

From an atheist. Senator Schumer. God bless you!

Landslide for Religion in Turkey

According to all reports, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or Islamic party in Turkey took the election by a landslide managing almost 50 percent of the vote.

According to what I have read up until now, I suspect there were two different campagns. The first, which took place on the Bosphoris, highlighted econmic progress and increased relations with the European Union. The second was carried out using more openly religous terms and would have been found in less “industrialised” parts of Turkey.

At least I can outright say that there is no reason to believe the previous and current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From a recent interview he gave with Der Speigel:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, the world is alarmed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially after the announcement that it is now capable of enriching uranium on an industrial level. Do you share Western fears about the possibility of Tehran developing a nuclear bomb?

Erdogan: We are against nuclear weapons, regardless of whether they are in the hands of Iran or Israel or any Western country. But obviously some states are allowed to have weapons of mass destruction while others are not. If nuclear energy is used for the sake of humanity, then we say yes. But if it is used destructively, then no. The knife in the hand of a murderer kills, but if you give it to a doctor he will heal with it.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that Iran is exclusively pursuing civilian use of nuclear energy?

Erdogan: Right now I can only take the answers that I am given. I personally spoke several times with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about this — also at the request of France, theUnited Kingdom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And he is always saying: We will use it only for the benefit of our people. For now I have to accept it like this, without implying something else.

Read the answers carefully. He doesn’t answer the questions but deftly avoids them.

Let’s be clear, the US scare mongering of the Iranian uranium enrichment program is just that, scare mongering. But that doesn’t mean that Iran isn’t trying to get nuclear weapons. They just won’t get there next year, it will probably take 5 years. But they are trying. To take Ahmadinejad at face value when he says that Iran only wants peaceful use of nuclear power – well then let’s just take him at face value on the issue of the elimination of Israel and anti-Semitism.

All of Erdogan’s answers about a deeper islamification of the Turkish society are equally as obtuse. Actually all of his answers come across as being either obtuse, nationalistic or simply misinformed.

While I do disagree with the use of the word Islamist in connection with the AK – I don’t think they are that extreme – I am concerned about a country that has chosen to remove evolution from it’s textbooks because it doesn’t conform to the Koran. I am concerned about a country where laws are enforced imprisoning people for writing and dramatising history. I am concerned about about a country still more or less at war with an EU country over Cypris.

I’m also more that a little concerned that all the images I am seeing from this election, the cute women in reveling clothing, were taken in Istanbul. I am not seeing any file photos from the less industrialized part of the country, Erzurum, Gaziantep or Adana. I wonder why?

I think this vote was religious where religion is important and economic where economics are important. But I think the Washington Post brought the money quote.

Dya Alawa, 37, was among the [AK] party’s backers waiting outside one busy site.

Economic gains meant her husband no longer had to worry about impromptu layoffs at his textile factory, Alawa said, while she could count on buying most staples at the same prices as five years ago.

“For me, my kitchen is what’s important, and my issue is cooking oil, and that’s why I’m voting AKP,” she said, using the Justice and Development Party’s Turkish initials.

Her issue is cooking oil, enough to eat and a stable economy. No government need offer anything more. Freedom of speech be damned!

Voting in a Muslim Country.

Va Va Va Voom

All I can say is va, va, va, voom… and that from Al Jazeera. (Sorry, sexist I know, but every now an then I have to get a dig in.)

From the Reuters coverage (without a hottie for a draw)

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Millions of Turks flocked to vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election seen as crucial to the future direction of this large Muslim but secular democracy straddling Europe and the Middle East.

Opinion polls show the ruling pro-business, Islamist-rooted AK Party government winning a fresh five-year mandate but strong gains by nationalist and secularist opposition parties could slash its majority and result in slower reforms.

“Now the people will speak,” Sunday’s Milliyet daily said.

Newspapers splashed pictures across their front pages of empty beaches at Turkey’s coastal resorts after many people postponed or cut short holidays in order to go home to vote.

Note: The secularist opposition are doing better. That should make those who claim all muslims are evil think twice. No wait. They don’t think once so they will likely just ignore the results.

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?

Evolution is not just a theory!

Evolution is not just a theory.

Pass the word! Digg it! Memorize the arguments!

That is all.

(Hat tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy)

Political Meltdown

newradiationsymbol_300×200.gifIt’s been a bad month for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It all started rather well. Although not all media outlets were as fawning as Spiegel-Online Merkel did enjoy international praise after the G8 summit in June.

She took that momentum into a German energy summit held in at the beginning of July in order to discuss how CO2 targets can be met. At the summit, it became clear that Merkel planned to pursue one of her long term goals, rolling back the current plan to completely phase out nuclear power in Germany by the year 2021.

There are legitimate reasons to discuss using nuclear power at least as a bridge to achieve lower CO2 emissions while pursuing longer term solutions. Even if no new power plants were built, a very strong argument could be made to keep existing plants in the net. While it is unlikely that she would be able to convince either the SPD or a huge majority of the German public, it was probable that Merkel had planned to put nuclear power back on her party’s platform in time for the next elections.

At this point, a little background is probably necessary for those not familiar with German energy policy.

In the summer of 2001, after long negotiations, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, joined with his coalition partners, the Greens, to in push through a deal to completely eliminate nuclear energy from Germany by 2021 based on a similar plan already in place in Sweden.

Now, depending on whose side you are on, this can be either a good or a bad choice.

On the one hand, it is difficult to deny that there are problems with the current nuclear industry. In Germany, as in many countries, a final repository for nuclear waste has yet to be found. Massive protests are staged every time nuclear waste is re-imported after being processed in France to prepare it for final storage and transported to the interim facility in Gorleben. Another issue is the increasing age of nuclear power plants in Germany. The youngest reactor in the German mix is almost 20 years old, and most were build in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Finally, in an age of terrorist threat, real or imagined, nuclear power stations do make nice targets.

On the other side of the issue stands the elimination of carbon dioxide producing power plants. (Indeed the fly ash produced by coal power plants has been said to be more radioactive because naturally occurring radioactive elements are concentrated in the ash. Of course this is only a problem for coal from certain areas and is something to think about (but not worry about) the next time you spend a lot of time in a cinderblock building.) Lastly, one can make the claim that a normally operating nuclear power plant releases almost no measurable radiation into the environment..

Finally It should also be noted that, following his term as Chancellor, Schröder accepted a job working for the Russian energy supplier Gazprom to build a pipeline to the EU bypassing the eastern European countries. A pipeline that will also supply gas for – you guessed it – non-nuclear power plants. It was a move sharply criticised at the time.

But back to Merkel. As far as I know, alone among top western politicians, Merkel has a science PhD – in physical chemistry. That perhaps explains much of her understanding of the urgency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – she understands the science and not just the policy summaries.

But she also understands politics. And that’s why she’s having a very bad month.

It all started on June 28 with two seemingly unrelated incidents at two different nuclear reactors in Germany,both run by the energy company Vattenfall.

One, Krümmel, had a transformer fire, another reported a minor leak. Later it came out that the transformer fire had been far more serious that first admitted. Plant operators at one point had been forced to put on gas masks. Information has come to light showing that plant operators might have been trying to increase output which ultimately lead to the fire. The “leak” turned out to be a pipe which had exploded due to a hydrogen build up. Vattenfall also doesn’t have a great safety record with two different reactors in Sweden being forced to shut down due to ‘malfunctions.’ They also have a reputation for trying to coverup or downplay events that happen at their reactors.

Merkel was noticeably irritated. According to Spiegel Online,

“It does make me angry, and it’s an experience I had while environment minister, when (safety) regulations are not actually followed from day to day,” Merkel, who led Germany’s ministry of the environment under former chancellor Helmut Kohl, told German television on Tuesday. “That needs to be cleared up, and I mean strictissimi (i.e. according to the letter of the law), otherwise we can’t guarantee ongoing safety.”

Sigmar Gabriel, current environment minister in Merkel’s cabinet, has also been vocally critical of the way Vattenfall has handled the recent reactor mishaps. On Wednesday, he once again took a swipe at the company, saying: “It is a major loss of face for the company. They are campaigning for trust in atomic energy, they should really be the first to say, ‘We are going to lay everything on the table, let’s clear it up.’ Instead, all we see from them is this strange carrying on.” The state of Schleswig -Holstein, where the reactors are located, is looking into whether the company should lose its license to operate nuclear reactors.

Instead of being able to use “glowingly” green energy as part of her next campaign, Merkel will probably have to scrap it. As a matter of fact the Social Democrats, long quite on the issue are becoming far more vocal. From an excellent overview also from Spiegel Online,

Suddenly the Social Democrats, especially Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, see themselves justified in taking the position that nuclear energy is a “risky technology.” “German nuclear power plants are the safest worldwide,” Gabriel said acerbically last week, “aside from the occasional explosion or fire.”
And the public is starting to worry as well. Perhaps for a reason. The article continues with,

The reason for the change in thinking is clear. Whereas most of the some 130 reactor incidents reported annually in Germany are minor and go unnoticed, smoke pouring out of a transformer as happened in Krümmel tends to attract attention. It took the fire department hours to extinguish the blaze. Even worse, the plant operator’s claim that a fire in the transformer had no effect o n the reactor itself proved to be a lie.

In short, the incident has made it clear that nuclear energy is by no means the modern, well organized high-tech sector portrayed until recently by politicians and industry advocates. Indeed, the frequency of problems occurring at Germany’s aging reactors is on the rise. Just as old cars will eventually succumb to rust, the country’s nuclear power plants, built in the 1970s and 80s, are undergoing a natural aging process.

The problems are complicated by maintenance and supervision issues among aging and unmotivated employees. A dangerously lackadaisical attitude has taken hold that is making Germany’s nuclear power plants increasingly unsafe. Most incidents to date have proven to be relatively minor, and yet each new incident becomes yet another link in a chain of problems with the potential to end in a serious accident.,

But the problems aren’t only related to safety issues. In today’s increasingly competitive energy (and management) marketplace, companies are increasingly willing to take risks to improve profit margins.

Industry insiders complain that for some time power plant operators have been attempting to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their old, and for the most part depreciated, reactors. In recent years, for example, the owners of the Krümmel nuclear power plant have invested about €50 million in technical improvements to increase the efficiency of the plant’s turbines, a move that has brought a 7 percent improvement in net output. But these alleged improvements have also increased stress on secondary systems such as the plant’s transformer, systems that were apparently not retrofitted. In fact, this may have been the cause of the Krümmel fire. According to Günther Pikos, a nuclear expert from the western German city of Düren, “the transformer was apparently already damaged by a string of earlier incidents.” Pikos believes that this, combined with the increase in turbine output, was what ended up overloading the transformer.

Finally, perhaps just so Merkel gets the point, yesterday’s earthquake in Japan caused not only a transformer fire but a coolant leak into the Sea of Japan as well.

What all this means is that nuclear power just got much more unpopular in Germany. The long term effects will probably be minimal but Merkel will likely be forced to shelf plans to extend the life of nuclear power until after the next elections.

Any attempt to right now to try to lower carbon dioxide emissions in Germany using the “nuclear option” is, at least politically, radioactive.

Subsidizing Big Oil

Oil tanker Omala in Rotterdam, Picture by Danny Cornelissen from the portpictures.nlWhat do you get when you mix bio-diesel, American tax subsidies and Rotterdam? The ultimate proof that oil and water don’t really mix; especially if funded by US tax dollars.

The trick is called “splash and dash” and was highlighted back in June in the Christian Science Monitor.

Created under the 2004 American Jobs Act [hint: Republican congress], the “blenders tax credit” was supposed to boost US production of biodiesel by encouraging US diesel marketers to blend regular petroleum diesel with fuel made from soybeans or other agricultural products. It succeeded, perhaps too well.

Attracted by the $1-per-gallon subsidy, US diesel-fuel marketers mixed away, setting off a nationwide boom in biodiesel refinery building. But no one anticipated splash-and-dash.

The maneuver begins with a shipload of biodiesel from, say, Malaysia, which pulls into a US port like Houston, says John Baize, an industry consultant in Falls Church, Va. Unlike domestic diesel-biodiesel blends, which typically contain from 1 to 10 percent of biodiesel, the Malaysian fuel starts off as 100 percent biodiesel, typically made from palm oil.

Then, the vessel receives from a dockside diesel supplier a “splash” of US petroleum diesel. It doesn’t take much to turn it into a diesel-biodiesel blend that is eligible for US subsidies.

I know. It’s hard to believe that American taxpayers might actually be spending tax dollars to credit oil companies. It’s not like they are similiar to big tobacco or have anyone high up in the current administation sympathetic to their cause.

The Europeans are upset because they have spent 10 long years trying to grow (sorry, bad pun) a local biodiesel industry. Splash and dash is destroying it. As a matter of fact I heard one supplier comment that it would be more cost effective to ship his oil to America, have it refined there, get the tax credit and ship the resulting fuel back to Europe. He’d still make money.

There is one thing the CS article get’s wrong though; European drivers aren’t benefiting, it’s the oil companies.

In Germany, locally produced bio-diesel costs about € 0.70; imported fuel costs about € 0.60 and is selling for about € 0.98. Seeing absolutely no reason to pass that savings on to the consumer during times of high demand, the oil industry has simply been skimming the profits off the top. (Gee. Imagine that.)

In order to put an end to this practice which was annoying everyone except the people who are profiting, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007 (H.R: 2776, pdf) has been introduced into the House. It includes language that would restrict this tax credit solely to biodiesel produced inside the U.S. for consumption in the U.S. It would hopefully put an end to “splash and dash.”

There are only two problems remaining. Will this actually solve the problem or would it simply be better to give tax credits to people who drive cars which run on bio-diesel – instead of taxing them? In other words, will the oil companies find a loop hole in the plug.

Second, will this language survive into the final bill? Start writing your Congresspersons now! I’m sure the lobbyists are busy as I type.

Yeah, but It’s a Dry Heat

This needs no comment…

 Q Is the Iraqi government and the Iraqi parliament taking the month of August off?

MR. SNOW: Probably, yes. Just not —

Q They’re taking the entire month of August off, before the September deadline?

MR. SNOW: It looks like they may, yes. Just like the U.S. Congress is.

Q Have you tried to talk them out of that?

MR. SNOW: You know, it’s 130 degrees in Baghdad in August, I’ll pass on your recommendation.

Q Well, Tony, Tony, I’m sorry, that’s — you know — I mean, there are a lot of things that happen by September and it’s 130 degrees for the U.S. military also on the ground —

MR. SNOW: You know, that’s a good point. And it’s 130 degrees for the Iraqi military. The Iraqis, you know, I’ll let them — my understanding is that at this juncture they’re going to take August off, but, you know, they may change their minds.

Q But have you tried to convince them not to?. Does the U.S. government pressure them not to, because then the September deadline —

MR. SNOW: Again, I’m not going to — you know, I’m just not — I’m not getting into the — the Iraqis understand the importance. It’s not a September deadline, it’s a September report. I think it’s very important, in an age where everybody wants to create a sense of, sort of, finishing up on a deadline — it’s a report, it is not a deadline. It is a report that will, in fact, measure progress —

Q It’s a pretty important report —

MR. SNOW: It is a very — it’s a very important —

Q (Inaudible.) I mean, a month they’re not working.

MR. SNOW: Sheryl, will you let me answer Martha’s questions first? And then Helen is next, and then I’ll call on you.

Now, where were we, because —

Q We were a month off, we have —

MR. SNOW: Okay, so what you’re saying — yes —

Q — 130 degrees for the Iraqi parliament, so they need a month off, even though it’s 130 degrees for U.S. soldiers.

MR. SNOW: Well, you know, you’re assuming that nothing is going on. As I said, there are any number of things going on in Iraq. Let’s see what the parliament does during the course of this month. Let’s also see what happens, because quite often when parliaments do not meet, there are also continuing meetings on the side. And there will be progress, I’m sure, on a number of fronts.

I’m just — I’m not in a position at this point to try to gainsay what the Iraqis are doing. We are working with them and trying to help them succeed. They have a vested interest also in doing this and doing it right, and what they’ve done is they’ve set a higher bar for their legislative accomplishments than we do because they’re trying to operate on a basis not of simple majority, but consensus. It’s probably a wise thing to do at the outset of a country that has been driven by strife for so many years. It is a tough business.

But I would suggest not merely looking at the legislative accomplishments, but also, again, taking a look overall at what’s going on in terms of creating a sense of national unity, dealing with problems of sectarian strife — that certainly were rife last year, but are far less prevalent today, at least according to the trajectory mentioned in the report — and, therefore, take a comprehensive and factual look at all the aspects of what’s going on in Iraq.

From Friday’s White House press conference.