Saturday, December 31, 2005

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail

The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail

It gets worse: a grass roots organization -- supposedly forwarding "family values" -- was really a front for foreign money intentded to influence the Majority leader's vote with regard to Russian bailouts:

Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

...

Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.

...

After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.

But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.

It is always the crumbs that points fingers at others who have the most dirt under their skirts...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Osama Who?

I keep hearing how Clinton dropped the ball on Osama and terrorism.

Let's recap:

1- Clinton tells Bush that Osama and terrorism will be the biggist issue his administration faces:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton says he warned President George W. Bush before he left office in 2001 that Osama bin Laden was the biggest security threat the United States faced.
Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the History Channel on Wednesday, Clinton said he discussed security issues with Bush in his "exit interview," a formal and often candid meeting between a sitting president and the president-elect.
"In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and a national missile defence," Clinton said. "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden."

Initially, after 9/11, the administration denies Clinton briefed Bush, but the testimony taken during the 9/11 commission hearing confirms it.

+1 Clinton, -1 Bush (lying)

2- Then we have Clinton's response to a likely threat during the 1999-2000 period. From the comission report:
In the period between December 1999 and early January 2000, information about terrorism flowed widely and abundantly. The flow from the FBI was particularly remarkable because the FBI at other times shared almost no information. That from the intelligence community was also remarkable, because some of it reached officials-local airport managers and local police departments-who had not seen such information before and would not see it again before 9/11, if then. And the terrorist threat, in the United States even more than abroad, engaged the frequent attention of high officials in the executive branch and leaders in both houses of Congress.
Given the perceived threat, Clinton held almost DAILY meetings with the security council, FBI, CIA, etc. as threat information (i.e. PDBs) came in. The president "rattled these guys cages" -- they (FBI, CIA) in turn put their field offices on alert. The result was the foiling of the millinium plot.

Let's look at Bush's response to the Aug 6 PDB -- the "historical" brief (i.e. - clearly a threat brief if there ever was one) that warned of active terrorist cells in the United States... that Al Qaida was casing building in New York and that terrorists would like to hijack aircraft:
In the summer of 2001, DCI Tenet, the Counterterrorist Center, and the Counterterrorism Security Group did their utmost to sound a loud alarm, its basis being intelligence indicating that al Qaeda planned something big. But the millennium phenomenon was not repeated. FBI field offices apparently saw no abnormal terrorist activity, and headquarters was not shaking them up.
Clinton +2, Bush -2 (not doing shit)

What was the Bush administration thinking about in Sep of 2001? Star Wars: Condi Rice was scheduled to give a talk on the importance missile defense: the area the administration saw as the cornerstone of the "new threat".

Don't forget Bush's last speech to discuss Osama:

Deep in my heart, I know the man is on the run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not? We haven't heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is -- indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who's now been marginalized. His network, his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it and met his match. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.

Yes, terrorism is bigger than one man. But we might make progress by focusing our efforts on terrorists!! Not some un-related project.

My conservative friends bash Clinton for not doing enough to get Osama... What about this president?? Remember that during Clinton's time in office approx 37 American's died in terrorist attacks: a tragedy, but certainly not a mandate to seek-out and destroy Osama at all costs -- like after 9/11 (the president's words -- "dead or alive", not mine). The American people and Congress were far more concerned with the president's penis than with terrorists back then (look at the congressional record).

I only have one question for my conservative friends: What would you be saying if a Republican was in office in the 90's and Clinton was responsible for 3+ years of war in Iraq while those responsible for killing 3000+ American's run free?

American's need to see this man for what he is: an incompetent, inexperienced idiot who governs from the hip -- or more precisely, after consulting god.

When will the nightmare be over?

Image problems hamper US on goals abroad | csmonitor.com

Image problems hamper US on goals abroad | csmonitor.com
KAREN HUGHES: The State Department's head of outreach (shown here in Honduras) said that promoting US ideals abroad is tougher than she expected.
No duh... What are those ideals Mr. President? Can you please put them into action instead of just spouting them at press conferences?

This president is a bigger threat to our way of life than the terrorists. One man, Bush, has taken it upon himself to dissemble the core of our free society.

The United States has enemies... There are a relatively small number of them out there – and to be sure they would like to do us harm. But can we surrender portions of our liberty – indefinitely (as the president has said, this struggle will likely last a very long time – we many never be able to say it’s over) to gain a marginal increase (if any) in security?

We should use our principles and values as a weapon in this fight… we shouldn’t abandon them and become like those that would destroy us.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Unanswer Man

Unanswer Man

Think about it: we (supposedly) live in a free and open society -- where the leaders govern by consent of the governed... How can you do that when we know so little about how this government operates? Thankfully, the leaks are coming faster: everything from Plame to executive orders to spy on American citizens.

Our leader takes pride in the fact that he heads one of the most secretive governments of the modern era:

"I want to especially thank Scotty," the president said, looking at his aide. "I want to thank Scotty for saying" -- and he paused for effect. . . .

" Nothing ."

At which point everyone laughed and the president left the room.

This is one of those quips that distill a certain essence of the game. In this era of on-message orthodoxy, the republic has evolved to where the leader of the free world can praise his most visible spokesman for saying nothing.

And not just on matters related to security policy... but on everything: from energy policy to the environment -- all we get is double-speak and on-message rhetoric.

How I long for the days when we had a real, intelligent leader: Clinton may have been politically slick, but at least he operated openly -- with public commissions to study everything from health care to the environment. He knew how to compromise to get things done.

This president knows just barely more than nothing...

Appeals court denies US attempt to move Padilla case | csmonitor.com

In a strongly worded opinion that rebuked the Bush administration, a federal appeals court has refused a request from the Bush administration to authorize the transfer of "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla into Justice Department custody to face new criminal charges. The Washington Post reports that the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit wrote that the government's actions have left "the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake," and that this hurts the government's "credibility before the courts."

Again - this administration doesn't understand what it means to be an American citizen. Citizens have rights guarenteed to them under the Constitution: these rights are not there simply at the convenience of the government. They are OUR rights.

I'm not a terrorist apologist: but every citizen deserves his day in court. That's the way the system works...

I didn't agree with the 'enemy combatant' thing for American citizens, and now -- after holding someone for 3+ years -- they want to bring criminal charges. So now if he's a criminal, what were the past 3 years?

If someone has committed a crime, charge them - present the evidence and go to trial. If you don't have evidence, you can't hold them (for extended periods anyway) -- not in a free society. To believe otherwise is to advocate the dissolution of the very foundation of a our system of government.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Measure of Success - New York Times

The Measure of Success - New York Times

Friedman hits on the point I've made for some time: that our adventure in Iraq is a big gamble... a gamble that the Iraqis will decide to make a stable government that protects the rights of all its citizens. But to accomplish that, you have to first have a sense of the Iraqi citizen... This is where the Bush doctrine completely ignores reality: Iraq is composed of 3 distint groups -- with the Shia currently taking revenge on the Sunni as much as the Sunni trying to blow-up there way back to power.

Friedman:

President Bush talks about Iraq as if it were a given that there is a single Iraqi aspiration for exactly the kind of pluralistic democracy America would like to see built in Iraq, and that the only variable is whether we stay long enough to see it through. I wish that were so - our job would be easy. But it is not so. It still is not clear what is the will of the Iraqi people.

And that's the problem... We can stay for 2 years or 10, but if the Iraqi's are intent on continuing tribal warfare, we are simply not going to stop them.

We've made some progress, but the final direction Iraq will take will be set by Iraqis. Friedman again:

It is terrific that Iraqis just had another free and fair election and that some 11 million people voted. Americans should be proud that we helped to bring that about in a region that has so rarely experienced any sort of democratic politics.

But what's still unclear is this: Who and what were Iraqis voting for? Were they voting for Kurdish sectarian leaders, who they hope will gradually split Kurdistan off from Iraq? Were they voting for pro-Iranian Shiite clerics, who they hope will carve out a Shiite theocratic zone between Basra and Baghdad? Were they voting for Sunni tribal leaders, who they hope will restore the Sunnis to their "rightful" place - ruling everyone else? Or, were they voting for a unified Iraq and for politicians whom they expect to compromise and rewrite the Constitution into a broadly accepted national compact?

I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt the Iraqis were voting for that last item... They were voting their religious and tribal interests.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge rules against 'intelligent design' in science class

Reason triumphs...

In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state.

"We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents," Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court's Web site. (Opinion, pdf)

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Jones writes.

That's about all you need to know from this opinion -- it says it all...

So lets keep this stuff where it belongs: in Sunday school...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Says U.S. Spy Program Is Legal and Essential - New York Times

Enough... This man is a criminal. He should be impeached.

As an intelligence professional I find this beyond disturbing and in direct violation of my obligation to not collect information on 'U.S. Persons'. If asked to do so I would refuse out-right.

Apparently, our CINC doesn't know what it means to be a US Citizen... I was under the impression that we DIDN'T live in a state that subjected innocent citizens to surveillance without probably cause and a court order.

The Stone Standard -- which we are all reminded of (as professionals) annually -- dictates that the Justice Dept and the government in general is only interested in investigating VIOLATIONS of the LAW... Not in monitoring the communications, affiliations or behavior of citizens who have done nothing wrong but are somehow identified as "a risk'.

The Rights of Americans

"Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone in 1924 confined the Bureau of Investigation in the Justice Department to the investigation of federal crimes. Attorney General Stone articulated a clear and workable standard:

The Bureau of Investigation is not concerned with political or other opinions of individuals. It is concerned only with their conduct and then only such conduct as is forbidden by the laws of the United States."

To investigate otherwise is un-American in the extreme and a reason that we condemn other countries' systems...

No Mr. Bush – the authority to wage war doesn’t give you or the government permission to monitor innocent people.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. -- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Misquoting Jesus

Just listened to a good piece on Fresh Air on how scribes have, sometimes mistakenly -- other times deliberately, incorrectly transcribed passages in the new testament.

The book, Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, is by a former evangelical Professor at Chapel Hill: Bart Ehrman . A devote Christian, his investigation of the origins of the new testament led him to the realization that much of it is based on the desires of church leaders.

Surprise surprise.

Of course I don't expect any true believer who reads this to rush out and suddenly become a skeptical student of biblical history: on the contrary -- "true believers" are just that: they start with belief and "facts" flow from that belief.

Of course, this approach doesn't serve mankind very well: imagine if we approached science and engineering in such a manner civilization simply wouldn't have progressed beyond the Dark Ages.

But religion is not science -- so they say. It is based on a personal revelation of truth... or so some of my christian friends tell me. Well, for one, I was once christian... My answer: when you come to a place in your life where you need to cling to something bigger than yourself, your mind is more than willing to oblige.

I used to also believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy...

Besides, what of the 'personal experiences' of the Muslim; the Hindu; the Jew and the Buddhist? All claim to have 'experienced' the truth of their belief system.

So here we are: millions around the world buy into a variety of ancient 'mystic' religions. And for the majority such beliefs can be a positive influence on the individual and on society. But here, in the US, we've seen the influence of 'absolute belief' elevated to the highest levels of civil government -- where it has been imbued with the power to trump science and reason.

This is the problem -- it's the path to medievalism -- and is in exact opposition to the precepts that the founders ushered in during the enlightenment: the process of investigation based on logic and reason.

How much longer will we have to suffer 'belief' as the foundation of government policy... We surely can't endure it much longer...

Bush in the Bubble

I've blogged about this several times before... But Newsweek has a good article on Bush's leadership style: essentially he surrounds himself with a group of like-minded yes-men who reinforce his world view.

A good leader usually seeks out diverse opinions and input on complex issues: but not our president -- he already knows the answer -- a result of his close relationship with Jesus I guess... So why ask experienced people for their opinions?
Jack Murtha still can't figure out why the father and son treated him so differently. Every week or so before the '91 gulf war, President George H.W. Bush would invite Congressman Murtha, along with other Hill leaders, to the White House. "He would listen to all the bitching from everybody, Republicans and Democrats, and then he would do what he thought was right." A decorated Vietnam veteran, ex-Marine Murtha was a critical supporter for the elder Bush on Capitol Hill. "I led the fight for the '91 war," he says. "I led the fight, for Christ's sake."

Yet 13 years later, when Murtha tried to write George W. Bush with some suggestions for fighting the Iraq war, the congressman's letter was ignored by the White House (after waiting for seven months, Murtha received a polite kiss-off from a deputy under secretary of Defense). Murtha, who has always preferred to operate behind the scenes, finally went public, calling for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. In the furor that followed, a White House spokesman compared the Vietnam War hero to "Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party." When that approach backfired, President Bush called Murtha a "fine man ... who served our country with honor." The White House has made no attempt to reach out to Murtha since then. "None. None. Zero. Not one call," a baffled Murtha told NEWSWEEK. "I don't know who the hell they're talking to. If they talked to people, they wouldn't get these outbursts. If they'd talked to me, it wouldn't have happened."
Three more years of damage to come...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New Army Rules May Snarl Talks With McCain on Detainee Issue - New York Times

New Army Rules May Snarl Talks With McCain on Detainee Issue - New York Times

Why doesn't this administration listen to an experienced voice of reason regarding the torture issue?

One obvious point made by Senator McCain: our servicemen will undoubtedly fight in future wars... If we sanction torture -- in any form -- say, by the CIA, then POWS in that future war may be turned over to the enemy's 'intelligence services' and receive similar treatment.

Torture doesn't work... It's bad policy and immoral. Moreover, I'm sick of the self-proclaimed morals-and-values crowd undermining the very principles on which the republic was founded.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Capitalism as god...

Stalin got me thinking about capitalism and the right's reverence for this economic theory.

I know this will get a lot of winger's going, but yes, it is just a theory -- and some of its elements are clearly NOT demonstrable -- as opposed to evolution.

There are the comments I made to his blog:

The right's fanatical faith in capitalism has made this economic theory a premise for society and government. But these are very different things and operate under (or should operate under) different rules, priorities and regulations. But in the “right’s” view, capitalism is a goal in itself because they believe all the rest will flow from it.

For one thing, what wing-nuts forget is that in capitalist theory, the playing field is assumed to be level – that the best ideas and innovations will naturally bubble to the top and take their rightful place in the marketplace via the invisible hand of the market. This simply isn’t true in a developed economy like ours. A couple examples.

The playing field isn’t level – not even close. How else would you explain, for example, a large airline operating at a loss in a particular market just to snuff out the competition? The start-up may be more efficient, offer better service, etc., but because the entrenched ‘big-boy’ can afford to take losses in one market for a while, he can effectively squash any competition before it gets started.

Or take chip dumping – when a chip manufacturer sells his product in a market to keep the competition from getting a foothold.

Are these practices conducive to a free marketplace where innovation and efficiency are rewarded?!!?

Today, the imbalances in the marketplace are even worse. We have the government stepping in to support big energy, pharma, etc. with our tax dollars. I’m not necessarily against big business – but from my experience, big business can be a model of inefficiency! Some big business no longer uses innovation and value (to the consumer) to drive their operations – but instead substitute connections in Washington and predatory market practices to maintain their position. This is bad for ALL OF US.

Coupled with history, we don’t have to guess as to the outcomes of unbridled capitalism. Simply look to the age of the robber barons: child labor, inequitable pay for women, 7 day work weeks, sweat shops, etc. etc.

Finally, add the sentiment that “what I earn is mine and mine alone” – a return to social Darwinism -- and you have the crown to the right’s philosophy. But where is ‘society’ in this picture? Best served by capitalism goes the right’s mantra. Well, again, we’ve seen how that works back in the 19th century with people like J. P. Morgan saying "I owe the public nothing" and hiring 12 year old children to work 80 hr weeks.

People need to look beyond their own pocketbooks… beyond “I”. Sure, capitalism is a great economic system: but it isn’t a system of government or a founding principle of society.

Iraqi officials find more abused prisoners | csmonitor.com

We're not going to 'lose the war'... but we are gonna hand Iraq over to a fairly-elected group of fundamentalist thugs who will take revenge on the Sunnis who oppressed them for the last 50 years:
An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones.
Yes, they'll be a 'democracy' of sorts in Iraq. Will it make the region, or the US, any safer?

I highly doubt it...

Another example of extreme US interventionalist policy that ends up on the wrong end of "right".

When will we learn?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Next Iraq Offensive

From an Op/Ed by General Wes Clarke... Some reasonable advice from an experienced leader:

    The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush's new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point. It's a devastating critique. And, unfortunately, it is correct.

    While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq's neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran's power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.

    The American approach shows little sense of Middle Eastern history and politics. As one prominent Kuwaiti academic explained to me, in the Muslim world the best way to deal with your enemies has always been to assimilate them - you never succeed in killing them all, and by trying to do so you just make more enemies. Instead, you must woo them to rejoin society and the government. Military pressure should be used in a calibrated way, to help in the wooing.

    If this critique is correct - and it is difficult to argue against it - then we must face its implications. "Staying the course" risks a slow and costly departure of American forces with Iraq increasingly factionalized and aligned with Iran. Yet a more rapid departure of American troops along a timeline, as some Democrats are calling for, simply reduces our ability to affect the outcome and risks broader regional conflict.

    We need to keep our troops in Iraq, but we need to modify the strategy far more drastically than anything President Bush called for last week.

My worry -- supported by my time in Iraq -- is like that of General Clark: that Iran's influence will be much greater in the region as a result of a pro-Shia government in Iraq.

I believe our policy in Iraq will result in the installation of a regime that, at best, is only marginally sympathetic to their Iranian brothers -- and at worse, very closely aligned with them. ... And remember: Iran is the #1 state-sponsor of terrorism in the WORLD... That's quite possible what our service men and women are dying for: a pseudo-democratic/theocratic state that will greatly increase the influence of Iran in the region.

Such an outcome speaks directly to the problem with this administration: we need forward-thinking, analytical people formulating policy in Washington. Not black-and-white, shoot-from-the-hip cowboys.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Qaeda-Iraq Link U.S. Cited Is Tied to Coercion Claim - New York Times

As if we didn't need more evidence that torture is an unreliable way of obtaining information:
The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.
Between the unreliable information and the damage done to our international standing, it boggles the mind why our fearless leader (well, fearless now, but in the Vietnam era overseas duty apparently wasn't on his list of priorites) pushes this policy via his surrogate: Dark Lord Cheney.

The reason-value divide

The debate in this country has got to begin to change.  We exhausted the usefulness of reciting the ever-increasing litany of offenses of our "leaders".  There may be a few odd signs of cracks appearing in the neocons' armor lately, but the rabid right still foams at the mouth as much as ever, despite revelations, despite indictments. 
I don't hold a lot of hope that new reports of outrages and incompetence are going to change that much.  If reports came out tomorrow confirming that W has been having barbecues on the back lawn of the White House, roasting Muslim children and eating them, it's only slightly worse than what he and his puppet-masters are already known to have done.  The knowledge of this administration's LONG list of failings is public knowledge.  Why isn't the country united in ousting these miserable SOB's?  Thirty years ago, the country woke up and ousted Nixon for lesser offenses than this gang of petty thugs.  A Democratic-led Senate seriously investigated the allegations against him, and the press dug for the facts energetically. 
Today's responses by both are far less, for far worse crimes.  In part it's a reflection of the stranglehold corporate money and conservative interests have on the government and the media these days, but that doesn't explain everything.  There are millions of ordinary people out there who cling to an ideology and a narrow set of "values" at all costs.  Is there now a cultural divide in this country that has become so wide it can no longer be bridged?  Have Blue and Red become as incompatible as Blue and Grey were a hundred-fifty years ago?

Posted on RoR by CactusDan

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Delay - What it takes to be a 'successful' politician

A Texas judge upheld a felony indictment of former House majority leader Tom DeLay on charges of money laundering in connection with the Texas election in 2002. The judge through out the conspiracy charge, the Washington Post reports.

What's more disturbing is that the direct result of (illegally) funneling money to Texas Republicans resulted in the Republican majority in the Texas house. If convicted, that means the Texas state-house Republicans who redrew district lines to help cement the Congressional Republican majority did so as a result of criminal activity... not to mention that redistricting, itself, was illegal:
DeLay has already acknowledged, in public statements and in an interview with the Texas prosecutor, that the funds at issue were raised to help Republicans gain control of the Texas House and oversee the legislature's redrawing of Texas congressional districts. The aim of this effort was to favor the election of more Republicans to Congress, and it succeeded: Five more Republicans were elected from Texas in 2004, cementing the party's control of Congress.

Career attorneys at the Justice Department, in a decision reached in 2003 that came to light only last week, concluded that the new map of congressional districts that DeLay and his aides drew had illegally discriminated against minorities for partisan political reasons. But political appointees at the department overruled this finding, and certified that the map could stand.


So, once this crumb has been thrown in jail, how do we repair the damage done to the state, and nation, as a result of this guy's influence-for-sale style of governance?

It still amazes me that people voted for Tom Delay: a politician who brazenly flashes his little black book of donors in potential lobbyist faces: "What, you also give to a Democrat! Don't come here..."

I guess you can do just about anything you want as long as you follow it with a hearty 'praise Jesus!!'.

After all, voters in this state just determined that is was vitally important to make sure the state Constitution formally prohibits Texas from giving any rights to the two guys that have lived together for 20 years.

Where are our priorities?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Another vicotry for reason


Gays sign up for civil partnership
Mon Dec 5, 2005 11:12 AM GMT

By Paul Majendie

LONDON (Reuters) - After years of campaigning for equal rights in Britain, gay couples applied on Monday to give their partnerships legal status for the first time.

"This is a highly symbolic and very special day," said Alan Wardle of the gay pressure group Stonewall.

"It sends out a signal to society that lesbian and gay relationships are recognised, valued and treated with respect," he said as hundreds of couples signed up.

A new law allowing same-sex civil partnerships will give homosexual couples the same property and inheritance rights as married heterosexual couples and entitles them to the same pension, immigration and tax benefits.

After a two-week waiting period couples will be able to legally register their partnerships for the first time.

Equality Minister Meg Munn said: "This is an important piece of legislation that gives legal recognition to relationships that were invisible in the eyes of the law."

Munn, who said the government expected up to 4,500 couples to sign up in the first year, told the BBC: "It is just as serious a commitment to make as marriage."

Unlike those in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada, Britain's civil partnership is not a marriage.

Civil partnership is formed when a couple sign certain documents in an exclusively civil procedure, whereas a marriage becomes binding when partners exchange spoken words in a civil or religious ceremony.

ELTON JOHN CEREMONY

Among the first couples planning to "tie the knot" are pop star Elton John and his partner David Furnish in a ceremony on December 21, the earliest possible date to do so in England.

"We're very lucky to live in Britain. I cannot think of a more tolerant place to live," John said.

But the flamboyant star renowned for splashing out on lavish parties told the gay magazine Attitude that their ceremony will be "very private, a small family affair, David's parents, my parents and the two of us. They'll be our witnesses."

And they will not be selling the wedding photos to any celebrity magazine. "Madonna got it right when she was married. Nobody has seen one photograph of that day," he said.

Pop star George Michael has also said he plans to get hitched with Kenny Goss, his lover for the last nine years, in a private ceremony.

"I'm sure Kenny and I will be doing the old legal thing but we won't be doing the whole veil and gown thing," he said at the London premiere of a documentary about his pop career.

The Church of England has provoked fury among Anglican traditionalists by allowing gay priests to register under the new civil partnership law as long as they remain celibate.

It provoked the ire of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cardiff Peter Smith who said: "What the government should do in terms of public policy is support marriage rather than undermine it."

The Times, long renowned as the revered mouthpiece of the British Establishment, broke new ground when three gay couples placed civil partnership announcements in its Births, Deaths and Marriages column.

"When I was a young man being gay was illegal so an awful lot has changed in our life times," said Graham Ferguson, 67, who has lived for 34 years with Christopher Heyd-Smith, 59.

"We feel it is a privilege to be able to have our partnership legally recognised," he told the paper.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lets start doing our job

Those of you that read my blog somewhat regularly know that I rant about the administration’s decision making process… and that I usually do it in the historical context: looking back at what they either knew and ignored, or should have considered before making policy decisions with global consequences.

Well, I thought I’d provide a little background on why I feel “historical criticism” is important.

A democracy functions on the premise of informed consent: we elect representatives/judges/etc., they execute/create/interpret law & policy. After the fact we decide (usually at the next election) if they’ve done a good job. Central to this system is the idea that the governed have good insight into the information that goes into the decision making process. This allows an informed electorate to ask “what would I have done – or like seen done” given a set of circumstances.

Of course, we also give elected officials our trust and allow them to limit access to certain types of information -- supposedly in the best interests of the nation and all of its citizens.

On to this administration.

I believe it’s widely accepted that this is the most secretive and tightly controlled (i.e. - in terms of message) administration in the last century. Why, for instance, was it so important to keep the members of Dick Cheney’s energy task force secret? (And this is just membership in that task force – to say nothing of what those members advocated.) So much has been decided outside of public scrutiny that I do not think our leaders believe in the principle of informed consent: I think Bush said it best himself: “This would be a whole lot easier if I were the dictator”.

A government that loves to keep its inner workings as secret as possible is always a very bad thing… but it especially bad when the policy that comes out of that government is one of preemptive war.

So to keep it short, here we are: 3+ years into a ‘pre-emptive’ war. A war based on faulty intelligence… or so we are told by the Washington information machine. However, as some of the internal workings of that machine are exposed to daylight, we get insights into the administration’s decision making process – insights they have tried desperately to keep out of the light of day. And those glimmers paint a picture of rank incompetence.

We find that our intelligence agencies doubted the veracity of the information provided by key Iraqi informants – in fact, the most incriminating evidence was provided by “a known fabricator and drunk”; we find that the DOE doubted the aluminum tubes fitness for use in a centrifuge; the list goes on… and on.

All this in addition to those who expressed experienced opinions on the situation but were discounted (like General’s Zinni and Shinseki).

It’s our job to judge our leaders performance. The talking heads that claim “its easy to look back and Monday morning quarterback” simply don’t get it: the job over every citizen in a democracy is to hold their leaders accountable.

The sooner, the better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ex-Powell Aide Criticizes Bush on Iraq

Wilkerson had some "affirming" things to say about this administration... I say 'affirming' because its paints the same picture of the administration that many other former insiders have:

WASHINGTON - Former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff says President Bush was "too aloof, too distant from the details" of post-war planning, allowing underlings to exploit Bush's detachment and make bad decisions.

In an Associated Press interview Monday, former Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson also said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that "the president of the United States is all-powerful," and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.

Wilkerson blamed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and like-minded aides. Wilkerson said that Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because "otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard."

The picture this paints is one of an incompetent, hands-off president who has given the government over to a bunch of ideologues from the PNAC.

Those who voted for Bush (the first time around) must have known there were voting for a business failure and idiot who's resume features such successes as 3 failed oil businesses and using his connections to buy a baseball team.... But I don't think they realized they were really putting all the Kristol-type nuts in charge...

I still can't figure out why anyone voted for him a couple years ago... Even Nader couldn't do as much damage as this guy has...


Saturday, November 26, 2005

ID - The National Embarrassment

JJ over at Truth be Told says it all regarding this supposed debate. Give that post a read.

I say “supposed debate” because its really a national embarrassment more than an issue. As I say in my comments to his post:

Would someone please explain to me why we should look to the writings of nomadic, Bronze-Age tribesmen to explain the origin of the species? Maybe we should bring back medicinal ‘bleeding’ to treat disease and bring the humors back in balance (since we still don't understand how some diseases are aquired, etc.)...

The most religious in our society are not content in believing these things themselves. They have to justify their belief by forcing this crap on us: from the display of the ten commandments in the courts to teaching ID in biology.

Haven’t people noticed that the most advanced and developed societies on the globe are the ones who have adopted scientific inquiry and the rule of law as their foundation? Some on the religious right see mysticism and theocracy as the foundation of society… All we have to do is look around the globe to see how well that works out.

I think we need to give these folks what they want – maybe a small section of Idaho or something. If that keeps them from trying to force their beliefs on me, I’d say its worth it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

George Bush's Third Term

Friedman has a good article in today's NYTimes. Here are some of his most relevant points:

When I watch Mr. Bush these days, though, he looks to me like a man who wishes that we had a 28th amendment to the Constitution - called "Can I Go Now?" He looks like someone who would prefer to pack up and go back to his Texas ranch. It's not just that he doesn't seem to be having any fun. It's that he seems to be totally out of ideas relevant to the nation's future.

Since there is no such clause, Mr. Bush has two choices. One is to continue governing as though he's still running against John McCain in South Carolina. That means pushing a hard-right strategy based on dividing the country to get the 50.1 percent he needs to push through more tax cuts, while ignoring our real problems: the deficit, health care, energy, climate change and Iraq. More slash-and-burn politics like that will be a disaster.

For two men who have fought this war without deploying enough troops, always putting politics before policy, without any plans for the morning after and never punishing any member of their team for rank incompetence to then accuse others of lacking seriousness on Iraq is disgusting. Yes, we need to stay the course for now in Iraq, but we can't stay the course alone or divided. That's the point.

We are about to produce the most legitimate government ever in the Arab world, and the Bush-Cheney team - instead of acknowledging its errors on W.M.D., seeking forgiveness and urging the country to unite behind the important effort to defeat the jihadist madness in Iraq - does what? It starts slinging mud at Democrats on Iraq. Sure, some Democrats goaded them with reckless remarks - but they are not in power. Where are the adults? We can't afford this nonsense, while also ignoring our energy crisis, the deficit, health care, climate change and Social Security.

"We are entering the era of hard choices for the United States - an era in which we can't always count on three Asian countries writing us checks to compensate for our failure to prepare for a hurricane or properly conduct a war," said David Rothkopf, author of "Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power."

"If President Bush doesn't rise to this challenge, our children and grandchildren will look at the burden he has placed on their shoulders and see this moment as the hinge between the American Century and the Chinese Century. George W. Bush may well be seen as the president who, by refusing to address these urgent questions when they needed to be addressed, invited America's decline."

Truly, I hope Mr. Bush rises to the challenge. We do not have three years to waste. To do that, though, Mr. Bush would need to become a very different third-term president, with a much more centrist agenda and style. If he does, he still has time to be a bridge to the future. If he doesn't, the resources he will have squandered and the size of the problems he will have ignored will put him in the running for one of our worst presidents ever.

The pessimist in me says it's already too late. Given the presidents cock-sure attitude and the fact that he has surrounded himself with yes-men I see very little chance of him having an intellectual epiphany and realizing he governs a nation of diverse people and interests. He'll continue to push policies based on his ivory tower view of capitalism and democracy unencumbered by the realities of these systems' shortcomings when practiced anywhere near their idealized form. To him, their textbook definitions should be realized by all societies.

Mr. Bush - Happy Turkey-day. You'll go down as the biggest turkey in the history of the White House.

Monday, November 21, 2005

General rant

From the CSMonitor:

Five top German intelligence officers say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly ignored warnings about the veracity of the information that an Iraqi informant named 'Curveball' was giving about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The Los Angeles Times, in a massive report published Sunday, reports that "the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq." They also say that 'Curveball,' whom the Germans described as "not a psychologically stable guy," never claimed that he had produced germ weapons, nor had he ever seen anyone do it.

The ineptitude is shown to be worse every day. But what should we have expected when the country puts an incompetent, inexperienced dolt into the highest position in the land?

I think we need a new election: not an presidential election, but a vote to decide if we allow the self proclaimed bible-thumping, 'values & morals' clan to vote and/or run in the next election. I know how I'd vote... and I have a solution that would make everyone happy.

We need to find a location for all these people -- maybe Idaho -- and give them their own country: Jesus-land ... where they can all argue about why god caused it to rain on one city and not another ... and whether exposing a woman's nipple during the Superbowl should be punishable via prison time or time in the stocks.

Its the perfect solution: the Jesus freaks can beat themselves up about who's the most pious and we can go about living our lives in a secular democracy.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Good, evil and dogma

The Intellectual Insurgent has a simply awesome blog on the implications of using (divine) revelation in the identification of good vs evil.
 
As I've posted previously, I feel the best course of determining right and wrong is the use of the human intellect. Many argue that our sense of right and wrong comes from god, or the gods. I certainly hope not: more atrocities have been committed in god's name than practically any other reason. And once the debate starts down that path: i.e. - here's what I believe my god says, truly critical thought is out the window.
 
No, I put my trust in our own gray matter... as II says:
 
Is it possible to be so confident that you have the one sole only Right answer without crossing the line between good and evil? No.
 
Question your conclusions. Seek out and analyze the facts. Adherence to dogma shuts down the thinking process. Without critical though you are on the path to blind obedience -- and you are on the path to disaster.
 

Monday, November 14, 2005

More idiocy from Pat

In case some of you haven't heard, Dover, PA recently tossed all of the Republican "intelligent designers" off the Dover school board and replaced them with Democrats.

Here's what the idiot 'n chief of the evangelical movement had to say. If anyone thinks this guy is anything more than a partisan political hack I'd like to hear why...

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover [Pennsylvania]: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. ... God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. ... If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

-- Pat Robertson

Torture's Terrible Toll

The senator from my state, AZ, has articulated my thoughts on torture, and why we cannot sanction it in any form, far better than I could.
 
Give his Newsweek essay a read.
 
Its simply amazing to me that an administration that claims, above all else, a MORAL mandate would advocate a policy of "limited torture". This 'ends-justify-the-means' position is completely at odds with Bush's 'good and evil' world-view -- at least I don't see how you can reconcile the two.
 
If our enemies are evil because they abuse and torture their own people (Saddam, Islamic 'morality squads', etc.) how can we defend similar methods?
 
 Senator McCain put it concisely:
 
To prevail in this war we need more than victories on the battlefield. This is a war of ideas, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes. This is an existential fight, to be sure. If they could, Islamic extremists who resort to terror would destroy us utterly. But to defeat them we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What's right

(Austin, Texas) Conservative church leaders, buoyed by overwhelming passage of a state amendment banning gay marriage in Texas, now ponder their next show of political strength.

The ban, which received support from pulpits across the state, rolled to an easy victory by a 3-to-1 margin Tuesday.

"If that becomes a trend, the evangelical community becomes the largest political voice not only in the state of Texas, but America," said the Rev. Ryan Rush, senior pastor of Bannockburn Baptist Church in Austin. "I think that's a positive thing because evangelical Christians stand for what's right."

 
If codifying discrimination into law is "what's right" -- I want to be with the guys that are wrong.
 
The influence of conservative christians in this country is alarming. Not because they are christians, but because any dogmatic, revealed religion operates on the premise of 'revealed truth'. Such a belief system doesn't leave room for debate, argument and reason: the very foundation of an enlightened society.
 
This is exactly what the founders sought to avoid when they approved the first amendment: government based on 'belief', not reason.
 
Even though fundamentalism is alive and well in the south, overall, the number of church-goers in this country is slowly dwindling. While that maybe unfortunate for the individual, it will be a good thing for our society.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Report Warned Bush Team About Intelligence Suspicions

From the NY Times:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 - A high Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.
[...]

But neither that report nor another issued by the Sept. 11 commission made any reference to the existence of the earlier and more skeptical 2002 report by the D.I.A., which supplies intelligence to military commanders and national security policy makers. As an official intelligence report, labeled DITSUM No. 044-02, the document would have circulated widely within the government, and it would have been available to the C.I.A., the White House, the Pentagon and other agencies. It remains unclear whether the D.I.A. document was provided to the Senate panel.

[...]

"It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers," the February 2002 report said. "Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest."

Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing "the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda."

At the time of Mr. Powell's speech, an unclassified statement by the C.I.A. described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as "credible." But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time went on to state that "the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."

Price of Loyalty

Ok, once again folks here at my office have motivated a blog posting.

Some of the "conservatives" here are up in arms about the democrats forcing the senate to address Phase II of the investigation into intelligence. For them, all of the issues have been put to bed. The Phase I report says that our intelligence was flawed, and that there doesn't appear to be coercion as to why it was flawed. But Phase I only addressed the intelligence agencies. Phase II is supposed to look into the administrations role more thoroughly.

To understand why this is necessary we need to go back and paint the complete picture. Let's start with a few of my personal thoughts:

Starting a war to depose a ruler and occupy a nation should only be considered as a last resort.

The US had every right to invade Afghanistan and oust the Taliban. We were attacked by fundamentalists who were harbored by that regime.

However, as I have said before, Iraq presented NO threat to us. I believe this administration was looking for reasons to invade Iraq from it's first days -- before 9/11.

1- We know the folks at the Project for New American Century had a bug up their butts about Iraq and Saddam... They (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc.) tried to get Clinton to do something about him.

2- We know that Saddam and Iraq was a priority from the first days of the administration: Paul O'Neil, the president's first Treasury Secretary and former Nixon official, told us the administrations fixation on the Iraqi regime via Suskind's book and his 9/11 testimony.

3- The PNAC guys also focused on Iraq immediately after 9/11:
Iraq

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism. The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a “safe zone” in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means.

4- Richard Clarke also testified that Bush told him to find a link between 9/11 and Saddam. Remember, this was sworn testimony before the Senate. Why didn't Bush or Cheney testify otherwise? They couldn't -- at least not under oath.

5- Remember the aluminum tubes? Why wasn't the Dept of Energy's (DOE) report sought out? They are the experts in this area. Their report confirmed that the tubes were not suitable for a centrifuge.

6- WMD - yes, most every intelligence agency thought Iraq was working on WMD, but the inspectors, military and our allies (and the UN) all wanted the administration to give the inspectors more time to do their work. The threat of invasion could have worked. Besides, we had NO evidence Saddam's regime intended giving nuclear material to terrorists. On the contrary, he was opposed to fundamentalists who would likely use such weapons against HIS regime.

7- The Niger letter: We know it took the IAEA less than 30 min to confirm the letters were forgeries. Why didn't our government explore that possibility? If you are considering war, shouldn't you make damn sure your information is accurate? .. to the best of your ability?

On top of this we have an administration that is willing to leak a covert operatives name to discredit dissenters. Whether or not a crime was committed is not the point: the fact that this administration could do such a thing during a time of war is despicable.

All of this points to one conclusion: the administration was looking for evidence to support its case for war with Iraq. It was not interested in honest debate on any of the criteria it was using to make that case. In fact, the administration actively, and in some cases brutally, put-down dissent ruining careers and endangering lives. This is the most disastrous type of leadership: searching for 'facts' to support your conclusion instead of analyzing the facts and deriving a sound policy from them.

As the MSNBC article points out:

This has been the Bush pattern. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill presciently says a second tax cut is unaffordable if we want to fight in Iraq—he's fired. Bush's economic adviser Larry Lindsey presciently says the war will cost between $100 billion and $200 billion (an underestimate)—he's fired. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki presciently says that winning in Iraq will require several hundred thousand troops—he's sent into early retirement. By contrast, CIA Director George Tenet, who presided over two of the greatest intelligence lapses in American history (9/11 and WMD in Iraq) and apparently helped spread "oppo ammo" to discredit the husband of a woman who had devoted her life to his agency, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The conventional Washington explanation is that this is just old-fashioned politics. As long as you don't lie to a grand jury, there's nothing illegal here. But the consequences of a bias for loyalty over debate—even internal debate—have been devastating. The same president who seeks democracy, transparency and dissent in Iraq is irritated by it at home. O'Neill tells his story in a book by Ron Suskind called "The Price of Loyalty," and that title is the missing link in explaining the failure of the Bush presidency. The price of loyalty is incompetence. Issues don't get aired; downside risks remain un-assessed.

Such is the way of 'faith based leadership' when a president believes he's doing god's work...

Pat Tillman - what, our gov lie?

For those that doubt the ability of our government to use propaganda, or out-right lies, to propagate an image, check out this Fox story on Pat Tillman...

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,174359,00.html

Couple excerpts:

So what's going on here? Why would the Pentagon and Army brass cover up Tillman's friendly fire death? [...]

It would have been tough for the military to concede its own ineptitude caused the death of the war on terror's poster soldier in any setting. But just days after Tillman's death, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. The military was in desperate need of some good news. Recycling Tillman's selfless bravery put torture stories on the backburner for at least a news cycle or two.

What's tragic is that the military's duplicity in all of this has buried the better story - what a remarkable man Tillman was. Tillman, we've since learned from media interviews with friends, family, and fellow soldiers, was a thinker. He defied easy classification. He was a poet, kept a journal (which vanished after his death), and subscribed to the Economist. He admired Winston Churchill, but was also interested in anti-war academic Noam Chomsky. He read Emerson and Thoreau. He wasn't religious, but had read the Bible, the Koran, and the book of Mormon. He brought along a portable library of classic novels for his platoon pals to read.

Perhaps most interestingly, Tillman opposed the war in Iraq. He'd told platoon mates he thought the war was "illegal," and a distraction from the war on Al Qaeda, but fought in Iraq anyway, owing to a sense of duty.

We lost a complicated, interesting, fascinating guy 18 months ago, a guy who exhibited the kind of critical thinking that seems to be in short supply among the men who commanded him. They, and we, owe Tillman a lot. Truth and accountability would be a good start.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The CIA, WMD and responsiblity - where does the buck stop?

Some colleagues here are work are trying to defend the Bush administrations use of 'error filled' intelligence in the lead up to war. They argue that since the intelligence has been shown to be bad, you really can't blame Bush and Co. for going to war.
 
Yes I can... Here's my reasoning:
 
It took the IAEA less than 30 min to discredit the UK Report on Niger Uranium. The simply fact is that the signatories to the document weren't even officials in Niger at the time...

From the Senate report on intelligence failures: "That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage scepticism about the conventional wisdom."

The president is captain of the ship -- he is responsible for what goes on in his administration. It is pretty well established that they were looking for reasons to go to war -- not for an objective rendering of the situation.

Again, I point you to the Project for a New American Century's web site: Cheney, Rummy, Wolfy, et al. TOLD US THEY WANTED TO GO TO WAR WITH IRAQ back in the '90s. 9/11 gave them the excuse and they used everything they could to convince us war with Iraq was a necessity.

When you look for reasons to go to war, you find them...  Is that the type of leadership people want? Starting with a preconceived end-state and looking for the evidence to support it while ignoring contrary evidence?

Bush is either president and responsible for his decisions or he is incompetent for not aggressively asking for all sides of the story... including dissenting opinions on WMD.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Free Markets

I have long said free markets and capitalism needs oversight to function properly.
 
Here's another example of what happens in a capitalist economy that contains powerful corporations: they exercise that power to squash innovation and competition.
 
 
"Microsoft had proposed that device makers that included a CD with the Windows Media Player with their devices not be allowed to include any competing software. In other words, devices that wanted to run the Windows Media Player would have to do so on an exclusive basis."
 
Seems like Microsoft is using their influence to REDUCE the number of options a consumer has. Surprise!!
 
Sure, the consumer can go and find another media player, research it to determine if it works on the player he just bought, download, install and configure it... But what if "xyz corp" (the player vendor) knows that another media player works well and wants to include it for the benefit of their customers? That's a win for everyone: xyz sells a media player and we get options on the software without the hassle...
 
Sounds like a good idea to me -- but, in this case, the government HAD TO STEP IN to ensure we get those options. The "free market" would have reduced our options. Or, at the very least, made it harder to evaluate one software package with another...

Folks - the natural outcome of competition is a group of very powerful corporate winners. The problem begins when these guys start using that muscle to stifle competition in very uncapitalistic ways. Without regulation, this will ALWAYS happen.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Scowcroft: Pragmatism vs Ideology

If you haven’t read the article in the New Yorker by JEFFREY GOLDBERG you need to.

Brent Scowcroft, the National Sec Advisor to HW Bush and former AF General, is the central figure in this interview/article. A close friend of the Bushs’ he recently wrote an op-en in the WSJ blasting this administration.

Scowcroft is no pacifist. In fact, he was the main advocate (on the NSC) pushing for military action against Iraq during HW’s reign.

However, Scowcroft demonstrates a pragmatism in foreign policy matters – and in the use of force in general – that this administration wholly lacks.
A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.

It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’—but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”

The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.”

Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force. “I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”

The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.
Goldberg points out that this administration is plagued by group-think – that they didn’t seriously consider differing opinions: all the stuff we’ve heard from a half-dozen former insiders:
[…]this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protégée; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protégé and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.

According to friends, Scowcroft was consulted more frequently by the Clinton White House than he has been by George W. Bush’s. Clinton’s national-security adviser, Samuel Berger, told me that he valued Scowcroft’s opinions: “He knows a great deal, and I always found it useful to speak to him.”
And as I’ve always thought, a lot of this “policy certainty” is born of evangelical roots: the notion that “we’re the good guys bringing justice to the world”:

Rice’s split with her former National Security Council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration’s impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”
What we need are leaders who are pragmatic; leaders who study and analyze; leaders who seek out dissenting opinions and ideas and weigh the consequences of not only action, but inaction.

This analysis must be done in the light of reason and critical thought, not under the pre-conceived notion of good and evil. Yes, good and evil exists: but taking up the gauntlet against a perceived evil doesn’t necessarily spell its demise… it may be just the reaction evil was hoping for.

Real Homeland Security

The administration and Republicans have the reputation of being strong on national defense. I think rational people believe that spending<$200 BILLION on Iraq is, at best, a HUGE gamble: it may help stabilize the region in the long run, but right now our actions there have only stirred up more anti-Americanism throughout the world.

If found this picture that was published by the NY Times (approximately a year ago). Check it out…

Seems to me that if WMD in the hands of terrorists was a real concern we’d be actively trying to secure the huge amounts of weapons grade material floating around the former Soviet states.

As far as homeland security: doesn’t it make sense to put serious money into port and other ‘critical infrastructure’ security?

How about boarder security? That would seem to be an important issue for the federal government to deal with?

If we had spent a fraction of the money spent in Iraq here at home we could have real security instead of dead soldiers and a 'hope' for a more stable Middle East.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ending the Fraudulence

Krugman has a good op/ed in the Times -- particularly this point:
 
Apologists can shout all they like that no laws were broken, that hardball politics is nothing new, or whatever. The fact remains that officials close to both Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush leaked the identity of an undercover operative for political reasons. Whether or not that act was illegal, it was clearly unpatriotic.
 
Given this administration's propensity to label dissent as 'unpatriotic' this fact seems especially poignant...

Hussein took 11th-hour exile deal

From an AP story:
Saddam Hussein accepted an 11th-hour offer to flee into exile weeks ahead of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, but Arab League officials scuttled the proposal, officials in this Gulf state claimed.
If true, it represents yet another way that we could have avoided 10,000+ dead or injured Americans and thousands of dead Iraqi's. It would've required our government to have worked with other Gulf states as opposed to standing in front of the world declaring "you're either with us, or against us."
My friend's thoughts are right on the mark:
Now we learn that Saddam was WILLING TO RELINQUISH POWER AND LEAVE IRAQ weeks before we invaded. We could have achieved the stated goals (which were bogus to begin with) without firing a shot. Are we seriously to believe that while we were making war preparations, the administration was unaware of the goings-on at the Arab League meeting? Either these people were actually that abysmally ignorant, or they conciously chose war anyway. Can any excuse whatsoever be offered for not pursuing this goal, rather than attacking, if it was known? Perhaps that no compromise should have been made that would allow Saddam to escape prosecution? Bin Laden murdered thousands of Americans when the Towers fell, and bragged about it. Why would it be OK for Bin Laden merely to be "marginalized" [as our President has said publically], and not Saddam, who never attacked us and was no threat?
This country is being run by either spectacular fools or monsters, take your pick.
I have an agenda for those who persist in supporting this administration.

First, attend a week long technical conference put on by our engineers and scientists presenting what we could accomplish in advancing our energy infrastructure with a $100 billion research effort, less than half the cost of this war.

Second, GIVE a presentation to the thousands of American families of our service people explaining to them why it's better that their loved one is dead or horribly maimed for life than it would have been to let Saddam give up power on his own, so that free elections could have been held in the fall of 2003.

Finally, go to Iraq. Explain to the families of the 26,000 dead who live in poverty and cower in fear from a pervasive and well-organized insurgency, while Americans in the Green Zone are choosing from three different flavors of ice cream for dessert, how much better off they because we invaded their country, rather than just let Saddam leave on his own. To lift their spirits, lead them in song. I'm sure they'll particularly be inspired to learn how "god shed his grace on" us. And not them.

Friday, October 28, 2005

VP indicted?

One down (Libby), a few to go...
 
As information about the Valerie Plame case trickles out of the investigation we're getting a glimpse at how far our highest government officials will go to "smear the messenger".

It's not like we haven't seen it before with the likes of Swift Boat Vets for Truth... and push-polling to smear McCain in the 2000 campaign. In both instances the tatic wasn't to discredit the message -- it was simply to discredit the messenger. Never mind if the policy or position being advocated was sensible... by discrediting the messenger all of the utterances of the accused become suspect.
 
At least that's how the administration operates and, unfortunately, what much of the American public buys-into.
 
Since this administration can't rely on the logic and common-sense of it's policies, it has to resort to McCarthy-era tatics to slime dissenters. But we're starting to see some of the machinery that keeps this administrations image afloat... and it isn't pretty.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Broken government

I know I've been ranting lately, but I have another:

I'm tired of conservatives comparing the upcoming indictments to those handed down during Clinton's second term. Yes, there are likely to be for perjury and obstruction of justice: but the similarity stops there.

Let's review:

Clinton was investigated by a special prosecutor for his involvement in a land speculation deal that took place approximately 10 years before he became president... and everyone accepted the fact that the Clintons LOST money in the deal.

The original Republican special prosecutor, Fiske, was preparing to dismiss the case without any indictments - a conclusion that was in line with those reached in the Pillsbury Report (another investigation into the matter) - when he was replaced with independent council Ken Starr.

Making a long story short, that should still be about the end of it. Ken Starr when on a multi-year witch hunt using the power of the independent council to not only look into the Clinton's Whitewater investment, but Paula Jones sexual harassment suit - and any other 'sleezy' report regarding the presidents behavior he could find. What we wound up with was a perjury and obstruction charge based on the fact that the president lied about his relationship with Monica.

Ok, the president lied under oath about his "indiscretion" with an intern... This was the result of a multi-year (+70 million dollar) investigation that started out looking into an investment he made a decade earlier. Why was Ken Starr even interviewing people about the president's sexual conduct? Sounds like a witch hunt to me.

Fast-forward to today.

The United States is at war. Actually we're fighting two wars: one in Afghanistan in an attempt to stabilize a country that was run by a bunch of religious zealots who aided and harbored those who attacked us. The other, a war against a bunch of nationalists who oppose our presence and machinations in their country (they are supported by a relatively small number of terrorists). This second war has only the remotest of links to terrorism: a claim that democracy in Iraq will somehow quell the ground-swell of violent Islamic fundamentalism.

I doubt the outcome, but I guess we will see the results in the next 5-10 years. But I am drifting off topic.

So here we are: The current investigation centers on decisions and the subsequent actions high-level officials in the government made regarding the lead-up to war: Specifically, how the government used intimidation, lies and propaganda to convince the country that war with Iraq was necessary.

Ok, so here we are. Reader's Digest version:

  1. Bush administration: We have an investigation into specific allegations surrounding the public release, by high-level administration officials, of a covert operative's name. The indictments are likely to focus on "who said what and when", but perjury and obstruction of justice charges surrounding the issue seem directly applicable to the original topic of the investigation. If Rove and Libby perjured themselves, they should pay the price.
  2. Clinton administration: We had an investigation into Clinton's supposed use of 'undue pressure' in securing loans for a failing land deal. Three separate investigations resulted in no charges related to the matter. However, the special prosecutor did catch the president in a lie about who he had consensual sex with...
  3. Reagan administration (just to complete the picture): We had a president who authorized his operatives (North, Poindexter and others) to directly violate federal law by continuing aid to the Contra's in Nicaragua (after the Congress passed a law ending support for this group that had been killing civilians by the thousands). Additionally, the money used to support the Contras was obtained by illegally selling weapons systems to the Iranians - weapons systems we as tax payers paid for. Also remember, the Iranians were holding some of our citizens hostage in Lebanon (via their proxies) and considered us the 'Great Satan'.

You judge...

But for my money the people who claim to be the most religious, most "moral" seem to turn out to be the ones we have to worry about most.

Miers Withdraws Supreme Court Nomination

Miers just withdrew her nomination.

Now it gets scary: This president will now nominate someone who not only has a strong legal background -- but appeals to his base of evangelical nut-cases who think its their job to impose their version of christian values on the rest of us...

I have no problem with people of faith -- I just wish they'd quit trying to impose their beliefs on me through the government.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

GM parts co. bankrupt - morally...

What's really bankrupt is the leadership of large-corporate America.
 
Come-on, American car manufacturers are not loosing jobs/market to Japan and Germany because of 'cheaper labor'. We've already outsourced a lot of factory jobs (not all thankfully).
 
The foreign companies that have been eating our lunch for the last 3 decades come from countries that are considered bigger welfare states than our own... with expensive labor.
 
The crux of the problem: How can the Japanese, 6000 miles away, better anticipate the American auto market than executives sitting in Detroit?
 
The answer: Auto industry management is only concerned about keeping the company around long enough to collect their large salaries, outrageous pensions and golden parachutes. There is no incentive to innovate -- to anticipate the market. Large company CEO salaries aren't based on corporate profits -- we've seen that for decades now. As long as you know the right board members you can hang in there for a few years, make your millions, and leave the company/employees holding the bag.
 
We all know that Delphi executives will make our very well throughout this bankruptcy. Isn't it funny that the Congress just passed laws making it far more difficult for you or I to file for bankruptcy, but corporate America can do it and have us taxpayers pick up the tab (can you say Airline bailout? Saving and loan bailout? etc?).
 
This rant isn't directed at American companies in general. But once a company hits a certain size (HUGE) its no longer about innovation, efficiency and quality. It's about political contacts and downsizing while lining your own pockets.
 
Unfortunately these are the very companies that have the most influence in our government.

The White House Cabal

There's a good op/ed by Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson on the LATimes website.
 
He points out the now obvious fact that post-war Iraq was "planned" by a select few administration officials -- essentially Cheney and Rumsfeld.
 
For me, the idea -- demonstrated over and over -- of making huge decisions without soliciting dissenting opinions is central to the problem with this administration. They are so sure they have the right answers that there is no need to "second guess myself" -- as the president would say.
 
Wilkerson points out that bureaucracies will be very inefficient in carrying out policies they had no hand in crafting. Not to mention that the fractured way in which various agencies end up getting asked to work together on plans they have no insights into.
 
Don't you long for the days when we had a president that sat up all night crafting policy over pizza with experts from across the spectrum? Now we have one that says god tells him what to do.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Savior of the Right?

I used to think David Brook, the conservative columnist at the NY Times, was reasoned -- even though I didn't agree with many of his conclusions. But he's jumped off the sanity wagon this week with his editorial about Bush and "new conservatism".
 
In the editorial Brook argues that Bush is really the savior of conservatism since he has "modernized and saved it". Central to his argument is that 90's conservatism was "adrift and bereft of ideas" and that voters preferred Democratic ideas on domestic and international policies issues by 20 point margins.
 
So what has Bush done to "save" the right? Well, he's adopted some of the rhetoric of the left with compassionate conservatism but left the job of implementing social and international policy to corporate America and "the market". We've seen the result of that: energy and pharmaceutical company profits are breaking records each quarter while the cost of drugs and oil continues to climb... Spending on homeland security has gone through the roof while we are demonstrably less able to cope with disasters at home than we were 6 years ago. His foreign policy -- well, bankrupt in a word... (didn't we just take 5 years to come to an agreement with N. Korea that is essentially the same as where we left off with Clinton?).
 
Far from saving conservatism (or the country) all he's done is spend twice the money on half the return. Just look at interest payment on the debt as expressed as a percentage of federal spending: It is climbing rapidly and will be likely be a huge problem for future administrations and a huge drag on the economy. Look at entitlement spending (prescription drugs). It has sky-rocketed but the benefit seems to have accrued to the pharmaceutical companies more than medicare patients.
 
Alternately, the long-help premise of non-interference in your private life -- a long held conservative value - has been abandoned. This administration feels that it is its duty to dictate morality from on-high.
 
What's Bush has figured out is that people want government to address our social problems -- but in a fiscally responsible way. By playing to that desire he was able to get elected. But once there, he's done less-than-nothing to address those wishes. I say "less-than-nothing " because he and his administration have a contempt for government involvement in the market and believe that unbridled capitalism is really the cure for what ails us. His policies exemplify this: give money back to corporate America and they (in the context of the free market) will address the public's needs. Bush uses the language of compassion, but governs with a laisser-faire attitude with a healthy dose of cronyism.
 
The result is a government that spends our money but has little direct accountability as to the results.
 
When this administration has "mobilized government", he's done it with a complete lack of sincerity and understanding of the agency's relevance: e.g. - Anyone that would put a Horse Association adjudicator in the top disaster preparedness organization in the country clearly has no interest in using government to address our problems. This is just the tip of the iceberg...
 
If Bush has saved conservatism, it would have been better for us to pull the plug. Failing that, we should shoot it and put it out of our collective misery.