Monday, June 25, 2007

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Take a deep breath, and then read part one of the Washington Post’s series (and here’s part 2) on the machinations of the Dark Prince as he moved to seize unprecedented power and gain unfettered control of the federal government—it will confirm if not exceed your wildest fantasies and deepest fears—and then keep this in mind:

We can all speculate as to Deadeye Dick’s motives for his connivances, crisscrosses, and crooked dealings (and outright creepiness). Perhaps he is paranoid, perhaps he is greedy, perhaps he is venal, perhaps he doesn’t get enough at home (none of these are mutually exclusive). . . perhaps, at the end of the day, Dick Cheney considers himself a true patriot (that one is mutually exclusive)—the only man who can save America from itself—but no matter the motive, it is now evidently hard to argue that the titular second in command didn’t get everything he wanted.

Dick Cheney sought to pursue policies and objectives without the messy nuances of Constitutionality or consensus, and without regard to law or precedent. . . or for the people that might get hurt along the way. . . and that sort of totalitarian free reign is, alas, what the Vice President got.

And what has all that power done for him. . . and us?

Whether it’s the two hot wars, or some nebulous cold ones, domestic economics, national security, disaster preparedness, energy independence, global warming, or international relations, America has done it Dick’s way. As a result, countless lose life or limbs across the Middle East, America is no better protected from foes, foreign or domestic, we torture, we disappear people, we “try” prisoners in star chambers—some we never try at all—we let ports function unsupervised, chemical plants operate unsecured, we let big oil manipulate the energy market, we let a sham company like Enron scam its way to ruin, and we let a vibrant city like New Orleans drown. Dick Cheney is truly the architect of our misfortune.

So, now that things are extra special FUBAR, who do we have to thank—who, in the end, is responsible? Well, it is the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, that with a knowing smirk and a dismissive chortle took—simply took—the great power that he sought, and then he took it upon himself to change the way America does things. . . to change, really, what America is.

And here we are. Dick Cheney has the power—will he accept responsibility?

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience

What the hell—right? I mean, if the late Mayor John Lindsay could jettison his Republican ties after losing the party primary while running for a second term, why can’t Mayor Mike jump a sinking ship after winning his? In Tuesday’s announcement that he is removing the epithetical (R) from his name, however, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R ?) looks less like to me like Lindsay, and more like Wernher von Braun.

To be certain, I am less upset with Bloomberg’s leaving the GOP than I was when he joined it in the first place. The fact of the matter is that then, as now, the mayor had little in common with the New York or the national Republican Party, either with regards to history or ideology. If anything, Bloomberg became more of a Republican after he was elected mayor back in 2001.

Instead, what Bloomberg saw in the Republican Party back in ’01 was an opportunity. Mike had an ambition, and the New York Republicans—already in rapid decline back then—had a need. Bloomberg had no desire to work his way through the system or wait his turn, so he switched from Democrat to Republican expressly to snag a guaranteed ballot spot he likely could not win on his own in a Democratic primary.

Mike also had money, and in the Republican primary, and most certainly in the general election, he spent it. He blitzed his opponents. By most accounts, Bloomberg spent over $70 for each and every vote he received on his way to defeating Democrat Mark Green. (He actually spent even more—over $110/vote—in his campaign for reelection.)

And so, with his loose change and his convenient change of sides, Mike Bloomberg got to be mayor. And while he has been like a breath of fresh air after the vile and nasty Rudy Giuliani, Mayor Bloomberg has hardly been a progressive’s dream (some very recent proposals for a greener city notwithstanding).

Even looking past the unchecked overdevelopment taking place in New York and Bloomberg’s less than small (or large, for that matter) “d” democratic approach to public education reform, it is hard to celebrate Mike’s run as a Republican mayor because of the support he felt necessary to lend to his new found friends. Bloomberg has given $350,000 of his own fortune to the state party and perhaps more to its candidates, and let us not forget his role as host to the 2004 Republican National Convention.

And let us not forget the preventive detentions, security clampdowns, and the more recently revealed covert infiltration of protest groups that lead up to and surrounded that convention—a style of policing that was not a so much a special case as a case study for the Mayor Bloomberg/Police Commissioner Ray Kelly regime.

Also let us not forget Mike’s not insubstantial campaign help lent to Joe Lieberman (Monomaniacal Party-CT) as the Senator fought successfully to circumvent the will of his constituents and (up till that moment) party.

In fact, it is maybe in Lieberman that we have the best object lesson for understanding Bloomberg’s de-partification (if you will). Both of these men like to brag about how their worldview extends beyond ideology or party, and, in a way, they are right. Neither man is about party because both are all about themselves.

As with Beltway Joe mouthing off almost every week on the Sunday talk shows, many of Mayor Mike’s moves can be seen as grand attempts by a lame duck to remain relevant. Or, if not relevant, at least visible—it is hard, after all, to relinquish the spot light, the bully pulpit, or even the rope line.

But, beyond the attention, what does Michael Bloomberg want? Von Braun was easier to understand—he wanted to make rockets. If he had to join the Nazi party and build V-2s to do it, so be it; if he had to become a naturalized American and make ICBMs, all the better. In the end, he was eulogized as the man who got mankind to the moon.

Bloomberg has recently aimed for the moon himself, making many ambitious and sweeping proposals for changes that will almost all theoretically come to fruition long after he is out of office—his current office. I, for one, still question whether his heart is really in it.

That remains to be seen—as does whether Mike really wants (as he currently claims) to be mayor for another 900-odd days. If not, I fear what we learn about Michael Bloomberg and what he wants will, in reality, be less about what he wants for others, and more about what he wants for himself.

(hat tip: Tom Lehrer)

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The flying purple finger of fate

Sectarian mass murder in Iraq, factional fighting in Palestine, a bloody stand off in Lebanon—what do all of these horrific stories have in common?

Yes, that’s right, Democracy.

Or, more accurately, the Bush foreign policy model of Democracy, something Steve Clemons credits Richard Haass as dubbing “ballotocracy.” This model, the insistence on the trappings of a plebiscite without the infrastructure, institutions, laws, or, most importantly, codified guarantees of civil, political, and minority rights, favors sectarian division and older organized structures instead of fostering a truly plural, democratic society.

Here’s how Philip Stephens of the Financial Times (registration required) put it last year:

The mistake was to see democracy almost exclusively through the lens of elections: to assume the act of voting was what mattered.

Well, it does matter, of course. But elections are not a sufficient condition. The rule of law, an independent judiciary, a strong civil society, political parties, a free press and the habit of participation are also vital pillars. Building them takes time and painstaking effort. Without them elections may legitimise populist autocrats. The cross on the ballot paper, in other words, may be nearer the end than the beginning of democratic state-building.

How little taking the time and making the effort mattered, indeed, how little forming such a democratic society ever much mattered to the Bush Administration was never really in doubt, but grows increasingly clear as the Middle East rips itself apart. This month’s half-assed and half-baked rush to bolster Abu Mazen, like last year’s logistical aid and diplomatic fumble in the service of Israel’s move on Lebanon, treats the citizens of the region as lab rats in the neocon’s fantasy Habitrail. The daily disasters that define the Iraqi experience have American leaders practically begging for a strongman to just impose some form of order. (The Bush mistake of cozying up to dictatorial Pakistani “President” Pervez Musharraf is outside the self-imposed boundaries of this little exposé, but would serve as another good example of the administration's choosing expedience over statecraft.)

Washington’s demands for early elections in Palestine were answered with a Hamas majority in the Palestinian Authority parliament. The US push for Lebanese “sovereignty” gave us the shakiest of pro-American governments, a resurgence of factional tension, and a Hezbollah that has grown in influence and stature. And White House insistence on Iraqi elections so soon after the invasion, the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure, the disbanding of the Iraqi military, and before so many constitutional and institutional details were sorted out, gave the country a lot of inky fingers and increasingly bloody Shiite mob rule.

But setting up structures and infrastructures, negotiating peace treaties and power sharing, writing constitutions and laws—all of that takes time and money and often results in, shall we say, nuanced success stories.

None of that, of course was (or is) of any interest to a greedy and vainglorious Bush Administration hell bent on rewarding corporate cronies and consolidating domestic power. The image of a bunch of senators and representatives (and other assorted dignitaries and invited guests) waving purple fingers at a nationally televised State of the Union was infinitely more important to the Bush team than a functioning and fair democracy in Iraq. Saber rattling and fear mongering in the service of the permanent national security crisis is more satisfying for the White House than the high-stakes diplomacy required for a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement.

Unfortunately, the result of all this democracy talk without democratizing action is—in addition to the chaos and bloodshed—the complete discrediting of democracy itself. People in these countries and nation states are weary and cynical, potential leaders, even if they are progressives, are afraid to call themselves democrats for fear of being linked with America’s failed policies. Civilians see the ballot as a tool used by authoritarian leaders to legitimize the status quo rather than a tool of their own that can be used to effect change.

But, of course, upon only the shortest reflection, this comes as no surprise. After all, why should a government that has shown little respect for democratic structures and institutions at home exhibit any greater appreciation abroad?

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Base Stench of High Crime

Let’s face it—this one fails the smell test.

Forgive me if you’ve heard some of this before, but humor me a moment. To the best of my recollection, as they say, the timeline goes something like this:

Fall 2006—The Republican-lead Congress passes a provision secretly slipped into the Patriot Act renewal that gives the Attorney General the power to appoint interim US attorneys on an indefinite basis, thus avoiding the usual Senate confirmation process. President Bush signs that provision into law.

December 2006—The Department of Justice fires seven US attorneys without cause. The reason for their dismissals later surfaces: they were deemed by the White House and DoJ not to be “loyal Bushies.” More specifically, the fired attorneys had either pursued corruption investigations against Republicans, or had failed to pursue Democrats or charges of so-called voter fraud aggressively enough to satisfy the executive. (Several other US attorneys, though not officially fired, appear to have been forced to resign over the Summer and Fall of 2006.)

Winter-Spring 2007—Purge-gate, AKA the US Attorney scandal, blossoms to reveal a web of Justice and White House officials working in concert to fill the ranks of the US Attorneys with partisan hatchet-men and women and former associates of Karl Rove using the new authority granted by the shady provision in the Patriot Act.

Spring 2007—Responding to the rush of revelations about the scandal, both the Senate and House vote in overwhelming numbers to strip the interim appointment authority from the law and restore the previous checks and balances to the process.

June 4, 2007—Congress sends S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, to President Bush for his signature. Bush takes no immediate action.

June 13, 2007—Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is notified by DoJ that Acting US Attorney for the Central District of California, George Cardona, will be appointed to the post on an interim basis by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales using the authority granted under the 2006 USA Patriot Act. Cardona will be able to serve indefinitely without Senate scrutiny. (The Central District was run by Debra Wong Yang until she resigned last October. Yang had been leading an investigation into “lucrative ties” between a lobbying firm and Republican Representative Jerry Lewis, and is believed to have been targeted for ouster by White House Counsel Harriet Miers.)

Senator Leahy reacted this way:

That bill, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, has been on the president’s desk since June 4th. Do you know it seems he just can’t bring himself to sign it? Instead, we were informed yesterday through the Justice Department that the attorney general has used the power that we voted to repeal again.

It’s almost like they live in an alternate world, as though they’re not realizing the reaction of Democrats and Republicans about this misuse of this power. That’s wrong.

June 14, 2007—Late Thursday night, The White House released this two-line statement:

On June 14, 2007, the President signed into law:

S. 214, the “Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007.”

Which brings us to today. . . .

Gosh, when you put it all out there like that, it kind of stinks, don’t it? Kind of looks like the President and the Attorney General conspired to subvert the will of Congress, right? People might get upset if they knew how this went down. . . .

If they knew.

Now, what I just did wasn’t hard; I was able to research and type it up in a relatively short time. Indeed, if you are even a semi-regular reader of political blogs, you probably knew most of this already. Yet, a quick look at today’s papers’ on-line editions—including a couple from Central California—reveals no such chronology—in fact, I can’t even find anything on Cardona’s interim appointment beyond the blog work I link to above.

Will tomorrow’s network newscasts deal with this? I doubt it. Will it even show up as a blip on the cable news channels? I’m not holding my breath.

Now, it’s not like no one has noticed. Leahy’s office has, Think Progress and Raw Story have, but that seems to be the full extent of it. Granted, Thursday was a bit full of news (Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon. . . a nasty Supreme Court decision no one has noticed much, either), but this—this clearly intentional foot-dragging to do an end-run around Congress, this collusion between the White House and Justice to pack the ranks of the US attorneys with one more partisan hack, this conscious counteraction to the desire of the American people, this aggressive deceit—this is not trivial, folks!

In fact, this is exactly the kind of stuff that runs afoul of this:

Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Like I said, it fails the smell test, but, in doing so, it passes the Constitutional one. Maybe if members of the establishment media took the short time to explain this scandal, as I did above, then the logical next step wouldn’t be so difficult to comprehend. I mean, c’mon, what drives ratings and sells papers better than a good scandal—especially one that leads to impeachment proceeding for the nation’s top cop and the nation’s top crook?

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 12, 1982

I am sitting here watching a PBS documentary about the peace rally in NYC twenty-five years ago today. A few thoughts have crossed my mind:

  • I feel like I’m watching something on the History Channel about some long-forgotten time. The styles and the style of the documentary, the music, the way people talk about politics—it looks and sounds like ancient history. . . which is terrifying—because I was at that march!


  • I feel like I’m watching the evening news. This all looks very familiar. The handmade signs, the bread and puppet theater puppets. The struggle against militarism, the yearning for peace—it all seems like it could be happening today. . . which is also terrifying—twenty-five years and we still have to march for peace. How far we have not come.


  • I see dead people. Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein, Coretta Scott King Dr. Benjamin Spock, many more. . . wow, talk about long time passing.


  • I see a lot of people. One million people to be more or less exact. And this was organized without the benefits of the internet, or txt, or mobile phones, or any of the tools we take for granted today. And it was done during peacetime. One million out to march for peace, and there wasn’t even a war (unless you count the cold one—nukes were a focus of this march, after all).

And, so, I wonder about today—a horrible war under way, another possibly on the way, and I wonder, with all of the tools now at our disposal, could we produce one million people to march by the UN? Or on the Capitol?

I know we just had a very large march a few months ago, but, at the risk of sounding like an old fogy, I’ve seen a million, I’ve been part of a million, I’ve seen the kind of attention a million can get, and this year’s march was no million.

That said, the US didn’t dismantle all of its nuclear weapons then any more than it has pulled out of Iraq now.

So, I wonder, on the one hand, where’s the outrage? The things we read and see that are going on right now are so unbelievably outrageous—why don’t a million people show up on the Great Lawn every week?

But, on the other hand, I wonder if what doesn’t make me cringe most in this documentary is the wide-eyed optimism—it seems so naïve to think a march is going to convince the world to turn away from nuclear weapons. . . or convince a greedy bunch of crooks with a mess of a messiah for a leader to favor diplomacy over destruction.

Is it "Where’s the outrage?" or "Where have all the flowers gone?" When will they ever learn? Or when will we?

(cross-posted from Daily Kos)

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Friday, June 08, 2007

The food at the Kempinski’s terrific no doubt. . .

. . . so sang Ella Fitzgerald in her classic Berlinification of Mack the Knife—“the food at the Kempinski’s terrific no doubt”—but don’t tell that to George Bush. That would be George W. Bush, who, if we are to believe reports this morning, has a stomach that reacts to international banquets much like his father’s did. They just don’t fry bologna (or whatever the heck it is this guy considers “real” food) the way they do back home.

Yes, President GW Bush is playing hooky from the G8 this Friday—he says it’s on account of his stomach ache, but I say he’s playing at sick today because yesterday he just got played.

Vladimir Putin gave everybody a lesson on how to stand up to a bullying Bush by countering the American plan to abrogate the ABM treaty and destabilize yet another part of the world with a shrewd offer of his own.

The Bush Administration was angling to put early warning radars on Russia’s doorstep—in Poland and the Czech Republic—as part of the fantasyland boondoggle the guys who don’t believe in science call the “Strategic Defense Initiative,” but you and I affectionately remember it as “Star Wars.” Forget that Bush and his crazy mad brain trust want to risk reigniting the Cold War (can you do that—reignite cold?) on a multibillion dollar scheme that absolutely does not work, and let’s just focus on the not in the least bit accidental side effect that moving towards building this thing—or things that look like they would be this thing if this thing actually were a real thing—has produced: a face-off with a resurgent Russia.

Yep, always jonesing for regime change, no matter how foolhardy and brutally irresponsible, the neo-nut wing of the Republican Party is seeking to recapture the glory of the Reagan years by again beating back the red menace (that they have misread history and overestimated Reagan’s role in the downsizing of the Soviet Union goes without saying). And if you can do so while lining the pockets of your defense industry friends, then all the better!

They know that SDI won’t work—hasn’t to date, never will—but they hope that in rapidly developing it and pushing it right up against Putin’s backside, they can provoke another arms race that will bankrupt and/or destabilize Russia.

Can you imagine a more inaccurate assessment of the current situation?

Russia of the mid-oughts is not the USSR of the mid-eighties. For one, they’re leaner and meaner, with oil and gas reserves that are still underexploited at a time when Middle East oil is past peak and mired in the logistical nightmares of conflict. The wealth that is rapidly accruing from that oil and gas is not only available to fund its own military expansion, it is there to buy influence at a time when the US is strapped for cash. Maybe you can’t make friends with salad, but you sure can with oil.

Further, back in the 1980’s, the USSR was bogged down in an unwinnable conflict with Islamic insurgents—in Afghanistan—now, well, gosh, what a difference a day (or 20 years) makes.

Knowing that they know that we know that they know what we’re up to, the Bush Administration has decided, all-of-the-sudden-like, that this “missile shield” isn’t directed at Russia (how you direct a shield is another thing altogether)—no! Never! We’re doing this to protect ourselves. . . or Europe. . . or ourselves. . . wait, no. . . whatever. . . against the threat—the imagined threat—from Iran. Yeah, that’s it—Iran!

So. . . you’re deploying a nonworking system against a nonexistent threat?

Please ignore the man puking behind the curtain!

OK, where was I? Oh, right. . . So, President Bush thought it would be funny/a political coup to tell Putin to cool his jets because we can make our magic shield protect you Russians, too.

What’s that old Peanuts cartoon about playing chess with a checkers mentality?

Really, as if Putin didn’t likely have the situation gamed-out already, Bush’s bullying combined with his bogus offer really just laid it all on a silver platter. Russia leases an airbase in Azerbaijan that is perfectly placed for monitoring Iranian air-space—what could be easier for Putin than to offer it as a staging ground for the new extra-special x-band radar the US was going to put in the Czech Republic?

This is not meant to be all rah-rah Vladimir—by no means. I think Putin is a frightening figure—despotic, repressive, possibly expansionist, probably brutal—which is what makes the situation we see playing out in the Heiligendamm Kempinski all the more disturbing. The US simply doesn’t have the sort of quality leadership capable of going head-to-head with the Russian president.

Instead, the best we can muster, it seems, is a sort of bull in a china shop approach to our interests. Bush can completely dishonor his host, Angela Merkel of Germany, by derailing the climate change agreement that had been negotiated at lower levels for months, and he can posture about security while acting to make everyone less secure, but the administration is so ideologically constipated that it can’t show up at a high-powered summit with the stomach for the real hard work of international diplomacy. Global warming, nuclear proliferation, Islamic extremism, population control, globalization, immigration, food safety, disease control—just look at what needs to get done on a high-level, multinational scale!

But that’s not what does get done—not when George W. Bush is seated at the dinner table. Instead, time is wasted, face-saving proclamations become placeholders for action, the undemocratizing Russia is allowed to claim the title as grand master of statecraft, and the US president throws up his dinner—if not his hands.

Meanwhile, it is the rest of us that are left feeling ill.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Homeland Security: Thwarting the Aspirations of Idiots Everywhere

Another day, another “terrorist plot” thwarted—so glad we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here (more on that in a moment).

This past Saturday saw a US Attorney announce the indictments of four men with sketchy plans to blow up fuel tanks and/or pipelines that supply jet fuel to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

Why JFK airport? Here’s what the plot’s “mastermind” Russell Defreitas had to say:

"Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow ... they love JFK -- he's like the man," former JFK airport cargo worker Russell Defreitas allegedly said in a telephone conversation monitored by the FBI.

"If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice," Defreitas allegedly added

OK, show of hands, when I say JFK airport, how many of you still get all sentimental over Camelot? Hell, I live in NYC, often fly in and out of JFK, and am old enough (well, let’s say, “almost old enough”) to remember when people actually did get all choked up about the late president, and I cannot remember the last time I made the mental connection between the airport and its namesake.

But, while illustrative of my point, this is possibly the least of it. Defreitas, 63, a naturalized US Citizen from Guyana, and his co-conspirators apparently had zero technical knowledge and zero military training—not to mention zero money and zero explosives. To say that this plot was disrupted in its “planning” stages is an insult to procrastinators everywhere.

Oh, but, wait, apparently, these guys were “persistent,” according to investigators, and. . . wait for it. . . they had satellite images of the airport obtained from the internet.

OH. . . MY. . . GOD! Look at me, ma! I’m a terrorist!

All kidding aside (OK, some kidding aside), if guys are going around trying to get it together to blow something up—anything, really—law enforcement should probably intervene. But, is what we have here a case of terrorism interrupted? Have the DoJ, DHS, the FBI, and the NYPD thwarted a group of Islamic terrorists, or have they done little more than publicly shame a loose collection of idiot dreamers?

And, pardon my skepticism, but I am yet to be convinced that these guys were even as pitifully far along—and that would be not that far along at all—as the government says. Being a New Yorker, I am all too familiar with the case of the alleged Brooklyn Bridge plotter—a poor schlub who was clearly led down the path to prison by a zealous informant who was himself egged on by investigators. This JFK “plot,” too, relies on the work of a government informant, one currently awaiting his sentence for drug trafficking.

Further, even if we are to believe that Defreitas and friends had a “plot,” as it is outlined in reports, it was far from feasible on many fronts. Beyond the fact that blowing a hole in a fuel tank at JFK would almost certainly NOT cause a chain reaction that would send explosions and fire through the pipelines that lead into the tanks and the supply lines to the airplane gates, the “plotters” had planned to blow up the tanks with dynamite, which experts say would not get the job done (the walls would require several pounds of plastique, they say).

All of which is to say, much like Michael Powell and William Rashbaum said in today’s New York Times:

In case after case, from what authorities said was a dirty bomber to the Lackawanna Six, federal prosecutors hail arrests of terrorists and disruptions of what they describe as sinister plots. But as these legal cases unfold, the true nature of the threats can come into question.

(And while I might have been a little less diplomatic than Powell and Rashbaum, I want to congratulate them for actually putting it out there. Contrast their tone with that of Jeanne Meserve on CNN. It was her report that first told me that the fuel tank plot was likely not a prescription for mass disaster, it was there that I learned that plastic explosives would be required to breach a tank, and it was there that two experts appeared on camera to debunk the notion that this was a well-conceived plan. But it was in the intro and in the conclusion to Meserve’s piece that she insisted on saying that “expert opinion” was “split” on whether the plot would have worked. The only evidence of a split? An unnamed government aviation spokesman. That really doesn’t tell me “experts” are divided—especially since two of the actual experts were just on camera agreeing this was an ill-conceived plot—but it does tell me that CNN still clings to the false notions that administration spokespeople are credible, and that unbiased reporting means always presenting a counterpoint, even when it is devoid of substance, and then claiming there are two sides to the story.)

Now, let’s look at some of that true nature: None of the suspects in this current terrorist-like plot have connections to al-Qaeda. In fact, Defreitas and his family are Shiites. A couple of his children have spent time studying in Iran, but there is nothing out there right now to can dissuade me—or, in fact, the government—from calling this plot “homegrown.” If there are out-of-country links here (and I feel funny even putting it this way since this is such a half-baked affair), they are to Guyana and Trinidad. Iraq is not in the picture.

What is in the picture is another part of the Middle East, one that the Bush Administration has steadfastly refused to consider might be important to their “Global War on Terror.”

In one conversation taped by the FBI, Defreitas allegedly discusses an incident he says motivated him to strike JFK. He claimed he saw military parts being shipped to Israel, including missiles, that he felt would be used to kill Muslims.

He allegedly says he "wanted to do something to get those bastards."

As many have noted, one of the greatest failings of Bush’s foreign policy has been his unwillingness to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with any kind of seriousness or political will. The administration’s rhetorical and logistical embrace of Ehud Olmert’s Lebanese fiasco only exacerbated the problem. If Bush & Co. really wanted to do something about growing anti-American feelings in the Muslim diaspora, they would de-emphasize making war in Iraq and Iran, and re-emphasize making peace in Israel and Palestine. Russell Defreitas and his “coconspirators” only serve to reinforce that point.

And, while we’re talking about terrorists and their plots here in the US, what’s the latest on that whole anthrax thing? Anyone got a handle on that one? How about all the plots to bomb abortion clinics? What’s new there?

Yeah, thought so. . . .

But, rather than get serious about what’s real, or about what really might be the roots of our problems, administration apparatchiks would rather get all “lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!” over the weekend warriors from jihadi fantasy camp (and even that gives Defreitas, or the guys in Miami, or the “Fort Dix Six” too much credit). And that doesn’t serve the prosecution of these small time hoods any more than it does the so-called GWOT.

Raising the stakes on what should be low-level cases only makes convicting them on what they actually did do much harder, and makes it much more difficult to investigate future plots. As former federal prosecutor and once head of the criminal division in the US attorney’s office in Miami, Neal R. Sonnett notes:

There unfortunately has been a tendency to shout too loudly about such cases.

It has a bit of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight to it. It would have served the federal government well to say that.

. . . .

To the extent that you over-hype a case, you create fear and paranoia. It’s very difficult for prosecutors and investigative agencies to remain calm.

As Sonnett and the Times article imply, the drumbeating creates a climate of fear that drives public policy. I would add that such is no doubt the intention of the Bush Administration. Rather than looking for ways to effectively fight so-called terrorists here and “there” to help make Americans everywhere safer, idiots and ideologues in the Department of Homeland Security, or the Justice Department, or in many other US government agencies are looking for a steady stream of public relations victories to fuel the fear-based economy.

I believe it was a retired general who said this (and forgive me for not being able to find the exact quote): While it is understandable that Americans would be fearful following the attacks of 9/11/01, it is the job of our president to lead us away from fear, and not to constantly reinforce it.

Update: NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston is quoting an FBI source that calls this JFK plot “Fort Dix lite.” Yes, that’s right, this plot was less well put together than the hysterically unimpressive plan to attack Fort Dix planned by the Circuit City Six.

Update #2: A clarification—early reports were confusing, and so I was confused. I conflated two of the suspects in this “plot.” When I wrote in my post about a Shiite with family members that have studied in Iran, I realize now, thanks to another good Times piece by Manny Fernandez, that I was referring to Abdul Kadir, and not Russell Defreitas. Defreitas, it seems, was a sometimes homeless, often down-on-his luck, barely literate, former JFK employee who is divorced, and estranged from most of his family. Kadir is the practicing Shiite with a degree in civil engineering. It is Kadir that was once a Mayor and Member of Parliament in Guyana, and it is he that has the large family, some members of which traveled to Iran. I apologize for the error.

I recommend the entire Fernandez piece—it makes this so-called terror plot seem even more improbable.

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