Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Stop Him Before He Kills Again

I know what your thinking. . . if I am talking about George W. Bush and killing, I must be talking about the 3,732 troops that have died in Iraq to protect the president’s ego, or the tens of thousands of Iraqis that had to die for the same cause. Or, perhaps I am talking about the 1,800 to 2,600 that died due to the president’s blatant and callous negligence in the run up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (which struck the Gulf Coast two years ago today). Or, maybe I’m looking ahead to all the children who will perish because they have no access to affordable healthcare thanks to the Boy King’s stance on SCHIP.

Good reasons to stop GB43, all—but not the one I’m going to tell you about today. In the face of the thousands killed that I mention above, what I write about here will seem like a small thing, but every life is precious, and when one is wasted in the service nothing more important than cold, hard cash, well, you kind of want to trigger some warrantless surveillance with your detailed fantasies of just retribution.

A New Mexico police officer who was part of President Bush’s motorcade was killed when his motorcycle crashed near the Albuquerque airport. Officer Germaine Casey—a 40-year-old father of two—was riding ahead of the president’s car in a motorcade traveling at what I keep reading was “breakneck” speed.

A rather poor choice of words when you think of it.

Why was the president traveling at breakneck speed? Was there some national emergency? Was he rushing back to Washington? Or maybe he had to get out of New Mexico posthaste due to some threat to his security—could that be the reason behind his need for speed?

No—none of that. George Bush was speeding from a fundraising appearance for Republican New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici on his way to another fundraising appearance in Bellevue, WA, for Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.

Partisan politics. Raising greenbacks for his enablers. Nothing more.

This is not to say that Officer Casey didn’t die in service to his country—he volunteered to protect the president, and, on its face, that is an honorable calling. That the president chose to use his office for partisan gain, however, is anything but honorable.

And this is not the first time this has happened. Just last November, Honolulu officer Steve Favela was killed when his bike skidded out of control while traveling as part of the presidential motorcade on its way to a photo-op breakfast with troops at Hickam AFB (Bush made the stop on his way back from a trip to Indonesia and Vietnam—yes, Vietnam—but that’s another story).

Three other officers who were part of the president’s motorcade were injured during that 14-hour stopover. And, in April of 2006, another New Mexico officer was seriously injured when his bike crashed during another Bush visit. You just have to ask—what for?

Sure, presidents have a right to get out and see the country, and sure, presidents need protecting when they do. And, Bush would not be the first inhabitant of the Oval Office to use his position in the service of his party. But, when his motorcade starts to take casualties for such service—especially when this president has done so little in the service of his country—I think it’s time for the country to reevaluate.

Should a sitting president do this sort of traveling, and, when he does so for photo-ops and fundraisers, should he be traveling with so much and traveling so fast?

This president has repeatedly marshaled the resources of his office—Air Force One, the Secret Service, the armored limo, the motorcades—for purely political appearances. All, of course, at US taxpayer expense. It is disgusting enough that we have to pay with our hard-earned dollars to support George Bush’s partisan lifestyle, but is there any justification for someone paying with his life?

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Bears Repeating

I wrote Friday’s post without the benefit of reading that day’s lead editorial in the New York Times. The editors (in their infinite wisdom) had a remarkably similar take on the whole “Iraq as Vietnam through the beer goggles of President Bush” thing—not to mention the whole Wizard of Oz (please ignore the man behind curtain), it’s al-Maliki’s fault distraction.

Blaming the prime minister of Iraq, rather than the president of the United States, for the spectacular failure of American policy, is cynical politics, pure and simple. It is neither fair nor helpful in figuring out how to end America’s biggest foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam.

. . . .

The problem is not Mr. Maliki’s narrow-mindedness or incompetence. He is the logical product of the system the United States created, one that deliberately empowered the long-persecuted Shiite majority and deliberately marginalized the long-dominant Sunni Arab minority. It was all but sure to produce someone very like Mr. Maliki, a sectarian Shiite far more interested in settling scores than in reconciling all Iraqis to share power in a unified and peaceful democracy.

. . . .

Washington’s failure to face these unpleasant realities opens the door to strange and dangerous fantasies, like Mr. Bush’s surreal take on the Vietnam war.

The real lesson of Vietnam for Iraq is clear enough. America lost that war because a succession of changes in South Vietnamese leadership, many of them inspired by Washington, never produced an effective government in Saigon. None of those changes, beginning with the American-sponsored coup that led to the murder of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, changed the underlying reality of a South Vietnamese government and army that never won the loyalty and support of large sections of the Vietnamese population.

The short-term sequels of American withdrawal from Indochina were brutal, as the immediate sequels of America’s withdrawal from Iraq will surely be. But the American people rightly concluded that with no way to win a military victory, there could be no justification for allowing thousands more United States troops to die in Vietnam. Those deaths would not have changed the sequels to the war, just as more American deaths will not change the sequel to the war in Iraq. Once the war in Southeast Asia was over, America’s domestic divisions healed, its battered armed forces were rebuilt and the nation was much better positioned to deal with the relentless challenges of global leadership.

If Mr. Bush, whose decision to inject Vietnam into the debate over Iraq was bizarre, took the time to study the real lessons of Vietnam, he would not be so eager to lead America still deeper into the 21st century quagmire he has created in Iraq. Following his path will not rectify the mistakes of Vietnam, it will simply repeat them.

Now, at this point, I was going to write about how remarkable it is that both the Times’ editorial board and myself would focus on Diem, and the dangers of American-influenced, repeated regime change as the real lesson of the Vietnam conflict that comes to mind at the present moment. . .

. . . except that it’s not remarkable at all.

Anyone who lived through the Sixties, or anyone who has read a decent history of the second Indochinese war, should spot the same analogy in a well-reasoned flash.

What is remarkable, rather, is that more people haven’t seized upon this cautionary lesson of history. What is remarkable is that supposedly serious and informed Democrats have jumped on the “blame Maliki” bandwagon. And, even more remarkable, I’ve gotta say, is when one supposedly serious Democrat is seeking the presidency.

Yes, I’m talking about you, Senator Hillary Clinton.

Senator Clinton is supposed to be running for president and against the failed policies of the Bush Administration—the Iraq debacle being exhibit A. To disarm yourself that way, to blame an Iraqi PM (and a Bush-picked one at that) for the problems in this conflict when, frankly, all the blame (yes, all) for this circus of blood lay squarely at the feet of George W. Bush, is strategically inane. . . besides being historically ignorant.

What happens when the corrupt and connected Iyad Allawi replaces a deposed Nouri al-Maliki and things continue to go horribly wrong—as you know, if you had been a good student of the Vietnam War, they inevitably will? You can’t very well go back to a strict “blame the other guy” policy—the other guy being Bush. Hell, Senator Clinton is actually, officially, out ahead of the President on this one. Bush says al-Maliki is a “good guy.”

Memo to Clinton, and Senator Carl Levin, and any of the other Democrats even thinking about blaming al-Maliki, or joining the PR-scripted chorus of “serious” people who think Allawi is just what we need to fix our Iraqi problem: Our Iraqi problem is George Bush—because our Iraqi problem is of George Bush’s making. Plain and simple.

So, repeat after me: It’s Bush’s war. It’s Bush’s war. It’s Bush’s war.

(cross-posted on guy2k)

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Man in Baghdad

Gallons of cyber ink have been spilled about how he who did not learn history, George W. Bush, would now mangle and distort history on his way to repeating it. The idea that the Vietnam war was a noble fight, and one that was winnable (whatever that means) had it not been for those lily-livered Americans who just “gave up” after roughly a dozen years and 60,000 deaths, would be laughable, and not worth a comment, were it not for a concerted effort by a cadre of neocons to rewrite history in just this way.

Of course, we don’t really need a rewrite, we already have Karnow, Sheehan, Halberstam, and Shawcross. . . and, for today, anyway, me.

(Not to imply I’m in a class with those four—I’m not.)

Before we get to my bright, shining two-cents, let me throw a couple of other coins in the fountain of blood first.

When Bush chose to recount the horrible echoes of Vietnam that would befall us should we bring a quick end to his Iraq fiasco, he said this:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps” and “killing fields.”

Of course, the price of America’s prolonged involvement in Vietnam was paid by millions of innocent citizens, too, and so much of what happened after the US withdrawal would not have, had the US pursued diplomatic, rather than military, options. And, to this day, Vietnam suffers the aftereffects of the indiscriminate bombings and defoliation that were an integral part of what our current president seems to think was a brilliant strategy to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.

Speaking of bombings. . . I have not heard nor seen one reference to this—which amazes me—but the exclamation point on Bush’s litany of historic horrors—“killing fields”—well, that wasn’t in Vietnam.

Nope. The killing fields were in Cambodia—a little “sideshow” (as William Shawcross called it) to the Vietnam War. The US, in its infinite wisdom, secretly conducted massive bombing raids into Cambodia—and also sent in ground troops—because it felt that the Cambodian government was aiding the Vietcong. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, I know, but it has to be noted that, a) roughly 800,000 Cambodians were killed by American bombs, and that, b) the events that led to the killing fields of Kampuchea (where an additional 2 to 3 million died) can be directly—directly—traced to the US actions in the region.

I would also like to point out that the US wasn’t the country that put a stop to the killing fields. No. The Khmer Rouge was ousted by the armies of Vietnam—the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

But, believe it or not, all of this is just a sideshow to what I really wanted to talk about today. Seriously. What really set me thinking about Vietnam was not Bush’s brain-dead speech, but rather the noise coming from several other noted national figures.

I have been quite disturbed for some time by the apparent ease with which we have all come to blame the Iraqi “government” (for want of a better term) for so many of the problems we now see over there. Granted, these so-called leaders have not done very much to make things better—in fact, they have made things worse—but do we really need to be reminded that a) the mess was not of their making, and b) this leadership was essentially hand-picked by the US.

Do I think that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a hood? Yes, I do—but he’s our hood. Which is why I have to shudder when I hear the likes of Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton hopping on the “hey, hey, ho, ho, al-Maliki’s gotta go” bandwagon.

It is all the more chilling to discover, as we did this week, that said bandwagon is actually powered by a US consulting firm closely allied with another American “friend.”

The powerful Republican lobbying group of Barbour Griffith & Rogers is plotting an effort to displace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and supplant him with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. IraqSlogger reported:

BGR’s work for Allawi includes the August 17 purchase of the Web site domain

In recent days, BGR sent hundreds of e-mail messages in Allawi’s name from the e-mail address

BGR’s staff is stacked with conservative operatives with extremely close ties to the White House. Its president is Bush’s former envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Robert Blackwill. Philip Zelikow, a former Counselor to Condoleezza Rice, serves as a senior adviser to the firm. Lanny Griffith, chief executive officer, is a Bush Ranger having raised at least $200,000 for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. And Ed Rogers, chairman and founder of the firm, has been a reliable political ally for the Bush White House.

Yes, that is the same Iyad Allawi that was hand-picked by “Viceroy” Paul Bremer back in 2004 to lead the interim government of Iraq, but lost his post in the “democratic” election that President Bush likes to talk so much about. The same one that was once described as “Saddam lite,” the one that came to the US during the ’04 presidential race and campaigned for Bush’s stay-the-course “strategy,” the one that has decades-old ties to the CIA, and the one that published an op-ed in the Washington Post last Saturday calling for the Iraqi parliament to oust al-Maliki and work more closely with the American government.

Of course, journalistic integrity requires me to point out that late Thursday, a Bush Administration official denied any White House involvement with the Allawi putsch. Which reminds me of another war. . . yes, that would be Vietnam.

Ngo Dinh Diem was fervently anti-communist and a Catholic in a country that was overwhelmingly Buddhist. In 1954, the Eisenhower administration picked Diem to lead the southern half a newly partitioned Vietnam. A year later, Diem rigged an election, and assumed the Presidency of the Republic of Vietnam (aka South Vietnam). By 1961, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was hailing Diem as the “Winston Churchill of Asia” and promising him increased military aid to fight the communist influences of the North.

But, by the Summer of ’63 (and, again, I am over-simplifying here), Diem’s increasingly violent suppression of the Buddhists, and the self-immolation of monks in Saigon, made the Kennedy Administration back in DC nervous. While never publicly advocating Diem’s removal, parts of the Kennedy Administration got cozy with ARVN generals who were spoiling for a coup.

When November started with US ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge refusing to see Diem, it was seen by the generals as an endorsement of action (there may well have been many stronger signals behind closed doors); by the evening of November 2, Ngo Dinh Diem was dead—murdered in the back of an armored car that was supposed to take him to General Headquarters.

Current history tends to surmise that President Kennedy didn’t think Diem would be killed after the coup, likely because he didn’t think much about what would happen at all. Three weeks later, JFK was dead, and a new administration would make a mess of cleaning up after the US-sponsored bloody overthrow of the United States’ hand-picked leader.

It is interesting to note that John’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, is said to have expressed his doubts about the coup this way: “I mean, it’s different from a coup in Iraq. . . we are so intimately involved in this.”

Which brings us right to the present, doesn’t it? Not so much with regard to the White House denials of any “coup plotting”—though I have no doubt whatsoever that they are very capable of making such a move—but with regard to the Democrats, who seem all too willing to help ease the way for al-Maliki’s unceremonious exit. I have to say: be careful what you wish for.

Be careful, and not just because, with another regime change in Iraq, the Bush Bunch will buy themselves another Friedman Unit to make “progress.” Be careful because we know our history—president and neocon cronies excluded—and we know where the Vietnam analogy does apply.

We know our history, and we know what we are damned to repeat. And how we are already damned.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


It is actually hard to quantify the number of insults and inaccuracies contained in two radio pieces by NPR reporter David Greene that aired on last night’s All Thing’s Considered and today’s Morning Edition—there are that many.

The segments, as introduced and summarized on air and on the NPR website, are “reporting” on the supposed difficulties that Democrats (most specifically those running for President) are having with the current situation in Iraq. Why the difficulties? As Greene tells us, flat out, “It’s becoming clear the troops that President Bush added are doing some good.”

Really now? Says who, exactly? I mean, says who besides the president and his fan club?

Greene quotes no one on that point. Doesn’t even bother to bother us with Pollack or O’Hanlon. He certainly doesn’t bother to cite statistics, like those that say Iraqi civilian deaths are as high as ever, or those that show this to be the bloodiest summer of the war for American troops.

Greene also fails to even mention that many will disagree with his warm and fuzzy assessment. For instance, how about those seven US Army infantrymen and noncom officers? They “are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political, and social unrest we see every day.” And that was before they heard David Greene’s pieces.

After Greene tells us how swell the “surge” is going, he then seeks to detail the “tightrope” that Democrats must walk. This is from the Morning Edition piece:

The tightrope the president must walk is vexing, but so is the tightrope for Democrats in Congress and in the presidential campaign. Two candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have long criticized the war, but for the moment, they have joined the president in pointing to some military successes.

Wow. That paragraph is so messed up, it’s hard to take it apart (but let me try). First off, the President’s vexation, as explained by Greene, has to do with his need to support the rather miserable leadership of Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki (an entire post could be written on this point alone), which, as it turns out, has absolutely nothing to do with the Democrats tightrope, as “explained” by Greene.

That rope is stretched between being a longtime critic of the war and seeing some military success—which must indeed be a tough tightrope to walk, since those two “points” are not on opposite sides.

Even if we are to believe Greene’s assertion that the military surge is “doing some good” (which I do not), that does not in any way contradict a long-standing and/or ongoing opposition to the war. You can point to some regionalized or temporary success and still argue that the war was wrong from the start and continues to reap a whirlwind of problems, can’t you?

Then there is the lumping together of Senators Clinton and Obama. Their positions on the Iraq war are both different from the one President Bush likes to trumpet, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. Clinton voted for the Authorized Use of Military Force (in Iraq); Obama did not. Obama continues to speak proudly of his 2002 position, and Clinton stands by her directly opposite vote.

And, if that were not information enough, we have audio! While the morning piece quotes only Clinton, the segment on ATC played clips from both Senators. (Greene ignores all other the Democratic candidates for president on ATC, and only quotes Richardson and Biden, in addition to Clinton, in the morning.)

Here’s what Senator Clinton had to say:

We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in al Anbar province, it's working.

And here’s what Senator Obama said (audio is on the NPR site, the same speech is quoted in the New York Times):

Our troops have performed brilliantly in Iraq. They have done everything we have asked of them. They have won every battle they have fought. . . . [But] no military surge, no matter how brilliantly performed, can succeed without political reconciliation and a surge of diplomacy in Iraq and the region. Iraq’s leaders are not reconciling.

First, how are those two quotes even remotely similar? Second, where in Obama’s statement does he say that the surge is doing some good?

Trust me, I’ve read it and listened to it a half-dozen times, it doesn’t say anything of the sort. But Greene doesn’t let that get in the way—he’s got a story to tell, an analogy to make, and, apparently, a point of view to push.

This is Greene’s walk-off (from the ATC version):

Once again, key Democrats find themselves under all too familiar pressures: The need to show support for American troops, and the need to satisfy those Democrats that wanted the war over yesterday.

Memo to NPR: How the hell are those two things mutually exclusive? Where’s the dance (as Greene also calls it)? Explain how that makes for a tightrope.

If the Democrats are walking a tightrope, it is between some lizard brain fear of Republicans calling them soft, and the vast majority of voters that want America to begin a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. That is a sticky wicket. That is something to talk about. But Greene would rather perpetuate the tired saw that, somehow, you can’t be opposed to this war occupation fiasco, and still care about the troops.

Is that good journalism? I don’t think it is.

And, finally, let me talk about the elephant in the room (at least the room I’m in, I have no idea where Greene is): The “surge” is a tactic—it is not a strategy. A military push might win a battle or clear a district, but it does not, in and of itself, settle this conflict. Bush’s 30,000-person PR stunt was supposed to give the Iraqi’s “breathing room” to get their house in order. Regardless of what’s going on in al Anbar, or any other part of Iraq, how has Iraq as a country, as a nation, become more stable and self-sustaining?

Again, it has not. Not even a little. And, with the carnage on all sides continuing at the highest levels, this escalation hasn’t even worked as a tactic. It hasn’t done “some good”—indeed, it hasn’t done a bit of good.

Alas, with the airing of these two factually challenged pieces by David Greene, neither has NPR.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Plan B: the Plan A we had before the latest Plan A

The AP is reporting that “U.S. military officials are narrowing the range of Iraq strategy options and appear to be focusing on reducing the U.S. combat role in 2008 while increasing training of Iraqi forces,” and likening this “strategy” to recommendations made in the Iraq Study Group Report almost a year ago.

Beyond the quite prevalent belief that things have devolved in Iraq to such an extent as to render the ISG recommendations irrelevant, the AP fails to remark upon the strange similarity this new “strategy option” bears to the prior ones.

Here’s Bush court scribe Michael Gordon writing last summer in the New York Times:

U.S. General in Iraq Outlines Troop Cuts

WASHINGTON, June 24 [2006] — The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

. . . .

Proponents of General Casey's approach described it as a carefully synchronized plan to turn over authority for security to the new Iraqi government. The administration has repeatedly said that American troops will begin to stand down as Iraqi forces stand up and begin to assert control.

. . . .

The reduction in American combat brigades would have an importance beyond troop numbers. The strategy is to gradually shift the responsibility for fighting the insurgency to the new Iraqi military and to encourage the Iraqi forces to secure the nation's territory. Arranging for the Iraqis to take on an increasing combat role is the key to reducing the American military presence in Iraq.

The other point that the AP can’t seem to work into the story: come April of 2008, the US will have to reduce the number of troops deployed in Iraq. Several brigades’ already extended tours of duty will come to a close, and we just don’t have any fresh brigades left to replace them.

I don’t know. . . is it a “strategy” if you have no other choice?

Let’s see, what else? The AP also seems to have picked up on this idea that the 2007 Bush splurge is making “progress,” and we should just give it a little more time. (Once known as a “Friedman Unit,” this has lately become known as the Pollack-O’Hanlon foil. But the administration doesn’t need a couple of pseudo liberal shills to grant permission for it to use the word “progress”—as far as Bush is concerned, we’ve had four-and-a-quarter years of “progress.”) Of course, the AP, like all those that pick up this trope, fails to cite any actual numbers, instead relying on the odd anecdotal quote. The actual numbers? Iraqi civilian deaths nationwide are up; US military deaths are at an all-time high.

Oh, and, then there’s the whole timing thing. . . the AP doesn’t seem to have enough fingers to count out the months, but my back of the envelope calculation says that “end of summer” 2008 is, uh, lemme see, yeah, about six or seven weeks before election day. Huh, how do you like that?

Finally, neither the AP, nor the unnamed military insider that was the germ of this piece, seem to be able to tell us just which Iraqi forces they plan to focus on training. Is it the SCIRI militia we have our eyes on? Maybe it’s the Mehdi Army, or maybe it’s those Al Qaeda in Anbar we are so proud of arming these days. . . .

Of course, the biggest problem that no one can quite seem to grasp anymore is that the current “strategy”—the surge—is not a strategy at all. Not in and of itself. I mean, OK, we’ve now surged, hoo-rah! No, the strategy was to surge in order to create some “breathing space” for the Iraqi government to iron out its factional problems and pass that oil law that our president and his oil company cronies are so excited about. You can argue all September long about how this neighborhood or that province is safer, but you can’t argue that the “strategy” has worked. Why? Because the Iraqi government is on the verge of collapse. . . and they all left for recess without doing much of anything regarding unity or oil wealth. . . that’s why.

Yup, it’s hard to stand down when you are busy propping up a “government” that’s in freefall.

So, what letter are we really on? Does the Bush Administration even know its own ABC’s?

(cross-posted on Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Once Weren’t Warriors

I suspect that Kelly Anne Moore and I wouldn’t see exactly eye-to-eye on every issue. . . I mean, I don’t really know, I don’t know her, but. . . Ms. Moore served as chief of the Violent Crimes and Terrorism Section in the Brooklyn US attorney’s office from 2002 to 2006, and that term of service has me wondering if she came in with Bush appointee Roslyn Mauskopf, the USA for that Brooklyn office. Mauskopf was a protégé of former New York Governor George Pataki and a favorite of former New York Senator Al D’Amato who was viewed as unqualified for her post when her nomination was put forward back in 2002. Her current case against the “JFK bomb plot” “suspects” does nothing to convince me otherwise. Mauskopf is one of those US attorneys that Paul Krugman warned us about a while back—you know, one of the ones that weren’t fired by AG AG and his band of partisan White House brothers.

But I digress. . . .

Kelly Anne Moore, who worked under Mauskopf, has penned an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times that—whatever our other differences may or may not be—basically says what I’ve been saying for what is fast approaching six years: treat suspected terrorists as criminals, and try them in US criminal court.

The United States does not need a new and untested detention system for terrorists. The existing federal system has a proven track record of dealing with complex prosecutions.

Moore has personal experience, successfully prosecuting two Yemeni’s in 2005 for funneling money to Al Qaeda and Hamas, and seeing them put away for a long, long time. She argues that this case was as complex as any of those that might arise from a criminal prosecution of those detained at Guantanamo Bay, and gives plenty of examples. Moore also gives examples of other terrorist cases that have been successfully prosecuted in US courts, such as Ramzi Yousef, organizer of the 1993 WTC bombing.

Moore’s Times piece also explains the way in which many of the purported problems with prosecution in open court need not be the insurmountable roadblocks that the Bush/Cheney Administration make them out to be. But what interested and provoked me most of all was this paragraph:

Those who commit terrorist acts should be tried as the criminals they are, instead of the “warriors” they claim to be. If the Guantánamo detainees were prosecuted in federal courts instead of being designated as “combatants,” most by now would be serving prison time as convicted terrorists, instead of being celebrated as victims or freedom fighters.

To the first sentence, I say, right on! I have been arguing for as long as I remember that you don’t make “war on terror,” you investigate and prosecute people and organizations responsible for terrorist acts. By trying alleged terrorists in open court, you not only get to show the world what a bunch of crooks and creeps the suspects are, you get to demonstrate that America is a nation of principles and laws, unafraid to confront its enemies on a level playing field.

But notice that I said “alleged terrorists.” This is where I see a little daylight between Kelly Anne Moore and myself. You see, while Moore assumes that most of the Guantanamo detainees would be convicted as terrorists, I have serious doubts.

I don’t think I am going out on a limb to say that many still imprisoned at Camp Delta (we’re still calling it that, right?) likely never did much of anything you or I would call “terrorist.” At their very worst, many were soldiers of a sort, fighting for a disorganized alliance of pro-Taliban or anti-American forces. That would make them prisoners of war, and not detainees, or even criminals.

But others in detention were likely not even that. There are plenty of stories of afghani warlords rounding up prisoners for pay. Then there are the cases of political or tribal retribution, or flat out mistaken identities. And what of those that were just kidnapped by the US or its surrogates?

Whether there is enough evidence to convict any detainees such as those is an open question—and that still ignores the elephant in the room. One of the main reasons—I am certain—that the administration now resists trying these detainees in open court is because if they did, it would become more than obvious that these people were tortured. Moore does not really acknowledge this “roadblock” to openness in her Op-Ed.

Indeed, the former prosecutor is quick to hold up the recent conviction of Jose Padilla—as have many others—as an example of how a potential terrorist was convicted in federal court. However, while Moore mentions that Padilla was denied access to legal counsel for over three years while in military detention, she fails to point out that the jury that convicted Padilla never learned that fact.

Nor was Padilla’s jury allowed to hear that he was initially picked up on completely different grounds—he was supposed to be the “dirty bomber,” after all—but when the government couldn’t come up with enough evidence on that count, they quickly built a case around completely different activities for an entirely separate charge.

Most legal experts report that it was not surprising that Jose Padilla was convicted, given what the jury was allowed to know—implying or stating outright that had these other facts been present in the courtroom, a different outcome was at least a possibility.

Moore, while rightfully taking the Bush/Cheney Administration to task for this glaring failure in its “war on terror,” still seems to assume that most of those taken prisoner by the administration are terrorists. I cannot be so certain.

Still, I am certain that in the end, Moore gets it right:

Many people around the world have come to question America’s commitment to the rule of law. There are few places in the world where that principle is more hallowed than in the United States federal courts. The best course of action now, in dealing with terrorism suspects, is to use these courts — the keystone of American jurisprudence — and show the world that America can protect itself while it respects the rule of law.

I would add to her course of action that the US should also close Guantanamo, restore Habeas rights, and recommit to handling prisoners as detailed in the Geneva Conventions, but if we were to begin with hearings in open court, for all detainees, I have some faith that rest would follow.

If Kelly Anne Moore and I can agree on that—and I
suspect that we can—then she and I can join forces to fight the real enemies of freedom.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Bridge to Somewhere

Anybody else see the irony in the President’s instant declarations of support for the communities affected by the collapse of the I-35 bridge? That was my question going into this post, and much to my surprise, the answer from the establishment media was a pretty resounding “yes.”

This was the headline and lead graph run by the AP on Tuesday:

Bush's promises familiar to still-broken New Orleans

New Orleans - For New Orleans residents, the scene was all too familiar: President Bush, touring the site of the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, promising to cut red tape and rebuild quickly.

And, believe it or not, a quick search of Google news turns up dozens of similar headlines.

Of course, a news story doesn’t butter the biscuit. Two years and umpteen news stories later, New Orleans is still a battered shell of its former self, cowering behind improperly repaired levees. Much of what Bush promised the night he stood in Jackson Square was never delivered, or, at least was never delivered to the people that needed the help. Plenty of Republican campaign contributors got to rent the government cruise ships at inflated prices or staff debris removal teams with underpaid undocumented workers at a hefty mark up.

What did get delivered to New Orleans, of course, were thousands of formaldehyde-filled “temporary” trailers—or, as I like to call them, Katrina Kancer Kabins—and it was the “ironic” news that FEMA was going to stop selling and donating those trailers that actually initially set me a-googling.

You see, these trailers were known to be rolling gas chambers eons ago—and yet this quiet catastrophe, this insult to injury, was allowed to play out in slow motion while the poor, displaced, and (dare I mention) predominantly African American inhabitants of these trailers continued to breathe toxic fumes morning, noon, and night. FEMA dragged its feet on testing, and then suppressed the results for close to a year, before finally responding to Congressional pressure on the very same day that the 35W bridge collapsed. But, of course, responding to pressure and stopping the future sales of these trailers doesn’t get any of the current inhabitants of these triple-K’s into safe and permanent housing any faster.

When compared to the billions spent for Katrina relief, the $250 million quickly approved for Minneapolis bridge repair by a vacation-hungry Congress seems like a mere pittance. But, it should be pointed out that the bridge money is two-and-a-half times the legal limit set by Congress for these kinds of emergency relief expenditures.

In fact, some members of Congress think we just got hosed. At $250 million, the third-of-a-mile span will cost about $130,000 per foot—quite high for this type of bridge. Some might think, “Well at lest this one is a bridge to somewhere.” But, one should remember that the old bridge should have been maintained by a state gas tax that Minnesota’s Republican Governor vetoed last spring. And, considering all of the national obligations we can’t seem to meet these days, the quick infusion of federal money still has to raise some questions.

Questions like: Why the big number? Why the rush? Couldn’t Congress have allocated the first $100 million now with a promise to supply the rest after Minnesota officials solicited bids and presented real plans for new bridge?

And how much you wanna bet that this bridge gets built by next summer?

Would the answer to these questions have anything to do with the demographic composition of the Twin Cities, or, more specifically, the demographic makeup of the commuters who regularly drove that length of I-35? Or, might this have something to do with where the Republicans are planning to hold their 2008 national convention?

I’m just asking.

Meanwhile, the victims of a 2005 hurricane wait for more than answers. They are waiting to get their homes—and their city—back.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that Minneapolis doesn’t need its bridge back, but when I think about all of those people in all of those trailers, I wonder what our nation’s priorities are, and where our allegiances lie.

Which sort of brings us back to Bush, his promises at the banks of the Mississippi last weekend, and the lies he told folks down river back in 2005.

As detailed in the AP story I cite above, Bush’s promises to rebuild New Orleans were all one Melanie Thompson needed to move her family of five back to her old neighborhood and begin repair work on her flooded home. Two years later, the Thompson family still lives in their tiny, toxic FEMA trailer, still waiting for the aid they need to rebuild.

It seems silly to even compare drivers inconvenienced by a missing bridge with a family like the Thompson’s, and yet, I still have this sense that come September 2008, those drivers have a better chance of crossing the Mississippi via 35W than the Thompson’s have of crossing their own home’s threshold.

I suppose it is possible that President Bush meant well back in 2005 when he promised to stay focused on New Orleans “as long as it takes,” and other problems just got in the way. I suppose. Maybe some similar problems will slow Minneapolis bridge reconstruction to a crawl. Maybe. But I still have a nasty feeling that the Twin Cities get their bridge back before the Thompson’s get a formaldehyde-free permanent home. History can argue about whether that was this administration’s actual intent.

Of course, they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’m not sure about the intentions part, but I’m pretty certain about the destination.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos)

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Dem Agog

As today’s papers trumpet the president’s signing of his asked for and granted blank check to spy without warrant in any way he wants on practically anybody, foreign or domestic, I am still somewhat amazed, aroused, and most certainly horrified by what happened this weekend.

When I went to bed Friday night, I was dreaming of a post about how the administration had saved Democrats from themselves by trashing the deal struck with Congress by the president’s own Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell. I was even going to make fun of the president by pointing out that he clearly has no idea who his Director of National Intelligence is—I heard Bush on the radio call him “DNI guy,” and then read this quote:

When Congress sends me their version, when Congress listens to all the data and facts and they send me a version of how to close those gaps, I'll ask one question, and I'm going to ask the DNI: Does this legislation give you what you need to prevent an attack on the country? Is this what you need to do your job, Mr. DNI? That's the question I'm going to ask. And if the answer is yes, I'll sign the bill. And if the answer is no, I'm going to veto the bill.

Mr. DNI? Isn’t that a DEVO song?

Anyway, “Mr. DNI” did strike a bargain that he said allowed him to do his “job,” and Bush threatened to veto it anyway, because he thought it would be much more fun (fun = politically advantageous) to spend the August recess demagoging about how Democrats are all soft on terrorism, blah, blah, blah. . . .

Or so I thought that was why. . . . Now, I know. . . the rest of the story.

I don’t know if this was a have our cake and eat it too strategy, or just that President Cheney took a look at the McConnell deal and said “I want more,” or House Minority Leader John Boener’s loose lips leak on Fox News made it imperative that the White House seek broader political and legal cover for the extra-constitutional surveillance they have been doing since the earliest days of this administration, but it seems that, whatever the motivation, Bush/Cheney thought they could win a staring match with Congressional Democrats.

And, indeed, come late Saturday night, the Dems blinked.

I don’t know if I can say it any better than my very own Representative, Jerrold Nadler, did during the Saturday floor debate. . .
This bill is what Karl Rove and his political operatives in the White House have decided they need to win elections. That’s not national security. That’s political warfare.

I do not believe we will soon be able to undo this damage. Rights given away are not easily regained. This bill is not needed to protect America from terrorists. The only purpose of this bill is to protect this administration from its own political problems and cynicism, and its own illegal actions it has taken outside the law without any authorization.

. . . or put it any more starkly than today’s New York Times article on the bill signing. . .

Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens.

“This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, who has studied the new legislation.

. . . but I can say that I am shocked by, angry at, and ashamed of the Democrats that allowed this to happen. Simply put, their performance this weekend (many fine speeches like Nadler’s not withstanding) was disgusting.

As the Washington Post puts it in an editorial appropriately titled “Warrantless Surrender,”

THE DEMOCRATIC-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions.

. . . .

This is as reckless as it was unnecessary. Democrats had presented a compromise plan that would have permitted surveillance to proceed, but with court review and an audit by the Justice Department's inspector general, to be provided to Congress, about how many Americans had been surveilled. Democrats could have stuck to their guns and insisted on their version. Instead, nervous about being blamed for any terrorist attack and eager to get out of town, they accepted the unacceptable. Most Democrats opposed the measure, but enough (16 in the Senate, 41 in the House) went with Republicans to allow it to pass, and the leadership enabled that result.

(That’s a Washington Post editorial, mind you—as some may have noticed, they have hardly been harsh critics of the GWOT™ over the last six years.)

Indeed, as the Post observes, even though many Democrats voted against the legislation, the Democratic leadership could have stopped this shameful bill cold. Why Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi chose not to defies logic.

Cowardice is an easy explanation, but how afraid do you really have to be of a president whose approval rating is now consistently below 29%, and trending down with each passing day? Nobody likes this guy anymore, and, more importantly, nobody trusts Bush anymore to keep them safe. What is there to fear here, except the proverbial “fear itself?”

And even if Bush was somehow more popular and less of a lame duck, there are matters of principle and pragmatism that argue strenuously against this weekend’s kowtow.

Some things are just not negotiable—even for political expedience. The Constitution is one of those things. The six-month sunset provision in this bill does not make it OK—I don’t know where in the Bill of Rights it says that the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments get to occasionally take time-off for the purposes of partisan politicking.

Further, does the Democratic leadership think that once given, this White House is going give back any of these powers? What will inoculate Democrats from the same demagoguery half a year from now? Why do they think that Bush Administration lawyers will even consider the sunset provision to be binding? Have we learned nothing from our experiences with the AUMF?

And, do Democrats not yet realize that the purpose of the administration’s far-reaching spy programs has nothing—nothing—to do with terrorism, and everything to do with suppressing dissent and destroying political opposition? Evidence has recently emerged that many of the programs we now call the TSP were started prior to 9/11/01 (yes, spying may have started before we even knew of such a thing as the “war on terror”), and the language of this weekend’s legislation very specifically avoids limiting surveillance to suspected terrorists.

And, I will add one other point. Though this feels trivial when compared with the weighty issues above, this legislation is actually bad, I think, for the American economy. With the increased powers given the administration, and the increased awareness of American spying, I can easily see other global powers looking to fully isolate their communications systems from those run through and/or by the US. American Telecom firms will not only lose the fees charged international communications passing over their networks, they will lose the technological edge as a rapidly expanding global communications sector develops its own networks, launches its own satellites, and expressly refuses to share their intellectual property with the compromised US part of the industry.

So, with all that in mind, what were the Democrats thinking? Were they thinking we wouldn’t notice? Were they thinking they would call Bush’s bluff? Were they thinking “at least this gets one of the main reasons for impeachment off the table?” Were they thinking it was 2002?

Were they thinking at all?

I ask because, at this point, in 2007, it has been pointed out by pundits, polls, and progressives alike: How do Democrats expect to look tough on security issues if they can’t resist the churlish railings of an unpopular president?

Especially when the American people, and the Constitution, have their back.

Well, if Democrats continue in this fashion, then voters won’t have their backs for long. If they can’t stand up to the president, then what do they stand for? And if Americans don’t know what these Democrats stand for, then the only thing any of us are going to get excited about is seeing them replaced.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Politics of Falling Down

God knows how much money is spent on t-shirts that say “Shit Happens,” and one can’t even begin to imagine the number of people, t-shirt owners or no, that have used that expression to dismiss all kinds of seemingly incongruous or incomprehensible events.

Of course, in just about any case you can name, shit doesn’t just happen. One of the uncomfortable lessons of history—especially the history of the last six-and-a-half years—is that things happen for a reason. That reason is usually not some grand plan, or God’s will, at least not by my reckoning. The fault, most often, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Which leads us to a stretch of highway in Minnesota—a stretch that used to connect the twin cites of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

As I’m sure almost all of you know, a 40-year-old bridge that had stretched across the Mississippi River collapsed during rush hour yesterday, and when all the cars are salvaged from the wreckage, there could be as many as 30 found dead. The establishment media, has, in large part, turned its attention to graphic images of the collapse and its aftermath, the heroics of the first-responders, and the harrowing tales of the survivors and those looking for missing relatives.

Few news reports seem to be asking what I asked right away: How did that happen?

Bridges don’t just fall down. Especially bridges as heavily used this one. Some reports will tell you that the bridge was being resurfaced and had recently passed an inspection—what the reports don’t tell you is that the bridge barely passed.

Reports also often include an appearance or soundbite from Minnesota’s Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, a man considered a rising star in his party with national aspirations. “This is a catastrophe of historic proportions,” says Pawlenty.

What the governor doesn’t give you is the history. I’ll leave that task to Nick Coleman, columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The death bridge was "structurally deficient," we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way. . . .

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It's been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase - the first in 20 years - last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

As Coleman points out, the collapse is not the immediate result of Pawlenty’s budget priorities—officials of all stripes, state and federal, have been giving short-shrift to our nation’s infrastructure for much too long, choosing, instead, to waste money on tax breaks for the wealthy, or corporate welfare, or Iraq—but how fitting a grace note is it that tonight’s scheduled groundbreaking for the new Minnesota Twins baseball stadium (which Pawlenty was to attend) has had to be cancelled because of this bridge disaster? The stadium, a private facility for a team owned by an extremely wealthy man, will receive a half-billion dollars in state subsidies.

And how fitting is it that in about a year, the Twin Cities are set to host the Republican National Convention? As conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke once remarked, “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.” As all of America now knows (or so I would hope), Republicans would be hard-pressed to stand in New Orleans’ Jackson Square two years after President Bush stood there and promised to rescue and rebuild a city his administration helped destroy. What will be their rhetoric next summer when they pontificate on the failures of big government a mere ten minute drive from the pont that serves as another example of the results of their governing philosophy?

No doubt they will find a way to blame government while ignoring the fact that once again the government responsible was theirs.

Or maybe they’ll just shrug and tell the grieving families of the I-35 disaster, “Shit happens.”

For the rest of us, it’s time we realize that that these disasters don’t just happen. It’s time we realize, perhaps, that the fault lies not in our stars—it lies in our Republican stars.

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