Saturday, May 22


MSNBC - Altercation features a contribution from Charles Pierce:

In the course of working on the John Kerry profile for Esquire, I spent a lot of time wading through the various tributaries of the Iran-Contra era.  The more I read, the more I realized what a pivotal moment-- and missed opportunity -- that was for anyone who believes in accountable democratic government, which some of you geezers in the audience may recall as having once been an important thing.  It's not just that so many of that period's Undead walk again among us, instead of being in pre-release programs at Leavenworth where they belong.  It's that Iran-Contra serves now as the template for Getting Away With Stuff that the Avignon Presidency has used ever since Uncle Nino picked the locks to the executive mansion.

Do it in secret.  Avoid accountability, all accountability.  Leave it to low level incompetents to make the blunders and commit the crimes.  Depend always on crooked locals --Manuchar Ghorbanifar, shake hands with Ahmad Chalabi (Count your fingers afterwards, though.)-- to sell you a bag of magic beans.  (Given what we now know, I'm shocked that Oliver North isn't walking around D.C. wearing a barrel.)  Then, when the con breaks down, you can plead being a rube as a defense against being called a crook.  Rely on a compliant press, and on the efforts of Blue-Ribbon Important People to keep the investigations from running out of control.  And, most of all, make sure you sell very hard the story that the whole mess is just...too...complex for ordinary folks to understand.

Oh, and just for the purposes of set decoration, make sure Colin Powell is standing nearby, probably with pigeons landing on his head.

The greatest price we paid for not throwing the lot of them into the federal sneezer (and in not running a bill of particulars against Uncle Ronnie, for that matter) is that we publicly consented to -- and thereby empowered -- unaccountable secret government, which is pretty bad on its best days, but unfathomably worse when it's run by a collection of manifest incompetents.  Plus ca change, plus ca bagmen, I guess.


The people who are alleged to have carried out the abuse "do not reflect the nature of men and women we sent overseas", Mr Bush added. "That's not the way we do things in America."

As the Daily Show's Rob Corddry so brilliantly put it, "Remember, it's not important that we did torture these people. What's important is that we are not the kind of people who would torture these people."


Via Eric Alterman, a professional infantry officer's explanation for why Rush Limbaugh's remarks comparing the Iraq prisoner abuses to fraternity pranks hurt the military: Think Again: On Officers and Control. An excerpt:

But the fact is that as an officer my job is really about the control of state sanctioned violence. I give the potential violence a specific purpose and guide its direction in order to achieve ends. I also ensure that the violence is used only within the confines of the Geneva Conventions and our own code of laws. That's what being an infantry officer is really about. Hell, that's what being any combat arms or combat support officer is about. Because it is easy, it is so terribly easy, to destroy. You could say that the whole sum of my professional education has been about how to apply the correct amount of violence at the right time, at the right place, against the right target, to achieve the right effect…and no more. The same applies to my peers. Which is why we're so upset.

In the end that is why it is the actions, or lack of actions, of the officers at Abu Ghraib really upset me. Those officers demonstrated that they were, well, rank amateurs. Not by virtue of the fact that they are all part-timers who only practiced the profession intermittently before the arrived in Iraq, but by virtue of their loss of control.

As a result of that loss of control the soldiers under their command ran rampant. Violence, in a military context, is like a genie in a bottle. So easy to uncork, but you need good officers, moral officers, hard and smart officers who know their profession to stuff that genie back in to the bottle...
And now somebody like Limbaugh is broadcasting to 20 million people and saying that the photos he saw "weren't so bad" and that effectively this was "no big deal."

His comments just make it that much harder for officers today, and officers elsewhere in the future, to retain control of the genie. By denigrating our decision to court-martial these soldiers, Limbaugh is undercutting our moral authority to control and contain violence so that it is used only in the right way…on the battlefield. He's giving all his listeners (and all the people who they, in turn, influence) the impression that this sort of thing is okay, despite what we officers in the Army are saying.


I've said this before, and I'll say it again -- this administration has a problem not just with accountability, but with accounting:

Ground Zero Funds Often Drifted Uptown: Money Also Went to Luxury Apartments

Six months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress approved an $8 billion program to repair this city's damaged office towers, build apartment buildings and finance the rebirth of the financial district.

But two years later, city records show that much of the money, dubbed Liberty Bonds, has gone to developers of prime real estate in midtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and to builders of luxury housing.

Local and state officials -- over the objections of their own downtown development chief -- gave one developer $650 million from the Liberty Bonds to erect an office tower for the Bank of America near Times Square, miles from the shattered precincts of Ground Zero. According to city records, another developer got $113 million to build a tower for Bank of New York in Brooklyn.

Thursday, May 20


The Washington Post has a good summary of the causes of the prisoner abuse scandal here.

How could this massive breakdown of order and discipline have occurred? The Bush administration still tries to blame a few low-ranking reservists who served at Abu Ghraib. But a more convincing answer can be found in a memo submitted to President Bush by White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales in January 2002. In the memo, which was first disclosed by Newsweek magazine, Mr. Gonzales explained why he believed Mr. Bush should ignore State Department objections to his decision to exclude Afghanistan detainees from the Geneva Conventions. The presidential counsel derided the conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete" and claimed that setting them aside would, among other things, make it harder for prosecutors to charge Americans under U.S. law for alleged crimes against prisoners -- something he presented as a "positive." Such contempt for the rule of law pervaded his argument -- and was endorsed by Mr. Bush.


...the Israeli Army is engaged in what looks like a plan to unilaterally destroy the Palestinian territory.
Mr. Sharon's broader miscalculation was his belief that Israel alone can determine the terms of its withdrawal and the outlines of a long-term accommodation with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, President Bush helped enable this fantasy by telling the prime minister in Washington last month that if Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, it could decide in advance that it would keep some of its West Bank settlements and would deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their old homes without even putting the issue on the table.

Raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, as a young child I was confused about my heritage. Somehow I got the idea from our Bible stories in Sunday School that Abraham, Isaac and Joseph were my ancestors. Ever since, I have been unabashedly pro-Israel. One of my three best friends is Jewish (the other two are (1) agnostic and (2) Unitarian -- I don't count as a friend my dearest sister-in-law, who is one of the finest Christian women alive -- I consider her to be my sister). My middle daughter is in the process of converting to Judaism. The best boss I ever had and one of the best men I have ever known, is Jewish.

That having been explained, I must say that I am one of many pro-Israel Americans who are absolutely dismayed with the current Israeli leadership. I feel the same way about Sharon, the Likud, Netanyahu, et al, as I do about the Bushies. Polls consistently show that more than two-thirds of Israelis favor retreating from Gaza. Even Mr. Sharon's defense minister calls the Gaza occupation an "historical mistake."

Last night the fam watched the season finale of The West Wing. (Was there EVER a better network television drama?) It was dismaying to see Leo practically advocating the wholesale destruction of the entire Middle East region (excepting Israel, of course). It was especially dismaying because I know this is a case of "art reflecting life." The arrogant, we're-the-only-ones-who-count, revenge-bound attitudes of the Bush/Sharon alliance followers endanger us all, and are no fair reflection upon Judaeo-Christian theology. The God of the Old Testament and the Father that Christ revealed in the New Testament are one and the same. True believers have no business advocating an exclusionary, hate-filled revenge theology -- even in dangerous times. Christians have been instructed not to live as the world would, but to live the teachings of Christ, who only showed anger once: when the money-lenders corrupted the holiness of the Temple. Jesus taught us to do right and trust in God for the results, not to do wrong because the other side does. Anything else demonstrates a LACK of faith.

Tuesday, May 18


Joe Scarborough began this segment of his show last night by quoting Michael Moore: "I oppose the U.N. or anybody else risking their[sic] lives of their citizens to extract us from this debacle.  The majority of Americans supported this war once it began and sadly that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe, just maybe, God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.”

JACK BURKMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  "Let's use the T-word.  This is treason.  Michael Moore is stepping over the line.  Yes, First Amendment, say what you want.  We all cherish it, sure.  But he is now, through this film and his other statements, encouraging Baathists and other rebels to rise up and fire on American troops.  And I think that's actionable...How is that different from providing surface-to-air missiles to the Baathists?"

ERIC ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  "I think that gentleman is seriously deranged...If I were Michael Moore, I would sue that gentleman [ed. note: Burkman]for slander and I would sue MSNBC for slander...But, second of all, isn‘t George Bush encouraging Baathist troops to fire on American troops?  George Bush is the person who put all these American troops into Iraq under false pretenses.  He misled the country.  He misled the world.  There was no terrorist threat from Iraq to this country.  There were no connections to al Qaeda.  There were no nuclear weapons.  There were no weapons of mass destruction."

SCARBOROUGH: "Okay, Eric, fine.  OK, I don‘t want to redebate everything about this war."

ALTERMAN:  "I‘m sure you don‘t.  I‘m sure you don‘t.  I don‘t blame you.  I don‘t blame you, because my side is the side that told the truth.  And your side, the president of the United States, is the side that misled the country."

SCARBOROUGH: "We appreciate both of you being with us tonight.  But Eric‘s wrong."

My family was cheering so loudly for Eric Alterman we couldn't hear some of the exchanges, but Eric really made Joe Scarborough and Jack Burkman look like the fools they are -- or if not fools (and Joe seems much more moderate when he appears on OTHER people's shows), wanton opportunists who care little for the welfare of this country when it conflicts with their ratings and donor levels.

The whole transcript is here. Scroll down to near the end.


From Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall):

As I said earlier this morning, here's the latest update from my friend in Iraq, a retired military intelligence officer, now working as a security contractor in Iraq ...

...About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968. I knew we were finished when I had a soldier point his Squad Automatic Weapons at me and my bodyguard detail for driving down the street when he decided he would cross the street in the middle of rush hour traffic (which was moving at about 70 MPH) ... He made it clear to any and all that he was preparing to shoot drivers who did not stop for his jaunt because speeding cars are "threats."

I also once had a soldier from a squad of Florida National Guard reservists raise weapons and kick the door panel of a clearly marked CPA security vehicle (big American flag in the windshield of a $150,000 armored Land Cruiser) because they wanted us to back away from them so they could change a tire ... as far as they were concerned WE (non-soldiers) were equally the enemy as any Iraqi.

Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.

As a member of a military family who has had several nephews in Iraq, it hurts me to read things like this about our forces. But who can be surprised? The lies and misleading statements by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al and their sycophants in the military hierarchy, have led to this mess, and our kids will pay for it in perpetuity.


Josh Marshall takes on the question: should Kerry be more on the attack?

There's a related line of criticism from Kerry's Democratic partisans. Why is he so silent? With the mix of poor values and incompetent leadership that is at the heart of the Abu Ghraib scandal, why isn't he out there affirmatively making the case against the president?
Now, as I say, the partisan polarization will intensify in the coming months. And that will help the president in many ways, getting some of the attention off him and on to Kerry. But a judgment about the president like the one I've described above, once made, can be hard to unmake. And for the moment, with so many of the president's actions delivering abysmal dividends to the nation he's led, that judgment is being made against the president. So, for the moment, I'm not sure having Kerry give Bush center stage is such a bad thing.

Josh, as always, makes some excellent points. But I'd like to add one more. Like it or not, many Americans who are now questioning the wisdom of Bush's tactics in the wars on terror, the economy, the environment and education, still strongly identify with the guy with the bullhorn on 9/14/01 reassuring the nation and promising a tough response to the terrorists. An attack of the wrong kind is like an insult to those who have supported the president for so long and well. I would counter that John Kerry should be attacking POLICIES, STRATEGIES AND TACTICS, not Bush personally. The Shrub is so incompetent, and has surrounded himself with such incompetents, they will hang themselves.

Kerry's best position is to present himself as "presidential," exhibiting a sorrow, not a pleasure, that the US has been so ill-served by the current administration, and a confidence that he has a "better way." On Iraq, it is impossible (and he should say so) for him to offer an "alternative solution" since the facts on the ground change daily. But as long as he continues to support "staying the course," (and let's hope it won't be long) he should remind American voters that he supported the president on the Iraq resolution and the Patriot Act, Leave No Child Behind, etc., out of a sincere patriotic, bipartisan spirit, but that in all instances the Bush administration has proven to be light on follow-through. He should offer instead an "alternative administration" -- he should form RIGHT NOW a "shadow government" with such independence of special interests, integrity, credentials and credibility that, contrasted with the Bush Cabinet, the American people will respond positively, with hope and a vote in his favor.

So what if some of Bush's long-time supporters can't bring themselves to vote for Kerry? So long as they STAY HOME on election day, we win.


What in the world did we do before Paul Krugman began writing opinion for The New York Times?

But the tone of the cover letter Mr. Bush sent with last week's budget request can best be described as contemptuous: it's up to Congress to "ensure that our men and women in uniform continue to have the resources they need when they need them." This from an administration that, by rejecting warnings from military professionals, ensured that our men and women in uniform didn't have remotely enough resources to do the job.

The budget request itself was almost a caricature of the administration's "just trust us" approach to governing.

It ran to less than a page, with no supporting information. Of the $25 billion, $5 billion is purely a slush fund, to be used at the secretary of defense's discretion.

More detail of the supplemental:

According to the request, the $25 billion would be placed in a fund Bush would control. He could decide how the money would be spent, as long as he informed Congress that his request was "an emergency and essential to support activities and agencies in Iraq or Afghanistan."

So in other words, we're supposed to trust Bush to spend our money, as long as he informs Congress what he is doing with it. But since he has a long history of NOT informing Congress about anything regarding money (see this earlier post, I don't have a real comfort level with that. Congress should demand, as the least condition for passing this supplemental, an accounting of the $79- and $87-billion-dollar supplementary appropriations, especially the $9.8 billion slush fund that Rumsfeld was given to spend pretty much as he pleased. It's pretty nervy of Bush to be running ads misleading the American public that Kerry "voted against" body armor for our troops -- after all, he GOT the money despite Kerry's vote, but some of our troops are STILL without armored vehicles and body armor -- so where did the $87 billion go?

This administration has a problem not only with accountability, but with accounting. But don't believe me, ask Richard Foster or L.E. Brown.

Monday, May 17


The Moral Case Against the Iraq War from The Nation:

As the Iraq war continues into its second year, the Bush Administration's reasons for being there are more indefensible than ever. Prewar claims regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have all proved to be wrong; the number of terrorists in Iraq has increased rather than decreased; more American troops were killed in April than were lost during the entire invasion phase of the war; the systemic and barbarous abuse of Iraqi detainees contradicts the most basic values the Administration claimed it would bring to Iraq; and the uprisings in Falluja and at least half a dozen other cities portend a nationwide insurgency by both Sunnis and Shiites against the US presence. Yet the latest polls--including one conducted after the revelations about the torture of Iraqi prisoners--show that about half of Americans remain convinced that the war was morally justified.
There is no social entity called Iraq that benefited from some self-sacrifice it suffered for its own greater good, like a patient who voluntarily endures some pain to be better off than before. There were only individual human beings living in Iraq before the war, with their individual lives. Sacrificing the lives of some of them for the benefit of others killed them and benefited the others. Nothing more. Each of those Iraqis killed in the war was a separate person, and the unfinished life each of them lost was the only life he or she had, or would ever have. They clearly are not better off now that Saddam is gone from power.

There is only one truly serious question about the morality of the war, and that is the question posed more than fifty years ago by French Nobel laureate Albert Camus, looking back on two world wars that had slaughtered more than 70 million people: When do we have the right to kill our fellow human beings or let them be killed? What is needed is a national debate in the presidential election campaign that addresses the most important moral issue of our time. It is an issue we are required to face not only as a matter of moral obligation to all those Iraqis killed in the war, but to the 772 American servicemen and -women who, as of May 10, had lost their lives and the more than 4,000 US soldiers injured in Iraq.

Sunday, May 16


Republicans have figured out how to keep us safe from the threat of terrorism: drive oil prices rise so high, we won't be able to afford to go anywhere. [Compliments of The Sage]


I've read this four times now, linked from different posts, and since I was dumbfounded, speechless, and wasn't prepared to comment, neglected to post the link. Now I realize that it must be disseminated as widely as possible, so here it is: Rumsfeld approves secret interrogations operation in Iraq

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

You must read the whole article.


Via BuzzFlash -- Despite the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, George W. Bush and his millionaire supporters don't know the meaning of the word shame:

Does it bother you even a little that the personal fortunes of all four Bush brothers, including the president and the governor, were acquired about a half step ahead of the district attorney, and that the royal family of Saudi Arabia invested $1.476 billion in those and other Bush family enterprises? Or, as Paul Krugman points out, that it's much easier to establish links between the Bush and bin Laden families than any between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein.
I don't think it's accurate to describe America as polarized between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives. It's polarized between the people who believe George Bush and the people who do not. Thanks to some contested ballots in a state governed by the president's brother, a once-proud country has been delivered into the hands of liars, thugs, bullies, fanatics and thieves. The world pities or despises us, even as it fears us. What this election will test is the power of money and media to fool us, to obscure the truth and alter the obvious, to hide a great crime against the public trust under a blood-soaked flag. The most lavishly funded, most cynical, most sophisticated political campaign in human history will be out trolling for fools. I pray to God it doesn't catch you.


AARP betrays seniors

For many Democrats, AARP's support for last November's Medicare prescription-drug bill came as a total shock. Not only could the law cause millions of seniors to lose more generous employer and state-coordinated drug benefits while providing only limited help to others; it is a major step toward the Republican Party's goal of privatizing Medicare and decimating employer-based health coverage.

To those few who were really watching closely, however, AARP's actions were not a surprise at all, and the group's conversion was anything but sudden. The story of the Republicans' seduction of AARP unfolded over nearly a decade, as GOP leaders cajoled, seduced, and occasionally threatened the group's leaders into changing their ways and accepting the reality of Republican congressional control. Today, with bad policy already law, the stakes are incredibly high, as regulations to implement the law loom, along with bills to repeal some of its worst aspects. And they will grow higher still if President Bush is re-elected and Republicans can continue toward their ultimate goals. As the battle to preserve Medicare unfolds, Democrats who were surprised by the bill's passage last November should understand a key part of the story, which has not been told, of how it happened.

Possibly the least surprised man in Washington last fall was Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker, who told a Blue Cross conference in 1995 that Medicare as a "government monopoly plan" was going to "wither on the vine" in favor of a Republican-designed "free-market plan," has spent the last nine years manipulating AARP...Gingrich, from the beginning, believed that AARP could be, as one Republican congressional staffer put it to me, "defanged."

Explain to me how any senior citizen with an income not in the six-figures can vote with these people...Mama, that means you...