Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tortured Justice - Further Tales of Crimes of the Bush Adminstration

[CIA Director Gen. Michael] Hayden told agency employees Thursday that the recordings were destroyed out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identities of interrogators. He said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for interrogators using new, harsh methods. President Bush had just authorized those methods as a way to break down the defenses of recalcitrant prisoners.
Clearly, the destruction of the tapes was meant to offer a layer of legal protection, but not for the people who conducted the interrogations, but rather for the person who authorized them.

It is worth remembering that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 already provides legal protection for any "officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States Government who is a United States person, arising out of the officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent's engaging in specific operational practices, that involve detention and interrogation of aliens who the President or his designees have determined are believed to be engaged in or associated with international terrorist activity that poses a serious, continuing threat to the United States, its interests, or its allies, and that were officially authorized and determined to be lawful at the time that they were conducted." While the Military Commissions Act of 2006 extended that to include the period from 9/11 to the enactment of Detainee Treatment Act.

Republicans were mostly mum about the CIA disclosure. McCain, a presidential candidate, said while campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday that he would not side with Democrats' calls for an investigation because he believed the CIA's actions were legal.

"That doesn't mean I like it," McCain added.

"Of course I object to it," he said of the tapes being destroyed. "Right now, our intelligence agencies need credibility and this is not helpful to that."

Reserving judgment on the question of whether the destruction of the tapes itself was legal, McCain is correct in that this surely further erodes the credibility of the CIA and US. But McCain surely misses the point of the investigation called for by Senate Democrats. Dick Durbin "called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to find out 'whether CIA officials who destroyed these videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings violated the law.'" Lying to Congress, specifically to the 9/11 Commission, about the existence of the tapes and then their destruction, it turns out, is clearly illegal. As is lying to a federal judge who, in the 2005 Zacarias Moussaoui case, "ordered the government to disclose whether it had video or audio tapes of specific interrogations."

It's hard not to contrast the breathtaking silence on the Right, and even the relatively low key response of the MSM, to revelation after revelation of law breaking in the current administration to the apoplexy of these same people nine years ago over Clinton's "perjury". Not 20 minutes ago, on CSPAN-2, Newt Gingrich had the cajones to defend, with a straight face, the impeachment of Bill Clinton on the grounds that perjury is a felony and the rule of law must be upheld.

The Bush Administration ordered torture - in violation of US law - lied to Congress about it - in violation of US law - ordered the destruction of the evidence - in violation of US law - and the most outrage any of the Republican presidential hopefuls can come up with is that he "doesn't ... I like it." Pathetic.

And if I may be permitted one last shot:
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Friday that President Bush did not recall being told about the tapes or their destruction. But she could not rule out White House involvement in the decision to destroy the tapes, saying she had only asked the president about it, not others.
These interrogations are supposedly at the epicenter of the so-called "War On Terror"(TM) and Bush claims to not be able to recall whether any record of the interrogations was made. Isn't it amazing how rudderless and independent the US national security apparatus becomes when they do wrong. This on the tail of claims by Bush that he was similarly out of loop on intelligence that Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapons program - until it became public knowledge. And this version of Bush - out of touch and unaware - is the defense that the White House is offering.

Update: Destruction of C.I.A. Tapes Could Alter Prosecutions

The destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes showing interrogations of top operatives of Al Qaeda, including Abu Zubaydah, could complicate the prosecution of Mr. Zubaydah and others, and it underscores the deep uncertainties that have plagued government officials about the interrogation program.

Officials acknowledged on Friday that the destruction of evidence like videotaped interrogations could raise questions about whether the Central Intelligence Agency was seeking to hide evidence of coercion. A review of records in military tribunals indicates that five lower-level detainees at Guantánamo were initially charged with offenses based on information that was provided by or related to Mr. Zubaydah. Lawyers for these detainees could argue that they needed the tapes to determine what, if anything, Mr. Zubaydah had said about them.

While I've no doubt that the RW Noise-o-Sphere will read this as another reason why quaint legal protections such as the right to an attorney are a dangerous luxury "post 9-11", is there any clearer evidence of the corruption of the current administration? Given a choice between prosecuting alleged terrorists and covering their asses, they chose the later.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Governor, You're No Jack Kennedy

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote, where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

JFK, 1960
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.


We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'


And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

WMR, 2007

JFK of course already had his party's nomination and was addressing his comments to the national electorate. He also knew that his base voters in the Democratic party would find his commitment to an "absolute" separation of church and state reassuring.

In contrast, Romney's target audience with smaller. Having positioned himself as a newly reborn religious conservative, his target with his speech was not even the whole of the GOP. The very people that he has chosen to stake his presidential hopes on - right-wing Christian fundamentalists - are uncertain of his Christian fundamentalist bona fides. And so he had to walk a fine line between stoking the sense of entitlement to cultural and political dominance that Christian conservatives have come to expect and a plea for religious tolerance, diversity and plurality.

He chose to do this not by appealing to America's long history of religious freedom and tolerance - although he made the requisite references to same - but rather by trying to redefine the boundaries of a more limited idea for religious liberty. Religious conservatives in America speak often and passionately about religious liberty. But when they do so generally what they mean is simply religious liberty for themselves. So long as everyone in America is free to believe just as religious conservatives believe then the religious conservatives believe that the requirements for religious liberty have been met.

And so Romney set out the schema in which religion was now a requirement for liberty. When Romney said that "any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty has a friend and ally in me", he wasn't so much pledging his alliance with voters of faith as he was asking for their alliance with him. Romney drew a picture in which there were acceptable and non-acceptable orientations towards faith. And he sought to put himself on the "good" side of that divide. On the "bad" side were the secularists, the nonbelievers."They are wrong," he told his audience, and presumably lacking necessary qualities to be free. In offering a new common enemy to Christian conservatives, Romney sought to tell them "I'm with you", at least where it matters. What matters is to be a believer, to the Christian-ish and to join in common cause against those who would deny the rightful upper place in the newly emerging American religious caste system for those who believe not only that their faith guarantees them a privileged place in the afterlife but also in the here and now.

That's Romney's vision of America. What's yours?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bush: I'm Not Corrupt, Just Dangerously Incompetent

Democrats incredulous over Bush's account of Iran report

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden on Tuesday said he can't believe President Bush hasn't known for months about a recent intelligence estimate that downplays the nuclear threat from Iran.

Joe Biden says "he refuses to believe" that Bush didn't know about a new assessment of Iran's nuclear program.

Other Democratic candidates also slammed Bush for continuing to ratchet up the rhetoric against Tehran.

On Tuesday the president acknowledged he had given a speech warning that Iran's nuclear development risked "World War III" about two months after his intelligence chief told him a reassessment of Tehran's nuclear ambitions was under way.

Bush told reporters during a White House news conference that he was not told the details of the new assessment until last week and he said the new report, which found that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003, will not change U.S. policy toward Iran.

"Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said, pointing out that Tehran continues to try to enrich uranium for civilian purposes and therefore develop technology that could be used for a weapon.

"They had the program. They halted the program. It's a warning signal because they could restart it," he said. Video Watch President Bush call Iran 'dangerous' »

Bush told reporters that he was told of "new information" about Iran in August during a briefing by Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

"He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze," the president said. He said he wasn't briefed about the new information until the new intelligence report was prepared last week.

The Democratic presidential candidates were incredulous that Bush did not know about the assessment's new finding.

Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called that explanation "unbelievable."

"Are you telling me a president that's briefed every single morning, who's fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government said they had abandoned their effort for a nuclear weapon in '03?" Biden asked in a conference call with reporters.

"I refuse to believe that," he added. "If that's true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history."


Time and time again the defense that the Bush administration offers against charges of corruption are no better than the charges that they're defending themselves against. We are to either believe that the Bush administration knew that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program but continued to promote war is the only available option for the US to this nonexistent threat.

that the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, the Decider, wasn't in the loop on the most up-to-date intelligence in a matter of vital national security that directly related to the possibility of going to war with another nation that would endanger the lives of Americans, Iranians and many thousands of others throughout the Middle East. And that, while he was enthusiastically speaking of the Iranian nuclear weapons program threat nobody in his administration who knew better came forward to counsel him otherwise. And that he didn't already have in place systems for gathering, assimilating them being briefed on the most critical, up-to-date and relevant intelligence pertaining to one the largest decisions than any president can ever undertake - the decision to go to war. And that he didn't accept personal responsibility for asking for - no, demanding - the best available information.

He either knew and lied. Or he didn't care to know. I'm honestly not sure which is worse.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts

Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts

Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.

But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

In Malawi itself, the prevalence of acute child hunger has fallen sharply.

Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.

Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices.

The country’s successful use of subsidies is contributing to a broader reappraisal of the crucial role of agriculture in alleviating poverty in Africa and the pivotal importance of public investments in the basics of a farm economy: fertilizer, improved seed, farmer education, credit and agricultural research.

Malawi, an overwhelmingly rural nation about the size of Pennsylvania, is an extreme example of what happens when those things are missing. As its population has grown and inherited landholdings have shrunk, impoverished farmers have planted every inch of ground. Desperate to feed their families, they could not afford to let their land lie fallow or to fertilize it. Over time, their depleted plots yielded less food and the farmers fell deeper into poverty.

Malawi’s leaders have long favored fertilizer subsidies, but they reluctantly acceded to donor prescriptions, often shaped by foreign-aid fashions in Washington, that featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention.

In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, the World Bank pushed Malawi to eliminate fertilizer subsidies entirely. Its theory both times was that Malawi’s farmers should shift to growing cash crops for export and use the foreign exchange earnings to import food, according to Jane Harrigan, an economist at the University of London.

In a withering evaluation of the World Bank’s record on African agriculture, the bank’s own internal watchdog concluded in October not only that the removal of subsidies had led to exorbitant fertilizer prices in African countries, but that the bank itself had often failed to recognize that improving Africa’s declining soil quality was essential to lifting food production.

Here in Malawi, deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 billion metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 billion in 2007 from 1.2 billion in 2005, the government reported.

Malawi’s determination to heavily subsidize fertilizer and the payoff in increased production are beginning to change the attitudes of donors, say economists who have studied Malawi’s experience.

The Department for International Development in Britain contributed $8 million to the subsidy program last year. Bernabé Sánchez, an economist with the agency in Malawi, estimated the extra corn produced because of the $74 million subsidy was worth $120 million to $140 million.

The United States, which has shipped $147 million worth of American food to Malawi as emergency relief since 2002, but only $53 million to help Malawi grow its own food, has not provided any financial support for the subsidy program, except for helping pay for the evaluation of it. Over the years, the United States Agency for International Development has focused on promoting the role of the private sector in delivering fertilizer and seed, and saw subsidies as undermining that effort.

For me the key sentence is "Malawi’s leaders have long favored fertilizer subsidies, but they reluctantly acceded to donor prescriptions, often shaped by foreign-aid fashions in Washington, that featured a faith in private markets and an antipathy to government intervention." And yet despite evidence to the contrary the World Bank, the IMF and the US government are still committed to their faith in the "Free Market™". The belief is that by allowing "Market Forces™" to work in an unfettered in unregulated manner all good things in the universe can be achieved in sunshine and happiness will reign throughout our days. Or if not exactly that, the "Free Market™" is supposed to mediate all preferences, settle on the best and lowest prices, produce innovation and efficiency, reward the industrious and increase the general well-being of all.

The World Bank and IMF prescriptions for African nations and other nations in the developing world lay bare what the Right really mean when they talk about the "Free Market™". What they really mean is removing all meaningful regulation or governance of capital, essentially freeing it in any accountability to the state, while continuing to hold people, both in their roles as consumers and labor, fully captive to the same governmental forces which the Right does not hesitate to use to enforce the obligations that individuals have to capital.

That the failed "Free Market™" policies of the Right continue to dominate not only US government policy but also orthodox economic discourse stems from the fact that this orthodoxy really is a belief system and not a set of policies grounded in empirical evidence. It's a belief system that tells a self-contained story that is self reinforcing self justifying.

In a recent Nation article, Naomi Klein picks a similar point in regards to Latin America.

For the past thirty-five years in Latin America, ... shocks from outside have served to create the political conditions required to justify the imposition of "shock therapy"--the constellation of corporate-friendly "emergency" economic measures like large-scale privatizations and deep cuts to social spending that debilitate the state in the name of free markets. In one of his most influential essays, the late economist Milton Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism's core tactical nostrum, what I call the shock doctrine. He observed that "only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." Latin America has always been the prime laboratory for this doctrine.

In Latin America today, however, new crises are being repelled and old shocks are wearing off--a combination of trends that is making the continent not only more resilient in the face of change but also a model for a future far more resistant to the shock doctrine.

And as people shed the collective fear that was first instilled with tanks and cattle prods, with sudden flights of capital and brutal cutbacks, many are demanding more democracy and more control over markets. These demands represent the greatest threat to Friedman's legacy because they challenge his central claim: that capitalism and freedom are part of the same indivisible project.

The new leaders in Latin America are ... becoming better prepared for the kinds of shocks produced by volatile markets. One of the most destabilizing forces of recent decades has been the speed with which capital can pick up and move, or how a sudden drop in commodity prices can devastate an entire agricultural sector. But in much of Latin America these shocks have already happened, leaving behind ghostly industrial suburbs and huge stretches of fallow farmland. The task of the region's new left, therefore, has become a matter of taking the detritus of globalization and putting it back to work. In Brazil, the phenomenon is best seen in the million and a half farmers of the Landless Peoples Movement (MST), who have formed hundreds of cooperatives to reclaim unused land. In Argentina, it is clearest in the movement of "recovered companies," 200 bankrupt businesses that have been resuscitated by their workers, who have turned them into democratically run cooperatives. For the cooperatives, there is no fear of facing an economic shock of investors leaving, because the investors have already left.

Latin America's most significant protection from future shocks (and therefore from the shock doctrine) flows from the continent's emerging independence from Washington's financial institutions, the result of greater integration among regional governments. The Bolivian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is the continent's retort to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the now-buried corporatist dream of a free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Though ALBA is still in its early stages, Emir Sader, a Brazil-based sociologist, describes its promise as "a perfect example of genuinely fair trade: each country provides what it is best placed to produce, in return for what it most needs, independent of global market prices." So Bolivia provides gas at stable discounted prices; Venezuela offers heavily subsidized oil to poorer countries and shares expertise in developing reserves; and Cuba sends thousands of doctors to deliver free healthcare all over the continent, while training students from other countries at its medical schools.

Now that they can turn elsewhere for help, governments throughout the region are shunning the IMF, with dramatic consequences. Brazil, so long shackled to Washington by its enormous debt, is refusing to enter into a new agreement with the fund. Venezuela is considering withdrawing from the IMF and the World Bank, and even Argentina, Washington's former "model pupil," has been part of the trend. In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Néstor Kirchner (since succeeded by his wife, Christina) said that the country's foreign creditors had told him, "'You must have an agreement with the International Fund to be able to pay the debt.' We say to them, 'Sirs, we are sovereign. We want to pay the debt, but no way in hell are we going to make an agreement again with the IMF.'" As a result, the IMF, supremely powerful in the 1980s and '90s, is no longer a force on the continent. In 2005 Latin America made up 80 percent of the IMF's total lending portfolio; the continent now represents just 1 percent--a sea change in only two years.

The transformation reaches beyond Latin America. In just three years, the IMF's worldwide lending portfolio had shrunk from $81 billion to $11.8 billion, with almost all of that going to Turkey. The IMF, a pariah in countries where it has treated crises as profit-making opportunities, is withering away.

And not moment too soon. Latin America has turned away and failed policies of neoliberalism and the cycle of dependency it produces. Developing countries borrow money from the IMF and World Bank with long strings attached that turn them into virtual puppets of their lenders. In exchange for loans which must be repaid the nations are forced to adopt policies which favor international capital, allowing capital to essentially drain all benefit from investment from the nation, leaving the people of the nation holding a large debt and no better off than they were, much less with any capacity to repay the debt, thus forcing them to borrow more and repeating the cycle. Latin America's experience shows that this dependency produces a vulnerability. Precisely because capital is not accountable to governments, but governments in developing nations are dependent upon, in this system, capital, capital can pull out at any time if their will is not obeyed.

Latin American governments have come to realize that if they are to reassert their sovereignty they need to free themselves from the depredations of the World Bank and the IMF and their neoliberal theocracy.

It is heartening to see the same process began on the African continent.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pottery Barn Rule: Iraq's isn't the only government the war has broken.

For their current cover story Mother Jones Magazine has invited 50 experts from generals to antiwar activists to comment on questions of when and how to exit Iraq. The results are interesting largely because there is no clear consensus. The people asked had opinions ranging from 'get out now' to 'we can never leave'. Predictions about what would happen when we exited ranged from 'they'll work it out somehow' to 'apocalypse now'. What is clear, however, is that there are no clear answers. Anyone looking for an easy out or an easy solution is looking for something that just doesn't exist. For anyone paying attention the reason should be self-evident. It may be the case that if we 'broke it' we 'bought it', but is also the case that we broke it. That is, actions have consequences. The fact that the Bush administration launched this ill-advised and illegal war and the fact that they handled it sold poorly over the past five years simply can't be undone by a few thousand extra troops or any period of time or any amount of money.

But it's just as wrong to imagine that withdrawing all the troops immediately will have the salutary effects that staying the course hasn't. It simply isn't true that merely doing the opposite of what's failing will succeed. Yes, of course, it is the case with the continued American occupation is in itself fueling the insurgency. But to go from that to saying that withdrawing all troops immediately will remove the only impetus for the conflicts within Iraq relies on new less simple a model of Iraq and then the 'they hate us for our freedoms' analysis or the idea that the Iraqis will naturally strive towards something like American-style democracy if only we given the breathing space to do so. However damaging the hopes for the future of the Iraqi people that the sense of being occupied by a foreign occupier may be having, other dynamics have been released by the fall of Saddam Hussein that have nothing whatsoever to do with America or the occupation. Simply put, there is no way to simply put the dynamics at play in Iraq today or to easily say what the best way to withdraw is or what will likely happen in any of those scenarios.

This hasn't stopped any of our politicians on either side of the aisle from falling into the same familiar traps and lazy intellectual shorthand that has characterized what passes for debate over our Iraq policy from its misbegotten inception. Witness this morning the performance of John McCain on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I counted about three times, but there may have been more, than McCain repeated what is sure to be the new Republican talking point. "Six months ago the Democrats were saying the surge could not work militarily." McCain didn't name the these miscreant Democrats. And I'm not sure exactly who was saying that it wasn't possible for the military to establish some greater amount of security in Iraq. To my knowledge, most of the critics of The Surge™ acknowledged that, with enough people, enough time, enough violence, enough force and enough money, some measure of greater security could be achieved in Iraq. But then what? The argument for the beginning has been not that the military couldn't succeed in military objectives, but rather that there isn't a military solution to the complex set of problems facing the Iraqi people today. Even the President acknowledged when he introduced The Surge™ that increased security was merely the precondition for the real work that needed to be done in Iraq. That work is political and social and economic in nature. And it's exactly that work that has never been attempted by the current administration.

This is not, however, stop John McCain from using 'progress' on the military front to launch a new round of right-wing triumphalism and launch a new round of partisan attacks against the Democrats. For their own part, the Democrats demonstrated their continued tone deafness to the launching of right-wing talking points in the form of a lackluster performance by New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson. Richardson demonstrated once again why it is, despite being one of the most antiwar of the presidential candidates, that his campaign just can't seem to catch fire. Rather than picking up on and directly challenging McCain's assertion that the Democrats predicted that the surge could not possibly succeed militarily and turning the table on McCain by pointing out how wrong he was in supporting the war in the first place, Richardson played into McCain's framing. This allowed the talking heads in the following segment to repeat the charge that the Democrats just don't seem to be able to welcome good news in Iraq.

To be fair, the box of the Democrats find themselves in is not entirely of their own creation. The American people are of two minds when it comes to getting out of Iraq. They want out. But at the same time they also don't want to lose. In fact, they want out because of their sense that we are currently losing. This opens the door for someone to come along to promise a plausible path to victory. Not that the America people aren't skeptical at this moment about such promises, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that they aren't persuadable. When it comes to withdrawing, they do want to start bringing our troops home sooner rather than later. But they want to do so in an orderly fashion. In 2006 they elected a Congress with a mandate to do the one thing that Congress can't do, and that is the planned, phased withdrawal coupled with an internationalizing of the peacekeeping operations in Iraq. Congress is the left with very few bows in their quiver. This is not the least the case because of the power grab of the Bush administration over the past six years. It turns out that those Checks and Balances that those whiny liberals have been bellyaching about actually matter. And now that they've eroded Congress has considerably less power to do the things that the American people now find they want them to. It also turns out that ending a war is a lot more difficult than starting one. Which is another point that those whiny liberals tried to make before we started it.

So it seems likely that we will continue our occupation of Iraq more or less at its present level, minus the drawdown that was part of the plan for The Surge™ from the very start. The Bush administration simply is not equipped to do anything differently. If by some miracle the common sense faerie sprinkled wisdom and insight over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, the Bush administration also doesn't possess the political capital to pull off the thing the American people would like them to. In Iraq and internationally the Bushies are spent. And the one thing that Congress can do to start to bring the troops home, which is to cut off funding, is the one thing the American people don't want them to do. Just like in Iraq, actions have consequences and dynamics have been unleashed that can't be easily and done. Just like in Iraq, our current political situation does not allow for the easy answers that partisans on both sides seem to think are available to them.

Yes, Iraq is broken. But so too is the American political system. And sadly, nothing short of regime change will be able to fix that.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

McClellan and the Government-Media Echo Chamber

The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the President himself.

And so reads, in it's entirety, a brief excerpt from Scott McClellan's upcoming book, What Happened: Inside the Bush Whitehouse and What's Wrong With Washington, due out in April from PublicAffairs Books.

The MSM covered but largely buried the admission from Bush's former press secretary that Bush was "involved" in passing along "false information" regarding who was involved in the outing of Valarie Plame as a covert CIA agent.

The progressive media, however, was all over it. Demanding impeachment. Demanding to know why the MSM wasn't covering the story more prominently. This was the smoking gun that came in the form of a confession from a former high level Whitehouse official.

The Whitehouse itself in response demurred, "The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information." And an editor for the publisher downplayed the meaning of the excerpt.
Peter Osnos, editor at large of Public Affairs Books, said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening that McClellan doesn't believe Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby's and Rove's involvement.

"He told him something that wasn't true, but the president didn't know it wasn't true," Osnos said.

So is it much ado about nothing?

As usual the Whitehouse denial isn't much better than the thing they're denying. The President was out of touch and out of control, unaware of what his top aide, his Vice President and the VP's top aide were doing when it came to committing treason - and unwilling to accept responsibility for what comes out of his administration unless you can prove incontrovertibly that The Decider was directly involved.

Whether Bush knew or didn't that Rove, Libby and Cheney had committed a crime, Bush is still responsible for the actions of his administration. Even if it were true that Bush didn't know then, he knows now. To date, no one involved has been held to account. Libby came close, but Bush's one decisive action in the whole affair was to quickly ensure that this one brush with accountability was averted. And whether Bush was actively involved in the cover up or passively avoiding uncovering the truth, the Decider in Chief failed at an essential test of leadership. He vowed that "if there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." There was a leak. It did break the law. Take care of it already.

I will, however, admit that McClellan's teaser in itself is not enough to warrant the apoplexy it received from some quarters on the Left. The normally sensible Thom Hartmann devoted much of his Thanksgiving show to importance of McClellan's revelation and demands that the "corporate media" cover the story with more prominence.

By way of comparison, I still have vivid memories of press coverage of the first minor leaks from the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky case. With far less to go on than is available in the present instance, all of the networks and the 24/7 cable news outlets declared that the Presidency was In Crisis - complete with splashy graphics and round the clock speculation.

Perhaps more than shedding light on corruption and deceit in the Bush Whitehouse, the reactions to McClellan's statement sheds light on the differing attitudes the Left and the Right have toward and expectations they have for the press. I have zero doubt that had the entire matter played out exactly the same excepting the parties of those involved were reversed, the MSM would have all over the story. More splashy graphics. More unwarranted speculation.

But that isn't based on a belief that the MSM is somehow inherently biased toward Republicans. Rather it's based on the belief that Republicans are just better at playing the MSM game. The MSM has a problem with news or information that seems to clearly favor one political party over the other. Covering the news straight might make them seem biased, un-"balanced". The Right knows this. They know that if the GOP leadership and the RW Noise Machine, in concert, raise a fuss over any event, no matter how unfounded, the MSM will feel obliged to cover it. The Right has figured out that the work-around for this problem that the MSM has adopted is that so as they are merely repeating someone else's partisan attacks that they, the MSM, cannot be accused of bias.

In contrast, as evidenced by the expectations expressed by Thom Hartmann that the MSM cover the McClellan story simply because of it's significance, the Left still seems to think that the MSM ought to practice journalism. How very quaint.

The MSM didn't run with this story simply because Pelosi, Reid, Clinton, et al failed to irresponsibly seize on McClellan's tidbit and loudly and indignantly renew demands for impeachment.

Headlines such as Former Press Secretary Points Finger at Bush, Cheney for Deceit in CIA Leak Scandal are about as far as they can go. Heck, they're just saying what the guy said. The MSM relies entirely on someone else to do the heavy lifting of making a case for the significance of the story.

Not unlike Bush, the MSM has responded to the illegal outing of an undercover CIA agent with complete passivity. Both the government and press have their own ethical obligations to actively seek truth and justice. And neither are willing to accept the responsibility.

For that matter, McClellan's statement too reads less like an accusation and more like a denial of responsibility in itself.

Heck, they all say, I just repeated what I was told. So if everyone is just repeating the claims of others, and no one will accept responsibility for uncovering the truth...

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Conservatives Seek Government Intervention to Correct Market Failure

OR - Sweet Delicious Irony

Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.

In a suit filed in United States District Court in Washington yesterday, the authors ... state that Eagle Publishing, which owns Regnery, “orchestrates and participates in a fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets and to wholly owned subsidiary organizations within the Eagle conglomerate.”


The authors argue that in reducing royalty payments, the publisher is maximizing its profits and the profits of its parent company at their expense.

“They’ve structured their business essentially as a scam and are defrauding their writers,” Mr. Miniter said in an interview, “causing a tremendous rift inside the conservative community.”


In Regnery’s case, according to the lawsuit, the publisher sells books to sister companies, including the Conservative Book Club, which then sells the books to members at discounted prices, “at, below or only marginally above its own cost of publication.” In the lawsuit the authors say they receive “little or no royalty” on these sales because their contracts specify that the publisher pays only 10 percent of the amount received by the publisher, minus costs — as opposed to 15 percent of the cover price — for the book.

So, to review, these arch-conservatives entered into a voluntary contract with a publisher and then when the publisher acted as they were entitled to within the contract, the conservative authors turned to Big Government, in the form of the court system, to help them out.

Hey. I thought that The Market could fix everything. If a publisher like Regnery underpays its authors, then the authors will prefer to publish elsewhere and Regnery will be forced to pay more due to Market Forces. Right?

But apparently these workers aren't content to allow The Market works it magic. Apparently, the author of “Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror.” discovered, at least in his own case, that the process is imperfect and people get hurt along the way and doesn't always work anyway - and sometimes Government needs to intervene to make corporations behave.


Who knew?

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