Saturday, December 31, 2005

A New Year Always Has Possibilities

Even in ruin, the mere presence of words has the power to move.

Found in the Arizona desert, early 1990s. By Bob Tyson

A Wish for the New Year

Nine-tens of wisdom consists in being wise in time.
—Theodore Roosevelt
May this be the year some measure of wisdom returns to Washington.

Former Counsel to the President Writes on Impeachment

John Dean, former counsel to the president during the Nixon Administration writes a regular column for FindLaw and first mentioned the 'I' word in June 2003. In his latest column, he speaks of impeachment in terms of the latest revelations of warrantless spying on Americans:
There can be no serious question that warrantless wiretapping, in violation of the law, is impeachable. After all, Nixon was charged in Article II of his bill of impeachment with illegal wiretapping for what he, too, claimed were national security reasons.

These parallel violations underscore the continuing, disturbing parallels between this Administration and the Nixon Administration - parallels I also discussed in a prior column.

Indeed, here, Bush may have outdone Nixon: Nixon's illegal surveillance was limited; Bush's, it is developing, may be extraordinarily broad in scope. First reports indicated that NSA was only monitoring foreign calls, originating either in the USA or abroad, and that no more than 500 calls were being covered at any given time. But later reports have suggested that NSA is "data mining" literally millions of calls - and has been given access by the telecommunications companies to "switching" stations through which foreign communications traffic flows.
Just recently, former senator, Tom Daschle, reminded us that Congress rejected Bush's call for broad spying powers within the US back in late 2001. Bush appears to have bypassed Congress, the body that makes the law in our country. It appears Bush has boundary issues.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Some History

My great-grandfather was born in Scotland, came to California around the horn, grew up in San Francisco and then joined relatives settling in the Central Valley. In the summer of 1877, after the snow melted, he borrowed a donkey from his brother-in-law and took a large flock of sheep up into the Sierras to graze. Along with the money he earned, he borrowed some more, bought land, joined others in building the community irrigation canal, built his home from wood he brought down from the Sierras and became a farmer and rancher in the San Joaquin.

In 1901 or thereabouts he bought a Stanley Steamer, and saw the coming of planes, movies and radios. He believed in education and sent several of his children to college in an era when that was rare. He lived long enough to learn about concentration camps and atomic bombs and wondered what it was all about. He was curious about everything and wanted to know where things were going. It's in that spirit that this blog is written.

Pictures of New Orleans 3 Months Later

Stuart Saniford of The Oil Drum shares pictures of New Orleans three months later. Will Bush keep his promises?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Coleen Rowley Writes on Latest 9/11 Spin

Before 9/11, John Ashcroft did not want to hear about terrorism and Bush, while on vacation in Crawford, refused to act on the August 6, 2001 memo on al Qaida. But the latest spin by Republicans is that Bush's warrantless NSA spying program might have prevented the attacks.

Coleen Rowley, who tried to bring Moussaoui to the attention of her higher-ups in Washington but was ignored and eventually testified before Congress to expose the failure to investigate Moussaoui, writes in The Agonist to expose the latest spin and fallacies:
This last week, we learned President Bush secretly ordered the National Security Agency to conduct a domestic spy program that entails no judicial oversight. In defense of this controversial program, a number of Republicans rely upon the case of Zacarias Moussaoui as justification for Bush's attack on our privacy and civil liberties.

Moussaoui is the only individual to be charged in connection with the 9-11 attacks and has pled guilty but is fighting the death penalty. He contends that he was not directly involved with the attacks on 9-11 but was instead to participate in a second-wave attack. He awaits a "death penalty phase" hearing. Although detained on immigration charges since August 16, 2001, the FBI failed to sufficiently investigate Moussaoui pre 9-11. If searches of his personal effects and laptop had been authorized, Moussaoui's connections to the 9-11 hijackings may have emerged and it is possible that 9-11 could have been prevented.

Republican commentators such as William Kristol and Rush Limbaugh claim FISA procedures, and the legal impediments they impose, prevented FBI agents from acting. Consequently, they maintain President Bush is justified in abrogating FISA law to order the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans.

As legal counsel to the Minneapolis FBI Division and witness to the entire Moussaoui case, I can tell you that these assertions are not just factually wrong, they miss the real problems that existed within our intelligence gathering superstructure. I wrote a 13 page memo and testified before Congress on these very failures. Yet, some individuals continue to misapply and misrepresent what I said.
Be sure to read the rest.

If Ms. Rowley, who was in a position to know, is correct, then what we are hearing from Republicans defending the White House is a lie obscuring the incompetence that existed before 9/11 by trying to justify illegal activity. Sounds like a trifecta.

Growing Concerns about Russia

There are worrying signs that five years of cowboy diplomacy on the part of President Bush and the lack of a real energy policy could be putting the United States in a difficult situation. There are consequences to our adventure in Iraq and the damage that has occurred to our nation's credibility. It's useful to remember that credibility has two dimensions: the value of one's word and the competence to get things done. With the exception of the current civilian leadership at the Pentagon, I respect the competence of our military. But when it comes to a nuclear power like Russia, the competence that matters has to reside in the White House and that competence requires leadership and diplomacy.

Here's a disturbing story about Russia using oil as an economic weapon against the Ukraine:
PICTURE the families shivering in apartments without heating, factories grinding to a halt, frozen water pipes bursting in the depths of winter. Welcome to the new Cold War.

At 10am on Sunday, Russia is threatening to unleash the most powerful weapon in its post-Soviet arsenal: unless Ukraine agrees to a fourfold increase in the price it pays for gas, Russia will simply turn off the tap.

Nor is it just Ukraine under threat — the EU imports about half of its gas from Russia and 80 per cent of that comes through Ukrainian pipelines.

So when President Putin met Ivan Plachkov, the Ukrainian Energy Minister, in Moscow yesterday, there was more at stake than relations between the neighbouring states. Analysts fear the dispute could provide a foretaste of how Russia will use its massive oil and gas reserves as a foreign policy tool in future disputes with the West.
Our leadership position in the world is not the same that it was six years ago nor the same that it has been since World War II. That position has eroded. Already, there have been consequences of that erosion. Maybe our leadership position in the world has been undeserved at times but it is unlikely that much of the world would look forward to Russia or China assuming that leadership without at least the moderating effect that the better qualities of the United States can have.

It is said that a president can only take on so many issues at a time. It may be time for Bush to wrap up his adventure in Iraq as best he can and start focusing on the changing foreign policy implications in Asia.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Iraq

Juan Cole, a respected expert on the Middle East, is always worth reading. Here, in Informed Comment, he clears up what he considers the top ten myths about Iraq:
Iraq has unfortunately become a football in the rough and ready, two-party American political arena, generating large numbers of sound bites and so much spin you could clothe all of China in the resulting threads.

Here are what I think are the top ten myths about Iraq, that one sees in print or on television in the United States.

1. The guerrilla war is being waged only in four provinces. This canard is trotted out by everyone from think tank flacks to US generals, and it is shameful. Iraq has 18 provinces, but some of them are lightly populated. The most populous province is Baghdad, which has some 6 million residents, or nearly one-fourth of the entire population of the country. It also contains the capital. It is one of the four being mentioned!. Another of the four, Ninevah province, has a population of some 1.8 million and contains Mosul, a city of over a million and the country's third largest! It is not clear what other two provinces are being referred to, but they are probably Salahuddin and Anbar provinces, other big centers of guerrilla activity, bringing the total for the "only four provinces" to something like 10 million of Iraq's 26 million people.

But the "four provinces" allegation is misleading on another level. It is simply false. Guerrilla attacks occur routinely beyong the confines of Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninevah and Baghdad. Diyala province is a big center of the guerrilla movement and has witnessed thousands of deaths in the ongoing unconventional war. Babil province just south of Baghdad is a major center of back alley warfare between Sunnis and Shiites and attacks on Coalition troops. Attacks, assassinations and bombings are routine in Kirkuk province in the north, a volatile mixture of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs engaged in a subterranean battle for dominance of the area's oil fields. So that is 7 provinces, and certainly half the population of the country lives in these 7, which are daily affected by the ongoing violence. It is true that violence is rare in the 3 northern provinces of the Kurdistan confederacy. And the Shiite south is much less violent than the 7 provinces of the center-north, on a good day. But some of this calm in the south is an illusion deriving from poor on the ground reporting. It appears to be the case that British troops are engaged in an ongoing struggle with guerrilla forces of the Marsh Arabs in Maysan Province. Even calm is not always a good sign. The southern port city of Basra appears to come by its via a reign of terror by Shiite religious militias.
As always, read the rest for the full story.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

That White Moustache at the UN

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note will be keeping an eye on John Bolton and that famous mustache:
I don't have much time to write about this now, but TWN -- which was keenly focused on blocking John Bolton's confirmation as Ambassador to the United Nations -- will be launching a "Bolton Watch" division of The Washington Note in early 2006.

I have been keeping my powder dry on Bolton and decided some time ago to give Bolton time to prove his critics, and me, wrong about the fundamental reasons we opposed him.

He started off politely on the surface, but underneath, he's done a great deal to harm America's foreign policy portfolio, and his crusades in the name of U.N. reform are actually designed to undermine any chance of achieving reasonable and serious reform.

Because Bolton was not confirmed by the Senate, his days at the U.N. are numbered -- but those days and his work during them need to have a more consistent monitor.

Martin Luther King on War

In a speech, Senator Barbara Boxer reminds us of these words (via Deborah White of usliberals):
In 1968, Martin Luther King told us: “If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess … strength without sight.”

Dr. King was talking about ending the Vietnam War. But 40 years later, his warning is increasingly relevant to the Iraq war.

Strength without sight has now led us into a war based on mistaken intelligence, and down a thorny path of pain for too long.

And none of us can afford to be silent, because as Martin Luther King also said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Monday, December 26, 2005

Senator Byrd on George W. Bush

Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia had a very different childhood than George W. Bush. His mother died when he was one and he was raised by his aunt and uncle. He came of age in the Great Depression; there was no money for college and he had several jobs before entering politics. While serving in Washington, he went to night classes for ten years and eventually earned a law degree. He made mistakes in his life but corrected those mistakes. He made himself an expert on the rules and history of the Senate. It has been said there is no one presently serving in Congress who knows more about the US Constitution than he does.

Senator Byrd has known ten presidents from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. He understands the responsibilities of Congress and the reasons why the writers of the US Constitution crafted the checks and balances that we have known to this point. He believes this is a nation of laws and that the US Constitution is currently under stress. It would be fair to say that he finds George W. Bush wanting.

Truthout is carrying one of Senator Byrd's latest statements. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Senator Byrd: No President Is Above the Law
t r u t h o u t | Statement

Monday 19 December 2005

Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting pattern of abuse against our Country's law-abiding citizens, and against our Constitution.

We have been stunned to hear reports about the Pentagon gathering information and creating databases to spy on ordinary Americans whose only sin is choosing to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Those Americans who choose to question the Administration's flawed policy in Iraq are labeled by this Administration as "domestic terrorists."

We now know that the F.B.I.'s use of National Security Letters on American citizens has increased one hundred fold, requiring tens of thousands of individuals to turn over personal information and records. These letters are issued without prior judicial review, and provide no real means for an individual to challenge a permanent gag order.

Through news reports, we have been shocked to learn of the CIA's practice of rendition, and the so-called "black sites," secret locations in foreign countries where abuse and interrogation have been exported to escape the reach of U.S. laws protecting against human rights abuses.

We know that Vice President Dick Cheney has asked for exemptions for the CIA from the language contained in the McCain torture amendment banning cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Thank God his pleas have been rejected by this Congress.

Now comes the stomach-churning revelation that through an executive order, President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government - the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people - by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Doodles by Kafka

Sleepy Kid has some really interesting doodles or drawings that were found in the margins of Kafka's notebooks. What immediately jumps out at me is that, well, they're Kafkaesque.

The Reality of Bush's Falling Numbers

For the last week, I've been browsing a number of blogs I haven't read before, including quite a few that consider themselves moderates or simply in the middle. It's clear that Bush's critics aren't just liberals though his most devoted supporters would have people think otherwise. Americans are bewildered by the failures that involve Iraq, Katrina, gas prices, stagnant wages, intelligence gathering, torture and so on. Across the political spectrum people are hardly unanimous on these issues but, for those conservatives, moderates and liberals who are paying attention and know a thing or two of how our government is supposed to function, the discontent with Bush's performance is deepening even if the poll numbers have stopped falling. The evidence simply grows that the nation has a problem and it can be traced to the Oval Office.

From self-described moderate Always Question comes one example of the discontent. I chose this quote because of its concise accuracy:
While I have the soapbox out, Mr. Bush did not take us to war in Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence. He took us to war in Iraq on the basis of manipulated intelligence, and he damn well knew it.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Third Christmas of the Iraq War

My father served in World War II but I never learned much about his service. All I knew in my early years is that a couple of his lifelong friends who also served told me separately that he had seen more than he should have and that I should be proud of him. But that's true of most men and now even women who serve in battle zones. They do their job the best way they know how. I learned a few more facts over the years about my father's service but I'll save that for another time.

You would never know that my father served in the war but that's true too of many who have come back home. In his later life, he did very well in business, but the early days after coming home from the war meant long hours of work and struggle and tight budgets and the common worries of supporting a family in a changed world.

My mother was very happy to have my father back home though he came home too late to enjoy the first Christmas after the war. In 1946, my mother insisted that all the local relatives who could come were invited for Christmas. Our place then was small but twelve of our relatives came that first Christmas. By 1952, the number of people in the house for Christmas was around twenty or so. It was mayhem and wonderful.

Pine needles and cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate were among the smells but for some reason, the smells I remember most are the large cigar of a great uncle and the pipe of one of my grandfathers. Many people have memories like these and they are worth having.

By the simpler standards of the 1950s, my mother always went all out with Christmas decorations but her way was to use one dollar to create a decoration that would have cost five dollars. We always had a full-size Christmas tree of some sort, but my favorite decoration was a miniature Christmas tree behind the dinner table on a mantle. Just after the war, when money was tight, my mother broke off the dead branch of an orange tree and had my father saw off the end cleanly and mount the branch upright on a square piece of plywood, 15 inches on a side. She then spray-painted the tree white, put a swath of cotton and glitter around the base for snow, and year after year she decorated the tree with miniature Christmas bulbs.

I always wondered where those bulbs came from. From the beginning of my memory, the boxes for the bulbs looked old and for a while I thought they were family heirlooms from older relatives. I learned later from my mother that she had gotten them when my father went to officer's training school and she had gone with him and the two of them had lived off base in a room smaller than some people's main bathroom these days. She had cut from green cloth the shape of a Christmas tree and used cellophane to tape the tree to the one window, then had used pins to hang the bulbs. She didn't remember exactly where she had gotten the bulbs but suspects she had gotten them cheap from a five and dime store. The newer decoration made from the broken branch survived several moves and lasted for more than forty years.

Christmas meant a lot to our family but it probably meant the most to my father. There's a lesson here and I wish this were just a story. But the world is complicated and life doesn't always make sense. My father almost never went to church. It was strange attending church and not seeing your father. Every few years, he would attend an Easter sunrise for reasons I don't fully understand. In time I realized he was not a believer. He never imposed his beliefs on the rest of us.

His parents had been believers. He had attended church in his youth. He had been married in a church. But something had happened in the war and his beliefs had changed. Some who come back from war become more religious. Some become angry at the universe. My father chose to go on, without belief, but to allow others their beliefs, and to live his life as best he could as a father and husband, as a conservative Republican businessman, as a man who had paid a terrible price while serving his country, who had kept it all within himself while that too exacted a price. And yet, after the war, for whatever reason, Christmas remained important to my father.

In my life, I have met Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Sikhs and even one Zoroastrian. I mentioned a lesson in all this and it's terribly simple: lessons are personal—there are a lot of good people I would never have met and known if my father had not taught me to allow others their beliefs.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And may there be peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Barron's Editorial on Bush

I wasn't going to post today but Eschaton (who found it in The Big Picture) noticed this editorial from Barron's that discusses the question of Bush's impeachment over the president's refusal to get warrants as is required by the second admendment of the Constitution and his feeble attempts to claim he has the authority to ignore the Constitutional requirement on warrants. This paragraph in Barron's has one of the better summaries of Bush's problem on the spying issue:
Surely the "strict constructionists" on the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary eventually will point out what a stretch this is. The most important presidential responsibility under Article II is that he must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That includes following the requirements of laws that limit executive power. There's not much fidelity in an executive who debates and lobbies Congress to shape a law to his liking and then goes beyond its writ.
Barron's is not exactly a liberal rag. Let me say something obvious that needs to be said anyway: not all conservatives think alike. A growing number of conservatives are becoming concerned about Bush's curious interpretation of how much authority he has as president and which laws apply or don't apply to him.

Blogging note: I won't be back until Monday but Poechewe may have a post tonight or tomorrow sometime. I look forward to seeing it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Year of Cognitive Dissonance

The blogger, Respectful of Otters, doesn't post all the time, but I missed the last of her series on Hurricane Katrina:
Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable collision of two or more contradictory beliefs. It usually results in (unconscious) efforts to reduce the discomfort by modifying one's appraisal of the situation. The classic example is a smoker resolving the dissonance between "I want to live" and "I smoke cigarettes" by downplaying the health risks of smoking or deciding that old age isn't worth living through anyway.

Cognitive dissonance gets particularly ugly when reality collides with the just world hypothesis, the belief that "the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve." Faced with tragedy, victimization, or injustice, just world believers have four options to reduce the cognitive dissonance: they can act quickly to help relieve the victim's suffering (restoring the justice of the situation), minimize the harm done (making the tragedy a less severe blow to their beliefs), justify the suffering as somehow deserved (redefining the situation as just), or focus on a larger, more encompassing just outcome of the "poor people will receive their rewards in heaven" variety. The first response - the only actually helpful one - isn't always possible. Unfortunately, the latter three pretty much always are.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina confronted Americans with a constant parade of images of suffering.
I forget whether it was in the Raj Quartet by Paul Scott or A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, but I remember a scene where a British woman in one of the colonial club functions somewhere in India complained that the hunger one saw in the streets was the fault of Indian merchants, that they had hoards of money and were just too cheap to feed their own people. I could be misremembering the exact details but certainly not the sad rationalization. There's been too much rationalization in the last four years, from Abu Ghraib to Katrina to spying on one's fellow Americans.

Forgive me for my simplemindedness, but in this season of generosity, maybe we can think more kindly of one another, and extend that generosity to those least like ourselves.

China and the World Energy Situation

China is now the world's fourth largest economy and has an enormous need for energy. Like India, China is now very much a part of the global economy and has as much right to energy as the US, Europe and Japan, leaders of the world economy for most of the 20th century.

But it's not clear that the Bush Administration or even the Democrats, to some extent, have fully absorbed what these new developments mean. Here's an article in the San Jose Mercury News that summarizes what's happening in China but I want to focus on this part:
Protests are increasing. While Chinese, especially in cities, are generally optimistic, the populace has many local grievances, ranging from corruption to land grabs and abuse of authority. The number of protests shot up from 10,000 in 1994 to "more than 74,000" last year, involving 3.76 million people, according to Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang.

Officials race to keep a lid on unrest, aware of Mao's famous saying on sudden social upheaval: "A spark from heaven can set the whole plain ablaze."

To quell uprisings, authorities don't hesitate to use brutality. When villagers in coastal Dongzhou in Guangdong province in the far south rose up on Dec. 5-6 against a proposed power plant, paramilitary police opened fire, killing between three and 20 people. Discussion of the event was largely purged from the Internet in China.
The protest against the power plant was actually the second protest in a week. An earlier protest in the same district involved land seized for windmills. I don't know the specifics on how much land this power plant would take but it's clear that taking land for a windmill plantation would involve considerable acreage. I've checked several different stories and only the earliest stories mention the windmills that initiated the protests. I'm not sure why the mention of the windmills has been dropped from subsequent stories but I have noticed over the last few months stories about China's developing energy policies. The Chinese appear to take seriously the need for energy independence, in terms of alternative energy and in terms of securing their own oil supplies (see India and China to Buy Canadian Holdings and China Lays Down Gauntlet in Energy War). The opening shot of China's new energy policy may have been the attempt to buy Unocal.

One has to notice that these developments bypass Washington. Bush has no long-term energy policy nor does he expend much energy in the cost-efficient exercise of diplomacy (preaching, braying and mugging for the cameras seem to be the limit of Bush's negotiating skills). China may not have much of an environmental policy yet but it clearly seems to be developing an energy policy that recognizes oil as a limited resource and the need for a prosperous economy to develop alternatives. One cannot escape the fact that Bush's parochial politics and unilateralism are putting the US behind the times.

Quote of the Day

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

—Sun-tzu, 4th century B.C., The Art of War

Too bad Bush never read Sun-Tzu.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Did Bush Ask for Explicit Authority to Spy in US?

Senator Tom Daschle was still the Majority Leader of the Senate when Bush sought overreaching powers for the White House after 9/11. Apparently, Bush's habit of revising history does not sit well with the former senator. Both Eschaton and War and Piece noticed this article in the Washington Post about Tom Daschle's role immediately after 9/11:

The Bush administration requested, and Congress rejected, war-making authority "in the United States" in negotiations over the joint resolution passed days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to an opinion article by former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) in today's Washington Post.

Daschle's disclosure challenges a central legal argument offered by the White House in defense of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. It suggests that Congress refused explicitly to grant authority that the Bush administration now asserts is implicit in the resolution. [...]

"Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' in the agreed-upon text," Daschle wrote. "This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request...

The evidence grows that Bush has been exceeding his authority and that he and others in his administration are likely to face legal difficulties. It is long past time for Congress, the media and the courts to hold these people accountable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lasting Image of a Tangled World

2005: Turin Airport (for the Berlin Airlift, 1948) Photo by Bob Tyson

Donkey Path is pleased to begin what will hopefully be a weekly series of photos.

Torture and Our Damaged Credibility

There are many reasons why a policy of torture is wrong. By any measure, the Bush Administration does not help our foreign policy by trying to protect the government's right to use torture and then denying that we torture. Google, today, has over a thousand news outlets from all over the world carrying the news that Saddam Hussein claims he was tortured by the US. Here's an account by the BBC about the US denying Saddam Hussein's claims:
US dismisses Saddam torture claim

The US has vigorously rebuffed claims by Saddam Hussein that he has been beaten and tortured by the US.

The ousted Iraqi leader used his war crimes trial in Baghdad to accuse the US of mistreating him while in custody.


"I have been beaten on every place of my body, and the signs are all over my body," he [Saddam Hussein] told the court.

The sound feed to the television coverage - being seen across Iraq - was cut several times during his outburst, the BBC's Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad.

This has been seen as an attempt to keep Saddam Hussein from upstaging the testimony of the witnesses, he says.

The prosecution gave little credence to the former president's claim he had been tortured, saying he was being held in an air-conditioned room when some of Baghdad had no power.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar Mousawi said the claims would be investigated and that he would ask for Saddam Hussein to be transferred to Iraqi custody if there was any truth to them.
I'm not inclined to believe Saddam Hussein. But that's not the issue. The issue is that Bush has so damaged the credibility of the United States that a headline like this makes people all the world hesitate when they see such a headline. Five years ago, such a claim would have been easily dismissed. That is no longer the case.

What Is the Value of Bush's Word?

President George W. Bush swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. When it comes to trust, Bush's poll numbers are falling. No president is trusted by all the people all the time. But when does the breaking point come? William Rivers Pitt, in Truthout, says the strain is nearly at the breaking point:
The breaking strain has been reached, and those ideals we hold so dear are indeed in mortal peril. The President of the United States of America has declared himself fully and completely above the law. The Constitution does not matter to him, nor do the Amendments. Laws passed to safeguard the American people from intrusive governmental invasion have been cast aside and ignored, simply because George W. Bush finds it meet to do so.

Intolerable. Impeachable.

As has been widely reported, Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens. He activated this program in 2002, and has since reauthorized the program thirty times. No one knows for sure exactly who in this country has unwittingly endured investigation by the powerful and secretive NSA. Cindy Sheehan? Patrick Fitzgerald? Joseph Wilson? Non-violent protest organizations? You? Me? No one knows, but the unanswered questions shake the existence of our democracy to its bones.
Here's the crux. President Bush has repeatedly demonstrated that his word cannot be trusted. He runs the most secretive government of our history. The number of legal questions concerning the administration is growing. Without accountability by Congress, we cannot know with reasonable assurances what Bush is doing and whether it is in the long-term interests of our democracy. Whether it's impeachment or open and sincere investigations of Bush Administration activities and policies, the Congress must act. And the time is now.

Halliburton: Your Tax Dollars at Work

One of the things to remember about the Bush Administration is that there are so many things going on these days of a questionable nature that old stories have a way of fading. Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, is still in the news for its seemingly favored treatment:
Halliburton got bonuses for overbilling taxpayers by $169 million
2 Dec. 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 ( -- The Army Corps of Engineers paid profits and bonuses to Halliburton for oil transport and repair in Iraq even though the Pentagon's own auditors declared $169 million in costs for the work to be "unreasonable" and "unsupported," a congressman disclosed today.

In a letter to the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) requested hearings on how Halliburton could have been awarded $38 million in bonus payments for contract work plagued by overcharges.
It seems those favored by Bush can do no wrong. Some people call it a pattern.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NSA Signal Intelligence Specialists Speak Out

This Defense Tech story has been mentioned by Talking Points Memo and Eschaton:
All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do....

but I wanted to highlight this part:
The C.I.A. seized the terrorists' computers, cellphones and personal phone directories, said the officials familiar with the program. The N.S.A. surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible, they said....In addition to eavesdropping on those numbers and reading e-mail messages to and from the Qaeda figures, the N.S.A. began monitoring others linked to them, creating an expanding chain. While most of the numbers and addresses were overseas, hundreds were in the United States, the officials said....Since 2002, the agency has been conducting some warrantless eavesdropping on people in the United States who are linked, even if indirectly, to suspected terrorists through the chain of phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

But this call chain could very well have grown out of control, the source admits. Suddenly, people ten and twelve degrees of separation away from Osama may have been targeted.

Five degrees of separation is enough to connect one individual to every American. Six or seven degrees of separation are enough to connect an individual to every person on earth. Even if warrants had been approved, it's obvious that if the above source is correct, this is a program way out of control. We need to know exactly who the NSA is spying on without a warrant within the United States (and those who have had their rights violated are entitled to know) and, given that this is obviously a pattern with this presidency, we need to know the kind of people the Pentagon is spying on with its own programs and if any of this is more political than related to national security.

Conditions for Just War Not Met

For three years, we have listened to different rationales for the war from President Bush. Does the war in Iraq meet the test of a just war?

In 1983, Catholic bishops in the United States issued a statement that said a just war must meet several criteria: it must be absolutely necessary, waged by a competent authority, use comparative justice (that is, only such force as is necessary), fought with the right intentions, begun only after peaceful means of settlement have been exhausted, have some probability of success, and the costs incurred must be proportionate to the expected good.

The war in Afghanistan has largely met the standard, not perfectly by any means, but well enough.

The war in Iraq is a different matter.

The war in Iraq was not absolutely necessary and if the administration had told the truth in 2002 about the lack real evidence for a nuclear program and the very weak case for a connection to al Qaida (nonexistent in ordinary language), we would not have gone to war.

When the bishops talk of a competent authority, I assume they're talking about a legally responsible authority but the wording is certainly not encouraging. The Bush Administration has clearly not been competent. Rumsfeld, under any other administration, would have been fired two years ago.

There are times we have used far more force than necessary. As just two examples, Abu Ghraib and the destruction of Fallujah violated our own values.

If the Iraq war was fought by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld with the right intentions, they have done a poor job of using the best public relations machine in the world to convince anyone but the right wing base. To be honest, I don't know what their intentions were since Bush and his advisers have given many reasons and excuses that have turned out to be empty words.

We hardly exhausted all diplomacy when we launched the war. In fact, the case for war seemed to be falling apart in March 2003 and many people believe we rushed to war so that the administration would not have its case undermined as the evidence was so obviously falling apart.

As for the probability of success, Bush made any number of obstinate errors; and a number of politically motivated moves undermined the probabililty of success. The lack of sufficient troops in the beginning is still the single biggest blunder; we needed to establish stability quickly and we never got that job done largely due to the lack of planning by the White House and the civilians who head the Pentagon. It appears at this point that the best case scenario in Iraq is likely to be an Islamic Republic that hopefully will not be as hardline as Iran though ties with Iran may be unavoidable. This is not a goal that the Bush administration was seeking when the war began. It's also highly unlikely that the experiment in Iraq will inspire democracy in other Middle Eastern countries which was another Bush administration goal.

And finally, whatever we gain, which doesn't look to be much, is hardly justified by the cost we have endured and will continue to endure because of the lack of an exit policy. Our adventure in Iraq has not made us more secure. The clear gain for Iraqis is far from certain. And the damage that has happened to our leadership position in the world will take years to repair.

As a just war, defined in the second paragraph above, our war in Iraq fails on nearly every count.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Busy Day in Washington

Donkey Path is just a week old but I've been watching Bush closely since the 2000 election and started writing about him with a few letters to the editors and on various message boards. Bush never received his 100 day grace period for the simple reason he didn't deserve it. In the first week of his administration it was obvious that he was going to sit on his hands while California was being ripped off by various energy companies, including Enron. He then proceeded to derail Kyoto, he abrogated the anti-ballistic missile treaty, nearly botched the incident with China and began his cowboy diplomacy. Much of this was spun and explained away in an overly compliant press.

Then 9/11 happened and despite a brief glimpse of potential leadership after a clumsy first response, the arrogance of the Bush Administration became increasingly evident and the press was even more compliant, bending over a number of times when it should have been holding Bush accountable. In June 2002, when Bush gave his famous speech at West Point trying to sell the notions of unilateralism, preemptive strikes and bunker buster tactical nuclear weapons, he finally got my attention in a way no other president has.

In the last three years, I've lost track of just how many tens of thousands of words I've written. Tonight I find myself slightly at a loss of words. We've learned a lot about the Bush Administration and Republican supporters in Congress in the last six months. Finally, scandal after scandal is coming to light: Libby, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Frist, DeLay, Abramoff, Cunningham, the phone-jamming scandal in New England, the CIA leak case and a host of other lesser known names and scandals. But in the last week, the list seems to be multiplying. For the first time, I'm not able to keep up with it all and I notice many of the blogs that are linked over on the right side of this page are having trouble keeping up.

The Bush presidency is unraveling and we are entering a dangerous period that's going to take hard work to negotiate and resolve if our republic is going to survive reasonably intact. Donkey Path doesn't have many readers yet, partly because there hasn't been time to do the advertising and partly because this is still the shakedown period that a new blog has to go through.

Here are the Bush scandals that I can think of at this moment:

1. Despite warnings from several officials in the previous administration, there was an unwillingness to take Osama bin Laden seriously as a threat before 9/11.

2. Deceiving the American people into war against Iraq based on lies about WMDs and an al Qaida connection.

3. Repeated propaganda manipulations involving people like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tills.

4. Failure to have a plan to deal with Iraq after the taking of Baghdad.

4. Abu Ghraib.

5. Fallujah.

6. Hundreds of millions and possibly billions of dollars unaccounted for in Iraq.

7. Sweetheart no-bid contracts with favored Bush corporations.

8. Inadequate armor, resources, medical care and attention to the needs of our soldiers.

9. An empire of special rendition for any number of people around the world without any accoutability nor any certainty of the numbers and guilt of the people involved.

10. A policy of torture and lies about that policy that endangers our soldiers, ruins our national credibility, violates the Geneva conventions which are law and not options, and violates any number of American values.

11. A watch list that grows larger every day and that includes Quakers and grandmothers against war and a number of other groups that are wholly American and nonviolent.

12. The harassment of innocent people that are swept up by federal agents for reasons that are not entirely clear or properly processed through the courts.

13. A system of spying on Americans, the extent of which is not clear or fully explained. The more that is learned, the bigger this operation appears to be and the less certain it is that it only relates to al Qaida-type operations and terrorists. Depending on what aspect one is talking about when it comes to spying, we could be talking about a very large number. I expect to revise this point in the next few days or weeks.

14. An illegal and knowingly reckless outing of a CIA covert agent by the administration allegedly in revenge against a critic. The CIA leak case can be traced to the White House and seems to implicate high officials despite a deliberate attempt to block the investigation. At one point, Bush promised to fire anyone involved but this is has not happened.

There's more. Lots more I haven't listed. I may be updating this list in the coming weeks. I would appreciate comments that would add to this list.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Harold Bloom Writes on Bush

Thanks to Juan Cole of Informed Comment, I read Harold Bloom's long pessimistic assessment of American democracy and the possibility of holding Bush accountable:
Reflections in the Evening Land

Saturday December 17, 2005
The Guardian

Huey Long, known as "the Kingfish," dominated the state of Louisiana from 1928 until his assassination in 1935, at the age of 42. Simultaneously governor and a United States senator, the canny Kingfish uttered a prophecy that haunts me in this late summer of 2005, 70 years after his violent end: "Of course we will have fascism in America but we will call it democracy!"

I reflected on Huey Long (always mediated for me by his portrait as Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren's novel, All the King's Men) recently, when I listened to President George W Bush addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was thus benefited by Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV channel, which is the voice of Bushian crusading democracy, very much of the Kingfish's variety. Even as Bush extolled his Iraq adventure, his regime daily fuses more tightly together elements of oligarchy, plutocracy, and theocracy.
Bloom goes on to express his doubts that the Democrats can come back and he makes several insightful comments connecting American literature with the current national gestalt. But there are signs that Bloom's pessimism is misplaced. The fact that we are aware of so many of the abuses of the Bush Administration indicates that Bush still does not have quite the control necessary for his ambitions nor the control to overcome the incompetence so obvious to the public. Years ago, I remember a couple of my college professors saying similar things about Nixon and the coming doom of the republic but we managed to muddle through. And yet, I admit I'm sobered by the thought that my professors were half-right: the Democrats never fully recovered from Nixon and his southern strategy. Of course, Bush, Karl Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld learned a lot from Nixon's mistakes but in the last two years I've seen signs that the Democrats have been learning from their earlier mistakes. Air America and the facts marshalled by liberal blogs in the face of fictions and incompetent assessments by right wing Republicans is a sign that finally, at long last, the Democrats, moderates, liberals, rational independents, and even a few honest Republicans can push back against the onslaught of the Republican noise machine.

Bloom suggests that Bush has destroyed democracy as a useful word. When Bush speaks of democracy and the Republican Party pays consultants to jam Democratic phone lines and then pays their legal expenses, their definition of democracy takes on an odd meaning. In Iraq, it has been hard since day one to believe that what Bush meant by democracy was anything other than privatization, capitalism and politicians easily bribed by sweetheart deals and plenty of soft campaign money. The initial effort to install Ahmed Chalabi in Baghdad was something of a giveaway. Now there really were some efforts to bring democracy to Iraq but those efforts always seemed afterthoughts, particularly when the blunders seemed to pile up and democracy seemed a way to change the subject.

But, corny though it sounds, democracy is not so much a word but an idea. Ideas that are useful have a resilience, they are stubborn, they come back after a storm and they take root again. Democracy is not perfect but there is such a thing as minimal standards of law and custom. Bush does not represent our way and there are Democrats, independents and Republicans that agree with that assessment. The noise we're hearing are bullies that don't like the light shining on their activities and frauds.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Patriot Act and Your Tax Dollars

Under the category of don't-they-have-better-things-to-do, federal agents apparently showed up at the door of a Dartmouth student who had checked out Mao's Little Red Book. See the story at the Daily Kos:

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number.
Apparently, Homeland Security needs to get the word that this is no longer the 1950s and we have since grown out of that nonsense. Or have we? Perhaps the first President Bush should send a note to the current President Bush letting him know that we defeated the communists some time ago.

In the meantime, shouldn't federal agents be investigating what happened to all those billions that went down a rathole in Iraq? Shouldn't federal agents be investigating the nest of corruption that surrounded Rep. Cunningham?

Question: in the interest of fair play, are federal agents putting everyone who buys Mein Kampf on the watch list? I'm not usually this sarcastic but this is getting to be too much. I check out 20-30 books a month from two libraries and I frequently get books on reserve that I don't have a chance to fully browse before checking them out. I only get around to reading one-third of the books I borrow. Not long ago, I got a book on reserve that I thought was written by a liberal but the book turned out to be a right-wing screed. I didn't bother to read the book but it's sobering to realize that our reckless president could have me on a watch list for a book I didn't get around to reading. Bush thinks his administration is above the law. It's not. Bush and some of his top advisers are repeatedly breaking the law. It's time for accountability.

Friday, December 16, 2005

More News on Katrina Oil Spill

Possibly the most underreported story about Hurricane Katrina concerned the numerous oil spills that collectively amounted to several million gallons. From the Times-Picayune, there's more news about the largest spill which involved Murphy Oil:
About 70 homes were added to the contamination zone for the Murphy Oil spill in St. Bernard Parish after federal authorities said they found evidence the oil slick reached as far north as the Forty Arpent Canal.

The expansion of the spill zone raises to about 1,800 the number of homes and businesses potentially polluted when a storage tank at Murphy's Meraux refinery ruptured after Hurricane Katrina, said Lisa Fasano, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The accident sent 1 million gallons of crude oil flooding through surrounding neighborhoods, in the storm's largest incident involving petrochemicals.
I'm very interested in this story. If anyone knows the total amount of oil that was spilled during Hurricane Katrina from all sources, feel free to let me know in the comment section. I'm still not clear if significant oil was spilled during Hurricane Rita and would like to know more about that also.

Today in Iraq Has News on Afghanistan

From time to time, I want to catch news that's fallen off the front pages so here's this. Today in Iraq is covering so much on Iraq these days it's a little hard to stay up with. But on Thursday, Dec. 15, they had a good long section on things happening in Afghanistan. Just scroll down about halfway down the Thursday section and check it out.

Republican Official Convicted in Phone Jamming Case

Most Republicans I have known in my life are honest. The same cannot be said about the current Republican leadership and many of the people they hire. There is particularly an erosion of ethics among those Republicans who handle politics and public relations. Here, via Truthout, is the AP story by Anne Saunders in the Times Daily:
A former top Republican Party official was convicted on telephone harassment charges Thursday for his part in a plot to jam the Democrats' phones on Election Day 2002.

The federal jury acquitted James Tobin of the most serious charge against him, of conspiring to violate voters' rights.

Tobin, 45, of Bangor, Maine, was President Bush's New England campaign chairman last year. He could get up seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced in March.
Given the convictions of Republicans like Tobin and Rep. Cunningham, and the ethics problems of Republicans like Libby, DeLay, Frist, Abramoff and others, we may be seeing more convictions in the coming months. Of course, the corruption of the current Republican party has two faces: corruption that is illegal and corruption that is all to legal. As long as Republicans remain unchallenged, the second kind of corruption will become more prevalent and the first kind will become all that more difficult to prosecute (keep in mind that it was sheer luck and the dilligence of a reporter that uncovered Cunningham's shennigans; and isn't it odd that it's often the beat reporter rather than the media big guns who uncover these stories?).

Falling poll numbers and letters to Congress and newspapers do have an effect and sometimes check the worst abuses of legalized corruption, but the only truly effective way to reform Washington is to vote the current Republicans out of office. Even honest Republican voters need to recognize this.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rove and His Memory Problem

I'm not buying the Rove defense that he simply didn't remember mentioning Joe Wilson's wife to Matt Cooper. I'll explain one reason in a moment. Here's an article in Slate by John Dickerson that came to my attention (thanks to BT) about Rove and Plamegate:

It's true. Karl Rove is a very busy man. He is never at rest even in his own office chair. He spins between multiple computers. His assistants know that in an instant he can be hovering over their shoulders making sure they have the formatting for a document just right. His portfolio seems to include everything but the thickness of the marzipan on the White House Christmas candies. Rove does have a reputation for extraordinary recall when it comes to political facts. But anyone as busy as he is might have forgotten a single conversation with a reporter.

But wouldn't a man who has such a busy life filled with so many distractions have been extra careful to examine his memory and his files when the question of who revealed the identity of Joe Wilson's wife started to become an issue? Lots of important people in Washington were asking, and some of them had subpoena power.

I could be wrong but something I suspect that is true about Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush is that if they remember anything, they remember their perceived political enemies and anything having to do with them. Richard Nixon had the same problem and could remember in detail slights that had happened twenty to thirty years earlier. We know that in the weeks before Joe Wilson's article appeared in July 2003, the Bush Administration was taking a keen interest in who he was and what he was doing. Nothing buzzes Karl Rove's batteries more than dealing with what he or George W. Bush consider a political problem and if the 'problem' is regarded as a political enemy, the kid gloves come off.

I suspect the only difference between Karl Rove's method and Richard Nixon's is that Nixon's gaffes taught people like Rove to be more subtle about protecting the president and smearing selected enemies. In the Bush White House, an anonymous off-the-cuff remark is too often not idle gossip but rather a political tool.

As for Karl Rove's defense that he can't remember every conservation with a reporter, even when, within days, there's a political firestorm around the issue that ought to stimulate the memory, Rove reminds me of a kid who cheerfully steals cookies from the cookie jar when he visits the poor family down the street; when the kid is asked if he stole the round half-eaten ginger cookie that's found on the sidewalk after he leaves, he half-truthfully says he doesn't remember eating a round ginger cookie. Of course the kid has been stealing round cookies, square cookies, oblong cookies, etc. and it's possible he hasn't paid much attention to their shape. In other words, a possibly technical truth should not obscure that we're dealing with a dishonest person.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Frist and the Blind Trust

Josh Marshall has the scoop on Senator Frist's chief of staff who seems to have trouble answering a legitimate question by AP reporter Jonathan Katz about Fritz's blind trust:

Frist took questions for about 10 minutes on the Senate floor before the start of the day's session. Katz had one of the first questions, asking Frist about comments he made on Fox News Sunday that he had no idea what was in his trust. Frist looked irritated but answered generally, saying that even though Senate rules require him to provide the Ethics Committee letters about his trust, he "doesn't read them." There were a couple of attempts at followup questions but Frist then said he wouldn't take any more questions about his stock. He then went on to other issues. As we left the floor, Eric Ueland started berating Katz in a loud voice while still in the Senate chamber. It continued just outside the chamber...

Now if Frist has nothing to hide, you would think Ueland would handle Katz's questions in a professional manner. On the other hand, the Republican habit these days of behaving like a bully seems a convenient way of avoiding the touchy problem of answering embarrassing questions.

Quakers a National Threat?

Laura Rozen of War and Piece talks about Pentagon spying:

Look, that there is a legitimate force-protection rationale for the Pentagon to do some degree of surveillance to protect against violent protests against military facilities or personnel. That was true before September 11th as well. But monitoring peace groups and the activities of anti war protestors who are peaceful, who are not going near military installations, and keeping that data in a database held by the Pentagon -- isn't that a clear violation of the military's own regulations?

This is specifically what Congressional staff have indicated would not happen when they approved increases to the powers of the Pentagon to do domestic surveillance -- and more powers have just been approved -- and they are just flat wrong. As I understand, the new powers for Pentagon domestic surveillance include the military sharing and receiving this information across government agency lines. So the Quaker peace group's information -- suddenly they are being monitored by a lot of people. You can read the database for yourself to see gross examples of abuse here. So, where in the world is Congress? Where is the oversight? Where are the Pentagon's own internal controls? Weren't we supposed to strike some sort of balance between protecting against threats and protecting civil liberties? How in the world do these abuses continue again and again and again?

You can only shake your head at the abuses of the Bush Administration. Or incompetence. President Nixon and President Hoover came from Quaker backgrounds. Isn't it long past time to fire Rumsfeld?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bush and Democracy in the Middle East

To most of us, democracy, in a meaningful sense, means things like majority rule, checks and balances, protection of minorities and legal rights for those out of power, the rule of law, a vigorous free press and the freedom to live your life within that framework. Now there have been real democracy workers in Iraq talking the issues one expects if Bush were really concerned about democracy.

But the resources devoted to democracy were always poor compared to the resources devoted to the military and American contractors. While American specialists were going around Iraq giving lectures on democracy, we had things that hardly seemed to be about democracy, things such as Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallujah, detainees, a press that was paid to run articles by Americans, etc.

Perhaps when Bush talks about democracy, it's just a code word for American power, privatization and the needs of American business. In the end, whatever Bush is talking about, it isn't about the Iraqis.