A New Year Always Has Possibilities
Found in the Arizona desert, early 1990s. By Bob Tyson
Okay, I'm a member of the reality-based community, but where are we going?
Nine-tens of wisdom consists in being wise in time.May this be the year some measure of wisdom returns to Washington.
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.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.
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.
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.Be sure to read the rest.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.As always, read the rest for the full story.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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
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...
US dismisses Saddam torture claimI'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.
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.
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.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.
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.
Halliburton got bonuses for overbilling taxpayers by $169 millionIt seems those favored by Bush can do no wrong. Some people call it a pattern.
2 Dec. 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- 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.
All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do....
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.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.
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.
Reflections in the Evening LandBloom 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.
Saturday December 17, 2005
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.
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."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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.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?).
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.
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.
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...
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?