Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Think Progress Has Response to Bush

Think Progress (in a series of posts on January 31, 2006) has a great series on Bush's State of the Union address. Each post takes a statement made by Bush in the speech and give us facts that quite clearly don't square with the president's view of the world.

I hope to have a few things to say of my own in the next day or so.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Sad State of the Presidency

I will not be listening to Bush's State of the Union address. Whether made by a Democrat or a Republican, there was a time I felt obligated by my own terms to listen to an annual address sizing up where we are and proposing where we might go. I won't pretend I've heard every speech of the last 35 years but I've heard most of them. I should say right now that I haven't bothered to listen to Bush's last two State of the Union addresses. The first two were enough to get the picture.

Bush is not a man who has a good grasp of America or a reasonable understanding of the world. He does have a reasonably good grasp of how to campaign even when he campaigns for things most Americans would oppose if they had all the facts. His opinion of his campaigning skills was so great last year that he thought he could bamboozle Americans into accepting the destruction of Social Security, one of the most successful government programs in American history. For once, Americans saw through Bush clearly and his poll numbers began to fall.

But Americans still do not have all the facts before them concerning the Bush Administration. Recently, an expert at NASA was told not to speak out on global warming, an area in which he has considerable expertise; he was told by people who have no expertise to keep silent. This kind of thing happens frequently in the Bush Administration and for some years now in a Congress led by Republicans. This is an odd state of affairs too easily tolerated by the media and the American people. The American people have a constitutional right to the facts. The government belongs to us, not to corporations, or the wealthy or some select group of right wing busybodies. The American voters and taxpayers have not only a right to the facts but need those facts in order to help understand where things are at and to decide where things should go.

I'm not going to go into the details of Bush's speeches over the last five years. Suffice to say that Bush has difficulty being straight with the American people. No doubt he will say things his supporters will want to hear. No doubt he will leave out facts that clearly contradict what he is saying. No doubt he will once more make promises that at the end of the day will mean little because Bush either has no intention of fulfilling his promises or is incapable of doing so.

There are two main kinds of credibility in this world and Bush fails at both. The first kind of credibility has to do with how reasonably honest and truthful a person is. In politics, it doesn't mean a politician can only be credible when that person stops being a politician; but it does mean that in critical moments we can reasonably rely on that's person word. If a politician is specific about how he will help New York after a terrorist attack, he better mean it. If a politician says the federal government will make a committment to rebuilding a major American city after a hurricane and flooding, he better mean it. There are many promises George W. Bush does not keep. So he fails at the first kind of credibility.

The second kind of credibility has to do with whether a person is capable of getting a job done; do they understand what needs to be done, do they know what resources are needed, do they have a team in place that can handle the job, do they know how to get the job going in a timely manner, do they understand how to follow through on the job, can they make the changes necessary when the inevitable mistakes or misjudgments occur? The war in Iraq and the handling of Hurricane Katrina are just two examples that Bush lacks this second kind of credibility.

Now Bush is not entirely without credibility. He promised to cut taxes for the wealthiest one per cent and he has done so. He has been very generous to his campaign contributors as well. So with his staunchest supporters, Bush has some credibility. But if all the facts were on the table, it would be clear to an overwhelming majority of Americans that we are witnessing a failed presidency and that the United States and our democracy are growing weaker as a result.

But Bush's lack of credibility is not the only reason I won't be listening to his speech. When a political leader uses fear to cover up his failures, it is hard to have respect for him. And when we have a president who is afraid of the facts, a great deal will have to change before this country goes forward again.

On Wednesday morning, I'll read a summary of Bush's speech and in the afternoon I'll be digging up more facts that no doubt our president is afraid to see. If we have the facts, there is still much this country can do.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Curious Republican Tactic

Confessions of a Liberal Yankee caught this New York Times article by former Reagan administration figure, James Webb, who suggests smearing veterans is not a good Republican campaign tactic. Here's a few paragraphs from the Times article:
IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.

Not unlike the Clinton "triangulation" strategy, the approach has been to attack an opponent's greatest perceived strength in order to diminish his overall credibility. To no one's surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks.
During the 2000 primary season, John McCain's life-defining experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam were diminished through whispers that he was too scarred by those years to handle the emotional burdens of the presidency. The wide admiration that Senator Max Cleland gained from building a career despite losing three limbs in Vietnam brought on the smug non sequitur from critics that he had been injured in an accident and not by enemy fire. John Kerry's voluntary combat duty was systematically diminished by the well-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in a highly successful effort to insulate a president who avoided having to go to war.

And now comes Jack Murtha. The administration tried a number of times to derail the congressman's criticism of the Iraq war, including a largely ineffective effort to get senior military officials to publicly rebuke him (Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was the only one to do the administration's bidding there).
Americans have a right to expect better from their politicians. Fortunately, there are still Republicans like Webb trying to take the long view.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Art at the Foundry

Wax Master
Fonderia d'Arte Andreis e Figli
by Bob Tyson

Friday, January 27, 2006

More on the NSA Spying

I find myself taking everything I read on the NSA scandal with a grain of salt. As I read these stories, I'm reminded of Daniel Ellsberg's book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; the key to Ellsberg's book is that he noticed how seductive highly classified information was to the highest officials in the government. What he noticed in particular was how deceptive such information could be in that it led officials to have a view of things that put them in exclusive company, and in a sense, above everybody else, and therefore in a position where they stopped listening to what experts had to say who were not privy to highly classified information. And this inability to listen because of all the inside information led officials to make serious errors. The inside information in many ways was easy to misinterpret and in some cases just as wrong as any analysis at a lower level of classification.

Again, I invoke the usual caveats under the usual assumption that we will probably be seeing some of these things very differently in months, perhaps even years. But Ellsberg's warning seem to apply to sections of two article by Jason Leopold. An excerpt from the first article mentions John Bolton:
The NSA ended up giving its raw data to then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton on at least 10 different occasions since 9/11. Bolton, nominated by Bush to be US ambassador to the United Nations, let slip during his confirmation hearings in April that he asked the NSA to unmask the identities of the Americans blacked out in the agency's raw reports, to better understand the context of the intelligence.

However, evidence suggests that Bolton used the information for personal reasons, in direct violation of rules governing the dissemination of classified intelligence. During one routine wiretap, the NSA obtained the name of a state department official whose name had been blacked out when the agency submitted its report to various federal agencies.

Bolton's chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA official, revealed during the confirmation hearings that Bolton had requested that the NSA unmask the unidentified official. Fleitz said that when Bolton found out his identity, he congratulated the official, and by doing so he had violated the NSA's rules by discussing classified information contained in the wiretap.

It turned out that Bolton was just one of many government officials who learned the identities of Americans caught in the NSA intercepts. The State Department has asked the NSA to unmask the identities of American citizens 500 times since May 2001.
With the exception of Bolton, I'm not sure who in the State Department would be asking for all these identities. And, of course, there are people in other parts of the Bush Administration who probably would not miss an opportunity to snoop through NSA materials. And apparently there is evidence for such a supposition.

As it turns out, Jason Leopold, in another article, tells us that Cheney in particular is another official who was interested in the NSA materials as related in this excerpt:
Requesting that the NSA reveal the identity of Americans caught in wiretaps is legal as long as it serves the purpose of understanding the context of the intelligence information.

But the sources said that on dozens of occasions Cheney would, upon learning the identity of the individual, instruct the NSA to continue monitoring specific Americans caught in the wiretaps if he thought more information would be revealed, which crossed the line into illegal territory.

Cheney advised President Bush of what had turned up in the raw NSA reports, said one former White House official who worked on counterterrorism related issues.

"What's really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department," one former counterterrorism official said. "There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president's office and I don't think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can't say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don't know."
The question hangs in the air. If the story is accurate, who were the other people the Vice President was interested in? Journalists perhaps? One can only speculate.

Many NSA Questions Still Unresolved

There has been a lot of talk this week about the NSA wiretapping scandal but except for some information embarrassing to the administration, not much new has been added (and if I missed something, feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment below). We still don't know much about exactly what happened, exactly what the issues are, and why the NSA is avoiding the FISA courts. For me, a key issue remains that it appears the NSA was giving the FBI thousands of tips a month that basically went nowhere.

Sometimes, it's useful to go back to a story before the Washington spinners begin to create too many distractions. Here's an article by Shane Harris from a week ago that originally appeared in the National Journal; this is one of the better overviews I've seen but I'll quote only two paragraphs:

The New York Times reported this week that "in the anxious months after the September 11 attacks, the [NSA] began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names to the FBI, in search of terrorists." Some of that information led to Americans inside the United States. It appears that the NSA was handing over just about any information it could find that might be useful to investigators. The Times reported that the NSA eventually provided thousands of tips a month.

The agency conducted these activities without presidential authorization for at least three months following 9/11. In early 2002, Bush authorized the current program, which, he has said, targets only known members of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, and people linked to them. But even before Bush's order -- which remains classified -- the NSA's work was evolving from targeted interceptions to broader sifting and sorting of huge volumes of communications data.

Notice the classic Bush Administration parsing of words: "targets only known members of Al Qaida and affiliated groups, and people linked to them." 'Affiliated groups' and 'people linked to them' can be very vague, particularly if one is tracing calls along a chain. And then we have the problem that the people defining the legal issues here are the same legal chameleons who defined Bush's torture policy.

The issue is and will remain from this point on a question of trust. In the 1970s, it took several investigations and years to restore trust in our government to a somewhat reasonable level. No amount of spin can avoid that issue.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Guest Blogger: David Breeden

How Do Sidewalks Work?

I discovered the concept of portable privilege in New Orleans. It was the summer of 1963 and my parents and I were visiting my great-aunt or something who was dying or something or other. I say “something or other” to reflect that I was a little kid and a whole lot of things didn’t make much sense to me.

My mother, father, and I were a rag-tag group. People still dressed up to go out into the streets in those days, and my father had one black suit, my mother made all her dresses, and the trousers of my suits were generally well up my white socks. My dress shoes always seemed to be made of the same material as the box they came in.

But enough of setting the scene. Suffice it to say my family did not present a grand procession through the streets of New Orleans. We had been living in small towns around the mid-south. I found the big-city crowds fascinating and couldn’t stop being amazed at the blinding sparkle of what I suppose must have been quartz in the sidewalks, blinding in the summer sun.

It took a while to notice something else—Blacks pushed to the side of buildings or got off the sidewalk into the street as Whites walked by. This happened again and again.

Why were they doing that? I had certainly experienced ostracism for being poor, but this was a very different thing. It wasn’t just us; actually, it was as if the Black people didn’t even see Whites. Yet a very odd dance was occurring all up and down Canal Street.

We were of course experiencing one of the constructs of Deep-Southern Jim Crow: even the lowest caste White had to be deferred to by every class of Black. Even my family, the children and grandchild of sharecroppers.

This was, I think, one of the evil geniuses of Jim Crow: it encouraged many Whites from the lowest class to buy into a grassroots terror campaign to perpetuate the one “privilege” they got from White Supremacy, a feeling, a superiority based solely on skin color. It is what killed Emmett Till.

The image of well-dressed Blacks stepping aside remains firmly in my mind forty-some years on. In my case, the fact of it had the opposite of the intended effect, convincing me that hierarchy of any sort is inherently evil.

I do wish that I believed that the Civil Rights Act changed things. I wish I believed that. Yet, forty-some years on, whether we call it “post-legislative racism,” “neo-racism,” or whatever, I still see power and privilege walking themselves down the sidewalks. I live in south Chicago, twenty-some blocks from the house where Emmett Till lived for his fourteen years on the earth. I can’t walk there.

—David Breeden

Introducing Guest Blogger

It's been my intention since starting Donkey Path to have guest bloggers from time to time. Our first guest blogger is David Breeden, a writer from Chicago who has published several books and is currently attending seminary school. Martin Luther King's birthday was last week and he offers a reflection on the times.

David's post mentions Emmitt Till. I confess I couldn't quite remember at first who he was. I turned to my wife and asked her. She winced, and said Emmitt Till was the young boy from Chicago who was sent to visit relatives in Mississippi in the mid-1950s and was lynched after whistling at a white woman. I then remembered: when the boy's body was sent back to Chicago, the mother insisted on seeing what had been done to her child. No mother should have to see such a thing.

It's not often remembered that Martin Luther King was a voice not only of courage but of considerable power and restraint in a very difficult time.

Understanding Bush's Iraq Policy

I cannot even pretend to understand Bush's Iraq policy after three years of war.

Actually, I don't even know when this war began. We hear bombing in Iraq began in the fall of 2002. We hear special forces were clearly operating in Iraq by January of 2003. If the war began with the Shock and Awe operation in March 2003, then we're not quite at the three year mark. But if Iraq is part of the Global War on Terror, then we're really past the four year mark. Are we accomplishing anything yet? Yes, the Republicans keep getting reelected.

Apparently, Bush has given up rebuilding Iraq. This means we may no longer have a policy in Iraq except perhaps to withdraw at least 70,000 troops in time for the midterm elections. How do I know 70,000 will be withdrawn? I don't. But the Bush Administration feels free to draw various numbers out of thin air including the initial low number of troops needed to stabilize Iraq. In any case, as the money runs out, American contractors are now beginning to leave Iraq:

American private contractors are preparing to leave Iraq as US money runs out and government ministries take charge of the reconstruction effort, according to the Washington Times.

Fluor Corp, the engineering and construction giant and one of the biggest private-sector employers in Iraq, at one time had 250 to 300 people from the United States in Iraq, and employed roughly 20,000 Iraqis. But now, as the US-funded part of the reconstruction effort comes to a close, Fluor has, perhaps, 100 Americans left in the country and is phasing out the Iraqi jobs.
It is unlikely that the security situation in Iraq will improve as American contractors fire Iraqi employees in a country where jobs are already scarce.

Apparently, a preliminary report has been written about the failings of our contractors in Iraq. I noticed this in an article about the report:
The report reveals that US military officials also said that reconstruction effort would cost up to US$100 billion over the next several years, far more than the Bush administration has appropriated for the rebuilding effort.

John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy defense secretary from 1997-1999, has read the report. Hamre described the document as a “gutsy” and “honest” assessment of an effort that “didn't go particularly well".

"The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that had conflicting guidance from the United States," Hamre said. "It had a very difficult environment and pressures by that environment to quickly move things."

He told the New York Times that that sort of situation "creates shortcuts that probably turn into short circuits".
If I need an electrician or a doctor or an auto mechanic, I don't want the guy with the big spiel who talks tough and says, "Trust me." I just want the guy who knows what he's doing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

General Hayden at the National Press Club

As the executive powers of President Bush grow, and as the abuses continue to mount in all areas of his presidency, the picture of the NSA wiretaps story is still murky.

General Hayden, formerly of the NSA but now higher up in the administration's intelligence community apparently was involved in setting up the programs we're still trying to understand. On Monday, he gave a speech at the National Press Club defending the NSA programs under question. His speech did not exactly make clear what these NSA programs are or why we should trust President Bush. General Hayden's speech is long and somewhat tedious to read. I fear it's purpose is administration damage control. But the speech should be read.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More Energy Problems in Former Soviet Union

I would put the following article in two categories: the need to watch energy issues more closely worldwide and the need to watch the Soviet Union to see where it's going these days. I wouldn't make too much out of the Reuters article below but there was after all the trouble with the Ukraine a few weeks ago. Then again, there may be a third category: the potential of terrorists interrupting the delivery of energy:
Two explosions in Russia's North Ossetia province on Sunday knocked out the main pipeline that exports gas across the border to Georgia which is experiencing an unusually cold winter.

"This morning, partial supplies of gas to Tbilisi resumed," presidential chief of staff Georgy Arveladze said. "It will take several days to resume gas supplies nationwide."

The gas is coming from neighbouring Azerbaijan which takes its gas via a separate pipeline from Russia.

Georgia, whose relations with Moscow have been prickly since a pro-West government took power two years ago, stepped up its allegations that Russia had deliberately cut off the gas, though officials have not so far offered any evidence.


Russia blamed the explosions on pro-Chechen insurgents in North Ossetia on the Russian side of the Caucasus.

A source at Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said it was pumping an extra 3 million cubic metres a day to Azerbaijan to pipe on to Georgia to help deal with the crisis.

Moscow rejected Georgian accusations, warning the country's leadership that it was risking relations with Russia.
I may be wrong and I hope I'm wrong, but these days I sense large areas of foreign policy being dangerously neglected by the Bush Administration. In any case, it seems long past time to return to the hard work of diplomacy rather than pr gestures useful only for domestic consumption and miderm elections but otherwise largely useless for long-term national security.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Movie Poster

creation by Bob Tyson

The Nature of Blogging

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the relationship between journalism and blogging. Media Works has an article by Simon Dumenco about blogging. Here's an excerpt:
...it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder.

It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same.

OK, you might argue, blogging is aesthetically a different beast -- it’s instantaneous media. (Well, since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, pretty much all media has had to learn how to be instantaneous.) It’s unpolished. (The best blogs I read are as sophisticated as anything old-school media publishes.) It’s voice-y. (The best old-school media I read tends to be voice-y.) It’s about opinion, not reporting. (The best reporting to come out of MacWorld in San Francisco last week was published on blogs.) It’s, well, often sloppy and reckless (and Judy Miller wasn’t?).

OK, then, you might further argue, the Internet itself treats blogs as structurally distinct things. Well, sure, there are blog-specific search engines (Technorati, Icerocket, blogsearch.google.com, etc.), but the lines between blog and non-blog content are rapidly dissolving.

There are things in this article I agree with and don't agree with but it is a place to start a kind of conversation. In the next week or two, I hope to do a post on what I use blogs for.

I suppose a quick word on what I do here is in order. I'm not a reporter. I simply think of myself as a writer, certainly an activist and possibly a kind of journalist if writing reasonably informed opinions qualifies.

A reporter does interviews, followups, witnesses events, has connections, data files, a knowledge of research, and chases down facts. The only thing on the list I do regularly is chase down facts; it's an annoying habit of mine but I do it well enough that occassionally a fact I uncover gets sent off to some professional journalist who finds it useful enough to put it in a story or column after confirming the fact. Some day I'll say more on this as well.

One last word on blogging though. There's a side of blogging that can be useful as an extension of journalism. But the more powerful possibility is the potential for informed citizens to have their voices heard. And that, more than anything else, is the single reason blogs have exploded on the internet into the broader world. In a democratic society, if we still are one, it is a welcome and evolving development.


The State of the Union

Bush's poll numbers continue to be low. Soon, we will hear his State of the Union Speech. We will hear the usual posturing and misleading statements. It is possible Iran will be a main topic. No doubt, the problems of our nation will largely be ignored. Some pretty words will be spoken and some promises will be made that once again will be forgotten in weeks. In reality, the state of the Union is not good. We need new leadership. We need people who will look at the world as it is and not through the lens of their ideological assumptions and their need for ratings points. We need a new leadership more interested in America's promise than in back door deals. We need leadership that doesn't fear the future so much that it feels compelled to spy on millions of Americans. Here's two cautions from the past.

Men who are familiarized to danger, meet it without shrinking, whereas those who have never seen service often apprehend danger where no danger lies.
—George Washington

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.
—James Madison

Most Americans agree that we need a strong military but a Pentagon increasingly without accountability, an NSA without oversight and the necessary adherence to the Constitution, a Vice President and Secretary of Defense trying to concentrate massive amounts of power in their hands, and a president out of his element with overreaching ambition cannot be good things.

Some Facts in an Era of Spin

The spin from the White House and its supporters is that the United States is doing very well and the president knows what he's doing.

Yesterday, the stock market dropped more than 200 points and the price of oil, after drifting down to $58 a barrel has suddenly gone back up to $68 a barrel; one week of economic bad news is not necessarily a trend but there are things to consider. Let me stay with the oil prices for this post.

The rise in oil prices is attributed to problems with Nigeria and Iran. An added issue, though not mentioned as often, is that we are no longer drawing off our reserves or off the loans given to us by the Europeans and Japanese in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Also little noticed is that the United States is still producing less oil than it was last year at this time, and, not counting the loans given to us, we are also importing more oil than we were early last year. I'm no expert in these things but it would be reasonable to surmise that after a high of $70 a barrel after Hurricane Katrina, the downward drift in oil prices we have seen for the last few months, as a result of using the strategic reserves and utilizing the loans given us, has finally stopped and might, in an environment free of political crises, lead anyway to a slow increase in prices.

Now Iran is the main reason we have seen a sharp price hike in the last two weeks. The possibility of military action against Iran is in the air and the possibility that Iranian oil might be cut due to sanctions or due to military action or due to Iran turning off its supply in retaliation for any military strike is causing the prices to go up.

And then we see articles like this by Raymond J. Learsy:
The New York Times, always happy to be supportive of the oilpatch/ OPEC mantra of impending shortage and disaster underpinning ever higher prices, pontificated in its "Energy Impasse" editorial the day before "Today's global market is so tight, there is little spare capacity left....There's no shock absorber left...That leaves us with zero options when it comes to leverage against these oil producers."

What the Times and the press generally overlooked telling us was as follows. Iran produces some 4 million barrels a day of which 2.6 million are exported. The Nigerian production loss is approximately 200,000 barrels a day, a shut down that in all likelihood will be shortlived. Assuming a worst case scenario, that Iran stops all exports for a year and Nigerian production is similarly impacted the loss of supply to the world market would be a billion barrels of oil.

At this very moment, according to the International Energy Agency (the I.E.A.) stock levels held by I.E.A. members alone are at 4.1 BILLION BARRELS OIL. Of these 1.4 billion are held in strategic government reserves and the balance are held commercially. The United States alone holds 700 million in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve whereas our commercial reserves today approach 318 million barrels, some 30 million barrels greater than a year ago.

Mr. Learsy then goes on to suggest that the United States and its allies should call Iran's bluff and dare it to turn off it oil. But there are a few things to consider:

1. The world's oil producers are having trouble meeting demand. The rapidly growing economies of India and China must be factored in but it's also important to remember that without India's and China's booming economies, oil demand generally rises most years.

2. A drop of 1.0 million barrels a day of US oil production was sufficient to push oil to $70/barrel and gasoline to $3.00/gallon. What will a drop of 2.6 million barrels a day in world production do to the price of oil?

3. Can the United States rule out oil producers dropping production out of sympathy for Iran? Depending on the amount involved, this could greatly aggravate the world economy.

4. Mr. Learsy points out a potential reserve of 4.1 billion barrels. That sounds like a lot but it isn't. Now he's talking about using the reserve to supplement production from elsewhere but a realistic way to look at these things is to ask how long that reserve would last if it was the only source available. If the United States were the only user of that reserve, it would last about 150 days. If the whole world were using that reserve, including us, it would last a little more than 37 days. Notice that Mr Learsy says we have 30 million more barrels in commercial stocks than we did last year; 30 million barrels of oil is what the US uses in a day and a half.

5. If we were to dip into a reserve during a confrontation with Iran where the oil was cut off or dramatically reduced, there's an added problem. Each day our own reserves grow smaller, the more vulnerable our economy becomes. The damage from Hurricane Katrina would have hit our economy much harder if we did not have our own reserves to draw on as well as the reserves of Europe and Japan. A reserve is like insurance; it is in a sense a guarantor of our economic strength. At the end of the day, a reserve needs to be replenished and even if we are successful in our confrontation with Iran, the cost of replenishing that reserve will be great.

6. These kinds of oil scenarios depend on everything going as planned. But already we see signs of trouble in Nigeria. We see Russia willing to use oil as a weapon. We even see Russia unable to handle severe cold weather which in recent days has hampered its oil production. Iraq's oil production is still erratic. And it's possible we'll face yet another hurricane season this year like the one we saw in 2005. And we still have a president without a viable long-term energy policy and in the last year we have clearly been seeing the result of lacking such a policy.

7. And before people get too gung ho about dealing with Iran in a heavy-handed manner, it's essential to remember who is running Washington: the gang that can't shoot straight.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gingrich and the Need for Reform

The hypocrisy of former and current Republicans in Washington who pretend to be pushing for reform seems to know no bounds. Newt Gingrich, who had his own ethics problems while House Speaker, would like us to believe he is the logical man to bring about reform. I was roaming The San Francisco Chronicle and found this old article from January 16 1998:
As Microsoft stepped up its lobbying, last year it hired former U.S. Representative Vin Weber, a Minnesota Republican who is one of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's closest allies, to open doors for the company in Congress.

For the past two years Microsoft has also retained another well-known Gingrich ally, Grover Norquist, and former Reagan campaign aide Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds.
It should be understood that Microsoft was paying for legally accepted services on both sides of the aisle and the article goes on to mention where Microsoft went for Democratic connections. But with the financial resources available to Microsoft, we can be reasonably certain they were buying the best services money could buy. It would be useful to hire lobbyists with the best access to people like Gingrich who was Speaker of the House at the time and other prominent Republicans like Tom DeLay. Notice that Weber and Norquist are tied in this article directly to Gingrich. The article points out that Microsoft's ties to Jack Abramoff went back at least to 1996. This is evidence that Abramoff was already a well-known lobbyist, thus contradicting many Republicans in Washington, including possibly Gingrich, who have developed amnesia.

As Media Matters points out, the Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal:
Moreover, a May 1, 2005, New York Times Magazine profile of Abramoff by Michael Crowley detailed his extensive ties to the GOP, cultivated throughout his lobbying career. The article refers to Abramoff as "a kingpin of Republican Washington." Crowley writes: "His former personal assistant had gone to work for Karl Rove, the new president's top political adviser; he was close friends with the powerful Republican congressman from Texas, Tom DeLay, a relationship most of his competitors would kill to boast of," and referred to "countless fund-raisers he gave for Republican congressmen and senators." According to the article, Abramoff's first lobbying employer, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, hired him because of his ties to powerful Republicans like DeLay: "Upon his hire, the firm's news release boasted of Abramoff's ties to Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition, the Republican National Committee and top House Republican leaders."
I've highlighted the most relevant part in bold type to make it clear where Abramoff's connections were. It was these connections he was selling for a living.

Mentioned above for his connections to Newt Gingrich is Grover Norquist who has a long time relationship with Abramoff as stated in this article that originally appeared in the New York Times:
Abramoff's plea bargain is scary to Washington's power brokers because he was so entangled with so many of them.

His ties to Grover Norquist, a leading conservative strategist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who is now a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, date from his college days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lawsuit Against Illegal Wiretaps

We have learned from the New York Times in recent days that thousands of tips may have been passed on each month to the FBI by way of NSA wiretaps and probably some form of data mining (Truthout carries the article; see the first paragraph). If we're talking thousands a month over a period of some four years or so, and if we assume that thousands means at least three thousand a month or thereabouts, we're talking at least somewhere around a 150,000 total that have been sucked into the NSA program and investigated.

Now the self-described whistleblower, Russell Tice (See Interview with NSA Whistleblower), has suggested that millions may have been illegally wiretapped; he also suggests that the computers that are used to gather the information can only analyze to a certain point and therefore human analysts are required to sift through the information before being passed on to the field. If this is correct, then there is a greater body of computer-generated tips (if indeed that is how the tips were generated) that has been viewed by human eyes. This is far greater than the few hundred people the administration said were affected by the wiretaps.

If any number of these allegations about the NSA spying on Americans are true, and the Bush Administration has vaguely admitted some aspects of the warrantless spying are certainly true, then we are talking about a massive violation of the law and a massive violation of privacy. We're also talking about a great deal of money and it will be interesting if this is yet another budget item not specifically authorized by Congress. It also appears to be a great waste of resources that might have been more effectively used elsewhere. But there are other issues as well. There have been reports that John Bolton may have use NSA intercepts to spy on members of the Bush Administration as part of battles within the administration. There have also been reports that our government may have spied on the UN during the runup to the war in Iraq.

Then we have another issue related to the wall that needs to exist between intelligence operations and politics. We saw that wall break down during the Nixon Administration and at times during J. Edgar Hoover's tenure as FBI director. Even if we set aside the abuse of intelligence that took place in order to make a case for war in Iraq, there are signs that there have been abuses of intelligence specifically around political issues in the current administration. Several peaceful anti-war groups, as just one example, have been monitored by the federal government.

There is a lot we still don't know about the extent of the NSA spying program and the issue of oversight, or rather the lack thereof, is one of the more pressing issues. Members of Congress, including some prominent Republicans (such as Arlen Specter), are calling for investigation. Over the last five years, Congress has not done an effective job of investigating much when it involves President Bush. But this is an issue that hits at the heart of who we are as a nation and many people in Washington know it. This investigation has to be real. Already the White House is resisting investigation but we are a nation of laws and no president is above the law. The law, in this case, is the US Constitution, and no president is above that law. President Bush swore an oath to uphold the constitution; we need to be certain that he still respects that oath. If not, there have to be consequences. Republicans in Congress are under enormous pressure to assume their constitutional responsibilities but it's not certain that they can perform adequately.

Already a lawsuit has been filed challenging the legality of Bush's NSA spying program and we will soon see if the judicial branch of government can check the powers of the president:
Two civil liberties groups filed separate lawsuits Tuesday to halt the Bush administration's domestic spying program, charging that the interception of Americans' communications without court warrants is illegal and unconstitutional.

The federal court lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in Detroit and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York are the latest and most prominent legal challenges to the spying program, which is run by the super-secret National Security Agency.

The groups argued that President Bush exceeded his power, violated the rights of American citizens and broke eavesdropping laws when he authorized the program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to track members and supporters of al-Qaida in the United States.

The program "seriously compromised the free speech and privacy rights of the plaintiffs and others," argued the ACLU lawsuit.
The plaintiffs will have difficulty showing that they have been harmed since we are, after all, talking about a secret program. But then again, maybe not. One of the plaintiffs is Larry Diamond, who was hired by the Bush Administration to help with democracy building in Iraq; in his book, Squandered Victory, he describes his time in Iraq in 2004. In the Knight-Ridder article quoted above, Mr. Diamond explains his involvement in the lawsuit:
Larry Diamond, an ACLU plaintiff, said his ability to investigate human rights abuses and the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Islamic world has been severely hamstrung because people in countries with repressive regimes are no longer willing to communicate openly for fear they'll be overheard.

"The breadth and illegality and unconstitutionality of this program ... do very great damage to our standing in the world," said Diamond, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute. "I don't think we can promote freedom abroad if we don't practice it at home."
In an article in the Palo Alto Online (which services the Stanford area), Mr. Diamond elaborates:
“Professionally, my work as a political scientist studying, teaching about, and working to advance democratic development around the world depends on my ability to communicate freely with people throughout the world who are working for democratic change or who have information and analysis that bears on the struggle.

“There is also the problem of being able to communicate with students of mine who are doing their own research, or conducting research for me, in countries that are being monitored through warrantless surveillance, and on subjects that are politically sensitive, such as the prospects for democratic regime change or the opposition movement in a particular country.”
Now the United States has the right to protect itself and that requires gathering intelligence, albeit in a way consistent with our democracy and our constitution. But, besides the likelihood that warrantless spying is illegal, at least within the borders of the United States, the NSA program ultimately brings up another issue that can't be ignored. Trust. There are many questions around the NSA program for the simple reason that the secrecy, stonewalling, arrogance of power, and outright lying demonstrated by the White House increasingly violates the reasonable trust that Americans need to have in their elected officials. More obfuscations from the White House is not going to restore trust in this president.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Consequences of Attacking Iran

Before the Bush Administration gets too gung ho about using military force against Iran, there are some things to consider, not the least of which is our over-extended military. The impact on oil and the economy might be the more crucial issue. Here's an analysis by Stuart Saniford of The Oil Drum:
I'd like to take a more careful look at exactly what kind of oil weapon President Ahmadinejad is packing. In particular, let's go over the seventies oil shocks and use them to fashion a rough guesstimate of the likely impact of a cutoff in Iranian oil supplies now.

To give you the punchline up front, I'm going to argue that, with large (50%) uncertainties, a complete loss of Iranian production for an extended period might be expected to roughly double oil prices and cause massive economic impacts, while a halving of oil production due to sanctions, or retaliation to sanctions, might be expected to produce a 30-40% increase in price and significant economic impacts. If Iran is left alone, prices are quite likely to drift up somewhat anyway, but not by this much.
The full article is well worth reading and includes graphs.


Gore's Constitution Speech: 1/16/06

I read Gore's speech Monday afternoon and listened to it later that evening on C-Span. His speech was on the money. He raised point after point that many of us have been raising since June of 2002 when Bush declared his new foreign policy of preemption, unilateralism, etc. Here's the link to the full text. I can't recommend this speech more highly. It's well written and well argued.

I do have a minor beef with the New York Times which covered the event. Although it mentioned conservative Republican Bob Barr, I don't think it quite made the point that the event was sponsored by both conservatives and liberals.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Cronkite Says It's Time to Leave

By way of the Huffington Post, here's an article from the AP:
PASADENA, Calif. - Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, whose 1968 conclusion that the Vietnam War was unwinnable keenly influenced public opinion then, said Sunday he'd say the same thing today about Iraq.

"It's my belief that we should get out now," Cronkite said in a meeting with reporters.

Now 89, the television journalist once known as "the most trusted man in America" has been off the "CBS Evening News" for nearly a quarter-century. He's still a CBS News employee, although he does little for them.

Cronkite said one of his proudest moments came at the end of a 1968 documentary he made following a visit to Vietnam during the Tet offensive. Urged by his boss to briefly set aside his objectivity to give his view of the situation, Cronkite said the war was unwinnable and that the U.S. should exit.

Then-President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told a White House aide after that, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
"The most trusted man in America." I can't think of anyone in Washington that has that stature these days.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Art at the Lab

orthoped by Bob Tyson

Interview with NSA Whistleblower

Laura Rozen of War and Piece caught this interview with NSA whistleblower Russell Tice at Reasononline. Here's a few excerpts:
REASON: You've described technologies capable of sifting through vast numbers of communications and pinpointing very specific information that intelligence analysts are looking for. What can you say about how that kind of technology is being used?

Tice: I can't say how an intelligence agency uses it, because that would be classified. Then the FBI would have shackles and cuffs waiting on me real soon, so I have to be careful what I say. But we can talk about the technologies and we can use hypotheticals and we can use wiggle words.

If you wanted to, you could suck in an awful lot of information. The biggest constraint you're going to have is the computing power you need to do it. You need to have some huge computers to crunch that kind of stuff. More than likely you're talking about picking it up in a digital format and analyzing it depending on how the program is written depending on whether it's audio or digital recognition you're talking about, the computing power is phenomenal for that sort of thing. Especially if you're talking about mass volumes, if you're talking about hundreds of thousands of, say, telephone communications or something like that, calls of people just like you and me, like we're talking now.


REASON: There's always a problem looking for low-frequency events in a large population, even with a very good filter. How big a problem do you think false positives are?

Tice: It's going to be a huge problem. Huge. That's going to be your number one concern insofar as false positives are ultimately your error rate. The ultimate goal, more than likely in our hypothetical scenario, is to filter this thing down enough so that you can put it into human analysts' hands. The ultimate filter, the ultimate computer, is the human brain.


REASON: What aspect of that, within the parameters of what you're able to talk about, concerned you?

Tice: The lack of oversight, mainly—when a problem arose and I raised concerns, the total lack of concern that anyone could be held accountable for any illegality involved. And then these things are so deep black, the extremely sensitive programs that I was a specialist in, these things are so deep black that only a minute few people are cleared for these things. So even if you have a concern, it's things in many cases your own supervisor isn't cleared for. So you have literally nowhere to go.
First of all, what I'm hearing and reading about the NSA seems to involve several different programs going on inside the US and involving American citizens. We're far from understanding or knowing exactly what these programs are even in a general sense. Nor do we know what safeguards are in place to prevent political abuse.

Second, on the largest scale, we seem to be talking about data mining which is different than targeting a specific bad guy who is making calls to the United States.

Third, we may in addition be talking about bad guys calling someone in the US who calls someone who calls someone who calls someone, etc; along a rapidly growing chain, this very quickly leads to innocent people being watched who have nothing to do with the original bad guy; it also leads to very large numbers of people being monitored.

Now some of the supporters of data mining are trying to argue that the electronics filter out large numbers of innocent people. Notice, however, that for such a electronic spying system to work, the number of false positives has to be fairly high by definition. This means a lot of data involving innocent people has to be followed up by human analysis and occassionally, some field work; it can't be avoided. If the followups are being done without warrants, we have a problem. In fact, we seem to have problems all along the chain of programs that we have little understanding of and apparently, if Tice is right, that we have little assurance that are being properly supervised.

For five years, the Bush Administration has demonstrated a level of incompetence that has rarely been seen in our nation's history. As the war in Iraq amply demonstrates, putting garbage into America's intelligence system and combining that with political pressure only generates more garbage. Without accountability from Congress, and without demands from the American people for that accountability, the problems cannot be fixed. Nor can the growing abuses be held in check.

Terrorism is a real problem, and it has to be addressed, and there are proper ways to do so, but I fear the slow erosion of the US Constitution under Bush has become the bigger problem.

The Some History Link

I think the Some History link is running the way it should. I have more tinkering to do. But I think we're on the right track. I'm a writer, not a web designer, so I'm hoping to keep things simple. More additions will be coming in the next week.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cool Computers with Olive Oil?

Okay, I admit this is in the geeky category but it was too good to pass up. Even personal computers require cooling and the necessary fans can add to the energy bill. I found this in words of yovo who found it in Tom's Hardware:
Common sense dictates that submerging your high-end PC in cooking oil is not a good idea. But, of course, engineering feats and science breakthroughs were made possible by those who dared to explore the realms of the non-conventional. Members of the Munich-based THG lab are only too happy to confirm this fact. And not only did we find that our AMD Athlon FX-55 and GeForce 6800 Ultra equipped system didn't short out when we filled the sealed shut PC case with cooking oil - but the non-conductive properties of the liquid coupled created a totally cool and quiet high-end PC, devoid of the noise pollution of fans. The PC case - or should we say tank - also offered a new and novel way to display and show off your PC components.
It's nice to see innovation is still alive and well.

China and India Reach Deal on Energy

Tied down in Iraq and hampered by his ideological obsessions, Bush seems incapable of dealing with an increasing number of developments in foreign affairs. Iran and North Korea immediately come to mind.

The biggest development in the last two years, however, is the growing number of nations who no longer look to Washington for leadership. New alliances and economic ties are leaving the US behind. India and China are entitled to join the 21st century so it's understandable that they take energy seriously as their economies expand. Here's an article in Businessweek:
China and India have agreed to share information on what they're paying for foreign oil and gas for their energy-hungry economies in an effort to tone down a multibillion-dollar rivalry that was driving up asset prices abroad, the Chinese government announced.

The agreement was among five energy cooperation deals signed Thursday during a visit to Beijing by Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, the government said.

Beijing and New Delhi promised to exchange information when bidding for oil resources abroad.
The article also mentions that China and India have agreed to cooperate on the development of alterntive fuels. If the fastest growing economies in the world are taking the energy issue seriously, and that seriousness includes the development of alternative energy in addition to new oil acquisitions, perhaps the Bush Administration ought to develop a real energy plan that doesn't depend on ideas two or three generations out of date.

Personal note: I've been busy the last few days learning enough html to keep myself more or less out of trouble (I don't think I'm every totally out of trouble with this stuff). I have one wish: that those who write books on html would stop being engineers long enough to write a decent index so I can find what I need!

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is House Speaker Hastert Safe?

The Los Angeles Times reports that House Republicans are calling for broad changes:
Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) planned to start circulating a petition as early as Wednesday night asking for broad elections. The move underscored many House Republicans' belief that their leaders needed to do more to respond to the unfolding corruption scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, if the party was going to keep its congressional majority in the November elections.

Only days ago, House Republicans appeared set to hold a single election to replace Tom DeLay, who had resigned as majority leader, the No. 2 leadership position in the House. DeLay has been indicted in Texas on campaign finance-related charges unrelated to the Abramoff case.

But under Sweeney's petition, House Republicans would hold elections for five leadership posts in addition to picking a successor to DeLay as majority leader.

"Most of this year, I have felt like our leadership needed new people at the table," said Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), a conservative who normally is supportive of the leadership. "The fact is that they are tired."

She added: "I have not seen evidence of our leadership being able to stand up to special interests...."
Sweeney's proposal exempts House Speaker Dennis Hastert from the new elections. I'm not clear why the Republicans in the House want to exempt Hastert from possibly losing his position. After all, he was originally selected by Tom DeLay to be the Speaker. And there have been too many very odd last minute changes in legislation either happening under Hastert's nose or with his approval.

30-year Prison Sentence in Iraq

On Wednesday, Today in Iraq noted a story in the Kurdistani Times concerning a Kurdish lawyer and journalist. Reporters without Borders has the story:
Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the release of Kamal Sayid Qadir after the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq said his 30-year prison sentence was imposed in accordance with a law punishing “defamation of public institutions.”

In a statement released yesterday, the Kurdish authorities said the law, identified as Law 21, was passed by the region’s national assembly and took effect in 2003. “The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) affirms that the principles of human rights and freedom of expression continue to be respected, promoted, and assured for all persons throughout the Kurdistan Region,” the statement added.

Reporters Without Borders said : “We find it hard to believe that Iraq’s Kurdish authorities can say this after just sentencing a lawyer to 30 years in prison for defamation. Only extremely repressive countries have recourse to such heavy sentences for so-called crimes of opinion.”
This is not a good sign of democracy in Iraq.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Whistleblower on NSA Wiretaps

There really isn't much to add to this story from ABC News on the NSA wiretaps except to note that the word 'millions' is used:
President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants.

But Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used.

"That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum," Tice said.

The same day The New York Times broke the story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants, Tice surfaced as a whistleblower in the agency. He told ABC News that he was a source for the Times' reporters. But Tice maintains that his conscience is clear.

"As far as I'm concerned, as long as I don't say anything that's classified, I'm not worried," he said. "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed."

The NSA revoked Tice's security clearance in May of last year based on what it called psychological concerns and later dismissed him. Tice calls that bunk and says that's the way the NSA deals with troublemakers and whistleblowers. Today the NSA said it had "no information to provide."
'Millions.' That would give a whole new meaning to the famous phrase, "Round up the usual suspects!" If true, we're talking data mining with no oversight to speak of. And the technology will only improve.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An Earlier Generation Got It Right

Sometimes it's useful to remember why the US Constitution was created in the first place. It is a contract between the people and their representatives in all branches of the government; the representatives receive the stewardship of certain limited powers in exchange for agreeing to abide by the terms of that contract, to defend that contract and to remember at all times who they work for. The US Constitution is a flexible document but now and then it's important to go back to the beginning.

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold....

—William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, 1763

Government and the people do not in America constitute distinct bodies. They are one, and their interest is the same. Members of Congress, members of assembly or council, or by any other name they may be called, are only a selected part of the people. They are the representatives of majesty, but not majesty itself.

—Thomas Paine, 1782

If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.

—George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

Josh Marshall on the Growing Scandals

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has been following Washington's corruption cases closely for some time. Here's the first three paragraphs of a long post well worth reading:
The talk of the day now in DC is 'lobbying reform', which Mark Schmitt aptly pillories over at TPMCafe. We may need new laws to curb the power moneyed interests now have over policy-making. In fact, I think we do.

But that's not the problem in Washington. The problem is a network of criminal activity stretching from the House of Representatives (and, to a lesser degree, the Senate) to K Street and then into the Executive Branch -- a network of bribery, money-laundering and fraud all aimed at selling public policy and official actions not in exchange for political contributions but money rewards to members of Congress, administration officials and their families.

It's not an abstract problem or a merely a few politicians lining their pockets or high-speed log-rolling. As Schmitt puts it, it's a betrayal-of-public-trust, a group of high-ranking politicians who've committed crimes against their constituents and a Republican establishment that wasn't against it then and can't bring itself to turn the folks in even now.

Will House Republicans Take Reform Seriously?

The fact that the House took the month of January off in order to increase Tom DeLay's chances of staying on as Majority Leader was not a good sign that Republicans take the need for reform seriously. If one looks at the nearly moribund House ethics committee, it is presently being dusted off for public relations purposes and doesn't actually seem to be investigating anyone; the leadership is under the illusion that it will be sufficient for the ethics committee to pass new rules and guidelines for another wave of Cunninghams and DeLays to ignore. The Republican caucus does not appear as yet to have come to grips with the level of corruption not just within its ranks, but within its leadership. Tom DeLay has now resigned as Majority Leader as a result of his growing legal troubles but he hasn't quite taken himself out of the game as ThinkProgress noted on Monday:
When DeLay announced his official resignation on Saturday, he also announced he was “reclaiming” his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Why is there a seat available? From the San Diego Union Tribune, 12/10/05:

"A vacancy on the panel occurred earlier this week when Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, formally resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to charges that he accepted bribes from defense contractors."

Should be a smooth transition.
When the fox is moved from one hen house to another, the fox's behavior is likely to be the same. Pardon me for stating something that is obvious to most of the world but it appears Washington has trouble these days understanding such things. The Republican-controlled Congress has the same problem as President Bush: a growing lack of credibility that public relations cannot massage.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Demise of Tom DeLay

Tom DeLay made the correct decision not to seek the recovery of the number two post in the House but it will mean little if the DeLay machine remains in operation. Six years ago, when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stepped down, the current generation of Republicans had an opportunity to clean up their act. Instead, Hastert became the new speaker and Tom DeLay became the most powerful person in the House. Over the last six years, we have seen a level of corruption in Congress not seen in generations.

I have seen a number of commentaries on DeLay in the last few days. Here's one from S. W. Anderson of Oh!pinion:
Rep. Tom DeLay made the first good-government gesture of his long and checkered political career today by announcing he’ll not seek reinstatement as House majority leader.

There is political justice in the way this development came about. DeLay’s anything-to-win approach to politics earned him his leadership post. He helped craft the politics-as-all-out-war and politics-of-personal-destruction mentality that brought his fellow right-wing Republicans to control of the House. In the process, neoconservative Republicans made the institution a place where the words “comity” and “bipartisan” are mentioned only in bitter reminiscence.

No doubt as the midterm elections draw closer, Republicans will be making many fine speeches about the need for reform. But if the DeLay machine remains intact, even if DeLay is no longer its leader, all the rhetoric will mean little if the members of the machine are still in office in January of next year.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Getting the Work Done

rudi_mat by Bob Tyson

The Real Patriots

There has been a steady stream of revelations over the last five years that what the politicians who run the Bush Administration say often does not match what the professionals say. By professionals, I mean people like Paul O'Neil, Richard Clark, Coleen Rowley, General Shinseki, Joe Wilson, Larry Wilkerson and a fair number of others.

For me, the most revealing moment concerned the famous aluminum tubes. The experts on bomb-making, in other words, the professionals, the people most likely to understand the issues and the technology involved, said that the aluminum tubes were unsuitable for enriching uranium and that they were probably intended for artillery rockets. The nonexperts in the Bush Administration, however, were the ones who wrote the decisive reports and hence provided one of the key arguments for war in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the nonexperts were wrong.

In Salon, Sidney Blumenthal writes on Bush's War on Professionals (thanks to Truthout for the full article). I'll just quote a few paragraphs in the middle:

Bush has responded to the latest exposures of the existence of his new national security apparatus as assaults on the government. It is these revelations, he said, that are "shameful." The passion he currently exhibits was something he was unable to muster for the exposure by members of his administration of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But there is a consistency between his absence of fervor in discovering who was behind the outing of Plame and his furor over the reporting of warrantless NSA domestic spying. In the Plame case, the administration officials who spun her name to conservative columnist Robert Novak and others intended to punish and intimidate former ambassador Joseph Wilson for having revealed that a central element of the administration case for the Iraq war was bogus. In the NSA case, Bush is also attempting to crush whistle-blowers.

Bush's war on professionals has been fought in nearly every department and agency of the government, from intelligence to Interior, from the Justice Department to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in order to suppress contrary analysis on issues from weapons of mass destruction to global warming, from voting rights to the morning-after pill. Without whistle-blowers on the inside, there are no press reports on the outside. The story of Watergate, after all, is not of journalists operating in a vacuum, but is utterly dependent on sources internal to the Nixon administration. "Deep Throat," Mark Felt, the deputy FBI director, whatever his motives, was a quintessential whistle-blower.

Now Bush's Justice Department has launched a "leak" probe, complete with prosecutors and grand jury, to investigate the disclosure of the NSA story. It is similarly investigating the Washington Post's reportage of the administration's secret prison system for terrorist suspects. The intent is to send a signal to the reporters on this beat that they may be called before grand juries and forced to reveal their sources. (The disastrous failed legal strategy of the New York Times in defending Judy Miller as a Joan of Arc in the Plame case has crucially helped reinforce the precedent.) Within the bowels of government, potential whistle-blowers are being put on notice that they put their careers at risk for speaking to reporters in order to inform the public of what they consider wrongdoing.

"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.

Risen writes that the administration created a secret parallel chain of command to authorize the NSA surveillance program. While the professionals within the Justice Department were cut out, a "small, select group of like-minded conservative lawyers," such as John Yoo, were brought in to invent legal justifications. To the "small handful on national security law within the government" knowledgeable about the NSA program, the administration's debating points on the Patriot Act, which stipulates approval of eavesdropping by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, was a charade, a "mockery." Risen presents more witnesses and adds some episodes to familiar material - the twisting of intelligence and intimidation of professionals both before and after the Iraq war; a national security team commanded by Vice President Cheney in league with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld; and neoconservatives contriving "stovepipe" intelligence operations to funnel disinformation from Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who were their political favorites.

Risen quotes a former top CIA official on Condoleezza Rice: a "very, very weak national security advisor - I think Rice didn't really manage anything, and will go down as probably the worst national security advisor in history. I think the real national security advisor was Cheney, and so Cheney and Rumsfeld could do what they wanted."

For the last five years, Bush has been restructuring the federal government and the results are not pretty. Hurricane Katrina perfectly illustrated the difference: the cronies, ideologues, loyalists and political hacks that Bush brought to Washington did not perform well. Only the professionals, like those in the Coast Guard, kept Hurricane Katrina from being worse than it was.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Editorial in the Arizona Republic

On Thursday, The Arizona Republic had a very fine editorial on the larger implications of the growing scandals in Washington. Here's some selected parts:

There is a very big scandal brewing today in Washington. But it is only secondarily about specific acts of bribery and corruption. The great political scandal, maybe of our age, lies in the answer to this question:

When did citizens of the United States stop being represented by the men and women elected to Congress and when did their true representatives become hired-gun lobbyists like Abramoff?

The Abramoff scandal is certainly sleazy enough.

A megalomaniac wheeler-dealer with sterling Republican Party connections, Abramoff earlier this week cut a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that appears certain to enwrap a great many congressional power brokers. Reputations are going to be sullied. Lawmakers with campaign contributions tied to Abramoff can't seem to fling the money from their coffers far enough or fast enough.


Office-holders may end up stepping down. Some may even find themselves staring down the barrel of bribery indictments. It is going to get very ugly this year along the Potomac.

But the real scandal is hardly limited to one oily lobbyist and a handful of members of Congress with their hands out. Or even a score of congressional members, if it comes to that. What may become the true scandal of our day is the broad-scale evolution of power out of the hands of elected people and into the hands of countless lobbyists and behind-the-scenes power brokers.

Late last month, former Arizona Republic investigative reporter Jerry Kammer, now with Copley News Service, wrote about the astonishing new nexus between the practice of "earmarking" - designating congressional spending for specific projects, also known as "pork" - and the explosion of lobbyists seeking such earmarks.

Kammer's story is essential reading for anyone concerned about whether the congressional appropriations process has morphed into something very much like bribery.

In 1982, Congress included 12 "earmarked" projects in its appropriations. By 1998, there were 2,000 of them worth $10.6 billion, as reported by Kammer. In 2004, that number had tripled to 15,584 earmarks worth $32.7 billion.


The federal budget bloats with bridges to nowhere. Tiny colleges in California become superpowers of government-funded research - not because of the brilliance of their work but because they fortuitously hire a potent lobbyist with close ties to a powerful lawmaker.

And, most pernicious of all, lawmakers start forgetting whom it is they work for.

...whom it is they work for. Lincoln thought he knew who it is elected officials work for and it was a pretty good answer. We need to be careful that it isn't the American people who are forgetting.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

And There's Still That Other Scandal

Representative Cunningham was convicted last month of several charges revolving around corruption and bribery. Think Progress reminds us there may be more developments coming out of the Cunningham conviction.
Cunningham received $630,000 from a military contractor named Brent Wilkes, who is referred to as “co-conspirator No. 1″ in Justice Department documents. Wilkes worked for Audre Inc., a job he took in 1992 when the company was near bankruptcy and desperate for federal contracts. That’s where Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, comes in.


But Hunter isn’t the only committee chairman with problems.

Wilkes employed a lobbyist named Bill Lowery who is unusually close with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis.
It is difficult to say where these investigations will go and whether more crimes have been committed but I notice some of the "reformers" in the Republican Party who are already scrambling to be heard may not be much better than those who are already under indictment. Newt Gingrich, who helped to bring in a whole new generation of Republicans, comes to mind. As I recall, he was famous for allowing industry representatives and lobbyists to write their own legislation.

Now I want to repeat a personal observation I have noted elsewhere and I believe it's necessary to keep doing so: most Republicans I have known in my life are honest and hardworking. Usually, over the years, I voted for the other side but if my candidate lost, I went about my business assuming the country couldn't go too wrong until my side had its chance again. What's now happening in Washington has very little to do with the Republican Party many of us remember from years ago. We have a problem.

Advice for Bush

Since the president is fond of reading about Teddy Roosevelt, here's a quote from nearly the same era that he might find useful:
Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible.
—Anthony Hope (1894)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bush and His Bouquet of Recess Appointments

These smell, don't they?

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo links to the list of Bush's 17 recess appointments. The Republicans control the Senate but Bush doesn't have enough confidence in his choices to put them through the confirmation process? These are indeed strange days.

Here's more from the Washington Post:
President Bush yesterday made a raft of controversial recess appointments, including Julie L. Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau at the Department of Homeland Security, in a maneuver circumventing the need for approval by the Senate.

Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers and the wife of the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had been criticized by Republicans and Democrats who charged that she lacked experience in immigration matters.
Etc., etc., etc. In other words, the usual cronies and hacks we have come to expect from our president. I notice some on the list are being appointed to positions in Homeland Security, State and Defense.

If the House and the Senate are incapable of holding Bush accountable, or at the very least providing oversight of the executive branch, it's time to elect people who will.

DeLay's Generous Travel Allowance

Laura Rozen of War and Piece notices that Fox gives DeLay quite a generous travel allowance:
Going through DeLay's reported travel, a few entries stand out, including this one: Why in the world did Fox News Sunday pay more than $13,000 for DeLay to go from Sugarland Texas to DC in October?
I thought Congress passed some laws years ago that made this kind of stuff illegal. Ah, but a couple of years ago, Tom DeLay was overheard saying that he is the Congress. Well, that explains everything.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Abramoff Scandal

One of the things we're trying to do here at Donkey Path is to cover things that other blogs and the media aren't necessarily focused on. We're also trying to take the long view on things, which is difficult since our nation is in the middle of a major leadership crisis, perhaps the deepest crisis in our nation's history. But some stories need to be watched closely simply for the symbolic nature of what they represent.

The Abramoff scandal has been brewing for months and represents Washington's rotten core. There are already attempts to drag the Democrats into this scandal, and while some Democrats have been guilty of some things in years past and have usually faced the music, this is purely a Republican scandal in the sense that people like Abramoff don't waste much time on people who aren't in power. The current crop of Republicans in Congress seem particularly susceptible to his kind of persuasion. We just saw Representative Cunningham take a fall after receiving bribes from a different but similarly motivated set of high rollers.

This is a story worth following, so here's some recommendations on who to read beyond the mainstream media. I just posted a story that Laura Rozen of War and Piece mentioned. She's always worth reading. I suspect Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo will be following this story closely. Firedoglake is worth checking because of their legal expertise. Steve Soto of The Left Coaster has been following the Abramoff debacle on its own merits and also in terms of the 2006 elections. Americablog, brilliant some days and erratic on others, has already debunked some Republican talking points. Former Republican, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, will be paying close attention. If you want the latest, Eschaton has a knack of catching things early or noticing others who are first to catch a story.

It can't be said often enough that 2006 will be a critical year.

Speaker of the House Makes News

I have trouble thinking of anything Dennis Hastert has accomplished as Speaker of the House. He's not capable of standing up to George W. Bush and it's ridiculous to think he's capable of holding the president accountable. For years, the number two man in the House, Tom DeLay, had a knack for being in the news more and had always given the impression of being the man in control rather than Hastert; that is, until Delay had to step down to face felony charges. Nevertheless, Dennis Hastert, as Laura Rozen of War and Piece, points out has made the news today. Hastert has promised to give back money he has received from Jack Abramoff who just pled guilty to three felonies and has promised to testify against former colleagues.

Can a man put a cookie back in the cookie jar after he's eaten it? Yeah, I know, it's just a quick trip to the store to buy several boxes of oreos.

Air Force and Navy in Iraq

Steve M of No More Mister Nice Blog noticed this Yahoo article about the increasing use of air force and navy personnel in Iraq:
U.S. airmen are increasingly on the ground in Iraq, driving in convoys and even working with detainees — a shift in the Air Force's historic mission that military officials call necessary to bolster the strapped Army.

The main aerial hub for the war in Iraq has 1,500 airmen doing convoy operations in Iraq and 1,000 working with detainees, training Iraqis and performing other activities not usually associated with the Air Force, said Col. Tim Hale, commander of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.

"Every one of us has learned that we are in a nontraditional state in our armed forces," he said, standing outside an auditorium at an air base in Kuwait.
I don't know if this is what some generals mean by the wheels coming off in Iraq or if this simply represents an efficient deployment of personnel. Feel free to offer comments below.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Suicidal Statecraft

Former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote an article nearly three months ago that deserves a reprise. Although responding to specific speeches made by Bush in the early fall, his article serves as a reminder of what the United States faces in the year 2006. Here's what Brzezinski had to say in the first four paragraphs:
Sixty years ago, Arnold Toynbee concluded, in his monumental "A Study of History," that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was "suicidal statecraft." Sadly for President George W. Bush's place in history but - much more important - ominously for America's future, it has lately seemed as if that adroit phrase might be applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11.

Though there have been some hints lately that the administration may be beginning to reassess the goals, so far defined largely by slogans, of its unsuccessful military intervention in Iraq, Bush's speech of Oct. 6 was a throwback to the more demagogic formulations that he employed during the presidential campaign of 2004 to justify the war that he himself started.

That war, advocated by a narrow circle of decision makers for motives still not fully exposed, propagated publicly by demagogic rhetoric reliant on false assertions, has turned out to be much more costly in blood and money than anticipated.

It has precipitated worldwide criticism, while in the Middle East it has stamped the United States as the successor to British imperialism and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs. Fair or not, that perception has become widespread in the world of Islam as a whole.
Though Brzezinwki has criticized Bush in other forums, these are still strong words for someone who in other years couched his words in a more nuanced style. The whole article is worth reading but I want to point to one more paragraph:
It should be a source of special concern for thoughtful Americans that even nations known for their traditional affection for America have become openly critical of American policy. As a result, large swathes of the world - be it East Asia, or Europe, or Latin America - have been quietly exploring ways of shaping closer regional associations tied less to the notions of trans-Pacific, or trans-Atlantic, or hemispheric cooperation with the United States. Geopolitical alienation from America could become a lasting and menacing reality.
Not only is the United States losing its leadership position in the world (which some conservatives dismiss as unimportant) but Bush's policies are increasingly putting the United States at risk and eroding relationships with other nations that only a few years ago we found valuable.

Near the end of the article, Brzezinski politely calls for a bipartisan effort to get our foreign policy back on track. While there may still be opportunities for bipartisan action (and we saw some mild bipartisan action on torture, as one example), I believe we are beyond the point of making minor corrections in Bush's foreign policy. We face the reality of a Republican Congress incapable as yet of discharging its full constitutional responsibililties. But we also face the reality of a broken and ineffectual foreign policy. This is the year that Bush must be held accountable. It is possible no other issue will matter as much this year.

And it's long past time for the media, and even some Republican members of Congress who still remember their oath to the US Constitution, to recognize that the usual public relations massage of the facts that so often comes from the White House is not a sign of superior statecraft and news management but a smokescreen that obscures, among other things, an obstinate refusal to make the changes necessary to restore the credibility of our nation. The economic and military power of the United States is not unlimited. There is much in this world that still requires diplomacy and negotiation but there will increasingly be a limit to what we can do unless the credibility of the United States is restored.

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Bush's Legacy

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note writes a long article about Bush's desire for a legacy and the false analogy that Bush uses to compare Iraq to Japan after World War II:
George W. Bush turns out to be a bold president, willing to take huge risks and make tough judgment calls -- but by most accounts, he is not an intelligent man and made decisions on gut more than serious analysis. This makes him the worst kind of president -- a kind of anti-FDR.

As former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson recently stated, the framers of the National Security Act after World War II feared a future strong, dumb president -- and felt that much needed to be done to protect the country from someone like a George W. Bush.
I've been browsing the main blogs today and there seems to be a sense that 2006 will be a critical year and not just because of the midterm elections. There seems to be a shifting ground, though I couldn't even begin to predict where things will lead. But one thing clearly needs to happen: if our government is to make any sense as a functioning, rational institution, if it is to deal effectively with major issues at some minimal level, and there are a growing number of issues that need to be dealt with, it is time to hold Bush accountable on a broad range of issues. Part of that accountability is pressuring Bush to get rid of the cronies and ideological deadweights that are incapable of dealing realistically with these times.

We are past the era when issues can be massaged with public relations gestures from the Bush White House.