Friday, May 25, 2007

George Bush would end the war if Maliki asked

Apparently, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell isn't the only Republican who believes that the Iraqi government trumps the U.S. Congress on matters of national security.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we've asked before, but you can begin it with a "yes" or "no."

THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.

I'd thought McConnell was just being obtuse when he made his comment, but apparently this really is the view of our leaders.

Via Americablog

Thursday, May 24, 2007

John Edwards pulls no punches: accuses Democrats of "caving" on Iraq

By aggressively challenging Congress when it became apparent they would strip timelines from the Iraq funding bill, John Edwards earned considerable respect from voters who want and end to the war.

Unswayed by Harry Reid's pleas for patience, he's now scolding the Democratic leadership for giving in to Bush's veto threat:
"Washington failed America today when Congress surrendered to the president's demand for another blank check that prolongs the war in Iraq. It is time for this war to end."

Democratic Senators to base: Drop Dead!

In what could be interpreted as a slap at the Democratic base, 37 Democratic Senators voted for what is almost universally agreed to be a complete capitulation to George Bush's Iraq war demands.

Only 11 of the 14 Senate no votes were Democrats and 3 of those are running for President in 2008. (always the contrarian, Joe Biden voted for it).

Ron Paul, one of only 4 Republicans to vote against the stripped supplemental

While 86 House Democrats and 37 Democratic Senators folded under George Bush's veto threat, Ron Paul continued to buck his party and hold to his opposition to continuing the Iraq war. Representative Duncan of Tennessee and Senators Burr and Coburn were the only other Republicans voting against the stripped down supplemental bill.

Interestingly, presidential candidate Brownback missed this vote.

McCain spotted at Capitol, decides to vote on Iraq supplemental

Despite previously declaring that votes on the Iraq war are meaningless, John McCain decided to make an appearance at the latest roll-call in order to give George Bush his blank check. McCain has been getting a bit of flak for missing an extraordinary number of votes on issues as mundane as funding his own Iraq war surge plan, to allowing Medicare to negotiate cheaper drug prices.

No word if this shows a new civic mindedness on his part, or if he was just in town for a fundraiser.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Congress declares itself irrelevant

With nearly 60% of the country backing their position against an unpopular war and a president who's approval rating is hitting the high 20's, Democratic leaders simply didn't have the stomach to fight on the Iraq supplemental. George Bush will get his blank check, stripped of all but a few token benchmarks, which can be ignored at his sole discretion.
Reid called the benchmark language "extremely weak," but noted that Bush had initially demanded a bill with no strings attached. "For heaven's sake, look where we've come," Reid said. "It's a lot more than the president ever expected he'd have to agree to."
Some Democrats will try to argue that this is Bush's war, but it isn't. It's our war. And it became their responsibility the day they took over their majorities in the House and Senate. They've succeeded in drafting a bill that Bill Frist would be proud of, and openly argue that they are powerless to do more than rubber stamp the president's request. That's not what they were elected for and they're foolish if they think they'll get any credit for wringing their hands on the sidelines while the situation worsens.

They’ve guaranteed that instead of resolving this question, now, we’ll be having this debate all over again in September, at which point Bush will again promise to veto any restrictions the Congress tries to set. And of course, he’ll have every reason to believe that he’ll be successful.
"Some will say no, some will say yes," the official involved in the negotiations said of rank and file Democrats. "It's not a perfect bill. Nobody got what they wanted. But it is the beginning of the end of George W. Bush's policy in Iraq."
One person got exactly what he wanted. He's declared that he listens to nobody and you've proven he doesn't have to.

Update: According to Jerome Armstrong, Reid was handicapped by the defections of the two Republican Senators, Hagel and Smith, leaving him with only 48 votes for the withdrawal language. If true, it's yet another case of Republican Senators caving in to the president despite their public appeals for a change of course.

Fundamentalist terrorist captured at Falwell's funeral

Not exactly the 5th column we were all warned about, but a student from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University appears to have missed some lessons on turning the other cheek.
The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service. The devices were made of a combination of gasoline and detergent, a law enforcement official told ABC News' Pierre Thomas. They were "slow burn," according to the official, and would not have been very destructive.

Three other suspects are being sought, one of whom is a soldier from Fort Benning, Ga., and another is a high school student.
No word if he's a radical Christianist. But never mind that, I heard Barack Obama went to school at a madrassa!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ron Paul, the Howard Dean of the 2008 campaign

Andrew Sullivan, discussing the increasing online popularity of Republican candidate Ron Paul makes an interesting comparison:
Paul also has serious online support. Like Howard Dean – another crank – Ron Paul’s supporters are overrepresented on the web. They blasted all the online polls about the debate, and Paul thereby “won” or came second in the debate, according to the ABC News poll, the Fox News poll and almost every other online poll out there. His campaign has deployed YouTube to great effect as well, and the hostility of the Republican establishment has only given his little political insurgency more oxygen.
Like Dean, Ron Paul is considered a crank because of his views on the Iraq war and his rejection of the idea that 9/11 changed everything. The fiscally conservative, gun-toting, small state governor had been branded a liberal nutcase, only when he declared that Saddam Hussein's capture didn't make America safer, that Iraq never posed a threat to the United States and that the Iraq war was a huge distraction from the fight against bin Laden. The fact that he thought the Patriot Act was an assault on civil liberties only reinforced the view that Dean was a left-wing lunatic.

Dean became popular because he was the only voice in the Democratic race willing to challenge Bush directly on the war. For that he was branded a radical, and his fellow Democrats issued the fiercest attacks. John Kerry demanded he apologize for his comment about Saddam - just as Giuliani now demands Ron Paul apologize for his views on the causes of 9/11.

Dean lost his bid, but he was the catalyst that showed Democrats how to challenge a disastrous policy. By 2006 his views were shared by the overwhelming majority of Democrats and independents and helped lead to their victory at the polls. (Although he'll be branded a crank forever).

Ron Paul now stands as the only Republican who'll challenge the president directly on the war. Let's hope he can be the catalyst that brings his party back to reason as well.

Still not listening

Nothing is off the table. - Harry Reid

Everything is off the table. - George Bush

Guess which is the stronger negotiating position.

Compromise involves two parties.

If the Democrats don't realize that, George Bush will continue to treat members of Congress like annoying children. And Iraq will continue to dissolve into chaos while we all watch.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Democrats attempt to use Republican rubber stamp & get burned

In a baffling attempt to completely cave in to president Bush on the Iraq supplemental bill, Democratic leaders tried to draft a bill that fully funded the surge strategy including a timeline without any teeth.

The president, illustrating that his idea of compromise is receiving a blank check, complained that the completely meaningless clause was too restrictive.
Democrats said they offered to strip billions of dollars in non-military spending from the bill and indicated that they would accept giving the president the option to waive any withdrawal deadlines. But those offers to compromise were rejected, Democrats said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), however, said he was shocked that Democrats insisted on keeping a withdrawal timeline in the bill.
John Boehner's idea of a tough negotiating position, is of course to include benchmarks with no teeth. And if the president's plan doesn't achieve those benchmarks?
A key Republican House leader said Sunday that if President Bush's current strategy in Iraq is not working by fall, members of Congress will demand to know what the White House's next plan is.
Tough stuff, John. Tough stuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cheney claims that outing covert agents is part of his official duties

From the Washington Post:
Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.
You're probably thinking, "What about Bill Clinton? Didn't he get sued?" Not to worry. Cheney's lawyers claim that was different, because Clinton's argument was frivolous and self-serving.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the statements were true or false?

"That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These officials were responding to that criticism."
I suppose if they'd had Wilson taken out and shot, they'd consider it part of their official duties, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Did the admirals stop a push for war against Iran?

Possibly, if you believe this story:
Fallon's refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch".

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, "You know what choices I have. I'm a professional." Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."
The crazies would undoubtedly include this guy:
We must attack Iran before it gets the bomb

A nuclear Iran would be as dangerous as “Hitler marching into the Rhineland” in 1936 and should be prevented by Western military strikes if necessary, according to a leading hawk who recently left the Bush administration.
In the article, Bolton snipes at Tony Blair for attempting diplomacy with the Iranians and complains that Condoleeza Rice has fallen under the spell of the State Department like Colin Powell before her.
His animus towards the State Department building in Foggy Bottom can seem is only a shade less acute. Bolton sees himself as a warrior fighting the kind of bureaucratic inertia and group think which, he laments, has now taken hold of the Bush administration.

h/t ThinkProgress, Mvdg

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

5 out of 7 Republican candidates asked, endorse torture

In the recent FOX news presidential debate, Brit Hume created a fictional scenario straight from the pages of 24, a classic "ticking time bomb" plot: American shopping centers are hit by suicide bombers, hundreds dead. Other attackers captured and taken to Gitmo. Will you use enhanced interrogation techniques to prevent a second attack?

(Brit assures us that the best minds in the intelligence industry think these are the most valuable tools available - if not necessarily legal)

Only John McCain and Ron Paul were willing to call this for what it is. It's torture. McCain rejected it explicitly, while Ron Paul made an exception for the fantasy scenario.
McCAIN:We do not torture people.

It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know.
Rudy Giuliani, the man who survived 9/11, disagrees. He doesn't want to see another 3000 dead.
GIULIANI: I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of --
Of course, anything that doesn't cause organ failure is no longer considered torture. Giuliani gives waterboarding the thumbs up.

Romney isn't so coy. In fact he's nearly giddy at the idea. Apparently worried that the ACLU will try to spring bin Laden's boys, he puts them safely in an expanded Guantanamo, far from prying eyes.
ROMNEY: I want them on Guantanamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there.

Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo... And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used -- not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.
Senator Brownback assures us that he won't let the U.N. get in the way of American safety and he'll worry about the morality of his decision after the crisis is over.
BROWNBACK: I will do it. I'll move aggressively forward on it. If we have to later ask and say, "Well, it shouldn't quite have been done this way or that way," that's the way it is.
Hunter and Tancredo, apparently worried that Mitt is stealing the John Wayne vote, decide not to mince words.
HUNTER: I would say to SECDEF, in terms of getting information that would save American lives, even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: Get the information. Have it back within an hour, and let's act on it.

TANCREDO: Well, let me just say that it's almost unbelievable to listen to this in a way. We're talking about it in such a theoretical fashion. You say that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we're wondering about whether waterboarding would be a -- a bad thing to do? I'm looking for "Jack Bauer" at that time, let me tell you. (Laughter, applause.)
Hume didn't actually mention nukes, and of course the question was theoretical, but Tancredo seems to know who's network he's on.

Unfortunately, it's left to Paul to point out the obvious. Brit Hume is asking questions in a fantasy world, while a real war rages on.
PAUL: [Y]ou know, I think it's interesting talking about torture here in that it's become enhanced interrogation technique. It sounds like Newspeak.

Nobody's for the torture, and I think that's important. But as far as taking care of a problem like this, ... If we're under imminent attack, the president can take that upon himself to do it.

[W]e forgot about [Osama], and now we're over in Iraq in a war that's bogging us down, and we have forgotten about dealing with the people that attacked us. And here you have a hypothetical attack that you're dealing with; we ought to be dealing with the one we have right now on our hands.

Romney accuses McCain of dealing with the enemy

In the latest debate, the gloves came off, as Mitt Romney accused John McCain of collaboration with the worst of the worst (Democrats, specifically).
Romney reveled in tying McCain to two of the more liberal members of the Senate, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), with whom McCain is working on comprehensive immigration reform, and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), with whom McCain has reformed the campaign finance system.

“My fear is that McCain-Kennedy would do to immigration what McCain-Feingold has done to campaign finance and money in politics, and that’s bad,” Romney said.
Tough stuff in a Republican primary campaign. Kennedy in particular is seen as the definition of the bleeding heart liberal, reviled in all corners of Red State America - tie a candidate too closely to him and he's sunk.

Of course, it's a dangerous strategy for the former Governor of Massachusetts. Forced to deal daily with a Democratic State House in what is widely considered the most liberal state in the Union, he's bound to have skeletons in his own closet. And some of those skeletons tie him directly to the state's senior Senator, Teddy Kennedy.

The two men joined together on issues as provincial as stopping a local wind farm:
Kennedy said yesterday that he would have preferred to give Romney veto power over the Cape Wind project to set a precedent in which offshore energy projects can't move forward without a state's consent.
to joining together to squeeze more money from the federal government:
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) met with HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday to push for the continuation of a state Medicaid waiver that amounts to $585 million in federal Medicaid matching funds annually
and of course, on Romney's claim to fame, Universal Health Care:
Whereas before, Romney was touting the initiative as an example of his ability to deliver as a Republican who works with Democrats to get good things done, now he's making statements like "I was a little concerned at the signing ceremony when Ted Kennedy showed up."
All perfectly reasonable, of course. It's what politicians do to get things done. It's why arch conservatives including Orrin Hatch, Bill Frist and George Bush have joined forces with Kennedy over the years.

That point is bound to be lost on the Republican primary voters, however.

From the Kangaroo Court: if at first you don't succeed...

From the court that brought you a plea bargain so secret, the prosecutors didn't even know about it, comes an even more ingenious legal theory. If a tribunal accidentally finds the accused not guilty, just try again.
If Pentagon officials disagree with the result of a hearing, they order a second one, or even a third, until they approve of the finding.

Detainees’ lawyers say the issue of the repeated hearings offers the starkest proof that the Pentagon set up a system of military tribunals not to find the truth about the detainees but to ratify its own conclusion that the military had seized the right people.

Another aspect to the case in the appeals court that has caused public debate involves the government’s request that the court tighten restrictions on lawyers for the detainees. One proposal would have limited the number of visits the lawyers could make to Guantánamo, a request that the Justice Department withdrew Friday.

As set up by the Pentagon, the tribunals do not permit detainees to have lawyers at the hearings or to see much of the evidence against them.
Oddly, Paul Wolfowitz, famous for helping to plan the Iraq war and for the current World Bank scandal, was involved in this decision too.

h/t ThinkProgress

Monday, May 14, 2007

The First Amendment, still the best after 216 years

via C&L, The Guardian attempts to report on the current state of the case against David Keogh and Leo O'Connor, recently convicted of violating Britain's Official Secrets Act.

I say attempts to report, because the absurdity of an Official Secrets Act in a free society leads to pretzel twisting logic like the court's ruling that journalists covering the trial cannot actually mention what it's all about.
We cannot report allegations about what the document contains even though they have been reported time and time again ... by the media, including British newspapers.

That's not strictly true. The judge said we can repeat those allegations but only if they appear on a different page of a newspaper than any reference to the trial or the document which was at the centre of it. We can also report, since it was said in open court, that the Guardian's counsel, Anthony Hudson, argued that it would be inappropriate to restrain publication of the allegation already in the public domain claiming that President Bush suggested that the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera should be bombed.
The background on the story is that Keogh and O'Connor disclosed the minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush. Bush apparently speculated about bombing Al Jazeera offices and Blair advised against it. (Al Jazeera has occasionally been hit by U.S. fire)

Europeans and people in most other nations do not have the same freedom of speech we take for granted in the United States, much to the chagrin of the "limits to freedom" crowd.

Of course, in most cases, the real purpose of state secrets is to keep powerful people safe from the rabble:
He, and the government as a whole, seemed particularly concerned about the need to protect Bush from embarrassment, (the prosecution conceded that no "actual damage" had been caused by the leak) and to show the White House that Whitehall is determined to try and keep secrets even though Washington cannot.

Turkish voters will elect their president directly

Under threat of a coup, the Turkish parliament has overwhelmingly decided to have the voters choose their president:
Turkish presidents, traditionally, are elected in parliament -- but parliament has just voted to give that decision to the people. Behind the reform is an old conflict between Muslims and Turkish secularists.
The current prime minister Erdogan, and his chosen nominee for president, Gül, are members of a conservative Islamic party (AKP). The military, who see themselves as defenders of the secular nation, had threatened a coup if Gül were elected by parliament.

Interestingly, it's Erdogan and Gül who believe they'll win in a direct election. The current president may veto the law to prevent it.
[The current president] Sezer is among critics ... who say the law was rushed through without enough debate. He's hinted at a veto. It's true that the Islamic-rooted, center-right AKP promoted the amendment after its presidential candidate, Abdullah Gül, lost two divisive votes in parliament.
[Gül actually won the votes of more than 60% of the members of parliament, but opponents prevented a quorum by boycotting the proceedings]
The president in Turkey controls the military, and Gül's candidacy last month tore open old wounds between conservative Muslims in the AKP on the one hand, and secularists on the other -- especially secularists entrenched in the military. The army has issued a veiled threat to the government that it may stage a coup if a candidate with Islamist roots -- such as Gül -- is elected president.
In Turkey, it's the AKP that leans towards the West. Erdogan has aggressively pursued EU membership, while secular parties have been more nationalistic.

There's no evidence that the military would not stage a coup against a popularly elected President. Protesters came out in force against the AKP yesterday, but oppose military threats as well.
Veiled threats from generals during Gül's presidential bid inflamed national tensions, and protesters in Izmir carried not just anti-Erdogan banners but also paper hats with slogans: "No to Islamic law, no to military coups: a democratic Turkey."

America's mayor runs a distant second in New York

Although Rudy Giuliani runs as America's mayor in the rest of the country (based on his leadership in NY on 9/11), he's not nearly as popular in the city itself.
Forty-six percent of those polled said Bloomberg would make a better president than Giuliani while 29 percent chose Giuliani over Bloomberg, according to the poll conducted for the Daily News by Blum & Weprin Associates.those surveyed said Bloomberg was a better mayor than Giuliani, who was widely praised for his leadership following the September 11 attacks.
46-29! I wonder if he's cursing the day he threw his weight behind Bloomberg to win.

Running for president is becoming a billionaire's game

This story, if true, is extremely troubling for those who prefer a representative government:
"He has set aside $1 billion to go for it," a long-time business adviser to Mr. Bloomberg tells The Times. "The thinking about where it will come from and do we have it is over, and the answer is yes, we can do it."
The presidency is already virtually cut-off from the middle and professional classes in this country, being a game for millionaires and their closest friends. This is why we get the constant concern for repeal of the estate tax, or flattening the income tax, but little interest in lowering those taxes that take the biggest chunk out of the typical American's paycheck.

h/t Tapped

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mitch McConnell will obey Iraqi demands, but not the Democrats'

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell apparently believes that the Iraqi parliament, led by al Sadr's Shiite faction, have binding authority over U.S. military policies, although he emphatically believes that the U.S. Congress does not.
"Republicans overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government," McConnell said. "I read just this week that a significant number of the Iraqi Parliament want to vote to ask us to leave. I want to assure you, Wolf, if they vote to ask us to leave, we'll be glad to comply with their request."
Here's what he had to say when the Senate Democrats voted to end the war in Iraq and withdraw forces by next March:
Republicans contend that Congress has no authority to dictate war policy, and that Democrats are overreaching, possibly dangerously, by attempting to limit Bush's options. "This is the memo that our enemies have been waiting for," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Republicans have vigorously defended George Bush's policies in Iraq, declaring that leaving was tantamount to a terrorist victory. They have been particularly aggressive in asserting that Congress has no role in military decisions.

McConnell's statements are absurd and self-refuting. We either have a national interest in staying in Iraq, or we don't. Americans need to decide the future course of our engagement in Iraq. No foreign nation should have veto power over it. Certainly not the current, corrupt Iraqi government.

Taliban leader Dadullah reportedly killed by allies

In a victory against the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, NATO has reportedly killed Mullah Dadullah, The Taliban leader, who had threatened to launch a new summer offensive including suicide attacks and assassinations throughout the country.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, May 13 — The Taliban’s foremost operational commander, Mullah Dadullah, has been killed in southern Afghanistan and his body displayed by Afghan officials to journalists in this southern city Sunday morning.

The commander was killed in a joint operation by Afghan security forces, US coalition, and NATO troops in the next door province of Helmand, Asadullah Khaled, the governor of Kandahar said. News agencies reported that he was killed in an operation in Nahri Sarraj district, a strategic area of Helmand province that the Afghan intelligence service reported Saturday had been cleared of Taliban after an operation this week. A statement released by NATO confirmed his death.

Friday, May 11, 2007

In Iraq, al Sadr pulls the strings while Bush stumbles

While the president and Congress battle over the Iraq supplemental, Muqtada al Sadr has been moving behind the scenes in Iraq to get the Iraqi parliament, itself, to call for a U.S. pullout.

Now that President Bush has explicitly declared that leaving Iraq is the definition of failure, we may face the prospect of being outwitted by a man who fought pitched battles against the Americans in Najaf and emerged intact and politically formidable.

From the Washington Post:
A majority of Iraq's parliament has expressed support for a proposed bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq and freeze current troop levels.

The draft bill is being championed by a 30-member bloc loyal to al-Sadr, and it has gained support from other Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish legislators. As many as 144 lawmakers have signed the proposal, a majority in the 275-member parliament.

"We think that America has committed a grave injustice against the Iraqi people and against the glorious history of Iraq, when they destroyed our institutions, and then rebuilt them in the wrong way," said Hussein al-Falluji, from the largest Sunni coalition in parliament, and a supporter of the timetable proposal.

It looks like Grover "fixed" the wrong party

A group of "moderate" Republicans met with president Bush Tuesday, in what was described as a candid discussion of the Iraq war and his need to produce results:
The delegation of 11 moderate House Republicans told Mr Bush on Tuesday that unless significant progress is made in Iraq by September — when General David Petraeus, the ground commander, delivers a progress report to Congress — they would desert him. Their warning was the clearest sign yet that although most conservatives still back the President’s surge plan, patience inside the Republican Party over Iraq is wearing thin.
Instead of treating these Congressmen as comrades in arms, Bush decided to lecture them on how important it was to have victory in Iraq, as though they were small, slightly retarded children. When news of the meeting became public, the White House and its allies berated the members involved.

Bush has never felt any inclination to include Congress in war plans, even his own partisans. He lets them vent (in private), humiliates them in public, then he sends them off to rubber stamp whatever policy his brilliant staff have come up with.

In virtually all instances, the "moderates" have capitulated, and this case is no different.

All of the 11 who came to him Tuesday voted to strip timelines out of the Iraq war funding bill, and voted against including benchmarks with any teeth. They may insist that September is a drop-dead date for support, but they've given the president no reason to take them seriously.

Which reminded me of Grover Norquist's old quote about fixing the Democrats:
"Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant. But when they've been 'fixed,' then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful."
Norquist, Rove and Bush have effectively "fixed" the Republican party, and the party went smiling all the way.

Leslie Stahl's contradictions

Leslie Stahl, describing Lou Dobbs in her 60 minutes report, makes a series of non-sequiturs that reveal more about her own views of American politics than any inconsistencies in Dobbs worldview:
Lou is full of contradictions.

He's pro-abortion rights, but against gun control.

A fiscal conservative who supports government regulation.
What do abortion rights and gun control have to do with one another?

And considering that deregulation led to the collapse of Enron, Worldcom and Arthur Anderson (with considerable fallout for the government), why would any fiscal conservative not believe in a well regulated market system?

The views Stahl cites aren't contradictions, they simply don't fit the cookie cutter mold of either the Republican or Democratic parties that she's used to considering. They're inconsistent with the political landscape, not with internal logic.

In short, she's challenging Dobbs for having views that fall outside the acceptable range of opinion, not for having opinions themselves.

via C&L

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mitt Romney joins Netanyahu and Bolton in calling for a trial of Ahmadinejad

During a speech at Yeshiva University, Mitt Romney made it clear that he has no intention of changing the Bush administration's diplomatic policy regarding Iran. Concerned that direct talks would "reward bad behavior", he prefers to take a more combative approach.
Now there is one place of course where I'd welcome Ahmadinejad with open arms: and that's in a court where he would stand trial for incitement to genocide, under the terms of the Genocide Convention.
This is an echo of the diplomatic style of John Bolton (who famously claimed that the U.N. exists only to serve U.S. interests) and Israel's former hardline PM Benjamin Netanyahu (who felt that Ariel Sharon was an appeaser of terrorists).

Both men have also called for a trial of the Iranian president, and it strongly suggests that Romney gets his foreign policy ideas from the same think tanks.

Ron Paul votes to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq

Ron Paul, a longtime critic of the Iraq war and longshot Republican presidential candidate voted with 169 House Democrats and Republican John Duncan of Tennessee to begin withdrawing troops within 9 months.

The bill failed 255-171 as 59 Democrats defected. Most of those preferred a bill that would give the president half his request, and keep the second half contingent on "progress" towards a set of benchmarks.

Paul and Duncan opposed that measure, which passed narrowly.

Benchmarks without consequences are meaningless

For those of you who support John Boehner's plan to fully fund Bush's war with "benchmarks" that only require he give an update on progress every few months, consider this:
Pentagon restricting testimony in Congress

The memo has fueled complaints that the Bush administration is trying to restrict access to information about the war in Iraq.

The special House oversight panel, according to aides, has written at least 10 letters to the Pentagon since February seeking information and has received only one official reply. Nor has the Pentagon fully complied with repeated requests for all the monthly assessments of Iraqi security forces, reports compiled by US military advisers embedded with Iraqi units.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Don't count on a tropical paradise

The German magazine, Der Spiegel, decided to launch a full fledged contrarian attack on global warming science, yesterday, with not one, but 5 articles suggesting that Germany will become a tropical paradise, populated with bikini clad women sipping mai tais beneath the coconut trees on the Baltic Sea.

We're assured that, despite the "fear-mongering" of the thousands of climate scientists who "see themselves too much as priests whose job it is to preach moralistic sermons to people", there are still level-headed scientists ready to reassure us that things are going to be fine.

All of the standard climate skeptic arguments are pushed forward, including a 100 year old forecast by Svante Arrhenius, assuring us that rising temperatures are a blessing. Besides, didn't you know that dinosaurs lived on a warmer planet? And don't forget about the medieval warm period. Sure we agree now that humans are driving climate change, but learn to live with it, because we can't stop it now anyway.

Of course, whatever dubious paradise we end up with is beside the point. It doesn't fundamentally matter whether Germany has a tropical climate or a temperate climate. The threat comes from rapid climate change, change too fast and unpredictable for communities to adapt.

35,000 people didn't die in Europe in 2003 because of a tropical climate. They died because European towns and cities weren't designed to accommodate 100+ degree temperatures for extended periods of time.

Giuliani cracked down on dancing?

Well, I suppose this might win him back some of the social conservatives he lost after his tepid support for revoking Roe v. Wade. It gives the big city mayor a bit of small town charm:
Mayor Giuliani, fellow citizens will recall, actually cracked down on dancing in bars, availing a disused Prohibition-era law. There is some dispute as to whether he did this as part of a crusade against underage drinking, or just because he's a miserable son of a bitch. But yeah,Giuliani does indeed seem to believe that what he doesn't like should be banned.
Here are the details:
August 23 - 29, 2000

In recent years, the mayor has waged a war on dancing, and we're not just talking about the topless kind.

He's armed himself with the cabaret law, which bans dancing in nightclubs that lack a cabaret license. The law was originally designed to crack down on Prohibition-era speakeasies and Harlem jazz clubs, but had lain dormant for over 70 years. That was until Giuliani's administration dusted it off about four years ago and began enforcing it against legal nightclubs.

The cabaret law originally restricted not only dancing, but also music: Specifically, it required a cabaret license for bars where more than three musicians were playing, or where the instruments played included percussion or a horn.

New York University law professor Paul Chevigny speculates that the law was written to zone jazz out of existence. Twelve years ago, he successfully challenged the constitutionality of the portions of the law that applied to music.
h/t Tapped

Monday, May 7, 2007

Clean skies in Beijing, if only for a few days

The Chinese government's ability to enforce strict restrictions on its population demonstrate just how quickly a heavily polluted city's air can be cleaned up.
WASHINGTON – Chinese government restrictions on motorists during a three-day conference last fall cut Beijing’s emissions of an important class of atmospheric pollutants by up to 40 percent, recent satellite observations indicate. The November restrictions are widely viewed as a dress rehearsal for efforts by the city to slash smog and airborne contaminants when China hosts the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
The task now is for democratic societies to find less autocratic, long-term regulatory and technological solutions to solve their own pollution problems.

Astronomers spot the brightest supernova ever recorded

240 million light years away, an exploded star outshines all the other stars in its home galaxy.
An exploding star first observed last September is the largest and most luminous supernova ever seen, according to University of California, Berkeley, astronomers, and may be the first example of a type of massive exploding star rare today but probably common in the very early universe.

"This discovery forces us to go back to the drawing board to understand how the most massive stars die," Smith said. "Instead of just winking away into a black hole, they apparently can suffer these brilliant explosions that can be seen far across the universe. The fact that this thing is so bright, and stayed bright for a long time, makes our chances of detecting them in the early universe much better."

"This is also very exciting because it suggests that eta Carinae, only 7,500 light years away, might possibly explode in a similar manner, becoming a spectacularly bright star in our sky," Filippenko said.

"We don't know for sure if Eta Carinae will explode soon, but we had better keep a close eye on it just in case," added Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., who was not involved in the research. "Eta Carinae's explosion could be the best star-show in the history of modern civilization."

John McCain attacks Hillary Clinton on Iraq war deauthorization

From his official 2008 campaign site:
ARLINGTON, VA - Today, while campaigning in Reno, NV, U.S. Senator John McCain responded to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's support for a "do-over" vote on the Iraq war:

"Senator Clinton's proposal is the worst idea anyone could possibly have.

"It's a bad idea not to give the strategy we now have in place in Iraq a chance to succeed, especially when we have seen signs of early progress.

"It's always a bad idea to try and undo what you voted for. Political expedience cannot undo a vote cast on a matter of conscience.

"And it's most certainly a bad idea to waste the Senate's time with legislation that sends such a terrible signal to our brave men and women in uniform who are giving their all to make this new strategy work."
McCain appears to stand by his belief that votes on the Iraq war are a waste of the Senate's time. He has made a habit of avoiding votes on Iraq since the Democrats took control of Congress.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Winners and losers in global warming

Rising sea level is already threatening the poor nation of Bangladesh, where millions may be displaced as the water table becomes contaminated with salt and unusable for drinking or agriculture. Some will profit, though, in those industries that find an advantage in the changing landscape.

A small minority reaps the profits of change

Salinization could have enormous consequences for Bangladesh's food supply. Whereas Bangladesh's southwest was once the country's breadbasket helping to feed the nation, now the region's bounties are all exported in the form of shrimp. And the money earned ends up in the pockets of only a few people who now have to pay fewer workers. Many observers see this as a dangerous development. "Climate change means that the poor get poorer and food supplies become more limited," says climate researcher Atiq Rahman from the capital Dhaka.

The nation of Turkey, still under the threat of a coup

From the Economist's report on the struggling democracy in Turkey:

(The country still lives under the threat of a coup by the military if they elect a president from a Islamist party.)
Secularism v democracy

The government's response to the army's ultimatum was unusually crisp. Cemil Cicek, the justice minister, called it “unacceptable” and reminded the generals that they were constitutionally bound to take their orders from the prime minister, not vice versa.

It is not just the army's taste for politics that is worrying. The top general recently said a military attack on Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq was “necessary” and “useful”. Though he agreed that the constitution gave parliament authority over the armed forces, many fear that the army may decide to attack all the same. “They are itching to,” whispers a westerner who observes Turkish security. This may explain why America's response to the political crisis has been so lame. “The last thing they want is a quarrel with the Turkish military,” a European official observes. The nightmare for America is Turkish and American soldiers exchanging fire in Iraq. Based on the past week's events, nothing can be ruled out.

Presidential Privelege: 1993 version

In 1993, a minor scandal blew up when the new president fired several White House staff members left over from the previous administration. This was in the old days, before it became common to assert that staffers "serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired for any reason".[1]
White House Rebukes 4 In Travel Office Shake-Up

Published: July 3, 1993

The four were reprimanded for improperly dismissing the staff members, for appearing to pressure the F.B.I. and for permitting a friend of President Clinton's to become involved in a matter in which he had a financial stake.

The report was published six weeks after the White House publicly humiliated the seven travel aides by announcing their summary dismissals, claiming it had evidence of gross mismanagement and hinting that some of the staff might have been involved in criminal activity. Over the course of several embarrassing days, the White House was forced to retreat, rehire five of the seven and investigate its own actions.
Unlike the current US attorney firings, the Clinton administration responded to the accusations of abuse of power by investigating the firings, reprimanding those who had summarily dismissed the employees and rehiring several of the fired staffers.

As with all accusations against the Clinton's, Hillary Clinton was blamed for this one, to the point that it was suggested she had Vince Foster murdered to keep him from talking about "Travelgate".

For the record:

The Travel Office provides logistical travel support for the President, First Lady, Vice President, and the White House Press Corps (when they accompany). This office works closely with the Office of Presidential Advance, White House Press Office and members of the White House Press Corps.

Joe Conason wrote a more detailed overview in Travelgate: The Untold Story

Thursday, May 3, 2007

So, who'll be the first to swim to the North Pole?

News from Science:
With its wreath of sea ice shrinking ever smaller over the last half-century, the Arctic has served as global warming's canary in the coal mine. By 2050 to 2100, according to climate model predictions, Arctic summers will be ice-free for the first time in about a million years. But new research reveals the ice has been vanishing about 3 times faster than the models have predicted, shifting the inevitable meltdown about 30 years ahead of schedule.

The presidential election debates: French edition

Did you see the presidential debate the other day? You probably did if you're French.

Less than 2 weeks after an 84.6% turnout in the first round of voting, Europe's interest in their political process is unrestrained.

In an article written with the enthusiasm of a sportscaster at the Olympic games, the German magazine Der Spiegel, gave a blow by blow description of the two finalists squaring off before this Sunday's vote.
A blockbuster TV duel

Things are getting exciting in this TV spectacle with a "number of viewers comparable to the World Cup final," as the daily Parisien Liberé describes it. Not even the Champions League game on at the same time -- AC Milan's drubbing of Manchester United -- can tempt viewers to switch channels. The sports event lags well behind the political Armageddon in primetime popularity.

The fifth TV duel in the history of the Fifth Republic is a match for the great confrontations of the past, both in terms of rhetoric and issues. Like the great intellectual clashes between conservative Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Socialist Francois Mitterrand -- currently being re-enacted on the stage of a Paris theater. In one famous 1974 debate, Giscard jabbed Mitterrand by saying: "You do not have a monopoly on the heart, M. Mitterrand. I am equally concerned about the social problems of France." Mitterrand's 1981 riposte remains equally unforgotten. Having been accused by Giscard's of being politically "passé," Mitterrand retorted by blasting Giscard as being politically "passive."
Nobody's accused the American debates of blockbuster ratings and an 84% turnout would beat our record by about 20 points.

The European edition has surprisingly few references to either candidates' hair, or speaking gaffes, or favorite book, though. How do the voters know who to choose?

WSJ: in praise of dictatorship

Arguing a point that has sadly become the standard argument of all but a very few Republicans, the WSJ publishes one of the most repugnant arguments yet, for an American dictatorship.
Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."

The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.
Defending the opinions of such legal minds as John Yoo and Richard Posner, not to mention the absolute right of even a complete incompetent to make life and death decisions unchecked. Mr. Mansfield assures us, the suspension of rule of law only applies during an emergency.
In quiet times the rule of law will come to the fore, and the executive can be weak. In stormy times, the rule of law may seem to require the prudence and force that law, or present law, cannot supply, and the executive must be strong.
It's disturbing enough that one of the world's premier papers doesn't realize that the rule of law is a strength during the worst of times, not a liability.

But any nation which yields absolute power to it’s leader during a time of crisis is guaranteed to be in crisis, forever.

h/t mvdg

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Democratic candidates ask Congress to call Bush's bluff

The Washington Post reports that 5 of the Democratic presidential contenders have called on their Congressional leaders not to give in to Bush on the Iraq funding fight:
Democratic presidential candidates urged Congress yesterday not to yield to President Bush's veto of an Iraq funding bill that included a timetable for beginning troop withdrawals, but the party's two leading contenders were more tentative than their rivals in offering support for aggressive steps to bring the war to an end.

Four candidates -- Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina -- called on Democrats to consider more drastic steps aimed at ending the war.
Dennis Kucinich has called for an end to funding entirely.

Richardson wants to strip the president of his war authority, while Biden and Edwards want to keep sending the current bill to the president until he finally signs it.
"Congress should send him another bill with a timeline for withdrawal, and if he vetoes that bill Congress should send him another until we end this war and bring our troops home"
The two frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are more circumspect, hoping for a negotiated compromise with the president.

Obama had previously shown his hand, by admitting he'd support a bill without conditions if the president vetoed the current one.

Update: Hillary Clinton has now joined Bill Richardson in a call to deauthorize the Iraq war.

Lessons in Democracy for George Bush

George Bush demonstrates that 6 years into his presidency, he still doesn't understand how the American system works.
"I believe strongly that politicians in Washington shouldn't be telling generals how to do their job," Bush said. "And I believe artificial timetables of withdrawal would be a mistake."
Of course, politicians in Washington do tell generals how to do their jobs. Generals don't declare wars, and they don't sign peace treaties. They fight where and when they're told. And they stop when they're told. That's how mature democracies operate.

The alternative is what we see in Turkey:
Turkey's military, which has toppled three governments since 1960, warned it may not allow a candidate with Islamist roots to be president. In an election on Friday in parliament where the AKP has a majority, Gul had come within 10 votes of being the first Turkish president with an Islamist past.
The idea that the military might decide who can or cannot be elected is anathema to proponents of true democracy, and we can only hope that Turkey avoids falling into that trap, again.

But George Bush has been a supporter of such autocratic arrangements in the past. Here's Governor Bush's take on Pervez Musharraf a mere month after that General overthrew the elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had attempted to fire him.
Bush said: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected – not elected, this guy took over office. It appears this guy is going to bring stability to the country and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."
Our president should be happy that his own generals take their oaths to uphold the Constitution more seriously than he does.

Update: the president's confusion is made clear. He doesn't realize he's a politician. He believes he's "the commander guy":
Our commanders saw this as an opportunity to step up the pressure on al Qaeda. Our commanders made the recommendation from the field that they could use more troops to help secure Anbar. And so I ordered additional U.S. Marines and special operation forces to Anbar as part of our reinforcement package; 4,000 of the troops are going into Anbar.

That didn't make any sense to me, to impose the will of politicians over the recommendations of our military commanders in the field. So I vetoed the bill.

And that's what we do. We put in more troops to get to a position where we can be in some other place. The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear -- I'm the commander guy.
h/t too many blogs to keep track of

Gulf war syndrome may have a physical cause

From Nature:

Regions of the brain important for thinking and memory may have shrunk in some veterans of the first Gulf War, according to a new study. The decline is at its worst in veterans who report more symptoms of what is commonly called 'Gulf War syndrome', the mysterious condition that has afflicted as many as one in seven veterans from the 1990-1991 war.