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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 11 February 2006
Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All

Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All

Consider the major news stories now in play.

Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. This is not just some low-level flunky speaking out. This is the man who for five years prepared the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for the president, now retired and teaching at Georgetown University. He makes three points - in the run-up to the war the intelligence was "cherry-picked" for items that would justify invading and occupying Iraq, ignoring intelligence that argued Iraq was contained "in a box" and no real threat and the ever more intrusive inspections were doing the job of keeping a lid on things, and the connection between Saddam Hussein and his government with al Qaeda was wholly manufactured as everyone in the intelligence community knew there just wasn't one, and all the intelligence reports that our post-victory presence would cause big trouble, and some sort of uprising without a quick and massive Marshall Plan sort of effort to restore basic services were discarded. On the third point, the first request for an intelligence assessment of just what was happening on the ground there was made one full year after the fall of Baghdad.

Paper: White House Knew About Levees Early, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. The New York Times finds documentation that the administration knew, a few hours after Hurricane Katrina hit last fall after midnight on a Saturday, that the levees broke, New Orleans was going under, and a hundred thousand people had no way out. The president said he had no idea until late Monday, the head of homeland security said he found out sometime Tuesday. The president continued his vacation with planned rallies and speeches and didn't get around to dealing with it until late in the week. The news services knew, and covered it all, and anyone who watched the news knew. It was embarrassing, but, and things sun out of control and people died, the official line was, "But we didn't know." It seems they did. And this was followed by hearings where the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who was forced to resign, testified he had actually being telling the White House and Homeland Security what was happening, but got nowhere, as in Ex-FEMA chief blasts White House over Katrina, Ex-Katrina Chief 'Warned White House Of Imminent Danger' and Brownie's revenge. They didn't know? He said that "was baloney" - since he wasn't dealing with "terrorism" he and his agency got put off. In fact, FEMA was being quietly defunded and disregarded as it wasn't a priority in the new system. Believe him? He recounted just who he spoke to and when, and there's been no dispute from the White House.

But you have to love this -
Brown says that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card rebuffed his efforts to solicit more help from the White House, ordering him to work through the "chain of command" instead. That chain ran through Chertoff and the DHS bureaucracy, Brown said. "We've done a great job as Republicans of establishing more and more bureaucracy," Brown told Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Brown said that he cried in his hotel room during the early days of Katrina, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to deliver the help he knew it was capable of providing. Asked whether the Bush administration was making him the fall guy for Katrina, Brown said, "I certainly feel abandoned." As for the president, Brown said: "Unfortunately, he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir."
The whiner twists the knife.

The lobbying scandal? McClellan Confronted With Abramoff Emails. The White House says the president hardly knew the chief bad guy, Jack Abramoff. A whole bunch of emails surface with Abramoff chatting abiout how well they knew each other, and about meetings. The White House spokesman, McClellan, has a job no one would want. He repeated the lWhite House line, and would say no more - ongoing investigations and all that.

The scandal about outing the CIA spy, that Plame woman? Waas's New Scoop: Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information - Murray Waas finds the portion of the record where former chief-of-staff to Vice President Cheney, Scooter Libby, under indictment for misleading the investigation as to who "outed" the woman, said the vice president had actually authorized him to leak classified information to the press to discredit those who questioned what the White House was saying. He revealed the identity of a CIA agent, burned her contacts, and ended her career, because there was a general policy to leak classified information when politically necessary? That's an interesting defense. Administrations do that, of course, and it's not precisely illegal, just, as the Wall Street Journal put it, a little "sleazy." They did release parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) when that was useful to build support for the war. Scooter, in an "oops" moment, thought burning a spy whose husband said uncomfortable things in public was the same sort of thing. He was just enthusiastic? That's a fascinating defense.

The spying scandal, with NSA tapping calls, reading emails and scanning web logs of US citizens without warrants from the special, secret court set up to expedite warrants so they could do just that? Chief FISA Judge Warned About Misuse Of NSA Spy Data. The Washington Post gets hold of evidence that what they are up to was really out of bounds and, even from this "we approve most everything" court, they were on shaky grounds, at best. Even these amazing accommodating judges were getting cold feet. That doesn't sound good.

The Republicans, in the wake of the Tom DeLay indictments and the ongoing lobbying scandal, elect a new house leader to make things all better, but he had a little problem - House Majority Leader's Landlord Is A Lobbyist. The new guy in charge rents his DC apartment from one of the questionable lobbyists. Ah well. Minor stuff.

And mentioned elsewhere -

Republican Who Oversees NSA Calls for Wiretap Inquiry - straight-shooting staunch Republican (also up for reelection in November) says something is amiss. There a bit of that going around in the parts of the party that haven't joined the Bush "cult of personality."

There's the new, proposed Bush budget. Bush's Budget Tricks - Time magazine notes the numbers don't add up and some of the usual tables are simply missing (forward impact on deficit, for one). And there's this - privatizing and eventually eliminating Social Security, that the president just couldn't sell to the country last year, in now part of the proposed budget (along with some new things like eliminating the death benefit for those who lose their spouse, and no aid for kids who've lost their parent if the kids drop out of school). Cute.

And the gem - Tom DeLay to Oversee Justice Department - when Duke Cunningham had to resign for taking over two million in bribes, the house leadership gave the open seat on the Appropriations Committee to DeLay. Amazing.

What to make of all this?

Peter Daou here comments that "each of these stories constitutes a full-blown crisis that would have caused a massive firestorm for any other administration."

But that's not happening, as he notes just a "cursory glance" at the online editions of national papers and news outlets as well as a scan of the major cable news nets "would lead you to believe that the most important piece of news today is that a British man accused of killing his wife and child will return to the US to face trial."

Well, that's news too, as was the Michael Jackson trial last summer. But Daou is contending Bush's political opponents "are unwitting partners in a macabre dance with this administration," where all these political stories just die. Only a few people followed them, while "political leaders who ought to be putting a stop to the madness are frozen in focus-grouped fear" and the Bush supporters just smile.

The effect? -
This half-decade tsunami of scandals has had the intended effect: overload the senses, short circuit the outrage, dizzy the opposition. How many times have Bush's opponents simply thrown their hands up in disgust, overwhelmed by the enormity of the administration's over-reach? How many times have bloggers railed against reporters for going about the business of burying scandals and muddying waters? How many times have Americans watched in amazement as a missing girl in Aruba receives weeks of blanket coverage while lies that led to war and law-breaking at the highest levels of government get a yawn from the media?

From a purely sensory perspective, it's natural to chase the flak. We're conditioned to respond to incoming fire. It's reflexive. But when the fire is coming from all sides, and coming relentlessly, the urge is to stop defending and curl up and give up. This is a process the Cheneys and Roves of this world understand all too well. It's no accident that the scandals get more and more outrageous - after all, the whole point is to have the opposition frantically racing around, chasing stories, distracted and exhausted, wearing itself out like a kitten in a catnip-doused, mouse-filled room.

The amazing thing is that so many of Bush's opponents continue to play along. The sheer inability to put on blinders and drive one scandal home, to take it to its ultimate conclusion, is a failing of magnificent proportions. ...
Well, yes, the opposition lacks focus. And so? "Bush and his team count on the opposition's lack of focus, joyfully handing them more catnip."

And then we get just the odd stories - a foiled al Qaeda attack on Los Angeles! But four years ago. And it probably isn't even true, just some idea being tossed around and abandoned. And Bush got the name of the building wrong. It's the Library Tower, not the Liberty Tower (photo here here from 2003). They call it that because it looms above the downtown public library, but anyway it's now the US Bank building. Much has been made of our new mayor being miffed at not being told Bush was going say anything about this, but he's also miffed Bush will not meet with him after two requests. Scheduling conflicts, he was told. But he's a Democrat, and Hispanic without being a Cuban from south Florida. Ah well.

Were folks impressed with the revelation of stooping these nefarious people? Hardly. Is it proof warrantless spying on US citizens does real good? That's illogical because the "planning" took place in Indonesia. But folks don't think too carefully. Is it proof the Patriot Act should be made permanent? No, not related - but it might help sway some people, as general fear overrides logic. Is it proof we really can work with our allies? They like us in Indonesia?

It was just a crass move for the rubes. But good for one day's amusement.

As for getting the name of the building wrong, a little Freudian speculation - he was not thinking of a "library" getting blown up (his wife was a librarian so he couldn't) and used the word "liberty" as he's got a Jones for blowing up civil liberties. No, too facile.

But as Peter Daou writes, the sheer number of scandals makes it almost impossible for the press and the public to see any of them clearly, or separate the spin for what's really happening. The Los Angeles story was "Los Angeles Didn't Blow Up!" - and that can run any day of the week. It didn't blow up today either. Is that because of what the government has done? Maybe. Is that because the city makes all bars close by two in the morning? Is that because no penguins have massed in Santa Monica on the beach because it's too warm for them? Why does something "not happen?" It's a classic problem in formal logic, and the basis of many a bad joke.

As for seeing clearly, there is too much noise for much of that. The press is overwhelmed at the selection of possible stories, and has to sell ad space anyway. More news from Aruba.

Will an opposition party really form and help out. Digby at Hullabaloo says no, maybe you just have to trust layers -
... our two party tradition provides for very little real power to be invested in an opposition party on its own - the rules have been devised for bipartisan compromise. When you have a very disciplined majority (even if only with a slight numerical advantage) the minority party can be virtually shut out of government, as in a parliamentary system. We have little experience with this kind of government and without the open floor debate and partisan press that exists in other systems, this makes for very lopsided power structure.

The structural political imbalance, the media cacophony and the overwhelming numbers of crises and scandals both large and small have virtually paralyzed this country's ability to deal with the very serious constitutional crisis that is developing over the president's assertion of unlimited executive and war making powers. I think the law is our only backstop on this. It's appearing more and more that we are going to have to ask certain lawyers, cops and judges who understand that their duty to their country is bigger than their duty to this president to step up.
Maybe. The next round of NSA hearings may bring some of them in front of the cameras.

They also might help with some comments on that report from law professor Mark Denbeaux, with attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at our Cuban prison at Guantánamo Bay - heavy on statistics, reporting more than half of the 517 detainees there are not accused of hostile acts - they're mainly unlucky. (See Connecting Dots this week.) Only a small minority of them had anything to do with Al Qaeda, and the Administration's assurances regarding who it was who was detained there were fundamentally false.

Note John Henke here -
This is why we have due process. This is why we have transparency. This is why a free people who want to remain that way ought to insist we apply due process and transparency even to suspected terrorists. Instead, we've largely stood by while the Bush administration has run roughshod over innocent people; while the Bush administration detained innocent civilians and lawful combatants, and abused them into false confessions. And then that administration had the temerity to say that legislation removing legal recourse by those people "reaffirm[s] the values we share as a Nation and our commitment to the rule of law" ...

Remember: the people who told us that the detainees at Guantánamo Bay were all Taliban, captured on the battlefield or otherwise terrorists are the same people who swear, really, that the domestic surveillance program is "solely for intercepting communications of suspected al Qaeda members or related terrorist groups."
So, the press is overwhelmed, the public anesthetized and busy with tabloid stories, the political opposition neutered and useless, so bring on the attorneys? Maybe.

Some folks wouldn't mind - Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings with this -
I have spent my life loving this country for its values, among them the right not to be tossed in jail at the whim of some ruler, but to be guaranteed the right to live free from searches, wiretapping, surveillance, and arrest unless some official could convince a judge that there was probable cause to believe that I had committed a crime. I could scarcely believe it when Padilla was locked up: I was as shocked as I would have been had Bush asserted the right to ban Lutheranism, or to close down the New York Times. It was such a complete betrayal of our country's core values that it took my breath away.

I feel the same way about the NSA story.
Yep, and those two items, quoted by the attorney Glenn Greenwald here, in an article called "Why All This Matters," ends with this - "If someone isn't opposed to these things and isn't willing to fight against them, it's hard for me to see how someone can claim to believe in the values and traditions of this country."

Yeah, but we're all busy, overwhelmed and confused. It's overload.

Posted by Alan at 16:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006 16:24 PST home

Friday, 10 February 2006
Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Our Man In Paris: Visa, Don't Leave Home Without It (Or Don't Leave Home)

You had to assume this item from Reuters on February 9th would get some play in Paris - the French anti-globalization activist José Bové just got the Farley Mowat treatment. He was denied entry into the United States. As you recall, in April 1985 the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat - Never Cry Wolf (which Disney later made into an odd little film) - was barred from entering the US ever again (discussed in these pages here). A bit of indignation over the Mowat case in both the United States and Canada played a part in a major revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - in 1990. Most curious. Naturalist? Communist? Whatever. Think of Mowat as a beta version of José Bové.

What is it with these "nature people" that gets us all upset? They seem to be tagged as dangerous. Well, although both Bové and Mowat smoke pipes (danger of second-hand smoke), Bové is the far more dangerous - he doesn't just denounce globalization and junk food, he had a hand a hand tearing apart a French McDonalds restaurant (six weeks in jail in 2003, and yes, they do have those over there). He got a four-month prison sentence last November for destroying a field of genetically modified corn in southern France (he makes cheese near Roquefort, even if he went to UC Berkeley). Hong Kong wouldn't let him last December when the WTO met there. Unlike Mowat, he does things. (Yes, writing amazing books is doing things, but no one reads books anymore, even while eating alone in McDonalds.)

Here's what Reuters reports (without diacritical marks) -
French farmer Jose Bove, a prominent protester against genetically modified food and agricultural free trade, has been denied entry into the United States, officials of an event he was due to address said on Thursday.

Bove arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with a valid U.S. entry visa on Wednesday afternoon but was detained for several hours and later returned to Paris, according to William Kramer, a spokesman for the conference.
So instead of speaking at the conference Thursday and Friday, he was on the red-eye back to CDG. That conference, organized by Cornell University's Global Labor Institute among others, was "Global Companies - Global Unions - Global Research - Global Campaigns."

Does that sound subversive?

The conference people called Immigration and Homeland Security, and told Reuters this was "ridiculous" and "illegal" and a violation of free speech. But he is French, isn't he? Reuters reports they couldn't get any comment from Immigration.

They should have called Monsanto, as what was on the agenda for Friday was Bové's address - "The Struggle Against Monsanto in Europe." Monsanto makes all those genetically modified seeds. They have the lobbyists in Washington.

Reuters quotes Sean Sweeney, director of Cornell's Global Labor Institute - "This speaks volumes about where the United States is in terms of free speech."

Not exactly. It says more about old line, the business of America is business. His entry visa may have been valid, but Monsanto matters more.

And things are getting tighter. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - as revised in 1990 - has be trumped by Homeland Security with its TSA and the NSA listening to everything, and reading all the emails and blogs, and all the rest. (Reading blogs? Note a logon here - 06 Feb, Mon, 08:20:53 CIFAGB01.CIFA.MIL - this is the military domain - Counterintelligence Field Activity - so if you've logged onto the latest issue of Just Above Sunset they've opened a file on you too! Everyone wave!)

So how tight are things getting?

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis (and born in Canada) -
PARIS, Friday, February 10, 2006 - As it so happens I will get to test the efficiency of the NSA watchdogs myself on Tuesday, 21 March when I am scheduled to arrive at JFK for a three week stay in the city. Especially since last night, when I watched a documentary on Arte-TV about how farmers in India are killing themselves because they've been ruined by using Monsanto's genetically modified seeds. Too bad Bové won't be there in person to spread the gloom.

In the Reuters story you may have noticed that Bové traveled to the United States after getting a visitors' visa. New Homeland Security rules call for passports containing biometric information, but the French don't produce these yet. As a citizen of a country in the visa-waiver program he must either have the new passport or get a visa. Most French, when confronted with this hurdle, change their destinations, perhaps going to Cuba instead. To get a visa all French travelers must apply to the US Consulate in Paris. Finally, even with a valid visa, costing about a hundred dollars, a traveler may still be refused entry.

Citizens of Mexico and Canada do not require visas. Neither country is in the visa-waiver program. Canadian authorities strongly advise Canadians to carry passports for their visits to the United States even though they are not legally necessary. According to the Canadian consulate in Paris the new 'e-Passport' is now available to comply with new US regulations. Application can be made in Paris but it takes a month for Ottawa to produce the high-tech travel document.

The deadline for the new passports was set late last year by the United States, and then the deadline was extended to the end of 2006 because nobody can comply. In theory the old style non-biometric but machine-readable passports are still acceptable for travel to the United States - which should mean that French travelers do not require visas for US visits.

My Canadian passport was therefore valid, but would have expired less than six months after my return from this upcoming visit. The United States effectively declares that all passports are invalid if they expire less than six months after a traveler leaves the United States. My Irish passport is valid until 2009 but I can't use it because it is handmade and looks fake. Another US rule says that new passports issued after a certain date are useless, so a visa is required. But the Irish are exempt from the visa-waiver program, like Mexicans and Canadians. Joseph Heller called it, 'Catch-22.'

Final Canadian government advice for travelers to the United States - 'Switchblade knives are prohibited, except those owned by persons with only one arm.'

En garde!
Will Ric get to the Big Apple, with that attitude? With the NSA logging the emails from Hollywood to Paris and back? With CIFA.MIL reading these words?

We'll see.

Ric also pointed to this item the same day from Nina Bernstein in the New York Times -
One is a second grader in Manhattan. Over the protests of his American mother, immigration officials have been trying to deport him ever since he returned from a brief visit to his native Canada without the right visa. Another is an Irish professor of literature invited to teach at the University of Pennsylvania last month. He was handcuffed at the Philadelphia airport, strip-searched, jailed overnight and sent back to Europe to correct an omission in his travel papers.

Then there are the seven Tibetan monks who were visiting Omaha two weeks ago. After their church sponsor abruptly withdrew its support, their religious visas were revoked and a dozen immigration officers in riot gear showed up to arrest them.

The details in these cases vary, as do the technical visa infractions committed by each of the foreigners. But they all testify to a larger issue looming on the front lines of immigration enforcement: how low-level gatekeepers and prosecutors in the customs and immigration system are using their growing discretionary power over travelers who pose no security risk.

Officials of the Department of Homeland Security have acknowledged that intensified efforts to keep out terrorists since the 9/11 attacks have sometimes led to the heavy-handed treatment of foreigners whose only offense was an inadvertent paperwork error or being caught in a bureaucratic tangle. In memos issued in 2004 and 2005, agency officials encouraged officers to use discretion and legal shortcuts to resolve such cases quickly, saving resources for more important tasks and showing the world a more welcoming face.

But immigration lawyers say the effort is not working. ...
It would seem not. The professor, John McCourt, a James Joyce specialist at the University of Trieste in Italy, arrived at Philadelphia International and he was soon off in handcuffs to the Montgomery County jail, along with another one they caught, Kerstin Spitzl, "a pregnant German woman who says that immigration officers abruptly canceled her visa, insisting that she was planning to violate its terms by working." She says that wasn't her intention, but people can change their minds, right?

Note this:
In Italy, Professor McCourt quickly fixed his paperwork at the American consulate in Florence, and returned to start his classes at Penn a week late. But in New York last week, where he spoke at Fordham University on "Joyce and Judaism," he said his experience had confirmed his European friends' worst fears about America.

"At the moment, America is easy to hate," he said, "So people say, 'That does it for me. I'm not going to risk that happening.'"
And so it goes. Of Kelly Klundt, the pregnant German woman, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, which is also part of Homeland Security, said the workload is heavy and "there are unfortunately going to be a few instances that do not demonstrate perfect discretion."

Who wants perfect discretion? Common sense would be nice.

But then, for those of us who live here there are other worries.

Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798? (If not, the refresher is here.) Note this - a nurse working for the Veterans Administration in New Mexico is under investigation for sedition, after writing a letter that said some critical things about the war in Iraq, and about the federal response to Katrina. She was displeased. The letter is here, your basic grumpy letter to the editor. But they thought she wrote it on government time, on her government computer at the VA offices, thus the sedition thing. They seized the computer and it seems she didn't write it on the government's dime, so they're deciding what to do.

People want visas to visit here?

Posted by Alan at 17:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006 17:41 PST home

Thursday, 9 February 2006
A Day at the Beach
Topic: Photos

A Day at the Beach

Thursday is photography day, not a day for political commentary. That meant a drive west to the beach, to seek out the unusual.

The results are in two photo albums –

The Edge of the Pacific - as photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, the very edge of the Pacific, at Venice Beach. The Santa Ana winds are blowing in off the desert and on the sand it's in the eighties just before noon. Late morning the shops are just opening, the dancing rollerblade folks aren't there yet, but the surfers have been out there in dawn, and the surf isn't bad. (Sixteen shots.)

Walls and Folk Art, Venice Beach, California - murals, architectural detail and general oddness, photographed Thursday, February 9, 2006, at Venice Beach. Tourists flock here for the madness on the strand - skaters and oddballs and Muscle Beach and all the little shops and strange food and loud music. Here are the details they often ignore. (Thirty shots.)

Many of these, and a few others, including the usual botanical shots, will be posted Sunday in the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is the parent of this daily web log. There they will be in much higher resolution.

From the first album - love and madness on the edge of the Pacific -



























From the second album, this ominous fellow -




Posted by Alan at 21:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Connecting Dots: They're Laughing at Us
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Connecting Dots: They're Laughing at Us

Do these disparate items in the news create at pattern? All this below was reported Wednesday, February 8th, and there may be a pattern here.

Just Kidding, Folks!

Tom DeLay lost the House leadership. That happens when you're indicted for a crime, particularly a felony or two, particularly felonies concerning shady financial trickery. But those are the house rules. The Majority Leader must step down when that happens. Makes sense. DeLay had the rules committee change that rule last year, but there was such a stink they went back to the original rule. Oops.

Of course Tom DeLay is still a sitting congressman, as, after all, he's not been convicted of anything. He's up for reelection this November and thinks he'll win, in spite of polling that shows any hypothetical Democrat would trounce him. His ace-in-the-hole is that a hypothetical Democrat will not be running against him. The person, whoever it is, will be a specific Democrat, and thus can be demonized one way or another. Politics is specific, not hypothetical. You can't attack a theory, but you can destroy a real opponent.

But it is a worry, and the house Republicans are helping out. The news is here - the house Republicans leaders put DeLay on the Appropriations Subcommittee, as there was an open seat. This Appropriations Subcommittee are the folks who hand out the funding to keep the government running, and there was an open seat as one committee member is gone now. That would be San Diego congressman Duke Cunningham. You might have seen his tearful confession on television as he admitted that he did take well over two million in bribes to steer contracts to the folks paying him. He was sorry. He was sorry he said the charges were false and mean people were just picking on him. He asked for forgiveness. He resigned. He's gone.

Tom DeLay will take his seat on the subcommittee. The ace-in-the-hole here is this subcommittee is in charge of the NASA budget, and NASA's headquarters, the Johnson Space Center in Houston, is in his district. Very nice. But the subcommittee controls lots of budgets, including the Department of Justice, the folks investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandals. They could lose a whole lot of funding if "the hammer" does his notoriously convincing arm-twisting.

The Republicans are making a big noise touring how they will reform all the obvious corruption that's been uncovered in the last few months. But they're laughing at us.

Keeping Us Safe

A lot has been made of the story George C. Deutsch, the young lad who put the NASA climatologist, Hansen, in his place. No speaking engagements for Doctor Hansen if he's going to talk about global warming. Deutsch is twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. The "big bang" entries all had to note this was only a theory, and God may have done something else to start the universe. Heck, the are four versions in Genesis, so one never knows. See "Dateline NASA" here for details of that tussle, and how Deutsch has to resign because he lies on his job application - he not only had no science training, which didn't seem to bother the administration, but he said he had a college degree and didn't, which did bother the administration. You can mislead everyone - from an excess of zeal or patriotism or your need for power - but you don't tell outright lies. Bad form.

Michael Crowley here tips off his readers to another odd appointment. One of his readers notes this press release from the White House the appointment of Nicole Nason to head the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Yes, fifty-thousand die annually in car and truck wrecks, and she will be the new "car-crash prevention czar." We're talking auto safety - structural requirements and features and all that.

Big deal? Crowley notes the official bio - liaison to congress for the Department of Transportation, and before that the same for Customs, but before that she was a press aide to Porter Goss, the congressman who now runs the CIA, and before that spokeswoman for the Republican effort to impeach Clinton. But the Washington Post adds more -
Nason, as assistant secretary of transportation, acted primarily as a lobbyist for the Bush administration in opposing safety proposals that the agency now has the responsibility to enforce, said Joan Claybrook of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. Claybrook headed NHTSA during the Carter administration.
Who set energy policy? Who better than Cheney and the executives of the big oil companies? Who sets mine safety standards? Who better than executives from the coal industry appointed there? The EPA? Don't ask. Now this.

Yep, they're laughing at us. Drive safely.

Employment Opportunity

Tim Grieve here that the federal government just posted this opportunity -
Assistant Civil Liberties Protection Officer: "The Civil Liberties Protection Officer assists the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in ensuring that the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately incorporated in the policies and procedures developed for and implemented by the ODNI and the elements of the intelligence community (IC) within the National Intelligence Program, and in performing other statutory and assigned duties."
They didn't have one? But they do care about civil liberties and privacy, don't they? The Attorney General said so when he explained wiretapping citizens without warrants to the senators.

Right - and some of what you'd have to do here -
Develop or recommend changes to policies and procedures to protect privacy and civil liberties ... oversee compliance by the ODNI with legal requirements relating to civil liberties and privacy ... ensure reporting and related requirements are met relating to civil liberties and privacy ... review and assess complaints of possible abuses of civil liberties and privacy in the administration of ODNI programs and operations, and as appropriate, investigate any such complaint or information ... ensure that the use of technologies sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections relating to the use, collection, and disclosure of personal information ... conduct communication and outreach initiatives on behalf of the ODNI on civil liberties and privacy issues ... [and] congressional relations and public affairs coordination with media outlets and civil liberties and privacy advocacy groups.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Somebody should do it.

Grieve fills in the history of all this - "The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the position of civil liberties protection officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Bush signed the act into law in December 2004, but he didn't name anyone to fill that post until December 2005."

Well, he did get around to it. The high-level position was filled some weeks ago, and now the assistant position is open for applicants. Apply by the 28th of course.

Yep, they're laughing at us.

It's Your Fault If You Took Us Seriously

As you recall, in the most recent State of the Union address, among other things, the president said we were "addicted to oil" and that had to end. Reduce the importation of oil from the Middle East by seventy percent in the coming decades! Switch to ethanol made from cellulose - from woodchips and magic switchgrass! Pull out all the stops! To the research labs!

The Saudis weren't happy and within twelve hours the Secretary of Energy was saying, well, the president was speaking metaphorically, and the switch away from oil was only offered as "an example" - as the president only meant to say reusable sources of energy were generally a pretty thing.

So how metaphorically was he speaking?

Everyone seems to be noting this - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - the Department of Energy's "primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research" - is downsizing. Budget problems. They're laying off thirty-two people, eight of them research staff. The budget has been cut again.

He was speaking metaphorically.

And no one was supposed to notice this detail. But with hungry reporters and pesky bloggers on the net, things get noticed.

Oops.

Terrorist Nuns from Florida!

Not really. Just this from a Tampa paper - the nuns at Holy Name Monastery had their bank account frozen. The bank was helping out by taking the Patriot Act seriously -
The sisters say the monastery's main bank account was frozen without explanation in November, creating financial headaches and making the Benedictine nuns hopping mad. They were told the Patriot Act was the cause.

"I think the Patriot Act is unwise, let's say, and that if it happened to us, it can happen to anybody," said Sister Jean Abbott, the monastery's business manager. "I think people need to know that nobody is safe from, in some cases, really ridiculous scrutiny."
Well, you can read all the details. There was a mix-up with a missing Social Security Number on one check, and the bank reported that to the feds, and the feds shut down the nuns. Bills didn't get paid as checks bounced. Incoming checks couldn't be deposited. The feds say it was the bank's decision. The bank says that was what the feds told them to do. The nuns are mad, but it's all straightened out now.

We are told the NSA wiretapping is very narrowly done, and no one need worry about their privacy because they know what they're doing. No warrants necessary, no laws from congress necessary. These guys are careful and professional. You can trust them.

Items like this don't help that argument.

But what if the nuns had been terrorists? Or, really, what if they and the bank cooked up this whole thing with the help of some nefarious Democrats to influence the vote on the extension of the Patriot Act!

No. This was a screw-up, and predictable. Something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.

There's a reason a major studio is about to release the remake of the "Pink Panther" movie in a few weeks - with Steve Martin playing the bumbling detective Peter Sellers used to do so well. Something is in the air. Perhaps the White House will pressure the studio to delay the release till the matter of the extension of provisions of the Patriot Act is resolved.

But we do get the bad guys...

Our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, with that office high over lower Manhattan, studied constitutional law at Seton Hall under the late Peter Rodino, who chaired the committee that voted to impeach Richard Nixon. Seton Hall is a strange place of course. They still have interesting faculty, like the law professor Mark Denbeaux, who, with attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at our Cuban prison at Guantánamo Bay, produced a new report, heavy on statistics, reporting more than half of the 517 detainees are not accused of hostile acts - they're mainly unlucky. The Associated Press story is here, the report itself here (PDF format, from Seton Hall University), and the Department of Defense raw data is here. Yeah, they're not making this up -
1. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

3. The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.

4. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

5. Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants.
That summary is from defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt here and she has much more to say.

There's this question - "If 92% of the detainees were not fighters, and 55% committed no hostile act, why were they designated as enemy combatants in the first place? And why are they still being held?"

Yep, just what is an "enemy combatant?" And we captured only five percent of these guys - the rest we took on someone's word or paid a bounty hunter for the guys. The are the worst of the worst? "We got the small fry. And we put them in a black hole."

Read Merritt for a tight summary of the details. This brings a whole new meaning to the words "close enough for government work."

Seton Hall no longer has Rodino around, but the young guys are onto something.

Our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, with that office high over lower Manhattan, who studied constitutional law at Seton Hall under the late Peter Rodino, is also distantly related, on his mother's side of the family, to the late Rod Sterling, who created "The Twilight Zone."

Given that he might also want to read Jeralyn Merritt here - a discussion of why the McCain Amendment won't ban torture, but, in fact, may legitimize it. The amendment allows admission of evidence gained by torture into US courts, and the implications are curious. We'd be one of the few countries in the world to allow that.

Times change. We've changed.

So?

How does all this tie together?

The day all these items appeared, Andrew Sullivan - traditional (but gay) conservative, not neoconservative - said this -
I'm not a Democrat and don't think I ever could be, but here's what I'd say if I were in opposition right now. These guys are corrupt and incompetent. They have screwed up the Iraq war, turned FEMA into a joke and landed the next generation with a mountain of debt. We're for making the homeland safer, winning back our allies, and taking on the Iranian dictatorship. We're for energy independence, universal healthcare and balancing the budget again. Now, let Rove do his worst.

Hey, we need Democrats who relish the fight, not timid ones who cower at the prospect. Bring back the happy warriors. Please.
The day all these items appeared the New York Times ran this, a long item on how the Democrats just can't seem to gain any traction - they just can't seem to take advantage of all that's happening. They're all afraid to appear weak on national security. Rove has them boxed in. Criticize anything, suggest any improvement or better idea, and you're supporting the terrorists. And they buy it. Who knows why? They do.

Someone else will have to take up the slack. Thus this post and all the others like it on the web.

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 22:44 PST home

Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World
Topic: Dissent

Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World

What to make of all this?

Dateline Charleston, West Virginia

So what's up on the banks of the Kanawha River in the capital city? More on the mining disasters?

No, Tuesday, February 7th Charleston became one more front in the political war, and this time it was a matter of who really supports the troops. Our here in Los Angeles a comedy writer recently offended the nation mightily, when, in the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that if you have decided this war was a bad idea, and was based on manipulation of facts (either lying outright or the self-delusion of the righteous, born-again and Texan), then all your mouthing off about supporting the troops was illogical, as they were cheerfully implementing a policy with which you disagree. (That was discussed in these pages here.) As "the war a bad idea" and "we were fooled" are majority opinion now, as all polls show, this upset a whole lot of people.

And the ante went up in West Virginia, when the Charleston Gazette-News published an odd story. Who reads that paper?

Well, in this interconnected world, where just about every newspaper is online and you can use Google or any other search engine to find what you seek by combinations of key words, people with definite views found this story about First Lieutenant William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, a West Point honors graduate. After four years of active duty, the last six month of that in Iraq, he was really badly wounded there in a roadside bombing a year ago. He left the Army because of that. He was discharged through Fort Hood in Texas.

What's the story? The Army said he owed them seven hundred dollars for "lost body armor." He said the medics pulled the armor off when he was wounded, to treat him, and the last time he saw the stuff he was, according to this story, "lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered." He says they burned it so the bad guys wouldn't get it. The Army says there's no record of any of that, and as there was no body armor - he wasn't turning any in - that'd be seven hundred dollars. The News-Gazette says he "scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday."

But his mother was ticked off - as in "soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better - 'It's outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.'" Did she contact the News-Gazette reporter, Eric Eyre? Probably.

She was no doubt happy this story was picked up all over, as were the folks at the Charleston Gazette-News, although all the traffic on their website crashed their server a few times, and it's unlike this is anything more that a "one shot" and won't make them a major news source.

But it got really interesting when John Aravosis at his Americablog posted this from Washington, DC -
I've had it with the Bush administration. Enough is enough. Now they're charging US soldiers injured in Iraq for their lost body armor. Enough is enough. We liberal folk may disagree with the Bush administration over the reasons for going to war and over how they're fighting this war, but one thing you'd expect no disagreement over would be the treatment of our soldiers. They fight for their country and they deserve some respect in return. And that means not charging them for their body armor because someone blew them up on the battlefield.

That's it.

This soldier had to pay $700 for his armor, and now is out trying to find work. He has friends who have faced the same cruel, ridiculous policy. Let's finally raise some cash for these guys and show the Bush administration how compassion really works.

I'm serious. I've set up a special PayPal donation fund. If you click the button below and donate, it will be earmarked with a special code so I'll know it's for the body armor fund. All the money collected, ALL OF IT, will go the soldier who was forced to pay for his armor, and if we get more than $700, I'll give him that as well to help him get back on his feet (he's now unemployed, and he says he knows other soldiers who have faced the same problem, if he wants, he can reimburse his pals who also had to pay for their armor).

I'm pissed. Please help.
He got more than four thousand in the first two hours, from nearly two hundred people - twenty bucks was the average donation - and closed the drive when there was more than five thousand. He's going to call the guy - "I'm going to suggest it might be nice to share the money with other service members he knows have faced the same problem."

But the Charleston Gazette-News reported this -
Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.

"From being an infantryman, I know what it?s like to hurt people," Rebrook said. "But now I?d like to help people."
Medical school will take more than five grand, but it's a start.

Of course, all this was followed by a lot of the left taunting the right - you guys have your yellow magnetic ribbons on your SUV's but we actually support the troops. So there!

Interesting. And go here for information on the dozen or more Iraq war veterans running for congress or the senate, as Democrats, opposing the administration.

Something is up.

Dateline NASA

Previously people were a bit upset when the New York Times reported this -
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
That, from Sunday. January 29, was discussed in detail in these pages here, but there is now a companion story.

That is the story of George Deutsch - the same George C. Deutsch who put Hansen in his place. He's twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. And February 4 the New York Times reported this - he instructed a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference to the Big Bang -
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
It's religious issue? Whatever. The administration, of course, claims we are now in the post-Enlightenment era, having evolved (oops, wrong word) to the point where we see faith is as important as facts, or some such thing.

So who is this young man who now tells eminent scientists what is correct to publish? What is his background in science?

He has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M. That's it. Expect he doesn't (see this from February 7th) - he dropped out of college. He has no degree in anything. But he's the gatekeeper, making sure what is published by uppity scientists is accurate.

Well, it's not like Michael Brown at FEMA. No one died. It's only theoretical cosmology, after all. And global warming. If the State of Kansas can define science to include the supernatural, as they have regarding the teaching of evolution, religion gets inserted here of course.

Sigh.

We shall become a very odd country. The president in the State of the Union speech had some words on making sure America is always the technological leader in the world. Yeah, we'll design faith-based microchips.

The Times, by the way, follows up on George C. Deutsch, here, Wednesday, February 8, noting he resigned. His résumé did list "Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Class of 2003" - so he lied. That university in Texas says he never completed the requirements for a degree. It's a federal crime to lie on a job application for a position in government, isn't it? Oops.

Not to worry. They'll find someone with a real degree to keep religion in science.

Dateline New Orleans

What does one make of this? -
Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.
Some might see this as humiliating - "Being a charity case is not a pleasant experience" - but it's actually pretty cool. If the administration isn't that enthusiastic about rebuilding New Orleans (too black, too funky, too odd, and never "middle-American" in any way), then maybe it gets its eccentric cosmopolitan nature back when the French and Jordanians pitch in and rebuild it. And the mix will be even odder this time, driving the white-bread Republicans even further up the wall. It always was a mix of folks from everywhere - was there a few years ago for a nephew's wedding in Houma where the bride's family was originally Lebanese but had been there for generations in the shrimp business - and this will make things even more a mighty fine gumbo. Heck, the restaurant scene alone would be amazing. Bring it on. George can have dull Houston and glass-towered Dallas, and the fresh New Orleans will have a MonoPrix for every Wal-Mart. Cool.

Dateline Mexico City

Another story about immigration policy? Not at all.

The idea is this this -
Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.

On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.
What?

Here, from Jeanne at Body and Soul, is some commentary -
Cuban officials have been meeting with representatives of American oil companies to discuss developing oil fields off its coasts. Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Spanish, Indian, and Norwegian companies have already signed exploration and services deals, but interest from companies like Exxon would have the added advantage of creating lobbyists against the trade embargo who have a bit more power and influence than most people against the trade embargo.

Here's where it gets really strange. The meetings were held in Mexico City, in an American-owned hotel. The Treasury Department contacted the company that owned the hotel and warned them that they were violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.

An agency of the American government is enforcing American law on Mexican soil. This is how we promote democracy in Cuba.

This administration has some real problems understanding the meaning of the word "democracy."
The hotel not only kicked the Cubans out, it sent their deposit to the Treasury Department!

I'm not sure precisely the name of the law that's violating, but I think the layman's term is theft.

The arrogance of this is mind-boggling. A country's sovereignty doesn't receive a moment's consideration. (Yeah, I know, what did I expect?)
Well, it is pretty odd, and as odd as the whole embargo on anything Cuban is concerned, most illuminating. Yes, there are a lot of solid Republican votes in the Cuban exile communities in south Florida - so no trade or travel ever with Cuba - but the OIL COMPANIES are being sneaky and doing an end run here. If you're a Republican, and especially if you're a Texas oilman Republican, this poses a dilemma - someone is going to be unhappy. If you break the embargo your oil friends love you, and the Cuban vote disappears. If you don't, Exxon-Mobile won't bankroll the next election campaign, and add to that they've got an army of natty lobbyists ready to call on everyone in congress.

It's kind of amusing. Exxon-Mobile is undermining our foreign policy, that trade and travel embargo that clearly will drive Castro from power one day. After almost fifty years it hasn't, but the concept is appealing. What do you call doing something that just doesn't work, over and over, believing it might work this next time? Yep.

As for the international issues, what are we doing stopping meetings of private firms in a foreign country? We can do that? And weren't Cuba and Mexico feuding not that long ago?

And then too, will we decimate that Alaska wildlife refuge for a few weeks worth of oil before we ever deal with Cuba?

Yeah, we'll show them.

Dateline Atlanta

Tuesday, February 7, was the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King. It was impressive - four presidents attended: Bush, Bush, Clinton and Carter. The current Bush said some nice things, as expected.

Unfortunately he was followed Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group King one led. At eighty-four Lowery, as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune notes here, had nothing to lose, so he let it rip.

"How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?"

James says he saw the president say something then to his wife. He knew what was coming. This happens when you don't get to screen the audience.

The eulogy was in verse, and just fine, until it turned - Lowery spoke of the departed and said, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."

A two-minute standing ovation. Bush looked uncomfortable.

That was followed by this: "But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

More cheers, the day after the administration released the proposed budget - higher national security spending and cuts to most domestic programs.

Well, the next speaker was Bush's father, who knew Lowery from old battles over civil rights and domestics spending - "They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21 - Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight." (See, son, the guy was going to scores some points so take it easy and don't do anything rash.)

Jimmy Carter was next. "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace." What was that supposed to mean? And the Carter brought up the way the Kings were targeted by the federal government in the sixties - "It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, her harassment by the FBI." What was that supposed to mean? Yeah, obvious isn't it.

But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

The right was appalled of course. Samples - I am so very tired of Democrats turning serious occasions into opportunities to bash Bush, Less Than Zero Class ..., Can We Have Some Dignity, Please? - and there was Kate O'Beirne on Hardball (video here, with comments).

Black commentator Oliver Willis here - "I'm sure the cons will get all hot and bothered over this denunciation of Iraq at the Coretta Scott King funeral, but they really need to stop pretending that Dr. King and his wife were apolitical people. They were progressive activists fighting against the closed minds of conservatism."

Sometimes your staff doesn't get to screen the audience and script the event, and you find out what's going on outside the bubble. Score one for reality. Everyone is not happy.

Dateline London

Everyone is not happy? Surely the Brits are still with us?

Well, not exactly -
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.

Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.

Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.
But they died pure? Or something. Since 2001 we've had that "global gag" rule - Bush proclaimed it. Any organization applying for US funds must sign an agreement not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - and they cannot provide abortion services. Otherwise, no money, folks.

The Brits on Monday became the "founder donor" of a fund set up specifically "to attempt to replace the lost dollars - and increase safe abortion services."

The Department for International Development and International Planned Parenthood also published a supporting report - an estimated nineteen million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, and seventy thousand will die - thirteen percent of the half-million maternal deaths each year.

International Planned Parenthood Federation will get money now. But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

Dateline Washington

To add to all this, people were still talking about the Monday hearings where the Attorney General defended secret warrantless spying on US citizens, without any oversight by any court or congress.

You got summaries like this -
What we did was legal, or, in our opinion, could have been legal. Since there are arguments on both sides, we will rely on our opinion. However, we won't let a court decide the question, because then we wouldn't be able to rely on our own opinion.

We won't answer hypothetical questions about what we can do legally or constitutionally. We also won't tell you what we've actually done or plan to do; hence every question you ask will about legality be in effect a hypothetical, and therefore we can refuse to answer it.
Close enough.

But it was like that -
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy lost his patience during yesterday's Senate hearings on NSA wiretapping after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, for the umpteenth time, that he would not be able to answer a question because he didn't want to get into "operational details." "Oh, I'm sorry," Leahy said. "I forgot - you can't answer any questions that might be relevant." Leahy had seemed grouchy from the start. But after a marathon session that was long on theories of statutory interpretation and short on specifics about the wiretapping program itself - much less reliable assurances that the program is not being abused - it was hard not to sympathize with the senior senator from Vermont and detect in Gonzales' rote evasions and implacable smile a faint note of smugness.

Throughout the day, Gonzales did not stray from the explanations of the intelligence program already enunciated in the Justice Department's White Paper on the subject. The program targets terrorists and protects civil liberties. How does it select those targets, the senators wondered. Gonzales didn't want to get into specifics. How does it protect civil liberties? "There are guidelines, minimization procedures," he said vaguely. Could he make available those guidelines and procedures? Nope. "They're classified."

After outlining an expansive interpretation of presidential power, Gonzales suggested that in practice the best check on the executive is ... the executive. When questioned about what, if anything, the president could not do, he refused to get into "hypotheticals." The problem for the administration is that without specifics about targeting procedures and safeguards, any defense of the legality of the NSA's program is itself hypothetical. In a rare revealing moment, Gonzales said that the people who make the determination about whom to listen in on are "career professionals" at the NSA?eavesdroppers, in other words. They know better who should be targeted, he said - "certainly than any lawyer." But as Durbin pointed out, alluding to the Japanese internment camps set up during World War II, historically "career professionals" have made some pretty bad decisions about who presents a security threat. With the administration refusing to furnish Congress with any set of guidelines that eavesdroppers must adhere to, Gonzales' "trust us" assurances demand an inordinate amount of trust from Americans and from their elected representatives.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., conceded that the judiciary committee might not be the forum in which to discuss all the details of the spying program. But she pointed out that to date, the administration has not briefed the intelligence committee either. "You haven't let us ask the question, what is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered?" she said. "What are the precise numbers? What happens to the data?" When asked about the legal standard that the NSA uses to determine when to listen in, Gonzales replied that the standard is probable cause but that he preferred the term "reasonable grounds." He glossed over the important difference between the two and when asked to clarify the semantic shift merely repeated that the standard is both.
And so it goes.

The day after the hearings, one of the senators who was upset, Russ Feingold, spoke from the senate floor with this -
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA?s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.

The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.

How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law?
There's much, much more. Everyone is not happy.

But there is humor. Feingold elsewhere put it this way - "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."

Well, we'll see.

These guys play rough, as shown in the big political story of the day, from "Insight," the magazine of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican newspaper, the Washington Times - Rove Counting Heads On The Senate Judiciary Committee. The gist of this is if you vote against the president on any of these NSA matters, or say the wrong things, and you'll be cut off from the party. No money. No support. You political career is over. There's a blacklist.

Worried about impeachment? That's what the item says. Probably just a warning. They can't do anything about the eight-four-year-old at the funeral (maybe), or do anything about the Brits, and who cares what Jimmy Carter says? But they can get the team working together.

But then six hours after the unfortunate words at the funeral, this -
Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.

Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the NSA has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.
Something is up.

Posted by Alan at 23:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 18:17 PST home

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