2005/12/31

Bush Administration outdoes itself again

I've been wondering how to follow up the obviously important story of the NSA having been instructed to spy on American citizens without going through the FISA courts specifically set up for the purpose. The Bush Administration has set up a great screeching and yowling and clamoring about it, but has been completely unable to justify it. Congress, which in 1998, "had" to impeach Bill Clinton for, in their words:

Henry Hyde (R-Ill.): "Mr. Speaker, my colleagues of the people's House, I wish to talk to you about the rule of law. After months of argument, hours of debate, there is no need for further complexity. The question before this House is rather simple. It's not a question of sex. Sexual misconduct and adultery are private acts and are none of Congress's business. "It's not even a question of lying about sex. The matter before the House is a question of lying under oath. This is a public act, not a private act. This is called perjury.

A serious charge, to be sure. Yet, George W. Bush has not only violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

But Article 2, Section 2:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States

Amazingly, even though the President has violated the privacy of many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of individuals (We don't know yet, as the full list of individuals investigated by the secret means employed by the NSA has yet to be provided to competent and disinterested authorities) and even though his actions go well beyond what the Supreme Court has defined as the "Commander-in-Chief powers" in the case of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer (in essence, the Court then decided that President Truman "had violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers" by attempting to do what was rightfully Congress's job) Congress has shown little interest in holding President Bush to account. The nation's news media at the end of 2005 has certainly not adopted the hysterical tone of "Constitutional Crisis" that was a staple of news coverage in 1998.

Was the President justified in "making the call" to follow a different set of procedures? The Attorney General suggests "Yes":

ALBERTO GONZALES: We have to remember that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created in 1978, and technologies have changed dramatically. [Snarky comment here]

My problem with this justification of course, is that THAT'S NOT THE PRESIDENT'S CALL TO MAKE!!! The President has absolutely NO authority to decide on his own that current wire-tapping laws are inadequate to deal with the threat posed by the "War on Terror". The President may bring his case to Congress and have a member of Congress submit a bill to make a revised wire-tapping law which would take his concerns into account. He has ZERO authority to decide unilaterally, on his own authority, that the wire-tapping laws need to be chucked in favor of a broader rule.

In any event, the Bush Administration has, once again, outdone itself. Completely ignoring the underlying crime (i.e. the unlawful surveillance of an unknown number of American citizens) and ignoring the fact that the leak of this information was known to the Bush Administration since BEFORE the 2004 Election:

The New York Times was the first to report the story on December 16th and then officials confirmed its existence to CNN and other organizations.

"The Justice Department has opened an investigation of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information related to the NSA," a Justice Department official told CNN. [emphasis added]

The Administration did not investigate the leak when it occurred, that investigation is only now occurring. The Administration has no interest in the underlying crime, only in who spilled the beans. Thank Heavens, various people in authority are taking this latest move seriously!!!



2005/12/19

Latest justifications

Here's an interesting exchange:

QUESTION: I wonder if you can tell us today, sir, what, if any, limits you believe there are or should be on the powers of a president during wartime.

And if the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?

BUSH: First of all, I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.

There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters.

There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time.

And on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

This is an awesome responsibility, to make decisions on behalf of the American people. And I understand that. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States.

To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.

Well, to say that people are held back from doing what they please by an oath they took earlier is to say that they take their responsbilities very seriously and that they aren't re-interpreting their limitations out of existence and not thinking up ways to get away with doing what they planned to do all along. Unfortunately, the history of presidents and senators and governors, etc., since the founding of our republic and of different rulers stretching back into antiquity does not give us any comfort as to how well rulers can be expected to behave when there's no one there to keep an eye on them. Bush isn't disputing the history of American presidents for the last 30 years, he's disputing the history of rulers since the dawn of recorded history.

"We're talking to Congress all the time." is a very nice-sounding, comforting sound bite until one reads what Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader, has to say about his "notification":

I personally received a single very short briefing on this program earlier this year prior to its public disclosure. That briefing occurred more than three years after the President said this program began.

The Administration briefers did not seek my advice or consent about the program, and based on what I have heard publicly since, key details about the program apparently were not provided to me.

Under current Administration briefing guidelines, members of Congress are informed after decisions are made, have virtually no ability to either approve or reject a program, and are prohibited from discussing these types of programs with nearly all of their fellow members and all of their staff.

So, yeah, sure, a very few Senators got briefed, but if they weren't permitted to tell any of their constituents or even their fellow Senators or Congresspeople, what the heck kind of check or balance does that constitute? Bush's people apparently didn't even tell Senator Reid the full story.

So no, I don't think the actions that Bush describes amount to "oversight" in any meaningful sense. I completely agree that his actions constitute "unchecked power" and that yes indeed, he acted as a dictator.

Bush's "sober" speech

Crooks & Liars describes Bush's latest speech as “sober”and applauds his tone of seriousness. Others have noted the phraseology:

That is an important question, and the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone.

--------

Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day. I don't believe that. Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost. And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose - and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq.

--------

Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts. For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq - we are winning the war in Iraq.

---------

I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq: I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt. Yet now there are only two options before our country - victory or defeat. And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party, because the security of our people is in the balance. I don't expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom.

So, to translate all of this earnest speechmaking:

There are two sides to the argument: Victory, which I, the President, am representing and Defeat, which my political opponents represent. I'm the optimist who looks forward to each new day as a challenge to excel in an attitude of buoyant optimism. My opponents look forward to a half-empty glass of defeat and gloom and doom and despair and pessimism and hopelessness.

The phrase: "I know how deeply it is felt." makes it clear that the opponents of the brave and mighty President are reacting entirely from emotion, that there is no reasoning at work here, no common set of facts that we can all refer to or common "metrics" (Rumsfeld's term) with which to reach an agreement on how the war is going. As from when Bush first set about selling the war to Americans in the first place, everything depends on the American citizen simply taking Bush's word for everything. Bush speaks with great apparent authority about the goals and objectives of the "terrorists", but there's no indication of where any of this information comes from. Presumably, it all comes from intelligence reports, perhaps even from interrogations. As has been exhaustively proven, the intel that the President gets is quite different from what everybody else gets.

He speaks with great apparent authority on what American "military commanders" "Our troops in the field" and "the terrorists" all feel and how they assess the situation, but he, as the military Commander-in-Chief and as the one who gets the intelligence reports, is speaking on behalf of all of these people. No one can independently demand that the troops and commanders speak honestly in possible contradiction to what the C-in-C wants them to say. No one has press contacts among the insurgents. None of these on-the-scene personnel have a voice that can be independently verified.

What exactly constitutes "victory"? Hard to say, beyond the assertion that only the President is for it while everybody else is against it. Victory is defined in vague, maximalist terms, "freedom", etc. Our President is a very clever propagandist, or at least he has very clever people working for him. He does not believe in any sort of democracy, as is shown by the NSA being ordered to spy on American citizens in complete contravention to long-established rules and procedures.

2005/12/12

Fisking Bush's latest speech

So, let's see what owwer glorious
leeder
has to say today. My last quick reading didn't
dredge up anything new or very interesting. Let's see what we can
come up with this time.




We're taking the fight to those who
attacked us and to those who
share their murderous vision for future attacks.


Really? America is attacking al Qaeda? Where?
As I recall, the al Qaeda member Zarqawi is the Iraqi "Scarlet Pimpernel"
who's sort of here, there and everywhere, forever present, yet
uncatchable. Many doubt he even exists or is even alive. In
any event, the real-life Zarqawi was operating in the area of Palestine
and only became an active opponent of the US after the US occupation of Iraq, in
June or July of 2003. "...murderous vision", eh? I suppose
one could take that to mean the members of the Iraqi insurgency who
were not actively shooting at American troops on September 11th,
2001. It's an idea that sorta lumps everybody over there into one
big, vague, indeterminate group of "bad guys".



Yet the terrorists have made it clear
that Iraq
is the central front in their war against humanity.


Wow! They're fighting all of humanity? They must be
underworld demons, then. This is the kind of thing I'm referring
to when I talk about Bush & Co making "hysterical"
statements. I don't mean hysterical in terms of funny, I mean
hyserical in terms of Bush & buddies running down the street,
naked, screaming and flailing their arms. The most interesting
thing about these sorts of utterly hysterical statements is that
neither of Bush's prime-of-life, college-graduate daughters are serving
in the Army, fighting in the desert along with everybody else.
Neither is the daughter of Hillary Clinton, the big Democratic
war-hawk, for that matter, indicating that neither Bush nor Clinton
considers the Iraq War to really be any sort of big deal. How is
Iraq the "central front?" Bush has never specified this, despite
his having used the phrase dozens of times.



Last month, my administration released a
document called The
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq


They did indeed do so and an unimpressive document it was. It's
been described as a string of cliches. It contains no deadlines
and no strategies. It was considered so embarrassingly
devoid of useful details
that even Republican Senators Santorum and
Hagel came out against it.



I'm traveling with United States
senators. They are always quick
to hop a ride on Air Force One...

... particularly when they don't have to reimburse the government.


Hmm, I guess this lne might have come off as funny at the time.
Don't know, since I'm just going by the cold text, but it sounds
awfully mean-spirited and dismissive of any advice that Congresspeople
might give. After all, they're just grubby opportunists grabbing
a free ride when and where they can. Congressman John Murtha (D-MA) reponds
anyway (Video).




Our founders faced many difficult
challenges, they made mistakes,
they learned from their experiences and they adjusted their approach.

Our nation's first effort at a governing charter, the Articles of
Confederation, failed. It took years of debate and compromise before
we ratified our Constitution and inaugurated our first president.

It took a four-year civil war and a century of struggle after that
before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all Americans.


Oh good Lord! Is Bush saying the US is going to be occupying Iraq
for the next century or so?!?!? Big, big difference here.
America after the Revolutionary War was independent. America was
NOT occupied by a foreign power "helping" us or "guiding" us until we
were "ready" for freedom. Americans made these choices and
mistakes by themelves. That's simply not true of Iraqis under
American occupation. Unfortunately, the US motivation for
remaining in Iraq is crystal clear. US corporations are hesitant
to invest in Iraq because as it stands, any investment made there now
stands at great risk of being nationalized the moment Iraq obtains a
truly legitimate government, on that truly represented the Iraqi
people. Bush has been trying to square a circle. He has
been trying to arrange a genuinely popular, truly representative
government that nevertheless favors American corporate privileges and
allows the American government to control the Iraqi economy.
Sorry for not sharing his optimism and "can-do" spirit, but I don't
think it can be done.



Just over 2 1/2 years ago, Iraq was in
the grip of a cruel dictator
who had invaded his neighbors, sponsored terrorists, pursued
and used weapons of mass destruction, murdered his own people and,
for more than a decade, defied the demands of the United
Nations and the civilized world.


First off, where is the evidence that Hussein EVER sponsored
terrorism? Military analysts have remarked that Hussein's army
was modeled on the Soviet Red Army. The Red Army was of course
under absolute, iron-fisted control. Why on Earth would Hussein
trust a bunch of rag-tag, undisciplined terrorist-types to carry out
his policies? Why would he expose his country to the vengenace of
countries who could trace attacks back to him?

Second, Hussein did NOT defy the UN. It was demanded of him that
he produce a complete accounting of all of his weapons. He
delivered a 12,000
page document
to the UN that detailed all of the weapons that
he had on hand. The US made many complaints about this document
and claimed that it fell "far, far, far, far short" of listing all of
the weapons the US "knew" Hussein had. Those complaints have not
withstood the test of time. Nothing has been found in Iraq that
seriously deviates from that 12,000 page document. Hussein
disarmed Iraq in accordance with the demands of the UN.



Gentle reader, please understand that I'm only two pages into Bush's
speech and alread I've found a whole passle of lies and
distortions. Bush has AGAIN produced a speech that hides and
distorts far more than it tells. A speech that lies and spins and
covers up far more thn it informs and educates. The guy is a liar
and a fraud and should not be regarded with any respect at all.

2005/12/09

Tortures and wording

Curious story on this NY Times article: I saw a link to it from the Huffington Post, read a good chunk of it and resolved to return to it later. A few hours later, I fruitlessly looked for it. A day later, I saw that it was restored after a correction had been added. I had imagined Karl Rove getting on the phone to the NY Times' editors and making all sorts of mafioso-type threats. I still think Karl routinely does that sort of thing and yes, I realize that presumption on my part is far more an insult to the Times than it is to Rove.

Seems Secretary of State Rice is having a hard time persuading Europeans that no, the US does not torture captured persons. Earlier, Maureen Dowd had quoted Rice saying: "The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees." She then commented that: "It all depends what you mean by 'authorize,' 'condone,' 'torture,' and 'detainees.'" Liberals never felt strongly about Bill Clinton as a person (Probably because NAFTA was a big, early priority of his), so we have no problem describing such careful wording on Rice's part as "Clintonian parsing".

Rice made an "...impassioned argument for aggressive intelligence gathering, within the law, as an indispensable means of saving lives endangered by an unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe." My problem with this statement begins with Rice's phrase "within the law". If she meant the Geneva Conventions, why not say that? Why not be specific? Why use the vaguer, less precise "law" unless the Bush Administration means to apply a less stringent standard? Article VI of the Constitution specifies that "Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land" meaning the Geneva Conventions are just as much "the law" as are any of the laws in the US Code. Yet, Rice chose not to use that wording. We might also remember that the Torture Memo that our current Attorney General authored has never been formally repudiated by any member of the Bush Administration. This memo made what I and many, many others have regarded as grossly excessive claims as to the authority of the Commander-in-Chief in wartime.

Is al Qaeda an "unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe"? Unscrupulous, yes. Dangerous? I seriously doubt the danger posed by al Qaeda is any greater than that posed to Italy by the Red Brigades or to Germany by the Baader-Meinhof Gang back in the 1970s. Hitting the World Trade Center back in 2001 was a one-time-lucky event that very clearly owed just as much to Bush Administration incompetence, negligence and dereliction of duty as it did to any brilliance on Osama bin Laden's part. In fact, there are those who theorize that September 11th owed more to the Bush Administration than to al Qaeda. Those questions are still, four years later, far from satisfactorily answered. Can we accept that al Qaeda is such a dangerous threat that overturning the Geneva Conventions are necessary? No.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg claims that the US "..does obey international law" which, as I've pointed out, is nowhere in evidence. Being a person who works for the German Chancellor though, it's not at all surprising that he'd say this.

I was partcularly impressed by paragraphs like this:

Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they ''will be'' tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they ''may be'' tortured in those countries.

And of course:

Others pointed out that the Bush administration's definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding -- in which prisoners are strapped to a board and made to believe they are about to be drowned -- that violate provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.

How anyone can believe the Bush Administration is against torture when the very definition of the term is left as vague and fuzzy as it is, is something that absolutely amazes me.

In another article, UN Ambassador John Bolton criticizes the Canadian United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour:

Arbour warned Wednesday the global ban on torture is becoming a casualty of the "war on terror," singling out reported U.S. practices of sending terrorist suspects to other countries and holding prisoners in secret detention.

Her comments sparked an immediate rebuke from Bolton, who said it was "inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric left no doubt about the secretary general's support for Arbour when asked if Annan believed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was out of line for criticizing practices reported used by the United States.

To assert that the UN human rights chief is making serious charges based on nothing more than news clippings is both insulting and unlikely in the extreme. As the "War on Terror" (WOT) is billed as an endless, borderless conflict where there will never be a true victory, it's difficult to see how human rights can be put aside until that war ends. If now is not the time and Arbour is not the person to criticize the US for excesses in the WOT, then when will those excesses ever be criticized? Obviously, if Bolton (and by extension, the Bush Admnistration) had his way, such criticism would never take place.

2005/12/08

Ford Motor Co & Gay Community

AmericaBlog has been on an absolute jihad against Ford Motor Company Link is to Ford press release which states: "Advertising decisions for all our brands are driven strictly by a business case, including Volvo, which has decided to market directly to the gay and lesbian community" which of course implies that most of Ford doesn't market to the "gay and lesbian community". Another article shows that there's "less than meets the eye" to Volvo's "commitment".
On December 3rd, The Advocate reported that:

"The antigay American Family Association claimed a cultural victory on Thursday and called off its threatened boycott of Ford Motor Co. On Friday, Ford spokesman Mike Moran confirmed to Advocate.com that the company will stop advertising its Jaguar and Land Rover brands in gay publications but insisted it was strictly a business decision."

Two days later, Ford confirmed that they made their decision based on pressure from the AFA. The same day, EVERY GLBT group in the US came out against the Ford Motor Company's decision. On the 7th, Ford agreed to no longer sponsor gay events. The Kraft Food Company has shown itself to be a hero in this case with the statement:

"It's easy to say you support a concept or a principle when nobody objects. The real test of commitment is how one reacts when there are those who disagree."

AmericaBlog provides lots and lots of contact information to let concerned citizens know how to contact Ford.

2005/12/04

WINTER SOLSTICE PROTEST

Senator Arlen Specter's home will be the focal point of a Winter Solstice Peace Event at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 18, sponsored by several peace organizations which belong to the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network (PRAWN).

"He's way overdue on speaking out on this war," said Celeste Zappala, a Mount Airy resident who lost a son in Iraq and who is a member of Military Families Speak Out.

"If Cindy Sheehan could go all the way to Texas to Bush's ranch, we can certainly go a few blocks to Senator Specter's house," said Chris Robinson, a member of the Northwest Peace and Justice Movement.

Robinson said the vigil will take place on the corner of Timber Lane and Schoolhouse Lane in East Falls. Specter lives at 4111 Timber Lane.

"It is too late for the more than 2100 families who lost a loved one," said Zappala. "They are tied forever by grief to the disaster that is the Iraq War. Saving the lives of those who are still serving or about to be sent to Iraq is the urgent mission of all military families."

The Winter Solstice Peace Event at Specter's home on December 18 has been endorsed by the Green Party of Philadelphia, Northwest Peace Coalition, Northwest Peace and Justice Movement, Peace Action of Delaware Valley, Philadelphia War Resisters League, PRAWN (the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network), and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Meanwhile, Specter's office in the Federal Building, 6th and Market Streets in Center City, will be targeted by the Philadelphia Affinity Group on December 7. They are seeking an appointment with Specter to ask him to sponsor legislation in the Senate to allow Pentagon funds in Iraq to be used only for the safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops. Such legislation -- H.R. 4232 "The End the War in Iraq Act of 2005" -- has already been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman James McGovern (D-MA).

The Philadelphia Affinity Group is composed of persons who were arrested in a non-violent demonstration in front of the White House on September 26, 2005.

More information contact Chris Robinson at 215-843-4256 or check PRAWN's website at http://www.prawnworks.net

2005/12/01

Latest Bush speech

The problems I have with the very first paragraph of Bush's "Strategy for Victory":

OUR NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR VICTORY IN IRAQ:
Helping the Iraqi People Defeat the Terrorists and Build an Inclusive Democratic State

  • Victory in Iraq is Defined in Stages
    • Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.
    • Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.
    • Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

The "Short term" of course presumes that "Iraqis" want to "fight terrorists", or that insurgents are even defined as terrorists by the current Iraqi government.

In the "Medium term" the presumption is made that a "constituitional government" would somehow not include any Iraqis who are today shooting at American soldiers. Once, while we were waiting upon the arrival of Bush's second Inaugural parade, A follower of Lyndon LaRouche told me that Hugo Chavez' popularity among Venezuela's voters wasnt really meaningful because Chavez was "mostly popular among the poor, so it doesn't really count." I suppose one could do a similar reading upon native Iraqis who are fighting American soldiers, but I suspect their popularity among Iraqi voters is likely to be quite significant. I and many others noted in mid-2003 that a guerrilla force without followers among the population was like a group of fish out of water. They need peopl supporting them so that they can get meals, places to sleep, places to launch ambushes from, etc. Their popularity is certainly significant enough that they would be entitled to quite a number of seats in a truly free and fair election. Hard to see how that could be squared with a government that was "in the lead defeating terrorists".

"Long term" - Hmm, "peaceful" but busy fighting the "global war on terrorism"? Um, er, okay. Perhaps if all of the "terrorism" were coming in from abroad or from outside the Iraqi "community". That of course presumes that the people currently fighting Americans could be somehow eliminated without causing utter depopulation. In which case, it's hard to see how it's ever going to be "secure". depoulating the Iraqi contryside would demand a major, long-term deployment of American troops, which might make integration into the "international community" a bit difficult.

In short, the latest "plan" is very, very short on realistic assessments and very, very heavy on wishful thinking.