The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Preview of things to come

I hate the Democrats who, in support of this strategy, spout lie after lie: that the president knew in advance there were no WMD in Iraq; that he lied to Congress to gain its support for military action; that he pushed for the democratization of Iraq only after the failure to find WMD; that he was a unilateralist and that the coalition was a fraud; that he shunned diplomacy in favor of war.

These lies, contradicted by reports, commissions, speeches, and public records, are too preposterous to mock, but too pervasive to rebut, especially when ignored by abetting media.

I'm not sure that anything on that list of "lies" even counts as unsubstantiated. Far as I can tell, it's all completely true. Crooks & Liars has read the Senate Intelligence Committee report and testifies that, yes indeed, "...all pre-war claims were bogus including Niger yellow-cake, aluminum tubes and Atta-in-Prague [that] were the 'strongest' pieces of evidence indicating a WMD program and Saddam-al-Qaeda link." It was obvious to me in late 2002 that Bush & Co were delivering loads and loads of BS. Too bad the press never caught on. The "Gang of 500" appeared to be a lot less informed on the issue than I was.


Torture redefined

Vice-Presidnet Cheney interviewed on radio show:

"Would you agree that a dunk in water [i.e., waterboarding, a procedure whereby a subject is made to feel as though he's drowning] is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" asked Hennen.

"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president `for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," Cheney replied. "We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."

What Cheney gives here is a defense that's only technically true. It is true that Congress recently passd a law that makes certain specified forms of torture legal/illegal. Not that there have been any internatoal agreemets to that effect, not that the morality of torture has changed in the slightest. Congress only passed the law because they've been acting as a rubber stamp parliament for the past six years anyway. Yes, there was a bit of kabuki where "Saint" John McCain and several other Senators appeared as though they were challenging the President, but that was all smoke and mirrors.

"We don't torture" is true strictly and entirely because American law has been adjusted so that a procedure that is clearly and unambiguously torture is now no longer defined as such. Of course waterboarding is torture, no matter what VP Cheney's personal opinion on the matter is. Regardless of how much the Bush Administration would like to believe otherwise, the US has unambiguously defined waterboarding as torture in the past:

"As early as 1901, a US court martial sentenced Major Edwin Glenn to 10 years hard labour for subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the 'water cure'.

"After the second world war, US military commissions successfully prosecuted as war criminals several Japanese soldiers who subjected US prisoners to waterboarding.

"In 1968, a US army officer was court martialled for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam."

Torture is when one physically abuses a person, not just for the fun of it, but in an organizd fashion. It's done either to obtain information or simply to humliate, perhaps "break" a person. In the latter case, getting information is just the ostensible, theoretical objective. International human rights treaties are not specific as to what constitutes torture vs what is a "tough interrogation procedure" or any other such verbal gymnastics.

Update: As I was writing this, President Bush defended Cheney's remarks, but with very interesting similarities:

"Q Sir, do you agree with the Vice President that a dunk in the water is a 'no brainer' when it comes to interrogating a terror suspect?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: This country doesn't torture, we're not going to torture. We will interrogate people we pick up off the battlefield to determine whether or not they've got information that will be helpful to protect the country."

As Froomkin points out, however: "But of course Bush has never said how he defines torture, so the answer was meaningless."


Has America REALLY sunk this low?

Right-wing harpy Melanie Morgan had to wipe the blood from her fangs in order to continue her rant about how the US wasn't "tough" enough in dealing with Iraq.

First off, Chris Matthews of Hardball mentioned John McCain's proposal of adding 100,000 bodies to America's armed forces without mentioning where this 100,000 more troops are going to be coming from. The Army and Marines have long since been issuing "stop-loss" orders to prevent servicepeople frm leaving, have long since been taking soldiers up into their 40s and sometimes even in their 50s and the Army recently lowered its intelligence test requirements for joining. A major reason the armed forces are having difficulty filling their ranks because it's not terribly clear what the purpose of the war is.

MATTHEWS: More troops?

MORGAN: I think that…yeah, we should have a lot more troops in the beginning. Look, I’m not a cheerleader for the President of the United States. Um, I…I believe that he made the right decision and he did it for the right reasons. I don’t agree with all of the way the war has been prosecuted. I think we should have gone in and just blitzed Iraq. We haven’t had a, a serious war, really, since WWII. We’ve had…

MATTHEWS: What would that mean, blitz?

MORGAN: It would have…it means that we should have gone in and be prepared to win it, not just to do…to avoid collateral damage. And I think that’s one of the mistakes that uh, this administration has made…

MATTHEWS: How many Iraqis do you figure have been killed so far?

MORGAN: I have no idea…because there are figures all over the map, Chris. I mean, it depends on who’s doing the survey and asking the questions….

So let's see, Morgan is "not a cheerleader," but her only criticism of the way Bush has fought the Iraq War was that US troops didn't do enough killing going in. Avoiding collateral damage was a "mistake" as more Iraqis were allowed to survive. How many Iraqis perished? Eh, who cares? Matthews continues:

MATTHEWS: Well, they’re saying something like 50…and the, the other experts are saying 600,000, so it’s probably in the low 100,000s, if you take a middle position. You think that’s not enough violence over there?

The two different figures arise from two different methods of accounting. The 50,000 dead comes from media and government reports of specific individuals dying, the 600,000+ comes from counting the population before & after the US invasion and accounting for the missing people.

MORGAN: I didn’t say that…

MATTHEWS: You said, “blitz” and “don’t worry about collateral damage” …

MORGAN: I said in the very beginning…when we came in…we needed to win, we needed to use our, our guns, and we needed to use our superior air forces and we needed to win. We didn’t choose that strategy…

Actually, the United States DID "win" and very quickly. The "major combat operations" lasted only a short time and everyone in the Bush Administration thought that was pretty much it. US forces needed to do a bit of clean-up, but as the soldiers were told "The way home goes through Baghdad."

The real problem was, apparently, that the US "...let [the bad guys] slip into the shadows."

In other words, the US should have taken a "kill 'em all" or openly genocidal approach to planning the battles.

"We" just needed to be "tougher," i.e. to kill more bad guys and not worry about collateral damage.

Has the American political dialogue really sunk this low? Are US talk shows seriously featuring people who openly speak of genocide as a military tactic? It was very nice to see the host openly criticize Morgan's ideas, but one has to wonder how such a person got into such a prominent advocacy position in the first place. Not that I'm a conspiracy theorist or anything, but does Morgan perhaps speak for more than just herself? What might the US be doing behind the scenes? Well...


Again, where are these extra 100,00 troops going to come from?

In this and in this post, I expressed frustration and incredulity that various people want to increase the number of troops in the Army & Marines in order to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. All very fine and well, but where are these troops going to come from? This is a hugely important question as the Bush Administration has done absolutely everything short of a draft to get people into the military and keep them there.

"Saint" John McCain (So-called because of his kabuki performance in appearing to seek to preserve habeas corpus, while actually doing no such thing.) has, well, sort of an answer to the question:

MCCAIN: I don‘t think we need to think of the draft again because I don‘t think it makes sense in a whole variety of ways. But I guarantee you, if these young people felt that this nation was in a crisis and we asked them to serve, virtually every one of them would stand up because I have the greatest confidence in the young people of America.

Um, soooo, er, I guess what McCain is saying is that somebody needs to explain to the American people why Iraq is a crisis and to then ask young people to serve. Apparently, if someone did that, then the volunteers would sort of pop out of the woodwork and the recruiting offices would be full. Um, sure, right, OK. Basic problem is that the Iraq War is not and never was a response to a serious crisis. It was always a game involving oil and money. Bush can't convince his daughters or any of his nephews to sign up to fight in the war because the war has nothing to do with anything involving idealism or self-sacrifice.


Results of "negotiations" on torture bill

For anyone who thinks that "Saint" John McCain and his fellow moderates actually drove a hard bargain with Bush over the rights of detainees who have been declared "Illegal Combatants":

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Leading Republican lawmakers, among them Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who balked at the initial White House version of the bill and forced a much-publicized compromise, were also on hand. But the third leader of that Republican rebellion, Senator John McCain of Arizona, was noticeably absent."

As for that supposed compromise, Tony Snow put an end to any pretense that there was any such thing at his briefing yesterday , a few hours after the bill became law:

"Q Do you think -- this has been described as a compromise. The President basically got everything he wanted, didn't he?

"MR. SNOW: Pretty much, yes."

No Signing Statement

Here's another sign of how pleased the White House was with this legislation.

Signing statements -- in which the president quietly asserts his right to ignore legislative provisions that he believes conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution -- have become a controversial tradition at the Bush White House.

But at Monday's briefing , Snow disclosed that there would be no signing statement issued for this bill.

Reporters were shocked, and asked why.

"Q Tony, was there any agreement with Congress that there would not be a signing statement?

"MR. SNOW: No.

"Q This just seems like the kind of bill where there are a lot of things to be interpreted and take a look at.

"MR. SNOW: They did a really good job this time.

"Q Wow. (Laughter.)"

Why "improve" on perfection? If the White House got everything it wanted, then the "negotiations" between the GOP moderates and the President were just so much kabuki (Highly formalized, ritualized dance steps) that was far more for appearance than for effect.

In another section:

"But what the American people need to know is we have a program in place that is able to get intelligence from these people and we have used it to stop attacks. The intelligence community believes strongly that the information we got from the detainee questioning program yielded information that made America safer, that we stopped attacks."

My problem with this argument is the time factor. Information from captured bad guys is an extremely perishable commodity. All militaries all over the world do what we call "muster." Soldiers assemble, stand in a line and call out "Here, sir!" as the person in charge reads out their names. (Obviously, there are many variations on this, small groups can muster in a less formal way. The principle is the same, the senior person in the group is responsible for knowing where all of his or her assigned members are at all times.) Once it's been determined that a member is missing, the next step is obvious. If the missing person is aware that there's a bomb planted in the middle of the city, where it is and when it will go off, the senior person in the group will presume that the member has been captured and will talk. The bomb will then be set off early or it will be moved.
Sure, you can learn about "The Ticking Time Bomb," but by that time the bomb will have been moved, placed under guard or set off early. Any information that the bad guys have is useful for an extremely limited amount of time. The idea that "The intelligence community" gained useful information through torture is within the bounds of possibility, but it strikes me as very, very highly unlikely.
It's also worthwhile to keep in mind that Abu Ghraib was operational during a time in Iraq when insurgent attacks were steadily increasing. At the very, very best, the tortures engaged in there held down the rate of increase by a modest amount. Even if we accept that premise, the good gained has to be weighed against the loss of moral justification for being in Iraq in the first place.

The "evenhandedness" of Fox News' Chris Wallace

10 September, ABC shows "Path to 9-11," a TV miniseries that blamed President Clinton for 9-11.
22 September, Chris Wallace of Fox News challenged former President Clinton to explain why bin Laden was still alive when the next President, George W. Bush took office. Why did Clnton fail to kill bin Laden? As this was a surprise, unannounced question on Wallace's part, Clinton got a bit heated in his reply. Clinton received criticism all across the TV dial because he responded energetically.
Wallace was described as even-handed, objective, and a nice guy.
Why of course Wallace was just as tough on the Bush people as he was on Clinton, Fox News supporters said.
Well, here was a chance to prove it.
Wallace recently had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on his show. She had been on 23 times previously and as the seventh anniversary of the bombing of the USS Cole was very close by, people sent in 20,000 emails asking Wallace to prove his evenhandedness by asking her why the Bush Administration did nothng between Bush's inauguration in 2001 and 9-11. Specifically, why didn't the Bush Administration do anything about the recent certification by the CIA (Less than 20 days before Bush took office) that the USS Cole was bombed by bin Laden?
Wallace decided to chicken out, proving absolutely and unequivocally that Fox News is a Republican propaganda organ.


Iran running arms to Iraq insurgents?

The argument against the charge that Iran is running some sort of "Ho Chi Minh Trail" to Iraqi insurgents has long been the one of "Occam's Razor," the principle of not making a theory any more complicated than it needs to be to explain something. Iraqis use simple, easily-obtained weaponry (AK-47s & IEDs), they have all the training they need (Pre-war, a very large military establishment) and with the American occupation, all the motivation they need (Harsh pre-war sanctions, infidels who don't speak their language and don't care about their culture occupying their land, Abu Ghraib, etc.). Nevertheless, the British decided to investgate to see if the Iranians were sending anything over anyway.



Does the Bush Administration want to attack anyway? Well,
If the fallout from the Foley scandal makes it appear inevitable that the Democrats will take the House, the Iran card may be the surest one, and perhaps the only one, that the Bush administration has left to play.


Re: "The Sounds of Silencing" Oct 13

Peggy Noonan at Wall St Journal's OpinionJournal

Commentary from lawyer/blogger Glenn Greenwald

Ms Noonan asks why the left could not silence a critic. Katie Couric featured the father of a student killed in the massacre at Columbine High School making crazy and preposterous statements about the massacre having something to do with women controlling their own bodies and deciding on their own whether to bring pregnancies to term. But the unnamed "blog critic" had it right. The question was not "Why wasn't this critic of abortion rights silenced?" The question was "Why was this lunatic given a national platform from which to make crazy statements?"

Ms Noonan claims that the left does not want debate. Fuuny, but when former President Bill Clinton reacted heatedly to a Fox News person repeating talking points from the Disney/ABC miniseries of less than a month previously, conservatives and most of the news media demonstrated absolutely zero desire to debate the issue of presidential responsibility for 9-11. Clinton was portrayed as crazy and belligerent and cartoonists portrayed him as lunging at the poor, defenseless Fox News person.

No one in the media, to my knowledge, took up the point of "Yeah, just what did Bush do between January 2001 and early September 2001 to head off 9-11?" It's curious that the side of the political aisle that is now lecturing leftists had so little interest in the solid and substantive issue of presidential responsibility when it came to their own president. Had your beloved, "civilized" right wing, Ms Noonan, stopped to question themselves over that point, we liberals might take your crocodile tears seriously.


Straw man arguments explained

Bush made a statement about his warrantless NSA spying program:

"'One hundred and seventy-seven of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists,' ' Bush said at a fundraiser..."

This is of course complete nonsense. Democrats don't have a problem with listening in on the conversations of al Qaeda, they just have a problem with doing so without warrants and without agents demonstrating probably cause to believe that those being monitored are indeed al Qaeda and not just some peaceniks plannng their next legal, peaceful demonstration.

Many journalists, including the WaPo's Dan Froomkin, have remarked upon the President's tendency to do verbal sparring with imaginary foes who present made-up arguments. Well, now an aide of his explains:

"White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended Bush's remark as a reasonable extrapolation of the Democratic position. 'Of course, they aren't silly enough to say they don't want to listen in on terrorists, but actions speak louder than words, and people should know what the Democrats' voting record is,' she said."

Of course Bush didn't say anything suggesting he was re-writing anything that anybody said. Reading his statement, he appears to be quoting a number of people who all say more or less the same thing.

And naturally, the voting records of Democrats shows no such thing. People including Froomkin have commented on the tendency of Bush to make statements like this. Bush has repeatedly made up inane arguments, attributed those arguments to opponents of his and then masterfully and heroically demonstrate to his followers how inane the arguments are. In order to spot the fact that it's a straw ma argument, one has to know what the actual positions of the Democrats are. Accordingly, these arguments are very persuasive to "low-information" supporters, they're "not so much" to opponents and informed people.

The interestig and hopeful part is that enough people are catching on to this to provoke Bush's spokespeople to make up justifications.


The "moral superiority" of Republicans

Open letter to Chris Matthews

Sources to write to him:

Chris Matthews
Chris Matthews

One MSNBC Plaza
Secaucus, N.J. 07094
MSNBC contacts


Mr Matthews,
I must say, reading the snippet below and having read Digby's blog post, I'm really baffled as to how the Republican Party can claim any sort of moral superiority over their Democratic rivals.

Matthews: You didn't give us the deadliest which is that Democrats are now trusted more on moral values

Fineman: I thought that was the next question

Matthews: (incredulous) I mean that is a stunning ... the Democrats are the big city party, the tolerance party the ... in many ways libertarian on social issues and moral issues and now they're perceived to be more priestly, more honorable on moral questions ... I guess that includes sexual questions ... than the Republicans.

As you might remember, in late August of last year, New Orleans was flooded with water that was so full of junk and poisons that it was pretty much impossible to swim in it. People were trapped on their rooftops with very little in the way of clean water, food or shelter from the late summer sun. Citizens of New Orleans felt they didn't really need to stock up on anything because they were American citizens and could therefore expect rescue boats and helicopters to come along soon.
Please remember that G.W. Bush visited the home of "Saint" John McCain, the guy who later performed the torture bill kabuki, where he pretended to be a moral voice in the "debate." Bush celebrated McCain's birthday while the citizens of New Orleans died in the poisonous water and on their rooftops. The Vice-President remained at his ranch, the Secretary of State went to New York City to buy shoes and see a comedy.
The polls show that disapproval of the President's performance has actually grown by a modest amount in the past year, meaning NO ONE has forgotten, no one has forgiven.

Even when we leave all the conspiracy theories aside, the rock-hard, indisputable fact of 9-11 is that, in the very best possible case, the Bush Administration displayed negligence, incompetence and dereliction of duty. The website lists 80 articles in both the mainstream and alternative press/blogs concerning Bush Administration foreknowledge/advance warnings about 9-11. At no time has Bush or any other member of his current Administration ever expressed the slightest regret over their dereliction of duty. How anyone can look at this record and say that Bush & Co are moral is, again, beyond me.

On the Iraq War, Bush has never once gone to the funerals of any fallen soldiers, his wife has visited wounded soldiers in the hospital, but secretly, as though there were something shameful in doing so, the Bush daughters could very easily have signed up to be Navy pilots after graduation from college and could be bombing targets in Iraq during the day and sleeping on the aircraft carrier at night. We have yet to hear calls to sign up for duty in Iraq from Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin or any other right-wing pundits. Where is the morality here?

There has been a dispute over the past few years as to whether pharmacists can deny RU-486 to women who wish to head off their pregnancies. Wal-Mart came out in favor of pharmacists' "freedom" to do so, K-Mart said "No, pharmacists should do their job and dispense the medicines they're asked to dispense." Right-wingers and Republicans both appear to be in favor of allowing ignorant busybodies to interfere in a very serious and private matter with no controls as to whether they know the woman in question or anything about her situation. The Terry Schiavo case simply illustrated this general attitude in glaring detail.

In the case of former Congressman Foley and his pedophilia, Dr James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family and the fellow who "outed" Spongebob Squarepants as gay, took over a week to even mention Foley and as of 10 Oct 06, does not feature Foley on the home page of his website.

You've made the claim that Republicans are more moral because they believe in balanced budgets. Well, first of all, President Reagan may have believed in balanced budgets in theory, but a quick glance as to how he actually managed the budget makes it clear that he had, at best, only a vague, theoretical grasp of how to actually balance budgets. Second, a Marxist economist, as she would favor helping out people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, has just as legitimate a claim to being moral as a balanced-budget-believer does. One could argue about which system is better in the long run, but it is simply impossible for one side to say "We're moral and the other side isn't."

The Republican claim to moral superiority is just that, a claim. Right-wingers and Republicans have absolutely no reason whatsoever to flaunt themselves as morally superior to liberals and I'd greatly appreciate it if you'd acknowledge that in the future.


Tony Snow explains Bush's "just a comma" comment

The comma refers to the period of time between last year's election and today. We're talking about — well, the President is making the point is, when you look at a history book, a 10-month period is a comma.
And I've talked to him about this a number of times. It was simply — what he means is that in the grand sweep of history

Helen Thomas then points out (quite reasonably, I think): The war is three-and-a-half years old.

MR. SNOW: I know, but notice that "comma" reference was simply referring to the time since — what he really is referring to is the short lifetime so far of the government. Everybody trying to say, ah-ha, and trying to draw conclusions, is it working, isn't it working; do you have confidence in the Prime Minister, do you not? It's 10 months old. It's a government that is still in its infancy and trying to deal with a host of complex and very important issues. So when you take it in the broad sweep of history, and as we look back — you and I probably — well, you may, centuries from now, but I don't think I'm going to last as long as you will, Helen — but the facts is –

What Snow & Thomas disagree on seems pretty clear. Snow is essentially arguing that the "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" exercise that was concluded with the installation of the new government of Iraq was a "decisive turning point," much as was the signing of the Iraqi constitution on 8 March 2004:

US President George W Bush called the adoption an "historic milestone"

Or the "turnover of authority to the Iraqi people" on 28 June 2004, which resulted in:

"This is a historical day," Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said. "We feel we are capable of controlling the security situation."

Added Iraqi President Ghazi Al-Yawer: "This is a day we are going to take our country back into the international forum. We'd like to express our thanks to the coalition," Al-Yawer continued. "There is no way to turn back now."

Historic, eh? Funny how nobody celebrated the second anniversaries of these famed and historic days. 22 June 2005, Kofi Annan declared that various international pledges of support given at a conference in Brussels marked a:

"This conference marked a watershed for Iraq," Mr Annan said afterwards.

He said he hoped the long-suffering people of Iraq would "take heart from this strong message of support" and that the declaration would make future challenges "appear a little less daunting"

And of course, there was the 8 June 2006 killing of the head of "al Qaeda in Iraq," Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was wary of using the term "turning point." but was suitably enthusiastic:

[It] was a sign of "a new spirit to succeed", said Mr Blair.

"Our task, obviously, is to turn that spirit, that willingness, that desire to succeed into effective action," he said.

"If we are able to do so, then we will have accomplished something that goes far beyond the borders of Iraq."

Further commentary in this particular article demonstrates that the British press is far freer and less corporatized than the American press is by leaps and bounds.

Helen Thomas was correct. The Iraq War is three and a half years old, currently longer even than the US war against Germany. Germany and Italy declared war on the US on 11 December 1941 and VE Day was 8 May 1945, 1244 days. The number of days from 19 March 2003 to 1 October 2006 is 1292 and there's no end in sight.


Pre-9/11 warning of 10 July 2001

Seems there wasn't just the 6 August PDB that notified the Bush Administration of the upcoming 9/11 attack. Secretary of State (Then National Securiy Adviser) Rice, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft were all briefed two months beforehand. Interestingly, the then-current Secretary of State, Powell, was not in the briefing. Also, it's very interesting to note that the 9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikov, who was an NSC Deputy serving directly under Rice at the time, "...didn't respond to e-mail and telephone queries from McClatchy Newspapers" concerning why the 9/11 Commission never included this meeting in their report.

It was relatively easy to dismiss the PDB as a fluke. One warning, delivered to one person, a person not really known for being all that bright. But to have the same warning delivered to three principal officials well before the event is a bit harder to explain away. As DailyKos explains, the evidence that at least Rice was fully aware of the upcoming attack is damningly specific.

Of course, what Rice, Rumsfeld or Ashcroft DID about the warning remains an open question.


Again, the complete idiocy of "make the Army bigger"

To whack away again at the DLC/Joe Lieberman solution of "Let's just wave a magic wand and magically make the US Army bigger," here's a public opinion study quoted in DailyKos:

Frustration with the [Iraq] war is further reflected in the fact that only 23 percent of respondents indicated that U.S. troops in Iraq should be "maintained at the current level." A plurality of Americans - 27 percent - now advocate the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, while a combined 31 percent of Americans want the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to be decreased "some" or "a lot." Only 19 percent of respondents want U.S. troop levels "increased a lot" or "increased some." [emphasis added]

In other words, even if we could somehow make the Army bigger, very few Americans want that bigger force to be used to reinforce the units currently fighting in Iraq. Again, proposing a bigger force is a great way to bamboozle low-information voters into thinking that you're proposing a real solution, but it's quite uselss for actually solving anything.