2008/12/31

To defend some bad guys

For 95 months, the New York Daily News considered G.W. Bush to be their Dear Leader, their glamorous Churchillian hero who dared to do things that annoyed "the liberals," but now, in his 96th month, as he's going out the door, Bush is now all of the sudden being compared unfavorably with Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin. And yes, I and Digby both made a lot of serious criticisms of Palin during the campaign, but as Digby points out:

(And frankly, the demonization of Palin after their deification of Bush struck me from the beginning as nothing more than class and gender snobbery. There really is no substantial difference between them except that Palin actually had more government experience than Bush did. She was his natural successor.) [emphasis in original]

It's crass and crude for the Daily News to all of the sudden discover Bush is an idiot. Where were these guys during the years when such an epiphany would actually have been of some use to the rest of us? Heck, just a few months ago, a few weeks before the 2008 election took place, would have been nice.

Alberto Gonzales blames John Yoo for the torture memos.

John Yoo, the then-Justice official who had been assigned to draft the memos, had strong feelings and no one could have pressured him to write the memos a certain way, Mr. Gonzales said.

and

Gonzo appeared genuinely unable to grapple with why he might be unpopular. "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he asked.

Well, let me put it this way. Gonzales was Yoo's boss. To accept Yoo's torture memos was to make the deliberate and conscious decision to toss the Geneva Conventions over the side and to embrace what "Darth" Cheney calls "The Dark Side." Sorry, but Yoo was a functionary. He was a guy who was doing what he was instructed to do. Gonzales could have said "No" and could have informed the public what their government was up to.

But yes, I have to mention The Guardian's list of the 19 Worst Americans of 2008 (They're British, so they can single out Americans like that). The Washington Monthly lists lots of awful people The Guardian forgot.

2008/12/20

Trustworthiness

Digby reprints Peggy Noonan's November 2000 evaluation of G.W. Bush and what an allegedly wonderful, rugged, he-man of an honest and sincere guy he was. Noonan got a lot right, but ho-o-o-o-boy! Did she get a lot wrong! These paragraphs were especially off-base:

Mr. Bush is at odds with the spirit of the past eight years in another way. He appears to be wholly uninterested in lying, has no gift for it, thinks it's wrong.
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...half the foreign and defense policy establishment fears, legitimately, that the Big Terrible Thing is coming, whether in India-Pakistan, or in Asia or in lower Manhattan.

When it comes, if it comes, the credibility--the trustworthiness--of the American president will be key to our national survival.

Well fortunately, Bush's utter lack of trustworthiness did not cost America its "national survival," but it certainly made it necessary for the President-elect to pledge a sharp break with the "past eight years" that came after Bill Clinton's two terms. From President-elect Obama's interview with Time Magazine on December 17th:

(When asked how the American people would know by the mid-term election of 2010 that he had been successful in restoring American credibility) "On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively?"

The total lack of honesty, fundamental human decency and reliability is now coming around to bite various "Bushies" in the rear end. It seems that in January 2004, the then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defended the pre-war statements of the then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice concerning uranium from Niger and:

The information the Oversight Committee has received casts serious doubt on the veracity of the representations that Mr. Gonzales made on behalf of Dr. Rice.

D'oh! What was very clear from the fabled "16 words" that Ambassador Joseph Wilson discredited was that, at the very minimum, the Bush Administration had failed to perform "due diligence." From a Free Republic summary of the evidence concerning Niger uranium:

A White House spokesman said yesterday, "We have acknowledged that some documents detailing a transaction between Iraq and Niger were forged and we no longer give them credence."

Problem: Had there been a "transaction between Iraq and Niger" to move 400 tons of uranium ore (It takes about 100 tons of ore to get enough refined uranium to make a bomb) from Niger, proper due diligence would have required that the Bush Administration should have detailed how Niger intended to move the uranium ore to Iraq.

Niger has no railroad lines from their uranium mines to the sea, so it would have had to have moved the ore via trucks. Driving from the border of Niger through Nigeria to the city of Lagos or through Benin to Porto-Novo is about 400 miles. Let's say each truck could carry two tons of ore each. That means they'd have to assemble a convoy of 200 trucks. They'd have to add in vehicles to act as advance scouts and a dozen or so light, armed vehicles to provide security. Presuming good roads, the convoy could make the journey in a day, moving the uranium onto a ship would probably take longer, depending on how ships there are loaded.

Chances are zilch that this could have been done secretly. Nigeria or Benin would have had an opinion on the matter and would have demanded to know exactly what the convoy was carrying. Every intel agency in the area would be aware of such a large convoy and every naval power in the world would be aware of the movement of the ore onto a ship, which would have been tracked all the way to its destination. It's simply not credible to say that such a movement could have been made in such a way that the US would not have been aware of it.

Can President Bush credibly claim that due diligence was performed? Did Peggy Noonan judge Bush's honesty correctly? I think we can safely say that Noonan's character-judging abilities are completely worthless.

2008/12/16

Revisionism watch

A WaPo piece describes how President Bush has recently begun to display his "sensitive side." Funny though, the "burrowing" of Bush Administration people (transforming political appointees into career civil servants as appointees are expected to vacate their jobs when a new administration takes over, but it's difficult to fire a civil servant) proceeds full speed ahead.

Has Bush shown much compassion and sensitivity over the years he's been in office? Well, in late January 2003, a Methodist Bishop tried to get an audience with Bush to discuss the upcoming Iraq War, saying that it "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ." The Bishop was refused and their face-to-face conversation never took place. In August 2005, Cindy Sheehan wanted Bush to take time out from his vacation and talk with her about her son's death and what, if anything, he was doing to see to it that more sons and daughters and husbands and fathers didn't die needlessly in Iraq. She too, was refused an audience.

Also, a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee makes it quite clear that Bush is directly linked to detainee abuse by his having stated that "...the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections." The entirely predictable result was that:

Many of those deaths caused by abusive treatment have been formally characterized as "homicides" by autopsies performed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see these chilling compilations of autopsy findings on detainees in U.S. custody, obtained by the ACLU, which reads like a classic and compelling exhibit in a war crimes trial).

For Bush to suddenly start claiming to have been a "compassionate conservative" (a term that many liberals dismiss as being a contradiction in terms) is like Calvin of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes suddenly deciding on December 24th that he'd better start being a good boy or Santa won't bring him any presents.

And hey! Bush is now claiming that he never said that the Taliban had been eliminated! Erm, uh, yeah, and the "Mission Accomplished" banner had been spontaneously put up by the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln and was not a project directed by Karl Rove's people.

And oh yeah! General Eric Shinseki didn't really contend at the time that Rumsfeld's plan for the occupation of Iraq was fatally flawed!

Sigh! Yeah, unfortunately, we're going to hear a lot more of this kind of revisionism over the next few months.

2008/12/12

A reason to write a nice letter

The blog County Fair within the website Media Matters has been busily documenting the wretched, sorry spectacle over the last few weeks of the traditional media panting, slavering, grasping and lusting to write the next "Whitewater" story or to kick off the next "Monica Lewinsky" scandal. America apparently has a bunch of middle-school-age adolescents in charge of much of the traditional media.

The good news is that we saw some pushback on MSNBC Live on 11 December.

...anchor Tamron Hall forcefully challenged Republican strategist and TheHill.com blogger Doug Heye's characterization of President-elect Barack Obama as a "good friend" of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D).

Now obviously, if Obama and Blagojevich were "good friends," it would be entirely appropriate for the strategist's/blogger's report to go unchallenged. It would be entirely appropriate for the MSNBC person to smile and say "Thank you for appearing with us" and to then go on to the next topic. But because Ms. Hall found Mr. Heye's description to be off the mark, she DID HER JOB as a newsperson and challenged him.

This is the kind of thing that active and alert citizens should notice and encourage. Any time that a traditional media outlet goes beyond merely ignoring a bad story and instead challenges the spreader of lies, we should let the station know that their action is noted and appreciated.

Write to:

MSNBC
Mr. Phil Griffin,
Senior Vice President, News
NBC Television Network
30 Rockefeller Plz
New York, NY 10112
phil.griffin@nbc.com

Steve Capus,
President, NBC News
steve.capus@nbc.com

MSNBC
letters@msnbc.com
MSNBC/Microsoft-NBC
30 Rockefeller Plz
3rd Fl
New York, NY 10112
(212) 664-4444

You can only send an email to Mr. Capus, but Mr. Griffin will take both emails and paper letters and MSNBC as a whole will take emails, paper letters and phone calls.

How should we as citizens deal with the notion, sincerely held by many people, that the best way to deal with a silly, trivial media obsessed with gossip and personalities, is to ignore them? As Republicans have ceaselessly pointed out since 9-11, we live in a dangerous world. As the writer, lawyer and activist Mike Hersh points out, President Clinton's anti-terrorist efforts ran into continual Republican roadblocks.

President Clinton also ordered a "terrorism threat assessment of every federal facility in the country," which had "already begun" when, in February 1995, the Clinton Administration introduced a counter-terrorism bill in the Senate (S. 390) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 896). Note: this was before the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Oklahoma City bombing on April 19 that year.

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Unfortunately, Republicans sabotaged Clinton's efforts to keep us safe. If in force before April 19, 1995 federal officials might have detected and prevented the Murrah Building plot.

Why didn't people notice and complain about this obstuctionism? Well, a silly, trivia-obsessed media is a dangerous distraction that allows i
mportant work to be put aside in favor of hysterical scandal-mongering and baseless impeachments. It's very much in our self-interest as American citizens to nip this ridiculous stuff in the bud and to stop it before it gets too far.

What is the extent of the current problem? Eric Boehlert points out that;

As much as I hate coming to the defense of "conservative pundits," they're hardly the only ones making the "tainted" claim, despite the fact Obama was "exonerated" on the tapes. It's pretty much the entire Beltway press corps that's been playing up that angle.

Crooks & Liars observes that "taint" seems to be the "Word of the Day." Two Democratic politicians, both from Illinois and one is supposedly "tainted" by the scandals of the other. But gee, it's funny that George W. Bush and Tom DeLay were two Republican politicians from Texas and somehow, for some strange, amazing, inexplicable reason, Bush was never "tainted" by the scandals of DeLay. Funny how that works!

2008/12/09

Whitewashing history

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times: "In a sweeping defense of his record, President Bush asserted Friday that his administration is leaving the Middle East a 'freer, more hopeful and more promising place' than when he took office.

When Bilbassy-Charters asked if he'd had any second thoughts, Bush replied: "I'm sure there will be. I mean, there's been some disappointments."
Q. "Like what?"
Bush: "Well, like, Abu Ghraib was a terrible disappointment. And admittedly, I wasn't there on the site, but I was the Commander-in-Chief of a military where these disgraceful acts took place that sent the absolute wrong image about America and our military.

If Bush is merely saying that Abu Ghraib was sending a message to the world that was inconvenient to the US, that "Dang, it's too bad word got out about this," then it's hard to disagree with his statement. If Bush is trying to claim that Abu Ghraib somehow didn't represent his administration, that this was a "rogue operation" of some sort, 'fraid not.

On March 11, 2008, House democrats (sic) failed to garner enough votes to override President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have made it illegal for the CIA to use brutal "interrogation" techniques to extract information from suspected terrorists. The vote was 225 to 188, missing the two-thirds majority needed by 51 votes.

Yes, the vote was a clear majority, good for those 225 Congresspeople, but 188 of them showed themselves to be as morally bankrupt as their President demonstrated himself to be. No, Abu Ghraib may not represent America as a whole, but it most certainly represents a substantial group of Americans.

Does Abu Ghraib represent the US military?

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he found the Pentagon report “very troubling” would hold hearings on how the SERE training methods “migrated” into Iraq and Guantanamo as the basis for interrogation. “They were put to a purpose that was never intended,” he said. [emphasis added]

Unfortunately again, the answer is that while Abu Ghraib does not represent the whole of the US military, substantial sections are so corrupted that again, the term "morally bankrupt" is appropriate.
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Q. "But some say, sir, that the removal of Saddam Hussein has bolstered Iran and make emergent as a regional superpower."
Bush: "I disagree completely with that. I think the emergence of a democratic and stable Iraq on Iran's border is in the -- will help more likely keep the peace vis-à-vis Iran in the Middle East. . . . "

Erm, Iran has been greatly strengthened by the US invasion of Iraq, says the Jerusalem Post.

And from the Asia Times:

In short, Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq: the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia. And while Bush contrasts the promise of democracy in Iraq with the tyranny in Iran, there is now substantially more personal freedom in Iran than in southern Iraq.

Not sure if calling Iran a "regional superpower" is entirely appropriate, but calling Iraq an emerging "democratic and stable" country is, well, it's a nice idea, says Americans, but "61 per cent of respondents think Iraq will probably never become a stable democracy."

Bush's attempt to whitewash history is running headlong into the reality of the situation.

2008/12/06

Juan Cole argues with President Bush

President Bush gave a speech on US-Mideast policy at the Sabas Forum on 5 December, Juan Cole then argued with much of what he said in that speech. In doing so, Cole reviewed and again called attention to many aspects of Bush's policies and explanations for those policies that have irked and annoyed liberals, lefties and progressives over the years.

Primarily, Bush annoys progressives by giving his listeners an entirely one-sided and very highly selective view on causes and events. He doesn't just speak as if wearing blinders, he speaks as if he were observing these things through a straw. As Cole observes, when speaking of various Middle Eastern "bad guys,"

A popular Shiite anti-Shah, anti-imperialist movement is no different from a small hyper-Sunni terrorist group?

According to Cole, Bush seeks to present the entire Islamic world as an:

undifferentiated terrain of seething irrational hostility

And I'm sorry, but Bush just plain flat-out lies in this paragraph:

"When Saddam’s regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place."

Cole reviews the well-documented history of the Bush Administration's clear intention of installing Ahmed Chalabi as the Iraqi "friendly strongman" and continues with how the US tried again with Ayad Allawi. Both attempts failed because of Iraqi opposition. Neither attempt was unsuccessful because the US decided that such a thing would violate American ideals of democracy.

Even if we were to assume that Bush was being entirely honest and sincere in his desire to see democracy spread across major portions of the world, we'd still have a major problem with the way that Bush has chosen to go about it. The methods one chooses are important. Back during my college days, one of my professors got very excitable about the errors that people were making in interpreting a subject. Someone pointed out later that the professor had to realize that "He's not cutting down a forest, he's irrigating a desert." By the same logic, Bush and the neoconservatives around him seem to think that creating conditions for a democracy simply means getting rid of the local dictators. In reality, getting a democracy up and running means:

You need institutions like a well-trained legal and judicial establishment that can lay the groundwork for a rule of law. You need vital, independent unions and chambers of commerce. You need security. You need lots of things besides the Marines.

According to Cole, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is the "bad guy" of today, but Bush's speech erases the history of how the Baath Party got into power back in the 1950s and 1960s with the enthusiastic backing of the US. Yes, it's entirely possible that "The Establishment" of the US regrets doing that and is now determined to right those old wrongs, but when their spokesperson ignores the history of US complicity in Mideast violence, there's no reason for anyone to have confidence that any new policies are being planned.

It's of course impossible to blame just Bush and his people for all this. Democrats haven't really tried to present an alternative view. I think that situation has changed a bit from years ago and the Democratic Party is more ideologically progressive than it was when Bush took office. The incoming presidency of Barack Obama is, I believe, a big improvement over Bush's presidency, but it's nowhere near enough for a lot of impatient critics, among whom I count lots of my buddies in the anti-war movement. The traditional media hasn't been presenting alternative views either, but again, the rise of the netroots with a more leftist perspective has ameliorated that problem somewhat. We're still not "there" and the press corps appears to still be unhealthily obsessed with Hillary Clinton and trivia in general, but I think we're making progress.