Friday, September 29, 2006

Quotes of the Week

Here's a quick look at some selected quotes from this week that provide a very disturbing and sobering peek into the mindset of our current leadership. Let these statements stand as a monument to the ignorance, arrogance and moral bankruptcy of these men:

#1. President George W. Bush on the toll of the Iraq War as told to Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition":

"Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people…. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy."

#2. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS):

“It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people. Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli’s and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.

#3. Senator Trent Lott again on whether he and and other Republican senators discussed Iraq in their meeting yesterday:

“No, none of that. You’re [the media] the only ones who obsess on that. We don’t and the real people out in the real world don’t for the most part.

4. The Boston Globe reports that only 10% of congressmen, who voted yesterday to allow the use "enhanced interrogation techniques" (read torture) at the President's discretion, actually even know what techniques they were voting to allow. The report quotes Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as follows:

`I don't know what the CIA has been doing, nor should I know."

These speak for themselves.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Rebellion That Wasn't

Just quick update on the big "republican revolt" on torture. As predicted, the charade ended with these supposedly maverick senators selling us all and the constitution down the river for the price of cheap political points. Anyone sitting at home hanging all their hopes on the idea of this bunch standing up for the constitution, the rule of law and the moral conviction that shuns torture under any circumstance have been left all dressed up with no place to go... again.

When will we learn? These are conservatives without a conscience. When listening to them an excellent default position is to assume that if any of these folks are saying it there must be a scam in the works somewhere. This will be very effective even if you don't know the nuts and bolts of an issue before hand. For instance, if someday they tell you the sky is blue be sure to ignore the intuitive appeal of the assertion. Before you repeat it to someone take a quick look out of your window because, in all likelihood, that will be the day the sky turned orange with pink polkadots. Assume the are lying until proven truthful (and they wont be proven truthful).

And so it goes with all the grandstanding and media breathlessness over this charade of a Republican "revolt". The best writing I've found on the subject comes from Glenn Greenwald in his blog, Unclaimed Territory:

No matter where one stands on the ideological spectrum, there is nothing confusing or unclear or ambiguous about the so-called "compromise" on torture, nor is there a lack of clarity about who won. It couldn't be any clearer. On the interrogation issue, there was only one simple issue from the beginning -- the Bush administration, through the CIA, has been using an array of "interrogation techniques" (induced hypothermia, long standing, threats to harm families, waterboarding) which most of the world considers to be torture. The question was whether the U.S. would be a country that uses these torture techniques (as the administration wanted) or whether it would ban them. That was the only issue all along.

Just last week at his press conference -- does the media have any short term memory at all? -- the President said he cared about only one thing with regard to the torture legislation: "I have one test for this legislation. I'm going to ask one question, as this legislation proceeds, and it's this: The intelligence community must be able to tell me that the bill Congress sends to my desk will allow this vital program to continue. That's what I'm going to ask." By "this program," he means the CIA's torture program.

This legislation unquestionably allows the administration to continue to do exactly what it is was doing before. It legalizes those methods. It actually strengthens what the administration was doing because now it provides those activities with statutory authority. Why are the media and others pretending that these questions are murky? They're not.

It's true that the "compromise" takes the indirect, cowardly path towards legalizing torture by relying upon vague standards to define torture and then vesting in the President the sole power (unreviewable by courts) to determine what techniques are and are not allowed by those standards. It is the President who decides whether the "aggressive interrogation" program (i.e., the torture program) can continue, and he has already decided, obviously, that it will.

That is why the President and his senior advisers are celebrating the fact that the "program" can now continue. Because it can. Because the "compromise" allows that. Because the White House won. Because the principled, dissident Republican Senators capitulated entirely on the central question of whether the U.S. will continue to torture people.

I highly recommend the entire post as well as his other work on the subject. We the people have, once again, been hoodwinked (well, not me personally -- I tried to tell ya -- but I'm being generous).

See also Paul Waldman's post at The Gadflyer in which he rightfully calls out the Democrats also for their eerie silence on the subject. We already know we can't count on them to strongly oppose that useless war (or the next). We can't count on them stand against so-called "free trade" policies that are killing jobs in America and exploiting workers abroad. We can't look to them to fight against domestic spying or draconian "Patriot" acts. We can't depend on them to oppose the indefinite incarceration of American citizens without charge or due process. We couldn't count on them to oppose that awful bankruptcy reform law. Now we find that we can't even ask them to say a single peep against the legalization of torture. Please remind me why they exist again.

Their silence has allowed the unthinkable to happen. The Republicans have been allowed, via this staged-for-TV "revolt", to assume both the "get tough at all costs" posture and the mantle of conscientious opposition as their own private property, all while conspiring to legalize torture writ large. The Democrats have ceded both sides of issue to the war & torture mongers. It's political negligence that borders on criminal.

is the American opposition party? Their philosophy seems to be to avoid a fight in order to live to not fight another day. I'm sorry, but any talk of the Democrats being "appeasers" of anyone should begin and end with their incessant appeasement of George W. Bush and his radical, authoritarian agenda for this country. They, even more than the GOP itself, make me despair for this country. It may already be too late.

But I digress. Good night.


Lebanese Rally for Hezbollah

Just a quick note. In the aftermath of Isreal's assault on Lebanon here's a snapshot of what Lebanese support for Hezbollah looks like:

That's Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in the foreground speaking to the throngs attending a pro-Hezbollah rally last week. It seems the local backlash against Hezbollah we were promised is slow in coming. In fact, one could argue that the exact opposite has transpired. Imagine that.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hugo Chavez' Address to the 61st UN General Assembly

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias is one of those people in the world who will seldom be allowed to speak for himself in the US media. For the past few days I have read and watched with dismay the narrowly focused overage of his speech to the 61st UN General Assembly on September 20, 2006. In an effort counteract this and, in my own small way, to elevate the discourse on the subject I am posting the full translated text and the video in both languages here. It's long but, in view of the recent reporting and commentary about it, I think it's well worth the trip. I've also taken the liberty to add hyperlinked annotations to the text to enhance the experience for the reader.

Address to the 61st UN General Assembly of the United Nations
Hugo Chavez Frias, President of Venezuela
New York, NY
September 20, 2006

See video
English / Spanish
(Real Player Req'd)

Representatives of the governments of the world, good morning to all of you. First of all, I would like to invite you, very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it. Noam Chomsky, one of the most prestigious American and world intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, and this is one of his most recent books, "Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United States.' [Holds up book, waves it in front of General Assembly.] "It's an excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century, and what's happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet.

The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species. We continue to warn you about this danger and we appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our heads. I had considered reading from this book, but, for the sake of time," [flips through the pages, which are numerous] "I will just leave it as a recommendation.

It reads easily, it is a very good book, I'm sure Madame [President] you are familiar with it. It appears in English, in Russian, in Arabic, in German. I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is right in their own house.

The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house.

"And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here." [crosses himself] "And it smells of sulfur still today.

Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.

I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.

An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: "The Devil's Recipe."

As Chomsky says here, clearly and in depth, the American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its system of domination. And we cannot allow them to do that. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.

The world parent's statement -- cynical, hypocritical, full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything.

They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons.

What a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it or others who are at the root of democracy.

What type of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs? The president of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, "Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom."

Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him.

The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up.

I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations.

Yes, you can call us extremists, but we are rising up against the empire, against the model of domination.

The president then -- and this he said himself, he said: "I have come to speak directly to the populations in the Middle East, to tell them that my country wants peace."

That's true. If we walk in the streets of the Bronx, if we walk around New York, Washington, San Diego, in any city, San Antonio, San Francisco, and we ask individuals, the citizens of the United States, what does this country want? Does it want peace? They'll say yes.

But the government doesn't want peace. The government of the United States doesn't want peace. It wants to exploit its system of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war.

It wants peace. But what's happening in Iraq? What happened in Lebanon? In Palestine? What's happening? What's happened over the last 100 years in Latin America and in the world? And now threatening Venezuela -- new threats against Venezuela, against Iran?

He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your home and communities were caught in the crossfire. How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly. The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision? This is crossfire? He's thinking of a western, when people would shoot from the hip and somebody would be caught in the crossfire.

This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon. That is what happened. And now we hear, "We're suffering because we see homes destroyed.'

The president of the United States came to talk to the peoples -- to the peoples of the world. He came to say -- I brought some documents with me, because this morning I was reading some statements, and I see that he talked to the people of Afghanistan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Iran. And he addressed all these peoples directly.

And you can wonder, just as the president of the United States addresses those peoples of the world, what would those peoples of the world tell him if they were given the floor? What would they have to say?

And I think I have some inkling of what the peoples of the south, the oppressed people think. They would say, "Yankee imperialist, go home." I think that is what those people would say if they were given the microphone and if they could speak with one voice to the American imperialists.

And that is why, Madam President, my colleagues, my friends, last year we came here to this same hall as we have been doing for the past eight years, and we said something that has now been confirmed -- fully, fully confirmed.

I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.

Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel's yesterday [Thabo Mbeki of South Africa]* (Report / Text /Video), or President Mullah's [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran] (Report /Text / Video). Yes, it's good for that. And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka (Report/ Text /Video), for instance, and the president of Chile (Report /Text / Video).

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world. And that is why Venezuela once again proposes, here, today, 20 September, that we re-establish the United Nations.

Last year, Madam, we made four modest proposals that we felt to be crucially important. We have to assume the responsibility our heads of state, our ambassadors, our representatives, and we have to discuss it.

The first is expansion, and Mullah talked about this yesterday right here. The Security Council, both as it has permanent and non-permanent categories, (inaudible) developing countries and LDCs must be given access as new permanent members. That's step one.

Second, effective methods to address and resolve world conflicts, transparent decisions.

Point three, the immediate suppression -- and that is something everyone's calling for -- of the anti-democratic mechanism known as the veto, the veto on decisions of the Security Council.

Let me give you a recent example. The immoral veto of the United States allowed the Israelis, with impunity, to destroy Lebanon. Right in front of all of us as we stood there watching, a resolution in the council was prevented.

Fourthly, we have to strengthen, as we've always said, the role and the powers of the secretary general of the United Nations.

Yesterday, the secretary general practically gave us his speech of farewell. And he recognized that over the last 10 years, things have just gotten more complicated; hunger, poverty, violence, human rights violations have just worsened. That is the tremendous consequence of the collapse of the United Nations system and American hegemonistic pretensions.

Madam, Venezuela a few years ago decided to wage this battle within the United Nations by recognizing the United Nations, as members of it that we are, and lending it our voice, our thinking.

Our voice is an independent voice to represent the dignity and the search for peace and the reformulation of the international system; to denounce persecution and aggression of hegemonistic forces on the planet.

This is how Venezuela has presented itself. Bolivar's home has sought a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council.

Let's see. Well, there's been an open attack by the U.S. government, an immoral attack, to try and prevent Venezuela from being freely elected to a post in the Security Council.

The imperium is afraid of truth, is afraid of independent voices. It calls us extremists, but they are the extremists. And I would like to thank all the countries that have kindly announced their support for Venezuela, even though the ballot is a secret one and there's no need to announce things.

But since the imperium has attacked, openly, they strengthened the convictions of many countries. And their support strengthens us.

Mercosur, as a bloc, has expressed its support, our brothers in Mercosur. Venezuela, with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, is a full member of Mercosur.

And many other Latin American countries, CARICOM, Bolivia have expressed their support for Venezuela. The Arab League, the full Arab League has voiced its support. And I am immensely grateful to the Arab world, to our Arab brothers, our Caribbean brothers, the African Union. Almost all of Africa has expressed its support for Venezuela and countries such as Russia or China and many others.

I thank you all warmly on behalf of Venezuela, on behalf of our people, and on behalf of the truth, because Venezuela, with a seat on the Security Council, will be expressing not only Venezuela's thoughts, but it will also be the voice of all the peoples of the world, and we will defend dignity and truth.

Over and above all of this, Madam President, I think there are reasons to be optimistic. A poet would have said "helplessly optimistic," because over and above the wars and the bombs and the aggressive and the preventive war and the destruction of entire peoples, one can see that a new era is dawning.

As Silvio Rodriguez says, the era is giving birth to a heart. There are alternative ways of thinking. There are young people who think differently. And this has already been seen within the space of a mere decade. It was shown that the end of history was a totally false assumption, and the same was shown about Pax Americana and the establishment of the capitalist neo-liberal world. It has
been shown, this system, to generate more poverty. Who believes in it now?

What we now have to do is define the future of the world. Dawn is breaking out all over. You can see it in Africa and Europe and Latin America and Oceanea.

I want to emphasize that optimistic vision. We have to strengthen ourselves, our will to do battle, our awareness. We have to build a new and better world.

Venezuela joins that struggle, and that's why we are threatened. The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.

President Michelle Bachelet reminded us just a moment ago of the horrendous assassination of the former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier.

And I would just add one thing: Those who perpetrated this crime are free. And that other event where an American citizen also died were American themselves. They were CIA killers, terrorists.

And we must recall in this room that in just a few days there will be another anniversary. Thirty years will have passed from this other horrendous terrorist attack on the Cuban plane, where 73 innocents died, a Cubana de Aviacion airliner.

And where is the biggest terrorist of this continent who took the responsibility for blowing up the plane? He spent a few years in jail in Venezuela. Thanks to CIA and then government officials, he was allowed to escape, and he lives here in this country, protected by the government.

And he was convicted. He has confessed to his crime. But the U.S. government has double standards. It protects terrorism when it wants to.

And this is to say that Venezuela is fully committed to combating terrorism and violence. And we are one of the people who are fighting for peace.

Luis Posada Carriles is the name of that terrorist who is protected here. And other tremendously corrupt people who escaped from Venezuela are also living here under protection: a group that bombed various embassies, that assassinated people during the coup. They kidnapped me and they were going to kill me, but I think God reached down and our people came out into the streets and the army was too, and so I'm here today.

But these people who led that coup are here today in this country protected by the American government. And I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.

We mentioned Cuba. Yes, we were just there a few days ago. We just came from there happily.

And there you see another era born. The Summit of the 15, the Summit of the Nonaligned, adopted a historic resolution. This is the outcome document. Don't
worry, I'm not going to read it.

But you have a whole set of resolutions here that were adopted after open debate in a transparent matter -- more than 50 heads of state. Havana was the capital of the south for a few weeks, and we have now launched, once again, the group of the nonaligned with new momentum.

And if there is anything I could ask all of you here, my companions, my brothers and sisters, it is to please lend your good will to lend momentum to the Nonaligned Movement for the birth of the new era, to prevent hegemony and prevent further advances of imperialism.

And as you know, Fidel Castro is the president of the nonaligned for the next three years, and we can trust him to lead the charge very efficiently.

Unfortunately they thought, "Oh, Fidel was going to die." But they're going to be disappointed because he didn't. And he's not only alive, he's back in his green fatigues, and he's now presiding the nonaligned.

So, my dear colleagues, Madam President, a new, strong movement has been born, a movement of the south. We are men and women of the south.

With this document, with these ideas, with these criticisms, I'm now closing my file. I'm taking the book with me. And, don't forget, I'm recommending it very warmly and very humbly to all of you.

We want ideas to save our planet, to save the planet from the imperialist threat. And hopefully in this very century, in not too long a time, we will see this, we will see this new era, and for our children and our grandchildren a world of peace based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations, but a renewed United Nations. And maybe we have to change location. Maybe we have to put the United Nations somewhere else; maybe a city of the south. We've proposed Venezuela.

You know that my personal doctor had to stay in the plane. The chief of security had to be left in a locked plane. Neither of these gentlemen was allowed to arrive and attend the U.N. meeting. This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the Devil. It smells of sulfur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.

May God bless us all. Good day to you.

Addendum: As he was leaving the country the visiting Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, was also detained by US authorities and strip searched on the basis of "terrorism" accusations related to the failed Venezuelan coup of 1992. But they say Chavez' speech is the example of bad diplomacy. Go figure.

Update 9/27/2006: It has come to my attention that I posted the video to Chavez' address from last year's General Assembly in error. I have corrected the error, edited my links and made the appropriate changes in the first paragraph.

* - "Abel" is presumed to be a reference to South African President Thabo Mbeki's speech the previous day in which he made reference to the biblical story of Cain and Abel.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Leading the Witness

This just in. The most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, taken September 15 -17, revealed, among other things that an astonishing 55% of Americans approve of President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

Well... actually not quite. It seems the respondants do approve of the program that was described in the question. Unfortunately, that program doesn't exist. It's too bad too because it sounds a lot better than Bush's actual NSA program. Here's the question:

"As you may know, the Bush Administration has been wiretapping telephone conversations between U.S. citizens living in the United States and suspected terrorists living in other countries without getting a court order allowing it to do so. Do you think the Bush Administration was right or wrong in wiretapping these conversations without obtaining a court order?"

Do we really know all that? Are you quite sure? Let's keep score.

1) Correct me if I'm wrong here (I have a comments section) but what I thought was going here was a massive data-mining operation. That means they aren't selectively surveilling calls to and from individuals identified as "suspected terrorists". Oh, no. They're mining and scanning everyone's voice and data communications. That information comes straight from USA Today itself. Don't they read their own news stories before they write these questions?

The fact that this is a program targeted at the entire US population -- not specific individuals, numbers or addresses and not based on probable cause -- is an established fact. Unless the attacks of 9/11 made each and every one of us a "suspected terrorist" this framing of the question is incomplete at best and deliberately misleading at worst.

2) This program doesn't stop at international phone calls. Sure, President Bush said it was only limited international calls when the story first broke. But Mr. Bush says a lot of things, doesn't he?

We remember when he said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order." That turned out to be very misleading to say the least.

We remember when he then admitted this was untrue but went on to insist that the program was limited to "terrorists suspects". I quote...

The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they're calling and why."

That turned out to be false as well.

We remember that he then he promised us that "the program applies only to international communications". That too turned out to be a flat-out lie.

So, you can't really trust the characterization this questio is based on, can you? This has been known for months. Could this have possibly been unknown to the pollsters?

3) If the program is too classified to be fully disclosed to congress or the courts how can we ever call ourselves certain that they are only using it to track terrorists. Throwing everything we already know aside, even if never knew any of that, how could we say with any certainty that this power wasn't being used to spy on political enemies, to track the activities of reporters, for example. You know, real police-state, "1984" type stuff. Oh, wait. They did that already too? Well, then you see what I mean.

So, the question is, why can't we get a poll questions that ask whether the American public approves of what's really going on, information that has been in the public domain for months now? Ask them if the government is right to invest in the president the power to tap, intercept, store and possibly listen on any American's calls and data communications; international or domestic; terror-related or not without a warrant and without congressional or judicial oversight. That is the real question because that is what is truly happening in the United States today. Yet this questions remains unasked.

As follow up, for the people silly enough to answer 'yes', ask them if they'd like to see a Democratic president with this power. Would they trust, say, Hillary Clinton with these "unitary" powers too? Then listen as their head explodes.


Monday, September 18, 2006

"We're in Iran right now"

Early last year Seymour Hersh of the The New Yorker wrote this piece outlining what his sources told him was a plan by the Bush administration to put special forces inside Iran -- to perform search & destroy missions, target identification and foment unrest -- in preparation for an attack on that country. At the time the article was published his assertions were ridiculed as "far-fetched" and "riddled with errors" by the Bush administration. Not much has been spoken of this since that time.

But then a strange thing happened, something I noticed shortly after seeing that article and in the months before I started this blog. Stuff in Iran started blowing up. Each time the explosions were dismissed as something innocuous but, yet and still, stuff kept blowing up. I got curious so decided to continue to check up on it from time to time and, amazingly, these explosions kept happening. I'm talking about an unusually high number of freak explosions for one country that size without any kind of war (that we know of) going on. It was in the process of this little project that I first thought, "I should start a blog".

As I tracked these explosions and listened to the Bush Administration's simultaneous pronouncements that any talk of attacking Iran in the short term was ridiculous (but not off the table) I couldn't help but think about how, if Hersh was correct, this would all mirror the M.O. used in Iraq. So it all fits together, you know? Mind you, this was nothing one could present as a "smoking gun" for predicting future events or anything but it was interesting nevertheless.

Today, retired Col. Sam Gardiner of the Army War College appeared on CNN and this to say:

We’re conducting military operations inside Iran right now. The evidence is overwhelming. From both the Iranians, Americans, and from Congressional sources.

Ridiculous? It's the Iraq war all over again. The ginned-up intel. The massive propaganda campaign. The WMD scare tactics. The secret war before the official "start" of the war. It's all there once again.

Can't get fooled again.


A Revoltin' Revolt

Don't Be Hoodwinked!

I've withheld comment on the supposed "revolt" a few Republican senators and Colin Powell are being credited with staging over the last few days, ostensibly in response Bush's push to unilaterally redefine the Geneva Conventions. I've felt from the start that it was all just a bit of made-for-TV melodrama for the amusement of us voters, deemed long ago too stupid to know the difference. But I didn't have the details to back my intuition. All I had was my knowledge that this Republican congress doesn't truly oppose Bush on anything and has engaged in this kind of charade before.

But even more than that, my suspicions were strengthened, not weakened, by the entrance of Colin Powell into the fray. For years Colin Powell has functioned as the GOP's human shield of credibility. If they met any resistance on an issue they'd trot him out and hide whatever stinking pile of dung they were pushing behind his carefully-cultivated image. In return, he has proven that he would never be goaded by principle or conscience into doing anything publicly that wasn't completely safe politically. His performance at the UN in February 2003 cemented that reputation in my mind. As I see it, Colin Powell's imprimatur on this "revolt" is a red flag, a warning sign that this is indeed a conservative strategy, not a revolt at all. But, that kind of stuff is just speculation, not evidence. So, held off on posting it.

Now, Joshua Holland at The Gadflyer has a post that pretty much confirms my well-earned cynicism.

This is... a terrible bill. It's an improvement over the House bill favored by the administration, yes, but a terrible bill nonetheless...


Let's all just understand that both bills redefine war crimes under article three of the Geneva Conventions, both start us down a slippery slope towards something quite ugly and both will, in Colin Powell's words, cause the world to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Now why would he say something like that? Well, it turns out that this alternative bill, the one that these "revolting" senators are said to be "protecting the rule of law" with, is every bit as revoltin' as the house bill supported by Bush. Both bills unilaterally redefine Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Both bill immunize US officials or agents from penalties arising from the use of torture. Both bills provide such immunization retroactively (this bill is retroactive to 9/11, Bush's to 1978).

It also seems to me that both bills would allow for the use of evidence obtained by torture in military tribunals. I could be wrong there (I'm no lawyer) but follow me on this. The alternative bill does not say so directly like the house bill, but it's provisions for a) raising the bar as to what constitutes torture and b) prohibiting detainees from challenging the conditions of their captivity have the same effect. So, we can have a rule in place for military tribunals that explicitly prohibits evidence obtained by "torture". That's all well and good. But if we then implement other rules that dilute the definition of torture and prevents an individual's treatment from being formally declared as torture, then what's the net effect?

So, the thing I'm having trouble with is this. If John McCain and John Warner (and Colin Powell) are so concerned that the proposed house legislation will jeopardize US servicemen serving abroad and call into question the US morality on the issue, why would they support a second bill that effectively does the same thing?

Short answer: The are all full of... (ahem)... could use a laxative. They think you're stupid. This all being done in anticipation of the upcoming elections. The bogus use of this issue serves as a way to distance themselves, and the republican congress by extension, from Bush whose poll numbers are toxic. That would be all well and good if they were doing it to actually oppose him. But, ironically, their attempt to bait & switch us with this bogus "alternative" -- which does nothing to ease anyone's concerns about the use of torture and our compliance with the Geneva conventions -- shows just how cozy they really are with the Bush agenda and how far they're willing to go to advance it. Don't be hoodwinked.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Can't Get Fooled Again

Continuing on our theme of how familiar so much of this Iran talk sounds, the McClatchy Newspapers published this on Friday (emphases and hyperlinks added):

In a replay of Iraq, a battle is brewing over intelligence on Iran
By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott
McClatchy Newspapers

In an echo of the intelligence wars that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a high-stakes struggle is brewing within the Bush administration and in Congress over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and involvement in terrorism.

U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Bush political appointees and hard-liners on Capitol Hill have tried recently to portray Iran's nuclear program as more advanced than it is and to exaggerate Tehran's role in Hezbollah's attack on Israel in mid-July.

The struggle's outcome could have profound implications for U.S. policy.

President Bush, who addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, has said he prefers diplomacy to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he hasn't ruled out using military force.

Several former U.S. defense officials who maintain close ties to the Pentagon say they've been told that
plans for airstrikes - if Bush deems them necessary - are being updated.

The leader of a Persian Gulf country who visited Washington recently came away without receiving assurances he sought that the military option was off the table, said a person with direct knowledge of the meetings.

"It seems like Iran is becoming the new Iraq," said one U.S. counterterrorism official.

This official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the information involved is classified.

But one facet of the dispute broke into public view in recent days.

The International Atomic Energy Agency complained in an unusual letter made public on Thursday that a House intelligence committee report on Iran contains "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."
Can't get fooled again, folks.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dropping the F-Bomb, Part I

Did you say, "Islamo-fascism"?

"Excuse me, did you say, 'Islamo-Fascism'?"

As illustrated in a previous post, our top leaders in Washington have been very busy as of late invoking the "F-word" in order to cast their policies in the heroic light of the World War II era. Recently we have seen a sharp increase in this kind of rhetoric with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Rick Santorum and President George W. Bush himself all chiming in to explain to us that the United States is engaged in an existential battle against a force they alternately call "Islamo-fascism" or "Islamic fascism". For example:

"This is the beginning of a long struggle against an ideology that is real and profound. It's Islamo-fascism. It comes in different forms. They share the same tactics, which is to destroy people and things in order to create chaos in the hopes that their vision of the world become predominant in the Middle East."

George W. Bush
August 7, 2006

An aside: In Bush's own words, to "destroy people and things in order to create chaos in the hopes that their vision of the world become[s] predominant in the Middle East" is an "Islamo-fascist" tactic, yet it sounds strangely familiar.

But what is "Islamo-fascism" exactly and who are the "Islamo-fascists"? Last week in a speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Utah (Utah again), President Bush took time out to explain:

When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective -- to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Still others are "homegrown" terrorists -- fanatics who live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy. Despite their differences, these groups from -- form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology. And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam.

All emphases are, of course, mine.

As usual when this man speaks, volumes are required to fully address the torrent of doublespeak that ensues. I will try to stay focused. He claims that the unifying feature that binds these groups together is a conviction that free societies threaten their view of Islam. But how does that feature apply to secular, Ba'athist dictatorships like the Saddam's Iraq or Assad's Syria? Islamic groups like Al Qaeda consider these regimes direct threats to their goals and to Islam. They've even gone on record to say so. These leaders are known for their hostility towards Islamic fundamentalists like bin Laden.

Another aside: If Syria is in league with "Islamo-fascist" terror, why is the Bush administration sending "Islamo-fascist" terror suspects to Syria for interrogation? Alternatively, why does Syria have such a reputation for torturing and killing these supposed allies?

How does this feature apply to Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Palestine, movements that are an active, legal participants in the democratic process in their respective countries, democracies that Bush himself praised just last year? Is it because they resist Israeli aggression? Is that what is meant by the "advance of free societies"? To the non-Jewish citizens of Lebanon and Palestine an approach by Israel is anything but an 'advance of a free society. Read more about that here.

Moreover, Bush's statement we didn't give us much detail about what exactly this "totalitarian ideology" is. Instead he has attempted to bring together a wide array of differing groups under a single umbrella of his own creation. The people he mentions come from places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria (just to name a few). If we are to believe the president, "Islamo-fascism" is a single movement comprised not only of all these cultures but of Sunni fundamentalists, Shia fundamentalists, secular governments, Islamic governments and a Muslim family near you.

Now, in fairness, I have to admit that he does narrow it down a bit. First of all he makes it clear that he's only talking about the extremists within these groups so I'll accept that. But then he also makes a point of pre-empting questions about the obvious flaw in his argument by adding:

"Despite their differences, these groups... form the outlines of a single movement..."

These are nothing more than weasel words. By qualifying his claim of their supposed sameness with the phrase "outlines of" Bush is intentionally creating a hedge against the fact that these groups are not the same at all and in fact are, in many cases, in direct conflict with one another. Think of it as an escape hatch. For example, if one were to say:

"But Mr. Bush, if the Sunni extremists and the Shia extremists are part of the same movement why are they fighting one another in Iraq?"

He could respond with:

"Nobody in my administration ever said they were exactly same movement. I said they form the outlines of a single movement. "

Clearly this would be a ridiculous defense but nevertheless there is no reason to doubt that such nonsense is in the playbook (after all, this president has shown no fear of making ridiculous assertions in the past). To illustrate, Senator Rick Santorum advanced exactly such an argument just last week:

"Were the Japanese imperialists with their mind-set and their ideology the same as the Nazis? Obviously not. Were they the same as the fascists in Italy? Obviously not. But they were still a common enemy... We're at war with Islamic fascism... Afghanistan and Iraq and southern Lebanon and every country around the world is a front."

That sets it all up quite nicely doesn't it? Here we see the Transitive Axiom of Muslim Equivalence in all it's maddening glory. All of these Muslims are now the same and any glaring differences among them that may contradict that point can be summarily dismissed. Why? Because they are all official enemies of the United States and that makes them all the same.

It matters not that -- unlike Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany before WWII -- Saddam and the leaders of Iran were blood enemies before the US invasion of Iraq. It's doesn't matter that the Islamic Revolution of Iran reviled Saddam's secular Ba'athist regime as did most radical Islamist groups. They're still part of the same "Islamo-fascist" movement, we are told.

Yet another aside: Why did the US see Saddam as a stalwart against the advance or Iran's Islamic Revolution if he was part of the same movement? Why did he start a war with them?

It is deemed imperative to our very survival that we ignore the fact that the Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq are at each others' throats, bombing each others' mosques, torturing and executing one another (a horrific frenzy of internal bloodletting that the US will steadfastly refuse to call a civil war until Stonewall Jackson shows up). This is all irrelevant, you see, because they are still on the "outlines" of the same movement.

Likewise, the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon is the same as the Sunni Muslim Hamas movement in Palestine. The fact that one is Shia and the other is Sunni means nothing, they say. The Transitive Axiom dictates that a Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim so it follows naturally that their extremists, regardless of their stripe, are all the same too and we can call them all "Islamo-fascists". Got it? Good.

Last aside: I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the danger that this rhetoric may already represent a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the US government is proving to the Muslim world what Osama bin Laden has been claiming for years; that the US is engaged in a war against all of Islam.

Somehow, we still seem a bit unclear as to what "Islamo-fascism" is all about. Is this movement only about the use of certain tactics? If so, to what end? What is this vision Bush alludes to that they are trying to advance? Is it a vision of secular dictatorships like the regimes in Iraq and Syria (not to mention the ones the US supports in Egypt, Jordan and now Libya)? Is it a vision of religious theocracies like Iran or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? Is it a vision of monarchical/religious dictatorships like the US ally in Saudi Arabia? Could one movement possibly serve all of these interests at once or is Mr. Bush's argument completely untenable?

Allow me to suggest the latter. If Bush is trying to find a common thread among these groups he has missed the mark wildly. The only common political thread uniting these diverse groups is their universal distaste for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and parts of Lebanon and Syria. A much stronger link can be found there but this dynamic is conspicuously missing from the dialogue about what might be bugging these "Islamo-fascists". Why would the White House pass on the chance to use this issue to link these group legitimately, choosing instead to give us this re-mixed version of "they hate your freedom"? Is it to avoid shifting the focus onto Israel's destabilizing role in the middle-east? That certainly sounds like a plausible motivation (at least one of them). Unfortunately for Bush, outside of the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict his premise simply doesn't work.

Believe it or not, despite the obvious shortcomings of our president, I am not of the belief that the leaders of our nation are
all dumb people. They choose their words very carefully and know exactly what they're saying. They know very well that these disparate groups are not synonymous. They have an entire State Department and intelligence-gathering apparatus that produces reports and assessments of the lay of the land in the middle-east the way IHOP makes pancakes. This information is readily available to them. They don't need an obscure blogger to point it out to them. Yet they're pushing this meme anyway. There is something behind this framing of the issue that we're not being told about. In Part II of this series, "The Uses of Islamo-fascism", I will look into some possible explanations.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Attack of the Straw Men

Homeland Discourse Security Bulletin: Attack of the Straw Men

The Fear of All Sums has raised the Fallacy Alert Level to RED in response to what is being described as “steadily intensifying chatter” emanating from extreme right-wing elements in the American government, raising fears of a premeditated plot by cells operating domestically intent on confusing and obscuring urgent life and death issues of war and peace. An alert level of RED indicates the maximum risk of insults to our collective intelligence by our duly selected leaders in Washington in the service of these dastardly rhetorical goals.

Citizens are being asked to be diligent and observant in order to help identify these insidious schemes as they develop as well as their perpetrators, so as to avoid falling prey to their evil designs. Reference is made to this handy guide which details the operational methods employed by these hobgoblins of obfuscation and catalogues their stockpile of weapons of mass deception, which have already proven to be some of the most deadly rhetorical devices ever devised.

Particular attention is focused on this entry:

Straw Man

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, and then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted.

A straw man "argument" is a bogus, distorted or deliberately flawedso it can be more easily attacked, delegitimized and disassembled (hence the straw man metaphor) before the eyes and ears of an otherwise impartial audience unfamiliar with the facts and history of an issue or case.
interpretation of an otherwise valid position that has been altered

Based on our intelligence -- by that we do not mean “new information obtained secretly”, we mean actual intelligence -- it is this particular technique that we have reason to believe poses the most immediate threat to national discourse at this time, as indicated by recent events.

Exhibit A:

At a recent White House press conference, President George W. Bush gave this response when asked by a reporter what the war in Iraq has to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:

Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq…

Now, the question is how do we succeed in Iraq? And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

STRAW MAN #1: “Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.” - Take a look at what Bush has done here. He has very carefully reframed the terms of the debate in order create a point he can easily refute and falsely attribute to his critics. No one has ever accused his administration of saying Saddam ordered the attacks. But it is painfully, maddeningly obvious that he and his administration have repeatedly conflated Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda – and continue to do so – while intentionally hyping lies about a "collaborative relationship" between the two. I don’t need to go into details here. It’s all been well-documented.

STRAW MAN #2: “And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.” – This is one that’s been, and will continue to be, repeated over and again without even a hint of a challenge from the mass media, the idea that those who oppose the war simply want to leave a vacuum in Iraq. Absent from this argument is possibility of replacing the American presence, the main instigator of the “insurgency”, with an international force or a force composed of Arab nations. Absent also is the possibility of moving the US force out but keeping them near enough to respond to emergencies. But most importantly, absent from this is the main point. The war itself was the mistake. The war itself is the cause of everything that is going wrong there. Every act of terrorism and violence that we’re witnessing today is the direct result of George W. Bush’s policies.

Exhibit B:

Last Tuesday Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada – another Bushiite bravely taming hostile waters -- bestowed this gem upon us.

"Some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone… A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be ... a ruinous blow to the future security of the United States."

As the news item linked above indicates, strangely missing from Mr. Cheney’s comments was any reference to exactly who has ever made such a claim. There’s a reason for that. No one has ever suggested such a thing. This “claim” is a complete fabrication. He just made it up. This is how the debate is being conducted. He has no refutation for the many actual and valid criticisms of his administration’s policies so, in order to fill a speech and score a cheap points around the issue, he just invents a new position for his opposition and smears them with it.

These are but two examples. More of this is sure to come. Make no mistake. We cannot afford to let these enemies of freedom change the parameters of the national debate and endanger the free exchange of ideas (and ideals). These operatives and their methods represent a clear and present danger to our national discourse. Keep your eye on the ball. Don't let them get away with these word games.

Finally, it should be noted that the mere fact that these people would take the time construct these straw men from thin air, in and of itself, is a de facto admission of guilt.

They know they are wrong. They don’t care. It’s making them rich.


Olbermann Drills Rumsfeld

Because I am not a full-time blogger, I can be a day or two slow getting some things. Here's an actual good one from the idiot box that I've been meaning to put up.

Earlier this week Donald Rumsfeld, bravely facing the hostile crowd at the American Legion in Utah (snark), gave this disgraceful speech in which he more or less said that over 60% of the American public are "morally confused" fascist appeasers. Of course, at one time this was actually true, but Bush's poll numbers have dropped significantly since then. At any rate, the speech has been well-documented and everyone by now has heard about it so I wont bother with quoting it here. Check the link if you have a morbid fascination with such garbage.

In response, Kieth Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown scores a direct hit:

Why aren't there more Kieth Olbermann's out there?


Monday, September 04, 2006

Celebrating Labor Day

Few Americans today can imagine a time in this country where the middle-class lifestyle we've all come to know as "the American Dream" was just that -- a dream. So many of the benefits most of us enjoy today -- the 5-day/40-hour work week, the 2-day weekend, child labor restrictions, 2-weeks paid vacation, time-and-a-half paid overtime, employer-paid health insurance, social security, pension/retirment, paid federal holidays, etc -- were non-existant for half of this nation's history if not more. The vast majority of American workers could hardly dream of such things until they were each brought about by an active and pugnacious labor movement in which ordinary American men, women and children literally fought and died for them.

In view the current American regime's well-documented hostility to these pillars of America's prosperity and well-being, this list of readings on the history of Labor Day serves not only as a holiday-appropriate diversion but as a warning:

Excerpt from The History Channel's History of Labor Day:

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced.

With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an upaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers. As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later.

On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union led by Eugene V. Debs and on June 26 the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President Grover Cleveland dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but the government's actions broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. Debs and three other union officials were jailed for disobeying the injunction. The strike brought worker's rights to the public eye and Congress declared, in 1894, that the first Monday in September would be the holiday for workers, known as Labor Day.

The founder of Labor Day remains unclear, but some credit either Peter McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, for proposing the holiday.

Although Labor Day is meant as a celebration of the labor movement and its achievements, it has come to be celebrated as the last, long summer weekend before Autumn.


Excerpt from PBS's Origins of Labor Day:
Pullman, Illinois was a company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman designed and built the town to stand as a utopian workers' community insulated from the moral (and political) seductions of nearby Chicago.

The town was strictly, almost feudally, organized: row houses for the assembly and craft workers; modest Victorians for the managers; and a luxurious hotel where Pullman himself lived and where visiting customers, suppliers, and salesman would lodge while in town.

Its residents all worked for the Pullman company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. The town, and the company, operated smoothly and successfully for more than a decade.

But in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.

And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs, came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.

The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.

On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers' unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.

It was not the last time Debs would find himself behind bars, either. Campaigning from his jail cell, Debs would later win almost a million votes for the Socialist ticket in the 1920 presidential race.

In an attempt to appease the nation's workers, Labor Day is born

The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.

1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.

See also: The Detroit News' How Labor Won Its Day

Yes, Labor Day is a day to remember how the American dream became a reality for a broad portion of the American population and how it could all be taken away. As they fire up their grills or tune in to the game today, let all the anti-union, "free market" puritans of middle to lower class status in America's right wing be reminded of why they aren't in the office today.