Thursday, June 28, 2007

AMERICA - Food for Thought

"2006: America Increases as Prison Nation" by Jeralyn, TalkLeft

The 2005-2006 statistics are in. America increased its prison population by the greatest amount since 2000.

  • The United States, which has the most prisoners of any country in the world, last year recorded the largest increase in the number of people in prisons and jails since 2000, the Justice Department reported on Wednesday.

  • It said the nation's prison and jail populations increased by more than 62,000 inmates, or 2.8 percent, to about 2,245,000 inmates in the 12-month period that ended on June 30, 2006. It was the biggest jump in numbers and percentage change in six years.

Reasons for the increase:

  • Criminal justice experts have attributed the record U.S. prison population to tough sentencing laws, record numbers of drug offenders and high crimes rates.

Question, is this the America we really want? Do we want a nation whose only solution to crime is to put more people in prisons no matter the cost (lives & dollars)? Or do we want a nation that works very hard to prevent people from turning to crime in the first place?

Are we a nation that has become so lazy that we accept the easy answer so we can go on to more important things? Important things like the latest Paris Hilton episode, or who won the last World of Wrestling Championship.

POLITICS - Theft of the Internet by Big Business

"Bush Official in ‘Shouting Match’ with Open Access Supporters" Save the Internet

The Bush administration’s top telecommunications official reportedly tried to “shout down” Net Neutrality and open access supporters after they called him out for spinning America’s Internet market as a wonderland of competition and consumer choice.

John Kneuer, assistant secretary of commerce and head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), “quickly lost his temper and began shouting” after an audience of technology experts pressed him to explain how the U.S. had fallen so far behind other developed countries in providing Internet access to citizens.

According to The Register on Friday, Kneuer claimed that free market competition was the reason for the Internet’s “great success,” dismissing the history of Net Neutrality protections that have fostered new innovations and public participation online.

Real Free Markets vs. Telco Control

Kneuer, who previously served as a top phone company lobbyist for Washington law firm Piper Rudnick, told the audience that the “free market” (by which he means the current duopoly of large phone and cable companies) should be unencumbered by consumer protections and basic Internet freedoms.

Kneuer is a member of the camp of neo-cons who categorically refuse to “even *think* about regulation to promote competition,” writes Harold Feld of Media Access Project.

To prop up their ideology they enthuse over the wonders of the free market, conveniently overlooking reams of data that show a balance of sound public policy and market forces to be the engine driving the Web’s real successes.

Kneuer and his industry comrades try to drown out evidence of market failure with pseudo-libertarian talking points about deregulation, free markets and competition. By mouthing this propaganda they provide cover for the phone companies that Web guru Cory Doctorow calls “corporate welfare bums” — creatures of government regulations that base their businesses on “government-granted extraordinary privileges.”

These “free market” industry lobbyists have no problem demanding the federal government leverage its muscle for themselves, Feld says. “Time Warner has successfully petitioned the FCC to force phone companies to terminate cable VOIP calls while the telephone companies have persuaded the FCC to launch a rulemaking to force ‘open access‘ to apartment buildings where cable operators have exclusive video contracts.”

So called “pro-competitive regulation” is OK when it gets them into a market. “It’s only when someone tries to break open their cozy little duopoly that they suddenly discover the religion of the marketplace,” according to Feld.

Broadband Reality Check

So what’s the real skinny?

  • There is no competitive marketplace for Internet access in the United States. More than 95 percent of residential high-speed lines are owned by telephone and cable companies. That is a rigid duopoly by any standard. (Source: FCC)

  • The result of duopoly control is higher prices for slower connections to the Internet. Compared to citizens in other developed nations, Americans now pay 10 to 20 times as much for far slower Internet services than those offered by modern European and Asian countries. (Source: Broadband Reality Check II)

  • A full 37 percent of ZIP codes have one or fewer choices of a wired broadband provider. (Source: FCC)

So, Mr Kneuer, when both your phone and cable provider are pushing to gut Net Neutrality, what other “free market” choices does a consumer really have?

Phone and cable’s anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices have stifled innovation in both wired and wireless Internet applications, leaving U.S. services generations behind those available in other developed nations.

They have gained an unfair market advantage through aggressively lobbying lawmakers to hand over control of the Internet.

Sadly, many of these same lobbyists, like Mr. Kneuer, are now unblinking “officials” within a Washington establishment that seeks to help phone and cable companies exploit consumers, stifle new innovation and insulate the status quo.

A free market NOT!

Another example of GOP supporting the rape of American consumers. Big Business should not be regulated is the GOP creed, or at least put the Fox in charge of the Hen-House.

  • Never mind the long history of Big Business abuses.

  • Ignore the reason we need Child Labor Laws, Sweat-Shop Laws, regulation of the Stock Markets.

  • Forget Enron, Worldcom, and many other examples of Big Business abuses.

SUPREME COURT - Decision Allows Government Intrusion on Religious Freedom

"Faith and taxes" LA Times Editorial

MONDAY WAS a rocky day for the 1st Amendment, and the Supreme Court did not limit its mischief to the speech clause. A smaller, more technical case threatens to undermine the amendment's protection of religion from government intrusion, in this case by limiting the ways taxpayers may challenge government spending on faith.

For nearly 40 years, the court has recognized that Americans may file lawsuits to block the government from improperly spending taxpayer money on behalf of religion. Even when those litigants can show no specific monetary damage as a result, the court has recognized their standing to bring such suits. That sensible position, first articulated by Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1968, lets all taxpayers help enforce the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from aiding the establishment of religion.

On Monday, however, two generations' worth of common sense went by the wayside as the court, in a mere plurality opinion, allowed taxpayers to challenge such spending if it is done by Congress but barred them from seeking redress if it is the president who authorizes the money. The court's reasoning was satisfying to no one and resulted in a strange fragmentation of the justices, with the chief leading two other colleagues in the main opinion, joined in concurrence by the bench's two most conservative members. The largest group of justices speaking with one voice actually was in dissent, in which Justices David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer all joined.

It was, however, Justice Antonin Scalia who most powerfully illuminated the illogic of permitting standing in some cases while blocking it in others, a condition that, as he noted, "invites demonstrably absurd results." Taxpayers could sue, for instance, if Congress passed a bill to give money to a church school, but if Congress appropriated the same amount of money to the president knowing that he would spend it on the same school, the lawsuit would be barred.

Scalia's pungent observations led him to precisely the wrong conclusion — that all such suits be barred. But his logic is sound in one respect: The same standing rules should apply to litigants in establishment clause cases regardless of which branch spent the money. And that logic, which unites the court's liberals and conservatives, is what is sorely lacking in the opinion of the court.

Translation, Scalia: "American citizens do not have standing to protect THEIR Constitutional rights against government intrusion."

Scalia, form this American citizen, .... BS!

POLITICS - Bush Administration's Brown-Shirts

Blackwater USA

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

POLITICS - GOP and the Porcelain Bowl, Opinion

"The Republican Party and Conservative Movement Are On Life Support" by A. Alexander, Progressive Daily Beacon

Make no mistake about it the Republican Party, if not the entire Conservative movement, is on life support. Rigor mortis may already have set in.

George W. Bush has an approval rating of 26 percent. Only corporations (18%) and Congress (23%) are disliked by more people. Republicans might be tempted to find some hope in the Democratic-led Congressional approval rating, but that would be to their further detriment.

Understand, the Republican Party's self-proclaimed "Commander Guy," their "Decider"-in-Chief, has closed in on Nixon-like approval ratings. Considering Nixon was forced to resign from office, that's a pretty ugly reality. The GOP's second in command, Dick Cheney, proclaimed himself a new and never before heard of fourth branch of government. And, according to Mister Cheney, his fourth estate, comprised solely of him, is beyond the reach of the Constitution and exempted from all oversight. Hey, if a person is going to make up stuff, might as well go all the way.

Honestly, regardless of the Democratic-controlled Congress having the lowest approval rating in a decade, with Mister Bush and Dick Cheney orbiting the political universe, what possible hope do Republicans have? If George W. Bush's approval falls any lower, Republicans are going to begin begging the Democrats for a mercy impeachment. Too, one is left to wonder if a bodiless cat with a big grin isn't a regular visitor to Mister Cheney's self-created alternate universe.

In fairness to Republicans, bleak as their existence is today, it is easy to understand why they might find at least a glimmer of hope in the peoples' disappointment in Congress. Also, as the dissatisfaction with Congress runs rather deep, it is possible to see why Republicans might be tempted to assume Mister Bush and Dick Cheney will be of no consequence to their 2008 political fortunes. Sometimes pity insists one allow Republicans to dwell in their delusions and denial. After all, it isn't polite to speak poorly of the soon-to-be deceased ... especially when their prognosis worsens by the moment.

The reality for Republicans, however, is that there is no hope for the GOP. Despite the peoples' grave disappointment in Congress, they appear to be savvy enough to distinguish between Democratic efforts and Republican obstructionism. In the same period of time that Congressional approval fell through the floor, the peoples' Congressional preference for Democrats over Republicans rose by 5 percent. Last month people preferred Democrats to Republicans by 7 points and now, the gap is 12 percent (46-to-34 percent).

WHOOSH, gurgle, gergle........ OPPS, some left floating.....

Monday, June 25, 2007

AMERICA - Our Culture

"The Unsung Heroes of the Culture War" by "tgirsch" on Lean Left

Television has always gotten a lot of credit (or, depending on your perspective, blame) when it comes to helping to drive change in the culture. Most often, this comes in the form of sitcoms. When the issue is race, we often think of All in the Family or The Jefferson's. When it’s gender equality, we think of shows like Mary Tyler Moore or Murphy Brown. And when it’s homosexuality, we think of shows like Ellen and Will & Grace. Even though the moves away from bigotry were already in progress, the shows still did a lot to impact public opinion, and expedite those advances, just by the nature of how widely they were viewed.

But in all of those cases, the message was very deliberate. That is, the shows were trying to make a point to address the social issues in question. While such shows, and such methods, continue to be effective, and in many cases earn rightly-deserved praise, there are unsung heroes in this ongoing fight for equality, especially but not exclusively for same-sex couples, and they live on basic cable. More specifically, they live on channels like HGTV, DIY, and Fine Living; to a lesser extent, they live on channels like Food Network and The Travel Channel. I see it on shows like House Hunters and Landscaper’s Challenge and What You Get For The Money. And from where I sit, they’re doing an even more effective job than the sitcoms I’ve listed.

Why do I say this? Because where the sitcoms are dealing with fictional characters in contrived situations, the shows on the basic cable networks are showing real people in real scenarios. More importantly, they’re showing them not in extraordinary circumstances, but in every day circumstances. And even more importantly than that, whether they’re dealing with single (especially female) parents, mixed race couples, unmarried couples, or same-sex couples, they simply ignore those scenarios and the social baggage that comes with them, and present a show about the issue in question, whether that’s landscaping or home improvement or travel or cooking or whatever. In other words, the same-sex or mixed-race couple is treated no differently than any other.

Presented in this context, you’ll see a same-sex couple taking bids to improve their home, but the fact that they’re a same-sex couple isn’t even mentioned. You’ll see a single mom working to make her home work better for her needs, and there may only be a passing mention that she’s a single mom. You’ll see an unwed couple taking landscaping bids. The list goes on and on. They’re presented as homeowners like any other, because for all intents and purposes, they are homeowners like any other. And that’s what’s so uniquely powerful about this sort of television. It acutely underscores the fact that these people are just people, like you or me or anyone else, and that although their circumstances or preferences may be different from yours or mine, they’re still just ordinary people.

One of the most powerful drivers of equality on any issue is the recognition that others are more like us than unlike us. These shows and these networks are presenting a myriad of people in exactly that way, and this, to me, does a tremendous amount of good in advancing those goals.

"tgirsch" may want to hire a good Body Guard Service, especially if the Foaming-at-the-Mouth Religious Nazis read his post.

ECONOMY - The High-Tech American Worker Doom to Extinction

"H-1B's are not about finding the next Sergey Brin" by Jill, on Brilliant at Breakfast

They're about lowering the wage base for highly skilled workers in the US

"Google has reminded senators that one of its founders, Sergey Brin, came from the Soviet Union as a young boy. To stay competitive in a “knowledge-based economy,” company officials have said, Google needs to hire many more immigrants as software engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists."

There is no shortage of American high-tech workers. There IS, however, a shortage of American high-tech workers who are under 30 and willing to work 100 hour weeks for pay competitive with programmers in Bangalore. To major in computer science is to commit yourself to a career path in which your top skills today will be obsolete in a year, that requires constant updating of skills, which don't make you any more marketable. Because if your current employer uses skill A, B, and C, and you teach yourself D, E, and F on the side, after you've trained your H-1B replacement, your next potential employer, which uses D, E, and F, won't hire you because you haven't used it on the job.

Who needs this?

American tech workers are going the way of manufacturing workers because the investment in continuing education, just so one can get shafted by employers constantly looking to cut costs while increasing the executive pay share of the pie, hardly seems worth the effort.

When companies tell American workers that the special commitments an IT career requires will be rewarded if they make the effort, and when companies stop deciding that anyone over 35 is too old to learn anything new, and when companies realize that the commitment to continuous updating of skills ought to be compensated accordingly, they won't need to hire foreign workers because there WILL be enough Americans to fill the need.

Sorry Jill, you don't understand. Big-Business only cares about ever-increasing profits (aka greed), workers be damn. And they also have a SHORT-TERM VIEW; quarter, semi-annual, yearly bottom line.

POLITICS - More Hyperbole From Conservatives

"The Fatso Behind Sicko Costs Us $200 Billion in Health Care" by Adam Hanft, Huffington Post

Michael Moore has no shortage of culprits for the millions of uninsured in America, but he neglects to point the camera at himself -- in wide-angle format -- and to address the devilish issue of personal responsibility. How can you talk about health care in America today and not consider the millions just like him who are bankrupting the system, people who live recklessly, eat tons of crap, smoke, and then want to flee accountability, insisting that a single-payer system cover their treatment from dollar one.

Typical hyperbole from Conservatives. In essence, their belief that if you don't behave as they dictate, too bad. You deserve to die.

Never mind the the healthcare industry is fattening up on ever increasing profits.

It is the healthcare industry that can be viewed in "wide-angle format."

It is the healthcare industry's obscene profits that is bankrupting American citizens.

Oh, lets also ignore the the Big Pharmaceuticals are managing to make a profit selling their products in the other nations that do have Single-Payer type healthcare. It's just they can make more profit gouging Americans. Note that Single-Payer health care does NOT mean government run, of course "they" do not want you to know that.


For someone trying to make fine distinctions about various healthcare systems, it is puzzling to see Greenfield lump together the programs in Britain and Canada. The group Physicians for National Health Program (PNHP) points out that while Britain's system is roughly equivalent to a system where doctors work for the government, "In most European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan, they have socialized financing, or socialized health insurance, not socialized medicine. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector."

"Health-care costs are sickening" by Cindy Richards, Chicago Sun-Times

On Moore's "Sicko," in part...

In each country, folks attempt to explain the attraction of their national health plans. The Canadian system ensures that health care works for "the least of us and the best of us" and the British system grew from the post-World-War-II belief that "if we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people."

So what does it say about America that we have a system in which no premium charge is too high, no illness too small to be considered pre-existing, and there are wide disparities between the kinds of care we give to the poor and the rich?

POLITICS - Boy! These People Put Tricky-Dicky to Shame

"A New Cheney-Gonzales Mystery" by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek Periscope

A new battle has erupted over Vice President Dick Cheney's refusal to submit to an executive order requiring a government review of his handling of classified documents. But the dispute could also raise questions for embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. For the past four years, Cheney's office has failed to comply with an executive order requiring all federal offices—including those in the White House—to annually report to the National Archives on how they safeguard classified documents. Cheney's hard-line chief of staff, David Addington, has made the novel argument that the veep doesn't have to comply on the ground that, because the vice president also serves as president of the Senate, his office is not really part of the executive branch.

Cheney's position so frustrated J. William Leonard, the chief of the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which enforces the order, that he complained in January to Gonzales. In a letter, Leonard wrote that Cheney's position was inconsistent with the "plain text reading" of the executive order and asked the attorney general for an official ruling. But Gonzales never responded, thereby permitting Cheney to continue blocking Leonard from conducting even a routine inspection of how the veep's office was handling classified documents, according to correspondence released by House Government Reform Committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman.

Why didn't Gonzales act on Leonard's request? His aides assured reporters that Leonard's letter has been "under review" for the past five months—by Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). But on June 4, an OLC lawyer denied a Freedom of Information Act request about the Cheney dispute asserting that OLC had "no documents" on the matter, according to a copy of the letter obtained by NEWSWEEK. Steve Aftergood, the Federation of American Scientists researcher who filed the request, said he found the denial letter "puzzling and inexplicable"—especially since Leonard had copied OLC chief Steve Bradbury on his original letter to Gonzales. The FOIA response has piqued the interest of congressional investigators, who note Bradbury is the same official in charge of vetting all document requests from Congress about the U.S. attorneys flap. Asked about the apparent discrepancy, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the OLC response "was and remains accurate" because Leonard's letter had generated no "substantive work product."

Waxman told NEWSWEEK he now plans to investigate the handling of the issue by Justice as well as Cheney's refusal to comply with the executive order, which he called part of a "pattern" of stonewalling by the veep. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said, "We're confident we are conducting the office properly under the law." She also pointed to comments by White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino, who said that Bush, not the National Archives, was the "sole enforcer" of the executive order relating to classified information.

Yap, another issue to add to our "straight-forward, I'm not a crook" Bush Administration.

Friday, June 22, 2007

POLITICS - GOP "How Dare They Question Emperor Bush!"

"Lawmakers to Investigate Bush on Laws and Intent" by Carl Hulse, New York Times

Lawmakers say they plan to dig deeper into the Bush administration’s use of bill-signing statements as ways to circumvent Congressional intent.

In a limited examination of the administration’s practice of reserving the authority to interpret legislation, the Government Accountability Office determined that in 6 out of 19 cases it studied, the administration did not follow the law as written after President Bush expressed reservations about some legislative directives. By using signing statements, the president has reserved the right not to enforce any laws he thinks violate the Constitution or national security, or that impair foreign relations.

The accountability office, a watchdog agency, in a report issued Monday, did not pass judgment on whether the agencies were responding to the signing statements or whether the president had the constitutional authority not to comply. But Congressional officials said Tuesday that the findings were alarming since the administration had apparently not complied with the law in 30 percent of the cases scrutinized.

“Federal law is not some buffet line where the president can pick parts of some laws to follow and others to reject,” said Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, one of two senior lawmakers who sought the review.

Mr. Byrd and aides to Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and joined in seeking the study, said their next step would be to explore the signing statements to determine the broad extent of their impact. Mr. Byrd noted that another agency, the Congressional Research Service, had identified 700 provisions in law questioned by the administration.

“Moving forward, I plan to ask auditors to take a look at these provisions and determine what legal violations they find,” Mr. Byrd said. “Once we have the facts, we will be able to determine the next steps.”

The Bush administration’s frequent use of signing statements has been one front in the battle between the White House and some in Congress over the power of the executive branch.

Administration officials said that it was fully within the president’s power to interpret how laws should be carried out by the executive branch and that the White House had acted appropriately to keep Congress from overreaching and meddling too much in the independent executive branch of government.

“The executive branch has an obligation to remain within constitutional limits,” said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman. “The point of the signing statement is to advise where the executive sees those limits.”

The accountability office said signing statements date back to the 19th century and might have started with President Andrew Jackson’s declaration that a road Congress wanted built from Detroit to Chicago would not extend beyond Michigan.

Mr. Byrd and Mr. Conyers cited a Congressional Research Service finding in April that the Bush administration had made use of the statements to raise objections to provisions of the laws he was signing to a much greater extent than any of his predecessors. Critics said Mr. Bush was relying on the statements to avoid veto fights with Congress, even when it was under Republican control, while still killing provisions he found objectionable.

Bold emphasis mine, and there's more in the full article

Interpretation of bold paragraph: Emperor Bush does not have to follow laws passed by Congress and, further, he is the only interpreter of Constitutionality, the Supreme Court be damned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

POLITICS - "We Really Support Our Troops, REALLY"

"Troops' 1-month breaks blocked" by Gregg Zoroya, USA Today

U.S. commanders in Iraq are rejecting a recommendation by Army mental health experts that troops receive a one-month break for every three months in a combat zone, despite unprecedented levels of continuous fighting and worsening risks of mental stress.

Instead, commanders are trying to give troops two to three days inside heavily fortified bases after about eight days in the field, said Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief aide to the ground forces commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno.

"We would never get the job done of securing (of Baghdad) if we went out for three months and came back" for one, Anderson said.

U.S. forces in Iraq spend more time in combat without a break than those who fought in Vietnam or World War II, according to Army psychologists who studied troops in Iraq.

U.S. commanders can't match the World War II policy, Odierno said in a news conference late last month.

"Even in World War II and other times … we would pull forces off the line and bring them back on. Here we don't do that," Odierno said. "They (U.S. troops) are out there consistently every single day. So you have to be mentally and physically tough."

President Bush committed 28,000 more troops to Iraq this year as part of an escalation that started in February.

Army psychologists say continual combat may cause more mental health problems. Their research, conducted in Iraq last year, shows that 30% of troops experiencing high levels of combat demonstrate signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress.

Army Col. Carl Castro, a research psychologist who co-wrote the mental health study, said combat "is extremely, extremely stressful." That stress is aggravated, he says, by multiple tours of duty and deployments that have been extended from 12 months to 15.

Castro and Maj. Dennis McGurk, who co-authored the study, recommend U.S. troops by company or battalion be pulled back into fortified areas to rest for one month after every three months of combat, a recovery period similar to that used in World War II.

Castro says U.S. troops have never spent as much time on the front lines without "a significant break" to recover from the demands of war.

More breaks would relieve stress, says Army Spc. Jeremy Osborn, 27, who finished a 14-month stint in Iraq in February.

"The body and mind need to take a break from always being on guard," he said. "Never knowing when we were going to get attacked again was quite stressful."

Bold emphasis mine

By all means, lets add this to families having to buy armor out of their own pocket for Troops in Iraq, longer and longer deployments and extensions, on-and-on; but "we support our Troops" says Emperor Bush.

POLITICS - Bush White House Motto, "The Rule of Law Sucks"

"The Return of the 18-minute Gap" by Kagro X, Daily KOS

The undead body of Watergate still lumbers through Republican White Houses. And, it appears, it's a creature of habit.

Via Think Progress, we learn that Henry Waxman's House Oversight committee finds:

  • The number of White House officials using RNC e-mail accounts isn't a "handful of officials" as claimed by Dana Perino in March. Nor the "50 over the course of the administration" as she later claimed. Rather, the committee has learned that nearly twice that number, at least 88 White House officials have been using the outside accounts.

  • Karl Rove himself is responsible for some 140,216 such e-mails -- at least those which have been preserved. Also accounting for a significant volume of such communications: former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 e-mails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 e-mails). Fully 75,374 were sent to or received from individuals using official ".gov" e-mail accounts. That's "official business" over questionably secure RNC servers, folks.

  • Of the 88 officials identified as using such e-mail accounts, 51 of them have miraculously had their e-mail records disappear. Golly! Among the 37 officials for whom the RNC did preserve records, those records evidence "major gaps." For instance, despite the enormous volume of e-mails known to have been sent or received by Rove during certain periods, for others -- like the first term, for instance -- only some 130 e-mails are available.

  • Finally, it appears that -- surprise! -- the White House Counsel's office under Alberto Gonzales was fully aware of the use of the RNC e-mail accounts, but took no action to preserve them as required under the Presidential Records Act.

All of which is no surprise, when you consider the Bush White House's motto, "The Rule of Law Sucks."

IRAQ - Forget Stability By September

"Petraeus Says Iraq Plan Won't Succeed By September" by Demian McLean, 6/17/2007

The odds of building a stable Iraqi government by September are slim, even with the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to give lawmakers in Baghdad security, said the top U.S. general in the Middle East country.

The "aggregate level" of violence has not diminished since the troop increase began five months ago, General David Petraeus said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." Asked whether he thought the strategy could succeed by early September when he's due to report to Congress, Petraeus was negative.

"I do not, no. I think we have a lot of heavy lifting to do," he said. "This is a tough effort."

Lawmakers in Congress, including the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, said they won't tolerate the lack of progress.

"The Iraqi government has been a pretty big disappointment," Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" show. "We've given them an enormous opportunity here, over the last four years, to have a normal country. And our commitment will not be there forever."

There's much more in the full article.

Of course, this is one of those DUH? moments.

Monday, June 18, 2007

POLITICS - Loss of Our Liberties

"Civil liberties and our soul" by Tom Teepen, COX News Service, The News & Observer

It's like cleaning up after the elephants in the circus parade -- unpleasant but necessary.

The challenge after the disaster of the Bush presidency will be to regain our once-good international standing, essential precursor for the durable cooperation abroad which, in turn, is essential to blunt and parry terrorism.

To do that, we first will have to repair our national soul.

The Senate Judiciary Committee made a start on that recently when it approved the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act. Habeas corpus is the legal means by which prisoners can challenge their detention in a neutral court and require the government to justify their imprisonment.

That right is the historic and crucial wellspring of civil liberties. Among the worse crudities of Bush and his Republican Congresses has been their claim to an extra-constitutional privilege that somehow licenses them to deny habeas to detainees held as, maybe, terrorists just on Bush's say-so.

As part of his larger scheme to aggrandize the executive branch -- and himself in it Bush has insisted that, if he cries terrorism, he may, as no previous president has, hold captives for whatever real reason he likes, for however long he cares to, wherever he chooses to put them.

The administration has accused the Guantanamo detainees of terrorism -- even though, oops, many have been quietly let go, usually only after years of apparently needless detention. Most Americans have shrugged, but Bush's indifference to plain justice offends our founding principles and the ones which we have lived by since.

The habeas restoration must be adopted, but far more is needed as well.

Congress also should embrace the amendment put into play by Carl Levin, D-Mich., which would secure due process for detainees. Congress last year hurriedly, at administration urging and just in time for the elections, authorized drumhead military commissions to accept testimony forced by torture, deny captives access to the evidence against them and permit hearsay testimony.

BUSH HAS STUBBORNLY REFUSED either to let civil justice take its course or to defer to traditional military courts-martial. He has cut every legal corner, miring prisoners and the national interest alike in one after another jurisprudential mess. Ironically, the Justice Department in the meantime has been successfully trying and imprisoning terrorism suspects the old fashioned way.

Congress has a lot of clean-up ahead of it. It must end such abominations as torture and kidnapping. It must embrace anew the Geneva Conventions. It must bar this and future administrations from farming out prisoners to other nations for second-hand torture.

The obvious problem with starting now is that Bush seems certain to veto any legislation Congress completes. Even so, the process can clarify the imperatives for next year's elections.

Voters need to have the stakes firmly in mind. We will be deciding what kind of country we want ours to be -- an honorable and an effective one, prepared and able to protect itself respectably, as it usually has, or a morally shabby and merely grandstanding one.

Of course, what Tom fails to understand is that America is now the Bush Empire. Just ask Bush, "It's MY Administration." (aka NOT the American people's Administration)

POLITICS - Again, The Bush Administration

"Special counsel calls for firing Lurita Doran" Think Progress

In a sternly written letter dated last Friday and obtained by CongressDaily, Special Counsel Scott Bloch advised the president that Doan should “be disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act.

Under administrative statute, the “fullest extent” for a political appointee such as Doan is termination.

“Despite engaging in the most pernicious of political activity prohibited by the Hatch Act, Administrator Doan has shown no remorse and lacks an appreciation for the seriousness of her violation,” Bloch wrote Bush, referring to the law barring executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

Because Doan is a political appointee and serves at the pleasure of the president, it is up to Bush to decide how to respond to Bloch’s recommendation, including ignoring it altogether. Bloch’s letter did not include a request for additional information or a formal response. The White House did not respond to calls for comment at presstime.

Ah, yes. Another from the Administration that promised, what, it would be the most straight-froward and honest Administration? Or something like that. Oooo Ya.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

IRAQ - Baghdad Summary

"A monument to failure" by Dale McFeatters, Capitol Hill Blue

A case of wretched excess in Baghdad

In September, the world's largest, most expensive and most heavily fortified embassy will open. It is ours and it is in Baghdad.

The embassy compound occupies 104 acres of primo real estate along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. If the embassy were in Washington, it would take up most of the National Mall.

For security reasons, the embassy will be out of sight and off-limits to most Iraqis, just as Baghdad outside the blast walls is out of sight and off-limits to the people at the embassy.

Instead, they will live in their own self-contained world with its own power, water and wastewater-treatment plants, amenities we have so far been unable to operate elsewhere in Baghdad on any regular basis.

The embassy will cost $592 million, although Congress is mulling a $50 million request for additional housing. The compound will contain 21 buildings, in addition to the embassy itself, residences for the ambassador and deputy, housing for 380 families, a PX, commissary, theater, schools, restaurants and a firehouse.

The Associated Press notes: "The embassy is one of the few major projects the administration has undertaken in Iraq that is on schedule and within budget." Apparently the concept of modesty and restraint never entered into it's planning, and if the war continues in its current direction, it will stand as a monument to American hubris and overreaching under the Bush administration.

And this while some military families are buying armor vests for their love ones out of pocket because the Bush Administration hasn't.

"Iraq's leader can't get out of 1st gear" by Ned Parker, LA Times

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Tariq Hashimi, the country's Sunni vice president, faced each other across the room as the latter spoke angrily of the bad blood between Sunni and Shiite officials.

A hush fell over the room as Hashimi demanded to know whether the prime minister had been accusing his political bloc of being infiltrated by terrorists. "Are you talking about us? If you are … we would ask for proof," said Hashimi, according to his account of a recent closed-door meeting of Iraq's top political and national security officials. "I am treated as an opponent," he said, his voice rising. "If you continue treating me like this, it is better for me to quit."

Maliki sat in silence.

Iraq's government is teetering on the edge. Maliki's Cabinet is filled with officials who are deeply estranged from one another and more loyal to their parties than to the government as a whole. Some are jostling to unseat the prime minister. Few, if any, have accepted the basic premise of a government whose power is shared among each of Iraq's warring sects and ethnic groups.

Maliki is the man U.S. officials are counting on to bring Iraq's civil war under control, yet he seems unable to break the government's deadlock.

Even Maliki's top political advisor, Sadiq Rikabi, says he doubts the prime minister will be able to win passage of key legislation ardently sought by U.S. officials, including a law governing the oil industry and one that would allow more Sunni Arabs to gain government jobs.

"We hope to achieve some of them, but solving the Iraqi problems and resolving the different challenges in the [next] three months would need a miracle," Rikabi said.

Interviews with a broad range of Iraqi and Western officials paint a portrait of Maliki as an increasingly isolated and ineffectual figure, lacking in confidence and unable to trust people.

Iraq's intractable problems would challenge even the most skilled of politicians. But skilled politicians are in short supply here. Most of Iraq's current leaders grew to adulthood as members of underground militias, skilled in the arts of conspiracy, not compromise. And many of those leaders appear to believe that their side can still win a decisive military victory in the country's civil war.

There's more in the full article.

ON THE LIGHT SIDE - A Street Sweeper's Tale

"A Street Sweeper's Tale" by Bruiser, Comedy Goldmine, SA Forums

When I burned out of college in spring of 2006, I found myself needing cash in the worst kind of way. I was flipping through the newspaper when I found an ad that read:

"Sweeper Vac Driver needed. 3rd shift only"

and gave subsequent contact info. I'm really great doing over night work and decided that I'd give it a shot. I arrive at the office, fill out an application, and before I walked out of the door I was given the job and told to report for training the following evening.

So, I reported to the office the following evening... and had the weirdest/craziest/funniest 8 months of my life. I was hoping to share a story or two with you guys. If you like 'em, I've got TONS.

  • Stopping a robbery
  • Incorrectly thinking some guy was dead
  • Screwing with ricers
  • Helping the 5 - 0 bust a tranny hooker
  • and more than I can remember

And there is much more in this forum thread, a good laugh.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

POLITICS - Another Example GOP Pushing Non-Accountability

"Funding Cut for Data on Economic Well-Being" by Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post

It is one of the most important surveys the government conducts -- the only large-scale measurement of the impact of Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, unemployment and other safety-net programs for the poor.

But proposed Bush administration budget cuts to the Survey on Income and Program Participation, known as SIPP, will significantly reduce the amount of information it generates for the next four years.

"We'll have the statistical equivalent of a Katrina on our hands if the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] refuses to request funding for the SIPP," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "We need the SIPP to determine which government programs are working and how to best make use of taxpayer dollars in tight fiscal times."

The Census Bureau, which oversees the survey, plans to reduce the number of people questioned nationwide from 45,000 to 21,000. The result will mean that detailed data will be generated for just three states -- California, Texas and New York -- instead of the more typical 31 states, said Preston Jay Waite, deputy director of the Census Bureau.

Could it be that the GOP wants to hide the failures of their policies while they had dictatorial control of the federal government? Nah, we can trust them..... NOT!

By the way, I don't trust Democrats either, that's why we need the full survey.

IRAQ - The Spreading Cancer

"Georgie Anne Geyer: A spreading terror" Dallas News Opinion

Iraq now set up as a school for insurgents ready to be exported

Anyone who knows anything about cancer knows that the danger point comes when the cancer suddenly and unexpectedly appears in another supposedly "clean" part of the body. As when, say, breast cancer, an implacable traveler, reappears in the bloodstream or the bones.

That there are stunning similarities between what happens medically in the body of man and what occurs sociologically and militarily in the societies of men is far less noticed – but just as frightening and dangerous.

Think of what has happened in only the last week in the Middle East. In northern Lebanon, in the long-established Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, out of the blue arose a new al Qaeda-related insurgent group, Fatah al-Islam. Within days and even hours, the recurring hell of the Middle East was loosed, and refugees poured out of the camp in terror.

There had been none of this kind of terror networking in these northern camps. Indeed, since this camp was established in 1949 to accommodate refugees from northern Palestine after the creation of Israel, it has housed one of the more formal and conservative of peoples.

But it was soon established that these new "insurgents" or "terrorists" – or whatever they really are – had arrived at the camp only recently, that they marched in one day with brand-new weapons, ready to fight.

Two points grip you:

  • The first is found in the words of French scholar Bernard Rougier, author of Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon. "The main point is that these camps are no longer part of Palestinian society," he told The Washington Post . "They are only spaces – now open to all of the influences running through the Muslim world."
  • The second is that Iraq, where we were supposed to be "containing terrorism," is now clearly exporting insurgents to other regions – to Lebanon, to Syria, to Gaza, to Bangladesh, to Kurdistan.

And so, on the one hand, you have weakened societies vulnerable to the "new answers" of "new insurgencies," and on the other hand, you have Iraq set up as a school for terrorists with American troops and policy providing the constant inspiration for their fight.

This, of course, is not the way the Bush administration sees it.

The White House sees terrorists as born, not created by history, bearing the mark of Cain, not the mark of circumstance. There is a scarlet "T" written on their foreheads at birth and the only answer is to destroy them. This kind of thinking, of course, relieves the thinker of any responsibility for the presence of the insurgent-terrorist-whatever in our innocent midst.

What's more, there is not much real give in the administration's policies. True, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American diplomats met Memorial Day weekend with the Iranians in Baghdad (a good first move but limited, since the Iranians have most of the power because of our incredible stupidity in Iraq). But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

The truth of the steadily deteriorating situation in the Middle East is, of course, quite different. The Palestinian people of 40 and even 30 years ago were formal, conservative people who remained closely tied to their families, clans and religious groups. Theirs was a highly stratified society, which has now been shattered.

In the institutional vacuum that is a camp like Nahr el-Bared, a few hundred men trained and tempered in Iraq can make a huge difference. At the same time, the Turkish military is ready to go into northern Kurdistan, al-Qaeda operatives from Iraq are popping up in hitherto untouched places, and the American military's advice to its troops is, "Get down with the people – listen to them!" Only four years and thousands of bombs and night missions too late.

POLITICS - Mad Man on the Loose

"Report: In Meeting, ‘Wild-Eyed’ Bush Thumped Chest While Repeating ‘I Am The President!’" by Nico, Think Progress

Georgie Anne Geyer writes today in the Dallas Morning News about President Bush’s strange behavior during a recent meeting with “[f]riends of his from Texas.”

  • But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

  • Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.”

This is the second time in recent weeks that accounts have surfaced of Bush lashing out or “ranting” in private meetings when responding to criticism of his Iraq policy. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report offered a similar account earlier this month:

  • [S]ome big money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he’s doing things would be OK…etc., etc. This is called a “bunker mentality” and it’s not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation.

Like the tearful House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Bush needs to channel his bottled up emotions towards a more worthy end — winding down the war in Iraq rather than defending the status quo.