Monday, June 30, 2008

IRAQ - Army's Historical Evaluation

"Occupation Plan for Iraq Faulted in Army History" By MICHAEL R. GORDON, New York Times

Soon after American forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Gen. Tommy R. Franks surprised senior Army officers by revamping the Baghdad-based military command.

The decision reflected the assumption by General Franks, the top American commander for the Iraq invasion, that the major fighting was over. But according to a new Army history, the move put the military effort in the hands of a short-staffed headquarters led by a newly promoted three-star general, and was made over the objections of the Army’s vice chief of staff.

“The move was sudden and caught most of the senior commanders in Iraq unaware,” states the history, which adds that the staff for the new headquarters was not initially “configured for the types of responsibilities it received.”

The story of the American occupation of Iraq has been the subject of numerous books, studies and memoirs. But now the Army has waded into the highly charged debate with its own nearly 700-page account: “On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign.”

These are the opening paragraphs of the full article.

NOTE: The On Point II report link has a download version that should be available 7/1/2008.

Of course we should not be surprised. After all we have been essentially told the same thing by many retried military officials and experts. The Bush Administration screwed up in their assumption that Iraq would be like WWII Paris Liberation. This is just highlights more of just how ignorant they were of Arab, Middle East, environment.

Reminder, the French 'told us so,' on the issue of invading Iraq, before we invaded.

Friday, June 27, 2008

POLITICS - Another Example of How the GOP "Cares" About Americans

"Doctors Face Payment Cuts for Patients on Medicare" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times

Doctors face a 10 percent cut in Medicare payments next week, following the Senate’s failure on Thursday to take up legislation that would have averted the cuts.

Republican senators blocked efforts by Democrats to call up the bill, which was approved Tuesday in the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 355 to 59.

In the Senate, supporters fell two votes short of the 60 needed to close debate. The vote was 58 to 40.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said, “We have to pass this bill to avoid catastrophic cuts to doctors.”

Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, president of the American Medical Association, said the cuts would force many doctors to “limit the number of new Medicare patients they treat.”

The bill would cancel the 10 percent cut scheduled to occur on Tuesday and would increase Medicare payments to doctors by 1.1 percent in January.

President Bush had threatened to veto the bill, in part because it would reduce federal payments to private Medicare Advantage plans, offered by insurers like Humana, UnitedHealth and Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

The 10 percent cut occurs automatically because of a statutory formula that reduces Medicare payments to doctors when spending would otherwise exceed certain goals.

Of course the GOP "offered to negotiate," but we all know they mean "it's too costly." More of the "money before people."

There's more in the full article.

POLITICS - Update, Here Comes the Pork

"Earmarks Persist in Spending Bills for 2009" by RON NIXON, New York Times

Despite a pledge by Congressional leaders to reduce pork-barrel projects, new information shows that both the number and amount of earmarks have increased in several spending bills now making their way through Congress.

The amount of the earmarks in the House version of the labor, health and human services appropriations bill for the 2009 fiscal year, for example, has jumped to $618.8 million from $277.9 million compared with the bill in 2008, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington.

In the Interior Department spending bill, earmarks increased to $134.9 million from $111 million from last year. Those amounts might change when the Appropriations Committee approves those bills. A spokeswoman from the committee said the number and amount of earmarks would be kept at 2008 levels.

A few years ago, the Department of Homeland Security bill had no earmarks; the new House bill has more than 100. In all, lawmakers requested 3,796 earmarks worth about $2.7 billion in seven spending bills.

And this is just the opening paragraphs to the full article.

SUPREME COURT - The Big Gun Decision

"Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights" by LINDA GREENHOUSE, New York Times

The Supreme Court on Thursday embraced the long-disputed view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun for personal use, ruling 5 to 4 that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense.

The landmark ruling overturned the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns, the strictest gun-control law in the country, and appeared certain to usher in a fresh round of litigation over gun rights throughout the country. The court rejected the view that the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms” applied to gun ownership only in connection with service in the “well regulated militia” to which the amendment refers.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion, his most important in his 22 years on the court, said the justices were “aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country” and “take seriously” the arguments in favor of prohibiting handgun ownership. “But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,” he said, adding: “It is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Justice Scalia’s opinion was signed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens took vigorous issue with Justice Scalia’s assertion that it was the Second Amendment that had enshrined the individual right to own a gun. Rather, it was “today’s law-changing decision” that bestowed the right and created “a dramatic upheaval in the law,” Justice Stevens said in a dissent joined by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Breyer, also speaking for the others, filed a separate dissenting opinion.

Justice Scalia and Justice Stevens went head to head in debating how the 27 words in the Second Amendment should be interpreted. The majority opinion and the two dissenting opinions totaled 154 pages.

Justice Stevens said the majority opinion was based on “a strained and unpersuasive reading” of the text and history of the Second Amendment, which provides: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

According to Justice Scalia, the “militia” reference in the first part of the amendment simply “announces the purpose for which the right was codified: to prevent elimination of the militia.” The Constitution’s framers were afraid that the new federal government would disarm the populace, as the British had tried to do, Justice Scalia said.

But he added that this “prefatory statement of purpose” should not be interpreted to limit the meaning of what is called the operative clause — “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Instead, Justice Scalia said, the operative clause “codified a pre-existing right” of individual gun ownership for private use.

Contesting that analysis, Justice Stevens said the Second Amendment’s structure was notable for its “omission of any statement of purpose related to the right to use firearms for hunting or personal self-defense,” in contrast to the contemporaneous “Declarations of Rights” in Pennsylvania and Vermont that did explicitly protect those uses.

It has been nearly 70 years since the court last examined the meaning of the Second Amendment. In addition to their linguistic debate, Justices Scalia and Stevens also sparred over what the court intended in that decision, United States v. Miller. In the opaque, unanimous, five-page opinion issued in 1939, the court upheld a federal prosecution for transporting a sawed-off shotgun. A Federal District Court had ruled that the provision of the National Firearms Act the defendants were accused of violating was barred by the Second Amendment, but the Supreme Court disagreed and reinstated the indictment.

For decades, the overwhelming majority of courts and commentators regarded the Miller decision as having rejected the individual-right interpretation of the Second Amendment. That understanding of the “virtually unreasoned case” was mistaken, Justice Scalia said Thursday. He said the Miller decision meant “only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.”

Justice Stevens said the majority’s understanding of the Miller decision was not only “simply wrong,” but also reflected a lack of “respect for the well-settled views of all of our predecessors on the court, and for the rule of law itself.”

Despite the decision’s enormous symbolic significance, it was far from clear that it actually posed much of a threat to the most common types of gun regulations. Justice Scalia’s opinion applied explicitly only to “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” and it included a number of significant qualifications.

“Nothing in our opinion,” Justice Scalia said, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The opinion also said that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons would be upheld, and suggested somewhat less explicitly that the right to personal possession did not apply to “dangerous and unusual weapons” that are not typically used for self-defense or recreation. The Bush administration had been concerned about the implications of the case for the federal ban on possession of machine guns.

President Bush welcomed the decision. “As a longstanding advocate of the rights of gun owners in America, I applaud the Supreme Court’s historic decision today confirming what has always been clear in the Constitution: the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear firearms,” the president said in a statement.

The opinion did not specify the standard by which the court would evaluate gun restrictions in future cases, a question that was the subject of much debate when the case was argued in March.

Among existing gun-control laws, only Chicago comes close to the complete handgun prohibition in the District of Columbia’s 32-year-old law. The District’s appeal to the Supreme Court, filed last year after the law was struck down by the federal appeals court here, argued that the handgun ban was an important public safety measure in a congested, crime-ridden urban area.

On the campaign trail on Thursday, both major-party presidential candidates expressed support for the decision — with more full-throated support from Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and a more guarded statement of support from Senator Barack Obama, his presumptive Democratic opponent.

Senator McCain called the decision “a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States” that “ended forever the specious argument that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

Senator Obama, who like Senator McCain has been on record as supporting the individual-rights view, said the ruling would “provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.” He praised the decision both for its endorsement of the individual-rights view and for its description of the right as “not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe.”

Unlike the court’s ruling earlier this month on the rights of the Guantánamo detainees, this decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, appeared likely to defuse, rather than inflame, the political debate. The Democratic Party’s platform in 2004 included a plank endorsing the individual-rights view of the Second Amendment.

The case reached the court as the result of an assumption by the Cato Institute, a libertarian policy organization here, that the time was right to test the prevailing interpretation of the Second Amendment. Robert A. Levy, a lawyer and senior fellow of the institute, looked for law-abiding District of Columbia residents, rather than criminal defendants appealing their convictions, to challenge the local law.

Mr. Levy, who financed the litigation, recruited six plaintiffs. Five were dismissed for lack of standing, but the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of one, Dick Anthony Heller. He is a security guard who carries a gun while on duty at a federal judicial building here, and was denied a license to keep his gun at home. The court said Thursday that assuming Mr. Heller was not “disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights,” the District of Columbia government must issue him a license.

Personally, I am of two minds on this issue. I agree that on reading the Second Amendment, I cannot see how anyone would interpret it any other way than granting the right for individuals to own guns. I am glad that this specific issue has been decided.

But that does not mean I am against gun regulation. Essentially the Courts decision agrees with this view. The “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is not a blanket right. And the concerns of local government officials is valid.

I also agree with the decenter's opinion, we are going to see massive legal challenges to every gun law on the books by "Gun Rights" extremest. But this also, is our Constitutional right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

SCIENCE - Ice on Mars!

"Phoenix lander confirms presence of water ice on Mars" WikiNews

For the first time ever, NASA has confirmed the presence of water ice on Mars. The Phoenix lander, which landed on Mars on May 25, has confirmed to NASA scientists that the white substance it found while digging a trench on June 15 is water ice.

"It is with great pride and a lot of joy that I announce today that we have found proof that this hard bright material is really water ice and not some other substance," said Peter Smith, the primary investigator for Phoenix, at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.

The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks" when Phoenix's Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench days later. The chunks were visible on June 16, but when Phoenix looked at the trench again on June 19, some of the material had disappeared, implying that it may have evaporated or melted.

"This tells us we've got water ice within reach of the arm, which means we can continue this investigation with the tools we brought with us," said primary investigator for Phoenix's stereo imager, Mark Lemmon.

Scientists are planning to examine the substance and the soil surrounding it more closely. They plan to test it for signs of organic material and minerals, and hope to find out if the ice was ever a liquid which could have supported microbial life.

In December of 2006, scientists announced that the Mars Global Surveyor captured images of deposits in gullies on the surface of the planet Mars which have been created since the areas were photographed nine years ago. These deposits were believed to be the residue of liquid water breaking out of cliffs and crater walls, carrying sediment downhill through the gullies, and later evaporating. The gullies are located inside the Terra Sirenum crater and the Centauri Montes regions.

In June 2007 the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft discovered ice deposits in the South Pole of Mars that are larger than the state of Texas. Scientists say that there is enough water in the deposits to cover the entire planet with up to 36 feet of water if the ice was to melt.

Click pic for article source.

POLITICS - Telecoms, FISA, and Immunity

"Dems Cave on Telecom Immunity" by Mike Lillis, Washington Independent

FISA Compromise Breaks From House Dems' Stance of Four Months Ago

In February, as the law authorizing the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program was set to lapse, House Democrats brushed aside GOP threats and let the clock run out. Politically, the move was a gamble: White House officials had claimed the law -- including retroactive legal immunity for the phone companies that participated -- was necessary to protect the country from terrorist attacks. The administration pushed its message relentlessly.

To the delight of privacy and civil-liberties groups, however, the Democrats stood their ground.

"We must not fall prey to fear-mongers who claim that our intelligence community could 'go dark,'" House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the chamber floor at the time. "That is simply not true."

Four months later, a very different scenario is playing out on Capitol Hill, where congressional leaders on Thursday unveiled a new agreement to expand the administration's domestic wiretapping capabilities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The bill would effectively lead to the dismissal of the roughly 40 civil suits currently pending against the telecom companies for allegedly violating the civil liberties of their customers.

This time around, House Democrats have jumped on board, calling the proposal an acceptable compromise balancing national-security challenges with civil-liberties concerns. The change of tune has caused the privacy groups to skewer the Democrats for caving on the administration's immunity request. The groups accuse party leaders of sacrificing Americans' civil liberties for fear of how the wiretapping issue will play out in the campaign.

"The Hoyer/Bush surveillance deal was clearly written with the telephone companies and Internet providers at the table and for their benefit," Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "They wanted immunity, and this bill gives it to them."

The House is expected to pass the measure Friday, with the Senate to follow next week. The White House, which has threatened to veto any FISA expansion that lacks immunity for the telecoms, said Thursday that it supports the bill.

Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, characterized the Democrats' support for the proposal as "political cowardice, pure and simple."

"The fact is that the Democratic leadership in Congress has done absolutely nothing to make good on its electoral mandate of 2006," Ackerman wrote in an email. "It was elected to rein in the abuses of presidential power at home and abroad. And it is caving in -- despite the massive unpopularity of the president's policies."

The legislation would empower federal district courts to decide whether the phone companies participating in the controversial surveillance program had received an official, written request from the Bush administration, including indication that the White House had deemed the warrantless cooperation to be lawful. Supporters say the additional court oversight holds the telecoms to some account for past actions.

"This bipartisan bill balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans' civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements," Hoyer, a key negotiator of the bill, said in a statement. "It is the result of compromise, and like any compromise is not perfect. But I believe it strikes a sound balance."

Critics and legal scholars, however, have been quick to point out that the proposal doesn't put the courts in a position to decide whether the administration's requests violated any laws.

"The legality of the order itself would not be something for the court to adjudicate," said Allen Weiner, a Stanford University law professor specializing in Internet and security issues. "It's a face-saving technique that let's some people claim there was a compromise. But on this issue of telecom immunity, it is not a compromise, it's a capitulation."

Some influential lawmakers have joined in the criticisms. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) issued a statement Thursday saying he won't support the bill when it reaches the upper chamber. "This bill would dismiss ongoing cases against the telecommunications carriers that participated in that program without allowing a judicial review of the legality of the program," said Leahy, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Therefore, it lacks accountability measures that I believe are crucial."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) also blasted the proposal. "Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless," he said in a statement, "when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity."

Not all legal experts agree that the immunity language is without some consequence. Scott Silliman, executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke Law School, said the new bill is significant because it would force the administration to appear in court and produce written evidence that it authorized the surveillance program as a legal tool available to the White House. Still, Silliman added that the bill would do nothing to determine whether the president ever had the power to wiretap U.S. citizens without judicial oversight.

Some critics of the proposal are puzzled why House Democrats, whose stand in February energized the party's liberal base, would change direction just a few months later.

"My reading in February was that it was pretty much a victory for Democrats -- both in policy and politics," said Tim Lee, an adjunct scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute.

But Julian E. Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University, had a guess. He said the Democrats, who are largely expected to pick up congressional seats in November's elections, don't want to risk their current advantage over an issue that could brand them as "soft-on-terror."

"It seems that's the calculation they're making," he said. "We've seen this before. On defense and national security issues, the Democrats have a history of just giving in."

Fredrickson, of the ACLU, also suggested that Democrats are running scared from the 30-second campaign ad. "They've just bought this argument that they're weak on defense hook, line and sinker," she said, "and it's caused them to act like Republicans."

Humm... then again, when the Dems take over the Whitehouse and have an even bigger majority in Congress, this issue can be revisited.


"Spying, a U.S. Psychic Dilemma" by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Washington Independent

The House has passed a new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. It is not surprising that the legislation makes many Americans queasy. After all, this is the country that created its first secret agency in 1947 and then announced it to the world.

The irony of America’s intelligence services is that they are so public. The United States routinely releases secret documents of historical importance, many over the Internet and sometimes only 25 years after the event. The Central Intelligence Agency is the cinematic archetype of skulduggery mainly because the government won’t shut up about it. Ours is the only nation out of 194 that requires itself, by law, not only to declassify but also to publish former state secrets.

This weirdness goes to the heart of a psychic dilemma that is particularly American. Cloak-and-dagger is the antithesis of democratic transparency. Americans pride themselves on openness, but can’t quite give up the power that comes from secret information.

This surveillance bill gives the National Security Agency greater leeway to eavesdrop on electronic communications between people in the United States and persons abroad. The new version would retroactively shield companies like ATT from lawsuits for cooperating in activities that otherwise invade clients’ privacy and contradict the Bill of Rights.

Critics say the bill would dramatically increase the executive branch's authority to engage in electronic surveillance without court order. In 1978, Congress passed the original FISA to limit wiretapping of private citizens. The revised statute will allow for warrantless surveillance of messages between individuals within the country and foreign persons suspected of terrorism. Opponents say this is unnecessary, since warrants can be obtained within hours from the special court, or even retroactively.

On Thursday, June 19, the Swedish Parliament passed a similar law. The so-called “Big Brother” bill allows the national defense agency to monitor citizens' phone calls, text messages, e-mails and Internet use without a court order. One blogger charged, “Democracy has died in Sweden.”

But the American reaction against loosening FISA goes beyond any particular bill. It is traditional and instinctive. Americans have long spoken out against spying, though all governments do it -- including their own.

The country’s founders fled Europe to get away from the spies, double-dealing and royal treachery of the Old World. They aspired to a new diplomacy based on the notion that in public affairs, as President George Washington put it, “honesty is the best policy.” When pioneers went West, they sought not just land and gold, but freedom from constraint. They didn’t want strangers peering over their shoulders, so, like Huck Finn, they lit out for the territory.

Yet the pull of privileged information remains strong, especially now. Despite its relative openness, the U.S. government shares in the global propensity to spy. (For an eyeful, check out Intelligence Search.) What accounts for the universal allure of opening envelopes, intercepting cable traffic or hacking into phone lines?

Necessity, some would say.

In 1929, Henry L. Stimson, President Herbert Hoover's high-minded secretary of state, closed the so-called Black Chamber. This State Department office was responsible for breaking the diplomatic codes of other countries. Though Stimson knew the Great Powers routinely intercepted one another’s secret correspondence, he thought Americans should be above this. “Gentlemen," he insisted, "do not read other people’s mail.”

But in 1940, Stimson was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of war, and he had changed his mind. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Stimson clearly decided, the stakes were too high. When agents of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, offered him “underground information” about the Japanese just prior to the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, for example, Stimson was all ears.

The World War II spy agency was disbanded when the hot war ended in 1945, only to be reborn as the CIA at the start of the Cold War. In the 1947 National Security Act, Congress made the CIA both public and permanent. The subsequent James Bond movies did much to rehabilitate the image of gentlemen who open other people’s mail. At least Bond met the first American requirement for impeccable deportment: a posh British accent.

Others may attribute the allure of spying to human arrogance, or the innate desire for a competitive edge. Think of the sordid behavior last fall of the general manager of the New England Patriots. The National Football League fined Bill Belichick $500,000 for videotaping the private signals of opposing coaches.

Most people would consider government spying far more legitimate than this. But even those who accept the need to spy on other governments, or on free-lance foreign terrorists, draw the line at prying into the affairs of private Americans. Outsiders may be a threat to national security, but can’t we trust our own citizens and residents? At the least, shouldn’t security agencies be required to obtain a warrant? Aren’t such invasive measures the first step towards a police state?

Last year’s marvelous German film, The Lives of Others, portrayed in compelling detail the profound moral rot that results from a nation’s surveillance of its own people. Spying corrupts the Peeping Tom as well as violates the suspect. By the time the Berlin Wall fell, even the East German Stasi was sick of it.

Historically, Americans have had a lower tolerance for spying than even their allies in what used to be called the “Free World.” Consider the contrast between the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and two of its kissing cousins, the British and Australian services. The CIA was created by public legislation. Its directors have always been named. Its location, in Langley, Va., is marked with a standard street sign off the George Washington Parkway.

The British Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6 to any James Bond devotee, did not officially exist until recently. Though the agency was founded in 1909, Parliament did not acknowledge MI6 until 1994. Its director was known simply as “C,” in honor of founder George Smith-Cumming. Its location remained top secret. Even today, SIS records are outside the scope of Britain’s Freedom of Information Act, unlike the records of the CIA.

The Aussies entered the spy business in 1952. Without the dashing Ian Fleming to publicize its exploits, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service remained undercover until reporters for the Sydney Daily Telegraph outed it in 1972. But the Australian government still resisted disclosing any basic information. Its existence was not given the legislative nod until 2001.

Americans expect more. Democratic government depends on mutual trust: the trust of citizens in their representatives, and the trust of representatives in the citizenry. Once shattered, that trust is harder than Humpty Dumpty to put back together again.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed in 2005 that the 9/11 Commission attributed the failure to anticipate events to a blind spot in our security systems. This blind spot is at the “seam” where intelligence operations overseas and domestic law enforcement agencies are sewn together.

Americans will never fully reconcile a repulsion against spying with its attractions. Congress now faces the challenge of keeping citizens’ good will and honoring the Bill of Rights, while grappling with the executive branch’s demand for additional discretionary powers.

Novelist Ian Fleming, whose fans are celebrating the centenary of his birth, would recognize the dilemma.

JUSTICE - On Child Rape

"Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty for Child Rape" by AP, New York Times

The Supreme Court on Wednesday outlawed executions of people convicted of raping a child.

In a 5-4 vote, the court said the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in such cases violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

''The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years.

This is just the opening of the article.

My gut feeling is to slow-roast such monsters, on a spit, alive, and in public. But that is my very emotional response. I'll defer to the Supreme Court on this one.

POLITICS - 109th Congressional Corruption, Tip of the Iceberg

"21 Legislators from 109th Congress Investigated for Corruption" by Paul Kiel, ProPublica

Eighteen months into the 110th Congress, federal investigators are still taking a hard look at the 109th, adding to the incredible tally of lawmakers from that body to reportedly be investigated by the FBI for corruption.

Recently revealed investigations of two former lawmakers bring that total to 21. Some of those 21 investigations have closed with no charges, some seem dormant, some are ongoing, and some have resulted in convictions. Since the FBI doesn't comment on ongoing investigations, it's often hard to determine the status. But the total clearly demonstrates that public corruption is one of the FBI's top priorities. The FBI told us the number of agents focusing on public corruption jumped by more than 56 percent in the past several years -- from 451 agents in fiscal 2001 to 705 in fiscal 2008.

Last Friday, the FBI raided a New York lobbying firm as part of an investigation by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section into ex-Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY). And a former aide to ex-Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) pleaded guilty last week to accepting gifts from Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm in exchange for help with Abramoff clients.

Below is a rundown of all 21 lawmakers, current and former. Ten of them are no longer in office. Investigations of seven are part of the Abramoff investigation. Seventeen are Republicans, four are Democrats. This total, based on prosecutorial filings and unambiguous news reports, does not include at least three reported federal investigations of lawmakers for matters other than corruption, including Ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). All the lawmakers, with the exception of those who have pleaded guilty, deny wrongdoing.

The above is just the opening paragraphs of the article, what follows is a list of investigations.

POLITICS - The DOJ, Really a Standard for Justice?

"Report: DOJ Grantees Getting by with Help from Their Friends" by Ben Protess, ProPublica

Personal connections may have influenced how Justice Department officials allocated millions of dollars in grants last year, according to an independent government watchdog group.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a report yesterday detailing the Justice Department's apparent abuse of the Byrne Grant Program, the agency's highly touted effort to support local crime fighting nationwide.

POGO found that more than a dozen competitive 2007 Byrne grants were awarded without peer review, an optional but standard process whereby objective experts evaluate the merits of applications. Two of the winning agencies -- both from Ohio -- are closely connected to Justice Department officials who worked in the office that awards Byrne grants, according to the report, "Getting Byrned by Justice."

"Taxpayers should not have to worry when they pay their taxes that some appointee will treat that money like candy they can hand out to their friends," said POGO's Executive Director, Danielle Brian.

A Justice Department spokesperson did not return several requests for comment.

Brian said 13 of the 228 grant recipients were not peer reviewed. Six of the 13 were holdovers from the earmarks system, including $100,000 for a McGruff the Crime Dog venture in Utah. The projects that escaped peer review-among them a $2.5 million methamphetamine demand reduction program--totaled nearly $15 million in taxpayer funds.

Brian also noted that the DOJ has not released the peer-reviewed projects' evaluations, thus making it impossible to know if experts deemed them worthy of funding.

POGO took its findings to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who last month sent the Justice Department a letter (pdf) demanding accountability for the agency's funding decisions.

"We are left with the impression that political favoritism, and maybe even total randomness, won out over good government," McCaskill wrote to Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Sedgwick.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chairwoman of the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, also rebuked the Justice Department in a letter to McCaskill.

Last year, Congress gave the DOJ about $150 million for the Byrne program, along with the discretion to choose where to spend it. This policy broke from Congress' previous tradition of allowing lawmakers to earmark the funds for favored groups.

Brian, of POGO, said the 2007 grant process provided a rare opportunity for competition and transparency.

"It's a good idea, only it's been hijacked," she said.

Along for the ride, the Ohio organizations are apparent beneficiaries of conflicts of interest within the DOJ, Brian said.

Before Domingo S. Herraiz became the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the DOJ agency that oversees Byrne grants, he headed the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. Last year, the Ohio agency obtained $296,168 in Byrne funding for an anti-gang initiative, even though the project was not peer reviewed, according to DOJ documents that POGO obtained.

"That Herraiz was able to award a grant to his former employer, let alone circumvent the peer review process, raises the question of conflicts of interest in the Byrne Discretionary Grant program," the POGO report said.

Lindsay Komlanc, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public safety, said her office "has no knowledge of what, if any, Herraiz's role was" in awarding the Byrne grant. "We followed the standard application process," she said.

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio approached Herraiz about a school emergency notification system that needed funding.

"[Herraiz] told me it was a competitive grant and then we filled out the usual paperwork," said the Ohio police agency's treasurer, Mark Drum.

Sure enough, the police agency, which supported Herraiz's 2004 bid for the Justice Department position, received $603,000 in Byrne funds for the "Ohio School Alert System," another project that circumvented expert vetting.

POGO also found that Cybele K. Daley -- a deputy in the Justice Department office that approved 2007 Byrne grants -- is married to James Pasco Jr., the executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police.

"I've never met Jim's wife," Drum said, "and I can assure you that Jim did nothing to get us that grant."

Daley, who did not immediately return a call requesting comment, recently left the Justice Department to become a Washington lobbyist. She represents law enforcement agencies and specializes in issues related to grant-making, according to her firm's Website.

With all the controversy surrounding competitive Byrne grants, Congress will return next year to the practice of allocating the funds through earmarks, according to Brian, of POGO.

POGO released its report the same day the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to investigate whether another Justice Department division -- the Office of Juvenile Justice -- has been ignoring peer review recommendations and steering taxpayer dollars to preferred groups.

What we have to ask, what is DOJ hiding? Why are they not open about the projects that were peer-reviewed?

POLITICS - The Housing Bill

The following is just page 1 of 2, bold emphasis mine.

"Vital Part of Housing Bill Is Brainchild of Banks" by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Washington Post

Mortgage Aid Under 'Credit Suisse Plan' Would Benefit Lenders

A key provision of the housing bill now awaiting action in the Senate -- and widely touted as offering a lifeline to distressed homeowners -- was initially suggested to Congress by lobbyists for major banks facing their own huge losses from the subprime mortgage crisis, according to congressional staff members and bank officials.

Credit Suisse, a large investment bank heavily invested in mortgage-backed securities, proposed allowing hundreds of thousands of homeowners to refinance their mortgages with lower-cost government-insured loans, relieving financial institutions of the troubled debt.

After the bank proposed this to Congress in January, it became known as the "Credit Suisse plan" among congressional staffers and lobbyists. It later formed the basis of housing provisions in both the House and Senate.

Bank of America, which is acquiring Countrywide Financial, the country's largest mortgage lender, followed with a similar and more detailed proposal, principal negotiators on the legislation said.

In approaching congressional aides, the lobbyists suggested that banks take less than full payment for the distressed loans on their books. But the measures would allow financial institutions to get cash out of foreclosed properties that would otherwise sit on their books as dead weight.

Since the new loans would be guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), taxpayers would ultimately pay for defaults. The Congressional Budget Office projected that this could cost $1.7 billion over five years.

During the first week of January, three officials from Credit Suisse -- two from Washington and one from the mortgage-trading desk in New York -- spent a day on Capitol Hill briefing the staffs of the committees that oversee housing. They gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to the House Financial Services Committee in the morning and to the Senate Banking Committee in the afternoon.

They remained in close touch afterward, especially with House Democratic aides. They also met with officials from the FHA. The bank lobbyists provided the FHA with statistics, run through their company's computers, about the potential impact of new rules.

Bank of America executives presented a 28-page "discussion document" on March 11 to the same congressional staffs, which was marked "confidential and proprietary." It was filled with detailed explanations of how a system similar to Credit Suisse's plan might work, complete with flow charts and graphs.

Afterward, congressional aides checked with Credit Suisse officials to hear what they thought about Bank of America's suggestions. They generally agreed with Bank of America's direction but thought such elaborate legislation was not needed, people familiar with the talks said.

"The first bank that I remember recommending something like this was Credit Suisse," said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

But Frank said the legislation was the result of many conversations with interested parties, including fair-housing advocates. Lawmakers and bank officials defend the provision as a balanced compromise, tempered by extensive input by government regulators, that gives homeowners a chance to stay in their homes while preventing the government from having to appropriate billions of dollars to buy nonperforming mortgages.

ENVIRONMENT - Africa and Global Warming

"Africa's Double Dip of Global Warming" by Will Crain,

Africa is already the continent hardest hit by the worldwide food crisis, but according to a new report it's also the one most threatened by global warming.

"The Atlas for Changing Environment in Africa," published last week by the United Nations Environment Program, is a 400-page publication detailing how climate change is expected to affect the continent -- and the outlook is chilling.

According to the Atlas, food production is expected to drop by half by 2020, and a quarter of the continent's people will have no access to drinking water.

Much of the Atlas is made up of satellite photos of 100 locations in Africa, showing how climate change has already affected the landscape.

In the photos, the famous snow cover of Mount Kilimanjaro appears to be shrinking, and two vital water sources, Lake Chad and Lake Victoria, appear to be drying up.

"Pictures speak volumes of the impact of pollution, environmental deforestation and biodiversity threat among others," Andre Okombi Salissa, president of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment, told Al Jazeera.

In a U.N. report, Ogunlade Davidson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted, "Africa only emits 3.8 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, but will suffer the most from the climate threat, so it needs to ensure that its voice is heard."

"Africa is one of the continents least responsible for climate change and is also least able to afford the costs of adaptation," South African Environment Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk told the Los Angeles Times. "Africa will remain vulnerable even if, globally, emissions peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years."

"African landmarks at threat from global warming: UN"
Agence France-Presse, June 10, 2008

AMERICA - The Philly Police State

"Philly Police Raid Raises Hackles" by Will Crain,

After four residents of a North Philadelphia home passed out petitions criticizing surveillance cameras in the neighborhood, police raided their house and detained them without charges for 12 hours, the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

After the police search last week, the house was reportedly inspected by several government agencies -- including the Department of Homeland Security -- and finally sealed off by the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections.

"This leaves me homeless," Daniel Moffat, a co-owner of the house, told the Daily News.

Police told the press that the occupants had anti-government "propaganda" in the house.

"They're a hate group," Police Captain Dennis Wilson told Philadelphia's City Paper. "We're trying to drum up charges against them, but, unfortunately, we'll probably have to let them go."

Moffat told the Daily News that he asked the police for a warrant before the search, but they did not have one.

After being detained, he was released without charges.

Daily News reporter Will Bunch wrote on his blog that he found the search and detainment "outrageous" and compared the police tactics to those of Stalinist Russia.


"The cops came, searched and left a mess for puzzled homeowner"
Philadelphia Daily News, June 17, 2008

"There's something fishy in Francisville"
City Paper (Philadelphia), June 14, 2008

"Moscow on the Schuylkill: Philly cops bust activists...for what?", June 17, 2008

Emperor Bush must love this. Right up his ally, warrantless search.

NOTE: I've just discovered non-profit news, which is just one example.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

AMERICA - Living in a Second Gilded Age

The following is an excerpt from the end of a Bill Moyers Journal article. I highly recommend viewing the full video.

"The American Dream In Reverse?"

BILL MOYERS: We close with a reminder of an America that is not so gilded.

Bernie Sanders, the Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, took to the floor of the Senate recently to talk about what's happened to everyday Americans over the last eight years.

BERNIE SANDERS: I think it is terribly important that the Senate hears from ordinary people to get a sense of what is really going on in America; the struggles that people are having,

BILL MOYERS: So, the Senator ( used his e-mail list to ask the people of Vermont to tell him about their lives today. Instead of a few dozen replies, he received more than 600 responses from all around the state. He has published them in a booklet that is available on his web site.

As Sanders told the Senate, they are not easy to read.

"…some nights we eat cereal and toast for dinner because that's all I have."

"…we have at times had to choose between baby food, diapers and heating fuel."

"I don't go to church many Sundays, because the gasoline is too expensive to drive there."

"…the pennies have all but dried up…I am sad, broken, and very discouraged."

"…my mortgage is behind, we are at risk for foreclosure, and I can't keep up with my car payments."

And this:

"does anybody in Washington care?"

Well, some people in Washington do care, some of the time. But most of the time our elected officials are on the side of the organized rich. That's where they get the money to campaign, and money is the golden rule of politics; those who have it, rule.

Listen to this excerpt from the AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE MAGAZINE about our growing inequality.

The holders of great wealth, especially if they are organized into a political lobby of similar holders of great wealth, can buy not only more goods, more capital, and more people. They can also buy (through the vehicle of campaign contributions) more important people: politicians and other public officials and therefore public policies.

The result of great wealth buying public policies is a positive feedback loop, or perhaps a vicious cycle, which transfers ever greater wealth and power to the very rich and away from everyone else.

There's only one way to break this cycle and bring fairness back to America and that's to break the stranglehold of private money over politics. There are many ways we can do it.

This is a quote from the Bernie Sanders "The Collapse of the Middle Class" booklet:

Since George W. Bush has been in office 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty, 8 million have lost their health insurance and 3 million have lost their pensions. Yes, in the last seven years median household income for working-age Americans has declined by $2,500.

And at this time and date, I have to ask why would anyone want to put another Republican in the Whitehouse?!

POLITICS - Countdown Takes

McCain, gas prices and the Enron loophole

Biden vs. Giulianai on terror issues

The "Enron loophole" piece is just sickening. And note that neither drilling nor alternative energy will stop the rip-off of consumers (aka America) as long as the the Robber Baron mindset (unregulated speculative energy markets) that the loophole represents exists, or is allowed to exist.

POLITICS - Of Oil, That Is

"Oil group: Offshore drilling no quick fix" by David Lightman, Seattle Times

Opening America's coastal waters to oil drilling, as Sen. John McCain urged in an address Tuesday, is unlikely to provide Americans with more oil for at least seven to 10 years.

That's the estimate from the American Petroleum Institute, the oil-industry trade group. Major environmental groups think the increased supply would be at least that distant before arrival, and say it mostly would benefit Big Oil.

"It would take a decade to bring new leases into production, and then they would only line the coffers of the oil industry," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director.

Deron Lovaas, senior energy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted that even if billions of barrels of oil are available offshore, the United States still will control only a fraction of the world's supply, so energy independence isn't within reach.

"We are just not blessed in this country with enough resources for this to make a big difference," Lovaas said.

McCain, speaking Tuesday in Houston, disagreed.

"We have enormous energy reserves of our own," he said, "and we are gaining the means to use these resources in cleaner, more responsible ways."

In his address he also called for the continued protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a rejection of a windfall-profits tax on oil companies.

The presumed Republican presidential nominee sought to carve some political space between his policy and that of his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, who has backed a windfall tax and called for a greater commitment to alternative fuels.

But McCain also was trying to appeal to environmentalists and some independents by distancing himself from the Bush administration, which has called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arizona Republican argues that increased offshore drilling would help lessen dependence on foreign oil. U.S. oil imports have doubled since 1973, and petroleum products make up about 40 percent of the U.S. trade deficit.

The Interior Department offered a wide range of estimates of how much oil might be within reach of U.S. offshore drilling in a 2006 report. It estimated that the Outer Continental Shelf could hold 115.4 billion barrels. However, it also estimated that recoverable reserves off U.S. coasts in areas now banned from production probably hold only about 19 billion barrels.

The figures differ widely because the higher number is a broader measure that includes "cumulative production, proved and unproved reserves."

The world consumes about 86 million barrels a day. The U.S. share of that is about 20.6 million barrels, 60 percent of them from foreign sources.

One thousand million barrels equals 1 billion, so if there are 19 billion barrels in the areas McCain would open to drilling, that's enough to provide about 920 days, or about 2.5 years, of current U.S. consumption.

"McCain plays with fire on offshore drilling" by Charles Mahtesian & David Mark, Politico

By calling for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, John McCain is placing a risky bet. He is wagering that skyrocketing gas prices have finally reached a tipping point, a threshold moment that has led voters to rethink their strong and long-held opinions against coastal oil exploration.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: If he is wrong, McCain will have seriously damaged his chances in two key states with thousands of miles of coastline — California and Florida — and where opposition to offshore oil drilling has been unwavering. And he will have undermined some of his closest political allies in those states and others, including potential fall battlegrounds such as Virginia and North Carolina.

“Before $4.25-per-gallon gas, this would have been like pulling a pin on a grenade and rolling it into the state,” said David Johnson, the former executive director of the Florida Republican Party. “It would have been a fool’s errand to recommend it. It was never, ever a thing that a smart politician would have done in Florida.”

In California, the drilling issue is just as volatile, said Sal Russo, a veteran Sacramento, Calif.-based Republican consultant.

“California got really sensitive about these issues since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. And I don’t think it’s changed much since then,” he said. “There are strong feelings on the issue.”

Indeed, an overwhelming 64 percent of Californians opposed opening up more of the state’s coast to oil drilling, according to a February 2006 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. That figure was up 14 percentage points from 2004.

“Overall, the state has been clearly on record, from the governor on down, as strongly opposing offshore drilling,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who represents a Santa Barbara-based coastal district that is home to some of the state’s most vocal drilling resistance.

But that was before the latest gas price spike in two states heavily dependent on automobiles.

State Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, a Northern California Republican who favors offshore drilling, acknowledged drilling would be a heavy political lift but said rising prices may be a mitigating factor.

“Traditionally in California, it’s very difficult to move anything that even hints of being an environmentally sensitive issue. ... But people are sick and tired of creeping up to $5 gas. Will $5 a gallon be enough? $6? $7?” he said. "If [McCain] can articulate that we can safely and responsibly do this kind of exploration off shore, and that will lower gas prices and help national security, reasonable people would buy that notion.”

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) also brushed off concerns that calls to lift the oil drilling moratorium could alienate environmentally minded independent voters.

“I don’t see it as a problem. In paying $4 a gallon for gas, the American people have come to realize we’ve got to get oil for ourselves,” said Myrick, who recently introduced legislation that would overturn a long-standing moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas off the Atlantic Coast. “Everybody wants clean beaches. I certainly would not do anything that was going to destroy anything.”

Myrick and others pointed to a new Rasmussen Reports survey — conducted before McCain announced his proposal on Monday — which found that 67 percent of voters believed drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18 percent disagreed and 15 percent were undecided. According to the poll, conservative and moderate voters strongly support offshore drilling, while liberals are more evenly divided: 46 percent of liberals favor drilling; 37 percent oppose it.

National surveys, however, can fail to take into account the fierce resistance to offshore oil drilling in the states that stand to be affected.

“We have 1,300 square miles of coastline here and our whole culture and identity is tied to our coastline,” said Holly Binns, field director for Environment Florida, an environmental advocacy group that opposes offshore oil drilling. “This is a state where if you don’t understand how deep the connections are to our identity and our culture, you could step on a landmine. This could be one of those cases.”

Already, one politician appears to have done that. After opposing drilling during his successful 2006 election campaign, Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) is drawing the ire of environmentalists for appearing to back off from his position in recent days. He told reporters Tuesday that his position was evolving and that he now supports exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Florida’s coast because “Floridians are suffering.”

“When you’re paying over $4 a gallon for gas, you have to wonder whether there might be additional resources to bring that price down,” Crist said.

Crist, who is frequently mentioned as a prospective running mate for McCain, is not the only politician inconvenienced by McCain’s stance.

“I’m trying to clarify my position,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). “In Florida today most voters probably want more drilling.”

But Martinez quickly cautioned that Florida would need to be protected by the larger buffer zone mandated in 2006 legislation that promised Florida a 125-mile barrier from offshore drilling. The current federal moratorium on drilling is just 50 miles.

“I want to have more detail, but my hope is [McCain] will understand the need to maintain the law as we passed it in 2006, which gives Florida a 125-mile buffer,” Martinez said. “The rest of it I can probably live with. It’s about providing enough resources where the states want to do it and permit it.”

McCain’s proposal to end the moratorium, coupled with a Tuesday speech in Houston in which he broke with many of the environmental policies of the Bush administration, sparked a fierce back and forth on energy policy with Barack Obama’s campaign.

McCain knocked Obama for proposing “a windfall profits tax on oil, to go along with the new taxes he also plans for coal and natural gas. If the plan sounds familiar, it’s because that was President Jimmy Carter’s big idea too — and a lot of good it did us.”

But in May, McCain said he would consider the same proposal.

“His decision to completely change his position and tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear today was the same Washington politics that has prevented us from achieving energy independence for decades,” the Obama campaign said in a statement.

Like I've said before; GOP and McBush, Dumb and Dumber.

But, what the hay, they work for their paymasters (Big Oil).

POLITICS - The Reason bin Laden Is Still Free

"Obama: GOP Tactics The Reason bin Laden Is Still Free" by Beth Fouhy, Huffington Post

A defiant Barack Obama said Tuesday he would take no lectures from Republicans on which candidate would keep the U.S. safer, a sharp rebuke to John McCain's aides who said the Democrat had a naive, Sept. 10 mind-set toward terrorism.

"These are the same guys who helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11," the presumed nominee told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "This is the same kind of fear-mongering that got us into Iraq ... and it's exactly that failed foreign policy I want to reverse."

The debate between the rival camps echoed the 2004 presidential campaign in which President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans argued that Democratic nominee John Kerry was soft on terror, a claim that resonated with voters and helped propel Bush to re-election. Democrats complained that the GOP was using the politics of fear.

The Republican argument proved less effective in 2006 when then Bush adviser Karl Rove said the Democrats had a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world and Republicans had a post-Sept. 11 terror attacks perspective. In November of that year, Democrats captured enough congressional seats to seize control of the House and Senate.

On his campaign plane, Obama told reporters that Osama bin Laden is still at large in part because Bush's strategy toward fighting terror has not succeeded.

At issue were comments Obama made in an interview with ABC News Monday in which he spoke approvingly of the successful prosecution and imprisonment of those responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Obama was asked how he could be sure the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies are not crucial to protecting U.S. citizens.

Obama said the government can crack down on terrorists "within the constraints of our Constitution." He mentioned the indefinite detention of Guantanamo Bay detainees, contrasting their treatment with the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

"And, you know, let's take the example of Guantanamo," Obama said. "What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks _ for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center _ we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.

"And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, 'Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims. ...

"We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws," Obama said.

Obama agreed with the Supreme Court ruling last week that detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their indefinite imprisonment in U.S. civilian courts. McCain derided the ruling as "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."

McCain aides criticized Obama for talking about using the criminal justice system to prosecute terrorists.

"Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation a September 10th mind-set ... He does not understand the nature of the enemies we face," McCain national security director Randy Scheunemann told reporters on a conference call.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who is advising the McCain campaign, concurred, saying Obama has "an extremely dangerous and extremely naive approach toward terrorism ... and toward dealing with prisoners captured overseas who have been engaged in terrorist attacks against the United States."

The Obama campaign countered with its own conference call in which Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official in Republican and Democratic administrations, argued the McCain campaign was emulating Rove.

"I'm a little disgusted by the attempts of some of my friends on the McCain campaign to use the same old, tired tactics ... to drive a wedge between Americans for partisan advantage and to frankly frighten Americans," Clarke said.

Kerry accused McCain of "defending a policy that is indefensible" by siding with Bush's policies, particularly with respect to the Iraq war.

Obama said Republicans could be counted on to do "what they've done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as club to make the American people afraid to win elections." He said he didn't think it would work this time.

Republicans criticized Obama last year when he said the United States should act on intelligence about top terrorist targets in Pakistan even if President Pervez Musharraf refuses.

Yap, truth hurts don't it. GOP failure that McBush wants to continue.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ON THE LITE SIDE - Humor Times

Joke of the Week

During a bank heist, the Chief told the Sergeant to cover all exits so the robbers could not get away.

Later, the Sergeant reports to the chief; “Sorry sir, but they got away.”

The chief, very disappointed, says, “I told you to cover all exits!”

“I did,” replied the Sergeant, “but they got away through the entrance."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

POLITICS - The Race For the Whitehouse is ON

Hillary Clinton's Concession Speech 6/7/2008

This is EXACTLY what the Democrats and Obama needed. Go, go, go, on to the Whitehouse!

POLITICS - The McCain's Women's Health Care Plan

Sponsored by Conservative Gestapo Org
"We police American morals"

Friday, June 06, 2008

IRAQ - The Bush Imperium

If anyone still doubts that America is now governed by a fascist Administration, this article is prof.

"Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control" by Patrick Cockburn, The Independent UK

Bush wants 50 military bases, control of Iraqi airspace and legal immunity for all American soldiers and contractors

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilize Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimize the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The US is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.

The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.

The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will probably favor a continuing American presence, as will Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US occupation, is likely to be split.

A sneaky, underhanded trick to force the next administration to comply with the Bush World view of Iraq. Not to mention giving political advantage to McBush, if the American voter gives in to fascist scare tactics.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

POLITICS - Mindset of Religious Conservatives

"Focus On The Family Launches First Attack On Obama" by Daniel DiRito

When you really study the mindset of religious conservatives, one of their primary motivation is making sure they hold onto their money and that means they rarely ever connect taxation with the notion that the government serves as a safety net for those in need. Rather than step up and fill the void for those in need, groups like Focus On The Family instead make silly videos, ..... videos that suggest that half the country wants to live off the hard work of the other half.

Which leads me to wonder what exactly is the mission of religious organizations like Focus On The Family? Ironically, these are the same groups that are afforded tax exempt status by the government on the premise that they provide some of the services that may otherwise be an additional burden for the government to assume.

Now I could be wrong, but it seems to me that this would include helping the poor (think outreach programs like food banks), helping those who may not be able to afford health care (think hospitals run by religious orders), and providing educational services (think parochial schools). In other words, in exchange for no tax burden, the government can expect these organizations to assist in providing valuable services to the citizenry.

So when I see organizations like Focus On The Family railing against liberalism (translated to mean welfare programs), it seems to me that these people want their cake and eat it too. Which brings me to proselytizing and their efforts to promote legislation that comports with their Biblically based beliefs.

My impression is that these groups are willing to offer assistance in return for an allegiance to their beliefs. Providing services to those who may think differently or not share their same values isn’t of interest to them. Hence, when the government elects to spend tax dollars (which means THEIR money) on people without regard for moral imperatives or religious beliefs, they would prefer to shut those programs down.

In the end, one can only conclude that these people see money as the means to impose their beliefs. It’s the equivalent of the principle of “he who has the gold, writes the rules”. That brings me to hypocrisy. These are the same people who insist that salvation cannot be attained without an acceptance of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, I struggle to see how many of these religious organizations and their followers are measurably connected to the principles that Jesus taught.

Yes, they invoke his name as part and parcel of a marketing campaign…but once they get the convert and his or her cash…the buck stops there…right in the pockets of men like James Dobson…until it can be used to promote the theocratic (and autocratic) society they yearn to rule.When you really study the mindset of religious conservatives, one of their primary motivation is making sure they hold onto their money and that means they rarely ever connect taxation with the notion that the government serves as a safety net for those in need. Rather than step up and fill the void for those in need, groups like Focus On The Family instead make silly videos, ..... videos that suggest that half the country wants to live off the hard work of the other half.

Which leads me to wonder what exactly is the mission of religious organizations like Focus On The Family? Ironically, these are the same groups that are afforded tax exempt status by the government on the premise that they provide some of the services that may otherwise be an additional burden for the government to assume.

Now I could be wrong, but it seems to me that this would include helping the poor (think outreach programs like food banks), helping those who may not be able to afford health care (think hospitals run by religious orders), and providing educational services (think parochial schools). In other words, in exchange for no tax burden, the government can expect these organizations to assist in providing valuable services to the citizenry.

So when I see organizations like Focus On The Family railing against liberalism (translated to mean welfare programs), it seems to me that these people want their cake and eat it too. Which brings me to proselytizing and their efforts to promote legislation that comports with their Biblically based beliefs.

My impression is that these groups are willing to offer assistance in return for an allegiance to their beliefs. Providing services to those who may think differently or not share their same values isn’t of interest to them. Hence, when the government elects to spend tax dollars (which means THEIR money) on people without regard for moral imperatives or religious beliefs, they would prefer to shut those programs down.

In the end, one can only conclude that these people see money as the means to impose their beliefs. It’s the equivalent of the principle of “he who has the gold, writes the rules”. That brings me to hypocrisy. These are the same people who insist that salvation cannot be attained without an acceptance of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, I struggle to see how many of these religious organizations and their followers are measurably connected to the principles that Jesus taught.

Yes, they invoke his name as part and parcel of a marketing campaign…but once they get the convert and his or her cash…the buck stops there…right in the pockets of men like James Dobson…until it can be used to promote the theocratic (and autocratic) society they yearn to rule.

Not to mention their definition of "Religious Freedom" is having their beliefs supported and mandated by law (aka government). After all, their religion is God's Religion, and all other religions or beliefs need not apply.

THE LITE SIDE - Politics ala Bush

Don't Stop Believin'

IRAQ - Water and the Un-neighborly

"Lack of water new present from our neighbor countries" McClatchy News

Dryness, lack of water and rising food prices are the new enemies of Iraq .

Recently the voices rose loudly in Iraq warning from the dangers of decreasing the arable lands because the lack of water in the Tigress and Euphrates . This crisis caused serious problems in many sectors of Iraqis’ life like electricity and oil refineries …. It made Iraqis’ life more difficult.

The lack of water came because the dams that those dear neighboring countries are building on the two rivers.

The last dam that Turkey built stores 100 billion cube meter that mean it is store three doubles what the dams in Syria and Iraq store together. This dam will caused of losing 47% of Tigress water and losing 40% of Iraq ’s arable lands and that of course will caused emigration of millions from those who lose their lands towards the city according to experts. Iran, the other dear neighbor diverted the watercourse of Al Wind River that was flow into Iraq make it flow only inside Iranian lands and they did the same thing in many other rivers which caused drying thousands of acres in bordered countryside that deprived thousands of farmers from their income. Many Iraqis wonder, why our neighboring countries go too far in hurt Iraqis?

Some countries send those who kill us under pretext of Jihad, but those two countries chose to kill us in different way it is slow but it is very effective.

In the past our forefathers said if you deprive someone from his livelihood that means you sentenced him with death. Our neighboring countries are diversifying in vanishing life of Iraqis without taking in consideration the international treaties that organizes international relations especially these treaties that found to control the common water sources.

People in Iraq reached to conviction that if their neighbor have the ability to stop passing Oxygen to Iraq …. They will do it …. Thank God no one can stop air passing except you.

ECONMICS - A Hitman Speaks

"Economic Hit Man John Perkins speaks" by Bob Morris

Heard John Perkins speak Tuesday night at The Commonwealth Club in SF. He’s the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and the recent The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World.

He say, first they sent the economic hit men like me to corrupt foreign leaders into doing our bidding and if that didn’t work, then they sent in the jackals to depose or kill them. That’s the world Perkins used to live in.

His epiphany came when he realized the US government really does sometimes murder uncooperative heads of state. He decided he had to get out. At first he was threatened then essentially bribed to not write the book, then some years later, wrote it anyway. He says it’s his best insurance policy as it has sold millions of copies and if he should die violently, would sell many millions more.

Nine heads of state in Latin America now directly oppose such imperialism, a welcome trend he says. While he finds Chavez’s personality a bit much and wishes he’d tone down the rhetoric, it was Chavez and his ability to avoid being deposed in the CIA-led coup that inspired other Latin American leaders to run for office too and win. Given that the US could easily now lose easy access to Middle East oil, it can’t come down hard on Chavez or any of them simply because it needs the oil and no longer has the military resources to invade.

Oddly, he is often asked to speak at conventions of CEOs. Many of them, he says, are starting to get it. Exploiting third world resources simply creates unacceptable blowback. Cooperation is a better way. Since he wants solutions in his lifetime, he says capitalism will have to do, but not a greedhead capitalism that puts profits before everything else. Many CEOs now agree, they don’t want to see Florida underwater or the icecaps melting or terrorist bombs exploding either.

So, he says, we need to convince corporations to do the right thing. Rainforest Action Network is a real model here. Working quietly and effectively they have convinced many large corporations to stop exploiting the rainforests. This can be a model for the future. A corporation that makes armaments could also switch over and make equipment to remediate carbon and clean up pollution.

Indeed, a bunch of Greens or Lefties don’t have the economic power or technical chops to create such equipment. But large corporations do. So, as Rainforest Action Network does, the task is to convince them to do the right thing. We no longer have small problems in different parts of the world, but global problems that everyone knows about, like global warming, terrorism, and greedhead capitalism. Yes, he goes way back in the Amazon and they know all about global warming too.

So, Perkins says, the solutions can and will be global, with everyone involved.

CONSERVATION - A Positive Statement

The following are excerpts from the article.

"Electoral Enchantment" by Timothy Egan, New York Times

SANTA FE, N.M. — He is bamboo-thin, relies on a pair of walking sticks to help him up a canyon trail, and has lost most of his vision. But at age 88, Stewart Udall, patriarch of the first family of the American West, politics division, has seen enough history to recognize a Big Moment when it’s staring back at him.

“I think we’re moving into a new era,” he said. “There’s something very pleasing and hopeful going on, a resurgence after a long drought of positive conservation sentiment.”

Stewart Udall at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. (Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Geissler)He was talking about love of land and passion for place, and how it can crystallize in a political shift once every generation or so. For Udall, one of only two surviving members of President John F. Kennedy’s original cabinet, that time first came with the 1960 election.

Doors opened. Fresh ideas were aired. And from Udall’s long tenure as secretary of the interior for both Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson came a legacy of public land protection responsible in large part for so many wilderness areas just outside Western cities.

Urban and wild define the New West — fast-growing cities nestled in Wallace Stegner’s “geography of hope.” The art, the history and the food of New Mexico have been commoditized, for obvious reasons. But many of its special places are intact, and owned by every American because of the Wilderness Act, which dates to the fertile years of Stewart Udall’s reign as the emperor of the outdoors.

Mountain Democrats found their way in part by rejecting the excesses of coastal Democrats, and by looking at what worked for their elders, like Stewart Udall and his brother, the late Morris Udall. The Udall name is written deep into the salmon-colored canyons and mesas of the Southwest, as prominent as a petroglyph. The family traces its lineage to John D. Lee, who was shot by a firing squad as a scapegoat for the slaughter of 120 settlers by a Mormon militia in 1857.

Stewart Udall was a child in the still-frontier West of the 1920s; he struggled through the Great Depression, and fought the Nazis in World War II. Reflecting on his long life recently, he wrote a message to his grandchildren.

“The lifetime crusade of your days must be to develop a new energy ethic to sustain life on earth,” he wrote. “Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”

There much more in the full article.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

POLITICS - Another General Slams Bush

Boy! It just keeps coming, and Bush still has no clue.

"General Ricardo Sanchez's Book Slams Bush, Iraq Handling" Huffington Post

The Washington Post points out that in the hubbub of the McClellan book, another scathing memoir has come out exposing the truth behind Iraq.

Getting lost in the media furor over McClellan's memoir is the new autobiography of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the onetime commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, who is scathing in his assessment that the Bush administration "led America into a strategic blunder of historic proportions."

Among the anecdotes in "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story" is an arresting portrait of Bush after four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004, triggering a fierce U.S. response that was reportedly egged on by the president.

During a video conference with his national security team and generals, Sanchez writes, Bush launched into what he described as a "confused" pep talk:

"Kick ass!" he quotes the president as saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal."

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

A White House spokesman had no comment.

IRAQ WAR - Historian's Opinion

"What Happened: Obama Opposed a 'Dumb War' & McCain Embraced It" by Robert Brent Toplin, History News Network

Pundits have been wondering if revelations about the inept way that George W. Bush led America into Iraq, reported in Scott McClellan's new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, will make an impact on Senator John McCain's presidential quest. McClellan, the former White House Press Secretary, claims Bush was "shading the truth" when warning about WMDs and that the decision to invade Iraq "was a serious strategic blunder." McCain was an enthusiastic defender of U.S. military action in Iraq at the time when discussions about bombing and invasion were under consideration. If Barack Obama wins the Democratic presidential nomination, debates about the war are likely to focus on the positions each candidate took during the crucial period when U.S. leaders explored ways to deal with Saddam Hussein.

John McCain articulated his primary case for war in an op-ed article published in the New York Times on March 12, 2003, just two days before U.S. armed forces started the bombing of Baghdad. Obama's most notable statement about decision-making came at a Chicago rally on October 2, 2002 that occurred nine days before the Senate voted to authorize military action. Now, more than five years later, McCain's optimistic predictions about the positive consequences of armed intervention look deeply mistaken, while Obama's warnings about the risks associated with military action appear remarkably insightful.

In his Times article John McCain pointed out that Saddam Hussein refused to "give up his weapons of mass destruction," despite years of sanctions against his government. McCain believed the Iraqi dictator would "continue to build an arsenal of the world's most destructive weapons" if he was not stopped quickly. At the time, UN inspectors reported that they had not discovered major stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq, and they asked for more time to continue their investigations. McCain showed impatience with the UN's leaders. He berated them for lack of resolve, particularly for failing to enforce their own resolutions.

John McCain assured readers that the results of US intervention would prove positive. He declared that "no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values." McCain said the invasion would likely reduce antipathy towards the United States in the Islamic world, for Islamic peoples would see "demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the end" of a ruthless regime. Our armed forces would fight for "peace" in Iraq, McCain promised, "a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East."

John McCain's assessments and predictions contrasted sharply with the ones presented by Barack Obama in October of 2002. Obama said he did not oppose all wars but certainly rejected a "dumb war" and a "rash war." He suggested the case for war was being advanced by ideologues in the Bush Administration as well as by Karl Rove and other political advisers who sought to distract the public. Barack Obama recognized that Saddam Hussein was a brutal man but concluded that Iraq posed no imminent threat to its neighbors or to the United States. Obama thought Saddam Hussein could be contained through pressures applied by the international community, and eventually he would "fall into the dustbin of history."

Like McCain, Obama speculated about the consequences of military engagement, but he came up with a different scenario. Obama said a successful war against Iraq would require "a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences." Invasion without a clear rationale and without firm international support "will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses in the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda," he warned.

From today's perspective, Barack Obama's pre-war judgments look prescient, and John McCain's sound naive.

Obama's description of the rush to war and his observations about the unintended consequences of U.S. military action in Iraq are now familiar elements in the respected historical accounts of recent events. Scott McClellan's recent contribution to that history accentuates some of the key points Obama made in his speech. McClellan, like Obama in 2002, argues that Bush and his advisers orchestrated a propaganda campaign to sell the war even though the Administration lacked strong intelligence that verified the presence of WMDs. McClellan in 2008, like Obama in 2002, criticizes President Bush for naively thinking that an invasion of Iraq was likely to transform the Middle East in a positive way and bring enduring peace to the region.

The contrast between Obama's assessment of the pre-war situation and McCain's is striking. While Obama urged the kind of vigorous debate about decision-making that Scott McClellan wishes the Administration had pursued during the buildup toward war, McCain expressed confident speculation about the sunny consequences of U.S. military action in Iraq. In 2003 McCain sounded very much like the George Bush that Scott McClellan admonishes in What Happened.

The judgments these candidates made regarding the decision to go to war deserve scrutiny by the press and the public. McCain's and Obama's essays and speeches cannot reveal all that we would like to know about how these individuals are likely to respond to international challenges in the future, but the remarks do provide some useful information about their skill in thinking about the long-term consequences of American actions.

Those who ignore history will be forced to repeat it.

POLITICS - Opinion From the Inside

The following article is an insider's look. Dan Schnur was the national communications director for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000.

"McCain and Obama’s Excellent Adventure" by Dan Schnur, New York Times

There was a time when John McCain and Barack Obama could have gone to Iraq together. There was a time, perhaps back in 2000, when candidate McCain could have made the offer in good faith. There was a time, perhaps back in 2004, when keynote speaker Obama could have accepted. But those two men no longer exist. Here in the present, neither candidate can afford the risk of high-mindedness or statesmanship when the stakes are so high.

When John McCain invited Barack Obama to accompany him to Iraq recently, the hearts of political romantics like me skipped a beat — but only for a moment. The John McCain for whom I worked eight years ago talked frequently of the importance of being part of “a cause greater than our own self-interest.” He had convictions and aspirations toward a better type of politics. The Barack Obama who I watched address the Democratic national convention in 2004 suggested that the distinctions between Red and Blue America were overblown and exaggerated. They both understood how to reach out across partisan and ideological boundaries and had committed themselves to a less bitter and divisive brand of politics.

In their respective heydays, these two men could have stood together as principled foes, with diametrically opposite views on the most important issue of our time, reminding the country and the world that opponents of good faith could rise above partisan politics to agree on support for American troops and the prospects — no matter how distant — of a safe and democratic future for Iraq.

But both candidates have since learned their lessons about the dangers of such atypical political behavior. Mr. McCain joked earlier this year that he would need to read Alan Greenspan’s book to become better informed about the economy. The self-deprecating humor of a maverick and political outsider is not taken nearly as well from a likely presidential nominee, and he has been skewered for that one-liner ever since. Not surprisingly, his comedy routine is a lot safer and more predictable these days.

Mr. Obama wondered out loud last summer if Ronald Reagan’s presidency might have accomplished some important things. After an intra-party smack down in which the rookie senator was derided for daring to say something complimentary about a leader of the other political party, he has retreated to less risky rhetorical ground.

Both are more experienced, more cautious and less exceptional candidates as a result.

In fairness, the pressures are much greater on them in their new roles. For the first several months of the 2000 primary campaign, Mr. McCain scrupulously avoided any criticism of his opponents. It was only after winning in New Hampshire that the primary shifted from being a reformers’ crusade to a contested election, and my former colleagues and I succumbed to negative ads, telephone push-polling and other hallmarks of modern campaigns.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s message has become much less inspirational and much more confrontational since his loss in the Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania primaries. The candidate who once talked about the need for a new kind of politics is becoming increasingly comfortable practicing the old as tensions heightened along the campaign trail.

It’s not too late for John McCain to recast his invitation with more sincerity and less snarkiness. And there’s still time for Barack Obama to ditch the gotchas and the word-parsing and take Mr. McCain up on his offer.

Touring Iraq with his more experienced opponent would elevate Mr. Obama’s stature in the area in which it is most lacking. Traveling with his more popular foe would allow Mr. McCain to remind an international audience that United States foreign policy would rise beyond partisanship under the next president. And if either candidate or their advisers attempted to politicize the trip, the public and media backlash would be sure and swift.

Once they returned, both candidates and their campaigns would attempt to spin the trip for political benefit. But for a period of days, the two most powerful politicians in the world could send an extraordinary message that the future of the Middle East and the safety of our planet are more important than the television ads and YouTube videos that will dominate the rest of this election season.

Barack Obama should go to Iraq with John McCain. But he won’t, which serves as a useful and disheartening reminder to us of what the demands of a presidential campaign can do to two leaders who once promised to change our nation’s politics for the better.