Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Near Glimmer of Kind of Good News....

The Dutch vote down e-voting. All of it. Not now, no way.

Just One Recent Outrage

The last day or so, there were so many, well, bizarro things in the news politics-wise....

But this ranks up there; fumes from the Rush Limbaugh methane factory:
During the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers." He made the comment while discussing with a caller a conversation he had with a previous caller, "Mike from Chicago," who said he "used to be military," and "believe[s] that we should pull out of Iraq." Limbaugh told the second caller, whom he identified as "Mike, this one from Olympia, Washington," that "[t]here's a lot" that people who favor U.S. withdrawal "don't understand" and that when asked why the United States should pull out, their only answer is, " 'Well, we just gotta bring the troops home.' ... 'Save the -- keeps the troops safe' or whatever," adding, "[I]t's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people." "Mike" from Olympia replied, "No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media." Limbaugh interjected, "The phony soldiers." The caller, who had earlier said, "I am a serving American military, in the Army," agreed, replying, "The phony soldiers."


As Media Matters for America has documented, Limbaugh denounced as "contemptible" and "indecent"'s much-discussed advertisement -- titled "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" -- critical of Gen. David Petraeus, but has repeatedly attacked the patriotism of those with whom he disagrees. For instance, on the January 25 broadcast of his radio show, he told his audience that he had a new name for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a Vietnam veteran: "Senator Betrayus." A day earlier, Hagel had sided with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in voting to approve a nonbinding resolution declaring that President Bush's escalation in Iraq was against "the national interest." Additionally, on August 21, 2006, Limbaugh said: "I want to respectfully disagree with the president on the last part of what he said. I am going to challenge the patriotism of people who disagree with him because the people that disagree with him want to lose."

As Media Matters has also documented, on the August 2, 2005, program, Limbaugh repeatedly referred to Iraq war veteran and then-Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hackett as "another liberal Democrat trying to hide behind a military uniform" and accused him of going to Iraq "to pad the resumé." On the day of Limbaugh's comments, Hackett narrowly lost a special election to Republican Jean Schmidt for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat.

Dumb? Or Acting Dumb?

War Room asks (comment below quote):
Fred Thompson: Refreshingly honest or just uninformed?

Sept. 6, 2007: "Fred Thompson says a top challenge for the next president is fixing Social Security. Asked how his ideas for overhauling the system differ from those of George W. Bush, the actor and former Tennessee senator says: 'I don't even remember the details of his plan.'"

Sept. 7, 2007: Asked how he would handle Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida differently than George W. Bush has, Thompson said: "Muslims have been carrying on against us for some time. We didn't pay much attention to it for a while but we are now and we're finding there's a global war going on against us. And we better figure out a way to contain it because it's going to be with us for a long time after Iraq."

Sept. 13, 2007: Asked about the concept of a national catastrophic disaster insurance fund to help with hurricanes and the like, Thompson told voters in Florida: "I don't know enough about it yet ... I'll give it serious consideration."

Sept. 13, 2007: "Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson said Thursday he doesn't know enough about efforts by President Bush and Congress to keep Terri Schiavo alive to have an opinion on the right-to-die case that stirred national debate."

Sept. 22, 2007: "Asked about the Jena Six case today on his way into a San Antonio fundraiser, Thompson said, 'I don't know anything about it.'"

Sept. 27, 2007: Thompson, who made his support for the death penalty a major part of his 1994 Senate campaign, said Thursday that he didn't know that a federal judge had ruled last week that lethal injection procedures in his home state were unconstitutional. "Thompson also told reporters he was unaware that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to consider a Kentucky case about whether lethal injection violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment."
I so think he's faking. I think it's just a reflection that Reagan and Our Beloved Leader were quite successful despite being perceived as, well, dopes. And this ignorance can be perceived as simply not believing (so to speak) in fact-based reality -- an attitude the GOP core of course loves and respects. I mean, Raygun and W sure weren't too fact-based, and it worked fine for them....

Dumb? Or Acting Dumb?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mendicancy in Foreign Policy

Ray McGovern:
It is an exceedingly dangerous time. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hard-core “neo-conservative” protégés in the administration and Congress are pushing harder and harder for President George W. Bush, isolated from reality, to honor the promise he made to Israel to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

On Sept. 23, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned pointedly:

“If we escalate tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war [with Iran], which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us...I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq.”

So why the pressure for a wider war in which any victory will be Pyrrhic—for Israel and for the U.S.? The short answer is arrogant stupidity; the longer answer—what the Chinese used to call “great power chauvinism”—and oil.

The truth can slip out when erstwhile functionaries write their memoirs (the dense pages of George Tenet’s tome being the exception). Kudos to the still functioning reportorial side of the Washington Post, which on Sept. 15, was the first to ferret out the gem in former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan’s book that the Iraq war was “largely about oil.”

But that’s okay, said the Post’s editorial side (which has done yeoman service as the White House’s Pravda) the very next day. Dominating the op-ed page was a turgid piece by Henry Kissinger, serving chiefly as a reminder that there is an excellent case to be made for retiring when one reaches the age of statutory senility.

Dr. Kissinger described as a “truism” the notion that “the industrial nations cannot accept radical forces dominating a region on which their economies depend.” (Curious. That same truism was considered a bad thing, when an integral part of the “Brezhnev Doctrine” applied to Eastern Europe.)

What is important here is that Kissinger was speaking of Iran, which—in a classic example of pot calling kettle black—he accuses of “seeking regional hegemony.”

What’s going on here seems to be a concerted effort to get us accustomed to the prospect of a long, and possibly expanded war.

Don’t you remember? Those terrorists, or Iraqis, or Iranians, or jihadists...whoever...are trying to destroy our way of life.

The White House spin machine is determined to justify the war in ways they think will draw popular support from folks like the well-heeled man who asked me querulously before a large audience, “Don’t you agree that several GIs killed each week is a small price to pay for the oil we need?”

Consistency in U.S. Policy?

The Bush policy toward the Middle East is at the same time consistent with, and a marked departure from, the U.S. approach since the end of World War II.

Given ever-growing U.S. dependence on imported oil, priority has always been given to ensuring the uninterrupted supply of oil, as well as securing the state of Israel. The U.S. was, by and large, successful in achieving these goals through traditional diplomacy and commerce.

Granted, it would overthrow duly elected governments, when it felt it necessary—as in Iran in 1953, after its president nationalized the oil. But the George W. Bush administration is the first to start a major war to implement U.S. policy in the region.

Just before the March 2003 attack, Chas Freeman, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia for President George H.W. Bush, explained that the new policy was to maintain a lock on the world’s energy lifeline and be able to deny access to global competitors.

Freeman said the new Bush administration “believes you have to control resources in order to have access to them” and that, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. is uniquely able to shape global events—and would be remiss if it did not do so.

This could not be attempted in a world of two superpowers, but has been a longstanding goal of the people closest to George W. Bush.

In 1975 in Harpers, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger authored under a pseudonym an article, “Seizing Arab Oil.”

Blissfully unaware that the author was his boss, the highly respected career ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, committed the mother of all faux pas when he told a TV audience that whoever wrote that article had to be a “madman.” Akins was right; he was also fired.

In those days, cooler heads prevailed, thanks largely to the deterrent effect of a then-powerful Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in proof of the axiom that bad ideas never die, 26 years later Kissinger rose Phoenix-like to urge a spanking new president to stoke and exploit the fears engendered by 9/11, associate Iraq with that catastrophe, and seize the moment to attack Iraq.

It was well known that Iraq’s armed forces were no match for ours, and the Soviet Union had imploded.

Some, I suppose, would call that Realpolitik. Akins saw it as folly; his handicap was that he was steeped in the history, politics, and culture of the Middle East after serving in Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia—and knew better.

The renaissance of Kissinger’s influence in 2001 on an impressionable young president, together with faith-based analysis by untutored ideologues cherry picked by Cheney explain what happened next—an unnecessary, counterproductive war, in which over 3,800 U. S. troops have already been killed—leaving Iraq prostrate and exhausted.

A-plus in Chutzpah, F in Ethics

In an International Herald Tribune op-ed on Feb. 25, 2007, Kissinger focused on threats in the Middle East to “global oil supplies” and the need for a “diplomatic phase,” since the war had long since turned sour. Acknowledging that he had supported the use of force against Iraq, he proceeded to boost chutzpah to unprecedented heights.

Kissinger referred piously to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which left the European continent “prostrate and exhausted.” What he failed to point out is that the significance of that prolonged carnage lies precisely in how it finally brought Europeans to their senses; that is, in how it ended.

The Treaty of Westphalia brought the mutual slaughter to an end, and for centuries prevented many a new attack by the strong on the weak—like the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003.

It was, it is about oil—unabashedly and shamefully. Even to those lacking experience with U.S. policy in the Middle East, it should have been obvious early on, when every one of Bush’s senior national security officials spoke verbatim from the talking-point sheet, “It’s not about oil.”

Thanks to Greenspan and Kissinger, the truth is now “largely” available to those who do not seek refuge in denial.

The implications for the future are clear—for Iraq and Iran. As far as this administration is concerned (and as Kissinger himself has written), “Withdrawal [from Iraq] is not an option.” Westphalia? U.N. Charter? Geneva Conventions? Hey, we’re talking superpower!

Thus, Greenspan last Monday with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

“Getting him [Saddam Hussein] out of the control position...was essential. And whether that be done by one means or another was not as important. But it’s clear to me that, were there not the oil resources in Iraq, the whole picture...would have been different.”

Can we handle the truth?

“All truth passes through three stages.
“First, it is ridiculed.
“Second, it is violently opposed.
“Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

When the truth about our country’s policy becomes clear, can we summon the courage to address it from a moral perspective? The Germans left it up to the churches; the churches collaborated.

“There is only us; there never has been any other.”
--Annie Dillard

Warning to Me

Freedom: It was wonderful....
You might think your anonymous online rants are oh-so-clever. But they'll give you away, too. A federally-funded artificial intelligence lab is figuring out how to track people over the Internet, based on how they write.

The University of Arizona's ultra-ambitious "Dark Web" project "aims to systematically collect and analyze all terrorist-generated content on the Web," the National Science Foundation notes. And that analysis, according to the Arizona Star, includes a program which "identif[ies] and track[s] individual authors by their writing styles."

That component, called Writeprint, helps combat the Web's anonymity by studying thousands of lingual, structural and semantic features in online postings. With 95 percent certainty, it can attribute multiple postings to a single author.

From there, Dark Web has the ability to track a single person over time as his views become radicalized.

The project analyzes which types of individuals might be more susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups, and which messages or rhetoric are more effective in radicalizing people.

The research comes with risks, according to the NSF.

Dark Web also uses complex tracking software called Web spiders to search discussion threads and other content to find the corners of the Internet where terrorist activities are taking place. But according to [Arizona's] Hsinchun Chen, sometimes the terrorists fight back.

"They can put booby-traps in their Web forums," Chen explains, "and the spider can bring back viruses to our machines." This online cat-and-mouse game means Dark Web must be constantly vigilant against these and other counter-measures deployed by the terrorists.

The Arizona group has been at this sort of research for a while, now -- sifting through more than 900,000 Islamist web pages. Here's a report Xeni filed last year for NPR on the Dark Web project. And here's a meaty blog post from Dancho Danchev on related projects.

Strangely, the Arizona AI lab's website seems to be down right now. But, thanks to the magic of Google, you can read a whole bunch of the the group's "Dark Web" research papers here. As the Star notes:

In one study, Chen found terrorist Web sites and U.S. government sites are equally sophisticated on the technical level. But terrorist Web sites are about 10 times richer in multi-media content like pictures and video and also about 10 times more effective in creating a community. Terrorist sites are quick to provide answers and instruction when their users ask questions, he said.

Direct Action

Budhism is so cool. Self-centered but not. But in extreme situations, their priest do take action, like this. (Of course, we remember the direct action taken by the priests and nuns in Germany in opposition to the Nazis.)

(Photo link.)

Victory in Iraq

Our Leaders are doing what Nixon should have done in Vietnam: Forget winning, just declare victory. "We're winning because we say we are." And what are we winning? A functional infrastructure? Stable, inclusive government? Got the "terrorists" to lay low for awhile? Trained competent security forces in any significant numbers?
Many politicians and pundits in Washington have ignored perhaps the most important point made by Gen. David Petraeus in his recent congressional testimony: The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq requires a combination of conventional forces, special forces and local forces. This realization has profound implications not only for American strategy in Iraq, but also for the future of the war on terror.

As Gen. Petraeus made clear, the adoption of a true counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq in January 2007 has led to unprecedented progress in the struggle against al Qaeda in Iraq, by protecting Sunni Arabs who reject the terrorists among them from the vicious retribution of those terrorists. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also touted the effectiveness of this strategy while at the same time warning of al Qaeda in Iraq's continued threat to his government and indeed the entire region.

Yet despite the undeniable successes the new strategy has achieved against al Qaeda in Iraq, many in Congress are still pushing to change the mission of U.S. forces back to a counterterrorism role relying on special forces and precision munitions to conduct targeted attacks on terrorist leaders. This change would bring us back to the traditional, consensus strategy for dealing with cellular terrorist groups like al Qaeda -- a strategy that has consistently failed in Iraq.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the consensus of American strategists has been that the best way to fight a cellular terrorist organization like al Qaeda is through a combination of targeted strikes against key leaders and efforts to discredit al Qaeda's takfiri ideology in the Muslim community. Precision-guided munitions and special forces have been touted as the ideal weapons against this sort of group, because they require a minimal presence on the ground and therefore do not create the image of American invasion or occupation of a Muslim country.

A correlative assumption has often been that the visible presence of Western troops in Muslim lands creates more terrorists than it eliminates. The American attack on the Taliban in 2001 is often held up now -- as it was at the time -- as an exemplar of the right way to do things in this war: Small numbers of special forces worked with indigenous Afghan resistance fighters to defeat the Taliban and drive out al Qaeda without the infusion of large numbers of American ground forces. For many, Afghanistan is the virtuous war (contrasting with Iraq) not only because it was fought against the group that planned the 9/11 attacks, but also because it was fought in accord with accepted theories of fighting cellular terrorist organizations.

This strategy failed in Iraq for four years -- skilled U.S. special-forces teams killed a succession of al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, but the organization was able to replace them faster than we could kill them. A counterterrorism strategy that did not secure the population from terrorist attacks led to consistent increases in terrorist violence and exposed Sunni leaders disenchanted with the terrorists to brutal death whenever they tried to resist. It emerged that "winning the hearts and minds" of the local population is not enough when the terrorists are able to torture and kill anyone who tries to stand up against them.

Despite an extremely aggressive counterterrorism campaign, by the end of 2006, al Qaeda in Iraq had heavily fortified strongholds equipped with media centers, torture chambers, weapons depots and training areas throughout Anbar province; in Baghdad; in Baqubah and other parts of Diyala province; in Arab Jabour and other villages south of Baghdad; and in various parts of Salah-ad-Din province north of the capital. Al Qaeda in Iraq was blending with the Sunni Arab insurgency in a relationship of mutual support. It was able to conduct scores of devastating, spectacular attacks against Shiite and other targets. Killing al Qaeda leaders in targeted raids had failed utterly either to prevent al Qaeda in Iraq from establishing safe havens throughout Iraq or to control the terrorist violence.

The Sunni Arabs in Iraq lost their enthusiasm for al Qaeda very quickly after their initial embrace of the movement. By 2005, currents of resistance had begun to flow in Anbar, expanding in 2006. Al Qaeda responded to this rising resistance with unspeakable brutality -- beheading young children, executing Sunni leaders and preventing their bodies from being buried within the time required by Muslim law, torturing resisters by gouging out their eyes, electrocuting them, crushing their heads in vices, and so on. This brutality naturally inflamed the desire to resist in the Sunni Arab community -- but actual resistance in 2006 remained fitful and ineffective. There was no power in Anbar or anywhere that could protect the resisters against al Qaeda retribution, and so al Qaeda continued to maintain its position by force among a population that had initially welcomed it willingly.

The proof? In all of 2006, there were only 1,000 volunteers to join the Iraqi Security Forces in Anbar, despite rising resentment against al Qaeda. Voluntarism was kept down by al Qaeda attacks against ISF recruiting stations and targeted attacks on the families of volunteers. Although tribal leaders had begun to turn against the terrorists, American forces remained under siege in the provincial capital of Ramadi -- they ultimately had to level all of the buildings around their headquarters to secure it from constant attack. An initial clearing operation conducted by Col. Sean MacFarland established forward positions in Ramadi with tremendous difficulty and at great cost, but the city was not cleared; attacks on American forces remained extremely high; and the terrorist safe-havens in the province were largely intact.

This year has been a different story in Anbar, and elsewhere in Iraq. The influx of American forces in support of a counterinsurgency strategy -- more than 4,000 went into Anbar -- allowed U.S. commanders to take hold of the local resentment against al Qaeda by promising to protect those who resisted the terrorists. When American forces entered al Qaeda strongholds like Arab Jabour, the first question the locals asked is: Are you going to stay this time? They wanted to know if the U.S. would commit to protecting them against al Qaeda retribution. U.S. soldiers have done so, in Anbar, Baghdad, Baqubah, Arab Jabour and elsewhere. They have established joint security stations with Iraqi soldiers and police throughout urban areas and in villages. They have worked with former insurgents and local people to form "concerned citizens" groups to protect their own neighborhoods. Their presence among the people has generated confidence that al Qaeda will be defeated, resulting in increased information about the movements of al Qaeda operatives and local support for capturing or killing them.

The result was a dramatic turnabout in Anbar itself -- in contrast to the 1,000 recruits of last year, there have already been more than 12,000 this year. Insurgent groups like the 1920s Revolution Brigades that had been fighting alongside al Qaeda in 2006 have fractured, with many coming over to fight with the coalition against the terrorists -- more than 30,000 Iraq-wide, by some estimates. The tribal movement in Anbar both solidified and spread -- there are now counter-al Qaeda movements throughout Central Iraq, including Diyala, Baghdad, Salah-ad-Din, Babil and Ninewah. Only recently an "awakening council" was formed in Mosul, Ninewah's capital, modeled on the Anbar pattern.

A targeted raid killed Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, near Baqubah in June 2006. After that raid, al Qaeda's grip on Baqubah and throughout Diyala only grew stronger. But skillful clearing operations conducted by American forces, augmented by the surge, have driven al Qaeda out of Baqubah almost entirely. The "Baqubah Guardians" now protect that provincial capital against al Qaeda fighters who previously used it as a major base of operations. The old strategy of targeted raids failed in Diyala, as in Anbar and elsewhere throughout Iraq. The new strategy of protecting the population, in combination with targeted raids, has succeeded so well that al Qaeda in Iraq now holds no major urban sanctuary.

This turnabout coincided with an increase in American forces in Iraq and a change in their mission to securing the population. Not only were more American troops moving about the country, but they were much more visible as they established positions spread out among urban populations. According to all the principles of the consensus counterterrorism strategy, the effect of this surge should have been to generate more terrorists and more terrorism. Instead, it enabled the Iraqi people to throw off the terrorists whose ideas they had already rejected, confident that they would be protected from horrible reprisals. It proved that, at least in this case, conventional forces in significant numbers conducting a traditional counterinsurgency mission were absolutely essential to defeating this cellular terrorist group.

What lessons does this example hold for future fights in the War on Terror? First, defeating al Qaeda in Iraq requires continuing an effective counterinsurgency strategy that involves American conventional forces helping Iraqi Security Forces to protect the population in conjunction with targeted strikes. Reverting to a strategy relying only on targeted raids will allow al Qaeda to re-establish itself in Iraq and begin once again to gain strength. In the longer term, we must fundamentally re-evaluate the consensus strategy for fighting the war on terror. Success against al Qaeda in Iraq obviously does not show that the solution to problems in Waziristan, Baluchistan or elsewhere lies in an American-led invasion. Each situation is unique, each al-Qaeda franchise is unique, and responses must be tailored appropriately.

But one thing is clear from the Iraqi experience. It is not enough to persuade a Muslim population to reject al Qaeda's ideology and practice. Someone must also be willing and able to protect that population against the terrorists they had been harboring, something that special forces and long-range missiles alone can't do.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Our Beloved Leader Makes Us Proud of America and to be an American


And he shows his legendary compassion for others here.

Ellsberg Sounds the Tocsin

Consortium News:
Editor’s Note: Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers history of the Vietnam War, offered insights into the looming war with Iran and the loss of liberty in the United States at an American University symposium on Sept. 20.

Below is an edited transcript of Ellsberg’s remarkable speech:

I think nothing has higher priority than averting an attack on Iran, which I think will be accompanied by a further change in our way of governing here that in effect will convert us into what I would call a police state.

If there’s another 9/11 under this regime … it means that they switch on full extent all the apparatus of a police state that has been patiently constructed, largely secretly at first but eventually leaked out and known and accepted by the Democratic people in Congress, by the Republicans and so forth.

Will there be anything left for NSA to increase its surveillance of us? … They may be to the limit of their technical capability now, or they may not. But if they’re not now they will be after another 9/11.

And I would say after the Iranian retaliation to an American attack on Iran, you will then see an increased attack on Iran – an escalation – which will be also accompanied by a total suppression of dissent in this country, including detention camps.

It’s a little hard for me to distinguish the two contingencies; they could come together. Another 9/11 or an Iranian attack in which Iran’s reaction against Israel, against our shipping, against our troops in Iraq above all, possibly in this country, will justify the full panoply of measures that have been prepared now, legitimized, and to some extent written into law. …

This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.

Will Hillary Clinton as president decide to turn off NSA after the last five years of illegal surveillance? Will she deprive her administration her ability to protect United States citizens from possible terrorism by blinding herself and deafening herself to all that NSA can provide? I don’t think so.

Unless this somehow, by a change in our political climate, of a radical change, unless this gets rolled back in the next year or two before a new administration comes in – and there’s no move to do this at this point – unless that happens I don’t see it happening under the next administration, whether Republican or Democratic.

The Next Coup

Let me simplify this and not just to be rhetorical: A coup has occurred. I woke up the other day realizing, coming out of sleep, that a coup has occurred. It’s not just a question that a coup lies ahead with the next 9/11. That’s the next coup, that completes the first.

The last five years have seen a steady assault on every fundamental of our Constitution, … what the rest of the world looked at for the last 200 years as a model and experiment to the rest of the world – in checks and balances, limited government, Bill of Rights, individual rights protected from majority infringement by the Congress, an independent judiciary, the possibility of impeachment.

There have been violations of these principles by many presidents before. Most of the specific things that Bush has done in the way of illegal surveillance and other matters were done under my boss Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War: the use of CIA, FBI, NSA against Americans.

I could go through a list going back before this century to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War, and before that the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 18th century. I think that none of those presidents were in fact what I would call quite precisely the current administration: domestic enemies of the Constitution.

I think that none of these presidents with all their violations, which were impeachable had they been found out at the time and in nearly every case their violations were not found out until they were out of office so we didn’t have the exact challenge that we have today.

That was true with the first term of Nixon and certainly of Johnson, Kennedy and others. They were impeachable, they weren’t found out in time, but I think it was not their intention to in the crisis situations that they felt justified their actions, to change our form of government.

It is increasingly clear with each new book and each new leak that comes out, that Richard Cheney and his now chief of staff David Addington have had precisely that in mind since at least the early 70s. Not just since 1992, not since 2001, but have believed in Executive government, single-branch government under an Executive president – elected or not – with unrestrained powers. They did not believe in restraint.

When I say this I’m not saying they are traitors. I don’t think they have in mind allegiance to some foreign power or have a desire to help a foreign power. I believe they have in their own minds a love of this country and what they think is best for this country – but what they think is best is directly and consciously at odds with what the Founders of this country and Constitution thought.

They believe we need a different kind of government now, an Executive government essentially, rule by decree, which is what we’re getting with signing statements. Signing statements are talked about as line-item vetoes which is one [way] of describing them which are unconstitutional in themselves, but in other ways are just saying the president says “I decide what I enforce. I decide what the law is. I legislate.”

It’s [the same] with the military commissions, courts that are under the entire control of the Executive Branch, essentially of the president. A concentration of legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one branch, which is precisely what the Founders meant to avert, and tried to avert and did avert to the best of their ability in the Constitution.

Founders Had It Right

Now I’m appealing to that as a crisis right now not just because it is a break in tradition but because I believe in my heart and from my experience that on this point the Founders had it right.

It’s not just “our way of doing things” – it was a crucial perception on the corruption of power to anybody including Americans. On procedures and institutions that might possibly keep that power under control because the alternative was what we have just seen, wars like Vietnam, wars like Iraq, wars like the one coming.

That brings me to the second point. This Executive Branch, under specifically Bush and Cheney, despite opposition from most of the rest of the branch, even of the cabinet, clearly intends a war against Iran which even by imperialist standards, standards in other words which were accepted not only by nearly everyone in the Executive Branch but most of the leaders in Congress. The interests of the empire, the need for hegemony, our right to control and our need to control the oil of the Middle East and many other places. That is consensual in our establishment. …

But even by those standards, an attack on Iran is insane. And I say that quietly, I don’t mean it to be heard as rhetoric. Of course it’s not only aggression and a violation of international law, a supreme international crime, but it is by imperial standards, insane in terms of the consequences.

Does that make it impossible? No, it obviously doesn’t, it doesn’t even make it unlikely.

That is because two things come together that with the acceptance for various reasons of the Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and the public and the media, we have freed the White House – the president and the vice president – from virtually any restraint by Congress, courts, media, public, whatever.

And on the other hand, the people who have this unrestrained power are crazy. Not entirely, but they have crazy beliefs.

And the question is what then, what can we do about this? We are heading towards an insane operation. It is not certain. It is likely. … I want to try to be realistic myself here, to encourage us to do what we must do, what is needed to be done with the full recognition of the reality. Nothing is impossible.

What I’m talking about in the way of a police state, in the way of an attack on Iran is not certain. Nothing is certain, actually. However, I think it is probable, more likely than not, that in the next 15, 16 months of this administration we will see an attack on Iran. Probably. Whatever we do.

And … we will not succeed in moving Congress probably, and Congress probably will not stop the president from doing this. And that’s where we’re heading. That’s a very ugly, ugly prospect.

However, I think it’s up to us to work to increase that small perhaps – anyway not large – possibility and probability to avert this within the next 15 months, aside from the effort that we have to make for the rest of our lives.

Restoring the Republic

Getting back the constitutional government and improving it will take a long time. And I think if we don’t get started now, it won’t be started under the next administration.

Getting out of Iraq will take a long time. Averting Iran and averting a further coup in the face of a 9/11, another attack, is for right now, it can’t be put off. It will take a kind of political and moral courage of which we have seen very little…

We have a really unusual concentration here and in this audience, of people who have in fact changed their lives, changed their position, lost their friends to a large extent, risked and experienced being called terrible names, “traitor,” “weak on terrorism” – names that politicians will do anything to avoid being called.

How do we get more people in the government and in the public at large to change their lives now in a crisis in a critical way? How do we get Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for example? What kinds of pressures, what kinds of influences can be brought to bear to get Congress to do their jobs? It isn’t just doing their jobs. Getting them to obey their oaths of office.

I took an oath many times, an oath of office as a Marine lieutenant, as an official in the Defense Department, as an official in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. A number of times I took an oath of office which is the same oath office taken by every member of Congress and every official in the United States and every officer in the United States armed services.

And that oath is not to a Commander in Chief, which is not mentioned. It is not to a fuehrer. It is not even to superior officers. The oath is precisely to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Now that is an oath I violated every day for years in the Defense Department without realizing it when I kept my mouth shut when I knew the public was being lied into a war as they were lied into Iraq, as they are being lied into war in Iran.

I knew that I had the documents that proved it, and I did not put it out then. I was not obeying my oath which I eventually came to do.

I’ve often said that Lt. Ehren Watada – who still faces trial for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq which he correctly perceives to be an unconstitutional and aggressive war – is the single officer in the United States armed services who is taking seriously in upholding his oath.

The president is clearly violating that oath, of course. Everybody under him who understands what is going on and there are myriad, are violating their oaths. And that’s the standard that I think we should be asking of people.

Congressional Courage

On the Democratic side, on the political side, I think we should be demanding of our Democratic leaders in the House and Senate – and frankly of the Republicans – that it is not their highest single absolute priority to be reelected or to maintain a Democratic majority so that Pelosi can still be Speaker of the House and Reid can be in the Senate, or to increase that majority.

I’m not going to say that for politicians they should ignore that, or that they should do something else entirely, or that they should not worry about that.

Of course that will be and should be a major concern of theirs, but they’re acting like it’s their sole concern. Which is business as usual. “We have a majority, let’s not lose it, let’s keep it. Let’s keep those chairmanships.” Exactly what have those chairmanships done for us to save the Constitution in the last couple of years?

I am shocked by the Republicans today that I read in the Washington Post who yesterday threatened a filibuster if we … get back habeas corpus. The ruling out of habeas corpus with the help of the Democrats did not get us back to George the First it got us back to before King John 700 years ago in terms of counter-revolution.

We need some way, and Ann Wright has one way, of sitting in, in Conyers office and getting arrested. Ray McGovern has been getting arrested, pushed out the other day for saying the simple words “swear him in” when it came to testimony.

I think we’ve got to somehow get home to them [in Congress] that this is the time for them to uphold the oath, to preserve the Constitution, which is worth struggling for in part because it’s only with the power that the Constitution gives Congress responding to the public, only with that can we protect the world from mad men in power in the White House who intend an attack on Iran.

And the current generation of American generals and others who realize that this will be a catastrophe have not shown themselves – they might be people who in their past lives risked their bodies and their lives in Vietnam or elsewhere, like [Colin] Powell, and would not risk their career or their relation with the president to the slightest degree.

That has to change. And it’s the example of people like those up here who somehow brought home to our representatives that they as humans and as citizens have the power to do likewise and find in themselves the courage to protect this country and protect the world. Thank you.

Greed is Good -- for Someone: Turning the American Dream into a Nightmare

The Torralba family’s taste of the American dream began to sour in May 2006, two months after they bought a modest home at the southern end of Silicon Valley, when they received notice from a man who claimed that they owed him money.

Without realizing it, the Torralbas had taken a $74,000 “down payment assistance” loan from the man, Pablo Curiel, who now wanted them to pay $679 a month.

“With so much sacrifice, we tried to get ahead, all for the possibility of this man to come and take the house that we are paying with such effort,” said Prospero Torralba, a 36-year-old construction worker. “It was no fair.”

The Torralbas are one of nine families suing Mr. Curiel and the brokers and real estate agents who arranged mortgages for them. The suit, filed in federal district court here, claims that Mr. Curiel and his associates did not properly disclose and translate the terms of the loans for the families, most of whom spoke limited English, in violation of federal and state laws. They also claim that the defendants sought out Hispanics, violating a federal housing law.

Mr. Curiel, who did not have any dealings with the borrowers when the loans were made, has sued the agent and broker involved.

As the housing boom turns to bust, hundreds of lawsuits are being filed on behalf of borrowers who legal advocates say were shoehorned into homes beyond their means with creative and onerous mortgages.

The culprits, these people assert, are brokers, agents, lenders and others who earned lucrative fees from the loans. Immigrants and minority borrowers are particularly dependent upon real estate professionals because they may not speak fluent English or understand the complex loan terms and documents, which can certainly confound native speakers as well.

California law requires that contracts be translated into one of five languages if the negotiations were primarily conducted in those languages. But legal specialists say the statute and court rulings are unclear on who is obligated to provide disclosure and what documents must be translated.

“On the ground, there is no actual translation occurring,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income borrowers. He said there was no way to know how many borrowers had been harmed, but he added that lending to minorities surged during the boom, with many people receiving high-cost loans.

Lawyers for the Torralbas assert that the family was never told about a third loan from Mr. Curiel, in addition to two from Washington Mutual, a mortgage for $446,000 and a revolving line of credit for $89,000. (The bank is not named as a defendant.) All the documents signed by the family were in English. Mr. Torralba acknowledges speaking the language but says he is not fully conversant. His lawyers say the negotiations of his home purchase and mortgage were primarily in Spanish.

Some other families were not told of the loans from Mr. Curiel until a few days before closing or just after closing, according to the lawsuit. Families that resisted claim that their broker, Linda Tran, and real estate agent, Norma Valdovinos, told them that they would lose their deposits — usually a few thousand dollars that accounted for most of their savings. Some said they went ahead after being assured by Ms. Tran and Ms. Valdovinos that they would be able to refinance in a few months.


The nine families bringing the suit are all natives of Mexico; many have been living in California for decades. Most work in construction or as cashiers, janitors, painters and gardeners. Many had good credit scores and some had been homeowners before.

They borrowed $600,000 to $950,000. The amount was divided into three loans, and the loan documents provided to two of the lenders made no mention of the third debt to Mr. Curiel, according the lawyers representing the families. In many cases, the other lenders were Countrywide Home Loans and Washington Mutual. Both companies declined to comment.

The first and biggest loan was a pay-option adjustable rate mortgage. The loan allows borrowers to pay less than the interest due, adding the difference onto the balance so more is owed with each passing month. The interest rate on the loans from Mr. Curiel was 10 percent, with a 15 percent upfront fee added to the principal balance. That loan called for borrowers to make interest-only payments and pay off the full amount in two years.


To assure that borrowers would qualify, the lawsuit claims that Ms. Tran and her associates exaggerated their incomes and assets using no-documentation loans.

Tomas and Martha Hernandez said Ms. Valdovinos had convinced them that they could afford a $745,000 home in San Jose, even though Mr. Hernandez earned about $4,000 a month and told them he could pay no more than $2,500 a month.

The couple balked after learning that their monthly payments would be $4,660. But Ms. Tran assured them that they would be able to refinance in a few months and reduce the payments to less than $2,900 a month, according to the lawsuit and Mr. Hernandez. They moved into the home two days before Christmas in 2005.

“They said not to worry, that we were in good hands,” Mr. Hernandez said of Ms. Tran and Ms. Valdovinos.

In April 2006, the family sought to refinance after exhausting their modest savings. They now have the following loans: a $596,000 pay-option loan with a prepayment penalty from Countrywide; a second loan for $74,450 from National City with a balloon payment of $57,000 due after 15 years.

The third loan for $108,125 from Mr. Curiel was revealed on the day they signed the loan documents, according to the lawsuit and Mr. Hernandez. The loans included more than $40,000 in fees.

The lawsuit is seeking to have the Curiel loans to the families rescinded, a process in which all payments the homeowners have made thus far, including fees, would be applied toward the principal. Any damages awarded by the court could be applied toward the loan balance.


Advocates for borrowers say a similar requirement is needed nationally because brokers have a financial incentive to steer borrowers toward higher-cost loans. In Washington, some federal lawmakers have proposed requiring brokers and lenders to make suitable loans that benefit borrowers.

Our Leaders' America: Freedom of Dissenter to be Terrorized

Jennifer Flynn is not a rabble-rouser. She's not an aspiring suicide bomber. She doesn't advocate the overthrow of the government. Instead, she pushes for funding and better treatment for people with HIV and AIDS.

Better keep an eye on her.

Wait! Somebody already did.

On the day before a rally by the New York City AIDS Housing Network at the 2004 Republican National Convention - a rally by an organization Flynn co-founded, and a rally that the NYPD had approved - she experienced something straight out of a spy novel.

While visiting her family in Hillside, N.J., Flynn spotted a car with a New York license plate parked outside the house. When she left to head back to her Brooklyn home that evening, the car followed hers. Shortly after leaving Hillside, two more vehicles, also with New York plates, seemed to be tailing her, too.

Trying to assure herself she wasn't nuts, Flynn tested her hunch - changing lanes, making turns, pulling over and parking. The drivers in those three vehicles mimicked her actions.

At one point, she recalled, she slowed down and one of the other vehicles ended up alongside her car. She looked over to see several men in the vehicle. She gestured toward them. The men "threw up their arms as if to say, 'We're only doing what we're told,'" she remembers.

On the New Jersey side of the Goethals Bridge, her followers pulled away. But later, when Flynn pulled up in front of her Flatbush home, she spotted another car, with two men inside, both with laptops. At 4 a.m., they were still there.

Is Flynn paranoid? Well, she is now. She did, however, jot down the license plate number of one of the vehicles in Jersey - a blue sport utility vehicle. When a reporter asked for the number, Flynn couldn't find it. Recently, it was found in a file kept by Christopher Dunn, the civil liberties lawyer she called that day in a panic.

The license plate number traces back to a company - Pequot Inc. - and a post office box at an address far from the five boroughs. Registering unmarked cars to post office boxes outside the city or to shell companies is a common practice of law enforcement agencies to shield undercover investigators.

The NYPD, however, says it didn't follow Flynn that evening. And the department's Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen has said no federal agency was involved in preconvention surveillance.

So who was following Flynn? And what, exactly, did they hope to learn about a woman the NYPD knew well, as it had been in regular communication with her about her organization's rally?

The answer - well, part of it - is a 99-mile road trip from NYPD headquarters: uptown, into the Bronx, and onto I-87. A quick switch onto the Saw Mill River Parkway, then the Taconic Parkway. Fifty more miles to go, past the leaves turning color and the country club golf courses. After that, it's the winding roads of tony Millbrook, with its horse farms and vineyards.

At last, we're in Amenia, population 1,115. It's so far from the city its dry cleaners actually clean horse blankets.

The street named on the license-plate printout exists, though the address doesn't. An auto-shop worker on the block suggests checking with the post office. When Postmaster Bonnie Colgan and an assistant are shown the printout, they stop dead in their tracks.

There's a Pequot Capital Management in midtown and a Pequot Construction in the Bronx. But no Pequot Inc. in Amenia.

"That's not a real company," the assistant says. "The people who used that box, they're from New York. They used to come here and get the mail, but not anymore."

Colgan is tempted to elaborate, but doesn't.

"I can't because of the sensitive nature of the issue," she says.

Back in the city, Flynn takes a seat at a Starbucks near City Hall and shakes her head. She still feels as passionately about what she does as she did three years ago. But she concedes the experience has taken its toll.

"I feel like I've stepped back, in a way," she says. "I feel I'm not as vocal as I was. I'm still going to sign a petition. I'm still going to organize a rally. I do it. But now I'm deathly afraid."

Flynn, 35, may one day learn who was following her. Activists have decried police tactics at the GOP convention - 1,806 arrests, protesters hemmed in with orange netting, people arrested and held for hours and hours in a West Side pier warehouse. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents seven plaintiffs suing the city over their arrests, is pushing for the release of raw NYPD intelligence reports detailing police surveillance of activists and protest groups.

Flynn says the damage is done. She sees it in the attitudes of other activists. There's less desire. More trepidation.

"When you use scare tactics, you really are curbing our right to dissent against the government," she said. "The only thing this is serving to do is squash public dissent. By going after the organizers of a rally, you really are sending a message - 'Don't hold a rally.'"
Link (emphasis added).

Public Service Announcement; Victory in Iraq

(Click on image.) Link.

From the Duh Dept.: Our Leaders were Going to Invade Iraq No Matter What

Why let anything as silly as facts or reality stop one, specially when you have a Judy Miller spreading the shit that is your lies on the front page of the TImes (not to mention the efforts of other Big Media journo water carriers)?

War Room
In a revelation reminiscent of the Downing Street memo, the Spanish newspaper El Pais has obtained and published what it says is the transcript of a private conversation between George W. Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in February 2003.

In the conversation, Aznar reportedly urged Bush to get a second resolution from the United Nations in order to build public support for the invasion of Iraq. Bush's response: The United States would "be in Baghdad at the end of March" no matter what the United Nations did.

Our Leaders Still Love the Vets

War Room:
When the national media focused earlier this year on problems with the medical care provided to injured U.S. soldiers, George W. Bush made his way to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and promised that things were going to change. "It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care," the president said in March. "We're going to fix the problem ... We're not going to be satisfied until everybody gets the kind of care that their folks and families expect."

So, how's it going?

The Government Accountability Office is out with a report on the issue this morning, and the grades it's giving aren't particularly encouraging. The GAO says that nearly half of all returning soldiers aren't getting personalized care that the Army said it would provide in the wake of revelations about Walter Reed; that the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs still don't have a good system for sharing soldiers' medical records; and that the government has, in the words of the Associated Press, "no apparent solution" for reducing delays -- they average 177 days -- in providing disability payments to wounded soldiers.

"Delayed decisions, confusing policies and the perception that DoD and VA disability ratings result in inequitable outcomes have eroded the credibility of the system," GAO investigators say in their report. "It is imperative that DoD and VA take prompt steps to address fundamental system weaknesses."

Those would be the same steps, we'd think, that the president said his administration would be taking six months ago.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Portrait of Our Next Leader, as Selected by Big Media

"You will vote for me... you will vote for me... you will vote for me...."

Rudy: The Inside-the-Beltway pundits' choice.

Funny? U Decide 2

Sign in store in China; what sales help should and should not say.

Blackwater is Special

On December 14, 2004, George W. Bush bestowed the highest civilian honor the nation can offer, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, upon L. Paul Bremer III, his former proconsul in Baghdad. He offered this encomium: "For fourteen months Jerry Bremer worked day and night in difficult and dangerous conditions to stabilize the country, to help its people rebuild and to establish a political process that would lead to justice and liberty." And the President added, "Every benchmark...was achieved on time or ahead of schedule, including the transfer of sovereignty that ended his tenure." ("He did not add," the Washington Post pointed out at the time, "that the transfer was hurriedly arranged two days early because of fears insurgents would attack the ceremonies.")

Bremer is an especially interesting version of a Bush-era freedom-spreader, in part because, thanks to Blackwater USA, the private security firm with whom the US State Department has inked at least $678 million in contracts for protection in Iraq and whose mercenaries continue to run wild in that country, his handiwork is back in the news right now.

In December 2004, less than six months had passed since Bremer, in his role as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in occupied Baghdad, had turned over "sovereignty" to a designated group of Iraqis and, essentially, fled that already chaotic country. Just before he left, however, he established a unique kind of freedom in Iraq, not seen since the heyday of European and Japanese colonialism. By putting his signature on a single document, he managed to officially establish an "International Zone" that would be the fortified equivalent of the old European treaty ports on the China coast and, at the same time, essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied companies what, in those bad old colonial days, used to be called "extraterritoriality"--the freedom not to be in any way under Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever.

Gen. David Petraeus, the President's surge commander in Iraq, has often spoken about a "Washington clock" and a "Baghdad clock" being out of sync and of the need to reset the Washington one. Bremer, who arrived in Baghdad in May 2003, quickly went to work setting back that Baghdad clock. When it came to the freedoms of Western occupiers (or liberators, if you will), including armed mercenaries, what he achieved on this score was truly a medal-snatching feat. He essentially turned that Baghdad clock back to the nineteenth century and made that "time" stick to this very day. On the eve of his departure, he issued a remarkable document of freedom--a declaration of foreign independence--that went by the name of Order 17 and that, in the US mainstream media, is still often referred to as "the law" in Iraq.

Order 17 is a document little-read today, yet it essentially granted to every foreigner in the country connected to the occupation enterprise the full freedom of the land, not to be interfered with in any way by Iraqis or any Iraqi political or legal institution. Foreigners--unless, of course, they were jihadis or Iranians--were to be "immune from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their Sending States," even though American and coalition forces were to be allowed the freedom to arrest and detain in prisons and detention camps of their own any Iraqis they designated worthy of that honor. (The present prison population of American Iraq is reputed to be at least 24,500 and rising.)

All foreigners involved in the occupation project were to be granted "freedom of movement without delay throughout Iraq," and neither their vessels, vehicles, nor aircraft were to be "subject to registration, licensing or inspection by the [Iraqi] Government." Nor in traveling would foreign diplomat, soldier, consultant or security guard, or any of their vehicles, vessels or planes be subject to "dues, tolls, or charges, including landing and parking fees," and so on. And don't forget that on imports, including "controlled substances," there were to be no customs fees (or inspections), taxes or much of anything else; nor was there to be the slightest charge for the use of Iraqi "headquarters, camps, and other premises" occupied, nor for the use of electricity, water or other utilities. And then, of course, there was that "International Zone," now better known as the Green Zone, whose control was carefully placed in the hands of the Multinational Force, or MNF (essentially, the Americans and their contractors), exactly as if it had been the international part of Shanghai, or Portuguese Macao, or British Hong Kong in the nineteenth century.

Promulgated on the eve of the "return of sovereignty," Order 17 gave new meaning to the term "Free World." It was, in essence, a get-out-of-jail-free card in perpetuity.

Above all else, Bremer freed an already powerful shadow army run out of private security outfits like Blackwater USA that, by now, has grown, according to recent reports, into a force of 20,000 to 50,000 or more hired guns. These private soldiers, largely in the employ of the Pentagon or the US State Department--and so operating on American taxpayer dollars--were granted the right to act as they pleased with utter impunity anywhere in the country.

More than three years later, the language of Order 17, written in high legalese, remains striking when it comes to the contractors. The man who, according to the Washington Post, composed the initial draft of the document, Lawrence Peter, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, now director of the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, which "represents at least 50 security companies." The order itself begins on private security firms with a stated need "to clarify the status of...certain International Consultants, and certain contractors in respect of the Government and the local courts." But the key passage is this:

"Contractors shall not be subject to Iraqi laws or regulations in matters relating to the terms and conditions of their contracts.... Contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal processes with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto.... Certification by the Sending State that its Contractor acted pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Contract shall, in any Iraqi legal process, be conclusive evidence of the facts so certified..."

In other words, when, in June 2004, Bremer handed over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi "government" lodged in the foreign-controlled Green Zone and left town as fast as he could, he essentially handed over next to nothing. He had already succeeded in making Iraq a "free" country, as only the Bush Administration might have defined freedom: free of taxes, duties, tolls, accountability and responsibility of any kind, no matter what Americans or their allies and hirelings did or what they took. And it has remained that way ever since.

This is apparent even to the present, largely powerless Iraqi government, situated in Bremer's Green Zone, whose officials have complained angrily about the latest Blackwater shootout and whose prime minister termed that "incident" a "crime" by out-of-control private security contractors. "We will never," he said at a news conference, "allow Iraqi citizens to be killed in cold blood by this company that is playing with the lives of the people." As in Vietnam in the 1960s, even the officials of puppet governments often turn out to be nationalists; even they get fed up with their patrons' arrogance sooner or later; and, often, having spent so much time close up and personal with the occupiers, have nothing but contempt for them. They are the ones who truly know what "freedom" means in their country.

In Iraq, in a twist on the nightmare language of Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, freedom came to mean theft or the opportunity to be gunned down in the street by hired guns whose only job was to protect foreign lives.


The Times and "That" MoveOn Ad

What he said....
September 24, 2007
To: Clark Hoyt, New York Times Public Editor
From: Leonard Witt, Associate Professor of Communication at Kennesaw State University.

On Friday, I began composing an Op-Ed piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, telling the 72 United States Senators they should be ashamed of themselves for voting on the Senate floor to condemn an act of free speech. Horror of horrors, the condemned insulted a general. The piece ran in today’s AJC.

I was equally dismayed when I read your public editor's note in Sunday’s The New York Times. Your major concern was "Did get favored treatment from The Times? And was the ad outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse?"

Yes, you gave a tip of the hat to free speech, when you wrote: "For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech -- even if it's abusive speech -- and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues."

Then immediately afterwards you add: "For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility. Were I in Jespersen’s shoes, I'd have demanded changes to eliminate 'Betray Us,' a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier."

I would argue having any one person at The New York Times decide how a public body can properly address a United States general is a particularly low blow to free speech.

Indeed, most of your piece was about how's act of free speech did damage to its cause and to The New York Times. Instead of asking, why The New York Times, a long time bastion of free speech, prohibits the exercise of free speech in its advertising pages, you tried to find out which ad sales person actually allowed that act of free speech to take place at a reduced price. Want to kill free speech? Then expose and punish the people at the lowest levels of a bureaucracy.

The person with real guts in the organization was the man at the top, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times, who told you, "If we're going to err, it's better to err on the side of more political dialogue. ... Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people."

I truly believed you personally erred in ensuring that the trend to mute the public's voice will continue and for that I think you along with the Senators should feel ashamed.

Leonard Witt
Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication
Department of Communication
Kennesaw State University

Funny? U Decide!


High Labor Costs are What Doomed Detroit


High labor costs include the reality that certain lower costs nations have national healthcare while we have the world's finest and most expensive healthcare system (and a series of foolish contracts).

But we also have a whole big bunch of undesirable products. And as the local industry damn well knows (or should know), a desirable product can be sold for a higher price. (It's called supply and demand. Detroit's flubbing the demand side and that has nothing to do with high labor costs.) Think BMW, think Apple. Detroit's pretty much all niches -- few models sell significant numbers anymore....

For more, see this

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

OT: What I Love Most About Living in the Exurbs

About 30 years ago, there I was laying on back one night and looking up at the sky in wonder and astonishment, looking up at, like, zillions more stars than I had ever seen.

Returning to life in Manhattan, obviously, seeing a single star was a rarity.

So there I am outside this morning, with the dog. The sky is moonless, dawn is approaching but stil well off. Looking up, I see a nice assortment of stars. Then looking longer, I start to see the hundreds, thousands not normally visible, like that night 30-odd years ago....

(Photo link.)

Here's the Truth

I know, I know.... On one hand, Blackwater's a bunch of politically-connected stormtroopers for hir. On the other hand, there's our lazy, petulant, impotent Quisling in Bagdhad.

Who can you believe?

Try this.

Looks like point to the quisling....

Sunday's Pantsload of Crap, a Few Days Late....

The Times' "Public Editor" still has his undies in a knot over the MoveOn ad:
Under the provocative headline “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” the ad, purchased by the liberal activist group, charged that the highly decorated Petraeus was “constantly at war with the facts” in giving upbeat assessments of progress and refusing to acknowledge that Iraq is “mired in an unwinnable religious civil war.”

“Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us,” declared.

The ad infuriated conservatives, dismayed many Democrats and ignited charges that the liberal Times aided its friends at with a steep discount in the price paid to publish its message, which might amount to an illegal contribution to a political action committee. In more than 4,000 e-mail messages, people around the country raged at The Times with words like “despicable,” “disgrace” and “treason.”

President George W. Bush called the ad “disgusting.” The Senate, controlled by Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to condemn the ad.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the charges in the ad, “provided at subsidized rates in The New York Times” were “an outrage.” Thomas Davis III, a Republican congressman from Virginia, demanded a House investigation. The American Conservative Union filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission against and The New York Times Company., a group recently formed to support the war, asked me to investigate because it said it wasn’t offered the same terms for a response ad that got.

Did get favored treatment from The Times? And was the ad outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse?

The answer to the first question is that paid what is known in the newspaper industry as a standby rate of $64,575 that it should not have received under Times policies. The group should have paid $142,083. The Times had maintained for a week that the standby rate was appropriate, but a company spokeswoman told me late Thursday afternoon that an advertising sales representative made a mistake.

The answer to the second question is that the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, “We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said that, while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print.

By the end of last week the ad appeared to have backfired on both and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq — and on The Times. It gave the Bush administration and its allies an opportunity to change the subject from questions about an unpopular war to defense of a respected general with nine rows of ribbons on his chest, including a Bronze Star with a V for valor. And it gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the “liberal media.”

How did this happen?

Eli Pariser, the executive director of, told me that his group called The Times on the Friday before Petraeus’s appearance on Capitol Hill and asked for a rush ad in Monday’s paper. He said The Times called back and “told us there was room Monday, and it would cost $65,000.” Pariser said there was no discussion about a standby rate. “We paid this rate before, so we recognized it,” he said. Advertisers who get standby rates aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days.

Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for The Times, said, “We made a mistake.” She said the advertising representative failed to make it clear that for that rate The Times could not guarantee the Monday placement but left with the understanding that the ad would run then. She added, “That was contrary to our policies.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times and chairman of its parent company, declined to name the salesperson or to say whether disciplinary action would be taken.

Jespersen, director of advertising acceptability, reviewed the ad and approved it. He said the question mark after the headline figured in his decision.


For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech — even if it’s abusive speech — and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues. For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility. Were I in Jespersen’s shoes, I’d have demanded changes to eliminate “Betray Us,” a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.

In the fallout from the ad, Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a Republican presidential candidate, demanded space in the following Friday’s Times to answer He got it — and at the same $64,575 rate that paid.

Bradley A. Blakeman, former deputy assistant to President Bush for appointments and scheduling and the head of, said his group wanted to run its own reply ad last Monday and was quoted the $64,575 rate on a standby basis. The ad wasn’t placed, he said, because the newspaper wouldn’t guarantee him the day or a position in the first section. Sulzberger said all advocacy ads normally run in the first section.

Mathis said that since the controversy began, the newspaper’s advertising staff has been told it must adhere consistently to its pricing policies.
Me, I wrote this guy twice; the combined email:
How does an opinion ad impact the Times' rep unless you all magnify a bogus criticism from a partisan group -- I should say, people with partisan axes to grind, as it were? You must have pretty significant contempt for Times' readers -- as opposed to these political whackos with agendas -- that we cannot separate a paid ad from anything editorial.

Is Giuliani going to be "upcharged" like MoveOn? Or is the fact that his ad was a radical rightwing response a basis for an entitlement to a discount?

And if MoveOn's ad was so awful (a matter of opinion, of course), how doe you rank the Times' running all those, well, journalistically-challenged articles of Judy Millers leading up to the Iraqi disaster/tragedy/invasion/war? I'd think that's far worse and, whoa, did a lot more damage to the Times' rep than a paid ad. But I must be wrong about that because you have the semi-monthly column, I don't.

Re: The fetuses: The Times regularly runs ads showing disfigured babies and young children. Might I suggest that the frequency and that as small ads it makes it difficult to read that page in the paper in a way that a full page ad that can easily and quickly be turned does not>

As for a "personal" attack on Petraeus: You seem to think that as a decorated soldier, anything ad hominen is wrong. In his current position, he is now essentially a politician less than a military commander. If he wants to be an Administration mouthpiece, which he now is to a great extent, it's only fair he gets treated like a pol. In addition, if editorial is like you, happy to give him a pass even if not warranted journalistically, then an ad hominen attack in the very occasional ad is fully warranted.
No, I do not expect any substantive response....

And here's a more... well, lucid and informed opinion:’s “General Betray Us” ad may have gotten more attention than it deserved, but it also has underscored several important points: the foolishness of MoveOn’s ad-buying strategy, the cringing hypocrisy of the mainstream U.S. news media when attacked by the Right, and the pressing need to build independent news outlets.

Ironically, MoveOn has long resisted using its fund-raising capability on the Internet to support an independent news infrastructure, favoring instead the idea of making expensive ad buys in the New York Times and other Big Media outlets.

So, MoveOn initially spent $64,575 for its Sept. 10 full-page ad questioning Gen. David Petraeus’s honesty. Then, because of MoveOn’s juvenile pun played on Petraeus’s name, the Bush administration and its right-wing allies exploited the ad to divert the debate on the Iraq War into an argument over the propriety of the ad's language.

The right-wing media – making full use of its extraordinary reach through newspapers, TV, talk radio and the Internet – also spread the word that the Times showed its "liberal bias" by giving MoveOn a favorable “discount” ad rate. More than 4,000 furious e-mails poured in to the Times.

Not only were congressional Democrats soon in full retreat but so were Times’ editors. On Sept. 23, the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, concluded that the Times had violated its policies both on ad rates and on rejecting ads that are “outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse.”

In an article critical of the Times' actions, entitled “Betraying Its Own Best Interests,” Hoyt wrote, “the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, ‘We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.’”

Hoyt also reported that the Times should have charged MoveOn $142,083 for a full-page ad when a client is guaranteed that an ad will run on a specific day. (The discount rate should apply if the ad were treated as a stand-by that could be bumped.)

As it turned out, the Times also had agreed to run an ad from Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani on Sept. 14, attacking both the MoveOn ad and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. Giuliani was given the $64,575 discount rate, although that also would appear to have violated the Times’ ad-rate policies.

For its part, MoveOn now has volunteered to pay the Times the full ad rate, sending a check for an additional $77,000, a sum that presumably comes from donations that anti-war activists made to MoveOn, partly in defense of its Petraeus ad.

In other words, MoveOn has taken $142,083 from American donors and given it to the New York Times for the privilege of running an ad that served to undermine the goal of reining in President Bush’s Iraq War. Talk about getting a reverse bang for your buck.

(By contrast, for many independent media outlets, the cost of that one ad would cover all their expenses for a year or more. In 2006, the entire budget of our Web site,, was $109,000.)

Double Standard

Another negative lesson that the Times appears to have learned is that it must apply a double standard when accepting ads.

If you are a Bush favorite, such as Gen. Petraeus, public editor Hoyt thinks you should be granted immunity from harsh criticism. However, if you’re a Bush enemy, the Times is still happy to run ads condemning you in the nastiest possible terms.

Just one day after Hoyt objected to “attacks of a personal nature,” the Time ran a full-page ad from a pro-Bush advocacy group,, with the headline “Ahmandinejad Is a Terrorist.” The ad also denounced Columbia University for allowing the Iranian president to give a speech.

“Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens our nation and the freedoms we value,” the ad reads. “He has supported attacks on our soldiers and our allies. He should be treated as the terrorist that he is.” [NYT, Sept. 24, 2007]

Presumably, in green-lighting this ad, the Times editors feared a hostile right-wing reaction if they had said no or demanded softer language.

While few Americans would defend Ahmadinejad or even note that many of these harsh statements have not been proven, it is this double standard – one set of rules for Bush’s enemies and another for Bush’s friends – that guided the U.S. march to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2002-03.

Yet, the only real hope against a repeat stampede – this time into an attack on Iran – is a principled stand by the American news media for a single standard of fairness. But that isn’t going to happen as long as editors and ad executives see their careers threatened when they allow something like the MoveOn ad.

Mainstream journalists and news executive know they will get pounded if they act in a way offensive to the Right, but they realize that the Left in America lacks anything close to a comparable ability to inflict pain.

To change that dynamic would require America’s Left to build a media infrastructure that can begin to match up with what the Right has created over the past three decades.

MoveOn’s Mistake

MoveOn has been one of the “progressive” organizations that has rejected the need for building a media infrastructure that can restore some balance to the U.S. political process.

In spring 2005, near the start of Bush’s second term, media activist Carolyn Kay presented a comprehensive media reform strategy to MoveOn founder Wes Boyd.

Boyd responded with an e-mail on April 24, 2005, saying, “Just to be direct and frank, we have no immediate plans to pursue funding for media … Our efforts are focused on a few big fights right now, because this is the key legislative season. Later in the year and next year I expect there will [be] more time to look further afield.”

Kay e-mailed Boyd back, saying, “For five years people have been telling me that in just a couple of months, we’ll start addressing the long-term problems. But the day never comes. … Today it’s Social Security and the filibuster. Tomorrow it will be something else. And in a couple of months it will be something else again. There’s never a right time to address the media issue. That’s why the right time is now.”

Boyd’s April 24 e-mail – calling the idea of addressing the nation’s media crisis as wandering “afield” – is typical of the views held by many leaders in the “progressive establishment.” There is no sense of urgency about media. [For more details, see’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]

Instead, MoveOn continues to rely on ad buys in mainstream news outlets to get out its message, a strategy that now has proved both expensive and counter-productive.

What (D)ARPA Wrought

Just in case you actually think that innovation only comes from the private sector.

American Justice

The legendary Paul Krassner on CounterPunch:
I spent this past weekend at the 11th annual Earthdance celebration, a global festival for peace held in northern California, just north of Laytonville on 101, uniting with over 250 locations in 50 countries, providing a wide variety of live music, workshops, speakers, inspiration and a worldwide sense of community.

On Saturday, I was among a large group of men and women participating in the International Elders Forum. Each one had six minutes to share their wisdom with an overflowing crowd in the huge Electronica Dome. A native American, David of the Blackfoot tribe, would play the flute after five minutes of talk as a signal that there was one minute left.

When my turn came, I began, “Whatever wisdom I have to share is in the form of comic relief, but just remember, if you don’t laugh you’re only helping the terrorists.” After seven minutes, I still didn’t hear any notes from the flute, so I decided to pass the microphone on to the next person.

On Sunday afternoon, David told me that he had been laughing so hard he simply couldn’t play his flute. He tried again and again, yet the best he could do was spit into it. Of course, this was gratifying feedback to a stand-up satirist, but over lunch our conversation became deadly serious.

Last November, he wanted to sell a piece of equipment, and a man who saw the ad invited him to his apartment. There, David was told to help himself to a soda from the refrigerator, which he did. When he turned around, four guys--biker/skinhead/Aryan-Nation types--burst through the door and attacked him with 2-1/2 inch metal pipes, first striking him on the forehead, then beating and kicking him while calling him a “dog” and a “prairie nigger.”

He tried unsuccessfully to defend himself and finally dove out the first-floor window, landing in a carport. He pounded on somebody’s door--yelling “9-1-1!”--and collapsed in a puddle of blood. He regained consciousness in a hospital where he got 40 stitches for a cracked cranium and a head brace for his broken neck. His shoulder and hand were also injured. He was rescued by a friend and stayed at her home to heal. He could no longer do physical work, but she has since helped him open a small business.

Two weeks after the incident (the night before Thanksgiving), police arrested David for missing a court date on a traffic violation. He had missed the date because he was unconscious in the hospital. At the Sonoma County jail, the guards kicked him, removed his head brace, refused him all medical attation, placed him in solitary confinement, forced him to sleep on a concrete bed without a mattress, and did not allow him to shower for six days. They eventually brought him to court, chained to a wheelchair.

After he was released on probation, the district attorney demanded that David testify against the skinheads. Knowing the nature of the Aryan gang, he immediately expressed concerns about his safety, regardless of what his testimony might be. A couple of months later, the DA agreed to place him in a witness protection program. It turned out to be at the Pink Flamingo, a hotel in Santa Rosa, the same city in which he was attacked.

On the third day, he walked out of the hotel and saw a bunch of bikers and skinheads outside. Not knowing they were there for a tattoo convention, he panicked and smoked a cigarette in his no-smoking room. For that offense, he was taken out of the witness protection program and left homeless, afraid to put anyone he knew in danger. The DA made it very clear to him that “We have ways to make you testify.”

The day before the trial, David was arrested again, on the way to the Indian Health Center, for driving with a suspended license. Again, he was denied medical attention, his head brace was removed, and he was thrown into solitary confinement. A week later, he was again brought into court chained to a wheelchair--unbathed and looking like a wild Indian--and threatened with three years in jail. The DA was in the courtroom at his sentencing, pow-wowing directly with the judge.

Immediately before the sentencing, David’s friend stood up and asked to speak out on his behalf, since his court-appointed lawyer had done so little to defend him. With the bailiff bearing down on her and contempt of court looming, the judge surprisingly agreed to let her talk. She stated how jailing David was cruel and unusual punishment, because he would have to be placed in solitary confinement throughout his incarceration in order to avoid any contact with Aryan gang members, due to his status as a hate-crime victim.

Moreover, he was in violation of driving with a suspended license only because he couldn’t afford to pay the fines; his injuries prevented him from being able to work in his chosen field to earn the money to pay those fines. Was driving with a suspended license actually worth three years of anyone’s life, or was there another agenda lurking in the courtroom that needed such leverage to pressure David into testifying against the assailants? Was it justice to, in effect, condemn him for the heinous crime of poverty?

The judge weighed the case and the next day released David on probation, warning him not to drive. Almost a year later, the DA is still hounding David by phone and subpoena, putting his life in danger by coercing him to testify. And where was Victims Assistance during all this horror? A Victim Witness Advocate told David, “I can’t help you. You’re on probation. Our hands are tied.”

Since David was a victim, he does not have the right to an attorney. He was due to appear in court on September 18, but the case has been postponed for a month. He plans to say in court that he will not testify because, “If concern for my safety is not addressed, I could die.” He expects to be charged
with contempt and, once again, to be put in solitary confinement.

Whatever you can do to help extricate him from this profane injustice would be most appreciated. His tormenters, DA Anne Masterson and her investigator Denise Urton, can be reached at (707) 565-2311. You can contact David at I’m grateful to be in a position to communicate the details of this nightmare, none of which I would have known had David been able to play his flute after five minutes of laughing.

From the Shameless Chutzpah Dept.: Obama not Smart Enough to be President per Our Leader

A "senior official" in the White House of George W. Bush tells journalist Bill Sammon why Barack Obama won't be the next president of the United States: Obama is intellectually "capable" of the job, the official says, but he relies too much on easy charm. "It's sort of like, 'That's all I need to get by,' which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters ... and a laziness, an intellectual laziness."

Why Don't the Iraqis Love Us??

Army snipers hunting insurgents in Iraq were under orders to "bait" their targets with suspicious materials, such as detonation cords, and then kill whoever picked up the items, according to the defense attorney for a soldier accused of planting evidence on an Iraqi he killed. Gary Myers, an attorney for Sgt. Evan Vela, said Monday his client had acted "pursuant to orders."


he Washington Post, which first reported the existence of the "baiting" program, cited the sworn statement of Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of a Ranger sniper scout platoon.
"Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy," Didier said in the statement. "Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. forces."
The Post said the program was devised by the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group, which advises commanders on more effective methods in today's unconventional conflicts, including ways to combat roadside bombs.

Within months of the "baiting" program's introduction, three snipers in Didier's platoon were charged with murder for allegedly using those items and others to make shootings seem legitimate, according to the Post.

The Post said that although it doesn't appear that the three alleged shootings were specifically part of the classified program, defense attorneys argue that the program may have encouraged them by blurring the legal lines in a complex war zone.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Homeland Security is Bringing Us

As if DHS wasn't already doing enough....

Already in use are such things as infrared cameras with built-in brains that capture license plate images and match them in milliseconds to police records of vehicles of interest to the authorities.

Such license plate recognition systems, fixed and mobile, already are stopping criminals in cars in New York City, Washington D.C. and 23 states, according to Mark Windover, president of Remington ELSAG Law Enforcement Systems, which is marketing its product to 250 U.S. police agencies.


In other surveillance developments, the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, is defending a plan to make broader use of eyes in the sky that, until now, have mostly fed military and scientific needs.

"The use of geospatial information from military intelligence satellites may turn out to be a valuable tool in protecting the homeland," Democrats on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this month.

But they voiced privacy and civil liberties concerns about the scheduled October 1 launch of the National Applications Office, a clearing house for expanded output of imagery to police, border security and other law-enforcement outfits.

"We are so concerned that, as the department's authorizing committee, we are calling for a moratorium on the program until the many constitutional, legal and organizational questions it raises are answered," Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and colleagues wrote on September 6.


DigitalGlobe, a potential beneficiary of stepped-up demand for such products, launched a satellite this week that can daily collect up to 750,000 square kilometers of imagery able to pick out suitcase-sized objects. The WorldView-1 satellite is part of a U.S. program, dubbed NextView, designed to give government customers priority access.

Many of the gizmos under development will be pitched first and foremost to the Pentagon, which is increasingly trying to keep tabs on foes in urban and other hard-to-monitor settings.

Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by contract value, is working on a keychain-sized, remote-controlled aerial vehicle designed to collect and transmit data with military and homeland security uses.

Resembling the seed of a silver maple tree, the single-winged device would pack a tiny two-stage rocket thruster along with telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors and a power source.

The nano air vehicle, or NAV, is designed to carry interchangeable payload modules -- the size of an aspirin tablet. It could be used for chemical and biological detection or finding a "needle in a haystack," according to Ned Allen, chief scientist at Lockheed's fabled Skunk Works research arm.

Released in organized swarms to fly low over a disaster area, the NAV sensors could detect human body heat and signs of breathing, Allen said.

"The NAV swarm can pinpoint the location of survivors, send the data back to the first responders and help concentrate rescue operations where they are most likely to be successful," he said in an e-mail interview.

Meanwhile, Boeing Co is leading the technology segment of a multiyear plan to secure U.S. borders that includes database and intelligence analysis systems.

Projected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to cost as much as $8.8 billion over the next six years, the system also features ground-based and tower-mounted sensors, cameras and radar plus high-speed communications, command and control equipment and devices that detect tunnels.

Airport screening is another area that could be transformed within 10 years, using scanning wizardry to pinpoint a suspected security threat through biometrics -- based on one or more physical or behavioral traits.

"We can read fingerprints from about five meters .... all 10 prints," said Bruce Walker, vice president of homeland security for Northrop Grumman Corp. "We can also do an iris scan at the same distance."