Saturday, February 02, 2008

Watch the Fun at Grand Central Terminal!

Inside Beloved Leader's Beautiful Mind

Some English poof sticks his nose into our business:
Everyone has a picture on the wall with some personal meaning. When the art lover in question is George Bush, however, and he can't stop telling us all his eccentric views about it, our interest is naturally piqued.

Bush, it seems, has a great passion for a 1916 cowboy scene by WHD Koerner that hangs in his office. He loves telling people about its significance to him. According to The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg, published next month, when governor of Texas, Bush told staff the painting was called A Charge To Keep, a quote from his favourite Methodist hymn by Charles Wesley. He urged them to absorb the moral lesson of this "beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us," he said.

Yet a little digging by Weisberg has revealed that the picture in question originally portrayed a bad man, not a good man. It was first used in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 to illustrate a story about a horse thief, and captioned as a picture of his flight from the law. Only later did it illustrate a story about Methodism.

There are a lot of funny things about this story: the art itself isn't one of them. Bush's favourite painting comes from a tradition of 19th- and early-20th-century art that inspired the later film westerns of John Ford. Koerner's painting is a minor but decent example of the genre.

If you think it's kitsch, look again at those sensitively suggested smoky mountains, that powerful observation of a horse's motion. It is not in itself a shameful thing to love.

Bush's fantastical interpretation of it is another matter. Of course, it's unfair to laugh at someone for doing what everyone does when we look at art - seeing it his way. You bring the art history books, I'll fetch the rope.

Lynne Segal, professor of gender studies
This is such an exhausted cliche of masculinity: the loner on his horse, the heroic, old-fashioned western archetype. It is symptomatic of the fact that Bush lives in a fantasy world, as many American men do, where you can invent a story and place yourself at the centre. You are a hero, not just of your own life, but leading others, too.

Yet this solipsistic vision seems so at odds with the knowledge - a knowledge that you would expect most of us to have today - that others create and shape our world. Instead, this kind of American masculine imagery suggests that you have to be not just the first among equals but heading the pack, leading the way forward.

Darian Leader, psychoanalyst
The painting itself is fairly dull. What is interesting is that Bush has invested a great deal in it, and seems to use it as a symbol of what he sees as his own mission. He interprets it as the story of missionaries spreading the word of truth and freedom, an impulse that informed the invasion of Iraq, when in fact it is a depiction of thieves on the run from the law. It's a good example of repression: when we want to avoid an unpleasant truth, it has a habit of returning. There is a wonderful complement to this in a speech Tony Blair gave to troops in Iraq, during which he referred to "weapons of mass distraction". This painting is Bush's Freudian slip.

It also seems to illustrate a legacy being passed from father to son. It is almost impossible to understand Bush's aspirations without thinking of what he saw as the unfinished business of his father. This painting suggests that if you want to understand Bush, you need to understand his father, and that's a psychological truth that has an impact on world politics.

Joanna Bourke, military historian
There is a military feel to this painting. The men are armed and obviously fleeing, but the enemy is invisible, hidden in a huge expanse of rough, tough landscape. Bush clearly identifies with the main character in the painting: he is the leader of men, tough and masculine, travelling light with a magnificent animal between his thighs.

The war depicted here is partly against nature. It represents the taming of the great frontier. But there's also a clear link to the American civil war, and to the battle against the wild Indians: the traditional American goodies and baddies. For Bush, the foreign baddies are terrorists, both abroad and within. Of course, the irony is that, in the painting, the men on horseback are the bandits. Bush is interpreting this as a utopian scene, as bandits often do, when in fact what is depicted is simple masculine criminality.

Derek Draper, psychotherapist and ex-Labour spin doctor
Bush's mistaken enthusiasm suggests several psychological interpretations. The first will most readily appeal to committed Bush-haters: it is evidence of his tendency to misread situations and confuse right with wrong. A more subtle insight might involve imagining Bush's inner world: for so long inhabited by the demons of drink, drugs and failure. His mind might resist a too-close-to-home image of a troubled man fleeing for his life and have to see instead the strong, heroic adventurer he has convinced himself he has become.

Most revealing, though, is the simple fact that a healthy mind would look at this image and not be certain what it depicted. Bush, though, as he once told Senator Joe Biden, doesn't "do nuance". Instead he invariably replaces "not-knowing" with prejudiced certainty. A foolish psychological mindset when it comes to art or life; a catastrophic one in politics.

The Rightists Play Us; You Really Think They Wouldn't Support the Pandering, Flip-Flopping Straight Talker??

Innncredible! I mean, if you believe this load of crap....
On Wednesday, we brought you some of the more apoplectic reactions from conservatives after Sen. John McCain's victory in Florida's Republican primary. Well, the tenor of the debate on the right over McCain's candidacy has by no means cooled over the past couple of days. If anything, as we get to the key primaries of Super Tuesday, the anger over the prospect of Republican presidential candidate John McCain has grown. Some prominent conservatives are even threatening drastic action.

Take Ann Coulter. In an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" that's now been widely remarked upon, she told the two hosts that if McCain was nominated, and running against Sen. Hillary Clinton, she'd vote for Clinton.

The brothers Limbaugh -- Rush and lesser-known sibling David -- have been hitting McCain hard in recent days. On Rush's Web site, in a list of quotes from his Thursday broadcast he includes, among others, "McCain's kind of like the Clintons in a sense: you tell the truth about them and they think it's a personal attack" and "Lindsey Graham is certainly close enough to John McCain to die of anal poisoning." (We hope there's some sort of legitimate reference in that second one that we're just not getting, but we doubt it.) Then David, in a column on Friday, wrote, McCain "is the anti-conservative. He instinctively sides against conservatives and relishes poking them in the eye.

"He enjoys cavorting and colluding with our political enemies and basks in the fawning attention they give him. Adding insult to injury, he now pretends to be the very thing he is not: an across-the-board Reagan conservative."

Then there's Michelle Malkin, last seen implying that perhaps there was something amiss with the voting in Florida that led to McCain's win, who was set off again by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance with McCain Thursday. "So, Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed John McCain. He extolled McCain for 'reach[ing] across the political aisle to get things done' ...

"To which I say: When did it become the Republican Party's top priority to 'get things done?'" Malkin wrote.

She continued: "'Get things done' is mindless liberal code for passing legislation and expanding government.

"And as McCain's ample legislative record demonstrates, 'reaching across the political aisle' never entails pulling opponents to the right. It always entails selling out the right.

"How about defending our side of the political aisle?"

In a column, Thomas Sowell went after McCain's prized reputation as a "straight talker." "We have been hearing for years that Senator John McCain gives 'straight talk' and his bus has been endlessly referred to as the 'Straight Talk Express.' But endless repetition does not make something true," Sowell wrote. "... When confronted with any of his misdeeds, Senator McCain tends to fall back on his record as a war hero in Vietnam.

"Let's talk sense. Benedict Arnold was a war hero but that did not exempt him from condemnation for his later betrayal."

Meanwhile, McCain's chief remaining rival on the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is quickly racking up endorsements from influential conservatives. Sean Hannity, previously a barely closeted supporter of Rudy Giuliani's, was one of the first to jump. Hannity's fellow radio host Laura Ingraham endorsed Romney on her show Friday morning; joining her for the broadcast was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum, who has been outspokenly anti-McCain, made his endorsement of Romney official on Ingraham's show. In a conference call with conservative bloggers on Friday, Romney acknowledged the support he's gotten, saying: "When Sean Hannity says he's voting for me, when Laura Ingraham says she's endorsing me ... Rush has been going after McCain pretty aggressively. Michael Reagan has been pretty aggressive. The world of conservatism is pretty solidly behind my effort."

The right is not entirely anti-McCain, though. The New York Times on Friday printed a good roundup of conservatives ready to rethink their position on him, the New York Post endorsed him, radio host Michael Medved suggested his fellow hosts needed to come to grips with the reality of the situation, and the McCain campaign itself has kept up a steady patter of e-mails to reporters announcing new endorsements, including Ted Olson, the former solicitor general who's a favorite of conservatives.

Olbermann on Telco Fascism; Our Leaders Continue to Bring Freedom to America (Not)

In a blistering condemnation of President Bush's willingness to go to the wall for corporations he relies on to spy on Americans, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann says the president's message in his State of the Union address calling for immunity of telecommunications companies is a "textbook example of fascism."

Bush and Congressional Democrats are in a pitched fight over whether to free telecoms from legal liability as part of an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The president says the companies should be rewarded for their cooperation in the war on terror; critics say legal immunity would preclude any oversight of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program that ensnared US citizens.

Olbermann accused Bush's threat to veto any bill without immunity of aiding the terrorists, when coupled with his threat that failing to act on a permanent FISA expansion would weaken US national security.

"You told Congress, if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened, and our citizens would be in greater danger," Olbermann said. "Yet you you are willing to weaken that ability. You will subject us, your citizens, to that greater danger. This is simple enough for you to understand. If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity, and sends it to your desk, and you veto it, you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists."

The host further excoriated Bush for refusing to even acknowledge corporate assistance, always couching his calls for immunity by describing companies "believed" or "alleged" to have assisted his still-classified program.

"If you, sir, are asking Congress and us to join you in this shameless, breathless, literal textbook example of fascism, the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government, you still don't have the guts to say the telecom companies did assist you in your efforts?" Olbermann asked. "Will you and the equivocators who surround you like a cocoon never go on the record about anything? Even the stuff you claim to believe in?"

Ironically, Olbermann notes, that Vice President Dick Cheney did go on the record about telecom involvement, when he spoke to conservative talker Rush Limbaugh Wednesday.

"The Vice President probably shouldn’t have phoned in to the Rush Limbaugh Propaganda-Festival yesterday. Sixth sentence out of Mr. Cheney’s mouth: The FISA bill is about, quote, 'retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States,'" Olbermann said. "Oops. Mr. Cheney is something of a loose cannon, of course. But he kind of let the wrong cat out of the bag there."

Some critics dismissed Olbermann as a hyberbolic ranter who relies on over-the-top rhetoric.

"The MSNBC host, who once scolded public figures who use Nazi references, made his own latest invocation of Nazi Germany, as he compared the telecoms to the Krupp family who were convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg," wrote conservative media critic Brad Wilmouth. "Olbermann: 'It begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp family industrial giants by literally rewriting the laws of Germany for their benefit. And we know how that turned out. Alfred Krupp and 11 of his directors were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg.'"

Unable to reach a final agreement on how to update FISA and whether to give immunity to the telecoms, Congress this week passed a 15-day extension to the Protect America Act, a temporary FISA extension forced through Congress just before its August recess.

On Monday, the Senate will resume debate on the FISA expansion, after Republicans backed off their demands that all proposed amendments be subjected to a 60-vote majority, according to Congressional Quarterly. The subscription-only Capitol Hill journal reports:
Three amendments to be voted on next week will address retroactive immunity for companies being sued for allegedly assisting the National Security Agency in its warrantless surveillance program.

One, by Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, would simply remove the immunity provisions, which are a priority for the Bush administration.

Another, by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits. Both would only need a simple majority for adoption.

A third, by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would require the companies to justify their actions before the secret FISA court, which would then decide whether immunity was warranted. It would require 60 votes to be adopted.
Some critics see the move as just another GOP gambit to block immunity from passing.

"It seems rather clear what happened here. There are certain amendments that are not going to get even 50 votes -- including the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the bill -- and, for that reason, Republicans were more than willing to agree to a 50-vote threshold, since they know those amendments won't pass even in a simple up-or-down vote," writes Glenn Greenwald, a prominent blogger covering the FISA fight.

"But then, there are other amendments which might be able to get 50 votes, but cannot get 60 votes -- such as Feinstein's amendment to transfer the telecom cases to the FISA court and her other amendment providing that FISA is the "exclusive means" for eavesdropping -- and, thus, those are the amendments for which the GOP insisted upon a 60-vote requirement."

During his comment, Olbermann reiterated the revelation from former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who blew the whistle on his former company's collusion with the National Security Agency, that he connected a "Big Brother machine" to funnel every piece of communication crossing AT&T's wires into an NSA database.

"This isn't about finding that kind of needle in a haystack, this isn't even about finding that haystack" Olbermann said. "This is about scooping up every piece of hay there ever was."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Our Leaders' Intelligence?

When the Tonkin Gulf incident took place in early August 1964, I was a journeyman CIA analyst in what Condoleezza Rice refers to as "the bowels of the agency." As current intelligence referent for Russian policy toward Southeast Asia and China, I worked very closely with those responsible for analysis of Vietnam and China.

Out of that experience I must say that, as much as one might be tempted to laugh at the bizarre antics of last week's incident involving small Iranian boats and U.S. naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz, this is -- as my old Russian professor used to say -- nothing to laugh.

The situation is so reminiscent of what happened -- and didn't happen -- from Aug. 2-4, 1964, in the Gulf of Tonkin, and in Washington, it is in no way funny. At the time, the United States had about 16,000 troops in South Vietnam. The war that was "justified" by the Tonkin Gulf resolution of Aug. 7, 1964, led to a buildup to 535,000 U.S. troops in the late '60s, 58,000 of whom were killed -- not to mention the estimated 2 million Vietnamese who lost their lives by then and in the ensuing ten years.

Ten years. How can our president speak so glibly about ten more years of a U.S. armed presence in Iraq? Wonder why he doesn't know anything about Vietnam.

Intelligence lessons from Vietnam and Iraq

What follows is written primarily for honest intelligence analysts and managers still on "active duty." The issuance of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran was particularly welcome to those of us who had been hoping there were enough of you left who had not been thoroughly corrupted by former CIA Director George Tenet and his flock of malleable managers.

We are not so much surprised at the integrity of Tom Fingar, who is in charge of national intelligence analysis. He showed his mettle in manfully resisting forgeries and fairy tales about Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." What is, frankly, a happy surprise is the fact that he and other nonideologues and noncareerist professionals have been able to prevail and speak truth to power on such dicey issues as Iran-nuclear, the upsurge in terrorism caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the year-old NIE saying Iraq is headed for hell in a handbasket (with no hint that a "surge" could make a difference).

But those are the NIEs. They share the status of "supreme genre" of analytic product with the President's Daily Brief and other vehicles for current intelligence, the field in which I labored, first in the analytic trenches and then as a briefer at the White House, for most of my 27-year career. True, the NIE "Iraq's Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction" of Oct. 1, 2002, (wrong on every major count) greased the skids for the attack on Iraq on March 19, 2003. But it is more often current intelligence that is fixed upon to get the country into war.

The Tonkin Gulf events are perhaps the best case in point. We retired professionals are hopeful that Fingar can ensure integrity in the current intelligence process as well as in intelligence estimates.

Salivating for wider war: Tonkin Gulf

Given the confusion last Sunday in the Persian Gulf, you need to remember that a "known known" in the form of a nonevent has already been used to sell a major war -- Vietnam. It is not only in retrospect that we know that no attack occurred that night.

Those of us in intelligence, not to mention President Lyndon Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, all knew full well that the evidence of any armed attack on the evening of Aug. 4, 1964, the so-called "second" Tonkin Gulf incident, was highly dubious. But it fit the president's purposes, so they lent a hand to facilitate escalation of the war.

During the summer of 1964 President Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were eager to widen the war in Vietnam. They stepped up sabotage and hit-and-run attacks on the coast of North Vietnam. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later admitted that he and other senior leaders had concluded that the seaborne attacks "amounted to little more than pinpricks" and "were essentially worthless," but they continued.

Concurrently, the National Security Agency was ordered to collect signals intelligence from the North Vietnamese coast on the Gulf of Tonkin, and the surprise coastal attacks were seen as a helpful way to get the North Vietnamese to turn on their coastal radars. The destroyer USS Maddox, carrying electronic spying gear, was authorized to approach as close as eight miles from the coast and four miles from offshore islands, some of which had been subjected to intense shelling by clandestine attack boats.

As James Bamford describes it in "Body of Secrets":
The twin missions of the Maddox were in a sense symbiotic. The vessel's primary purpose was to act as a seagoing provocateur -- to poke its sharp gray bow and the American flag as close to the belly of North Vietnam as possible, in effect shoving its five-inch cannons up the nose of the Communist navy. In turn, this provocation would give the shore batteries an excuse to turn on as many coastal defense radars, fire control systems and communications channels as possible, which could then be captured by the men ... at the radar screens. The more provocation, the more signals ...

The Maddox's mission was made even more provocative by being timed to coincide with commando raids, creating the impression that the Maddox was directing those missions and possibly even lobbing firepower in their support ...

North Vietnam also claimed at least a 12-mile limit and viewed the Maddox as a trespassing ship deep within its territorial waters." (pp. 295-296)
On Aug. 2, 1964, an intercepted message ordered North Vietnamese torpedo boats to attack the Maddox. The destroyer was alerted and raced out to sea beyond reach of the torpedoes, three of which were fired in vain at the destroyer's stern. The Maddox's captain suggested that the rest of his mission be called off, but the Pentagon refused. And still more commando raids were launched on Aug. 3, shelling for the first time targets on the mainland, not just the offshore islands.

Early on Aug. 4, the Maddox's captain cabled his superiors that the North Vietnamese believed his patrol was directly involved with the commando raids and shelling. That evening at 7:15 (Vietnam time) the Pentagon alerted the Maddox to intercepted messages indicating that another attack by patrol boats was imminent.

What followed was panic and confusion. There was a score of reports of torpedo and other hostile attacks, but no damage and growing uncertainty as to whether any attack actually took place. McNamara was told that "freak radar echoes" were misinterpreted by "young fellows" manning the sonar, who were "apt to say any noise is a torpedo."

This did not prevent McNamara from testifying to Congress two days later that there was "unequivocal proof" of a new attack. And based largely on that, on the following day (Aug. 7) Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution bringing ten more years of war.

Meanwhile, in the trenches

By the afternoon of Aug. 4 (Washington time), the CIA's expert analyst on North Vietnam (let's call him "Tom") had concluded that probably no one had fired on U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf over the past 24 hours. He included a paragraph to that effect in the item he wrote for the Current Intelligence Bulletin, which would be wired to the White House and other key agencies and appear in print the next morning.

And then something unique happened. The director of the Office of Current Intelligence, a very senior officer whom Tom had never before seen, descended into the bowels of the agency to order the paragraph deleted. He explained:

"We're not going to tell LBJ that now. He has already decided to bomb North Vietnam. We have to keep our lines open to the White House."

"Tom" later bemoaned -- quite rightly: "What do we need lines open for, if we're not going to use them and use them to tell the truth?"

A year or two ago, in the wake of the policy/intelligence fiasco on Iraq, I would have been inclined to comment sarcastically, "How quaint; how obsolete." But the good news is that the analysts writing the National Intelligence Estimates have now reverted to the ethos in which "Tom" and I were proud to work.

Today's analysts/reporters of current intelligence need to follow their good example. And we trust that Tom Fingar will hold their feet to the fire. For if they don't rise to the challenge, the consequences are sure to be disastrous. This should be obvious in the wake of the Tonkin Gulf experience, not to mention the more recent performance of senior officials before the attack on Iraq in 2003.

The late Ray S. Cline, who at the time was the boss of the director of Current Intelligence, said he was "very sure" that no attack took place on Aug. 4. He suggested that McNamara had shown the president unevaluated signals intelligence which referred to the (real) earlier attack on Aug. 2 rather than the nonevent on the 4th. There was no sign of remorse on Cline's part that he didn't step in and make sure the president was told the truth.

We in the trenches knew there was no attack; and so did the director of Current Intelligence as well as Cline, who was deputy director for Intelligence. But all knew, as did McNamara, that President Johnson was lusting for a pretext to strike the North and escalate the war. And so, like B'rer Rabbit, they didn't say nothin'.

Commenting on the interface of intelligence and policy on Vietnam, a well-respected, retired senior CIA officer addressed:
... the dilemma CIA directors and senior intelligence professionals face in cases when they know that unvarnished intelligence judgments will not be welcomed by the president, his policy managers and his political advisers ... [They] must decide whether to tell it like it is (and so risk losing their place at the president's advisory table), or to go with the flow of existing policy by accentuating the positive (thus preserving their access and potential influence). In these episodes from the Vietnam era, we have seen that senior CIA officers more often than not tended toward the latter approach. CIA and the Vietnam Policymakers: Three Episodes, 1962-1968 --Harold P. Ford
Bummer. I wish there were more of a sense of anger at that.

Back to Iran. This time, we all know that the president and vice president are seeking an excuse to attack Iran. There is a big difference from the situation in the summer of 1964, when President Johnson had intimidated all his senior subordinates into using deceit to escalate the war. Bamford comments on the disingenuousness of Robert McNamara when he testified in 1968 that it was "inconceivable" that senior officials, including the president, deliberately used the Tonkin Gulf events to generate congressional support for a wider Vietnam war.

In Bamford's words, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become "a sewer of deceit," with Operation Northwoods and other unconscionable escapades to its credit. Then-Under Secretary of State George Ball commented, "There was a feeling that if the destroyer got into some trouble, that this would provide the provocation we needed."

Good news: It's different now

As indicated above, we now have more integrity at the top of the intelligence community. But, in my view, the main thing that has prevented Bush and Cheney from attacking Iran so far has been the strong opposition of the uniformed military, including the Joint Chiefs. The circumstances attending the misadventure last Sunday in the Strait of Hormuz are far from clear. But the incident certainly shows that our senior military need all the help they can get from intelligence officers more concerned with the truth than with "keeping lines open to the White House" and doing its bidding.

In addition, today the intelligence oversight committees in Congress seem to be waking from their Rip Van Winkle-like slumber. It was Congress, after all, that ordered the controversial NIE on Iran/nuclear (and was among those pushing strongly that it be publicized). And the flow of substantive intelligence to Congress is much larger than it was in 1964 when, remember, there were no intelligence committees as such.

So listen, you inheritors of the honorable profession of current intelligence, don't let them grind you down. If you're working in the bowels of the agency and you find that your leaders are cooking intelligence to a recipe for casus belli, think long and hard about the oath you took to protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic." Should not that oath transcend in importance any secrecy promise you had to agree to as a condition of employment?

By sticking your neck out, you might be able to prevent ten years of unnecessary war.

Vox Populi


Yet More Bad News; Fallout from the Iraq Fandango

And what have we all gotten for this?
As many as 121 Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007, a jump of some 20 percent over the year before, officials said Thursday.

The rise comes despite numerous efforts to improve the mental health of a force stressed by a longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the most deadly year yet in the now six-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Internal briefing papers prepared by the Army's psychiatry consultant early this month show there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 deaths that are suspected suicides and still under investigation.

More than a quarter of those — about 34 — happened during deployments in Iraq, an increase from 27 in Iraq the previous year, according to the preliminary figures.

The report also shows an increase in the number of attempted suicides and self-injuries — some 2,100 in 2007 compared to less than 1,500 the previous year and less than 500 in 2002.

The total of 121 suicides last year, if all are confirmed, would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch its counter-terror war. The toll was 87 by 2005 and 102 in 2006.

Officials said the rate of suicides per 100,000 active duty soldiers has not yet been calculated for 2007. But in a half million-person active duty Army, the 2006 toll of 102 translated to a rate of 17.5 per 100,000, the highest since the Army started counting in 1980, officials said. The rate has fluctuated over those years, with the low being 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

That toll and rate for 2006 is a revision from figures released in August because a number of pending cases have since been concluded. Officials earlier had reported 99 soldiers killed themselves in 2006 and two cases were pending — as opposed to the 102 now confirmed. It's common for investigations to take some time and for officials to study results at length before releasing them publicly.

Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, has said that officials found failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs have been main factors in soldiers' suicides. Officials also have found that the number of days troops are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries contributes to that stress.

With the Army stretched thin by years of fighting the two wars, the Pentagon last year extended normal tours of duty to 15 months from 12 and has sent some troops back to the wars several times. The Army has been hoping to reduce tour lengths this summer. But the prospect could depend heavily on what Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, recommends when he gives his assessment of security in Iraq and troop needs to Congress in April.

A succession of studies on mental health in the military have found a system that might have been adequate for peacetime has been overwhelmed by troops coming home from war. Some troop surveys in Iraq have shown that 20 percent of Army soldiers have signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which can cause flashbacks of traumatic combat experiences and other severe reactions. About 35 percent of soldiers are seeking some kind of mental health treatment a year after returning home under a program that screens returning troops for physical and mental health problems, officials have said.

Officials have worked to set up a number of new programs and strengthen old ones for providing mental health care to the force. The Army also has been working to stem the stigma associated with getting therapy for mental problems, after officials found that troops are avoiding counseling out of fear it could harm their careers.

Our Leaders' Latest Success

In the latest violence, the deputy governor of Afghanistan's Helmand province has been killed in a bomb attack on a mosque, officials say.

'Failing state'

The three reports have appeared two years after a road map for international assistance was agreed in London.

Oxfam said a "major change of direction... to avert a humanitarian disaster" in Afghanistan was needed.

In an open letter, Oxfam predicts a "humanitarian disaster" in the country, pointing out that millions of dollars of development aid is being wasted.

The charity says that the international approach towards Afghanistan is lacking in direction and is "incoherent and uncoordinated".

"There are very many factors to explain the increasing insurgency, and of course criminality and the role of warlords and drugs traffickers is very important," said Matt Waldman, policy advisor on Afghanistan for Oxfam International.

"But we also have to understand that recruitment is much easier when people are living in desperate circumstances," he said.

'Resurgent violence'

The two American-based reports also warned that a new approach was needed to prevent Afghanistan becoming a "failed or failing state".

The US Atlantic Council began its report with the words: "Nato is not winning in Afghanistan" and talks of a stalemate.

"Without urgent changes Afghanistan could become a failed or failing state," it said.

"If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism, and put in grave jeopardy Nato's future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance."

Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has rejected the suggestion that Nato is not winning the battle with the Taleban.

He told the BBC that the security situation was mixed, with violence localised. "Nato's own figures show 70% of the violence occurs in 10% of the districts."

He said the authors of the Atlantic Council report "were guilty early on of excessive optimism - of naive idealism - and they are now connecting with some of the realities in Afghanistan".

On Wednesday another body, the American Afghanistan Study Group, warned that "resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, too few military forces and insufficient economic aid" were all contributing to the country's woes.

In a separate development, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told President Bush that his country's troops will not stay in Afghanistan unless Nato deploys a further 1,000 soldiers in the restive province of Kandahar, where there is currently a Canadian contingent of 2,500 troops.

Seventy-eight Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since Canadian troops were deployed in 2002.

The Taleban have mounted a comeback in Afghanistan over the past two years.

The south of the country has seen the worst violence since the Taleban were thrown out of power in the US-led invasion of 2001.

The Nato-led force has almost 37,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Is this News to You?

In a revelation bound to cast a pall over the 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon will report in a forthcoming book that the panel’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, engaged in “surreptitious” communications with presidential adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials during the commission’s 20-month investigation into the 9/11 attacks.

Shenon, who led The New York Times’ coverage of the 9/11 panel, reveals the Zelikow-Rove connection in a new book entitled The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, to be published next month by TWELVE books. The Commission is under an embargo until its February 5 publication, but Washington DeCoded managed to purchase a copy of the abridged audio version from a New York bookstore.

In what’s termed an “investigation of the investigation,” Shenon purports to tell the story of the commission from start to finish. The book’s critical revelations, however, revolve almost entirely around the figure of Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs prior to his service as the commission’s executive director. Shenon delivers a blistering account of Zelikow’s role and leadership, and an implicit criticism of the commissioners for appointing Zelikow in the first place—and then allowing him to stay on after his myriad conflicts-of-interest were revealed under oath.

Shenon’s narrative is built from extensive interviews with staff members and several, if not all, the commissioners. He depicts Zelikow as exploiting his central position to negate or neutralize criticism of the Bush administration so that the White House would not bear, in November 2004, the political burden of failing to prevent the attacks.

The Commission includes these specific revelations:

• Kean and Hamilton appreciated that Zelikow was a friend and former colleague of then-national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, one of the principal officials whose conduct would be scrutinized. Zelikow had served with her on the National Security Council (NSC) during the presidency of Bush’s father, and they had written a book together about German reunification. The commission co-chairmen also knew of Zelikow’s October 2001 appointment to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. According to Shenon, however, Zelikow failed to disclose several additional and egregious conflicts-of-interest, among them, the fact that he had been a member of Rice’s NSC transition team in 2000-01. In that capacity, Zelikow had been the “architect” responsible for demoting Richard Clarke and his counter-terrorism team within the NSC. As Shenon puts it, Zelikow “had laid the groundwork for much of went wrong at the White House in the weeks and months before September 11. Would he want people to know that?”

• Karen Heitkotter, the commission’s executive secretary, was taken aback on June 23, 2003 when she answered the telephone for Zelikow at 4:40 PM and heard a voice intone, “This is Karl Rove. I’m looking for Philip.” Heitkotter knew that Zelikow had promised the commissioners he would cut off all contact with senior officials in the Bush administration. Nonetheless, she gave Zelikow’s cell phone number to Rove. The next day there was another call from Rove at 11:35 AM. Subsequently, Zelikow would claim that these calls pertained to his “old job” at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

• The full extent of Zelikow’s involvement with the incumbent administration only became evident within the commission on October 8, 2003, almost halfway into the panel’s term. Determined to blunt the Jersey Girls’ call for his resignation or recusal, Zelikow proposed that he be questioned under oath about his activities. General counsel Daniel Marcus, who conducted the sworn interview, brought a copy of the résumé Zelikow had provided to Kean and Hamilton. None of the activities Zelikow now detailed—his role on Rice’s transition team, his instrumental role in Clarke’s demotion, his authorship of a post-9/11 pre-emptive attack doctrine—were mentioned in the résumé. Zelikow blandly asserted to Marcus that he did not see “any of this as a major conflict of interest.” Marcus’s conclusion was that Zelikow “should never have been hired” as executive director. But the only upshot from these shocking disclosures was that Zelikow was involuntarily recused from that part of the investigation which involved the presidential transition, and barred from participating in subsequent interviews of senior Bush administration officials.

• Some two months later, as Bob Kerrey replaced disgruntled ex-Senator Max Cleland on the panel, the former Nebraska senator became astounded once he understood Zelikow’s obvious conflicts-of-interest and his very limited recusal. Kerrey could not understand how Kean and Hamilton had ever agreed to put Zelikow in charge. “Look Tom,” Kerrey told Kean, “either he goes or I go.” But Kean persuaded Kerrey to drop his ultimatum.

• In late 2003, around the time his involuntary recusal was imposed, Zelikow called executive secretary Karen Heitkotter into his office and ordered her to stop creating records of his incoming telephone calls. Concerned that the order was improper, a nervous Heitkotter soon told general counsel Marcus. He advised her to ignore Zelikow’s order and continue to keep a log of his telephone calls, insofar as she knew about them.

• Although Shenon could not obtain from the GAO an unredacted record of Zelikow’s cell phone use—and Zelikow used his cell phone for most of his outgoing calls—the Times reporter was able to establish that Zelikow made numerous calls to “456” numbers in the 202 area code, which is the exclusive prefix of the White House.

• Even after his recusal, Zelikow continued to insert himself into the work of “Team 3,” the task force responsible for the most politically-sensitive part of the investigation, counter-terrorism policy. This brief encompassed the White House, which meant investigating the conduct of Condoleeza Rice and Richard Clarke during the months prior to 9/11. Team 3 staffers would come to believe that Zelikow prevented them from submitting a report that would have depicted Rice’s performance as “amount[ing] to incompetence, or something not far from it.”

In Without Precedent, Kean and Hamilton’s 2006 account of the 9/11 panel, the two co-chairmen wrote that Zelikow was a controversial choice

. . . [but] we had full confidence in Zelikow’s independence and ability—and frankly, we wanted somebody who was unafraid to roil the waters from time to time. He recused himself from anything involving his work on the NSC transition. He made clear his determination to conduct an aggressive investigation. And he was above all a historian dedicated to a full airing of the facts. It was clear from people who knew and worked with him that Zelikow would not lead a staff inquiry that did anything less than uncover the most detailed and accurate history of 9/11.

Shenon’s radically different account of the commission’s inner workings promises to achieve what none of the crackpot conspiracy theorists have managed to do so far: put the 9/11 Commission in disrepute.

Quote of the Day

God bless Our Leaders. Never has this country been run by greater losers and screw-ups. (Well, at least their core Big Wealth supporters have been made happy).

"There was plenty of intelligence. That intelligence
was mismanaged. Instead of addressing that
mismanagement we gave the intelligence
community more money, more authority, and
they're less accountable. That's ultimately going
to prove catastrophic."

- Mike German, former undercover anti-terrorist
agent for the FBI, famed Whistleblower, and
author of "Thinking Like a Terrorist"

If You Can't Laugh at this, You have a Stunted Sense of Humor

If this whole Heath Ledger tragedy has taught
me anything, it's that I'm not the only one
who makes numerous inappropriate calls to
Mary-Kate Olsen with a dead body in the room.

(Brad Simanek)

Foam-Mouthed Rightist Screed

Read this rabid silliness from the Fox Bidness Journal editorial page then reread it substituting "Straight-talking [Not] John McCain" for the Mittster.
Mitt Romney has emerged as the last Republican with a chance to stop John McCain, and there's no doubt he's a candidate from central casting: successful in business and politics, a family man, and quicker and more articulate than most. The main doubt about him has been whether he believes in anything enough to stick to it if he did become President.

To hear the candidate himself tell it, Mr. Romney believes above all in "data." As he told us on a visit, his management style includes "wallowing" in data about a problem, analyzing that data like the business consultant he once was, and then using it to devise a solution. A major theme of his candidacy is that he'll bring that business model to a "broken" Washington, apply it to Congress and the bureaucracy, and thus triumph over gridlock and the status quo.

To which we'd say: Good luck with that. Washington's problem isn't a lack of data, or a failure to calibrate the incentives as in the business world. Congress and the multiple layers of government respond exactly as you'd expect given the incentives for self-preservation and turf protection that always exist in political institutions. The only way to overcome them is with leadership on behalf of good ideas backed by public support. The fact that someone as bright as Mr. Romney doesn't recognize this Beltway reality risks a Presidency that would get rolled quicker than you can say Jimmy Carter.

All the more so because we haven't been able to discern from his campaign, or his record in Massachusetts, what his core political principles are. Mr. Romney spent his life as a moderate Republican, and he governed the Bay State that way after his election in 2002. While running this year, however, he has reinvented himself as a conservative from radio talk show-casting, especially on immigration.

The problem is not that Mr. Romney is willing to reconsider his former thinking. Nor is it so much that his apparent convictions always seem in sync with the audience to which he is speaking at the moment. (Think $20 billion in corporate welfare for Michigan auto makers.) Plenty of politicians attune their positions to new constituencies. The larger danger is that Mr. Romney's conversions are not motivated by expediency or mere pandering but may represent his real governing philosophy.

Governor Romney experimented with his consultant-centric approach in the Massachusetts laboratory, and the result was the "universal" health-care program the state adopted in 2006. As he tells it, the experts crunched the data. As he doesn't tell it, his initiative became a petri dish for the latest liberal health-care theories.

Insurance in Massachusetts is among the most expensive in the nation because of multiple mandates, such as premium price controls and rules dictating that coverage be offered to all comers regardless of health. Mr. Romney's cardinal flaw was that he did not attempt to deregulate and allow the insurance market to function as it should.

Instead, Mr. Romney saw the status quo and raised. At first he suggested mandatory health escrow accounts for people who decline to insure themselves. Once the consultants and the liberal state legislature were through with it, Mr. Romney's initiative became the "individual mandate," a first-in-the-nation requirement that residents acquire insurance or pay penalties.

The mandate in combination with other regulations effectively socialized the Massachusetts insurance market, and then Democrats on Beacon Hill added more subsidies and business penalties. Mr. Romney claimed victory anyway, heralding the new plan as "free market" as he plotted his GOP Presidential run. Inconveniently, however, both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards made Massachusetts the model for their 2008 health-care proposals.

So Mr. Romney made another adjustment, asking his free-market advisers Glenn Hubbard and John Cogan to write a reform along more market-oriented lines for the GOP primaries. His current plan has much to recommend it, though oddly he still keeps pointing to his Bay State experience as a triumph and model. None of this would bode well for a President Romney facing a Democratic Congress that would be even more relentless than the one in Boston. Nor, for that matter, would it bode well for a fall campaign when Mr. Romney would attack HillaryCare as socialized medicine, only to have Senator Clinton and the media retort that her plan is simply modified RomneyCare.

* * *

John McCain's difficulties in selling himself to GOP voters reflect his many liberal lurches over the years -- from taxes to free speech, prescription drugs and global warming cap and trade. Republicans have a pretty good sense of where he might betray them. Yet few doubt that on other issues -- national security, spending -- Mr. McCain will stick to his principles no matter the opinion polls. If Mr. Romney loses to Senator McCain, the cause will be his failure to persuade voters that he has any convictions at all.

The Truth about twisty, Curvy Straight Talk

Should John McCain emerge victorious from the Super Tuesday primaries next week, as now seems likely, his remarkable revival will impose a stark test on the national press corps. It is a test that the press has failed in years past, and that has only become more critical as the Arizona senator moves closer to his party's presidential nomination.

Given the unabashed affection that so many in the mainstream media display toward McCain, will he be covered fairly and without favoritism? Will he be subjected to the same sarcasm, gossip and investigative zeal so routinely applied to, for example, his potential Democratic rival Hillary Clinton? Will McCain's panders, flip-flops, gaffes and fumbles receive the kind of attention that embarrasses other politicians? Or will he remain exempt from the unsentimental scrutiny that is supposedly the standard of our political journalism?

Hey, almost everybody seems to know the answers already! But for a few minutes let's pretend we don't.

The problem that now confronts the journalists who have lavished so much love on McCain is whether to let America in on a sad secret about the straight-talking maverick, which is that he has transformed himself into a fairly typical politician. After years of tending the McCain mythos, its builders must either continue to maintain it or tear it down.

Like most appealing political myths, his includes more than a little truth. He's still that salty, wisecracking, accessible, irrepressible pol, surely among the most likable characters in Washington (as long as you don't get on his bad side). For better or worse he still says what's on his mind, unedited (at least sometimes).

But McCain's performance in the California debate proved again that he has abandoned the principled positions admired by so many independents and even Democrats, though not always by Republicans and conservatives. Where was the straight talker when Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times asked whether he would vote for his own McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill if it came to the Senate floor tomorrow? That guy would not have avoided the question, as McCain did, peevishly retorting that the cursed bill will never come up for a vote. But then that guy left the building many, many months ago.

McCain used the same evasive tactic when Hook asked him about the Bush tax cuts, which he opposed on principle in 2001 and which he currently seems to support retroactively. She pointed out that he originally criticized those cuts as biased toward the superrich, an argument we would expect to hear from a Republican rebel bucking the party establishment and the big boys. But now he meekly claims that he worried about offsetting that fat-cat feast by taking enough away from everybody else in budget cuts. He changed the subject to his political youth as a "foot soldier" in the "Reagan revolution" two decades earlier.

Those little episodes got scant attention in coverage of the debate, while most stories focused on the silly semantic spat between McCain and Mitt Romney over the Iraq escalation. "'Timetables' was the buzzword," McCain kept muttering, perhaps incomprehensibly to most viewers. But as the former maverick keeps shedding the moderate positions that dismay the Republican base, he is hollowing out the persona that launched a thousand adoring profiles. He dropped his opposition to the religious right years ago, and has since walked away from the campaign finance reform crusade that once defined him.

Speaking of reform, just how much of a reformer is McCain? The myth as recounted by the maverick himself and his admiring scribes is that the searing experience of the Keating Five scandal purified his character. Never again would he allow himself to be turned away from the path of righteousness by lobbyists and donors, never again would he sell out the public interest to the high rollers, never again would he besmirch the honor of his office ... and so on.

This is inspiring stuff, and he may well believe it all, but there is a growing backlog of evidence that he has not always lived up to such exacting standards -- particularly during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Consider just one McCain story that never drew the roaring gang of cable and print hacks who would surely show up if someone named Clinton (or Edwards or even perhaps Obama) had done the same thing. It is the story of an entity that the Arizona senator founded, known as the Reform Institute.

Created after his failed presidential run in 2000, the Reform Institute is a hybrid between a domestic issues think tank and a tasty sugar teat for campaign staffers. Among its senior fellows is former Mexican Cabinet member Juan Hernandez, who also heads the McCain campaign's outreach to Hispanic voters. Other Reform Institute employees have included lobbyist and political consultant Rick Davis, long a member of the McCain inner circle and now his campaign manager.

The sweetest aspect of the Reform Institute -- aside from its commitment to research on immigration reform, campaign finance and other liberal concerns that the senator no longer finds so relevant -- is that its own financing is not subject to the regulations and disclosures of federal election law. In practice, that has meant not only that the McCain crowd could sop up subsidies from foundations run by liberal Democrats but that corporate donors with issues before the Commerce Committee could chip in a few bucks, too. Or a few thousand bucks, or even 50,000 bucks or more, like the executives of Cablevision (under the name CSC Holdings) and Echostar, communications firms with substantial issues at stake before McCain's committee.

Then there was that contribution from American International Group, whose executives had been quite concerned in 2000 about McCain's vow to stop AIG from profiting illicitly on insurance overcharges ripped off from the Boston "Big Dig" project. Sen. John Kerry got most of the blame for the demise of McCain's reform bill, which would have banned insurance giants like AIG from overcharging federal projects and reaping windfalls from investing that money. But it was actually McCain who killed his own bill -- and nobody seems to have checked back to discover that AIG later donated more than $50,000 to the Reform Institute. How much more? That might be a relevant question now, notably because Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the McCain backer who ran AIG in those days, has since been forced to relinquish the company under threat of criminal prosecution.

These are precisely the kind of questions now aimed elsewhere -- at former President Bill Clinton's foundation, to take one prominent and appropriate example. The national press corps may never direct such skepticism toward their pal McCain, but it takes true willpower to resist reporting on a soft-money operation called the Reform Institute.

Straight Talk!

Straight Talk!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Wisdom of the Huck

Mike Huckabee has made a set of controversial statements about the Constitution (amendable), and the Word of God (not-amendable).

It aroused a fair amount of controversy. Which was good. But all of it missed the real point. The real point, or what should be the real point, is that almost every phrase in his statements was factually untrue.

Whether you're a person of faith or a secularist, or trying to balance the two, the discussion should be based on reality, not fantasies or myth-making. Furthermore, failure to confront the falsehoods helps perpetuate our life in a world of nonsense.

Here's what he said.
I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do, to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.
He later expanded on that in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
Huckabee: Well, what I'm simply saying, we've changed the Constitution 27 times in 221 years. But the Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments. We haven't added or subtracted any of them, and that's my point, is that the Constitution was created with the understanding that it could be changed, we could make changes. ...

Blitzer: But the criticism is you, in effect, would want to amend the Constitution based on the Bible. Is that right?

Huckabee: Well, it's really based on the idea that we've always had a historical understanding that life is precious. We go all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, when the founders made it very clear that all of us are equal. And equality wasn't based on the point of our viability. It wasn't based on our net worth, our personal assets, or ancestry. At the heart of the pro-life movement is the idea of intrinsic worth in value.

Marriage has only meant one thing in all of our historical settings. It's only meant one man/one woman. When someone wants to change that, what we're looking for is an amendment to say let's affirm, not change the definition of marriage. Let's affirm the definition we have, because some states are trying to change it, creating a huge mess for whether or not another state would have to recognize what one state did. And, in fact, why I think we need the constitutional amendment.
In actuality, it's far harder to amend the Constitution than the Word of God. Amending the Constitution is a difficult and arduous process. Amending the Word of God is quite easy. Any preacher (like Mr. Huckabee), a Pope, a self proclaimed new prophet, even a mere pundit, can come along and say, "This is actually the word of God! Not that old stuff you used to believe!"

Indeed, it happens in the Bible itself, over and over again. It's a big problem for the Western monotheistic tradition. Catholics solved it by not having ordinary people read the Bible for themselves (one of the primary issues of the Protestant Reformation) and having a hierarchy of priests, led by a Pope, to do the reading and then telling people what it means.

Protestants have tried to solve it by developing a whole school of theology called Dispensationalism. It is that God has "dispensed" his wisdom in constantly changing chunks as mankind was prepared to understand them, and it's our collective fault that He didn't set it out clearly the first time.

Islam took the view that the Jews and Christians had corrupted the texts and so God sent Gabriel to Mohammed with a final set of revisions. Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ, who told him more or less the same thing (except the bit about Mohammed). Then the Angel Moroni told him where some golden tablets with a different set of revisions written by a guy named Mormon were buried. Smith dug them up. They were in "reformed Egyptian." He translated them, then gave them back to Angel Moroni.

Huckabee says " the Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments." Let us leave aside the facts that there are three different versions of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the only one so labeled bears little resemblance to the one usually referred to by that name, and that Protestants, Jews, and Catholics each use a slightly different set of even that one.

The reality is that virtually all contemporary Christian and Jewish groups have amended them. And that any group that tried to enforce them, in the manner called for in the Bible, would be subject to arrest.

The Second Commandment begins: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth ...:"

This clearly forbids all paintings and statues of Jesus (let alone of anything else). It is worth noting that the Catholics simply removed this Commandment from the list and split up the last one into two parts so that they still had ten. It is only taken seriously in Islam, which is why Islamic art contains only designs and calligraphy and why the Taliban (quite correctly, by Biblical injunction) destroyed the giant statues of the Buddha.

But for the most part, this has been simply, and quietly amended. By ignoring it.

The Bible calls for the death penalty for violations of the 4th (keeping the Sabbath), the 5th (honoring your Mother & Father, or more precisely for cursing them), and the 7th (committing adultery.) The Bible adds that "everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, makes her an adulteress, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Obviously, enforcing those penalties would end Christianity as a cultural force in America, as there would be so few of them left. The Tenth Commandment, the one about "coveting," criminalizes thought. Any attempt to enforce it (aside from violating the fundamentals of American law), would remove all the Christians and Jews who were left after the executions required by enforcement of #4, #5, and #7, except for those in a vegetative state.

The Bible is amended far more often, far more casually, with far less debate, than amending the Constitution.

Huckabee's goal is two amendments to the Constitution. One would ban abortion. There is nothing in the Bible that directly forbids abortion. Not a word. Not a jot. So he does a shuffle and slide and he says:
Well, it's really based on the idea that we've always had a historical understanding that life is precious.

We go all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, when the founders made it very clear that all of us are equal. And equality wasn't based on the point of our viability. It wasn't based on our net worth, our personal assets, or ancestry. At the heart of the pro-life movement is the idea of intrinsic worth in value.
In fact, voting was restricted to white males, and normally, only those white males with a certain amount of personal assets. The historical truth is exactly the opposite of what Huckabee claims.

The second would define marriage as "a union between one man and one woman." Nothing in the Bible says that. Based on the examples found in the Bible the rule would more accurately be described as "Marriage is a union between one man and as many women as he can get in the prevailing social climate."

This is not meant as an attack on Mr. Huckabee. Compared to the crowd he's running against, and within the limits of Republican ideology, many of his foreign and domestic policy positions are sane and humane.

The point is that in our public debates the Right Wing postulates certain myths, the mainstream media repeats them, or nods along as if they're not full of obvious untruths, and while the Left may howl in outrage, fails to point out the factual errors and then drive them home. Truly stupid policies can only stand on a foundation of falsehoods.

What's So Bad about E-voting?

It achieves the rightwing goal of undermining the free vote. Why vote if your vote doesn't count? Have pointless elections and the party in power can stay in power forever, like a dictatorship yet appear democratic. A perspective is here.

A Sad Day for America; What We Lost

Kidding. Once a deranged, lying scumbag, always a deranged, lying scumbag....

Jim Dwyer in the Times:
On his way to school one morning, a 13-year-old boy was knocked down by a cab outside his home on East 86th Street in Manhattan. The first ambulance arrived in six minutes. The boy was conscious. He had a small cut on his head. His leg hurt. With a supervisor steadying the boy’s head, the medics moved him onto a backboard, and then into the rear of the ambulance.

“Your first concern is for a long-bone fracture,” said Erik Marketan, one of the emergency medical technicians who lifted the boy into the ambulance. “With a kid, they can bleed out inside the thigh before you know it. It’s all spelled out in the trauma protocols.

“There was nothing remarkable about the job.”

Up to that point, no.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, then living across the street, was about to arrive on the scene. It was just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 14, 1993, in the opening days of Mr. Giuliani’s life as an elected public official. In two weeks, he would be sworn in as mayor.

What followed in the next 10 minutes would soon be lost to history for nearly everyone but the people directly involved. The tone of that moment, however, would be heard again and again through the eight years of his mayoralty, like the forgotten note of an A played by a first violinist just before a performance, tuning the entire orchestra for all that will follow.

With his presidential hopes seeming to turn to dust in Florida, that first moment foreshadowed how he would see himself, and be seen by the people of New York. Some heard the loud, necessary note of assertiveness, the sounds of a leader taking direct charge to shape a better city, as Mr. Giuliani had promised in his campaign. Some heard a bully with a bullhorn, a man heedless of his own limits and hard facts, trampling the lives of others.

With the boy tucked into the ambulance, Mr. Marketan and his colleagues were getting ready to take him to the nearest trauma center, just 16 blocks down York Avenue at New York Hospital. The boy’s mother, who was at his side, wanted him taken to Columbia-Presbyterian, where his father was a surgeon. But it was more than six miles away, and was not a trauma center.

“That’s where the diplomacy comes in,” Mr. Marketan said. “Once they realize you’re operating in the best interests of the kid, and they see that you’re competent, they go along.”

Lt. Jimmy Ayuso, the senior paramedic on the scene, explained the reasoning to the mother. They would get the boy to New York Hospital, and once the doctors were sure he was safe, he could be moved.

The mother was close to agreeing, Mr. Marketan said, when Mr. Giuliani arrived and learned of her concerns. He lit into Lieutenant Ayuso for not going along with her request. There is a slight dispute over precisely what was said: The medical workers and some witnesses heard Mr. Giuliani directing combinations of multisyllabic profanity at Lieutenant Ayuso. Mr. Giuliani would later say that his strongest words were “idiot” or “stupid.” He assailed “red tape” and “bureaucratic rules.”

No one disagrees about the result. After a few minutes, Lieutenant Ayuso, known for a calm head, stepped back into the ambulance and instructed the medics to take the boy to Columbia-Presbyterian, but to note that it was being done against medical advice. “The decision was, if that’s what is going to get us off the scene, let’s go there,” Mr. Marketan recalled.

Over the next few days, Mr. Giuliani gave a narrative of the event that starkly contradicted the accounts of others who were there, and even the geography of the city. “The fact is, if you calculate the traffic, it’s no closer,” said Mr. Giuliani, dismissing the idea that the 16 blocks to New York Hospital would have been covered faster than the six miles to Columbia-Presbyterian.

“The young boy was shivering on the ground while they were arguing with the mother,” Mr. Giuliani said, and suggested that he was responsible for making the boy comfortable: “We finally got the blanket put on him so he would be warm.”

In fact, witnesses and medical workers said, the blanket had been put on the boy by a doorman even before the ambulance — or Mr. Giuliani — arrived. They also said the boy was already in the ambulance when the mayor-elect appeared. “I never left his side,” Mr. Marketan said. “The idea we would leave a patient shivering on the street, unattended — I thought about suing him for $1 for the slander, but I was 28 years old, just starting my career. I wish I had.”

Even the medical adviser on Mr. Giuliani’s transition team was distressed, although the boy recovered. For his part, Mr. Giuliani said he would do it again. “If I have to leave quickly,” he later joked at a political gathering, “it’s only because there might be an emergency out there that needs my help.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our Freedom Loving Allies

Lay down in shit....
So here is what is happening with Diz, my partner.

I waited to go public with this because I wanted to preserve his privacy, and thank you for understanding the cryptic nature of my communication lately.

On Saturday morning Diz flew into Dubai airport and was detained at immigration. We kind of knew he would be profiled because he has long hair and looks oriental (they are very racist against Asians in Dubai, and ultra-conservative). He knew the score going in: prescription drugs are illegal, dress conservatively and detox for a week (even trace amounts of either illegal or prescription drugs in the urine are prosecuted as 'drug smuggling'. I'm not joking).

They found melatonin on him, which he bought over the counter in the US. Legally, you can even buy it over the counter in Dubai.

They arrested him, anyway.

He was strip searched, forced to do a urine test and thrown in jail. In their search they dug into the bottom of his bag and came up with a few fragments of dirt, which they allege is hashish, which is totally outrageous. They also claimed that the melatonin was actually drugs, which was equally, clearly absurd.

The sentence if convicted is a blanket four years, with a minimum of six months in prison in one of Dubai's squalid, third world facilities.

After detaining him for three days, the melatonin was determined to be just that, and his urine was clear. Now they've asked for a seven day extension to test the dirt, and we trust that he will be on his way home after that.

They've been psychologically abusing all of us. One minute we're told they'll let him go as soon as they test the pills, the next we're told they are going through and pressing charges against him. Taking care of his affairs and keeping all of his close friends and relations, spanning four continents, up to date has been a full time job. Nadya, myself and Scott (his friend in Dubai: read his account here) have been working around the clock, ready to wage a campaign for his freedom in the event that he is charged. Scotty and Nadya are both pretty much fucking angels.

I spoke to him for the first time today. He rang me and answered my greeting with "Hello from the Dubai tourism board!", so rest assure he is in good spirits and taking all of this very well.

What can you do?

He wants your emails and letters. He's bored as hell. Send them to me at mildredvon at yahoo dot come and I'll make sure they get to him. He hasn't been charged with anything as yet, so there's not much we can do but wait.

In the event they decide to prosecute him we will wage a campaign for his release and we will need all the help we can get for it, but we're keeping our fingers crossed for an acquittal and apology over the next seven days.

Obviously, we're preparing for the worst. We have no guarantee they're not going to sentence him, and they've been threatening us with this possibility every time the consulate tells us things are going well. We've begun the task of taking care of his affairs in London in case they hold him more than the ten days. Things could always be a lot worse, and he's being treated well and has so much love and support from all of you guys.

The moral of this story is, no one is safe: If you go to Dubai, you are guilty until proven innocent under their unique little brand of sharia-lite laws. DO NOT be fooled by their campaign of hearts and minds and their self appointed branding as some sort of open-minded oasis in the Middle East. Diz is not alone: he is actually in the company of many other hapless victims who were singled out to make an example of. Do not think this could not happen to you. His story needs to get out so this does not happen to anyone else.

This is the message we need to get across: Dubai is not a safe tourist destination for Westerners.
Do your own research, and here are just a few links to get you started:

Woman hospitalized in Dubai and given painkillers, arrested at airport for it
Briton held in Dubai for painkillers in system
Canadian anti-drug agent arrested for...drugs
15 year old tourist accused of homosexual acts after being gang raped
Link with links.

No Comment


The 2008 State of the Union Speech (the Nattering of a Non-intellectual Nabob) in Visual Form


Hot Tracks for Your iPod, NOT on Beloved Leader's iPod

I'd embed these if I could....

The Constitution read aloud.

The Declaration of Independence read aloud.

Cleveland Hates Free Elections


More from Schneier

Computer security expert Bruce Schneier took a swipe at a number of sacred cows of security including RFID tags, national ID cards and public CCTV security cameras in his keynote address to this morning.

These technologies were all examples of security products tailored to provide the perception of security rather than tackling actual security risks, he said.

“Camera companies are pushing it, but all the actual data points the other way,” Schneier said. “RFID is another one – the industry pushing it is very much distorting facts.”

The discussion of public security -- which has always been clouded by emotional decision making -– has been railroaded by groups with vested interests such as security vendors and political groups, he said.

Public discussion which should be a security debate can be coloured by politics, he said.

"In the US, a lot of security discussions become political - my side good, your side bad. It's very hard to say 'I'm going to defer to the experts' because the political sphere is so polarised there are paid experts on all sides."

It will take a generation before US attitudes towards public security move beyond the post-September 11 climate of fear, he added.

The lesson for the computer security industry is to cater to real security issues while also considering the impact which fear and other emotions have on individual and organisational decision making.

Historically, the computing industry is littered with good products which failed to gain market traction over less secure solutions, he said, pointing to the firewall market as one example.

Schneier noted that despite the well known impact of emotional and psychological thinking on security decisions, information remains the greatest weapon that we have in creating good security solutions.

The best security solution will fail if it doesn't cater to both the reality and perceptions to do with security, Schneier warned.

"For most of my career I would insult ‘security theatre’ and ‘snake oil’ for being dumb. In fact, they're not dumb. As security designers we need to address both the feeling and the reality of security. We can't ignore one.

"It’s not enough to make someone secure, that person needs to also realise they’ve been made secure. If no-one realises it, no-one's going to buy it," Schneier said.

The goal must be to get the reality and perception matching up – so that security solutions aren’t lulling users into a false sense of security, or letting them exist in an unnecessary climate of fear.

"How do you stop the stupid stuff from outweighing the reality? The way to get people to notice that reality and feeling haven't converged is information. Information is the best weapon we have.”

In the IT industry, this information is a scarce resource, he said.

"In IT there isn’t a lot of data. Our bosses ask us for it all the time. We don't have the data because people don't report or they don't know they've been attacked.

"If there's enough information out there, you get a natural convergence between feeling and reality. In the business world, information is how the problem fixes itself," he said.

Bruce Schneier is the founder and CTO of BT Counterpane. He's the author of several books on computer security and cryptography including "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World". He also publishes a monthly newsletter called Crypto-Gram, and publishes a blog.

Worry of the Day


The Lie that is Our Leader's "Trust Us" Gummint

Isn't that what liars always say?

Greenwald explains it all.

Another US Corporation Uses Iraq for Looting Instead of Doing What It's Paid to Do: Rebuild


The Mittdiot

Personally, I think part of the Mittster's problem is his difficulty being a rightist panderer. Still, even as pandering, this statement is so dishonestly stupid as to be nearly breath-taking: Mitty, who's been running in name the last 7 years and practically speaking for 30-odd years? Not the Dems, dude.
The conventional wisdom is that Florida's Republican primary was very important in the race. And and no one on the stage with tonight's runner-up, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, looked very happy about the second-place finish. But in his concession speech, Romney stayed upbeat, and vowed to fight on.

His first words -- "Almost, but not quite" -- told the story. With 82 percent of precincts responding at the time of this post, Romney trailed the night's winner, Ariz. Sen. John McCain, 36 percent to 31 percent. But after a cursory concession, Romney focused the bulk of his speech on a continuing argument to voters. He hit especially hard on a theme of a broken Washington, D.C.

"We look to Washington for leadership, but Washington has failed us," Romney said. "We've asked them to fix illegal immigration. They haven't. We've asked them to get the tax burden off our families and businesses. They haven't. We asked them to end our dependence on foreign oil. They haven't. ... We asked them time and time and time again, and they just haven't gotten the job done. You see, Washington is fundamentally broken. And we're not going to change Washington by sending the same people back just to sit in different chairs. I think it's time for the politicians to leave Washington and for the citizens to take over."

Despite that theme, Romney did defend the current White House. "And let's point out, to all those who criticized President Bush, that it's thanks to him that we've been safe these last six years," he said.

He's Done?!

A question: Campaign contributions: He keeps them for private use or what? Just saying.
"The beast is dead."

-- That's former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's reaction to (and prediction of) the news that his indirect successor and old enemy, former N.Y.C. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, lost in Florida's Republican primary. Koch initially supported Giuliani, but their relationship soured during the latter's time as mayor, and Koch titled one of his books, "Giuliani: Nasty Man."

The Huck's Christian Campaign: Cheat and Steal

He may be down and soon out (not so likely) but still....

The major question is whether or not Huck's Army, and other external efforts to bolster presidential candidates in this election, can avoid breaking federal election laws. And based on some evidence, Huck's Army may have stepped over some lines.

Phone banking may be subject to federal regulations

Huck's Army is another manifestation of "Politics 2.0" during the 2008 presidential campaign. Eager volunteers, with varying degrees of separation from official campaigns, have devised novel promotional tools for candidates like the pro-Barack Obama "Hillary 1984" video and the Ron Paul Blimp. These efforts have brought to light the difficulties of keeping independent advocacy on behalf of candidates legal.

The Federal Election Commission regulates coordination between official political campaigns and external actors. While any kind of communication between a campaign and volunteers can be subject to federal election law, FEC regulations particularly single out groups that pay for advertising on behalf of a candidate, as the cost of such communications can easily exceed limits on individual campaign contributions.

Huck's Army takes pains to note that it is "not owned or operated by any candidate or political campaign" on its website. But the volunteers and Huckabee's campaign may find themselves in situations, accidentally or not, where the legality of their parallel activities comes into question.

For instance, a Jan. 15 account in Wired shows a Huck's Army volunteer describing how he interacts with the Huckabee campaign.

"[Jeffrey] Quesnelle, a Catholic 20-year-old software engineer in Sterling Heights, Michigan, says that the group coordinates with the Huckabee campaign to target messages to specific voters, like white, under-30 evangelical Christian women," the magazine's Sarah Lai Stirland reported.

Additionally, news reports have also described Huck's Army engaging in aggressive phone banking on behalf of Huckabee before the South Carolina primary. It appears that there was some communication between campaign staff and volunteers regarding this effort.

"Yes, we have a list that will not be overlapped with the official campaign list," said a volunteer who posted a message at the Huck's Army online forums. Other participants had worried about overlapping with the campaign's efforts.

The Huck's Army volunteer later thanked, "Leslie Rutledge who works with the campaign," in an update just before the South Carolina primary goers voted.

An expert in federal campaign law said that coordination between a presidential campaign and outside volunteers on phone banking could move over the line into a federally regulated form of coordination.

"What could trigger coordination rules would be Huckabee's people saying 'we'd love for you to distribute this message via phone banking,'" said Paul Ryan, the FEC Program Director and Associate Legal Counsel of the Campaign Legal Center in an interview with RAW STORY. "Even if Huckabee were to contact Huck's Army and say some phone banking would help us out, that would get an outside groups like Huck's Army into coordination regulations."

Other campaign law specialists note that volunteer groups like Huck's Army may run afoul of the law unintentionally.

"A lot of people may be enthusiastic," said Lawrence Noble, Counsel at Skadden Arps in Washington, DC. "They don't know what the law is, they assume certain things, and then they go ask the campaign what they can do."

But some Huck's Army volunteers do seem aware of the possible legal implications of their efforts.

"Just be sure that any expenditures to get call lists are properly reported to the FEC," warned one volunteer in the earlier forum discussion.

Huckabee's campaign did not respond to e-mails or phone calls from RAW STORY requesting comment.

Group makes effort to educate volunteers on law

In a phone interview with RAW STORY, a representative from the group did not believe that there was any direct coordination going on between the Huckabee campaign and the Huck's Army volunteers.

"I don't know of any specific interactions with the campaign other than requests to help with phone calls and to invite friends to participate in the campaign via e-mail," said David Schmidt, a California-based National Grassroots Campaign Manager for Huck's Army.

Schmidt also explained that the group as an organized entity hardly exists.

"We're a communications network more than anything," he added, noting that Huck's Army does not collect money and does not buy advertising on Huckabee's behalf. "We provide information about opportunities for the campaign, but they really have no control over us."

Huck's Army members are also advised to stay within the framework of campaign laws, including the requirement that they report expenditures over $250 to the FEC.

"We educate individuals on FEC guidelines, and make sure they've read the citizen's brochure," Schmidt explained. "We feel that we've given people a pretty good education, but there are not a whole lot of people going out and spending large amounts of money independently."

Schmidt also said the FEC had not contacted Huck's Army volunteers about any of their activities, although the group's members have contacted the FEC to seek clarification on some matters, and received responses.

If Huck's Army has broken any election laws, only the FEC can say so. And even if they have, the group might face very slow enforcement action from the FEC, or no action at all.

"Generally the FEC has not been that aggressive on coordination issues," said Lawrence Noble at Skadden Arps. "A number of commissioners have felt the investigations are intrusive, with the view that this is more independent activity than campaign activity."

And the Campaign Legal Center's Paul Ryan argued that FEC enforcement action would fail to serve as an effective deterrent. Groups like the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth and the Voter Fund received fines that were small relative to the amount of money they spent, and more than two years after the 2004 presidential election.

"Unfortunately in my view, the practical consequences of getting caught violating most of the campaign finance laws come so long after the campaign itself, and they seldom amount to a slap on the wrist," Ryan said. "That's par for the course with FEC enforcement action, even when the law is broken, the penalty is relatively small."

As for Huck's Army, they'll continue to raise their banner for Huckabee as the campaign heads for Super Duper Tuesday in February.

"We're really focusing on targeting states that we've got a good shot at winning, and those are states like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas where we expect to win big," Schmidt said. "I think there are also opportunities in places like North Dakota, and proportional states, where we can pick up a significant number of delegates."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Beloved Leader's Economic Success and the Failure to Respect it

Weee! FAIR did my work for me!
The New York Times (1/28/08) claimed in a front-page story that George W. Bush's economic growth record "would be the envy of most presidents." This claim has no basis in fact and should be corrected by the newspaper.

The assertion was part of a "White House Memo" by Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Opening with the question, "Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?," she continued:
Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.
In reality, few modern presidents would want to exchange their record of economic growth for George W. Bush's. Gross domestic product (GDP), the standard measure of economic growth, increased at an annual average rate of 2.6 percent from 2001 through 2006--the latest year available. This ranks the George W. Bush administration 6th out of seven administrations since 1960 in terms of economic growth (counting the Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon/Ford years as one administration each). Only the administration of Bush's father had slower annual growth. As economist Dean Baker noted in a rebuttal to Stolberg's piece (Beat the Press, 1/28/08), the statistics for each administration are:

Kennedy-Johnson -- 5.2%
Nixon-Ford -- 2.7%
Carter -- 3.4%
Reagan -- 3.4%
Bush I --1.9%
Clinton -- 3.6%
Bush II --2.6%

The fact that growth has been comparatively slow under the George W. Bush administration is a basic economic fact that any journalist covering politics ought to know, yet the New York Times' White House correspondent seems to be unaware of it. More than a year ago (7/12/06), Stolberg described Bush as "blessed with a growing economy but facing voters who do not give him much credit for it." She claimed that "by standard measurements, the economy does look good," citing "a gross domestic product that grew an average of 4 percent in the past three years."

But the standard way to report GDP growth is to adjust for inflation, which Stolberg apparently did not do; what the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis calls "real" GDP growth averaged 3.1 percent during 2003-05.

If you look at other measures of growth--such as wages, employment, consumption or investment--data compiled by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (1/14/08) show that the expansion under Bush has been notably weaker than most other post-war recoveries. For example, wages have grown by 3.8 percent a year during a typical recovery, but only 1.9 percent per year under Bush (measured from the 4th quarter of 2001). Only in growth of corporate profits has the Bush expansion shown a higher than average rate.

Stolberg's take on Bush's economic record seems to reflect the spin she's receiving from those consternated political advisers she cites; the Washington Post (1/28/08) also had a front-page piece that asserted that the Bush administration "received little credit for the nation's strong economic performance because of public discontent about the Iraq War."

The job of White House correspondents, however, is to examine and if necessary debunk administration spin, not simply pass it along to readers.