Thursday, November 24, 2005

That's all, folks

Well, I guess that's it. I've been doing this for over two years now. When I started I said I hoped it would be something that would be of use, not just navel-gazing. I've wondered all along if I was succeeding in that.

I've decided I haven't been.

When I first wrote this, at this point I started to go into the reasons why, how what I had hoped to accomplish would make Lotus stand out from other blogs, but then I deleted the whole paragraph because it sounded like an odd combination of puffery and whining. Suffice it to say that - particularly lacking a high-speed connection - I find I no longer have either the time or the energy to put in the effort required for this blog to become what I wanted it to be.

So a little over two years. During that time, not counting Jeopardy! posts, I've averaged just about three posts a day. In all that number, there were some, I expect, worth reading - and there were some people who were, at least for a time, regular readers. I thank you, one and all. But frankly, to you and to myself, I have to say that I don't think what I'm accomplishing here is worth the effort I'm putting into it. I have to find another way to be useful.

I'm going to leave the blog up for at least a while, long enough at least for me to scan back through two years' posts to see if there's anything there worth preserving. After that, who knows.

In the meantime, again, thank you all for reading, especially those of you who found the time to make a comment either here or by email. The joys and blessings of the season be on you all.

Footnote: I could hardly leave without one, could I? If there is any group blog that would be interested in having another member, someone who could offer some commentary once or twice a week, please let me know. My email is above.

A farewell gift

This is my backlog of quotes for "Quote of the Week." Perhaps you'll find something of interest among these.


Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress had been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. - Oscar Wilde


When even one American - who has done nothing wrong - is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth - then all Americans are in peril. - Harry Truman


I'm often amazed at the way politicians, who spend hours poring over opinion poll results in a desperate attempt to discover what the public thinks, are certain they know precisely what God's views are on everything. - Simon Hoggart


How many does it take to metamorphose wickedness into righteousness? One man must not kill. If he does, it is murder.... But a state or nation may kill as many as they please, and it is not murder. It is just, necessary, commendable, and right. Only get people enough to agree to it, and the butchery of myriads of human beings is perfectly innocent. But how many does it take? - Adin Ballou


It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt. - John Philpot Curran


If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. - James Madison


They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin


Voting is no substitute for the eternal vigilance that every friend of freedom must demonstrate towards government. If our freedom is to survive, Americans must become far better informed of the dangers from Washington - regardless of who wins the Presidency. - James Bovard


A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both. - Dwight D. Eisenhower


The tyranny of a principal in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. - Montesquieu


It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt


There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty. - John Adams, 1772


There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Wiesel


Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good. - Gandhi


Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt (the younger)


Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. - Winston Churchill


One man with courage makes a majority. - Andrew Jackson


The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to always be kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. - Thomas Jefferson


The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. - Dante


All of us have heard this term 'preventive war' since the earliest days of Hitler. I don't believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. - Dwight Eisenhower


A people living under the perpetual menace of war and invasion is very easy to govern. It demands no social reforms. It does not haggle over expenditures for armaments and military equipment. It pays without discussion, it ruins itself, and that is an excellent thing for the syndicates of financiers and manufacturers for whom patriotic terrors are an abundant source of gain. - Anatole France, pseudonym for Jacques Anatole Thibault


When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings. - Sogyal Rinpoche


Another nation is made out to be utterly depraved and fiendish, while one's own nation stands for everything that is good and noble. Every action of the enemy is judged by one standard - every action of oneself by another. Even good deeds by the enemy are considered a sign of particular devilishness, meant to deceive us and the world, while our bad deeds are necessary and justified by our noble goals, which they serve. - Eric Fromm


In the struggle of Good against Evil, it's always the people who get killed. - Eduardo Galeano


The fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad. - James Madison


What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty and democracy? - Mohandas Gandhi.


Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought! Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder! Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings! Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction! Be heroes in an army of construction! - Helen Keller


Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose - and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us" but he will say to you, "Be silent; I see it, if you don't." - Abraham Lincoln


Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty. - Simone Weil


You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. - Malcolm X


Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative. - John Stuart Mill


Laws, like the spider's web, catch the fly and let the hawk go free. - Spanish proverb


It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. - Sydney Smith


Law and justice are not always the same. When they aren't, destroying the law may be the first step toward changing it. - Gloria Steinam


There is more to life than increasing its speed. - M. K. Gandhi


Principles do not begin and end. - R. Buckminster Fuller


Each of us is the other to the others. - R. D. Laing


The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. - Edmund Burke


Indeed it is part of the general pattern of misquided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear. While such an economy may produce a sense of seeming prosperity for the moment, it rests on an illusionary foundation of complete ureliability and renders among our political leaders almost a greater fear of peace than is their fear of war. - Douglas MacArthur


I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments on those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation. - James Madison


The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. - Frederick Douglass


War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. - John F. Kennedy


Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. - Albert Einstein


In matter of conscience, the law of majority has no place. - Gandhi


The time comes when silence is betrayal. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become prey to the active. The conditions upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt. - John Philpot Curran


No man survives when freedom fails/The best men rot in filthy jails/And those who cry "appease, appease"/Are hanged by those they tried to please. - Hiram Mann


In times of peace the authority of the assembly, the dignity of the magistrates, the force of the laws stand in the way to some extent of the ruler doing what he likes. But once war is declared then the whole business of state is subject to the will of a few ... They demand as much money as they like. Why say more? - Erasmus of Rotterdam


One of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the great struggle for independence. - Charles Austin Beard


It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. - Edmund Burke


Action is the antidote to despair. - Joan Baez


The most commom way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any. - Alice Walker


We Americans have no commission from God to police the world. - Benjamin Harrison, address to Congress, 1888


Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control of your dearest interests have been passed into the hands of these corporations. - Andrew Jackson


Government is the Entertainment Division of the military-industrial complex. - Frank Zappa


To fight evil one must also recognize one's own responsibility. The values for which we stand must be expressed in the way we think of, and how we deal with, our fellow humans. - Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands


Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends. - J.R.R. Tolkien


As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand. - Josh Billings


Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. - Theodore Roosevelt


Everything, everything in war is barbaric - but the worst barbarity of war is that it forces men collectively to commit acts against which individually they would revolt with their whole being. - Ellen Key


We used to have a War Office, but now we have a Ministry of Defence, nuclear bombs are now described as deterrents, innocent civilians killed in war are now described as collateral damage and military incompetence leading to US bombers killing British soldiers is cosily described as friendly fire. Those who are in favour of peace are described as mavericks and troublemakers, whereas the real militants are those who want the war. - Tony Benn


Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it. - William Shakespeare


As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only doing their duty, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil. - George Orwell, London, UK, 1941


Mark! where his carnage and his conquests cease, He makes a solitude and calls it peace! - Lord Byron in "The Bride of Abydos"


A vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action changes the world. - Unknown


War paralyzes your courage and deadens the spirit of true manhood. It degrades and stupefies with the sense that you are not responsible, that "tis not yours to think and reason why, but to do and die," like the hundred thousand others doomed like yourself. War means blind obedience, unthinking stupidity, brutish callousness, wanton destruction, and irresponsible murder. - Alexander Berkman


It seems that "we have never gone to war for conquest, for exploitation, nor for territory"; we have the word of a president for that. Observe, now, how Providence overrules the intentions of the truly good for their advantage. We went to war with Mexico for peace, humanity and honor, yet emerged from the contest with an extension of territory beyond the dreams of political avarice. We went to war with Spain for relief of an oppressed people, and at the close found ourselves in possession of vast and rich insular dependencies and with a pretty tight grasp upon the country for relief of whose oppressed people we took up arms. We could hardly have profited more had "territorial aggrandizement" been the spirit of our purpose and heart of our hope. The slightest acquaintance with history shows that powerful republics are the most warlike and unscrupulous of nations. - Ambrose Bierce


When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. War settles nothing. - Dwight David Eisenhower


The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - Franklin Delano Roosevelt


The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells. - John Flynn


It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs. - Albert Einstein


War is the symptom, not the disease. — L. M. Heroux


The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth. - H. L. Mencken


Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. - James Bryce


Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity, only as we love all other lands. The interests, rights, and liberties of American citizens are no more dear to us than are those of the whole human race. Hence we can allow no appeal to patriotism, to revenge any national insult or injury. - William Lloyd Garrison


Give me the money that has been spent in war and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire of which kings and queens will be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the whole earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship consecrated to peace. - Charles Sumner


War is a waste of time. - old French proverb


Reporter: Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western civilization?
Gandhi: I think it would be a very good idea.


War begets poverty; poverty begets war. - Henry Burke


The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. - Dwight Eisenhower


The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. - Steven Biko


You can build a throne of bayonets but you can't sit on it long. - Boris Yeltsin


Memories are short and appetites for power and glory are insatiable. Old tyrants depart. New ones take their place. Old differences are composed, new differences arise. Old allies become the foe. The recent enemy becomes the friend. It's all very baffling and confusing. - Harry S Truman


The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. ... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.


The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice. - Mohandas Gandhi


They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin


The coward wretch whose hand and heart / Can bear to torture aught below, / Is ever first to quail and start / From the slightest pain or equal foe - Bertrand Russell


Force is the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism - Thomas Jefferson


In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us. - Thich Nhat Hanh


The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance - Thomas Paine


The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few to ride them. - Thomas Jefferson


All that talk about "liberation" twenty, thirty years ago, all the plotting, all the bodies, produced this, this impoverished broken-down country led by a gang of cruel and paternalistic half-educated theorists. - Former Vietcong General Pham Xuan An


I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life but I have determined how I want to live mine: by not participating in war any longer. - Monica Benderman

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Running down the road

One of the biggest downsides of not being a full-time blogger (In yer dreams!) is there are just so many things that you can't get to discuss. Just to give an idea, here are eight items over the past week and a-half that I would have liked to have said more about (and in a more timely fashion) than I do here.

November 14: The FDA "didn't follow normal procedures" in rejecting an application for sales of an over-the-counter morning-after pill
and some documents suggest the decision was made even before scientists finished reviewing the evidence, congressional investigators reported Monday. ...

In December 2003, FDA's scientific advisers overwhelmingly backed over-the-counter sales for all ages, citing assessments that easier access could halve the nation's 3 million annual unintended pregnancies. But the following May, FDA leaders rejected that recommendation....

The independent Government Accountability Office reviewed FDA's first rejection, uncovering what they called "unusual" decision-making. Among the findings:

- Conflicting accounts of whether the decision was made months before scientific reviews were completed.

- Unusual involvement from high-ranking agency officials.

- Three FDA directors who normally would have been responsible for signing off on the decision did not do so because they disagreed with it.
The morning-after pill contains a very high dose of birth-control meds and works by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg - which leads conservatives to consider it a form of abortion. And, of course, ideology trumps science. (See Design, Intelligent.)

November 15: I told you this was coming.
The former chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting repeatedly violated the organization's contracting rules and code of ethics in his efforts to promote conservatives in the system, according to an internal investigation released today. ...

[Kenneth] Konz[, the corporation's inspector general,] and his nine-member staff documented numerous occasions in which [Kenneth] Tomlinson circumvented the corporation's contracting procedures in trying to hire his own handpicked candidates to study the political balance in public broadcasting.
Where I disagree with the report is that it labeled him a "rogue politico." I don't think there was anything "rogue" about him; I think the other board members knew exactly what they had and their smarmy praise of him when he quit says they just didn't care.

November 16: Remember this the next time some red-faced and vein-bulged White House mouthpiece is ranting about how outrageous it is to suggest they have ever told us anything other than the unvarnished truth about Iraq.
On May 31, 1970, a month after [Richard] Nixon went on TV to defend the previously secret U.S. bombings and troop movements in Cambodia, asserting that he would not let his nation become "a pitiful, helpless giant," the president met his top military and national security aides at the Western White House in San Clemente, Calif. ...

In a memo from the meeting marked "Eyes Only, Top Secret Sensitive," Nixon told his military men to continue doing what was necessary in Cambodia, but to say for public consumption that the United States was merely providing support to South Vietnamese forces when necessary to protect U.S. troops.

"That is what we will say publicly," he asserted. "But now, let's talk about what we will actually do."
Like I've been saying, plus ça change....

November 16: I assume the corporatists and their "dismal science" flaks would have some way of maintaining this shows the self-correcting nature of the "free market," but I have to admit I can't think of what that way might be.
DuPont Co. hid studies showing the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and hundreds of other food containers, according to internal company documents and a former employee.

The chemical Zonyl can rub off the liner and get into food. Once in a person's body, it can break down into perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts, known as PFOA, a related chemical used in the making of Teflon-coated cookware.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to decide whether to classify PFOA as a "likely" human carcinogen.
DuPont officials insist the products are "safe for consumer use" because they were approved by the FDA. The fact that they were approved without knowing of the company's suppressed studies seems to have slipped their profit-über-alles minds.

By the way, the FDA says it's "continuing to monitor" the safety of the related chemicals and the EPA says it has "an extensive effort under way" on the matter. We all know what that means.

November 16: Under the "What, You're Surprised?" heading we find the news that
[a] White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 - something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy....
The liars in the White House defend themselves by saying it's necessary for the president to be able to get "confidential advice." But apparently, only from those who pull their strings.

November 17: U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer waxed poetic about how "the transcendent importance of a free press" enables reporters to "report the news and express opinions without fear of government oppression or interference." And then
found Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus in contempt Wednesday, saying the journalist must reveal his government sources for stories about the criminal investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Because, y'see, while the press is free to report the news without government interference, it's not free to gather the news from confidential sources without government interference.

I sympathize with Lee, who is seeking the identities of reporters' sources for his suit against the departments of Energy and Justice after he was apparently falsely accused of leaking classified information to China during a wave of paranoia about supposed Chinese espionage. But I do think there is a higher priority here.

Now, let me be clear: I don't think Pincus (or any of the other reporters from who Lee is seeking information) should feel obligated to protect his source since he was apparently being used to leak embarrassing information about Lee. There was no real story here, just manipulation for political (and possibly personal) ends. But that's a different question from if he should be forced to reveal that source. That, I believe, is an extremely risky course that reaches far beyond any individual case, as much as lawyers might like to argue otherwise.

For much the same reason, I stand apart from most of my comrades on the left in the case of Judith Miller. Certainly, she should have felt no obligation to Libby to keep his identity a secret; I think reporters' attitude should be "I find out you were using me, I'll burn you." But I disagree with those who applauded her contempt citation and even more with those who said she was not only legally obligated to reveal his name, she was ethically obligated to do so. The real basis of this "obligation," it seemed to me, was that people thought it would get Karl Rove. Particularly at a time of increasingly fierce efforts at shrouding much of government from the prying eyes of the interested public (see preceding item), I think that attitude is classically penny wise and pound foolish - and as confidential sources become harder and harder to come by (as some reporters insist they already are), that shroud will be wrapped ever tighter.

November 17: This is probably the one that I most regret not having been vocal about here. (It is something on which I can be confident my own Congressional reps will go the correct way - they usually do - but they did hear from me.) But ultimately, I wonder if it would have made any difference no matter how vocal any of us were, whether here, there, or anywhere else.
House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement yesterday on revisions to the USA Patriot Act that would limit some of the government's powers while requiring the Justice Department to provide a better accounting of its secret requests for information on ordinary citizens.

But the agreement would leave intact some of the most controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law, such as government access to library and bookstore records in terrorism probes, and would extend only limited new rights to the targets of such searches.
In fact, the "More power!" crew got pretty much everything they wanted. Not everything, but close enough. And why do I wonder if anything would have made a difference?
Three other measures - including one allowing law enforcement agents access to bookstore and public library records - would be extended for seven years, or three years longer than the Senate had agreed to. The House initially extended the provisions for 10 years but later voted to accept the Senate's four-year extension.
That is, the Senate passed a four-year extension. The House passed a four-year extension. The conferees' "compromise" has a seven-year extension. Increasingly under one-party rule, the conference committee doesn't come up with a "compromise," it comes up with what the misleaders (who choose the committee) want.

On the other hand, I suppose I'm a touch too pessimistic: If it hadn't been for the noise made all summer, I frankly expect it would have been much worse.

November 18: Just as a wrap-up, in what must mark a new low for pettiness, the Senate's GOPper misleadership
refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, [both D-NJ,] that honored [Bruce] Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album, "Born to Run."
Resolutions like this are passed by the dozens, the hundreds, every year, usually by unanimous consent. Although no reason was given for blocking this one, the belief was that the GOPpers are still "miffed" about Springsteen having supported John Kerry.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Footnote to that footnote

Cheney also engaged in a little - what shall we call it, how about rambunctious logic? - in that speech. He
shrugged off the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. "We never had the burden of proof," he said, adding that it had been up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he didn't have such weapons.
So it was up to Saddam Hussein to prove a negative. Even after the inspectors found nothing, he had to prove a negative. Even after the inspectors were prepared to regard any discrepancies as the result of sloppy bookkeeping, not deception, he had to prove a negative. We could make charges, but had no obligation to back them up because they were based on "intelligence" from people we knew to be liars. Even though to this day the White House still will not say that Saddam had no such weapons in the runup to the war (they will only acknowledge the "failure to find them," which is not the same thing), he had to prove a negative.

"Hello. I'm from the IRS. We say you had $500,000 in undeclared income last year and owe beaucoup bucks in taxes. Prove that you didn't or we'll take your house, seize your bank account, and garnish your wages. Well? We're waiting."

The burden of proof. What a wonderful thing to not have.

Footnote to both of the preceding

AP reported today that "The Big" Dick Cheney
accused critics of "corrupt and shameless" revisionism in suggesting the White House misled the nation in a rush to war, the latest salvo in an increasingly acrimonious debate over prewar intelligence. ...

"What is not legitimate - and I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible - is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence," Cheney said.
Corrupt. Shameless. Dishonest. Reprehensible. Have you noticed how the White House and its minions have reserved their harshest language for the suggestion that they manipulated intelligence?

That's because this is a sore spot, a vulnerable spot. Many people have been willing to put up with the war, with the deaths and the cost, because they cling to the belief that even if the Shrub team did the wrong thing (majorities now consistently say the war was a "mistake" and generally agree that it is "not worth the cost") they - the Bushites - thought they were doing good. Fracture that conviction and Bush and Co. are in really deep trouble. Back in June, the Zogby poll found that 42% of Americans would favor impeachment if it was shown that the White House lied about the war. By mid-October, an Ipsos poll found that had climbed to 50%.

And people are coming to realize that they were, indeed, bamboozled. Five major polls since the end of October have found majorities of the public agreeing the Bush administration "deliberately" or "intentionally" misled the country about Iraq before the war:

CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, 10/28-30
CBS News Poll, 10/30-11/1
ABC News/Washington Post Poll, 10/30-11/2
NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, 11/4-7
Newsweek Poll, 11/10-11.

(The first two results are available here, the latter three here.)

Even the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 11/3-6, which used the harsher word "lied" rather than "misled," had a 43-41 plurality recognizing deception.

The Shrub gang sees their position evaporating. They are running scared. You can see it in their postures, you can hear it in their increasingly shrill, increasingly desperate, denunciations of war opponents.

Now, this does not mean Bush or Cheney will be impeached (although they should be) and it does not mean that everything will work out for the best in the foreseeable future. (See previous item.) They still have that base of fanatical believers who will tune into Sean Hannity in order to be told what to believe so they don't have to figure it out for themselves. Shrub and the Shrubberies are playing to that base and playing for time.

But they are running scared.

Footnote to the preceding

The sad fact is, in the short term we are still oh so screwed. A couple of weeks ago, on November 2, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the increasing challenges to the war and how formerly timid and intimidated Dummycrats are starting to find their voices.
But most of the big names in the Democratic foreign policy establishment - ranging from Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware to retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark - still fear that this push for a fixed timetable for withdrawal would hurt the war effort in Iraq and the Democratic cause in the 2006 election.

"I think the only thing that can rescue Bush from the consequences of his inept handling of Iraq is overkill by zealous Democrats," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank.
In other words, the party establishment, in its smug reticence, is trying to achieve exactly that of which the Mean Machine is accusing those who are speaking out: the obtaining of partisan political advantage. Their concern is not with Iraq or the people of Iraq or even the US forces there or their families and friends, not with the stain on our nation, on our honor as citizens and as human beings, not with the damage we've done, not with the terrorists created by our stupidity, our cruelty, our callousness, but only with what will play well next November.


Ah, yer Murtha wears Army boots

One of the big news items of the past few days, of course, was the introduction of H.J.Res. 73 in the House by John Murtha (D-PA) calling for withdrawal from Iraq. Leaving out the "Whereas"es and the "Be it resolved"s, this is what the resolution said:
Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.
While no timetable was mentioned in the resolution, while speaking to reporters, Murtha estimated that no more than six months should be necessary for the withdrawal. His press statement (Thanks to Tim at Democratic Left Infoasis for the link.), after arguing that the war was damaging US military readiness, offered a simple but devastating list of particulars about Iraq drawn from the DOD's own quarterly reports to Congress:
Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects has been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism. ...

A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, and about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. ...

Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.
All of which the GOPpers and assorted other buffoons could not allow to be said undisrupted, so the Mean Machine was turned up to full-throated roar. GOPper Kay Granger of Texas called it "reprehensible and irresponsible ... a policy of retreat and defeatism." Jean Schmidt (R-OH) notoriously declared she had a "message" for Murtha: "Cowards cut and run - Marines never do." (She later retracted the statement, insisting that oh my goodness, she never meant that to refer to anyone in Congress, on my no! Some GOPpers tried to defend her by saying she didn't know Murtha had been a Marine. I have no clue why that was supposed to make it better.)

Over at the White House, Scotty McMouthpiece accused Murtha of advocating "surrender to the terrorists" and dragged out what he apparently regarded as an ultimate insult: He said Murtha was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore." GASP! The crowd draws back in unified horror!

The very next day, the House misleadership pushed for a vote. But not on Murtha's resolution, rather on a GOPper alternative which simply said: "It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."

This was, of course, designed to fail. It was also intended to serve as a way both to embarrass Dums who are not ready to actually end the war any time in the foreseeable future and to be able to claim the issue of withdrawal had been dealt with. And of course, fail it did, by a vote of 403-3 as the Dims chose to vote against it in an attempt to drain it of any significance. (The three brave souls who took the opportunity to speak truth to power were Jose Serrano [D-NY], Robert Wexler [D-FL], and Cynthia McKinney [D-GA]. Six more Dems voted "present." They were Jim McDermott [WA], Jerrold Nadler [NY], Maurice Hinchey [NY], Michael Capuano [MA], Major Owens [NY], and William Lacy Clay [MO].)

Okay, so here's my question about all of this: If the pro-war crowd was so sure Murtha's resolution was a loser, supported only by the "extreme liberal wing" among the Dummycrats - you know, Michael Moore and alla them there folks - so sure that voting for it would be embarrassing, why didn't they schedule a vote on Murtha's own resolution? Why did they instead engineer a vote on their version, which stripped away any nuance and eschewed phrases like "earliest practicable date" in favor of the meaningless (and physically-impossible) "immediately?" Why did they change it from a binding statement to a "sense of the House" resolution?

I can see only one answer: They were scared. Scared that Murtha's resolution would get a fair, a noticeable, measure of support. I don't think for a second it would have passed; there are still too many in Congress terrified of being labeled "soft on commu-," excuse me, "terrorism." But the GOPpers know how to count votes and I strongly suspect they didn't like the numbers they saw. Personally, I think it may have gotten as many as 100 votes. No, that's nowhere near a majority, but it's more than the first moves calling for withdrawal from Vietnam got. And it would have been more than enough to demonstrate a genuine level of discomfort in the House about the war, a discomfort encouraging and energizing to those who want to put a stop to the carnage.

Certainly that level of discomfort (and frustration in general) is running higher all the time. The Dem leadership called the way the GOPpers dealt with the resolution "a disgrace" and said it showed an "absence of any sense of shame." When Schmidnik called Murtha a coward,
Democrats booed and shouted her down - causing the House to come to a standstill.

Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., charged across the chamber's center aisle screaming that Republicans were making an uncalled-for personal attack. "You guys are pathetic. Pathetic," yelled Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass.
Other than Murtha's resolution itself, I think that's the best bit of news to come out of this. I wonder when was the last time the House was stopped in its tracks like that.

So yes, I think the were scared and that they had cause to be. If I'm right about that (and of course I think I am, otherwise I wouldn't have said it), that would also explain two other things which otherwise don't seem to make much sense.

The first is that right in the middle of this, word came out, CNN reported, that
[t]he top U.S. commander in Iraq has submitted a plan to the Pentagon for withdrawing troops in Iraq, according to a senior defense official.

Gen. George Casey submitted the plan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It includes numerous options and recommends that brigades - usually made up of about 2,000 soldiers each - begin pulling out of Iraq early next year.
Ah, so a withdrawal is already in the works! Relax, everyone, things are well in hand! However, later in the article, well below the soothing "pull out ... early next year" lead, it says that
[t]he plan, which would withdraw a limited amount of troops during 2006, requires that a host of milestones be reached before troops are withdrawn.

Top Pentagon officials have repeatedly discussed some of those milestones: Iraqi troops must demonstrate that they can handle security without U.S. help; the country's political process must be strong; and reconstruction and economic conditions must show signs of stability.
In other words, this is essentially the same plans that have been floating around for some time with the same requirements for anything more than a token but politically-useful-heading-into-the-fall-elections withdrawal. There is absolutely nothing new here, no change from existing policy, nothing to report. Announcing it now would seem to have only one purpose: defusing support for Murtha's resolution.

The other otherwise-odd news has RawStory reporting that
Republican lawmakers say that ties between Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and his brother's lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, may warrant investigation by the House ethics committee, ROLL CALL reports Friday. ...

According to a June 13 article in The Los Angeles Times, the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill included more than $20 million in funding for at least 10 companies for whom KSA lobbied. Carmen Scialabba, a longtime Murtha aide, works at KSA as well.
This sudden devotion to ethics on what would appear to be a relatively minor matter in comparison to what some GOPpers are dealing with these days, particularly as it's based on an accusation made over five months ago, would seem curious but for the timing, when it can be taken as another way to drain Murtha's support and as a warning to others: If we can't slime you as soft on terrorism, we'll slime you some other way.

Bottom line on all this: The hawks are running scared. They have lost the argument, they have lost the war, they are losing their grip on the public mind.
Public support for the conflict has dropped sharply over the last few months. Only 35 percent of those surveyed in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll published Monday supported the Bush administration's handling of the conflict, and 54 percent said the invasion was a mistake.

The poll also found that 19 percent of Americans want to see the troops come home now, and 33 percent said they wanted them home within a year. Only 38 percent said they should remain "as long as needed."
And just to be clear, there is no overlap between those first two figures. (Complete results can be found here.) To the degree the poll is accurate (the margin of error was +/-3%), a majority of Americans want the troops out within a year. Murtha's position - get them home in about six months - is, contrary to the Mean Machine, not only acceptable, it's quite mainstream. Gee, I guess Michael Moore ain't so "radical," after all.

In fact, just for fun, a quick calculation: So 19% want the troops out now, and 52% (19+33) want them out in no more than a year. Let's just say for the heck of it that the level of support for a six-month time frame splits that difference, that is, a little over 1/3 of the public would go for that. Translate that into an equal proportion of votes in the House and Murtha's resolution would have gotten 154 votes (435 x .355, rounded down). Do you or do you not think a result like that would have rocked the hawks (and the media) back on their heels?

So yes, they are running scared. They are losing on this and they know it. And the one thing they are desperate to do now, and why all the manipulation about Murtha's resolution, is that they want to avoid legitimizing opposition. The only thing they have left is the sense among the majority that they are not the majority, that others do not feel as they do. Murtha threatened to strip that from them and in so doing give voice to the scores of millions among us who are a combination of discouraged, fed up, and outraged.

And giving the people a voice that they can't control or manipulate is perhaps the one thing they fear most.

Footnote: One thing I didn't see in any of the new accounts but discovered when trying to look up the text of the resolution on Thomas is that Murtha had 13 cosponsors: Xavier Becerra (CA-31), Michael Capuano, (MA-8), Michael Doyle (PA-14), Rush Holt (NJ-12), Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18), Barbara Lee (CA-9), Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), James McGovern (MA-3), Michael McNulty (NY-21), James Moran (VA-8), Charles Rangel (NY-15), Hilda Solis (CA-32), and Anthony Weiner (NY-9).

Division in the ranks

The creationists and their faux-named "intelligent design" ilk, including their front group the Discovery Institute, were undoubtedly buoyed when Pope Benedict XVI - who I still think of by his previous moniker of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - claimed last week that
the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order;
i.e., was not consciously done for an intended purpose. This, it seems to me, is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine and reverse the Vatican's earlier position on evolution expressed in 1996 by John Paul II, who said it is "more than just a hypothesis." Back on July 7, Austrian Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn fired an earlier salvo in an op-ed in the New York Times in which he argued that
[e]volution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not.
He also called John Paul's statement "rather vague and unimportant."

In October, Schoenborn tried to finesse his statement, saying it was all a "misunderstanding." He even had praise for Darwin, calling The Origin of Species "one of the very great works of intellectual history" - but not, interestingly, a great work of science. He also said that
"I see no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, under one condition - that the limits of a scientific theory are respected. ...

"It is fully reasonable to assume some sense or design even if the scientific method demands restrictions that shut out this question," said the cardinal.
Or, to put it more bluntly, he can accept science as long as science allows him to continue to "assume" that "the things of the world" were consciously designed for some purpose, even if evolution was the means to the end chosen.

Interestingly, in that he comes close to a position I used to sarcastically suggest to creationists before they tried to dress up their assumptions in the language of science: "I can't imagine why," I used to say, "people who can conceive of a being who could create the entire universe in one fell swoop can't conceive of a being that could create evolution." Nevertheless, while Schoenborn did back off some, the central contention that evolution cannot be "an unguided, unplanned process" stands unretracted.

So it was good to be reminded that even in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, not everyone is looking for loopholes in science.
The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design" isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States.

The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."
Coyne, a devout Catholic,
reaffirmed God's role in creation, but said science explains the history of the universe.
He argued that God should be thought of more as "an encouraging parent," by which if I understand correctly, he envisions God as trying to advise us how to avoid screwing things up without actually making decisions.

This is apparently not the first time Coyne has held that so-called ID isn't science. It'll be interesting to see what follows now, since he has spoken again, this time right after the Pope's remarks. Benedict née Ratzinger is not a man to tolerate or forget dissent and the reaction to Coyne from the Vatican may tell us how serious the church hierarchy is about undoing its previous, even if hardly ringing, endorsement of evolution.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like...

...the '60s! Or so an AP item from Tuesday can lead one to hope.
Vice President Dick Cheney was heckled by peace protesters Tuesday as he spoke at the groundbreaking for a public policy center honoring former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker.

During Cheney's remarks, about a half-dozen people protesting the war in Iraq yelled, "War, what is it good for?" and held up a large banner saying, "Peace Now."
One of the things that marked the strength of the anti-Vietnam War movement was the fact that administration officials couldn't go anywhere without facing protestors. Lyndon Johnson got to the point where his public appearances were limited to helicoptering into a military base, making a speech, and flying back to Washington.

We're still a good ways from that, but I have to admit that some recent events have made me more hopeful, given me a sense that people are at long last starting to get sick of the BS they've been getting force-fed. There's nothing big or singularly persuasive that I can point to, just a feeling born of some little things - but over the years I've learned to trust my instincts.

One thing, of course, is Shrub's falling popularity, with an approval rating running around 35-37% depending on the poll and the day. And once that solid base of support starts to give, one thing leads to another. AFP reported on Tuesday that
USA Today noted that "for the first time - albeit by a narrow 49 percent to 48 percent - a plurality disapprove of the way Bush is handling the issue of terrorism."

Six in 10 also objected to his handling of Iraq, the economy and immigration. And a whopping 71 percent disapprove of his efforts on controlling federal spending, the poll showed.
What's driving this? Two things are primary, I'd say: One, of course, is Iraq, on which issue discontent is growing right along with the casualty count and the sense that the government has no idea of how to put an end to it, that it just stretches into the future. The other is the fact that, according to a recent poll, a majority of Americans say the indictment of Lewis Libby is a serious issue that "indicates wider problems 'with ethical wrongdoing' in the White House."
And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.
The war has sent hairline fractures through the Bushites' base of public support, fractures which the Libby case have opened. Once the Shrub gang is seen as just another group of crooked, selfish politicians, the resistance to questioning them on all fronts is seriously weakened, even to the point of collapse. Now, this may not do the Dummycrats much good since they're not polling a whole lot better, but that doesn't concern me. The shift in attitude it represents does.

Or try this: An AOL online poll asked people to compare Shrub and Bill Clinton. Now, of course, online polls don't mean a whole lot; the participants are self-selected and may well not reflect the public as a whole (or even AOL users as a whole). At the same time, the greater the number of votes, the greater significance can be attached to the numbers - and since AOL only allows one vote per screen name, the ability of anyone to use bots to distort the results is limited. With all that in mind, take this for what it's worth: With 584,000 votes cast, respondents have said Clinton was "more trustworthy" than Bush by a margin of 63%-37%. Asked who was the "better president," a total of 590,000 people have gone for Clinton by 67%-33%. (I don't know if people who don't subscribe to AOL can get to the relevant link, but in any event here it is.)

Again, such polls have great weaknesses - but imagine that same poll being taken four or even two years ago. Do you seriously think the results would have been the same? One more time: It's not the particular numbers and it's not whether or not things are working to the benefit of the Dums. It's the sense of movement.

Along with that is the fact that Shrub's numbers have continued to slip over time: The White House/rightwing talking head talking points aimed at reversing that trend don't seem to be getting traction outside that probably 30-something percent who would respond to Bush dropping a nuke on Iowa by believing it will bring democracy to Iraq or some other country beginning with an "I" somewhere. Or something. But it was a good thing!

I'm hardly the only one to notice it; the bigwigs certainly are smelling something about Iraq:
Senior Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said Thursday that the White House had made a strategic decision to launch a "sustained" campaign to vigorously combat the notion that the administration misled the nation.
As part of that, three times in the last two days Bush and "The Big" Dick Cheney have given speeches attacking Congressional criticism, with Cheney playing the Spiro Agnew role minus the alliteration, calling opponents "dishonest and reprehensible ... opportunists" who are "losing ... their backbone" and are, he said, undermining the morale of US forces. More déjà vu.

They're in trouble and they know it. So do the Dims, who replied in language rather less cautious than they had used before; for example, John Kerry said of "The Big" that "it is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq" than Cheney. Not really soul-stirring, but again, the issue is to compare this with what they might have said, with what they were saying, say, two years ago.

And then there was Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who told the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday that
"[s]uggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years. ...

Vietnam was a national tragedy partly because Members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the Administrations in power until it was too late. Some of us who went through that nightmare have an obligation to the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam to not let that happen again. To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic."
Let's be clear: Hagel is no liberal. What's significant here is that with his eye on the GOPper presidential nod for 2008, Hagel feels free to - even feels it advisable to - put some daylight between himself and the White House on Iraq.

What good all this will lead to, if any, is still an unknown. But the signs are there, the signs of, again, a shift, a shift in awareness, in if you will sensibility. The signs that, yes, people are finally - finally - getting fed up with being lied to and manipulated. Just remember that a wise political tactician will not attack opponents that can be safely ignored because by doing so you draw more attention to them and risk giving them legitimacy in the public eye that they otherwise would not have. So am I disturbed by Shrub and "The Big" lashing out at critics? No way - I'm delighted because it means the criticisms are drawing blood.

One last thing about the protest at Cheney's speech:
About 50 protesters, most of them appearing to be college age, demonstrated outside. Several carried signs, including one that read "Honor Baker, Impeach Cheney."
"College age?" I don't know if that was meant to be merely descriptive or a sly putdown - "ah, just a bunch of kids." Either way, it again carries echoes of Vietnam for me. Could it be? Could it be the naiveté, the passion and idealism, of youth unsullied by the cynical, world-weary "maturity" shown by so many of us, married to political action? If so, I say damn straight!

During the '80s, there was a movie which had a line something like "Once we get out of the '80s, the '90s are going to make the '60s look like the '50s." Obviously, it didn't work out that way. But wouldn't it be cool if the character was just off by 10 years?

Footnote: I suspect that Howard Baker (Yes, there's a connection: Remember it was at a groundbreaking for a center in Baker's honor at which Cheney was speaking.) doesn't deserve the reputation he obtained during the Watergate hearings by his repetitive asking of the question "What did the president know and when did he know it?" I've thought all along that he wasn't trying to advance the investigation but to undermine it.

Since the hearings were about Republican campaign tactics in the 1972 election, trying to focus solely on Richard Nixon was frankly inappropriate. It seemed (and seems) to me that Baker's actual intent was to direct the inquiry away from the obvious criminality of the GOPper mean machine and toward what he thought was safer ground for the party: the question of Nixon's direct personal involvement, for which, early on, there was little evidence. Little did he know....

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Footnote to the footnote

If you think it's all about "them," that it doesn't affect "you," think again and read this chilling article from last week's Washington Post about the "exponentially growing" use of so-called "national security letters," or NSLs, to evade and undermine privacy laws and the Fourth Amendment.

Summary: If you have any contact, even casual, even unknowing, with a suspect in any investigation involving "international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities," even if you are not suspected of wrongdoing, any FBI field supervisor can on their own authority, without any oversight by a prosecutor, grand jury, or judge - or even any after-the-fact review by the Justice Department or Congress - issue a national security letter which can be used to demand information on
where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work.
Employment records, credit records, banking records, phone records, travel records, and more, it's all there for the taking. The people, agencies, and businesses from who that information is obtained are required to never reveal that the information was released or even that the NSL was presented to them.

Even if you are subsequently cleared of any involvement in anything illegal, the information gathered on you is kept on file permanently in government databanks, which now can also contain consumer data from commercial providers.
In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined.
The specific purpose of retaining the records is to enhance the government's ability to do "link analysis," otherwise known as "data mining," where your personal information can be examined again and again without the need for a new justification, even for purposes unrelated to the original investigation, and even by an entirely different government agency (or, perhaps, an "appropriate" private corporation).

The defenses of the practice are like entering a hall of mirrors designed by Kafka. For example, Joseph Billy, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said if agents had to have grounds to suspect someone, they would already know what they wanted an NSL to find out.
"It's all chicken and egg," he said. "We're trying to determine if someone warrants scrutiny or doesn't."
And, of course, the only way to know if someone warrants scrutiny is to scrutinize them. See? Meanwhile, assistant FBI director Michael Mason, in charge of the Washington field office, rings up the old "the innocent have nothing to fear" defense.
"I don't necessarily want somebody knowing what videos I rent or the fact that I like cartoons," said Mason, the Washington field office chief. But if those records "are never used against a person, if they're never used to put him in jail, or deprive him of a vote, et cetera, then what is the argument?"
Former right-wing Georgia Congressman but strong civil liberties advocate Bob Barr says the abuse is in the power itself, which is true, but for my part, I want to have a video of Mason having sex that I can plaster all over the internet. I'm sure he couldn't object. I mean, after all, if privacy itself is not a consideration, if the whole concept of personal privacy is irrelevant, what's the harm? What's the argument?

And no, they didn't forget the all-time classic: Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, said
"[s]tarting with your bad guy and his telephone number and looking at who he's calling, and [then] who they're calling," the number of people surveilled "goes up exponentially..."

But Caproni said it would not be rational for the bureau to follow the chain too far. "Everybody's connected" if investigators keep tracing calls "far enough away from your targeted bad guy," she said. "What's the point of that?"
And if that's not enough, Billy has words of reassurance.
Innocent Americans, he said, "should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law."
That's right, you got it, Caproni and Billy are saying "Trust us."

That's kind of hard to do, considering it's mystifying just what sort of "care and oversight" Billy is talking about.
The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. ...

The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting....

The Justice Department has offered Congress no concrete information, even in classified form, save for a partial count of the number of letters delivered. The statistics do not cover all forms of national security letters or all U.S. agencies making use of them.
What's more, the White House has been unable to come up with a single case where the use of an NSL disrupted a plot.
As the Justice Department prepared congressional testimony this year, FBI headquarters searched for examples that would show how expanded surveillance powers made a difference. ...

"I'd love to have a made-for-Hollywood story, but I don't have one," Mason said. "I am not even sure such an example exists."
One final Kafkaesque bit is DOJ officials will defend themselves against charges of overbroad (and overboard) authority by noting that Inspector General Glenn Fine has yet to substantiate a complaint of abuse under the Traitor - oops, "Patriot" - Act. But how does one complain about an unjustified search of their personal records if the existence of that search is unknown to them? How do you protest against something you have no idea is happening? In testimony last May, Fine was forced to admit "that's a legitimate question." Going a step further, when the mandate to search is so broad and the required justification so little beyond - if beyond at all - simple curiosity, what would it take to make a search an abuse?

Despite (or perhaps because of) all that, Congress is prepared to actually expand the powers of NSLs by increasing the penalties both for noncompliance and for revealing their contents.
At the FBI, senior officials said the most important check on their power is that Congress is watching.

"People have to depend on their elected representatives to do the job of oversight they were elected to do," Caproni said. "And we think they do a fine job of it."
Yeah, well, you would, wouldn't you.

You guessed it, a Footnote: Opposition is actually growing to various provisions of the Traitor Act. Kind of late in the game but still better late than never and all that, last Wednesday the House instructed its conferees with the Senate on resolving differences between their competing versions of the Act's renewal to accept Senate language requiring a sunset of certain of the more controversial sections. Meanwhile, in a move applauded by the ACLU,
[s]everal major business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, complained in an Oct. 4 letter to senators that customer records can "too easily be obtained and disseminated" around the government. National security letters, they wrote, have begun to impose an "expensive and time-consuming burden" on business.
Unfortunately, the response has not been to tighten privacy protections, but to offer a concession to business: Both House and Senate versions of the bill would allow a judge to modify a national security letter if it imposes an "unreasonable" or "oppressive" burden on the company that is asked for information. That's obviously intended to placate corporate America and is hardly enough, but it does serve to indicate that it's more than what one FBI official called the "eccentric" civil liberties advocates who are troubled by what the government has been doing - and this is a constituency they can't afford to ignore.

Footnote to all of the preceding, Names in the News Div.

Stephen Hadley. Stephen Hadley. Where else have I heard that name just recently? Oh, yes, I remember, he was the one who just on Sunday refused to rule out the official use of torture,
arguing the war on terror could present a "difficult dilemma" and the US administration was duty-bound to protect the American people. ...

During a trip to Panama earlier this month, President George W. Bush said that Americans "do not torture."

But appearing on CNN's "Late Edition" program, Hadley elaborated on the policy, making clear the White House could envisage circumstances, in which the broad pledge not to torture might not apply.
In other words, we don't torture - unless we do.

It's worth noting in the same speech cited below, Lawrence Wilkerson also said that
officials in the Pentagon and in Cheney's office "really pushed the envelope" on permitting harsh interrogations and treatment of prisoners. Wilkerson recounted how military lawyers who opposed a series of guidelines allowing harsh interrogation techniques were silenced, and how he found out instances of two detainees who died in American facilities in Afghanistan as early as December 2002. The deaths, he said, were only confirmed by the Pentagon earlier this year.
Wilkerson asserted that the US is holding "some 25,000 prisoners and among them maybe 100 real terrorists."

But for the Safety Of Us All and for the protection of the purity and essence of our natural fluids, we dare not limit the president's unlimited authority! Disaster awaits any other course!

Of course, we've already seen where that kind of thinking will lead. I can't imagine why anyone would need a further demonstration - and happily, even the US Senate seems to agree, at least on the matter of torture.

And one more way

People start making odd(er) excuses for you.

In this case, the New York City newspaper The Forward reported on Friday that Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been Colin Powell's chief of staff, told a conference on international humanitarian law earlier in the week that
a White House memo outlining the need for hundreds of thousands of troops for the Iraq invasion was kept from the president. ...

In July 2003, USA Today reported the existence of the NSC memo, which examined the level of troops in peacekeeping operations and concluded that some 500,000 troops would need to be deployed to Iraq. USA Today raised doubts as to whether the president saw the memo. However, Wilkerson's assertion seemed to take the matter a step further, suggesting that aides who supported the war intentionally kept the president in the dark.
Last month, Wilkerson charged Vice President "The Big" Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumplestiltskin with forming a "cabal" to hijack American foreign policy. This time, he fingered then-national security advisor Can'tbe Right or her deputy, Stephen Hadley, as the one who had blocked the memo, although he admitted he had no proof.

So what, are Bush's friends (Wilkerson says he voted for him twice) now resorting to the Ronald Reagan defense? "Others took care of things for him, the poor dear. So don't blame him!"

Another way to know you're in trouble

Your friends start edging away from you.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who is weighing a run for president in 2008, has said "he agrees with Democrats who are pressing the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to move forward with an investigation into whether the administration manipulated intelligence.

"I was probably the main driver on the Republican side because I thought we needed the answers to whether intelligence was misused, intentionally or unintentionally," Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald in a story published Friday.
Even Rick Santorum, anticipating a tough re-election campaign next year, is trying to put some daylight between himself and the White House.
Santorum said the war has been "less than optimal" and "maybe some blame could be laid" at the White House. "Certainly, mistakes were made," Santorum said.
"Less than optimal?" Still, when a pig flies and all that.

Plus ça change

A number of bloggers, columnists, and other assorted wordy-type people already have variously analyzed, picked apart, and dismissed Shrub's Veteran's Day speech attacking those who criticize his war policies, so there is no need for me to go over that same ground. I did, however, want to provide a little historical perspective of a déjà vu sort, courtesy of two old copies of a right-wing news digest I came across the other day.

On the one hand, we have:

November 11, 2005: George Bush called his congressional critics "deeply irresponsible."
"The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges," Bush said. ...

"These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.

"As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."
And of course there is the White House gang's continuing opposition to Congressional attempts to put limitations on their "freedom" to conduct the War on Terror(c)(reg.)(pat.pend.) any way they damn well please.

But on the other hand, we have:

June 20, 1970: Spiro Agnew accused eight well-known critics of Nixon's Vietnam War policy of being "apologists" for North Vietnam who favor an American surrender in Southeast Asia. He called Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and J. William Fulbright (D-AR) "Hanoi's most effective - even if unintentional - apologists today." Fulbright, he said, was trying to "forge ... legislative shackles that would deny the president the authority and freedom he needs to protect American troops in the field and to win an honorable and just peace." He called the critics "failures" who "may have developed a psychological addiction to an American defeat."

September 16, 1970: Richard Nixon denounced "mindless destruction and terror" in the US, saying "terrorists" share "not only a contempt for human life but also a contempt for those elemental decencies on which a free society rests." He also attacked those who "excuse or apologize for the terrorists in the streets and on the campuses ... when this happens, the community ... loses its integrity and corrupts its soul."

September 16, 1970: Spiro Agnew assailed those who favor amnesty for Vietnam-era draft resisters. "There is a segment of our society that embraces amnesty as a way of life. This segment is represented far beyond its numbers in the United States Senate. This little band of men is guided by a policy of calculated weakness. They vote to weaken our defenses, they vote to weaken our moral fiber, they vote to weaken the forces of law. They were raised on a book by Dr. Spock, and a paralyzing permissive philosophy pervades every policy they espouse."

September 17, 1970: Attorney General John Mitchell declared that various US-based groups are "working on a national basis" to carry out terrorist acts in cities and on campuses.

September 17, 1970: Rep. William Cramer (R-FL) introduced a bill to make killing a police officer a capital offense under federal law, claiming attacks on police are "part of a nationwide plan by the radical revolutionaries, aimed at the ultimate overthrow of our government."

By the way, the same issues of the magazine also referred to Cesar Chavez as a "pro-communist agitator," called the New York Times "one of the best propaganda outlets the communists have in the United States," and labeled Ken Gibson, newly-elected as the first black mayor of a major northeastern city (Newark, NJ), "the 'moderate' front man for the radical Left."

So yes, my friends, we have been through this before. The "terrorist threat." The "don't tie the president's hands" argument. The "defeatists" in their "weakness" sending "wrong signals" in the face of an enemy out to "destroy our way of life." We've heard it all before and in some cases, rather more eloquently. But experience shows that when these sorts of claims are made, when the accusations against even establishment figures escalate, it's because the forces in power are in trouble: They are losing - or have already lost - the argument, and they know it.

That is to minimize neither the urgency nor the dangers of the present moment, but only to provide a bit of energy, a bit of inspiration, to carry on. Because:

November, 1970: William Cramer tries to move from the House to the Senate in a campaign in which he "had the entire Nixon administration stumping for him." He lost to Lawton Chiles.

October 10, 1973: Spiro Agnew resigns after pleading nolo contendere to charges of tax fraud.

August 9, 1974: Richard Nixon resigns after it becomes clear he will be impeached for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal.

February 21, 1975: John Mitchell is convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up; he is sentenced to two and a-half to eight years in prison.

Carry it on.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Well, I'll be!

"Every victory brings another...."

The House of Representatives has been debating a so-called "deficit reduction" bill that proposes cuts across a variety of social programs - including Food Stamps, Medicaid, child support enforcement, and more - to the tune of a total of $54 billion over the decade. It looked for a time like another wingnut juggernaut.

But believe it or not, a group of at least titular moderate Republicans forced the House leadership to drop from the plan a provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, AP reported late Wednesday. The GOPper miniführers
also dropped from the budget document plans to allow states to authorize oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts - regions currently under a drilling moratorium.

The actions were a stunning setback for those who have tried for years to open a coastal strip of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil development, and a victory for environmentalists, who have lobbied hard against the drilling provisions.
A group of 25 House Republicans sent a letter to GOPper leaders wanting the provision stripped from the bill and saying that they could not vote for the budget if it wasn't. Given the narrow GOPper hold on the House and the overwhelming Dummycrat opposition to the measure because of the deep cuts it makes in social programs, Hastert and company knew they couldn't afford those defections.

So they dropped the provisions. And oh my Undefined Intelligent Designer of Life, the Universe, and Everything, what do you know? They still can't get the votes they need! So says the Washington Post for Friday:
House Republican leaders were forced to abruptly pull their $54 billion budget-cutting bill off the House floor yesterday, amid growing dissension in Republican ranks over spending priorities, taxes, oil exploration and the reach of government.

A battle between House Republican conservatives and moderates over energy policy and federal anti-poverty and education programs left GOP leaders without enough votes to pass a budget measure they had framed as one of the most important pieces of legislation in years. ...

The House budget vote was supposed to reestablish the Republican commitment to a smaller government that would change the federal approach to Medicaid, food stamps, agriculture subsidies, student loans and a host of other programs.

But moderate Republicans made it clear that was not the way they wanted the party defined. ... [P]olicy changes were hitting the nation's most vulnerable citizens just as the party was preparing another round of tax cuts that would benefit the most affluent.
That is, another round of gutting the poor to fatten the rich - and some GOPpers are starting to feel the political winds shifting to the point where that is no longer a platform on which they wish to run.

Another attempt to pass the bleed-the-poor bill will be made next week. But, the Post says, "lawmakers conceded it will not get any easier" as GOPper "moderates" (wingnuts with some grip on reality) square off against GOPper "conservatives" (wingnuts, minus the grip).

Don't get too excited; this is yet an uphill battle and the real argument, even among the Dims, remains not whether to cut (much less whether to increase) but only how much to cut. Still, it is a hopeful sign that we might be nearer the crest of that hill than we thought a few days ago. As for ANWR, well, that too is still under threat: Senate conferees are supposedly determined to get the region opened up and may be thinking this will be their best chance for some time. The chances of keeping Big Oil's greedy mitts off ANWR remain not good, but they're better than they were.

Footnote: The Post also said that
the Senate Finance Committee broke up in disarray yesterday morning after failing to secure support for a tax package that would have extended the president's 2003 cut to the tax rates on dividends and capital gains. Joining the panel's Democrats, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) declared she could not support a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich as Congress was trying to cut programs for the poor. But when the panel's chairman, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), tried to win approval of a tax package without the investment tax cuts, panel conservatives refused to go along.
This despite the fact that
Bush's call to make his first-term tax cuts permanent has had so little support that Grassley drafted a bill that would simply extend some of the Bush tax cuts for a single year. Even that may go nowhere.
It seems the real wingers are sticking to their "More, more, I'm still not satisfied!" way of thinking. Considering that in the past, what has usually brought down reactionary regimes of one sort or another has been the tendency to overreach, I say, good.

One bit of bad news before it gets too far away

The White House is again trying to manipulate the rules for coal-fired power plants to let them keep spewing pollution, revealed a Reuters article in mid-October.

What's involved are the "new source review" regulations under the Clean Air Act. When the Act was first passed, existing plants were grandfathered in under the assumption that over time they'd be replaced with new plants. But to avoid the expense of pollution control equipment, utilities kept expanding existing power plants instead of replacing them. To close this loophole, Congress imposed the new source review, under which any significant change to or expansion of an existing plant was to be regarded as if it were new construction, subject to pollution control laws. The Bush administration, not for the first time, is trying to re-open the loophole by fiddling with the regulations. What it wants to do now is to change the way that utilities calculate their emissions, which
would allow existing plants to emit more pollutants without triggering federal emission-reduction requirements, environmentalists said. ...

Environmental groups said the EPA's plan, if finalized, means U.S. utilities can spew more nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide - precursors of acid rain and smog linked to respiratory diseases like asthma.

"Under the new rule, emissions can increase entirely without limit, as long as a facility's hourly efficiency rate increases," the National Environmental Trust said.
The EPA maintains that the changes, which the White House failed to get into an energy bill passed earlier in the month, are all about efficiency and clean air and good health and ice cream for everyone. However,
[i]n internal EPA memos distributed by environmental groups, an EPA enforcement official said the proposed rule is "largely unenforceable as written."

"The effect of the rule is to make very few, if any, changes modifications that trigger NSR," according to the memo, provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Which is exactly the point.

The action came just about two weeks after a new report said
[t]he health risks associated with air pollution may be nearly three times greater than previously thought....

Researchers say earlier studies may have seriously underestimated air pollution's health risks by basing their calculations on one or two air pollution measures from several cities and then comparing the health effects.
That is, previous researchers have compared the average air pollution over one entire city to that over another entire city without taking into account the fact that levels of air pollution can vary considerably within a city. Instead, this study looked at 23 sites in Los Angeles over a period of two decades.
The results of this in-depth analysis show that the risk of death from any cause rose by 11% to 17% for each increase in the level of fine particles found in vehicle exhaust, smoke, and industrial emissions in the neighborhood's air.

"By looking at the effects of pollution within communities, not only did we observe pollution's influence on overall mortality, but we saw specific links between particulate matter and death from ischemic heart disease, such as heart attack, as well as lung cancers," says researcher Michael Jarrett, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in a news release.
One thing the researchers say needs to be examined is whether the type of air pollution found around L.A., which is "strongly influenced" by vehicle exhaust, is more dangerous than that found in the eastern US, where dirty air is more the result of power plants and factory emissions.

By the way, in case you hadn't guessed, among the most damaging types of air pollution, because the small size of the particulates involved allows them to penetrate deeper into the lungs, comes from burning fossil fuels - such as coal.
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