Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Next week everything should lighten up, but work is still weighing on me and should be for the next couple of days.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The smoking gun

Go read this whole article from Knight-Ridder.
A July 2002 Justice Department statement to a Senate committee appears to contradict several key arguments that the Bush administration is making to defend its eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without court warrants.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law governing such operations, was working well, the department said in 2002. A "significant review" would be needed to determine whether FISA's legal requirements for obtaining warrants should be loosened because they hampered counterterrorism efforts, the department said then.

President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top officials now argue that warrantless eavesdropping is necessary in part because complying with the FISA law is too burdensome and impedes the government's ability to rapidly track communications between suspected terrorists.

In its 2002 statement, the Justice Department said it opposed a legislative proposal to change FISA to make it easier to obtain warrants that would allow the super-secret National Security Agency to listen in on communications involving non-U.S. citizens inside the United States.

Today, senior U.S. officials complain that FISA prevents them from doing that.

James A. Baker, the Justice Department's top lawyer on intelligence policy, made the statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 31, 2002. He was laying out the department's position on an amendment to FISA proposed by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The committee rejected DeWine's proposal, leaving FISA intact.

So while Congress chose not to weaken FISA in 2002, today Bush and his allies contend that Congress implicitly gave Bush the authority to evade FISA's requirements when it authorized him to use force in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks three days after they occurred - a contention that many lawmakers reject.

Glenn Greenwald, an Internet blogger, first connected the earlier Justice Department statement to the Bush administration's current arguments on his Web log, called Unclaimed Territory.
Kudos, Glenn.

Update: The Los Angeles Times has a story up.
Four years ago, top Bush administration lawyers told Congress they opposed lowering the legal standard for intercepting the phone calls of foreigners who were in the United States, even while the administration had secretly adopted a lower standard on its own.

The government's public position then was the mirror opposite of its rationale today in defending its warrantless domestic spying program, which has come under attack as a violation of civil liberties.
So does The Washington Post.
The Bush administration rejected a 2002 Senate proposal that would have made it easier for FBI agents to obtain surveillance warrants in terrorism cases, concluding that the system was working well and that it would likely be unconstitutional to lower the legal standard.

The proposed legislation by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) would have allowed the FBI to obtain surveillance warrants for non-U.S. citizens if they had a "reasonable suspicion" they were connected to terrorism -- a lower standard than the "probable cause" requirement in the statute that governs the warrants.

The administration has contended that it launched a secret program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency in part because of the time it takes to obtain such secret warrants from federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The wiretapping program, ordered by President Bush in 2001, is used when intelligence agents have a "reasonable basis to believe" that a target is tied to al Qaeda or related groups, according to recent statements by administration officials. It can be used on U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals, without court oversight.

Democrats and national security law experts who oppose the NSA program say the Justice Department's opposition to the DeWine legislation seriously undermines arguments by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, who have said the NSA spying is constitutional and that surveillance warrants are often too cumbersome to obtain.

"It's entirely inconsistent with their current position," said Philip B. Heymann, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration who teaches law at Harvard University. "The only reason to do what they've been doing is because they wanted a lower standard than 'probable cause.' A member of Congress offered that to them, but they turned it down."

It's tax time again

And it looks like I'll have to do them myself. Chris Matthews made it impossible for me to use TurboTax this year, unlike the last three.

Missing the point

Why can't the AJR's Rem Rieder understand this? First, he argues that Deborah Howell's mistake in claiming that Abramoff had donated to Democrats is a "distinction without a difference." He leaves out that the "mistake" also happened to dovetail nicely with Republican talking points on the issue at the time.

Even card-carrying members of right-wing hackdom like David Brooks and Rich Lowry called bullshit on that one. Does that make Howell herself a hack? Not necessarily. She could simply be a lazy, imprecise writer who made a mistake. Or stupid.

Here's the really stupid bit of Reimer's column, though.
Howell weighed in last Sunday, a week after her original piece ran, with a sensible column admitting her mistake, explaining her position and responding to the cascade of calumny.

"Going forward, here's my plan," she wrote. "I'll read every e-mail and answer as many legitimate complaints as I can... But I will reject abuse and all that it stands for."

It was a good column. But it might have been wise if she had written it earlier, just after the firestorm erupted, and posted it on washingtonpost.com.

These days debates are waged in real time—Internet time—not newspaper time. And as John Kerry no doubt would tell her, you don't want to leave allegations, no matter how scurrilous, hanging out there.
Good Lord, Rem, are you saying that Howell should have defended herself sooner? Are you suggesting that allegations and errors should be immediately and vociferously corrected? Is that only in the case of allegations aimed toward your fellow reporters or does it include errors and allegations made by them, too? Because that seems to me to be exactly what this whole thing is about.

Update: Froomkin gets it.
On the specific underlying issue, it's worth pointing out that the flashpoint for all this was a flatly inaccurate statement by the ombudsman -- that was then left uncorrected and unaddressed for several days. That was a big mistake. The Web offers great newspapers the opportunity to correct their mistakes quickly and effectively. When we don't, I'm actually quite happy to see people getting angry.

Reality embarrasses the wingnuts: A continuing series

Rep. John Murtha, November 17th, 2005:
The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin.

Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota...

Much of our ground equipment is worn out. And I've told the CEOs of big companies, "You better get in the business of rehabilitating equipment because we're not going to be able to buy any new equipment because the money's not going to be there."
Fire up the outrage!
  • "The Army is not broken. Every day, our soldiers are making tremendous contributions in Iraq, in Afghanistan and more than 120 countries around the world. Retention rates are at an incredibly all-time high, particularly in the active component." - Col. Joseph Curtin said

  • "Is our army broken? Not hardly, but it could be. One 4th I.D. colonel said it best: 'You want to break this army? Then break your word to it.' Which is precisely what the Dems want to do. President Bush was right when he said yesterday that the only way we will lose this war is if we lose our nerve. The Dems long ago lost theirs." - Jed Babbin

  • With all the eagerness of a dog returning to something it has vomited up, the conventional media has latched onto Rep. Murtha's rambling discourse about the Army being "broken" and "has done all they can."

    Unmitigated crap. - "Major John"
Of course you knew this was coming:
Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a “thin green line” that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon’s decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended...

He wrote that the Army is “in a race against time” to adjust to the demands of war “or risk ‘breaking’ the force in the form of a catastrophic decline” in recruitment and re-enlistment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Higgins, Halliburton and Brooks

Bullshit analogies continue. I just found this this little bit:
SEC. RUMSFELD: Long after World War II had ended, Dwight Eisenhower named the man he believed to have won the war for America, and it wasn't a famous general, but a naval engineer named Andrew Higgins. Eisenhower said if Higgins had not designed and built those boats, the whole strategy of the war would have had to be different. One cannot know which decisions made today will make the difference in future conflict, but one can be sure that they'll affect American strategy for decades to come. Our responsibility is to minimize the limits we place on future strategies, maximize the flexibility we make possible, because tomorrow's threats are certain to be significant and unpredictable...

Q: One question on the armor issue: I want to go back -- use your example of the Higgins boats and capability-based planning. What connects the case of the Higgins boat to this war where up-armored humvees, interceptor vests and side-plate armor? Obviously there is a controversy now that there is a shortage of that armor.

Mr. Secretary, was there any failure in capabilities-based planning in terms of the Iraq war for individual soldier equipment and vehicles; i.e., planning for an unforeseen adversary’s capabilities?

GEN. PACE: The short answer is no.

Q: Comment.

GEN. PACE: The longer answer is Higgins boats were designed in between wars, and when it turned out that that was what was needed, the country built a lot of them.

SEC. RUMSFELD:And fashioned a strategy to use them, as I pointed out.

GEN. PACE: Up-armored Humvees and the SAPI protection were designed before the war, and as we got into the war, the Congress of the United States provided the resources, and we have built literally beyond 700,000 flak jackets right now have been produced since the beginning of the war. There are 40,000-plus armored vehicles.
Um, one thing. Before we built Higgins boats what did we do? Did we march soldiers into the water at Dover hoping that they would make it to Normandy? Good God, this is a stupid analogy.

You don't need better body armor to send soldiers into war, but it's the smart thing to have as soon as possible, hence the Army's choice to sign a $70 million emergency contract for more body armor.

Now, I'm not a Marine general who one would expect to know a thing or two about, say, amphibious landings, but I'm pretty sure that boats would be needed when you're sending people across the English Channel.

Something else that makes the Higgins story a bit different than today? Unlike David H. Brooks, the big Republican donor who more than likely will be indicted for insider trading and gave the military faulty body armor and the criminal, corrupt fuckers at Halliburton whom Republicans have refused to investigate, Higgins was an honest-to-God patriot in the best sense of the word.
He fought unionization bitterly, but when it was forced on him, he became labor's biggest wartime champion. He scandalized the segregated South by giving black workers responsible jobs and paying them the same as white workers. He pioneered equal pay for women, the disabled, the elderly--any worker he could find who hadn't been drafted. What profits he made went back into the business. He once demanded a Navy contract be renegotiated downward because he was making too much money while American boys were dying.

Damn, Harry!

Harold Meyerson nails Bush to the wall.
How could a president get these things so wrong? Incompetence may describe this presidency, but it doesn't explain it. For that, historians may need to turn to the seven deadly sins: to greed, in understanding why Bush entrusted his new drug entitlement to a financial mainstay of modern Republicanism. To sloth, in understanding why Incurious George has repeatedly ignored the work of experts whose advice runs counter to his desires.
Personally, I think the silver lining of Bush's presidency is that he's broken the glass ceiling that was holding down the mentally challenged.

The invisible hand is flipping you off

While I continue to find myself monstrously busy, two recent items have made me need to get back on the bloggy horse. First is an article in the February issue of Harper's by Garret Keizer. It's called "Crap Shoot" and argues that Americans are being left out of the political process, but are being fooled into thinking they are vital. They are, he says, being told they are "players" and goes on to make some devastating observations about the way politics is "played" in the United States today. In one section, for example, he explains why he thinks it's so easy for some to accept unreality.
As the country is bankrupted by an insane war, every one of whos stated objectives could be refuted by a junior high debate team; as "outsource" becomes the lates euphemism for outrage, be it of jobs or torture; as the ability of our children to read, write and breathe is eroded almost as rapidly as the ozone layer and the topsoil—what is it they can't see? And the answer, at least one of the answers, is this: they can't see that they're not players. They can't see because the game is all about making them believe that they are players, and because the real players have gotten very good at the game.
How many bloggers, I wonder, can read that without feeling like they just got punched in the gut? Yes, I admit to a stinger, but I can't believe the RNC invites a guy calling himself "Capt. Ed" to their offices without snickering as he leaves the building with an inflated appreciation for the special little squeak he adds to the Republican Noise Machine.

Keizer argues that it's time for a new paradigm. First, we must quit thinking of politics as a game. While this thought isn't the most original, Keizer's take on it is. He's not just saying that it's too important to be thought of in that manner, he's saying thinking like that leads to cliquery with ever expanding circles of exclusion and delusion. In other words, I might think that I'm on the mind of a congressman because I've donated money or wrote a widely linked blog post about him, but he would find that idea laughable. And he and I both might see people writing letters to the editor as foolish, but they might feel like they are players as well because they got a call once from someone who complimented them. Keizer:
Exclusion is contained in the very definition of the player. If everyone is a player, then no one is a player. When everybody comes onto "the field," it's no longer the field. It's a park.
It is time, Keizer says, to embrace not "politics as game," but "politics as work." We need people in politics at all levels who see the country as a rough piece of something that must be smoothed and shaped and made better every day through diligent effort.

I like that.

But the second item which caught my eye was the recent release of the DVD version of the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. (You remember Enron, right? The company whose downfall was pulling down Bush's popularity until Sept. 11th happened?) In watching this movie again last night, I realized that Republicans were, in some ways, already ahead of us in seeing this new paradigm. The Republicans in power today, however, don't see themselves as workers toiling alongside their constituents to shape a better future America. No, they see themselves as CEOs, executives running America, Inc. Where Keizer sees work, they see business opportunities.

Thinking of the country as a business, in and of itself, might not be wholly awful. There are probably ways in which a business paradigm could lead to a more efficient and responsive government. But we've seen what Republicans think of business. Their view is that all CEOs have no responsibility but to make money and that giving over the marketplace to Adam Smith's "invisible hand" through deregulation will always achieve the best solution.

It should be noted, of course, that I wrote a CEO's only responsibility is to make money and not to earn it. I remember talking about this when Bush was saying that people should "keep more of the money they earn" when he was selling his first tax cuts. When you realized that most of those cuts went to the country's wealthiest people, you had to see that this was mostly dynastic wealth and the pay of top executives. And, of course, when you actually delved into the compensation of these top execs, you see that only a Republican mind could still believe that the vast majority of these people are earning their money in any meaningful interpretation of the word.

In 2004, the average "rank-and-file" worker's pay at 100 large companies rose 2.5 percent, according to USA Today. In that same year, median CEO pay rose by 25 percent. Am I the only one who doesn't remember stock prices or corporate earnings shooting up by a quarter in 2004? Read the whole USA Today article, and you'll find that there is no correlation to pay and performance which could justify calling what many CEOs do earning. Examples?
  • Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp's shares lost 20% and earnings fell 12%. But CEO George Schaefer received an $825,000 bonus after directors used their "best business judgment" analyzing measures such as the economy, his progress on regulatory matters and leadership objectives, according to its proxy. Schaefer also got options worth up to $17 million and gained $9 million exercising options. The company did not return calls.

  • Anheuser-Busch shares have been as flat as day-old beer since Patrick Stokes became CEO in July 2002. In setting Stokes' 2004 salary — up 5% to $1.5 million — directors gauged shareholder return, financial results, market share and CEO pay at 20 companies. That said, "Actual salary determination is subjective in that there are no specific weightings for the variables considered," Anheuser's proxy says. Since 2002, Stokes has received options potentially worth $290 million. But according to Anheuser, Stokes' holdings are currently worth just $37 million.

  • Eli Lilly's shares slumped 19% in 2004, but CEO Sidney Taurel's combined salary, bonus and stock grant surged 74% to $4.6 million. Lilly's board said it considered not only shareholder return and financial results but also Taurel's leadership in "important initiatives to improve the company's productivity" and enabling it to "compete in an increasingly challenging business environment." Lilly directors also concluded that Taurel's compensation was "significantly" below that of his peers, giving him 400,000 options the company valued at about $11 million, vs. 2003's 350,000 option grant worth $7.2 million.
And that's just the money they get directly. It doesn't include the perks. From the Christian Science Monitor:
  • Don Tyson, Tyson Foods' former chairman, got the firm to pay for items such as a $20,000 Oriental carpet and an $8,000 horse.

  • Jack Welch of General Electric had a retirement package that gave him use of the company jet and fresh flowers for his New York apartment.

  • One CEO even got at least 48 visits to golf clubs and resorts with lush fairways; 100 flights aboard company planes; 200 stays at hotels, many world-class; and 500 meals at restaurants, some averaging nearly $200 for a dinner for two.
Whoops! I'm sorry, that last person on the list wasn't a CEO at all. It was Tom DeLay. DeLay, of course, is the epitome of CEO Republicanism. He has no qualms about accepting perks in his position because, in his mind, he's earned them. And what's so wrong with that? And what's wrong with day traders working out of his and Bill Frist's offices, using their knowledge of pending legislation to game the market? Hell, as long as there's no law against it, then there's nothing wrong with it, right?

Here we see how deregulation plays into their mindset. Enron was the perfect example. Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling fought to deregulate the energy sector and, when they got it from California's Governor Pete Wilson, they began screwing that state's customers soon afterward. They decided their profit margins outweighed ever other consideration, including the physical health of Californians. Enron had to keep looking good no matter how sick it had become and that was only to line the pockets of Lay and Skilling and their inner circle. Skilling once famously said, "I am Enron." As long as he was doing all right, everything was fine.

In 2003, Tom DeLay was asked by the owner of Ruth's Chris Steak House to put out his cigar due to a federal government regulation which banned smoking in the building. DeLay famously said, "I am the federal government." Like Enron, Republicans oppose regulation not because they think it will be good for Americans, but because those regulations are inconvenient. The name Abramoff comes to mind...

Never, however, has the connection between Republican love of deregulation and their willingness to simply do whatever the fuck they want been driven home more than in Bush's attempts to place himself above the law in the domestic spying case. There are many options built into the law which requires warrants for phone taps, but they're simply inconvenient to Bush, who appears to think that, like DeLay, he is the federal government. If you doubt it, I suggest you read Nancy Pelosi's recently declassified memo about the wiretap program. She asks for more information, writing, "it has not been possible to get answers to my questions." We have no idea what answers she got from this memo as that section has been redacted, but most Dems in the House seemed to be surprised by the program and the extent of it. Also, she had to ask for permission to speak about the program as it was considered classified.

In other words, members of Congress were fed limited information and not allowed to speak about the program in public. Yet George W. Bush sullied my alma mater yesterday by saying, "We briefed members of the United States Congress, one of whom was Senator Pat Roberts, about this program. You know, it's amazing, when people say to me, well, he was just breaking the law -- if I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"

Near the end of Enron, the company's former vice president, whistleblower Sherron Watkins, warns that Enron was not alone in its duplicity:
Enron should not be viewed as an aberration—something that can't happen anywhere else—because it's all about the rationalization that you're not doing anything wrong. 'We've involved Arthur Andersen. We've involved the lawyers. The bankers know what we're doing...' The diffusion of responsibility
Watkins leaves out the sycophantic press corps which took everything Enron said as fact.

We are there again. Bush breaks the rules and says he involved Congress and the lawyers and the press eats it up. But there are many people on both sides of the aisle who find Bush's actions repulsive. The checks and balances built into the economic system failed those hurt by the Enron scandal and those which are supposed to protect our civil liberties are failing us now. Laws and regulations are simply being discarded by the very branch of government supposed to uphold them.

Bush thinks Americans want that, though. He says that Americans expect him to do whatever it takes to protect them. Yesterday, in another context, Bush said that "the strong have a duty to protect the weak." Me, I agree with that statement and so, I believe, would the founders of this nation. What they also knew, however, was that's not the way things usually work. That's why they built limits into the system to protect the rights of individuals and guard against the exercise of unchecked self-interest, the hobgoblin of Republican minds.

But Republicans think that the President shouldn't be held down by silly things like laws and regulations and they believe that they've simply earned the right to act as they see fit at all times, ethics be damned. Republicans have gotten their wish and, in control of the government, they've gotten the opportunity to run it like a business. Sadly, that business is Enron.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Excuse the light posting for the past couple of days. Work is kicking my ass.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Monday, January 16, 2006


Since no station could be bothered to properly cover Gore's speech today, you should watch it yourself here or listen to it here.

Transcript is here. My favorite part:
An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

Two steps

Step 1: Read this. (Link via Atrios.)
It's an open secret in Washington: Nonprofit doesn't always mean nonpartisan.

But RAW STORY has found that the Republican National Committee lists a panoply of conservative nonprofits as "GOP groups"--in direct violation of the nonprofit charter.
You'll want to read the whole thing.

Step 2: Call the Internal Revenue Service at (800)829-0433 and tell them they ought to look into this.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Softpeddling to Cambodia

This would be funny if it didn't involve such serious issues.

First, Americans bomb a house in Pakistan and warblogger "Capt. Ed" gloats that "#2 AQ" may be "BBQ Residue." Classy, no?

Unfortunately, the intended target, Ayman al-Zawahri, wasn't there. There was, however, innocent Pakistani families sitting there to catch the blast. What does "Ed" say to that?
Attacks using unmanned Predators have a higher risk of going wrong, and the US would prefer to capture targets like Zawahiri alive anyway. Pakistan, however, has not allowed the US to operate very freely in that area for some time now, although we have made it clear that we will take out AQ leadership wherever we think they might be. It's yet another reason why the WOT requires boots on the ground and traditional military operations as well as covert operations. Without having both, the intelligence needed for further operations gets more difficult to find and to confirm.
Shucks, folks. It ain't our fault, it's those damn Pakistanis faults just like it was the 30,000 dead Iraqis faults that Saddam Hussein wouldn't come clean and tell us where the weapons were that, of course, he didn't have.

But here's the real kicker. Ed says, "Pakistan, however, has not allowed the US to operate very freely in that area for some time now." Really? "Not very freely?" Ass. The article he links to even says
Pakistan says it does not allow Afghan or the 20,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan to cross the border in pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaida believed to be hiding there. The war on terror is opposed by many in this Islamic nation of 150 million people.

Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, called the "incident" in Damadola "highly condemnable."

The Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying a protest had been filed with the U.S. Embassy.
So it's not a matter of not being able to operate "very freely." Ed's trying to mislead his readers into thinking that we have limited access to Pakistan. We have no military access to Pakistan, period, and I say this as someone who has sat with infantry and special forces troops near that border. The truth is we've just violated the sovereign territory of a "strong ally" in the War on Terror.

"Ed" ought to be embarrassed by the skill with which his victory dance changed to a tap dance. He seems to have gotten a lot of practice lately.

Working off script

Atrios lays out the Republican plan for Iran and, guess what, it has nothing to do with actually disarming Iran. Go read it.

My suggestion as to how to change this script? Point out that, as Victor Davis "Girded Loins" Hanson has said, we will now be testing the limits of multilateralism as we fight to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's hands. Hanson, of course, makes it seem as if the U.S. is now kowtowing to those who've complained about our unilateral actions in Iraq, but the simple truth is we have no other choice!

Democrats should point out that, yes, we would love to have all options on the table for Iran, but Bush's misuse of the military in Iraq has left us in no position to mount yet another military campaign. In other words, Bush sent troops into Iraq to protect us from imaginary weapons of mass destruction, leaving us vulnerable to real ones.

It's on

X misses the mark

I like Andrew Exum, and I think he's got some good points but is ultimately off-base in his op-ed in today's Times. First, he says that soldiers are being burdened with too much gear already and argues that we shouldn't bother with trying to improve their armor.
Lost among the politicians' cries for more extensive armor for the troops is the fact that most soldiers, in my experience and based on discussions with many, feel they have enough armor already - and many feel they are increasingly being burdened with too much equipment. And the new supplementary body armor unveiled this week in Washington doubles the weight of the equipment - worn over the torso and, now, the upper arms - to 32 pounds from 16 pounds (for a medium-sized soldier).
For the most part, I agree with that assessment. In Afghanistan, I and many other soldiers I dealt with were already pissed about the amount of gear we carried. Arm coverage is just about the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. You might actually want to do something with your arms.

I will say, however, that more than one soldier (again, myself included) felt that the side panels of the interceptor body armor were too vulnerable and, since IEDs are usually timed to blow into the side of a humveee, that leaves most of a soldier's vital organs exposed to direct attack. (Side panel plates were, we knew, already available in other versions of the IBA.)

But X carries his point too far at the end of his piece:
(T)he American public and its elected representatives don't always understand what military officers and soldiers do: that the safety of individual soldiers must always be balanced against the ability to accomplish the unit mission.

I worry that this timeless lesson is now being forgotten in the interest of minimizing American casualties. "Protecting soldiers," as an Army spokesman told me the other day, "is our No. 1 priority."

Excuse me, but shouldn't winning the war be our No. 1 priority?
Exum is a smart guy and a former Ranger officer, so he should know better than this. The first priority of any commander should be protecting soldiers and not because of any touchy-feely reasons, but because that's how wars are won. As the preface to Army Field Manual 21-75, "Combat Skills of the Soldier," puts it, "Wars are not won by machines and weapons but by the soldiers who use them. Even the best equipped army cannot win without motivated and well-trained soldiers."

This is the point of better and, yes, smarter approaches to soldier protection. Soldiers have been punished for losing or abandoning equipment in wars, even though rifles and humvees and other equipment can be replaced relatively quickly. All you need is money. A soldier is much harder to replace. For that you need a willing, qualified person and the time to train them to fight. These are much more precious commodities.

History is replete with stories of armies which won battles they should have lost. Many of those battles were decided by leadership, true, but others were decided by the skill and experience of the forces which fought them. Still others were lost due to attrition brought on by either enemy contact or sickness. Hell, society as we know it might not exist at all were it not for a virulent sickness which brought down Assyrian troops before they could demolish Jerusalem around 700 B.C. And where would we be if the Nazis had had better protection against the cold at Stalingrad?

Napoleon wrote in a letter in 1813 that "The soldier's health must come before economy or any other consideration." This was the year after he lost two-thirds of his troops to hunger, fatigue, sickness and desertion during his failed Russian campaign. Every soldier's body buried or simply abandoned by the side of the road was also one less rifle to be fired or trained artilleryman to work the big guns.

I have no qualms with Exum admitting the cold, hard fact that soldiers die in wars, but he was a leader of men and should know that we should do everything in our power to keep soldiers as safe as possible. We should do this not only because we value their lives, but because we value victory.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

NPR going to hell

Mara Liasson must like getting the big check to fill a pseudo-liberal slot at Brit Hume's table on Fox News. How much does she like it? Well, let's just say the party supported by her network overlords just won in the coverage game with a score of 5-0.

In her story about corruption today, she uncritically presented the words of five Republicans and no Democrats. The list:
  • Brian Nick, NRSC communications director

  • Warren Tompkins, Republican strategist from South Carolina

  • Vin Weber, former Republican congressman from Minnesota

  • Rep. Jeff Flake, (R-AZ)

  • Jan Baron (ph), Republican campaign finance attorney
A few days ago, I and others noticed that the Republicans have been going around acting shocked--shocked!--that their members would be corrupt. Newt Gingrich, in a commentary on NPR no less, said that the Republicans were the "party of reform."

It's an idea that's been spreading. The blogosphere's slow class met at the RNC the other day and, as always, parroted the new talking points. Michelle Malkin: "I'm not gonna endorse specific legislation...we, as the party of reform, we oughtta be for that."

Malkin and other wingnut bloggers you expect this shit from and, hey, I'm fine with that. That's what blogs are about, after all: Unfiltered points of view.

But on NPR, a supposedly liberal bastion in the supposedly liberal media, this isn't just shocking but disgusting. You see, there are ways that this story could be told without getting the opposition party's point of view and still unbiased, but Liasson doesn't even try. She simply lets Republicans toss out whatever talking points they want.

Vin Weber said, "The conservative party of this country, the party that does not bill itself as the party of government has to always have a reform element to it or there's not a real reason for it to be the majority...They've lost sight of the fact that the natural conservative majority in this country can't become simply the party in power, it has to be the party of reforming government and we gotta get back to that."

I don't remember when we Democrats agreed that, on the playbill of American politics, we would be playing the "party of government," but that's an easy one. For an added "Fuck you" to fairness and disclosure, note that Liasson failed to mention in her story on lobbying and corruption in Congress that former Congressman Weber is, you guessed it, a fucking lobbyist! Think that might cause some doubts about his ability to judge this situation fairly?

Warren Tompkins, Republican strategist from South Carolina, was allowed to say without challenge "We (Republicans) get elected because we're not supposed to do these kinds of things." This, of course, explains why we lost in Ohio's Second Congressional District a while back. I will say, however, that Nitpicker warned Maj. Hackett at the time he shouldn't run on the "I Do Corruption Right" ticket.

Mara Liasson even lets Brian Nick, mouthpiece, say this is a "bipartisan congressional issue." Liasson does mention that Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats involved in the issue, but her few words of balance do nothing, ultimately, to tip the scales away from the mounds of crap she allows Republicans to drop upon her listeners.

You know what's really sad? She's not even close to being alone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006



Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rohrabacher's buddies

Rohrabacher on Abramoff:
I think that he's received a lot of unjust criticism.
Rohrabacher on the fucking Taliban:
The potential rise to power of the Taliban does not alarm Rohrabacher, because the Taliban could provide stability in an area where chaos was creating a real threat to the U.S. Rohrabacher says that under the previous situation Afghanistan was becoming a major source of drugs and a haven for terrorists “an anarchistic state of narco-terrorism.” In contrast, the Taliban leaders have already shown that they intend to establish a disciplined, moral society.

Rohrabacher calls the sensational media reporting of the “harsh” imposition of strict Islamic behavior, with the underlying implication that this somehow threatens the West, “nonsense.” He says the Taliban are devout traditionalists, not terrorists or revolutionaries, and, in contrast to the Iranians, they do not seem intent on exporting their beliefs. Rohrabacher would have preferred to see a negotiated compromise among the various factions (but with no role for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) rather than a bloody confrontation. But in the absence of such a compromise, he believes a Taliban takeover would be a positive development.
Am I beating a dead horse? Probably, but having seen the results of years of Taliban rule firsthand, I wouldn't be able to ever get through a conversation with this fucker without screaming, "The Taliban?! What were you fucking thinking?!"

Here's one of Rohrabacher's buddies working hard to create a more moral, disciplined society.

In how many ways must these fuckers be proven to be stupid and wrong before we can convince others that they shouldn't be given the time of day, much less our attention?

Shorter American people

Still stupid after all these years

Ladies and Gentlemen, the shifting beliefs of Mr. Lawrence Eagleburger: Nixon Deputy Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush, asshole.

We didn’t have the vaguest understanding of the region in which we were sliding. We got ourselves in a terrible mess because we hadn’t thought about why we should be there. We made the same mistake in Somalia. [See below.]
Desert Storm, February 2001:
I felt that in the early stages of building up the military plans for the invasion itself, I thought (Colin Powell) had been excessively cautious. I must say, having looked at it since then and having heard him say that what he was trying to do was to convince the political betters that they were going to have to invest a lot in this exercise, I'm prepared to accept that explanation...I think he was being a legitimate general against the background of having seen what happens and happened in Vietnam, when the political betters totally misjudged everything. And all Colin Powell was trying to do, I now am prepared to concede, was to tell all of us from the president on down that if you're going to do this thing against Iraq, you must be prepared, one, to have substantial forces ready to do it; and two, you need to take into account the fact that you may take some losses. I, you know, again -- don't overdo it, please. I was critical of that at the time. I do think things could have moved faster. But in the end it was successful. And who am I to argue with success?
Desert Storm, November 2001:
In the end, while I thoroughly understand and totally supported President Bush's decision not to pursue Saddam personally, I am now prepared to admit that it was probably a mistake...One of the things that was clearly a part of the president's decision was that all of his generals were telling him it was time to leave...There is little question in my mind that he has supported terrorism, including Osama bin Laden, with money and support.
Somalia (PDF link):
I was one of those two or three that was strongly recommending (President Bush send troops to Somalia), and it was very much because of the television pictures of these starving kids (and) substantial pressures from the Congress that came from the same source.
The Second Iraq War, 2003:
We are now seeing the consequences of what may have been our excessive use of faulty intelligence. My problem is that I still believe we will find something somewhere in Iraq that will demonstrate that we knew what we were talking about.
The Second Iraq War, yesterday:
I think we also misjudged the amount of influence the terrorists were going to have over a period of time. I think in both of those issues, I think we made some serious mistakes. I think most of that has been corrected now. I think the president now has a different approach to this whole question of Iraq and how to explain it.

I'm not trying to excuse the earlier mistakes. I will say, on the other hand, I think it was right to invade -- to go to war in Iraq. I just think we could have done it better. I think we are doing it better now.
In the end, it seems, Eagleburger can't argue with failure either.

How does this asshole have any credibility left?

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's not money, we'll miss, it's all the... No, wait. It's the money.

That good ol' White House logic at work again.
Abramoff was one of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign's "pioneers"—meaning he raised at least $100,000, most of it from others, in increments of $2,000. After Abramoff pleaded guilty, Bush aides announced they had donated to the American Heart Association $6,000 that had been given to the campaign by Abramoff, his wife and one of his Indian-tribe clients. But Republican officials said they plan to keep the remaining $94,000. A Bush aide said it cannot be assumed that the other donors, who were simply recruited by Abramoff, have done anything wrong: "That's not a fair standard."
Abramoff has admitted to offering trips and bribes to public officials for favorable action for his clients and promising to provide access for donations to politicians and other groups. We can't know what Abramoff was promising for the donated money, but it's unlikely, looking at his track record, that this bastard was ever anything but a weasel, therefore that money should go back.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A lesson

If you've never served in the military, here's a short lesson on how to get through unscathed:
  1. Try not to piss off people who outrank you.

  2. Almost always, the higher the rank of the person you piss off the worse it is for you.

  3. But even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is afraid of pissing off a salty Master Chief or a crusty old Sergeant Major.
Republicans should be even more scared now...which will be tough. I hear that some of them are already so frightened of terrorists that ragged groups of "Bush '04" tee-shirted rightwingers have been seen wandering the streets looking for people to whom they can surrender their civil rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him!

Time to bring back the Nitpicker classic.

"Rep. Tom DeLay, the defiant face of a conservative revolution in Congress, stepped down as House majority leader on Saturday under pressure from Republicans staggered by an election-year corruption scandal."

Now, let's see if Texas will get rid of him.

(As always, feel free to steal this pic.)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Good for Brownback, but...

My Senator Sam Brownback has gone on the record haflheartedly chastising Bush for his wiretapping.
"I do not agree with the legal basis on which they are basing their surveillance — that when the Congress gave the authorization to go to war that that gives sufficient legal basis for the surveillance," he said.

He said if the justification holds up, "you're going to have real trouble having future Congresses giving approval to presidents to go to war."
Two things:
  1. While he gets credit for speaking up, I think he was pushed into it because he wrote an article entitled "A New Contract for America" for Policy Review in 1996, in which he argued that Republicans ought to:
    redesign the executive branch to be consistent with its constitutional authority instead of one still operating on 20th-century, centralized government experiments. We will replace the 14 cabinet-level agencies, which impose more than half a trillion dollars worth of regulations upon the U.S. economy each year, with perhaps nine, and restrict their regulatory powers under constitutional principles. The Constitution does not authorize at the federal level, for example, many of the activities within the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Education, and Energy.
    He also made some "protect the Constitution" noise, but he's said nothing against Bush until now. This was the point that would have opened him up to all kinds of arguments against his honesty. You do have to give him credit here, but, on the other hand, he's made no moves to actually implement any of the changes he argued for in the article. Does he remember, I wonder, when he was going to decrease federal spending?

  2. Congress shouldn't have "let" the president go to war in the first place. It was a bullshit move in order to avoid the responsibility of declaring war. If he were truly concerned about the Constitution, he wouldn't have joined his fellow Senators in skirting their duty.

The "regular, middle class" guy lives better than I thought

Or is Chris Matthews just completely full of shit?

The Pimping of the Presidency

Go read Dubose.

Then Read Scott McClellan's comments from two days ago.
Q In light of the Abramoff deal, what's the President, or White House surrogates on his behalf doing to talk about lobby reform on the Hill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Lobby reform?

Q Yes, lobbying reform.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll keep you posted if there's anything. In terms of what took place yesterday with Mr. Abramoff, I talked about that yesterday. He entered a plea where he acknowledged being involved in wrongdoing. It's a serious matter. It was outrageous what he was engaged in. And he needs to be held accountable, and he needs to be punished. And he's going to be punished. The Justice Department continues to investigate this matter. I'm not going to speculate beyond what has been acknowledged by Mr. Abramoff at this point. So let's let the investigation proceed.

Q Leaving aside the specifics of the Abramoff case, is the President concerned that there's a culture of favors --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're speculating based on facts that aren't known at this point.

Q I'm not talking about Abramoff, I'm talking about the way business is done.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I don't think you -- well, I just -- I'm not going to speculate regarding this ongoing investigation, but I don't think you can draw broad characterizations at this point based on what you know.

Q So he's happy with the way lobbyists do business with Congress?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you just said that. That's not what he said. He's made it very clear that -- and he spoke out when we had a congressman admit to wrongdoing just recently and talked about how unacceptable and outrageous that is. Elected officials must adhere to the highest ethical standards. And we'll continue to speak out about the importance of doing so. And it's up to those officials to make the right decisions.

Q Scott, Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign, and the campaign has given back, like, $6,000. Why aren't they giving back more?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might want to talk to the RNC to get the specifics. That's my understanding, is that Mr. Abramoff and his wife, and a tribal interest that he represented had contributed that money. And this is keeping -- consistent with past practice of the campaign. If people are involved in wrongdoing, they return that money that that person contributed, or donate it to a specific charity. In this case, I understand that they're going to be donating that money to the American Heart Association.

Q But you don't think the rest of the money that he brought in --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you suggesting that there are others that were involved in wrongdoing? If you want to bring that to my attention, and I'll refer it to the RNC.

Q I'm asking if the money that he gave --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's our past practice, or the past practice of the campaign has been what I described. If people are involved in wrongdoing -- I think there's been very few instances of that, one or two maybe where money has been donated to a charity that that individual gave to the campaign.

Q Well, I guess, the question is, though, since he raised the money and you don't know what was involved in raising that money, does that not put a taint or a cloud over it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it's keeping with past practice, and they took the appropriate step.

Q But Hastert is giving all of it back.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.

Q But have you been able to more clearly determine whether the President ever met Abramoff at any of these White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I talked about this earlier today, maybe you weren't here earlier this morning, but -- when I talked to some of your colleagues.

Q I thought you said he might have been, but I'm just wondering --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I said it's possible that they would have met at a holiday reception or some other widely attended gathering. The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him.

Q But he has the special designation as a Pioneer, as Terry was alluding to, raising more than $100,000. And he attended, as you told us, three events, holiday receptions at the White House. How likely is it that the President would not have met him --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said it's possible. But I just told you what I know at this point, and the President doesn't recall meeting him and he certainly doesn't know him.

Q Will you release -- go ahead.

Q Since you often take photos in those instances at receptions, will you make that available?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't thought about that. I'll take it under consideration.

Q How about the logs of the people -- how many times he came into the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'm checking into that. I said I'd check into that -- I think someone asked that question the other day. I think it's very few times that he's been here, in addition to any holiday receptions.

Jack and Jean: Together again

Rep. Jack Murtha replied to Gen. Casey today. In case you missed it, Casey said yesterday that Murtha hurt morale when he said that, if he were eligible today, he wouldn't join the military.

Murtha came back today and basically told the general he was full of crap:
They're trying to direct attention away from their problems...

The military had no problem recruiting directly after 9/11 because everyone understood that we had been attacked. But now the military's ability to attract recruits is being hampered by the prospect of prolonged, extended and repeated deployments, inadequate equipment, shortened home stays, the lack of any connection between Iraq and the brutal attacks of 9/11, and most importantly the administration's constantly changing, undefined, open-ended military mission in Iraq.
And he's right, of course. General Douglas MacArthur said in a press conference on March 23, 1942, said tht "Men will not fight and will not die unless they know what they are fighting for and what they are dying for." What we are fighting for in Iraq gets harder and harder to define every day.

Bush once said that terrorists "hate us because of our freedom." I can only assume because of his recent actions he's decided that, without freedom, they'll probably hate us a lot less. As I've said before, his warrantless wiretapping of American citizens is both illegal and unconstitutional.

Yet the service of every American service member begins with and hinges upon an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. So you have to wonder how it affects people serving overseas to find out that they are serving under an administration which believes that a police state's fine, but, you know, just a little police state. One that arrests people without charges and wants to torture people and in which those who are supposed to uphold the laws feel they are above the laws.

Well, you have to wonder. I have a good friend in Iraq who said that members of his platoon were talking about the wiretapping bullshit and every member was pissed, pissed pissed. My buddy reported with shock that one of the outspoken Republican evangelicals in his unit actually referred to a "Bush gestapo." Are these comments representative of all soldiers? There's no way for me to tell, but clearly some soldiers are having their morale hurt by the fact this nation is turning its back on its principles.

I admit I'm an idealist, but the thought that Americans would give up their freedoms because we're scared of the big Muslim boogeyman disgusts and horrifies me. E.B. White once wrote that, "Living in a sanitary age, we are getting so we place too high a value on human life — which rightfully must always come second to human ideas." I believe that. I would give my life to defend the principles upon which this country was founded. But the very bedrock of our nation's moral authority is eroding under the steady drip, drip, drip of Bush's will to power. What will we have left if we let this continue?

If you think I'm getting carried away, let me re-introduce you to Rep. Jean Schmidt. Remember that she was the one who suggested Murtha was a "coward" who wanted to "cut and run." Schmidt, on the other hand, has chosen to "cut and run" on her own Congressional Oath "to support and defend" the Constitution.
At one point (in her recent town hall appearance Schmidt) called on an apparently sypathetic blond-haired, conservatively-dressed cornfed Ohio man who asked a question that seemed to intrigue her: "I'm troubled," he said, "By this unwarranted wiretapping program not just because of the Fourth and Second and First Amendment issues it raises but because the bad guys might get off on a technicality. That this might actually be aiding our enemies and my question is what, if any, do you believe are the limits of Presidential power in wartime and what is you duty as a member of Congress if those limits have been exceeded?"

"Wow!" she said "that's a big question...privacy rights...(she seemed to cock her head for better reception)...we're at war...suspending the Constitution is sometimes necessary...if someone is going to attack us, we shoud know that and go after them..." (Edited)
Tell me that doesn't hurt a soldier's morale. The document upon which your country was founded and to which you swore your allegiance has been "suspended."

Does that mean those oaths are null and void? Can they come home now?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

If we could do what we could already do we would have changed everything

Cheney thinks Americans are stupid.
Another vital step the president took in the days following 9/11 was to authorize the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to Al Qaida that have one end in the United States...

The authorization the president made after September 11th helped address that problem in a manner that is fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and legal authority of the president and with the civil liberties of the American people.
I know this has been broken down before, but let's do this very carefully once again.

The NSA has always had the authority to intercept "terrorist-linked international communications." Period. First the president has extreme leeway to intercept the communications of foreign nationals and there are even ways he could tap the phones of Americans. It just couldn't be done on a whim. You either had to be able to prove to the FISA court why you wanted to intercept those communications. You could even start the taps and get the court's approval three days later, a fact which destroys Bush's argument that he authorized the warrantless wiretapping of phones because of the requirement of speed.

Also, Republicans who are suggesting that the disclosure of this issue somehow aids terrorists is bullshit. For example, here's Bush last month.
"As a result our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, [and] endangers our country," Bush said.

The president has also described the leak as "shameful," saying the program's disclosure gives terrorists the upper hand.
But look: Terrorists could easily have looked up the rules of secret wiretaps long ago and found that their conversations could be recorded without their knowledge. Yes, if one of those people was an American citizen then a court order would be required, but it would be a court order they would never know about.

In other words, there's absolutely no change to what terrorists know about their phone calls. They may or not be secretly tapped, so there's no way they now have "the upper hand."

Bush's argument is ludicrous and his authorization was illegal.

And there's the rub. The DOJ has decided to look into this wiretap business, but there's no way that anyone can honestly argue that that Bush's order is A) legal and B) constitutional. Therefore, those of us who know what it's like to take an oath to defend this country know that almost all of them include a requirement of the person swearing to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" to "bear true faith and allegiance to the same" and to "obey the lawful orders of the President of the United States" and those appointed over them. Anyone who has taken this oath and then released this information should not have any problem arguing in a court of law that the president had given an unlawful, unconstitutional order and, therefore, the requirement to keep silent about it due to its classification status was null and void.

As the New York Times has suggested, this leaker isn't criminal but a hero.

(I shouldn't even have to mention the fact that this wasn't for "reasons of national security, specifically designated by a United States Government Agency for limited or restricted dissemination or distribution"—as the law which covers disclosure of classified information requires. As I've already shown, the knowledge of Bush's decision does nothing to damage national security. This law was considered "secret" not because of national security but because Bush wanted to break the law in the shadows. Could the president, say, sign a secret order to kill an American citizen, stamp CLASSIFIED on the top and then prosecute the person who told the press about it? I sincerely doubt it and this is only different in illegality by a matter of degrees.)

I know a lot of this has been said before in other places, but we just have to keep breaking this down for Republicans, who are obviously too scared to defend the rights of Americans. We can't let the fact that whatever remains of their logic is running down the legs of their overtaxed desk chairs cost our country its principles.

The Inhofe Precedent

Look, there are a bunch of reasons to oppose Samuel Alito on the grounds that he's not the right man to serve on the court, but we just got 17 more reasons to fight him. Today Bush gave recess appointments to 17 different people, including three members of the FEC who have received absolutely no hearings and the ridiculously unqualified Julie Myers to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement (and it ain't just lefties who think that: read this and this and this).

If you'll remember, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe went ballistic after President Clinton appointed James Hormel ambassador to Luxembourg, saying that Clinton had "shown contempt for Congress and the Constitution. He has treated the Senate confirmation process as little more than a nuisance which he can circumvent whenever he wants to impose his will on the country." Of course this was bullshit. Clinton, more than two years into his second term, had used the recess appointment power less than George H.W. Bush, who had four less years to exercise it, and Inhofe wasn't pissed about any of Clinton's other nominees. He hated Hormel because Hormel is openly gay and Inhofe is a raging homophobe.

Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader at the time, backed Inhofe , who vowed to oppose all Clinton nominees until Clinton agreed to "refrain from making any future recess appointments" and "if there were extraordinary circumstances in which he was going to have to (make future recess appointments), to notify the Senate in advance." Inhofe said he was only following the 1985 move by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, who blocked Reagan's appointees for two months.

So, Democrats in the Senate should both hit Alito hard on the issues, but should also block him using the Inhofe Precedent. They should lay out all the background on these recess appointees at the same time they're hitting Alito and should use every possible method to slow the Senate to a crawl.

And they should publicly shame Inhofe and Lott if they don't join in.

Long vacation

But I'll be back on in a bit.