February 11, 2006

Time to choose

(An appeal to Conservatives to recognize just what their Party has come to represent, and to join us in a non-partisan effort to uphold and defend America's fundamental tenets of integrity, democracy, and accountability.)

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You know, I must admit that I hadn't paid a whit of attention to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held yesterday. I mean, how many disingenuous talking points, fabricated rationales for international imperialism, and flat-out lies can one person take each week in 21st Century America?

Lord knows, we've already had to hear an avalanche of bullshit since Monday about "inherent" Executive authority, Katrina "relief" efforts, foiled terrorist plots, "compassionate" budget cuts aimed at the elderly and poor, Congressional ethics "reform," Vice Presidential directives to leak classified information for punitive partisan political purposes, Tom DeLay being appointed to not one but two key House sub-committees, inexcusable cronyism at NASA and the CPB, lies about White House ties to Jack Abramoff, overt "jury tampering" with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the dedicated, calculated, fabricated "justification" for the invasion of Iraq.

What finally piqued my interest in the CPAC, however, was the realization this morning that dangerous propagandist Ann Coulter was an invited, featured speaker at this gathering of the "best and brightest" conservative Republican minds. If you have a strong stomach, you can read some of her comments at RawStory (via The Psychotic Patriot); and even if you're prone to nausea, suck it up and look at the wildly applauded pronouncements of this shrill, divisive, know-nothing harridan of the Radical Right.

Because it's important for what it says about the Party in control of our nation.

I won't dignify this deplorable "pundit" by quoting her directly. In fact, I'd ordinarily not even link to anything the woman has written or said, so blood-curdling and heinous are her over-reported views. But the fact that someone of her ilk was not only invited to spew the unique form of vitriol for which she's known to a meeting of Conservative heavyweights, but cheered by those in attendance, is reason enough to remove this Party's leaders from power before they irrevocably corrupt our great democratic experiment.

Of course, if you're an intelligent, educated, reasonable individual (i.e. Liberal), you've already held these opinions of the GOP for some time now, and Coulter's irresponsible performance Friday doesn't reveal anything you didn't already know about the "ruling class." Given our suspicions about this Administration and its minions, the selection of Ann as an honored guest comes as no real surprise.

My appeal, then, is to Conservative and Moderate visitors of this site. Read those excerpts again. Close your eyes, and picture the laughter, the clapping, the ovations given to Coulter's venomous insensitivity and bigotry by the leaders of your Party. Let your thoughts expand to include the litany of obfuscation and treachery revealed about your President and Congressional officials this past week alone. Now open your eyes, look long and hard at your reflection in a mirror, and ask yourselves:

"Is this what I stand for?"

Is this representative of your vision for America? Is this indicative of your commitment to the founding principles of democracy, equality, reason, and compassion? Is Ann Coulter the face you want as spokesperson for the Grand Old Party? And is anyone who would legitimize her extremist views with applause and guffaws really qualified to make high-level decisions that affect your very lives, and the lives of those closest to you?

If your answer is "yes," than you truly are an enemy to be despised and destroyed, not just a foe on political terms, but a danger to the survival of simple human decency and common sense. Sorry, but I've reached a "zero tolerance" level with disciples of The Book of Ann.

But if your answer is "no" - and I suspect that there are a lot more of you out there than GOP mouthpieces would have us believe - then the time has come for you to step up and reclaim your Party from the terrifying zealots who've hijacked it since 1994. As I've said many times, opposition to this Administration is not a solely partisan issue. It is a struggle to protect the basic tenets of the American philosophy that has stood as a beacon of hope to the world for over 200 years - and that struggle includes you, too.

Don't you get it by now? It's not about R's and D's. It's about competence, not cronyism. It's about honesty, not stonewalling. It's about respect for the Constitution, not sidestepping it. It's about protecting human rights, not violating them. It's about confidence-building, not fearmongering.

It's about home defense and peace, not pre-emptive invasion and war.

Can it get any more obvious that those who control the Republican Party are not really interested in the "general welfare" of our nation, but instead are clever manipulators of popular myths and fears as a means of consolidating personal power? We on the Left don't mind if you have a Republican President every so often, as long as he's an individual who genuinely understands the responsibility of that office to the citizens of the nation, and not one who views the White House as an opportunity to grab everything in sight for himself and a small circle of friends.

So we need your support, Conservative America. Not with a political label attached, but in the name of pure and simple common sense. Not with a pre-requisite of some shift in Party loyalty, bit in the spirit of a loyalty we all should share, a loyalty to basic competence, honor, and legal behavior from those with the highest job titles in the land. Be honest - would you accept the things this group has done, the lies they've told, the rules they've ignored, the shit they've pulled, if it were your teenage child pulling it?

How, then, can you demand any less of the President of the United States and the leaders of your representative party?

The GOP made a truly significant choice yesterday by openly embracing Ann Coulter and her brand of bigotry, hatred, belligerence, and closed-mindedness as an official image of the Conservative vision for America. For the average Republican of good faith and good heart, the time has come to make a choice as well.

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February 10, 2006

Fables

I know I'm late to the party, but I just want to be sure I have this straight. Let's assume for the moment that Mr. Bush's charmingly detailed and conveniently timed anecdote about the thwarted "Liberty" Tower caper really is true. What we seem to know is:
- Our guys guessed that an al Qaeda mention of "the tallest building on the West Coast" actually meant (drum roll please) the tallest building on the West Coast. I suppose that's why we call it the Intelligence Community.

- This intercepted information was either obtained legally by U.S. investigative agencies, or given to us by foreign intelligence sources. Yeah, yeah. I know the President didn't say that - but just think about it. If this nugget had been found during any of that warrantless eavesdropping, we all know that would've been trumpeted to the heavens.

- The plotters traveled only between Afghanistan and South Asia, and were apprehended individually by law enforcement agencies in several unnamed Asian countries. Interesting, isn't it, that again there was no real mention of how random data mining or American analytical skill figured into the arrests - which you'd expect if George were actually trying to make a point, instead of just pretending to.

- And the threat was so verifiable, and Mr. Bush's intuitive approach so brilliant, that the Mayor of Los Angeles is really only finding out the details now, four years later. Gee, sorry about that. Guess we should've said something once we figured out that whole "tallest building on the West Coast" thing...
So, Mr. President, this proves... what, exactly? That a total of 6 arrests were made by several Asian nations - while we managed to Google "tallest buildings" and get this in 0.06 seconds? And that demonstrates... unh, the effectiveness of bypassing FISA laws and restrictions because they're too "cumbersome"?

And the fact that those arrests occurred randomly over at least a year's time illustrates... er, wait, it's coming to me... oh right, that the fast paced world of "post-9/11 thinking" renders current legal procedure for the securing of warrants too slow to be practical?

I mean, I applaud the fact (if it is a fact) that a handful of international criminals with a plot to destroy another American skyscraper were captured by foreign governments before their deplorable scheme went into motion. Bravo, unspecified Asian nations! But give us all a break, here. What the Hell does that prove about the alleged competence of the Bush Administration?

Am I just being obtuse - or is this pathetic performance an indication that the White House has finally run out of fables to recite as some sort of rationale for willfully violating the laws of the land?

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The end of the Internet?

Be sure to read this article by Jeff Chester in The Nation concerning plans by telephone and cable companies to turn the Internet into "a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online." Money quote:
...before there are any policy decisions, a national debate should begin about how the Internet should serve the public. We must insure that phone and cable companies operate their Internet services in the public interest - as stewards for a vital medium for free expression.

If Americans are to succeed in designing an equitable digital destiny for themselves, they must mount an intensive opposition similar to the successful challenges to the FCC's media ownership rules in 2003. Without such a public outcry to rein in the GOP's corporate-driven agenda, it is likely that even many of the Democrats who rallied against further consolidation will be "tamed" by the well-funded lobbying campaigns of the powerful phone and cable industry.
In many ways, the Web is the only thing that still truly belongs to "we the people." Contact your representatives in Washington, and demand that they stop Big Business from stealing this freedom from us too.

(Also, check out this follow-up piece on the shamefully brief "Net neutrality" hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Commerce Committee.)

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Muddying the waters

In today's New York Times, CIA Director Porter Goss has penned what seems, on the surface, to be a passionate, reasonable, and compelling explanation of the need for classified secrets to be kept... well, secret. While never mentioning the President's hidden, warrantless, FISA-skirting, domestic spying program by name, Goss' op-ed is a well crafted defense of covert information gathering in the pursuit of homeland security.

After all, even I wouldn't disagree with the fact that revealing "new technologies we use, our operational tactics, and the identities of brave men and women who risk their lives to assist us" is a bad thing to do. We all acknowledge that it would be recklessly stupid to list the makes and model numbers of our electronic equipment in public. It would be equally idiotic to describe in detail the various tactics used to keep tabs on our enemies. And it would be nothing less than reprehensible to expose the identities of the undercover individuals laying it all on the line for our safety.

Except that's not what's happening with the NSA surveillance investigation. And that makes Mr. Goss' oh-so-cleverly worded essay just another piece of Rovian misdirection, intentionally designed to confuse the public while never actually addressing the simple question at hand:

Did the President of the United States knowingly break the law?

Equating the revelation of illegal or unethical government activities with "selling state secrets to the enemy" is disingenuous to say the least, a familiar song and dance we've come to expect from this bunch. But, c'mon, get real. Saying the phrase "warrantless wiretapping" out loud is not informing al Qaeda about "new technologies we use, our operational tactics, and the identities of brave men and women who risk their lives to assist us." In fact, the way I see it, none of those details are even central or necessary or relevant to that same unanswered query:

Did the President of the United States knowingly break the law?

We don't need to know the specs of the wiretapping equipment used to hold the Administration accountable for secretly bypassing FISA. We don't need to expose the tactical deployment records of the spy teams assigned to illegal operations to ask the elected guardian of our Constitution why he ordered those illegal operations in the first place, and then lied to the nation about their existence. And we certainly don't need to blow the cover of operatives in the field to prosecute the officials who designed and executed the plan. All we want to know is:

Did the President of the United States knowingly break the law?

Mr. Goss does get one thing right, however, when he states, "The sharp distinction between a whistleblower and someone who breaks the law by willfully compromising classified information has been muddied." What he apparently fails to grasp, though, is that we're not the ones who are clouding that distinction. It's his bosses - and misleading editorials like this one - that are doing all the muddying.

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February 09, 2006

Rubbing our noses in it

Have we become such a nation of compliant sheep that we no longer know when our collective intelligence has been insulted?

Given the apparent lack of general outrage over the news that Tom DeLay has been rewarded for his impeccably ethical public service with seats on two important House committees, I guess I'd have to say "Yes" to that question. I mean, this goes beyond hubris. Beyond chutzpah. Beyond a set of big brass ones.

This goes all the way to, "SCREW YOU, AMERICA, AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON!"

ABC News reported yesterday that:
Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, forced to step down as the No. 2 Republican in the House, scored a soft landing Wednesday as GOP leaders rewarded him with a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

DeLay, R-Texas, also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers. The subcommittee also has responsibility over NASA a top priority for DeLay, since the Johnson Space Center is located in his Houston-area district.
You know, I'm not sure how to even put my sputtering incredulity into words here. As with Karl Rove's blatant threat toward members of the Judiciary Committee the other day, this development in the House of Representatives smacks of a fundamental disrespect for the tenets of this nation that is so foul, so shocking, so arrogant as to be beyond my powers of rational understanding. It's a metaphorical slap in the face that should have us deluging the faxes and phones and e-mails of our elected officials with a simple three-word message:

What. The. Fuck?!?!

Let's review. The Congressman at the heart of the "influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff", who, you might recall, is not only under investigation but has been indicted for his misdeeds, is now one of the legislators overseeing the investigation of the "influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

Huh?

Not to mention the fact that Mr. DeLay, who's proudly defended his career of strong-arming, gerrymandering, favoritism, bribery, and ruthless partisanship, now plays a key part in deciding how our federal budgets are divvied up and distributed.

What?

And all this bounty has been heaped upon the undeserving Hammer by a Party that's simultaneously swearing to us that it is leading the way in a fight for ethics reform in Washington, largely in spite of those obstructionist, defeatist, purely partisan Democrats who keep rejecting patriotic GOP proposals.

Eh, right.

The foxes are running the henhouse, kids, and rubbing our noses in it every day. When are we finally going to grab our Constitutional 12-gauge, and send the varmints fleeing back to the hills?

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Data mining

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig from early morn till night
We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig up everything in sight
We dig up diamonds by the score
A thousand rubies, sometimes more
But we don't know what we dig 'em for
We dig dig dig a-dig dig...

--"Heigh-Ho" (second verse), 1937
Anthony Ioven of UpdateAmerica/604 has a terrific post about two additional information-gathering programs run by the DoD that you probably haven't heard of. God knows I haven't. Mr. Ioven writes:
In 2002, the DoD's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program broke into the headlines. Its goal was to compile a comprehensive profile of American citizens through a variety of high-tech data-gathering systems...

For a change, Congress wasn't fooled. It killed the entire program in 2003.

But now, it's baaaaaack, in the body of something the Department of Homeland Security fondly calls the Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) program.

Like TIA, ADVISE is a massive data-mining system.
The most chilling aspect of this whole affair, to me, isn't even the data mining in and of itself. Yes, it's an obvious intrusion into personal areas my government has no business exploring.

But let's not allow our rational minds to be overwhelmed by naivete. I mean, to a large extent we expect our law enforcement agencies to have the ability to identify patterns of criminal behavior as a means of stopping crime. And anyone with half a brain knows that all those blips and bytes of the electronic DNA we're leaving practically everywhere are being stored in some virtual filing cabinet of some multi-terabyte server in some large concrete room.

That's nothing more than an unavoidable side-effect of basic computer physiology.

So ever since I signed my first car loan in 1974, I've known that some government official somewhere keeps a dog-eared Manila folder with my name on the tab, stuffed to the gills with information about the trivia of my life. I don't necessarily like it, but until this Administration seized power in 2000, I'd never been this outraged and terrified that it might be erroneously used against me for nefarious political ends.

And considering who was President then, that's saying a lot.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter, the aspect of the wiretapping scandal that should scare us all shitless - the outrageous fact that George Bush and his gaggle of loyalists, thugs, and cronies are the very individuals who get to define what "criminal" means while perusing our binary biographies. Have they earned that trust with their razor-sharp evaluation of... well, of anything in the last five years?

I'm talking about the almost ludicrous fact that this bunch, which has set new "standards" of incompetence, is seriously contending that they have the intelligence to "connect the dots" at all. Whether they're collecting data legally or illegally, does anyone in this nation truly believe that Bush and Company could find their way out of a room with four open doors?

And then there's the dangerous fact that this White House and its friends in Congress arrogantly believe that they've got "all the legal authority they need" to do whatever they damn well please, without oversight, behind closed doors, with an ever evolving list of excuses and "precedents" and rationales. Why, they don't even bother any more to be coy about it, as Karl Rove's open threat against the Judiciary Committee's GOP members this week clearly indicates.

No, it's not that Manila folder itself that's got me worried. What chills me to the bone is the knowledge that the people who are charged with evaluating it comprise the most corrupt, insidious, duplicitous, and inept Administration of my half-century on the planet.

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ON A RELATED NOTE...

It occurs to me in light of all this that I take genuine pride in being a part of the progressive blogosphere. And no, I'm not trying to be maudlin, or to overinflate the "importance" of writing here as often as possible.

But at the precise time that the more prudent members of our nation are nervous about the potential dangers of citizen dossiers in the hands of a repressive government, we are making our innermost thoughts about the malfeasance of that government and its effect on our lives a matter of public record.

With the full knowledge that this specific Administration would gladly take any action it deems "necessary" to pinpoint, defame, or suppress its detractors, we're shouting out "Hey, here we are - and we won't be silenced!"

In an era when a significant percentage of our population has been frightened into compliance, secrecy, and invisibility, we're exposing our disdain, defiance - and physical locations - on a regular basis. And at a time when we know full well that Big Brother is watching, we're simply refusing to sit down and behave nicely.

Is it the same level of balls-to-the-wall bravery exhibited by our first responders, or the men and women in uniform who are laying their lives on the line in service to the country? Good Lord, no - it makes me uncomfortable to even write that down rhetorically.

But in a nation that is no stranger to fabricated accusations, career-ending slander, inflammatory cries of "treason", and indefinite detention, the thousands of public voices decrying the Bush Administration are taking a courageous stance, each in his or her own way, and they continue to play a valuable part in ensuring that there is a democracy to come home to every evening.

Kudos to all the liberal bloggers who are hanging it out there every day. And to those "guardians of democracy" who just might be listening in: Data mine this, motherf#%kers!

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February 08, 2006

Dubya's Dictum

James Raven of The Psychotic Patriot has been following the fascinating story of George Deutsch, a 24-year-old Presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters. Seems that Mr. Deutsch has been hiding more than just the fact that he has no experience qualifying him for his NASA position.

In the event you haven't been following this story, start here, and then stay in line. The most shocking thing to me is that this sort of cronyism is so systemic and epidemic in nature. We've obviously come to a key point in our culture, where the famed Peter Principle has been replaced by "Dubya's Dictum." Instead of a business model in which employees slowly rise to the level of their own incompetence, incompetence itself is now a virtual guarantee of starting at the top.

As long as you've been kissing the right political ass.

Good God, America. How much longer can we leave this anti-science, anti-education, anti-peace, anti-common sense, anti-intellectual group in positions of decision-making power over our lives, institutions, and freedoms?!

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You got game

Think Progress has really been on it's game the last few days. Read this, and this, plus this, or... Oh, Hell, go and read the whole damn site! I am...

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A non-crisis in Iran

At today's Common Dreams News Center, author Norman Solomon criticizes the obvious preparation by the West for unwarranted military action against Iran. It's an editorial that's definitely worth your time. Mr. Solomon states:
[T]he White House has been gradually preparing the domestic political ground for bombing Iran. As the Wall Street Journal reported days ago, "in recent polls a surprisingly large number of Americans say they would support U.S. military strikes to stop Tehran from getting the bomb."

Above those words, the Journal's headline - "U.S. Chooses Diplomacy on Iran's Nuclear Program" - trumpeted the Bush administration's game plan. It's a time-honored scam: When you're moving toward aggressive military action, emphasize diplomacy...

Non-proliferation doesn't rank very high either, judging from Washington's cozy relationships with the nuclear-weapons powers of Israel, India and Pakistan. Unlike Iran, none of those countries are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Only Iran has been allowing inspections of its nuclear facilities - and it is Iran that the savants in Washington are now, in effect, threatening to bomb.
Solomon also quotes Iran's 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who wrote two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times:
Although a vast majority of Iranians despise the country's hard-liners and wish for their downfall, they also support its nuclear program because it has become a source of pride for an old nation with a glorious history.

A military attack would only inflame nationalist sentiments. Iran is not Iraq. Given Iranians' fierce nationalism and the Shiites' tradition of martyrdom, any military move would provoke a response that would engulf the entire region, resulting in countless deaths and a ruined economy not only for the region but for the world. Imposing U.N. sanctions on Iran would also be counterproductive, prompting Tehran to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its 'additional protocol.' Is the world ready to live with such prospects?
I've been saying for months that, despite the belligerent rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the necessity of keeping Tehran under close diplomatic scrutiny, this is a non-crisis, a ginned-up "threat" designed to keep us in a heightened state of fear so that we'll, once again, gullibly acquiesce to an unprovoked, needless invasion. We can't afford to swallow the hype this time around, kids.

Please do everything you can to speak out against the Administration's plans for war. The future of the nation - and the planet itself - may just be at stake.

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Eight little words

Yesterday, in two defiant sentences Dick Cheney told us everything we need to know about the NSA's illegal spy program, and the Bush Administration's dismissive attitude toward the law of the land. In this related story, the New York Times summarizes:
Members of Congress "have the right and the responsibility to suggest whatever they want to suggest" about changing wiretap law, Mr. Cheney said. But "we have all the legal authority we need" already.
Is it just me, or is there a chill in the air?

There it is, gang, plain and simple. "We have all the legal authority we need." Eight little words that let us know where we stand in Bush's America. The people (chuckle) and their elected representatives in Congress (snicker) can suggest whatever they want (guffaw) - but the White House will do whatever it damn well pleases.

Eight little words that illustrate the open contempt this Administration has for Constitutional checks and balances. Eight little words that smugly position Bush and Company above the law - and dare us to try and do something about it.

Getting the picture now, America? The time has come to rise up and demand the removal of this cancer on our democracy, this blatant threat to our hard-earned freedoms, this imperial and utterly ruinous Administration.

Remember, in this battle WE'RE actually the ones who have all the legal authority WE need.

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AMBER ALERT

If you're a visitor to this site who lives in the Kentucky area, please click the Amber Alert link in the sidebar for details pertaining to a 3-year-old boy abducted Tuesday from Danville, KY. This alert has been in effect since 10:30 PM yesterday.

The sidebar link will take you to the bottom of this page - if the ticker is still yellow, click the scrolling window when the child's name is on screen for full descriptions and contact information. You can also click here for additional news
.

Thank you. --BP

(UPDATE: Latest reports indicate that the child was found safe in Lebanon, KY, and the alert was cancelled at 9:37 AM. Good news.)

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February 07, 2006

Pot luck

And I mean that in only the best sense. Interesting essays from:
Star A. Decise of The Enigmatic Paradox on the real John McCain. Especially timely in light of the Arizona Senator's ongoing bit of misleading political theater with Barack Obama.

Karen Kwiatkowski at LeeRockwell.com offers additional post-SOTU remarks on those dangerous "isolationists" and the terror of "human-animal hybrids." Sheesh! In a medium where a f#%king toothpaste commercial is subject to rigorous, stringent fact-checking and legal disclaimers, how can they even allow speeches like this on TV? (thanks to Informed Dissent for the link)

ReddHedd at firedoglake is mad as Hell about the President's new budget plan: "Welcome to George Bush's America. Need a hand up? Look elsewhere.." More compassionate conservativism for the well to do - and a collectible picture of Dubya to boot.

Via BlondeSense, a terrific open letter by Jaye Ramsey Sutter to our self proclaimed "War President." If you do anything today, be sure to copy this piece, paste it in an e-mail at this link, and send it off to Mr. Bush himself.

And digby weighs in at Hullabaloo with what he claims will be his final post on "The Great Cartoon Catastrophe." I have to agree with his conclusion that, "to get out of this insane murderous dance, the first tiny step must be to put away all those gut reactions and do some serious thinking about what is going on and why."

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Jury tampering

Signs that the Judiciary Committee investigation may not actually get to the bottom of things? On-line magazine Insight writes:
Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.
Out here in the real world we have a name for that kind of activity: jury tampering. Last I heard, it's a crime. The fact that it's now coming directly from the President's inner circle is a travesty.

More than anything, this news illustrates the need for an independent investigation (sign the petition below) into the illegal wiretap program. And it also begs the question, "Why on Earth is Karl Rove still a free, and influential, presence in the halls of our government?"

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Demand an independent investigation

Here's a link to MoveOn's petition calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to independently investigate the President's illegal surveillance program. Add your name to this vital demand. As Andrea of A Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens wrote yesterday:
I can't see how this is an issue of liberals against conservatives, or even patriots against dangerous people. We are challenging the President because we are patriots, and encouraging him to relocate his patriotism by re-reading - and heeding - the Constitution.

It's the Senate's job to act as a check to presidential power. We need them to get to work.

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Tipping point

We should all be more than a little frightened by the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that began Monday, profoundly disturbed by what was revealed about the people we've allowed to hijack our national soul. I'd considered composing a long, detailed reaction to the arrogant, almost gleeful evasiveness of the Attorney General, liberally quoting Mr. G. and citing the complexities of the Top Cop's deceptiveness and circular logic.

But I just can't. What could I add at this point that others aren't already saying? (Kudos, btw, to Think Progress for their almost hourly updates on the hearings.) The exchanges from yesterday speak for themselves. Plus, it occurs to me that this issue isn't really complex at all. In fact, it couldn't be more elementary.

The Bush Administration and its Congressional backers are stating with defiant hubris that, regardless of statute, they make the law, they then interpret the intent of the law, and they (and they alone) can decide to ignore the law, when they see fit for as long as they see fit. Or, as it's sometimes known on elementary school playgrounds, "Nyeh nyeh ne nyeh nyeh!"

So the simple choice before us is: Do we agree - or not? And no, I'm not talking about whether we agree that terrorists might, can, or should be wiretapped. That's a no-brainer. I'm asking if we agree that the Executive Branch can make up or ignore the laws it wants and wield unchallengable power indefinitely - or not.

Are we a democracy - or an empire? Is the man in the Oval Office an elected servant of the people - or the master of all he surveys? Do our laws apply to all Americans - or only to those outside the Rovian circle?

We've reached a tipping point in the survival of our great democratic experiment, and the choice we must make soon is a fundamental one. This issue is about drawing a line in the sand and saying, "No further." It's about just how much of our liberty and civilian oversight we're willing to concede to a White House blatantly seizing as much power as it can before the other shoe drops. It's about altering the very nature of what "American democracy" truly means at its core.

So in that light, I'm forced now to break one of my posted New Year's resolutions and use the "F" word again, by reprinting the oft-quoted Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism detailed in a study by political scientist Lawrence Britt that was first published in 2003. I can think of no better way to express my concern, outrage, and criticism of the countless ways in which the reign of George the Younger is betraying our most fundamental democratic tenets and principles...
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
- Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)
It is impossible to miss the disturbing similarities between this list and the policies, philosophies, actions of the Bush Administration and its enabling Congressional allies. The road ahead is long and rough, and the battle to reclaim our national direction will be an uphill one for some time to come.

But we cannot wait, America. It's crucial that we act now, before the Administration has successfully positioned itself beyond our reach.

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February 06, 2006

A Saudi helping hand

Here's a must-read from blogger Soj at Daily KOS about the development of the Danish cartoon controversy, the things we haven't heard from our traditional news media, and the self-serving ivolvement of the Saudis in bringing things to a boil. Excerpts:
[The] cartons were published on September 30, 2005. What the traditional media has failed to explain is why the protests are occurring now...

While it was a minor side story in the western press, the most important of Muslim religious festivals recently took place in Saudi Arabia - called the Hajj. Every able-bodied Muslim is obligated to make a pilgrimage once in their lifetime to Mecca, which is in modern-day Saudi Arabia...

The most recent Hajj occurred during the first half of January 2006, precisely when the "outrage" over the Danish cartoons began in earnest. There were a number of stampedes, called "tragedies" in the press, during the Hajj which killed several hundred pilgrims...
. . .
And while the deaths of these pilgrims was a mere blip on the traditional western media's radar, it was a huge story in the Muslim world. Most of the pilgrims who were killed came from poorer countries such as Pakistan, where the Hajj is a very big story. Even the most objective news stories were suddenly casting Saudi Arabia in a very bad light and they decided to do something about it.

Their plan was to go on a major offensive against the Danish cartoons. The 350 pilgrims were killed on January 12 and soon after, Saudi newspapers (which are all controlled by the state) began running up to 4 articles per day condemning the Danish cartoons. The Saudi government asked for a formal apology from Denmark. When that was not forthcoming, they began calling for world-wide protests.
More thoughts later...

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Unexpected gift

The way I see it, Democrats received an unexpected - and, I'm sure, unintended - gift from newly-elected House Majority Leader John Boehner yesterday, during his appearance on Meet The Press. Via Belinda Yamate at The Higher Pie:
MR. RUSSERT: So you don't want to eliminate private funded trips. You do not want to have an independent office of public integrity. What do you want other than immediate disclosure?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, all of the violations that we've read about and the corruption we've read about, were people who violated the laws of the United States of America and/or the rules of the House. All of - all of this.
Is it just me, or is that a clear-cut indictment of everyone involved in the Abramoff situation? Has the top House Republican actually just said that "all of this" involves indisputable, punishable, criminal behavior?

Of course, as with virtually all GOP "gifts", this one was wrapped in a layer of self-serving inanity. As Belinda points out, Boehner's idea that "sunlight is the best disinfectant" is one that simply (and laughably) dodges the issue at hand.

But the Majority Leader's open acknowledgement of the illegalities at the heart of the Republican lobbying scandal is something we should all begin quoting freely, frequently, and loudly. You know, as a way of saying, "Thanks, GOP, for everything you've done so far."

Let's hope that Dems run with this little nugget. Spread the word.

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Unbelievable

Now wait just a doggone minute! Is this how it's going to be? A report just in from Judd at Think Progress on the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings concerning Mr. Bush's illegal domestic spy program:
1. Attorney Alberto Gonzales won't be sworn in, even though the last time he testified under oath he misled the committee about the program. Leahy noted he was sworn the other two times he appeared before the committee. Leahy appealed the ruling of the chair and asked for a roll call vote.

2. Specter won't allow videos to be shown during the hearings of the President and Attorney General Gonzales misleading Congress and the public about the program.
Once I'm able to pick my jaw up from the floor, I may have a coherent comment. For right now, I'll just have to remain stupefied.

This is our government, kids. The inmates are running the asylum, smirking 'cause they believe that we're too apathetic or afraid to try and stop 'em. Are they right, America?

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February 05, 2006

One step closer

Oh my God - they're really going to do it...

With Saturday's decision by the board of the United Nations atomic energy agency to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, the West moved one step closer to its apparent plan for war with Iran. The New York Times writes:
The resolution, which passed by a vote of 27 to 3, could change the course of diplomacy toward Iran and open the door to international punishment of the country...

The vote in Vienna was promoted as a significant victory for the Bush administration, which spent months briefing members of the agency's board on intelligence that it said strongly suggested but did not prove that Iran's intent was to develop a weapon.
As promised, Tehran reacted swiftly - and angrily - to what it sees as an unwarranted threat to its rights as a nation state to establish a civilian controlled nuclear fuel cycle. The Washington Post reports today:
Iran announced that it would resume its uranium enrichment activities and would no longer allow IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities...

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chastised the IAEA governing board for yielding to "political pressure of a few countries and without any legal justification."
Now, let's be clear. Iran hasn't always been the most trustworthy member of the global community. But at this point in time, realistically, Iranian statesmen have no less credibility than George and Company. Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it simply wishes to enter the 21st Century and develop alternative energy sources for internal civilian use. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that part of our energy policy as well? WaPo also notes:
As a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology and to enrich uranium.
It should be remembered among all the talk of "crisis" and "the Bomb" and "Axis of Evil" that IRAN HAS NO NUCLEAR WEAPONS. At the same time, experts say Israel has the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state neither acknowledges nor denies having such a program.

So, tell me again. Who's being secretive?

As regular readers of this blog know, I've repeatedly criticized the belligerent stance orchestrated by Washington towards Iran, worried that the misleading rhetoric about Iranian "intentions" is fabricating an urgent crisis where none exists. It's an instant replay of a familiar sounding justification for indefensible U.S. military adventures.

The Bush Administration's bullying is not only unfounded (like that other little invasion that was based on halting an "imminent threat"), but has served to steadily exacerbate Mid East tensions instead of finding ways to deal diplomatically with a still-unarmed adversary. And, as before, the U.S. and its Western allies are operating on hunches, without concrete proof that Tehran has any plans to build - or use - atomic weaponry.

Surprisingly, China and Russia, which had until yesterday resisted the haste, rhetoric, and aggressiveness of the Bush Administration, backed the Security Council referral. A stunning, and wholly credible, explanation for the change of heart in Moscow appeared yesterday at OpEdNews, courtesy of writer Mike Whitney. Mr. Whitney states:
It may be, in the words of the Godfather, that the Bush administration made Putin "a deal he couldn't refuse". For one thing, MosNews reports just yesterday that "Lukoil will replace the disgraced Halliburton" in providing fuel in Iraq...

Russia's real goal, however, is "the securing of rights for exploration and extraction at the huge West Qurna-2 oil field." Putin has always insisted that the Bush administration honor Saddam's previous commitments with Lukoil. It appears now that Putin is winning that battle.
The Times notes separately:
Among others backing the resolution was India, which had been pressured by the United States to vote yes if it expected to finalize a sweeping deal on nuclear energy cooperation... but will face intense domestic political opposition because of the decision.
These developments should terrify all of us - and not because of some ginned-up, "take our word for it" threat from Tehran. Why, it was only two weeks ago that the French President and Israeli Defense Minister issued defiant veiled threats to use tactical nuclear strikes against any Arab state that they claim threatens their vital interests.

And we see our own leaders, aided in no small part by the traditional media, exaggerating a so-called danger, strong-arming allies to gain a global "consensus," and laying the groundwork for punitive military action in the name of peace.

Those drums of war are one step closer today, and I for one am revolted by the sound. The only question that remains is whether or not a gullible citizenry will once again buy into Administration fearmongering and hyperbole, or will do everything it can - this time around - to stop another needless act of agression by our Cowboy in Chief.

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