Thursday, June 21, 2007

A little bit about Blackwater USA

Front paged at ePluribus Media

I have been meaning to write a piece about Blackwater USA for a while now, and after seeing Turkana’s post from Sunday, I figured that now is as good a time as any.

We have all heard stories about Blackwater USA as well as Halliburton in Iraq, the salaries they get, the no-bid contracts, the deaths of “contractors” who are in Iraq and other snippets of stories. And while there is much known and reported about Halliburton – more so because of the ties to Vice President Cheney, there hasn’t been much written around here regarding Blackwater – at least not much other than the reports of their people being killed, the potential for them to sue based on this and a few other blurbs here and there.

What I want to do here is give some background information on Blackwater – but not in the term of what they are doing in Iraq, but more so how they got to be so powerful and lucrative. Of course, there are many ties to the Bush administration(s) as well as the republican party, and that is really my focus here. You know, more cronyism that results in billions of dollars from We the People to line the pockets of major republican party donors which then can be funneled back to the republican party. Lather, rinse, repeat.

From their website:

We are not simply a "private security company." We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions. We assist with the development of national and global security policies and military transformation plans. We can train, equip and deploy public safety and military professionals, build live-fire indoor/outdoor ranges, MOUT facilities and shoot houses, create ground and aviation operations and logistics support packages, develop and execute canine solutions for patrol and explosive detection, and can design and build facilities both domestically and in austere environments abroad.

I’ll lay off the whole discussion of “professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations” since that is supposed to be what our own military does. And of course, that would beg the question as to whether we are headed towards a second, privatized military which is not bound by the Geneva Conventions (oh wait, those are “quaint” anyway) or other international law. Or even US law, for that matter.

But I digress, because the information about Blackwater (even though this is hardly new) is very telling.

Blackwater USA Founder Erik Prince in addition to being a former Navy SEAL, is, shall we say, very well connected to republican party causes. For example, consider the following:

  • His sister is Betsy DeVos, former Chair of the Michigan republican party and wife of former Amway president (and major republican party contributor) Dick DeVos;

  • He serves on the board of Christian Freedom International, a company whose mission includes (ironically) the following: CFI believes that all able Christians have a responsibility to assist others in the Body of Christ who are living under the burden of harassment, imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom.

  • According to a Harper’s article (linked below), he contributed around $200,000 to republican committees and candidates (including George W. Bush) since 1998;

  • He interned at the Family Research Council, the ultra right wing group founded by his father and Gary Bauer; and

  • According to Sourcewatch, he interned in George HW Bush’s administration and campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992.

As you can see – there are deep ties to the republican party money machine here, as well as ultra conservative organizations and Poppa Bush’s administration.

Blackwater USA was founded in 1996/97, and its’ US facility is in North Carolina. Not surprisingly, its’ two overseas offices are in Baghdad and Kuwait City. It has been estimated that there are around 20,000 Blackwater “mercenaries” in Iraq. Its’ annual revenues are around $100 million, pretty much all from government contracts. And, like many other companies that work closely with the Bush administration, there is the “revolving door” between government and private industry. Per the Harper’s article:

In 2004, Blackwater retained the Alexander Strategy Group, the PR and lobbying firm that closed down earlier this year due to its embarrassing ties to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. (Paul Behrends, a former national security adviser to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, handled the account for Alexander. After the firm shut down, Behrends moved on to a firm called C&M Capitolink, and took the Blackwater account with him.)

A number of senior CIA and Pentagon officials have taken top jobs at Blackwater, including firm vice chairman Cofer Black, who was the Bush Administration's top counterterrorism official at the time of the 9/11 attacks (and who famously said in 2002, “There was before 9/11 and after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves came off.”)


Prince's visits [to the CIA] are probably one reason that the revolving door to Blackwater keeps turning. Last fall, Rob Richer resigned from the post of Associate Deputy Director of Operations; he immediately took a job as Blackwater's Vice President of Intelligence.

As reported in TPM Muckraker and in the book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton, Blackwater USA’s first job was a $5+ million no bid contract with the CIA, which was obtained due (in large part) to the relationship between a top CIA official and Blackwater founder.

A 2006 article in The Nation noted that there was more than a bit of lucrative profits (and charges of war profiteering) going on with Blackwater in Iraq:

Blackwater's high-profile job of guarding the head of the US occupation, Paul Bremer. At $21 million, it represented the company's biggest contract in Iraq.


According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200."

It should be noted that the no-bid contracts in Iraq, including the one noted above with respect to Bremer, now total over $300 million.

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast (no thanks to the stellar job that this administration and FEMA did with all of the warnings and calls for help), Blackwater was back in the news. It got a $400,000 contract to provide security for FEMA reconstruction efforts. Broken down, the cost charged by Blackwater was close to $1,000 per guard provided per day. I will note that this was questioned by Senator Obama at the time it was provided.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. It was later reported by Blackwater mercenaries that they were working for the Department of Homeland Security, and not just providing the “basic” security:

Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force.

I figured that there had to be some ties with the republican party when it came to Blackwater. And maybe this was something that was more widely known that I thought. However, in seeing how this company rose in a manner similar to Halliburton – we knew a lot about how much Halliburton was tied to this administration.

Now, I see just how much Blackwater – an entity that is arguably more dangerous to the “freedom” of people here in the US and around the world than Halliburton – is directly tied into very high levels of the US government, and more specifically - this administration.

Is it too much of a stretch to say that the money coming from our tax dollars is being funneled right back to the republican party/war machine through the no bid contracts and lucrative donations or contributions to republican or ultra conservative causes?

I think not.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Remember the Taliban's promise of a "spring offensive"?

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

I always found it amazing how one of the biggest arguments levied by those on the “right” about withdrawing from Iraq is that “the terrorists can just set their clocks for that date and wait us out”. Not only for the sheer simplemindedness of this statement, but for the hypocrisy of demanding timelines in prior military conflicts. But now, there is another reason – the fact that the Taliban has been warning the US of this “spring offensive” for many months now, and we still could not “set our watches” in order to prepare for it.

So, right on schedule, and as warned (just like we were warned about bin Laden’s determination to strike in the US), the Taliban has ratcheted up the violence in Afghanistan and, surprise, surprise – it is during the spring...

In turkana’s excellent diary from Monday, there were numerous instances cited of violence in Afghanistan over the past few months. It also talked about the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban - you know, the two groups who were “on the run” and “soundly defeated” way back in 2002. One thing is shown from all of this - since al Qaeda and the Taliban are launching attacks from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the central front in the “war on terror” is most certainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan – NOT in Iraq..

I’ll put it another way - those who attacked us on 9/11, and those who supported those who attacked us are still attacking us. But not from Iraq even remotely as much as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And we are doing very little, if anything about it. That includes even reporting on this. When was the last time that a major story covered al Qaeda in Pakistan or Afghanistan? Hell, when was the last time that a major story covered something other than who we need to bomb next and why we need to do it now?

If we want to bomb someone so badly, I know of a few places where attacks are actually being planned and carried out against NATO, US troops and civilians. And even better - they are being planned by those who we were supposed to be targeting back in 2002 and 2003.

We were warned by Faux Nooz in March of this. We were told that it started back in May. We were told that the “spring offensive” was being quashed just 2 weeks ago. And we were told that it never really happened to begin with.

Yet, a suicide bomb killed 35 people just the other day in Kabul. And a roadside blast killed three Canadian NATO troops yesterday. And a four hour battle took place in Kandahar earlier today, killing 15 suspected members of the Taliban. This was after militants had taken control of a district in Kandahar earlier.

While we are at it, there were four suicide attacks in a few days. Over 300 Afghani police or other officers have been killed this year so far. Over 100 people killed in the past three days (including the suicide bomb) in southern Afghanistan. The same paper that told us the “spring offensive” was being quashed indicated that violence has increased in recent months and that al Qaeda was launching a “new front” in Tora Bora.

There are more examples of this. The main point is that since the US cut and ran from Afghanistan for Iraq, things have gotten progressively worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan (not to mention Iraq, etc.). By ignoring the Taliban and al Qaeda, NATO has gotten bogged down in Afghanistan. By denying the increasing violence and the warnings of a “spring offensive”, nothing other than more death and destruction was accomplished.

Just because your head is in the sand (or in some other place) doesn’t mean that things don’t still happen. The Taliban talked of a “spring offensive”. They are and have been following through on this, regardless of whether anyone wants to deny it or not. And to ignore it or play dumb is reckless, careless and criminally arrogant.

Too bad we forgot to set our clocks and mark our calendars.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The WH Press Corps should just boycott the press conferences

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media. Recommended at Daily Kos

Ari Fleischer’s arrogant bullying was bad. Scott McClellan’s hemming and hawing and non-responses were worse. Tony Snow, the complete “what, we did not say that” liar that he is, lowers the White House press conferences to a farce that is an even bigger waste of time than his predecessors.

At least with McClellan, he would sweat and squirm, which would make for some comedic value. As for Snow (and of course Bush for that matter), the disdain for the truth and those who are asking him the questions is worse than under Fleischer. The outright lies and dismissal of reality truly would make it easier for the White House Press Corps to just sit the press conferences out and take that time to (gasp) do their own digging or reporting.

Because, in reality, there is absolutely nothing that has come out of the press conferences – not just recently, but more so over the past year than before – that is worthy of being printed on toilet paper, let alone newspaper (or online print). Besides, if members of the press are starting to indicate frustration (even a bit), what better way to express it than to either walk out of a press conference or boycott it altogether?

Yeah, yeah, I know....corporate owned media and blah blah blah. But when the only response to questions about hundreds of thousands of missing emails by White House officials is “that is a whole lot of email”, there is a serious problem beyond the “normal”. When a blatant lie about “never saying that the US attorney firings were performance based” when it is very very easy to find the instances where those exact words were used - this goes beyond disdain. It is insulting to the intelligence of the WH Press Corps, the American people and anyone who actually cares to pay attention to these briefings.

True – there was always an element of covering up, stalling or hiding some things from the press, but as with many other things this administration has done, it has gone to new levels. The tone and content of the questions asked has gotten a bit harsher and less friendly over the past few years – and rightfully so. However, the dripping contempt and depth of the lies and arrogant non-responses has sunk to new levels.

One problem and side issue is as long as there is a stream of people moving from the press to official positions in the administration (like Snow and the more recent hiring of a former ABC White House correspondent by the Pentagon), the flow of information that We the People have every right to know will be extremely limited and controlled. However, as some people in the media speak out (including Charles Gibson at a commencement address the other day), there is some level of self awareness and realization (however small) that the “major corporate controlled media” is not doing its’ job. Of course, nobody is really speaking out against their OWN employers (that would be counterproductive).

However, if the White House Press Corps wanted to gain some respect for its’ industry – an industry that has been in a downward spiral in the area of credibility – it would best be served to do something that would actually lend credence to their desire for credibility. In 2005 as well as in 2006, there were surveys done by the Pew Research Center that indicated a big drop in print media credibility (and favorability of US media as credible sources in general) – especially from 2000 – 2006.

This is largely a result (to me) of the lapdog fawning over the lies and bullying of this administration, the refusal to call them out on their lies and distortions, as well as the lack of actually reporting what should be reported as opposed to what is being spoon-fed to them by this administration. Add that to the sensationalism reporting and extreme reporting on things that are of little consequence and importance, people just don’t know or care about what they should know or care about.

Since Tony Snow has taken over, things have gone from bad to worse to unbelievably arrogant, dismissive and full of disdain for any sort of worthwhile responses. If the White House Press Corps (or even some of their members) had any sense of responsibility, they would report on what is NOT being told to them and how they are being willfully lied to by this administration. If they had any backbone left, they would stage a boycott. Even a short term boycott could send a message – probably not to this administration, but certainly to the American people that there is no use in covering something that is such a colossal waste of time.

What if the White House threw a press briefing and nobody showed up? Even for one week? Even for one or two days? At least there would be some level of respect for an institution that is in serious danger of becoming irrelevant.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

APOLOGIZE? Are you out of your damn minds?

Front paged at My Left Wing and Booman Tribune. Recommended at Daily Kos

Excuse me, Mr. republican pot for taking issue with your feigned outrage (yet again) directed towards those evil “kettle” Democrats. This time it is an apology owed by Majority Leader Harry Reid for his remarks about former Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace.

Tony fucking liar Snow wants Reid to apologize. Lying, two faced opportunist John McCain called the remarks highly inappropriate. republican congressman Mike Conaway joined in with his own “outrage”. And, always eager to lap this up, George Stephanopolous hopped all over this today, asking Biden if he thought Reid should apologize.

This, on the heels of the Democratic debates, where the candidates were asked to distance themselves from Reid or other Democrats on various “issues” that were mere nonsense.

Apologize? Give me a fucking break, assholes. You want an apology? Well, maybe when you apologize and take actions to fix some of the thousands of crimes and horrific acts that you watched, cheered on or even perpetrated yourselves. If republicans are so damn “tough”, then why do they go squealing like a stuck pig every single goddamn time someone says something that would “hurt the troops feelings” or “undermine our generals” or whatever other stupid crap they can conjure up?

You want an apology? Why not start with looking in the mirror? And if you can’t because you would be staring at a torture enabling, deficit increasing, corrupt criminal associating scumbag, then I’ll be all the more happy to give a bit of a reminder of the more egregious acts that have been fostered and conjured up by the republican party – and by no means is this list even remotely exhaustive.

Enabling torture. Neglecting the Gulf Coast and stranding tens of thousands to die. Lies about WMD. Lies about Saddam and al Qaeda. Lies about “progress in Iraq”. Cutting and running from Afghanistan. Tax cuts to the wealthy while squeezing the middle class. Abu Ghraib. Extraordinary rendition. Ruining the military. Not equipping our troops. Neglecting veterans. Extremist activist judges that take away our rights. Preference for corporations’ rights over peoples’ rights. Free speech zones. Politicization of the Justice Department. Caging. Promotion of those who have spent their careers suppressing the vote.

Warrantless wiretapping. Outing a covert CIA agent. Swift Boat liars. Making a mockery of the US Attorneys. Funding the Sunni insurgents. Warmongering about Iran. Ignoring bin Laden. Ignoring the disaster in Afghanistan. Politicizing the education department with “No Child Left Behind”. Gutting the environmental laws. Allowing nearly 50 million people to go without any health insurance, and millions more with insurance that won’t cover much of anything. Suspension of habeas corpus. Indefinite detainment of people without charges. Secret CIA prisons overseas.

Corporate media consolidation and suppression of any other voices. Covering up Mark Foley’s disgusting and illegal behavior. Republican felon Jack Abramoff and all of his connections. Tom DeLay’s corruption and money laundering. Neutering the House Ethics Committee. Not testifying under oath before the 9/11 Commission. Ignoring the PDB about Bin Laden striking in the US. Blowing off Iran in 2002 and 2003, then lying about it to Congress.

Lying and distorting Gore’s record in 2000. Lying and distorting Kerry’s record in 2004. Ignoring the will of the people about Iraq. Brownie. Lying about the air quality at Ground Zero and then not helping those rescue workers who developed health problems. Paid propaganda to push the White House agenda not investigated. “Fixing the facts around the policy”. Ruining America’s image around the world. Double standards with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.

No bid contracts to Halliburton. $8 Billion missing in Iraq. Blackwater. Not using Homeland Security funds to protect nuclear plants, railways, the power grid, the food supply or our ports. Not attending any military funerals. “Listening to the generals” except when they don’t tell you what you want to hear. “Strolls through Baghdad markets” with hundreds of guards and air cover for a photo op. Using white phosphorus in Iraq. Duke Cunningham. John Doolittle. Jerry Lewis. Coingate. Phone jamming in NH on Election Day.

And I am sure there are hundreds, if not thousands more. So stop with the fake outrage. A few words – especially ones that are pretty true – are no match for the depths of corruption, lies, death, suppression, theft and other actions that truly are worthy of much more than a mere apology. Frankly, it has gotten old, boring and stupid.

Demanding an apology. Grow the fuck up already.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"Stay on offense" = "Being a dick"

Front paged at My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

We all knew someone who was a “dick” when we were growing up. It could be another name (and if you are offended in any way, please just click the “back” button), but the traits were the same. I don’t mean a bully, although some bullies were dicks and some dicks were also bullies. And not a wiseass either. Wiseasses were funny – sometimes very funny. Bullies were a bit intimidating but not always real dickish (think Jimbo, Nelson and the crew from the Simpsons).

But the “dick” – that was someone who went out of their way to be a pain in the ass. Sometimes, they would inconvenience themselves and those around them in order to annoy or inconvenience others. They would be obnoxious, annoying to those around them, and bother people – just because they were dicks. Frankly, they were just a fucking pain in the ass.

With a lot of anger (rightfully so in many instances) directed at many Democrats lately – whether it be candidates, congressmen and women, or leaders, I do just want to point out a few fundamental differences here, and while I don’t think our crop of candidates and leaders are, um, at the top of their game (hopefully that is all it is) right now, things could be much, MUCH worse.

While it was funny when Team America made this joke, it is all the more obvious that the divide between the republican candidates (and those who they are aggressively courting) and the Democrats (as well as “our” views) is just downright scary.

To take a cliché, “the best offense is a good defense” really applies here. Hell, we even have a Department of Defense and a Secretary of Defense (while the term used to be “war”). A national defense. The preamble to the Constitution even says “provide for the common defense”. And taking measures to protect ourselves as a country include many basic things that aren’t even being considered. Not even from terrorist attacks but from natural disasters and potential accidents among carriers of toxic chemicals, our food supply and many many other things. Good intelligence sharing amongst our agencies and with other countries.

Oh yeah, not to mention not being a dick to other countries and the rest of the world (or the American people, but that is for another time).

Now, I am one to think that we should take all reasonable measures to keep the population protected from the things I note above. And if we are attacked, we should do what we gotta do to those who attacked us. That opinion of mine won’t really change much, no matter how much someone may argue with me on it.

Growing up, we had a rule when we were playing games – usually it was sports and the rule is broad and vague, yet everyone knew when it was being broken. The rule was simple:

don’t be a dick

Obviously, it became the “don’t be a dick rule”, and it has been very handy throughout the years.

So why am I saying all of this now? Well, earlier this week, Rudy Giuliani said at least 5 times how we have to “stay on offense” against “the terrorists” and in order to succeed in Iraq. You know, being a dick. Not doing what we can to protect ourselves – but to piss off more people without thinking it through. Giuliani is a dick.

Newest republican darling Fred Thompson, despite his being on Law and Order and in a movie or two also wants to be a dick. Speaking recently, Thompson said:

Thompson said that the reason we haven’t been attacked since 9-11 is that we’ve taken the offense. He said, over and over again, that regardless of what happens in Iraq, the best defense against terrorism is to stay on offense.

Oh good, more dickishness.

Of course, there are many more. John McCain singing about Iran. Dick Cheney (as if his name doesn’t give it away anyhow) talking about how our military (not intelligence or anything else, but military) must stay on offense to defeat “the terrorists”. Bush wants to “stay on offense” in Iraq. Joe Lieberman (what, are you going to argue that he is more of a Democrat than a republican?) talking about bombing Iran.

All of them – dicks. And that is the mentality that we are going up against. Does this country want its’ leaders to act responsibly? Or does this country want to be led by a bunch of dicks for the next decade?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"We will get tough on Iraq" and blah blah blah...

Front paged at Booman Tribune and My Left Wing

While it is nice to see the Democratic leaders in Congress are realizing that We the People are still pissed off about what is going on in our names in Iraq and are “accepting responsibility” for not doing enough, the tough-talk-followed-by-too-little-action-and-too-much-hand-wringing is something that we have already heard too many times before.

It is nice that you acknowledge, Senator Reid, that you “may have set the bar too high” (a sentiment that was shared by Armando/Big Tent Democrat, thereisnospoon and myself just the other night), that doesn’t even come close to being enough. The public wants out of Iraq. And yes, we know that is more involved than just getting our troops out immediately without though. But make no mistake - you were put in charge of Congress due in large part to the thought that you could take action to bring this illegal and bloody mess of an occupation to a close.

While there are a number of options that could accomplish this – there appears to only be one or two things available that are even feasible. Even republicans polled recently are in favor of withdrawal within the next six months. However, as the bar keeps getting moved with respect to the number of additional troops being sent and how long we are asked to wait for progress that will never come, NOW is the time to push back. And push back hard.

As indicated in the NY Times article linked above:

The proposals will not be new. Rather, Democrats intend to reprise at least four ideas when the Senate considers the Defense Department policy bill: a measure to reverse the authorization for the Iraq war, set a deadline for troop withdrawal, block money for major combat operations after March 31, 2008, and increase readiness requirements for troops to be sent back to Iraq. “On Iraq,” Mr. Reid said, “we’re going to hold the president’s feet to the fire.”

Congress can cut off funding. It can put in the “readiness measures”. It can reverse the authorization and it can set a deadline for withdrawal. However, all of these have been threatened in the past – only to have been withdrawn themselves. Consider the following:

  • Readiness measures are only acceptable if no troops are actually sent until these measures are truly met – NOT if Bush “says” they are met;

  • The authorization can be reversed ONLY if Congress is willing to take action when Bush continues the occupation after the authorization is reversed;

  • Money can be blocked for major combat operations after March 2008 ONLY IF Congress not only follows through on this, but they also define what “major combat operations” is. And since Bush himself declared “major combat operations over” way back in his “Mission Accomplished moment”, this should be adhered to;

  • A deadline can only be set if there are ramifications for such deadline to be met.

Now, all of these come with other hurdles as well. There will be an unwilling president, an unwilling opposition (yet, minority) party – and it is the minority party for a reason, and many calls that the Democrats are “defeatists”, “terrorist lovers”, “troop stranders” or whatever else. This is all bullshit and must be dealt with in a “pre-emptive strike".

No more caving in. No more Senators Levin or Obama or Biden saying that they “will not leave the troops stranded”. That is a lie. That was always a lie. Prior Congresses have imposed constraints on President Clinton. Candidate Bush in 2000 indicated that there must be clear goals and a clear exit strategy before he were to send troops into harm’s way. And most importantly, the troops are not going to be stranded without bullets.

America has your back. We see the writing on the wall and have for a good long time now. America wants a troop withdrawal deadline. This does not mean that “the terrorists” can set their calendars. Besides, where is the outrage that this administration has been funding Sunni insurgents who could easily have recently been killing our troops in exchange for a promise to not do it anymore? Why not point out how this administration is taking actions such as this?

America wants this showdown. We wanted it last month before the Democrats suddenly and inexplicably caved in. Set a date certain. Don’t allow troops who are injured, unrested, untrained or unready to be deployed. We have heard the talk from you before. And we stood behind you then, even if we were very disappointed. There is another “showdown” with funding in the upcoming budget bill. There can be other “showdowns” before then.

Make no mistake, someone must be held accountable. It most certainly should be the republicans. But if this occupation drags on without you doing ALL THAT YOU CAN – which includes standing up to a weak ineffective loser of a president with record disapproval ratings – with the vast majority of the country behind you – then sadly, it is the Democratic Party that will ultimately be held accountable for not doing its’ job.

Don’t let us down. Don’t let America down. We have heard the talk before. Talk is cheap. People are dying needlessly. Find the damn votes. Get this done.

No more cheap tough talk, and no more excuses.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sorry, morons. That dog just won't hunt.

Front paged at Booman Tribune and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns this week:
The United States has "irrefutable evidence" that Tehran is transferring arms to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, a top U.S. diplomat told CNN Wednesday, noting that NATO forces have intercepted some of the arms shipments.

"There's irrefutable evidence the Iranians are now doing this and it's a pattern of activity,"

This was already covered by mole333 as well as bink, and there is some good background on why this is pretty much totally inconceivable. I’ll touch on it a bit more below, but I want to take a different angle as well.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns this past February:

I'll resist the temptation to draw an organizational chart, for obvious reasons. They're part of the Iranian defense and intelligence establishment. They're a major part of the Iranian government. Therefore, the actions of that force are the responsibility of that government. If that force is supplying technology for Shiite militants, that government is responsible.

Of course, that was immediately smacked down by many, including now former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace. And this new claim, no doubt, will be smacked down by many who point out the sheer insanity of Iran helping the Taliban.

For starters, as noted by historian Gareth Porter, Iran helped the US in 2001 and 2002 with respect to fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Other history of the Taliban and Iran being the most unlikely of bedfellows is noted in both of the diaries I link above, so I won’t belabor this point too much.

What I want to point out here is the same disinformation campaign (which we all were waiting for) that we saw back in 2002. And the same traps are being laid as well as fallen into here. Democratic Presidential candidates are, by and large, repeating the “Iran must never get nukes” line. Forget the fact that outside of a fairly neutered Ahmadinejad, the Iran leadership may be “hardliners” but they probably don’t want a nuclear holocaust. Ditto for most Israelis (and please don’t hijack this diary into an Israel thread). And while there already is a nuclear Pakistan (with al Qaeda and Taliban elements known to be in the country) as well as a nuclear North Korea – we aren’t bombing them back to the stone age, right?

Giuliani has rolled out his “keep America on offense” meme, which is basically a recipe for never ending war in some country somewhere. Lieberman has come out for military strikes on Iran. And so on and so on and so on…..

Can we all step back from the edge here for a second and see what is going on? In February, it wasn’t too long before the warmongers were forced to slink off with their tail between their legs when their hypocrisy (after all, if there were munitions “made in Iran” found in Iraq, what about all of the munitions we have provided to others throughout the years), tenuous links (even if it was made in Iran, it could have been bought on the black market or certainly not sanctioned by the government) and failure to see the irony in their assertions (under that scenario where Iranians = Iran, wouldn’t Saudi nationals funding Sunni insurgents = Saudi Arabia funding Sunni insurgents and torture by US elements = torture by the US government? Actually, that last one is most certainly true) was exposed.

But they didn’t go away – they just regrouped for another round of kool aid and bullshit. Although this one is, to me, even worse than the last time. It combines wild assertions that would be tantamount to us providing Sunni insurgents with weapons, even though these insurgents were targeting US troops a few months or weeks earlier – all for the promise to not do it again (oh wait, scratch that one….) with a healthy dose of fear – since most Americans don’t know that there is a long history of hate between the Taliban and Iran.

And while the US is crazy or stupid or shortsighted enough to actually arm their enemies, that doesn’t mean that other countries – “even Iran” – would do the same. What is the benefit here to Iran? They can already fuck with the US in Iraq – not just militarily but also diplomatically and politically. They can already fuck with the US ships that have amassed in the region.

They have absolutely no reason to piss off their buddy in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Which reminds me, wasn’t Karzai buddies with Zalmay Khalizad who is a PNAC signatory and has his fingerprints all over the US foreign policy since 2000? So a neocon buddy (Karzai) who “many say” was a puppet of the Bush administration pledges his friendship to Iran. Hmmmm….seems like a bit of a conflict of interest for those who want to bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran and those who can say that Karzai is “with us” but Iran is “against us”.

But I digress….

The point here is that this is most likely (and I only say most likely because it “only” makes no sense on any level) complete bullshit – but even bigger bullshit than “Saddam was working with bin Laden on 9/11”.

Yet, the same lying liar who lied in February is now being trotted out again to lie – but this time only a less credible or believable lie. And again with “there is credible evidence that we can’t show you”.

It was bullshit in 2002 and 2003. It was bullshit in February. And it is bullshit now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Obstructionist repubs use obstruction to obstruct Senate business

Front paged at My Left Wing

Don’t look now, but the filibuster is back in style – it just isn’t “called” the filibuster. But with all of the whining during 2005 and 2006 about “upperdown votes” and “nuclear options” and “obstructionist Democrats” a strange but not unexpected thing has happened during this still-young Congressional Session.

Yesterday’s failure to invoke cloture on what I said over a week ago was already a stupid vote that wouldn’t accomplish anything, and would frankly be counterproductive was just the latest in a string of obstructionist moves by the Senate republican minority that have prevented bills from seeing the Senate floor and getting their “upperdown vote”.

Already, in just over five months, cloture votes have failed 13 times and have been withdrawn 6 times. Compared to the entire two year session of the 109th Congress - there were only 19 failed cloture votes (including two on John Bolton) and 14 votes that were withdrawn.

Suddenly – after the republicans lost power in the Senate (not to mention Congress in general), the talk shifted from “Democrats better not dare to obstruct Senate business by filibustering” and “Democrats should let these bills/nominees/issues get their fair upperdown vote” to “conventional wisdom is that you need 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done”.

Um, excuse me, but why now do no Democrats call bullshit on this shift in discussion and the accepting of this double standard? Why not (since they haven’t already) start pointing out how the republican party is thwarting the will of the people by not allowing bills and legislation to come to the floor? Why isn’t Gonzales getting his “upperdown vote” (regardless of how toothless it is)?

Yesterday’s failure gives coverage to those republicans who can now say they voted “against Bush and Gonzales” without any repercussions whatsoever. Yet, Gonzales didn’t even get “a vote” to begin with. From the standpoint of “message”, the Democrats are falling behind in a number of ways. They are allowing themselves to be lumped in with Bush on the immigration bill – regardless of whether it is true or not. They are allowing themselves to look weak on Iraq – even as they basically stand for looking for a way to end the occupation.

There were some very good things in the Iraq supplemental bill (very few of which related to Iraq) – like the minimum wage hike. Yet, they were labeled as “pork spending” - not to mention that a lot of this funding was related to bills that the last republican controlled Congress punted at the end of December 2006. Not having the media outlets is only so much of an excuse. Certainly it should be noted that the republicans are obstructing Senate business by having 2/3 as many cloture votes fail during the first five months as the entire two year prior session. Now, it doesn’t have to be said in so many words.

But this whole “60 votes is needed for anything” line – true or not – was embraced way too quickly and there was no mention of the fact that there is a whole lot of obstructing going on in the Senate. Screw the “60 votes is needed” crap. That line only holds because the obstructionist republicans who whined so much about Democrats obstructing Senate business are doing a fine job of obstructing on their own.

This is a no brainer. As poorly as the Democrats have done in the public’s eyes, the republicans are viewed in a lesser light. Add the “obstructionist” label to them and point it out every single time that the obstructionist republicans use their obstruction to obstruct - whether it is justice, Senate business or the will of the American people – and the Democrats might finally be able to stop wringing their hands and start putting more pressure on the republicans in the minority.

After all, there’s a new Congress in town, right?

Monday, June 11, 2007

A story nobody could have made up.

Front paged at Booman Tribune and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

Every time I think I’ve got it, something else happens that makes everything that I have been told completely irrelevant.

First, a Sunni militant named Osama bin Laden gives us a “heads up” that he will be attacking the US. This, after he was likely involved with numerous attacks against the US, even inside the US. This other Sunni leader, Saddam Hussein were never, shall we say, on the best of terms with each other.

When the warning was ignored by the administration and its’ sheer incompetence (to say the least) allowed the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil to kill around 3,000 Americans, we go after that Sunni militant and everyone associated with him.

We track this Sunni militant and attack some of his supporters, and have him on the run. Until we let him get away. But then, even though they hate each other, we are told that the other Sunni leader who we hate so very much because of all the horrible things he has done (**cough**many with US assistance or knowledge**cough**) was in cahoots and we must get him now.

And even though we were never told they really weren’t in cahoots, and even though we pretty much knew that already, and even though he never attacked the US or threatened to, and even though his country didn’t really house anyone associated with the attacks on our country, and even though no one credible said they could or would attack us, and even though that Sunni militant (and his followers) were most certainly NOT in that country (but were in a number of other countries in that general area), we were told that we had to attack and invade rightfuckingnow before they did something truly horrible – or even worse.

But even though it was a foregone conclusion that we would invade, and that all of the protesting and arguing and logic and evidence and reason in the world wouldn’t do a damn thing about it. And we were off to fight other Sunnis – Sunnis that were associated with Saddam but not bin Laden (he is the one who attacked us in the first place) because, well, Sunnis were Sunnis and we should get ‘em all. Unfortunately, nobody thought of what should be done once we get there.

And then we find out that bin Laden and his people were never in Saddam’s country anyway, but hell, we are now so let’s root for victory and some ass whoopin’. Whatever that is. So as we fight against the “dead ender” Sunnis, more of our troops are being killed and injured, and more civilians are dying. And there are more attacks – but they are also more lethal too. Oh yeah, and the first Sunni militant is probably with his followers in Pakistan, a country who is “with us” but can’t help there.

Since things are going so poorly with the other Sunnis, the Shiite majority in the country we invaded, think that they can rise up and take revenge (and assert some power) on the Sunnis. And the Sunnis fight back. And, just as so many people predicted, a civil war broke out. Instead of recognizing the obvious and staying out, we are told to ignore it and it isn’t really there but if it is, certainly it isn’t as it seems.

Now, as the shit has hit the fan for the umpteenth time, we are told that the Shiites are also bad, because, even though they haven’t attacked us or threatened to attack us, they have a leader who is even worse than Saddam the Sunni and not only does he want to kill us, he wants to help others kill us, and in fact is helping others kill us right next door in the country we should never have been in to begin with. This country is most certainly “against us”, even though they helped us right after we were attacked.

But at this point, those original Sunnis (not the original original one but the other original ones) are still killing us and are also killing Shiites. And because the Sunni country who happened to be the country who has many of the original Sunnis who attacked us as well as the family of the original original Sunni militant doesn’t want the really really evil Shiite country that is killing us as we speak (by the way….) to gain more control, they threaten to fund the Sunnis who are attacking us too. Oh yeah, this Sunni country has prominent citizens who are definitely funding those Sunnis who are attacking us in the country we shouldn’t be in to begin with, but not to worry because they are “with us” as well.

We are told that everything is working out rather nicely despite all of the above and not to worry because we are “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here”. Except that we ARE fighting them over here. Sort of.

By this point, most everyone else is calling “bullshit” and wants some way to end this invasion that should never have happened in the first place. Things over there are a disaster wherever you look. Things over here aren’t rosy either – although there are no car bombs going off, the economy is in ruins and the people aren’t happy and they don’t feel safe(r).

And while more and more people die as every day passes – many many more than those who died in the original attacks, there is no end in sight. Even though there are numerous options that would have much less horrific results, nothing much is done – in fact, quite the opposite happens. While this happens and nobody in any position to really do something about it is doing all that they can to stop the bleeding (literally and figuratively). So we are told that the only answer is to go after that other really really really bad Shiite guy instead.

But one last thing, just in case we need anything that could make this less believable, we are now arming those Sunnis who were killing us initially against the other Sunnis (the original original Sunni militant’s followers but not that Sunni militant). Those same “other original” Sunnis who weren’t in this country that we had no business invading in the first place before we invaded. And all these Sunnis have to do to get these arms, even though they have been killing and attacking us “over there” for four years, is promise that they won’t use them to kill us. Anymore.

They say the truth is often stranger than fiction. In this instance, not only is it true, it is downright frightening.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Will any candidate touch election reform?

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing

I’ll be brief.

I’m throwing out a challenge to the Presidential candidates, and I won’t even make it a difficult one. We know that many of them (or their staff) read what is posted here, so maybe one would read this. Certainly, they are aware of the goings on in Congress regarding the US Attorney purge. Hopefully they know about the Pulitzer Prize worthy work being done by McClatchy’s Washington Bureau about the tie in between the US Attorneys and the issues of “voter fraud” against Democratic party voters or officials.

Now, I won’t even ask the candidates to address issues such as public financing of elections or not having voting machines contain proprietary software that is easily hackable, even though those are extremely important issues. And I won’t even think of mentioning scrapping the Electoral College – regardless of the merits contained in that argument either. And hell, I won’t even talk about making Election Day on a weekend or as a national holiday, even though I think either of those are an excellent idea.

But frankly, this is a NON-partisan issue and the system is so broken, so corrupt and so in need of a major basic overhaul that not only would I immediately have much more respect and support for anyone that dares to be so bold and shine a spotlight on these glaring issues, but it would be irresponsible for any candidate who wishes to be elected to not address a system that would serve to put them in office.

No, what I am talking about is much more basic, and much more of a no brainer. I’m talking about voter suppression, especially anything that is done with the sanctioning of or funds from a local or national political party. I’m talking about stricter and more immediate penalties for such violations, and for intimidation on or around Election Day.

I’m talking about blatant conflicts of interest being outlawed. There should never be the same individual holding a campaign position for any candidate (especially the Presidential candidate) and a top position with respect to how elections are run. With Ken Blackwell in Ohio and Katherine Harris in Florida BOTH having such close ties to Bush/Cheney, even without the highly controversial results and pre-Election Day tactics used by those officials this would be an unacceptable conflict of interest.

I’m also talking about (and while there may be logistical issues here, something must be done) no recess appointments of FEC Commissioners, like vote suppressing Hans von Spakovsky. And I’m also talking about some methodology whereby the egregious acts we have seen by Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove, Monica Goodling, Paul McNulty, Robert Popper, Brad Schlozman, Tim Griffin and the rest of those who were responsible for violating laws regarding political affiliation in hirings, pursuit of bogus fraud cases while ignoring destroyed voter registrations, narrow interpretations of the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act to purge voter rolls as opposed to making it easier for people to cast a ballot all can not happen again.

Would this involve a nonpartisan election oversight committee that operates independently from the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department? Maybe. Would this involve basic changes to election laws to ensure that no party has even the appearance of a conflict of interest (and maybe not a hidden or relatively tenuous one but certainly not one like Blackwell or Harris had)? Absolutely?

Would this make those who engage in such acts think twice? Possibly but maybe not. However, if Blackwell was not in a position to do what he did with respect to voter registration cards, the distribution of voting machines and stonewalling the vote count/recount and if Harris was not in a position to take the actions she took with respect to certifying the vote before it was truly counted in 2000, then some (not all, but some) of this wouldn’t have happened.

And if there was some mechanism whereby voter ID laws such as the one engineered and supported by von Spakovsky in Arizona and Georgia, or that was overturned by decree in Minnesota or the one that is now being pushed for in Mississippi would not be enforced until proven constitutional (as opposed to being enforced until proven unconstitutional), then that could help as well.


Of course some of these ideas are a bit controversial. And I didn’t even touch on other things that should really be given serious consideration. Things such as instant run off voting, verified paper ballots, nonpartisan election observers at all polling stations, voting by mail or even old fashioned hand counting of ballots by a nonpartisan group.

After all, messing with elections cuts the heart right out of a democracy. Somebody has to take the first step. And that someone - even without touching on supposedly “tin foil” ideas can get the ball rolling so that there is somewhat of a fair election process in this country.

This country deserves nothing less. Hell, it should DEMAND nothing less.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A new low, even for Katie

Front paged at Booman Tribune

Hypocrisy, no, make that embarrassment to the journalism industry, no, make that entry of the year in the category of “Best Unintentional Comedy” - thy name is Katie Couric.

When you think that maybe she doesn’t run on batteries provided by the right wing talking points machine and that she actually has some constructive things to say, that fleeting hope that maybe, just maybe she won’t turn out to be a complete disaster of a train wreck – she shatters that image faster than Alberto Gonzales can forget everything he did related to the US attorney firings.

Her words were ones that are not foreign (by any means) to us – she talks about how people’s priorities are too often not where they should be (empahsis mine):

Pursuing something you love should be the first thing on your post-graduate to do list. But too often, that’s not what drives young people as they look at their life goals. According to a recent survey, many say their top two priorities are number 1, being rich, and number 2, being famous. Believe me, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be ... and I know Williams grads are smarter than that.

But thanks to self-made You Tube productions, and so-called reality shows like The Apprentice and Survivor, ... fame, even the fleeting sanjaya-type, seems easier to attain, and more seductive, than ever.

The proliferation of celebrity magazines makes Lindsey Lohan’s latest stint in rehab seem more important than what’s happening in Darfur.

The kind of fluff that accosts us on the newsstand may seem like harmless fun, but it should also come with a warning label that says it can rot your mind and distort your values.

Well, how about that? Katie and I agree on something. Agree wholeheartedly on this. We are accosted with absolutely mindless crap that takes up way too much time, rots Murka’s brain and numbs them from the horrors that are occurring in Darfur. Or the lies of this Administration, the voter suppression by those who are now in our Justice Department and on the Federal Elections Commission. As well as the daily deaths and bombings – AND complete disaster in Iraq. Not to mention the economy, what is happening in Congress and in Afghanistan.

Good thing that Katie Couric happens to be in a bit of a position to do something about this. That she can use the platform she has as anchor of what has historically been the most venerable institution in US network news. So she can talk about the atrocities in Darfur, the killings in Iraq, the torture being carried our in our names, the ever increasing price of gas or milk, the shrinking middle class, the fearmongering and lies being perpetuated by this administration and the events going on in the world and our country which shape our daily lives.



Um……. not so fast.

Seems as though Katie couldn’t resist that mind rotting, values distorting fluff:

On Thursday night, the CBS Evening News’ top story was Bush and Putin discussing missile defense, to which the network devoted two minutes and 35 seconds. The next longest item was Paris Hilton’s release from jail, which garnered two minutes and 25 seconds.

During the half-hour broadcast, the Paris Hilton “news” got more coverage on CBS than a roadside bomb killing a U.S. soldier, the immigration legislation, and passage of the stem-cell bill combinedtimes two.

Way to go, Katie. Twice as long on Paris Hilton than immigration, the latest killings of our troops in Iraq and the immigration legislation which Bush himself hoped would “save his legacy”. COMBINED.

You and your bosses at CBS Evening News have a lot to be proud of. Taking the mantle of journalism and smashing it to pieces. One broadcast at a time.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Moving past fear

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing

Tonight is the third republican debate, and we can be sure that for those of us who have the stomach to watch, there will be many new treats about doubling the size of Gitmo (thx, Mitt), how terrorists are all around us and we better take it seriously or the Democrats will let them kill us (thx, Rudy), how we need to bomb more countries (thx, McCain) and how illegal immigrants should be shot on sight or that we should threaten to bomb Mecca (thx, Tancredo).

On Monday night, we were treated to call after call for blood and killings by Wolf Blitzer at the second Democratic debate. And over the past few days, we have been treated to non stop coverage of another “busted terror plot” that was yet another example of “aspirations but no means whatsoever”. Granted, plots are plots and people that want to cause harm need to be dealt with accordingly (as the law enforcement and legal system historically has provided for). However, one thing is perfectly clear from this culture of “all fear all the time”.

Until someone – a real decisive and true bold leader – steps up and leads this country out of an “all fear all the time” mindset, this country will never move forward and regain its’ place as someone to be taken seriously on the world stage.

The other day, I touched on a statement made by then Candidate John Kerry about terrorism not threatening the very fabric of our lives. While the country wasn’t nearly ready for that statement in 2004 (and many may still not be ready for that statement today), it has proven to be very accurate. Yet, both Democratic and republican party candidates and party members continue to ignore this very reasonable statement – the Democrats as they prove their “toughness” to take military action in response to hypothetical situations and the republicans, well, for just about anything.

This is foolish. This is weak. This is counterproductive. This isn’t reasoned or at all smart. And most importantly, this is something that will not work – not in terms of regaining our status or credibility and not in terms of moving this country forward.

I expect this from the republican candidates. Which makes it all the more imperative to not just defeat them in 2008, but to crush them and their ideology of fearmongering along the way. A country that lives in fear can not prosper. A country that lives in fear is not a strong country. Those who perpetuate a feeling of fear amongst their country’s citizens are not able to “protect that country”. Those who do so are cowardly in their own right and can not provide leadership through any means other than keeping the masses submissive.

How much respect would you gain for a Democratic candidate or party official if they were to come out and utter those words? The closest I have seen is John Edwards – yet he doesn’t go far enough. The one with the most potential is Barack Obama (with his “Audacity of Hope”), yet he toys with these sentiments but seems to back off in order to “prove” his strength.

We know that Rudy can’t lead. What if, for argument’s sake, the Fort Dix Six were successful? Two of these individuals were legal residents of the US, a third was a US citizen. The other three were illegal immigrants – all have been here for years. Who would Rudy bomb then as retaliation?

What if there was an attack in the US whose plotters were tied to the same people who were responsible for the UK subway bombing? Would Mitt or Fred Thompson or McCain bomb the UK? Who would Senators Clinton or Obama retaliate against if that were to happen here?

For all his warts, Fareed Zakaria is a pretty smart guy. He has a very good article in this week’s Newsweek titled. Beyond Bush: What the world needs is an open, confident America. I encourage you to check it out, as it makes so much sense (with a few exceptions), and touches on this theme, as well as a number of others. Right now, we are not a confident nation. We are a scared but outwardly arrogant nation. If anyone thinks otherwise, then they are just kidding themselves. This is not a trait of a country that was very recently viewed by many as a “moral, diplomatic and economic leader” (and yes, we have also had many warts as a country).

When talking about Iran, only Edwards has come close to speaking in a comprehensive manner that didn’t give me a bit of the willies. During the debate on Monday, he said the following:

Well, let me -- can I be more specific. I think that beyond just talking about diplomacy, if you lived in Iran, you know that the Iranian people actually rallied for America on the streets of Tehran after September the 11th. And there's a long history of pro-American sentiment in Iran.

There is an extraordinary opportunity available to us on Iran, and there's a very clear path, from my perspective. They have a president who is politically unpopular. The people are in a different place. He hasn't done what he promised to do, Ahmadinejad, when he was elected president.

We don't have economic leverage over the Iranians, but the Europeans do, the European banking system does. We should put two options on the table. One, carrots; we'll make the nuclear fuel available to you, the international community, but we'll control it, you can't nuclearize -- you can't weaponize it. Second, we're going to put a clear set of economic incentives on the table.

And the Iranian people need to hear this.

Zakaria touches on this point, and really gets it on the mark when it comes to Iran (and North Korea, for that matter). In a stark difference between the “bomb Iran” and “under no circumstances will we let them go nuclear” and “if they get a bomb then they will destroy Israel and give them to terrorists to blow up here in the US” – he lays it right out there. In talking about how Rudy, Bush and Romney all lump Sunnis, Shiites, Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda together:
But Iran is a Shiite power and actually helped the United States topple the Qaeda-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Qaeda-affiliated radical Sunnis are currently slaughtering Shiites in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are responding by executing and displacing Iraq's Sunnis. We are repeating one of the central errors of the early cold war—putting together all our potential adversaries rather than dividing them. Mao and Stalin were both nasty. But they were nasties who disliked one another, a fact that could be exploited to the great benefit of the free world. To miss this is not strength. It's stupidity.


There is a world beyond Iraq. The primary challenge we face in the Middle East is the rise of Iran. No country has caused greater panic among American elites—of both parties. There are many influential voices arguing for military attacks on Tehran. But let's keep in mind that this is a poorly run, internally divided oil tyranny that is increasingly antagonizing the rest of the world. It is insecure enough to have arrested Iranian-American civilians and warned its own scholars never to talk to foreigners at conferences abroad. These are not the signs of a healthy system. Iran is a serious and complex problem, but it is not Hitler's Germany. Its total GDP is less than one third of America's defense budget. A nuclear-armed North Korea has not been able to change the dynamics of global politics. A nuclear-armed Iran—and we are still far from that point—will not bring about the end of the world as long as we keep it tightly contained.

After years of empty threats and foolish rhetoric, the Bush administration is moving toward a more sensible containment strategy on Iran, though one that faces continued resistance from hard-liners like Dick Cheney. The United States should ensure that the reality of a resurgent Iran brings together the Arab world. The focus should stay on Iran's actions—and not U.S. threats.

This is a huge point – especially the last one. As I touched on a few months back, many of the Middle East (and neighboring area) countries are predominantly Sunni in terms of the leanings of the government. Iran is the largest Shiite country when it comes to the government, and clearly countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan wouldn’t want to see such a rise in Shiite influence – especially from a country that has the potential to wield significant power (if it got its act together, or if someone like Ahmadinejad was actually popular).

Europe holds more economic influence than we do over Iran. The “Sunni” countries in the region would likely keep Iran in check – certainly moreso than we can.

However, to keep fear in the forefront will ensure one thing – that we as a country continue to ignore the domestic problems that impact people on a daily basis. Things such as healthcare, education, real homeland security, the environment, the price of food, medication, gasoline and shrinking middle class.

It will take a bold and strong leader to move this country past the culture of fear that has been drilled into us over the past 7 years. It is the only thing that can make us a confident and serious nation again.

Is there anyone that is strong enough or bold enough to do so? And does the country realize how much that person truly is needed right now, as opposed to more of the same fearmongering?

Monday, June 04, 2007

A strong foreign policy does NOT mean "bomb them all"

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos.

Note to Wolfie (and also to Brian Williams): Stop asking questions like “ok, candidates, raise your hands if you aren’t such a wuss that you wouldn’t rain hellfire on whoever looks at us funny”. We aren’t asking you (although we should) questions like “raise your hand if you aren’t a simple minded, chest thumping dolt”.

Now, I only got a chance to watch part of the debate last night and was very glad to hear Senator Clinton smack down ole Leslie on his incessant “vague hypothetical questions”. But there is a major theme developing already and if something strong isn’t done to counteract this and isn’t done soon, then we will be right back to “Democrats are weak because they won’t come right out and say that they will turn a country into a sheet of glass if they run afoul of our goals of world domination”.

I listened to around 25 minutes of the debate, and not once, not twice, but three friggin times I heard the “prove to me that you aren’t a wimp” line of questioning. And I didn’t even watch long enough to hear any questions regarding Iraq.

Without rehashing the completely loaded questions that Brian Williams lobbed at the Democrats in the first debate (but recall they were much like “do you agree with those who say that your Senate leader is a loser?” or “would you rather see terrorists take over the world or would you rather drop nukes on Iran?”) it has become plain as day that there is little interest in doing anything other than making Democratic candidates “prove their toughness” by saber rattling or chest thumping in the must unproductive manner.

One of the first questions that I heard in last night’s debate was John Edwards talking about Iran, and I thought he gave a very well thought out, fairly comprehensive answer:

MR. BLITZER: Senator Edwards, how far would you go, if necessary, to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb?

SEN. EDWARDS: Well, let me -- can I be more specific. I think that beyond just talking about diplomacy, if you lived in Iran, you know that the Iranian people actually rallied for America on the streets of Tehran after September the 11th. And there's a long history of pro-American sentiment in Iran.

There is an extraordinary opportunity available to us on Iran, and there's a very clear path, from my perspective. They have a president who is politically unpopular. The people are in a different place. He hasn't done what he promised to do, Ahmadinejad, when he was elected president.

We don't have economic leverage over the Iranians, but the Europeans do, the European banking system does. We should put two options on the table. One, carrots; we'll make the nuclear fuel available to you, the international community, but we'll control it, you can't nuclearize -- you can't weaponize it. Second, we're going to put a clear set of economic incentives on the table.

And the Iranian people need to hear this.

What was Wolfie’s response to this? But you're saying only economic sanctions, not a military threat that should be on the table. Is that what you're saying?

Why not just say “are you such a wimp that you wouldn’t threaten to bomb them into the stone age?” Totally inexcusable. And yet totally expected. Now, right before this, Senator Clinton talked about using diplomacy first to deal with Iran and, while she was “concerned about Iran”, we talked with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and that you can’t rule out talking to those who are your adversaries instead of just calling them evil. Sounds intelligent, nuanced and the right approach.

But even then, Wolfie came back with ”So what happens, Senator, if diplomacy, when all is said and done, fails?”. Again with the “are you strong enough to bomb them to smithereens or are you a terrorist lover?” At least Senator Clinton shot back with “Wolf, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, because we've had an administration that doesn't believe in diplomacy”, because sadly, it is these hypotheticals alone that are going to be used as the basis for whether someone is “strong on foreign policy”. This will be (and already is being) twisted and spun into such nonsense and it must be stopped immediately.

One of the very next questions was of the same ilk. When talking about Osama bin Laden (forget the fact that Bush and the republicans have let him stay free for the past seven years but you won’t hear anything about that), Wolf wanted more blood:

MR. BLITZER: I just want everybody to raise their hand and tell me if you agree that if the U.S. had intelligence that could take out Osama bin Laden and kill him, even though some innocent civilians would die in the process, would you, as president, authorize such an operation? If you would raise your hand.

Screw the innocent civilians. Don’t think of the fact that the republicans haven’t made him a priority. Forget the fact that Bush himself said that he just doesn’t spend much time thinking about him. But if the Democrats don’t want to take out a few innocent people (or if not innocent, then a few civilians), then they are “weak”.

At the risk of repeating my diary title from yesterday, do you notice a pattern here? At least the candidates didn’t bite and slapped Wolf down on his “hypothetical” scenarios.

But that still wasn’t enough.....the very next question was on Darfur, and Wolf couldn’t stop itching for that blood. When Senator Biden talked about a no fly zone and NATO troops, Wolfie wanted to see how “tough” the candidates were :

All right. Raise your hand if you agree with Senator Biden that the United States should use military force to stop the genocide in Darfur.

Um, assclown, Biden said “no-fly zone and NATO troops”, not “go on in and kick some ass”. And EVEN AFTER many of the candidates agreed on a no-fly zone, Wolf still wanted blood:
We start with a no-fly zone, but very often, Senator Clinton, that could move on to other operations.

Time and time again. First with Brian Williams, then with the bearded idiot. It all goes back to how much military action the Democrats are willing to use. Forget the fact that our military is stretched beyond the breaking point. Forget the fact that the republicans have refused to fund, rest, train, equip or care for our current forces. Forget the fact that the US has no economic leverage around the world anymore. Forget the fact that the military can’t bust up terror plots. Forget the fact that the military can’t even come close to doing whatever it is they are “supposed to be doing” in Iraq.

Forget all of that – the litmus test here is whether the Democrats want to bomb, want to “use force”, “keep all options on the table”. Forget diplomacy and how that has worked for hundreds of countries for hundreds of years.

There is a huge trap being set for the Democratic candidates, and the party in general. They are starting to realize it. But if they don’t speak out outside of just the debates and turn the tables on the republicans’ irresponsibility with our military and lack of diplomacy, as well as the so called “moderators” who lob softball questions at republicans (“what would you do to get back to ‘Morning in America’, Rudy?” as opposed to “why did you put the city command center at 7 WTC despite recommendations to not do that?”) – the Democrats will continue to fight the uphill battle of being “soft on foreign policy”.

Which, by the way, is total bullshit – especially since diplomacy, carrots and sticks, and working with other countries is proof of a strong foreign policy. Bombing and invading other countries is not. It is weak, foolish and cowardly.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Notice a pattern here?

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing. Recommended at Daily Kos

As the constant drumbeat of the colossally stupid “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” and “we must be safer since we haven’t been attacked since 9/11” memes fail to fade from discourse, a consistent pattern has emerged with respect to the “terror plots” (and I use the quotes since some of these are absolutely absurd as far as true plots go) which we are hearing about.

The latest one being the “alleged plot to destroy JFK airport” - it is yet another reminder of a few very basic things:

  • The ability of these plots to actually be “carried out” is generally negligible (remember the one about taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch?);

  • If we are to count instances of “true” domestic terrorism (you know, including suspicious packages at abortion clinics or school shootings or men driving around Maryland killing people at random), very few of these are linked to “those who we are fighting ‘over there’”;

  • Even lending credence to these so called “plots” as bona fide plots that could or would do a tremendous amount of damage, we most certainly are “fighting them over here” (whomever “them” or “they” are); and

  • Most importantly they are being uncovered or “foiled” with REAL terror fighting tools - intelligence and law enforcement, not the military and indiscriminate bombings.

Back during the 2004 Presidential campaign, John Kerry made a comment that the overwhelmingly whipped-into-a-frenzy part of this country was not ready to hear:

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

Of course, this comment was as true as it was twisted out of context by the talking meatsticks and chest thumping chickenhawks. And just for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that all of the “terror plots” were valid and feasible – just to show how ass-backwards so many people still are when it comes to what is going on in the world since “9/11 changed everything”.

Just as the United Kingdom has been dealing with the IRA (and even recent terror plots), just as Spain has been dealing with ETA, just as other countries deal with “terrorism” within their borders - law enforcement, communication and cooperation between governmental agencies as well as good solid intelligence are what disrupts these “plots”. NOT bombing every country whose “citizen” happens to be here in the US and involved in the plot.

Take today’s Bergen Record story on the JFK “plot” as the latest perfect example:

"This terror plot is ... different in that it has distinct ties to the Caribbean, and this is an area in which we have growing concerns and requires more focus," New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said.

Officials said they had been monitoring the plot for more than a year. According to the criminal complaint, the four men allegedly began plotting around January 2006.


The investigation was conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and investigators worked with e-mails, tapes and transcripts. An informant also infiltrated the group.

"This was the ultimate hand-and-glove operation between NYPD and FBI," said Rep. Peter King, R-Long Island, a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Committee.

Non al-Qaeda. Monitoring this for over a year. NYPD and the FBI working together. Life not disrupted and not the very fabric of everyone in the NY/NJ area’s life. What a novel concept. Maybe Kerry was onto something…..

What about the “notorious” Fort Dix Six – whose plot to attack a military base was held up as “chilling reminders” of terrorism here at home? Even republican NJ Representative Jim Saxton talked about how to “fight them over here”:

Our country was built on democratic values and freedoms, and has always been host to immigrants from all over the world. Who wants to live in a constant state of paranoia and suspicion toward our neighbors? We'd prefer to focus on our work, families, school and enjoying the things life has to offer. It's our nature to become complacent - but somehow we need to raise our level of awareness to terrorism.

We can do this by taking advantage of community-based programs such as those offered by law enforcement or neighborhood watch programs as well as initiatives such as the New Jersey-based Community Anti-Terrorism Training Institute. Becoming educated about the threat is a basic first step.


The first line of defense resides with our citizens and local law enforcement.

Wow – a terrorist sympathizing republican saying that we should just raise our awareness as we go about our lives. Kind of like being vigilant and make sure that terrorism doesn’t take over the very fabric of our lives. Praising law enforcement in its’ role.

And (ignoring the fact that they were called “wannabes”), there was the “homegrown” (meaning: fighting them over here) terrorists – five of whom were US citizens - who were “planning” (in the loosest sense possible) to take down the Sears Tower. How was this plot foiled?

Batiste met several times in December 2005 with a person purporting to be an al-Qaida member and asked for boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles and $50,000 in cash to help him build an “‘Islamic Army’ to wage jihad’,” the indictment said. It said that Batiste said he would use his “soldiers” to destroy the Sears Tower.

Gonzales said “the individual they thought was a member of al-Qaida was present at their meetings and in actuality he was working with the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

Once again, local law enforcement.

I could go on and on. The plot to blow up the PATH train in NYC and flooding the tunnels - foiled by months long cooperation between law enforcement and foreign governments. Cyanide attacks in the NYC subway system “uncovered by the US” before being called “not credible” by Richard Clarke. “Threats to attack NYC by Iran” - illogical and only reported by the NY Post - yet being tracked by NYPD.

Again – many of these are as ridiculous as the blowtorch on the Brooklyn Bridge plot. But even if we are to take them seriously, especially if we are asked to take them seriously, it is worth reinforcing a few major points.

Many of these have absolutely NOTHING to do with Iraq, al Qaeda or 9/11. None of these would have been “foiled” by bombing or invading the countries where the “plotters” were from. And most of all, all of these were tracked and disrupted (regardless of the feasibility) by law enforcement and intelligence – while NOT being the major overriding focal point of our day to day lives.

Too bad Kerry was derided back in 2004 – he was right on the ball with this one. Who knows how much money and lives (and what little goodwill would have remained) could have been saved if more people listened to him in 2004.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

If Chavez invaded Mexico, would we "intervene"?

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing

Well, DUH....But let's not let Ann Coulter suggest who we would attack.

Disclaimer: I know this is an absolute preposterous suggestion, and it would never happen, let alone the myriad of differences between this blatantly outrageous scenario and current events (or facts like Venezuela having all of that sweet, sweet oil and not needing to invade another country over, or the fact that Syria and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Pakistan all have a very different history and interest or the fact that those interests don’t generally coincide with those of the US and yes, Saddam and Ahmadinejad and Hezbullah and Bandar and Musharraf are all different from our relationship with Mexico, or even Venezuela).

But it is in the same ballpark.

We certainly have economic and political interests in Mexico – right wrong or other. Cheap labor after NAFTA led to better corporate profits for those who have too much influence in how our government works. Illegal immigration here in the US from Mexico and a bit of a tiff going on now as to how best address this “matter”. And there was that brief “dust up” back in the mid 1800’s – just to throw in a bit of drama and history.

Chavez, of course, with his “new bestest friend, Iran”, is one of the leaders in the race for the new Public Enemy No. 1. And with Iran THISCLOSE to getting nukes (just ask Condi, she was right on the ball as National Security Advisor about Iraq and “smoking guns”), we can’t have an alliance where someone who invaded our neighbor (even if it wasn’t based on lies and deception) is buddies with someone who doesn’t have, may have an outside chance at having, could have, probably has, definitely, DEFINITELY has nukes.

And you just KNOW that Bush would never act like that wussy, skirt chasing Democrat (no, not Clinton) did when it came to WMDs being so close to the homeland. Of course, back then, the entire US military and National Guard weren’t off occupying another country and smuggling in nukes or other WMDs via the ports, air cargo holds or railways wasn’t so easy due to the lack of the ability, means, motive or complete lack of real Homeland Security. But that little factor is a story for a different day.

Jeez, the talking meatsticks would be way, um, “happier” than some of you were yesterday. “Leftist Chavez censors own media” (regardless of whether it is right or wrong) is shouted from the rooftops already. The Washington Post has already used the words “The Next Castro?” and “anti-Americanism” in an article just last year.

How far off would we be from “Anti-american communist Chavez in Nuke Deal with Iran”? Oh wait, we are already there too....

Would the US stand by and let this “Freedom hating, oil hoarding, Communist, Socialist, America hater” try and take over Mexico and ruin all of that cheap labor opportunity for Corporate ‘Murka™, and have even more of those terrible people who (GASP!!) don’t speak English flood our borders, steal more of the jobs that “Americans won’t do” and drain our economy further? And I bet they would support of gay marriage too.

Would Bush fund anti-Chavez Venezuelan factions and try to overthrow Chavez to install our own “preferred regime” and have access to more and more of that sweet sweet oil - all in the name of “freeing the Venezuelans? After all, it isn’t like we haven’t already heard that possibility being talked about.

Or would he stand firmly to make sure that his buddy Fox kept power, no matter what? Since, Mexico could always learn a thing or two about elections from this administration.

A third option could be to listen to the religious fundies and recognize the opportunity to have a “preferred religion” impact Mexico.

We could also train those who want to overthrow Chavez or even arm them against Chavez - or just not do it and say we did. Better yet, why not help Chavez with his own nuclear program.


And to think, we haven’t been at war with Mexico for the past, oh, say, forever and have an issue with a foreign hated occupier who has blown off calls of assistance three times since 2001. Or doesn’t have thousands of refugees flooding their border (well, we do already have people who are more than willing to shoot ‘em all, one by one, as they cross the border. But we can debate whether Iran should have nukes, whether Syria is too involved in Lebanon, or that Mexico only has cheap labor and no sweet, sweet oil.

What country wouldn’t try to do something if they just were coming out of a multi-decades old religious war and saw the chance to influence it? What country would turn a blind eye to a complete disaster, civil war and genocide right over their border? Who wouldn’t be concerned if other neighboring countries were funding the opposition and it was being overlooked by the occupying country?

What country would sit on their hands when the occupying force blew off talks and then lied about it?

And none of this describes Chavez, Venezuela or Mexico. How stupid or evil are these people who dictate our foreign policy?