Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, February 28, 2008

  Today in False Promises

Two years ago today, Dick Cheney promised that the US was making steady progress in Iraq and could soon begin drawing down troops.

And our coalition continues to train more Iraqi forces to assume increasing responsibility for their nation's security. As more and more Iraqi security forces complete their training, they're taking on greater responsibility in these efforts. Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in joint operations, conducting independent operations, and expanding the reach and the effectiveness of our own forces.

And as Iraqi security forces grow in size and capability, we're becoming better able to keep urban centers out of the hands of terrorists. One of the challenges we faced was that after clearing out terrorists, there have not always been enough trained Iraqi forces to maintain control. So when coalition forces moved on, terrorists would try to move back in. More and more, however, we're able to leave Iraqi troops in charge because they are increasingly well equipped, properly trained, familiar with the territory, and often can tell who the terrorists are, therefore are able to maintain control. Meanwhile, coalition forces are able to go forward and deal with the threat in other parts of the country, as well as to strengthen security at the borders.

At present, Iraqi personnel are collecting good intelligence, working with civic and religious leaders, and gaining greater confidence among the Iraqi people. This is an ongoing process, obviously, and standing up a capable, effective military requires a patient and a sustained effort. Yet the progress is steady. It is moving in the direction we want, and the people in charge of the effort are doing a superb job. The goal we share with Iraq's government is a full transition to security and to self-reliance, a nation with a constitutionally elected government and capable security forces, an Iraq that is at peace with neighbors and an ally for us in the war on terror.

Going forward, as the Iraqi security forces grow in strength and the political process continues to advance, we'll be able to reduce troop levels without losing our capacity to defeat the terrorists. And in the months ahead, any decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgment of our commanders -- not by artificial time lines set by politicians in Washington, D.C.

So much for Bush administration promises as of Feb. 28, 2006. Before the end of the year, each of them was inoperative.

It turned out that George Bush (a politician in Washington) was the one who made the decision to change troop levels in Iraq.

It's my responsibility to provide the American people with a candid assessment on the way forward.

It turned out that, far from "moving in the right direction" in 2006, Iraq was actually going to hell.

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people...It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq.

It turned out that, far from becoming better able to hold onto urban centers by leaving them in the hands of Iraqi troops, while moving US troops out to the provinces, the American forces needed to be drawn back into the cities and away from the provinces in order to stem uncontrolled ethno-sectarian cleansing.

The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves, and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis... In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned.

Far from being "able to reduce troop levels" "in the months ahead", Bush decided to send tens of thousands further US troops. And far from being able to leave Iraqi troops in charge of urban areas because they are "increasingly taking the lead" in operations, the US troop "surge" was mainly directed toward securing Baghdad.

America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations.

Predictably, however, the American troops "surging" into Baghdad found that they could not in fact work with unreliable Iraqi units. It just goes to prove again that for Bush and Cheney, Iraq is the graveyard of false promises.

Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face...The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government.

This has been another Today-in-False-Promises bulletin.

crossposted from

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

  Today in False Promises

This week, I traveled to a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I visited with doctors and health care experts. We discussed an urgent priority for our Nation, how we can make health care coverage more affordable and accessible for all Americans.

That was how President Bush opened his weekly radio address one year ago today, on Feb. 24, 2007. And not a moment too soon, you might have said at the time, for the tens of millions of Americans lacking medical coverage had long since become a national crisis.

Is health care coverage one whit more affordable or accessible for all Americans now, as a result of Bush's (no doubt) intense year-long efforts toward that "urgent priority"?

I don't believe so.

This has been a Today-in-False-Promises bulletin.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

  White House tangles with p. A17 of WaPo

On Fridays I go looking for document dumps at the WH website. Today I found something altogether more unexpected and really rather strange. The WH News page, normally pretty crowded, has only a single item for February 22: Setting the Record Straight: President Bush Committed to Strengthening Democracy Throughout Africa. It's a lengthy, detailed "rebuttal" of an article that appeared on page A17 of the WaPo: U.S. Policy in Africa Faulted on Priorities.

In his tour of Africa, President Bush steered clear of countries where stability, human rights and progress toward democracy have degenerated during his tenure, among them Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Kenya.

In those countries, Bush's focus on counterterrorism has overtaken his other stated foreign policy goals of promoting democracy and human rights, according to analysts...

Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, said that by ignoring electoral problems and human rights violations, the United States often winds up dealing with the consequences of political chaos.

"Turning a blind eye to government abuses and wanton disregard for human dignity often leads to political instability and massive humanitarian disasters," Payne said. "And we always end up paying for it."

Pretty mild critique of Bush administration foreign policy, I would have thought, and almost beyond dispute. But dispute it the White House did with a passion that has to be seen to be believed. Go read the whole thing and contemplate how the Bush administration, in its single-minded determination to brook no criticism, has been reduced to crossing swords with p. A17 of the Washington Post.

crossposted from

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

  Saint John McCain the Hermit

John McCain fell all over himself in his Toledo press conference this morning. Just as right-wing propagandists were lining up in TV studios to denounce the NYT (though not so much the Washington Post) for running a supposedly thinly-sourced story, McCain behaves so evasively that he proves himself to be one of the best witnesses for the credibility of the allegations. From beginning to end, it was a bizarre performance.

McCain says there's nothing whatever to the scandal, but admits that it will be an ongoing "issue" that he "hopes" to "resolve" over time.

But hopefully, we can get this thing resolved and behind us and move forward with the campaign...

I hope that the -- all people, all Americans will recognize that this is an issue that I hope I can get resolved and move forward.

McCain even makes the blunder of asking people to balance this allegation against his entire career in Congress, which seems to imply he should get some mulligans in the game of corruption:

But look, I have a long record -- as I said, a 50-year record; a 24-year record as a member of Congress. And I'm confident that my record will be reviewed.

There are many people who have dealt with me who are now stepping forward and talking about how fairly and objectively I ran the Commerce Committee and the leadership I've shown in many reform issues, including my opposition to earmark and pork barrel spending.

So, I'll be asking people to look at my entire record, and I think that that will stand.

In addition, McCain claims he has never spoken to John Weaver about the allegations; that he knew nothing about what Weaver told the NYT; and that he's barely spoken to Weaver in months. Pretty improbable on its face, and anyway it's contradicted by Weaver. He says he sent McCain's staff a copy of his written responses to the NYT, and adds that he still talks regularly with McCain's campaign.

I responded to the Times on the record about a meeting they [the McCain campaign] already knew about. The campaign received a copy of my response to the Times the same day, which was in late December.

Ridiculously, McCain said there's no particular reason why Weaver should have told him that Weaver met with Iseman in 1999 to tell her to back off and shut up about McCain.

QUESTION: Is that something that he should have discussed with you?

MCCAIN: No, not necessarily. I'm not his -- no, not that I would think.

McCain's not his what? His boss? He sure was at the time. This is laughably bad spin from McCain.

Furthermore, McCain claims he never spoke to the NYT as the investigation proceded.

QUESTION: Did you speak to the New York Times? And if so, what did you tell them? Did they ever say that the story was not going to run?

MCCAIN: We never tried to have any dialogue in that fashion...

When a reporter points out that the NYT says he did telephone Bill Keller, McCain then backtracks and claims the conversation was "brief", as if he had merely forgotten that attempt at "dialogue". McCain also claims at first that he didn't try to talk the NYT out of running the story, then backtracks and says he asked them to conclude it (i.e. stop the investigations).

McCain claims he had no unusual relationship with Iseman, and once again when pressed by a reporter he backtracks and admits he flew on her corporate plane.

I have ridden on many airplanes.

Perhaps most bizarrely, McCain claims his staffers never spoke to him about Iseman - though the NYT writes of repeated discussions about Iseman with his aides. McCain claims that he hasn't spoken to Iseman about the five-month old investigations, though last October he hired a high-priced lawyer, Bob Bennett, to fight the story.

All of that comes on top of his campaign's claim that nobody ever asked McCain to write those two extraordinarily aggressive letters to the FCC about a media deal in Pittsburgh, PA. In fact, McCain today explained that he stuck his nose into the FCC's business because he thought they were just working too slowly. We're supposed to believe that McCain's intervention in November 1999 had nothing to do with the fact that Iseman's client was desperate to get a deal approved in the next few weeks. It was pure coincidence.

If you believe McCain, he's practically cut off from his own staff, and his staffers are practically cut off from the outside world. If you believe McCain, there are an awful lot of sheltered, incurious and untalkative people on both his Senate and campaign staffs. It's as if they all spend their days shunning each other and the vulgar world. McCain the modern-day saint is a hermit living in his cave, and his staffers are doing their very best to emulate his vows of silence. It's a wonder, really, that they ever manage to get any business done at all.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

  Conservative Christians and Usury

You'd have thought that usury would be little practiced in areas of the country where large numbers of conservative Christians go so far as to declare that the Bible is the received word of the Almighty, reflecting His will, His interests, and even His grammatical tendencies. But in fact the opposite is true. The worst and most shameless form of legalized usury, the payday lender, is most prevelant in the Bible belt and least common in the liberal Northeast. There are maps here that make the point graphically.

One of the authors of a forthcoming study documenting the interrelation between Christian conservatives and usury has this to say:

“A generation ago, populist Christian leaders were among the most aggressive opponents of usurious lending. But today many Christian leaders take large campaign contributions from the credit industry and no longer support the Biblical injunction against usury in public life...

Our research showed that the correlation between payday lenders and the political power of conservative Christians was stronger than the correlation between payday lenders and the proportion of a population living below the poverty line...

Our findings should serve as a wake-up call reminding Christian leaders of the Biblical duty to expel usurious money changers from their flocks."

The latter was a point I made some time ago, rather more sarcastically, after a prominent North Carolina Baptist leader declared that homosexuality is "The only sin that has its own advocacy group". I was pretty sure that's not true. In fact, it seemed to me that usurers had long had the ears, the hearts, and minds of conservative Christian leaders. I'm saddened but not surprised to see this new study confirm that impression.

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  Reforming the Food Insurance Industry

Like many of you, I've been paying close attention to what the candidates have been saying about their proposals to reform the food insurance industry. I've followed the presidential debates closely and compared the candidates' food insurance plans very carefully. For me, the single most important issue facing the country in this election is the need to extend food coverage to some of the 40 million Americans who have no food insurance at all.

Although neither the Clinton nor Obama plans are perfect, at least they're trying to address the problems caused by a confusing national patchwork of private food insurance that is increasingly inadequate - except for the most basic of needs - and all too often remains out of the reach of middle class Americans anyway. For decades, Republican administrations have watched idly as the food-care crisis in the country reached disastrous proportions. So at this stage any action at all is welcome and long overdue.

Originally I approached the food-care debate from the point of view that the only satisfactory solution would be to provide universal coverage. But as I became more involved in the primary campaign, I came to realize that that was an unrealistic goal at the moment. I now recognize that the best way forward will be to try to extend private food insurance little by little to include some of those who are doing without. There's no way the private insurance companies are just going to give up their near monopoly on food-care delivery. It would involve a really ugly fight against the insurance industry lobbyists who dominate Washington. Therefore it's going to have to be a long-term goal of the progressive movement. We've got to agree to make food-accessibility an issue that we won't let go of and won't compromise on.

The main questions, which I'm still unresolved about, are whether to go the route of food-mandates, or to permit people to buy as much food as they need or can afford while concentrating on regularizing and keeping down the costs of food insurance. The biggest problems with mandates are that you have to decide:

  • Will the mandates apply to everybody? Is it fair to force people who are satisfied doing without food care, or who don't feel they need as much food, to buy insurance they may not need or use?

  • Will employers continue to bear some responsibility for ensuring that workers receive at least a basic level of food coverage? If the state becomes involved in mandating insurance for workers whose employers, like WalMart, don't supply them with food, will other employers begin to abandon their food-related responsibilities?

I don't have the answers to these problems. But I do want to see that our Democratic candidates are taking seriously the problem of extending food-care to some of those who've been struggling to get by without it. I'd prefer as a Democrat to see everybody have access to food, if not right away then as soon as possible. But I'm willing to be patient and see if one of the reform proposals that uses incentives and subsidizes private insurance companies can somehow reform the food-care industry to the point that eventually everybody who wants food can afford a plan that suits their needs.

My vote in the Pennsylvania primary in April will go to the candidate who can convince me that they're most serious about reforming the food insurance industry, with the ultimate goal of making food accessible to all Americans. It's not just the right thing to do. It's what we need to stand for as Democrats.


  Five Myths about the White House's Failure to give our Media Professionals the Propaganda they need to give the public the Run Around effectively

I've been writing for years about how the Bush administration has turned governmental web-pages, especially the White House website, into organs of propaganda. But even by the normally bizarre standards of the Bush gang, this page is quite striking. It is part of the White House's attempt to stampede Congressional Democrats into passing an updated FISA bill that gives amnesty to the telecom corporations that assisted Bush in his illegal, warrantless surveillance. Bush has gone so far recently in his campaign to overawe Congress as to threaten to veto any bill that does not contain blanket amnesty, or even to veto a further extension of the (appallingly permissive) temporary FISA bill - the ironically-named Protect America Act.

But this current installment of Bush & Co. propaganda really takes the cake in terms of sheer audacity. It lists Five Myths about the FISA reform debate, each followed by Facts (with Quotes) intended to rebut them. The problems arise chiefly from three things: (A) The Myths are actually true. (B) The Facts are false. and (C) The quoted Authorities are lying administration shills.

For your amusement, I've assembled the Five Myths into one neat package, without the Facts or the Quotes:

1. MYTH: The future security of our country does not depend on whether Congress provides liability protection for companies being sued for billions of dollars only because they are believed to have assisted the Government in defending America after the 9/11 attacks.

2. MYTH: Even if the critical tools provided by the Protect America Act expire, the authorizations already in place to monitor terrorist communications will leave the Intelligence Community with all the tools it needs to continue current surveillance and begin new surveillance on any terrorist threat.

3. MYTH: If any new surveillance needs to begin, the FISA court can approve a request within minutes. In the case of an emergency, surveillance can begin immediately and FISA approval can be obtained later.

4. MYTH: Accepting another temporary extension of the Protect America Act would not endanger our Nation's security.

5. MYTH: The House already passed a carefully crafted bill to modernize FISA, and efforts to bridge the gap between the Senate, White House, and the House and pass this legislation are ongoing.

I'll bet that, even after reading the first four Myths, you were a bit surprised to see the fifth. How in the world, you might wonder, could even this White House manage to deny the plain truth the fifth Myth? Well, you'll have to go explore the WH page to get that answer. This really is a perfect introduction to the WH propaganda machinery that I've been railing about. There's a delicious irony that the White House uses the heading "In Focus" to describe their series of Fun-House-Mirror images of the political debate in Washington.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

  Antonin Scalia justifies torture, again

It nearly beggars belief that we have a Supreme Court justice who'd seek to justify torture, but that is exactly what Antonin Scalia did in a BBC interview aired yesterday.

"Original Intent" Scalia doesn't seem to care that George Washington took an unequivocal stance against torturing captured prisoners during the young Republic's struggle for survival, at a time when the enemy were abusing American captives right and left. No more does Scalia give a damn about the constitutional prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments". That, he told the BBC, applies to people only once they've been convicted of a crime. According to Scalia, if you're awaiting trial (or just plain hoping to get a trial someday), then maybe anything goes.

BBC: Tell me about the issue of torture, we know that cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited under the 8th amendment. Does that mean if the issue comes up in front of the court, it’s a ‘no-brainer?’

SCALIA: Well, a lot of people think it is, but I find that extraordinary to begin with. To begin with, the constitution refers to cruel and unusual punishment, it is referring to punishment on indefinitely — would certainly be cruel and unusual punishment for a crime. But a court can do that when a witness refuses to answer or commit them to jail until you will answer the question — without any time limit on it, as a means of coercing the witness to answer, as the witness should. And I suppose it’s the same thing about “so-called” torture.

Yes siree, in Scalia's bizarro-world you gain the protection of law by right of being convicted. The Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process? That little matter of the presumption of innocence, the very foundation of our system of criminal law? Pfffttt.

Actually, come to mention it, what we've got is not so much a legal "system" as a Nielsen profile of Supreme Court justices' TV viewing habits. And you can't rule out the possibility that this season's plot twists will need to involve some torture, just a wee tad.

SCALIA: Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited under the Constitution? Because smacking someone in the face would violate the 8th amendment in a prison context. You can’t go around smacking people about. Is it obvious that what can’t be done for punishment can’t be done to exact information that is crucial to this society? It’s not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth...

Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can’t stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game. How close does the threat have to be and how severe can an infliction of pain be?

There are no easy answers involved, in either direction, but I certainly know you can’t come in smugly and with great self-satisfaction and say, “Oh, this is torture and therefore it’s no good.” You would not apply that in some real-life situations. It may not be a ticking bomb in Los Angeles, but it may be: “Where is this group that we know is plotting this painful action against the United States? Where are they? What are they currently planning?”

Or, for that matter, any number of potential scenarios: "Have these punks been racing hot-rods lately?" "Let's see if the handyman knows who the burglers are." "What'cha say we beat the crap out of that bum over there?" In fact it's far from clear that any such confessions, in Scalia's world, would be treated as poisonous fruit.

If only the courts are willing to apply Scalia's "ends justify the means test" (definitively enunciated in Jack Bauer v. The World), they'll be able to justify almost any governmental activities. Just so long as officials don't call the torture "punishment", they're in the clear.

Presumably that explains why Scalia sees no need to take too seriously the federal torture statute, or international treaties. Geneva Conventions? Pfffttt. The UN convention on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment? Double pfffttt.

You'll be interested to learn that, notwithstanding his embrace of torture, there are indeed limits to what Antonin Scalia will tolerate. The practice of televising court proceedings, he told the BBC, is "sick".

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