Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bringing Good Things to Life

...When he died in an airplane crash in 1968, Mohammed bin Laden left behind a business empire and more than 50 sons and daughters, the products of a number of marriages. One of 20 sons was Osama bin Laden.

The successors: Control of the family business passed first to Salem bin Laden, his eldest son, and when he died in 1988, to Bakr bin Laden.

The board: Bakr bin Laden and 11 relatives now make up the board of the business, which is called the Saudi Binladin Group. Its headquarters are in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Its reach: Now an international conglomerate, the family business has 50,000 employees worldwide and annual revenues estimated at $5-billion. Its enterprises include construction, engineering, telecommunications, book publishing and manufacturing that ranges from motor vehicle parts to crystal chandeliers. Its business partners include General Electric, Nortel, Snapple beverages, Motorola and CitiBank.

Ahh, General Electric

Military contracts 2003: $2.8 billion
Campaign contributions in 2004: $221,200 (defense related)
$1.9 million (total)

The world’s largest company by market share, General Electric’s revenues in 2003 totaled $134.2 billion. GE was run until 2001 by “Neutron” Jack Welch, who made it a matter of principle to lay off 10% of his workers per year.

General Electric makes household appliances, plastics, water treatment systems, lighting, medical equipment, and commercial financial services. It also makes aircraft engines and nuclear reactors, and keeps criticism at bay with its ownership of media giants NBC, CNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, and, in partnership with Microsoft, msnbc.com. GE’s recent partnership with Vivendi added Universal Studios, USA, Trio and Sci-fi cable channels to its $43 billion media empire.

General Electric is one of the world’s top three producers of jet engines, supplying Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other military aircraft makers for the powering of airplanes and helicopters.

The “war on terrorism” has seen GE’s military contracts rise substantially. But the company’s “defense” side has been doing well for a while. GE and other military contractors got a big boost under the Clinton administration from Presidential Directive 41 which stated that it was the job of US diplomats to promote arms sales abroad in order to safeguard American jobs; this directive tied the promotions of diplomats to how effectively they hocked US armaments.

GE has designed 91 nuclear power plants in 11 countries, yet its nuclear reactors around the world have a fatal flaw. In the event of a nuclear meltdown, there is a 90 percent chance that radiation from GE-designed reactors would be discharged directly into the atmosphere. While the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is aware of the problem, it continues to license GE nuclear reactors.

Yes, the War on Terra's been good to GE- and their major shareholders and owners in the binLaden family- as well.

...For instance, it was reported in April 2003 that GE Energy Rentals Inc., a division of GE Power Systems, was supplying temporary electrical generators to the U.S. military in Iraq... The company refused to divulge the value of the contract.

In Afghanistan, GE was awarded a contract worth $5,927,870 from the U.S. Army Engineer District, Philadelphia, for "gas services." ...The fifth and most recent amendment to this contract ...reached a value of $6,801,493...

GE backed out nuclear reactor deals with North Korea- not because of any civic mindedness, but because it didn't care for the liability.

That doesn't stop them from trying to sell them to anyone else.

The GE take in the War on Terra is small potatoes, compared to Halliburton's take- but pretty good nonetheless for the family of the criminal we're all supposed to think is running from cave to cave in Afghanistan.

If you believe that.

Friday, April 29, 2005

"It all matters what you stand for," said the Senator from CitiBank

Molly Ivins says it well:

...Those of us in the beer-drinking, pick-up-truck-driving, country-music-listening school of liberals in the hinterlands particularly appreciate his keen dissection of how the Republicans use class resentment against "elitist liberals," while waging class warfare on people who work for a living.

The unholy combination of theocracy and plutocracy that now rules this country is, in fact, enabled by dumb liberals. Many a weary liberal on the Internet and elsewhere has been involved in the tedious study of the entrails from the last election, trying to figure out where Democrats went wrong. I don't have a dog in that fight, but I can guarantee you where they're going wrong for the next election: 73 Democratic House members and 18 Democratic senators voted for that hideous bankruptcy "reform" bill that absolutely screws regular people.

And it's not just consumers who were screwed by the lobbyist-written bill. The Wall Street Journal shows small businesses are also getting the shaft, as the finance industry charges them higher and higher transaction fees. If Democrats aren't going to stand up for regular people, to hell with them...

Robert Parry also has something to say about how we use- or don't use the media to communicate:

...the Right has relied heavily on media to gain political dominance, especially in the nation's heartland and increasingly with working-class Americans, even though their financial interests tend to suffer under conservative policies.

One of the seldom-acknowledged explanations for that political trend is the fact that the Right's media clout in Middle America is even more pronounced than in urban centers on the East and West coasts. For years, all these Middle Americans heard on their car radios was how evil liberals were and how Democrats weren't "real Americans."

Not surprisingly, this nearly unchallenged bombardment influenced how Americans thought and voted. To survive, Democratic politicians distanced themselves from liberal positions although that often was not enough to spare them from defeat.

Now, the media tide is showing signs of shifting. Progressives on talk radio are defending liberal values and criticizing conservative hypocrisy. Emboldened, Democratic politicians are starting to find their voice, too, and the Republicans have begun to stumble.

Progressives, who have long puzzled over how to get the Democrats to fight back, are discovering that relatively minor investments in media can bring major returns in convincing Democrats that there is a future in standing up to Republicans.

Ironically, however, the "progressive establishment" may ultimately save the conservatives' hide by balking at plans for more media expansion and by refusing to learn lessons from the Mystery of the Democrats' New Spine.

Our leadership, rolling over when it came time to count every vote and make a stand.

We thought it would get better when Howard Dean took over the DNC- but lately, one wonders...

Tom Hayden writes Dean an open letter- go read it all, but this says how many of us feel:

The party's alliance with the progressive left, so carefully repaired after the catastrophic split of 2000, is again beginning to unravel over Iraq. Thousands of anti-war activists and millions of antiwar voters gave their time, their loyalty and their dollars to the 2004 presidential campaign despite profound misgivings about our candidate's position on the Iraq War. Of the millions spent by "527" committees on voter awareness, none was spent on criticizing the Bush policies in Iraq.

The Democratic candidate, and other party leaders, even endorsed the US invasion of Falluja, giving President Bush a green-light to destroy that city with immunity from domestic criticism. As a result, a majority of Falluja's residents were displaced violently, guaranteeing a Sunni abstention from the subsequent Iraqi elections.

Then in January, a brave minority of Democrats, led by Senator Ted Kennedy and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, advocated a timetable for withdrawal. Their concerns were quickly deflated by the party leadership.

Next came the Iraqi elections, in which a majority of Iraqis supported a platform calling for a timetable for US withdrawal. ("US Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal." New York Times, Jan. 18, 2005) AJanuary 2005 poll showed that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favored a "near-term US withdrawal" (New York Times, Feb. 21, 2005. The Democrats failed to capitalize on this peace sentiment, as if it were a threat rather than an opportunity.

Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Baghdad calling again for US withdrawal, chanting "No America, No Saddam." (New York Times, April 10, 2005) The Democrats ignored this massive nonviolent protest.

There is evidence that the Bush Administration, along with its clients in Baghdad, is ignoring or suppressing forces within the Iraqi coalition calling for peace talks with the resistance. The Democrats are silent towards this meddling.

On April 12, Donald Rumsfeld declared "we don't really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy." (New York Times, April 13, 2005). There was no Democratic response.

The new Iraqi regime, lacking any inclusion of Sunnis or critics of our occupation, is being pressured to invite the US troops to stay. The new government has been floundering for three months, hopelessly unable to provide security or services to the Iraqi people. Its security forces are under constant siege by the resistance. The Democrats do nothing.

A unanimous Senate, including all Democrats, supports another $80-plus billion for this interminable conflict. This is a retreat even from the 2004 presidential campaign when candidate John Kerry at least voted against the supplemental funding to attract Democratic voters.

The Democratic Party's present collaboration with the Bush Iraq policies is not only immoral but threatens to tear apart the alliance built with antiwar Democrats, Greens, and independents in 2004. The vast majority of these voters returned to the Democratic Party after their disastrous decision to vote for Ralph Nader four years before. But the Democrats' pro-war policies threaten to deeply splinter the party once again.

We all supported and celebrated your election as Party chairman, hoping that winds of change would blow away what former president Bill Clinton once called "brain-dead thinking."

But it seems to me that your recent comments about Iraq require further reflection and reconsideration if we are to keep the loyalty of progressives and promote a meaningful alternative that resonates with mainstream American voters.

Let me tell you where I stand personally. I do not believe the Iraq War is worth another drop of blood, another dollar of taxpayer subsidy, another stain on our honor. Our occupation is the chief cause of the nationalist resistance in that country. We should end the war and foreign economic occupation. Period.

To those Democrats in search of a muscular, manly foreign policy, let me say that real men (and real patriots) do not sacrifice young lives for their own mistakes, throw good money after bad, or protect the political reputations of high officials at the expense of their nation's moral reputation.

So maybe the Big Money whispers to Dean in the night, as it whispered to Kerry. Maybe it would be expedient to go with the Soros faction of the Carlyle Group. It would certainly make the job simpler wouldn't it? Big money is so much easier to raise, and so much better at a personal level for the progressive leaders.

The only problem, Howard, is that if you become a DINOcrat like all the other Representatives of General Dynamics and Senators from CitiBank, if you accept the funds and wisdom of an international philanthropist from the Carlyle Group, you will find yourself in the same place progressive leaders like Al Gore and John Kerry have found themselves.

Industrial World Warfare

Noah Shachtman picks up on the tendency of private contractors to feel they are the ones responsible for formulating and implementing national security policy.

Conflict of interest, or an interesting conflict?

...America's second largest ally in Iraq isn't the UK. Not even close. Corporations like Halliburton provide almost as many trigger pullers and engineers as the US Army. They are the battalions of foot soldiers in Thomas Barnett's sys-admin force -- connecting Iraq to the US and the world.

This role converts CEOs into generals/colonels in the US globalization machine... They are now legitimate and highly prized targets.

Halliburton, America's second-largest ally in Iraq. Now that's an interesting concept not highlighted by the mainstream media at all:

Corporations like Halliburton provide almost as many trigger pullers and engineers as the US Army.

It turns out that Thomas Barnett is a very big star in the intelligentsia of the Department of Defense. Harvard graduate. Professor at the War College. Author of a nice shiny new book where he promotes this bit of cleverness (warning: it's a "commercial" or .com site, but you get scanned by and cookies from knowledge.navsup.naval.mil when you visit it):

The UN rules, in retrospect, look odd. To pretend that a Sudan, for instance, which is doing what it's doing within its borders should have its sovereignty treated with the same respect as a France or Japan is ludicrous.

So while in the popular imagination, the UN is the forum for addressing international crises, the reality is that the UN is largely impotent, except for its internal technical rule-making, which functions quite nicely, frankly. The UN has become primarily a bitch-session, where the developing countries can complain about their lot and the direction of the advanced world. I think that's fine in many ways; it's good that the Gap has a venue and forum to complain in the direction of the Core. In fact, increasingly what you see is one position held by what I call the "old Core" -- the U.S., the E.U., Japan -- another position held by the Gap, and what I call the "new Core" -- the Brazil, India, China and South Africa -- acting as a sort of go-between. This is an arrangement which serves us well in terms of trade and economic and technical arguments.

But in terms of security, in the realm of violent situations, it's not realistic to pretend that 1) all countries are equal -- 'cause they're not: we have huge military capabilities and almost nobody else really does -- or 2) that every state has good intentions or treats its own people well. There are terrible things happening in certain parts of the world, and I think it's unrealistic to pretend that the U.N. is going to be able to stop these things.

So what I argue for in the book, and what I'm arguing for even more extensively in the next book, is that we need to come up with a transparent and fairly agreed-upon "A to Z" ruleset, as I call it, for dealing with politically bankrupt states. Again, as you said, we have a system for dealing with economically bankrupt states. Why? That's a fairly non-controversial subject compared to genocide or states trading in weapons of mass destruction. It's pretty basic to say, it would be nice if you paid back your creditors. But how do you deal with states that are either run by bad guys or in melt-down?

The traditional model has been imminent threat. You threaten me and I'll deal with you. But in a world of international norms and a stronger sense of community, haphazard responses just don't measure up.

Steffen: "He was reachin' for his gun" sounds pretty shabby in comparison to our economic and diplomatic decision-making processes?

Barnett: Well, what you want is not some sort of frontier justice, but a police force: something that represents the law, that points out when some guy transgresses the law, and takes him down when we catch him.

A more erudite John Bolton, indeed. He advocates policing the wogs to ensure they have the benefits of globalization. Not democracy, mind you.

And who should do this?

We need to rethink the connections between security and developmental economics. We need to stop having an antagonistic relationship between military people and the development community, because the fact is, we're not succeeding at all in these failed states. Insecure places are desperately poor places. Desperate poverty breeds insecurity. We need a new approach, a more comprehensive and integrated approach that sees these problems as two sides of the same coin and thinks differently about how to solve them.

Steffen: What would that approach look like on the ground, do you think, compared to what we're able to do now?

Barnett: Well, it would be what I call the System Administrator Force. It would be a people-intensive, UN-peacekeeping-plus approach that could defend itself -- could do counter-insurgency, could fight and not be some ineffective, pussy UN force where you shoot at them and half of them run away. It would be a tough force. You shoot at these guys, or start committing atrocities in their presence, and they would stop you, and if necessary, kill you. It could not only keep the peace, but enforce it.

It would also have a highly-trained civilian component. You'd have international, inter-agency teams. It'd look like the Casbah bar scene in Star Wars -- you'd want to see loads of uniforms from all sorts of countries, and you'd want to see civilians from all sorts of NGOs and aid agencies: you'd want the whole package, acting in a Great Depression, FDR sort of mode, where the first order of business (after enforcing the peace) would be to get everybody busy. The government that would be there would be some sort of transitional organization, an international reconstruction fund, with the goal of getting things stabilized, an economy working and laws written.

The United States military is going to continue to be critical to the whole process, though, for a long time, Other countries won't show up for peacekeeping unless the Americans will be there, and be there in numbers. And the NGO crowd can't really show up unless there's a stabilizing military presence there. So if you don't have the Americans, you don't have big enough coalitions to make it work, and if you don't have those coalitions, you don't have the NGOs who can turn things around, except for the bravest, most foolhardy ones who will go into the most dangerous situations, people like Doctors Without Borders.

But it's not going to be the United States alone, policing the whole world. It can't be. The only way that you can shrink the Gap and deal with these failed states and the humanitarian crises you're seeing is to bring together the assets and the energies and ideas from the Core as a whole: not just what the Americans can dream up, not even just what the Europeans can dream up, but the best innovations from an India, a China.

The military component would be predominant at first, then, over time, ramp down. These would be trained, experienced peacekeepers, and at first they would be everywhere, because our experience with peacekeeping is, the more peacekeepers you have, the fewer of them die.

We need to design an overwhelming presence, like that we've had on the warfighting side, for the peacekeeping side. Our warfighting force can actually be a small, elite, small footprint, highly maneuverable, lethal, mostly raining death-and-terror-from-the-skies crowd--

That's right, not a "pussy" U.N. force, but a highly trained professional civilian cadre. Peacekeepers. Like DynCorp. Or Blackwater. Or CACI. You know, private contractors.

Like Iraq. Halliburton's doing a great job of showing the benefits of globalization to the Iraqi people. Just ask Bu$hCo...

Bu$hCo Wants Your Retirement Fund

The New York Pravda once again proves itself a marvelous tool for the Carlyle Group to disinform the public. Looks like others noticed this as well.

Front page:

President Bush called Thursday night for cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to put the system on sound financial footing, and he proposed doing so in a way that would demand the most sacrifice from higher-income people while insulating low-income workers.

Unless, of course those higher-income people have a high enough income not to rely on Social Security.

The only low-income workers that are insulated by the Bu$hCo plan are unemployed.

His plan would cut benefits and not guarantee returns.

Why, there might be a problem in 20 years or so with the current system.

And maybe in fact we should boost benefits while continuing to guarantee income.

How to do that?

Raise the taxes in a progressive fashion.

There's no reason why someone like me shouldn't pay more taxes than someone earning just above or below the poverty level.

Eliminate expeditionary wars like what we're doing in Iraq.

That would solve the problem nicely.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

When the Moralists Embrace Deception, Their Morals Become Deception

Dear Leader takes his Bamboozlepalooza tour on the air tonight to promote the Arthur Andersen plan for Social inSecurity.

Instead of developing alternative energy sources Dear Leader advocates an energy policy involving drilling in the Artic and the Gulf and the United States of Canada whether they want it or not and whether or not it will effect the price of oil.

Dear Leader, having obtained 95% of the Federal judiciary he's appointed, wants to round out the bar with judges from the American Taliban.

As Dear Leader makes his case for a candidate for the United Nations who has advocated American Empire and personally disrupted the vote tallies in Miami in 2000, we should pause to consider where we are at and how we got here.

Let me point you to the historic background of the Neo TheoCon philosophy, so well described today by Billmon.

... the Straussians – and by extension, the neocons – ... pushed the traditional liberal/conservative dichotomy of American politics back about 150 years, and moved it roughly 4,000 miles to the east, to the far side of the Rhine River. Their grand existential struggle isn’t with the likes of Teddy Kennedy or even Franklin D. Roosevelt, it’s with the liberalism of Voltaire, John Locke and John Stuart Mill – not to mention the author of the Declaration of the Independence.

Strauss, in other words, wasn’t a neo anything. He was a conservative in the original European sense – fond of hierarchy, tradition and religious orthodoxy; deeply suspicious of newfangled ideas like egalitarianism, rationalism and a political theory based on enlightened self interest and the social contract. Nor was he impressed by Mill’s utilitarian adding machine – constantly calculating the greatest good for the greatest number.

To the Straussians, rationality does not provide an adequate basis for a stable social order. To the contrary, the Age of Enlightenment has ushered in the crisis of modernity, in which nihilism – the moral vacuum left behind by the death of God – inevitably leads to decadence, decline and, ultimately, genocide.

That logical leap from Jefferson to Hitler might seem like the intellectual equivalent of Evel Knieval’s outlandish attempt to jump the Snake River canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle. But...

What gives Straussian thought its special flavor – a bitter blend of hypocrisy and cynicism – is the fact that Strauss himself didn’t believe in the eternal “truths” he championed. He was a nihilist, in other words – but one who believed only the philosophical elite could be trusted to indulge in such a dangerous vice. In exchange for this privilege, the elite has a special obligation to uphold the “noble lies” the ignorant masses must live by if society is to survive...

All this would be just another academic exercise – so to speak – if some of the Straussians hadn’t turned his philosophical fixations into a political crusade to “save” America from the horrors of modernity...

A most informative post, for those unfamiliar with Leo Strauss, and the chain of Wrepublican "intellectualism" and cynicism that leads from Strauss to the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century.

And over at Corrente, Riggsveda points towards the new issue of Harpers which looks to do a breakdown of the TheoCon movement as it attempts to strong arm its way into absolute autocratic control of all three branches of government.

She says a few things from a post of her own blog worth repeating.

The first thing we must do is to join with religious progressives across the country, many of whom are the so-called mainstream churches of our childhoods, to stand up against this attempted coup, protect our nation, and protect our nation's churches. It is foolish and self-destructive to take the tack, as so many bloggers and commenters have, that if it says "religion", it's the enemy. If the protective barrier between church and state dissolves, we will all suffer, religious and non-religious alike. People of faith everywhere have been watching open-mouthed as these fascist maniacs have grabbed the mantle from them and declared themselves the only true "christians", and the Christians I know, both friends and family, are appalled.

These fascist maniacs have been stoked by politicians trained by the Straussian school.

Back to Billmon:

One of the Straussians’ most important innovations has been to reconcile their brand of elite conservatism with Southern fried demagogic populism ala Huey Long and George Wallace. That’s a pretty radical concession for a movement with its mind (or at least its heart) planted firmly in the fifth century BC. But it's solved the traditional dilemma of old-style conservatives in America: How to win power in a society that has no landed gentry, no nobility, no established church – none of Europe’s archaic feudal institutions and loyalties.

The rationale – or rationalization – for the populist ploy is that the common folk are a hell of a lot less liberal (again, using the Enlightenment definition of the word) than what the Straussians like to call America’s “parchment regime” – that is, the ideas and principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The masses want their opium, in other words, and with the right guidance, will happily sweep away the liberal elites who have been denying it to them.

This, in turn, will set the stage for a golden (or at least silver) age of religious orthodoxy, patriarchal values and a hierarchical corporate capitalism stripped of its original libertarian feistiness – all of it supervised by a moral nanny state freed from the confines of all that “parchment.”...

There are so many problems with this political vision (insane, potentially catastrophic problems) that it’s hard to know where to begin. I can start, I suppose, by attacking the notion that liberalism or secularism – or even nihilism, for that matter – is the royal road to totalitarianism.

Leaving aside the fact that most totalitarian movements are simply imitation religions that feed off the same irrational emotions as the established name brands, there’s the rather obvious empirical example of modern Europe – about as secular and cosmopolitan a society as ever has existed. Europe has its social problems just as America has hers, but it’s not obvious they’re any worse – in fact, on many indicators (teen pregnancy, drug abuse, violent crime, election turnout, public civility) they’re clearly better. Likewise, back at the ranch, the Godless blue states rank, on average, ahead of the Bible-thumping red states on such hot-button morality indicators as divorce, unwed mothers and domestic violence.

So perhaps the masses don't need to be spoon fed their religious opium in order to have a reasonably decent society. The death of God may have left the neocon elites trembling with existential dread, but it’s possible that everyman and everywoman can go right on loving their children, obeying the laws and finding meaning in life even without the old bugger upstairs.

The nihilist threat, in other words, may be the Straussian version of an “inside the beltway” issue – one which paralyzes the philosophical elite but which the rest of the Western world is increasingly inclined to ignore as it tries to get on with daily life. The horrors of the 20th century were unquestionably real, and even more terrible ones may well await us in the 21st. But the horrors of the Thirty Years War, the Holy Inquisition and the Russian pogroms were also real – and it’s pretty hard to blame them on the death of God.

If there is a crisis of modernity, it appears to be more a function of the faithful – some whom are getting awfully violent for a bunch of opium addicts. When the 9/11 terrorists flew their planes into the World Trade Center, I can guarantee you they weren’t reciting passages from Mill’s On Liberty. The real crisis may be the lack of modernity, not a surplus of the stuff – an argument the neocons themselves are now making, at least about the religious fanatics in the Middle East.

The ones in Midwest, on the other hand, are another story. To the Straussians, it apparently doesn’t matter what kind of religious orthodoxy America has – as long as it has one. And so the highly educated followers of a Jewish refugee from demented old Europe have allied themselves with some of the most ignorant, racist and xenophobic people in modern crazy America.

Men of the Straussian school of thought like the Bu$hes, the Wolfowitzes, the Boltons, the Cheneys, men who view their status in the world as the Dominionists do, that they are the elite by virtue of breeding and belief, such men may find that the force they've unleashed is one that may just as easily feed on them as on the democratic modernists they so despise.

This is because the feudal social structure depends first and foremost on Forte Main. And breeding and family, and money and greed, may ingrain the avarice for power and riches, but this a very different thing from holding power and riches. As Al Gore says, gut the system of its laws, and those laws will no longer protect you.

An American Heresy

Presented here in its entirety, because, this is an academic educational website, see, Salon? No profit for me. No commercials for anyone here.

So here is a speech delivered by Al Gore at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill on Wednesday April 27, 2005. You can sit through the commercials at Salon to read it if you want by following the link. I happen to think it's important for all citizens to read what the elected 43rd President of the United States has to say.

An American Heresy

Four years and four months ago, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a bitterly divided 5 to 4 decision, issued an unsigned opinion that the majority cautioned should never be used as a precedent for any subsequent case anywhere in the federal court system.

Their ruling conferred the presidency on a candidate who had lost the popular vote, and it inflamed partisan passions that had already been aroused by the long and hard-fought election campaign. I couldn't have possibly disagreed more strongly with the opinion that I read shortly before midnight that evening, December 12, 2000. But I knew what course of action best served our republic.
Click Here

Even though many of my supporters said they were unwilling to accept a ruling which they suspected was brazenly partisan in its motivation and simply not entitled to their respect, less than 24 hours later, I went before the American people to reaffirm the bedrock principle that we are a nation of laws, not men. "There is a higher duty than the one we owe to a political party," I said. "This is America and we put country before party." The demonstrators and counter-demonstrators left the streets and the nation moved on -- as it should have -- to accept the inauguration of George W. Bush as our 43rd president.

Having gone through that experience, I can tell you -- without any doubt whatsoever -- that if the justices who formed the majority in Bush v. Gore had not only all been nominated to the Court by a Republican president, but had also been confirmed by only Republican Senators in party-line votes, America would not have accepted that court's decision.

Moreover, if the confirmation of those justices in the majority had been forced through by running roughshod over 200 years of Senate precedents and engineered by a crass partisan decision on a narrow party line vote to break the Senate's rules of procedure then no speech imaginable could have calmed the passions aroused in our country.

As Aristotle once said of virtue, respect for the rule of law is "one thing."

It is indivisible.

And so long as it remains indivisible, so will our country.

But if either major political party is ever so beguiled by a lust for power that it abandons this unifying principle, then the fabric of our democracy will be torn.

The survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law.

The rule of law depends, in turn, upon the respect each generation of Americans has for the integrity with which our laws are written, interpreted and enforced.

That necessary respect depends not only on the representative nature of our legislative branch, but also on the deliberative character of its proceedings. As James Madison envisioned, ours is a "deliberative democracy." Indeed, its deliberative nature is fundamental to the integrity of our social compact. Because the essential alchemy of democracy -- whereby just power is derived from the consent of the governed -- can only occur in a process that is genuinely deliberative.

Moreover, it is the unique role of the Senate, much more than the House, to provide a forum for deliberation, to give adequate and full consideration to the strongly held views of a minority. In this case, the minority is made up of 44 Democratic Senators and 1 Independent.

And it is no accident that our founders gave the Senate the power to pass judgment on the fitness of nominees to the Judicial branch. Because they knew that respect for the law also depends upon the perceived independence and integrity of our judges. And they wanted those qualities to be reviewed by the more reflective body of Congress.

Our founders gave no role to the House of Representatives in confirming federal judges. If they had believed that a simple majority was all that was needed to safeguard the nation against unwise choices by a partisan president, they might well have given the House as well as the Senate the power to vote on judges.

But they gave the power instead to the Senate, a body of equals, each of whom was given a term of office -- 3 times longer than that of a representative -- in order to encourage a reflective frame of mind, a distance from the passions of the voters and a capacity for deliberation. They knew that the judges would serve for life and that, therefore, their confirmation should follow a period of advice and consent in which the Senate was an equal partner with the executive.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist # 78, wrote that the "independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill-humors which the arts of designing men... have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community."

When James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, he explained that "independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves... the guardians of [these] rights, ... an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislature or executive."

So, it is not as a Democrat but as an American, that I appeal today to the leadership of the majority in the Senate to halt their efforts to break the Senate's rules and instead protect a meaningful role in the confirmation of judges and justices for Senators of both parties. Remember that you will not always be in the majority, but much more importantly, remember what is best for our country regardless of which party is temporarily in power. Many of us know what it feels like to be disappointed with decisions made by the courts. But instead of attacking the judges with whose opinions we disagree, we live by the rule of law and maintain respect for the courts.

I am genuinely dismayed and deeply concerned by the recent actions of some Republican leaders to undermine the rule of law by demanding the Senate be stripped of its right to unlimited debate where the confirmation of judges is concerned, and even to engage in outright threats and intimidation against federal judges with whom they philosophically disagree.

Even after a judge was murdered in Atlanta while presiding in his courtroom, even after the husband and mother of a federal judge were murdered in Chicago in retaliation by a disgruntled party to a failed lawsuit -- even then -- the Republican leader of the House of Representatives responded to rulings in the Terri Schiavo case, by saying ominously: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior."

When the outrage following this comment worsened Rep. DeLay's problems during the House Ethics scandal, he claimed that his words had been chosen badly, but in the next breath, he issued new threats against the same courts: "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse."

In previous remarks on the subject, DeLay has said, "Judges need to be intimidated," adding that if they don't behave, "we're going to go after them in a big way."

Moreover, a whole host of prominent Republicans have been making similar threats on a regular basis.

A Republican Congressman from Iowa added: "When their budget starts to dry up, we'll get their attention. If we're going to preserve the Constitution, we must get them in line."

A Republican Senator from Texas directly connected the "spate of courthouse violence lately" to his view that unpopular decisions might be the explanation. "I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence."

One of the best-known conservative political commentators has openly recommended that "liberals should be physically intimidated."

The spokesman for the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said: "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary." Misunderstanding?

The Chief of Staff for another Republican senator called for "mass impeachment" by using the bizarre right-wing theory that the president can declare that any judge is no longer exhibiting "good behavior," adding that, "then the judge's term has simply come to an end. The President gives them a call and says: 'Clean out your desk. The Capitol police will be in to help you find your way home.'"

The elected and appointed Republican officials who made these dangerous statements are reflecting an even more broadly-held belief system of grassroots extremist organizations that have made the destruction of judicial independence the centerpiece of their political agenda.

Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, who hosted a speech by the Senate Majority Leader last Sunday, has said, "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench." Explaining that during his meeting with Republican leaders, the leaders discussed stripping funding from certain courts, Perkins said, "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and recreating them the next day, but also de-funding them." Congress could use its appropriations authority to just "take away the bench, all of its staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

Another influential leader of one of these groups, James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, focused his anger on the 9th circuit court of appeals: "Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court. They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

Edwin Vieira (at the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference) said his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Stalin: "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem.'"

Through their words and threats, these Republicans are creating an atmosphere in which judges may well hesitate to exercise their independence for fear of Congressional retribution, or worse.

It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God's will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against "people of faith." How dare they?

Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forebears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls.

This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.

James Madison warned us in Federalist #10 that sometimes, "A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction."

Unfortunately the virulent faction now committed to changing the basic nature of democracy now wields enough political power within the Republican party to have a major influence over who secures the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election. It appears painfully obvious that some of those who have their eyes on that nomination are falling all over themselves to curry favor with this faction.

They are the ones demanding the destructive constitutional confrontation now pending in the Senate. They are the ones willfully forcing the Senate leadership to drive democracy to the precipice that now lies before us.

I remember a time not too long ago when Senate leaders in both parties saw it as part of their responsibility to protect the Senate against the destructive designs of demagogues who would subordinate the workings of our democracy to their narrow factional agendas.

Our founders understood that the way you protect and defend people of faith is by preventing any one sect from dominating. Most people of faith I know in both parties have been getting a belly-full of this extremist push to cloak their political agenda in religiosity and mix up their version of religion with their version of right-wing politics and force it on everyone else.

They should learn that religious faith is a precious freedom and not a tool to divide and conquer.

I think it is truly important to expose the fundamental flaw in the arguments of these zealots. The unifying theme now being pushed by this coalition is actually an American heresy -- a highly developed political philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with the founding principles of the United States of America.

We began as a nation with a clear formulation of the basic relationship between God, our rights as individuals, the government we created to secure those rights, and the prerequisites for any power exercised by our government.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," our founders declared. "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..."

But while our rights come from God, as our founders added, "governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed."

So, unlike our inalienable rights, our laws are human creations that derive their moral authority from our consent to their enactment-informed consent given freely within our deliberative processes of self-government.

Any who seek to wield the powers of government without the consent of the people, act unjustly.

Over sixty years ago, in the middle of the Second World War, Justice Jackson wrote: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

His words are no less true today.

The historic vulnerability of religious zealots to subordinate the importance of the rule of law to their ideological fervor was captured best in words given by the author of "A Man for All Seasons" to Sir Thomas More.

When More's zealous son-in-law proposed that he would cut down any law in England that served as an obstacle to his hot pursuit of the devil, More replied: "And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

The Senate leaders remind me of More's son-in-law. They are now proposing to cut down a rule that has stood for more than two centuries as a protection for unlimited debate. It has been used for devilish purposes on occasion in American history, but far more frequently, it has been used to protect the right of a minority to make its case.

Indeed it has often been cited as a model for other nations struggling to reconcile the majoritarian features of democracy with a respectful constitutional role for minority rights. Ironically, a Republican freshman Senator who supports the party-line opposition to the filibuster here at home, recently returned from Iraq with an inspiring story about the formation of multi-ethnic democracy there. Reporting that he asked a Kurdish leader there if he worried that the majority Shiites would "overrun" the minority Kurds, this Senator said the Kurdish leader responded "oh no, we have a secret weapon.... [the] filibuster."

The Senate's tradition of unlimited debate has been a secret weapon in our nation's arsenal of democracy as well. It has frequently serves to push the Senate-and the nation as a whole-toward a compromise between conflicting points of view, to breathe life into the ancient advice of the prophet Isaiah: "Come let us reason together"; to illuminate arguments for which the crowded, busy House of Representatives has no time or patience, to afford any Senator an opportunity to stand in the finest American tradition in support of a principle that he or she believes to be important enough to bring to the attention of the nation.

In order to cut down this occasional refuge of a scoundrel, the leadership would cut down the dignity of the Senate itself, diminish the independence of the legislative branch, reduce its power, and accelerate the decline in its stature that is already far advanced.

Two-thirds of the American people reject their argument. The nation is overwhelmingly opposed to this dangerous breaking of the Senate's rules. And, so the leadership and the White House have decided to call it a crisis.

In the last few years, the American people have been told on several occasions that we were facing a dire crisis that required the immediate adoption of an unusual and controversial policy.

In each case, the remedy for the alleged crisis was an initiative that would have been politically implausible at best -- except for the crisis that required the unnatural act they urged upon us.

First, we were told that the nation of Iraq, armed to the teeth as it was said to be with weapons of mass destruction, represented a grave crisis that necessitated a unilateral invasion.

Then, we were told that Social Security was facing an imminent crisis that required its immediate privatization.

Now we are told that the federal judiciary is facing a dire crisis that requires us to break the rules of the Senate and discard the most important guarantee of the deliberative nature of Senate proceedings.

As with the previous "crises" that turned out to be falsely described, this one too cannot survive scrutiny. The truth is that the Senate has confirmed 205 or over 95% of President Bush's nominees. Democrats have held up only ten nominees, less than 5 percent. Compare that with the 60 Clinton nominees who were blocked by Republican obstruction between 1995 and 2000. In fact, under the procedures used by Republicans during the Clinton/ Gore Administration, far fewer than the 41 Senators necessary to sustain a filibuster were able to routinely block the Senate from voting on judges nominated by the president. They allowed Republican Senators to wage shadow filibusters to prevent some nominees from even getting a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Other nominees were victims of shadow filibusters after receiving a hearing and were not allowed a committee vote. Still others were reported out of committee, and not allowed a vote on the Senate floor.

To put the matter in perspective, when President Clinton left office, there were more than 100 vacant judgeships largely due to Republican obstructionist tactics. Ironically, near the end of the Clinton-Gore administration, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said: "There is no vacancy crisis and a little perspective clearly belies the assertion that 103 vacancies represent a systematic crisis."

Comically, soon after President Bush took office, when the number of vacancies had already been reduced, the same Republican committee chairman sounded a shrill alarm. Because of the outstanding vacancies, he said, "We're reaching a crisis in our federal courts."

Now, the number of vacancies is lower than it has been in many years: 47 vacancies out of 877 judgeships -- and for the majority of those vacancies, the President has not even sent a nominee to the Senate. Yet still, the Republican drive for one-party control leads them to cry over and over again: "Crisis! Crisis in the courts!" It is hypocritical, and it is simply false.

Republicans have also claimed quite disingenuously that the filibustering of judicial nominees is unprecedented. History, however, belies their claim. I served in the Senate for eight of my 16 years in Congress -- and then another 8 years as President of the Senate in my capacity as Vice President. Moreover, my impressions of the Senate date back to earlier decades -- because my father was a Senator when I was growing up.

From that perspective, I have listened with curiosity to some of the statements made during the current debate. For example, I have heard the Senate Majority Leader, who is from my home state and should know better, say that no Court nominee has ever been filibustered before the current president's term. But I vividly remember not only the dozens of nominees sent to the Senate by President Clinton who were denied a vote and filibustered by various means, I also remember in 1968 when my father was the principal sponsor of another Tennessean -- Abe Fortas -- who was nominated to be Chief Justice by President Lyndon Johnson. Fortas was filibustered and denied an up or down vote. The cloture vote was taken on October 1, 1968. When it failed by a vote of 45-43, President Johnson was forced by the filibuster to withdraw the nomination.

My father's Senate colleague and friend from Tennessee, Howard Baker, said during that filibuster, "On any issue, the majority at any given moment is not always right." And no Democrat would take issue with that statement, then or now. It is part of the essence of the U.S. Senate.

This fight is not about responding to a crisis. It is about the desire of the administration and the Senate leadership to stifle debate in order to get what they want when they want it. What is involved here is a power grab -- pure and simple.

And what makes it so dangerous for our country is their willingness to do serious damage to our American democracy in order to satisfy their lust for total one-party domination of all three branches of government. They seek nothing less than absolute power. Their grand design is an all-powerful executive using a weakened legislature to fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image. They envision a total breakdown of the separation of powers. And in its place they want to establish a system in which power is unified in the service of a narrow ideology serving a narrow set of interests.

Their coalition of supporters includes both right-wing religious extremists and exceptionally greedy economic special interests. Both groups are seeking more and more power for their own separate purposes. If they were to achieve their ambition -- and exercise the power they seek -- America would face the twin dangers of an economic blueprint that eliminated most all of the safeguards and protections established for middle class families throughout the 20th century and a complete revision of the historic insulation of the rule of law from sectarian dogma. One of the first casualties would be the civil liberties that Americans have come to take for granted.

Indeed, the first nominee they've sent to the on-deck circle has argued throughout her legal career that America's self-government is the root of all social evil. Her radical view of the Social Security system, which she believes to be unconstitutional, is that it has created a situation where, in her words: "Today's senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren."

This family of 7 judicial fanatics is now being stopped at democracy's gates by 44 Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Harry Reid, and a small but growing number of Republican Senators who have more independence than fear of their party disciplinarians. If the rules of the Senate are broken and if these nominees should ever be confirmed, they would, as a group, intervene in your family's medical decisions and put a narrow version of religious doctrine above, not within, the Constitution. They have shown by their prior records and statements that they would weaken the right to privacy and consistently favor special interests at the expense of middle class America by threatening the minimum wage, worker & consumer protections, the 40-hour workweek, your right to sue your HMO, and your right to clean air and water.

Because of the unique lifetime tenure of federal judges, their legitimacy requires that they be representative of a broad consensus of the American people. Extremist judges so unacceptable to a large minority of the Senate clearly fall outside this consensus.

Yet today's Republicans seem hell-bent on squelching the ability of the minority in this country to express dissent. This is in keeping with other Republican actions to undercut the legislative process.

And in the filibuster fight they are doing it with utter disregard for the rule of law so central to our democracy. There is, of course, a way to change the rules if they so choose -- and that is to follow the rules.

When they decide instead to break the rules and push our democracy into uncharted, uncertain terrain, the results are often not to the liking of the American people.

That's what happened when they broke precedents to pass special legislation in the Terri Schiavo case -- by playing politics with the Schiavo family tragedy. And, the overwhelming majority of Americans in both political parties told the President and the Congress that they strongly disagreed with that extremist approach.

And now, all of the new public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of the American people are opposed to this current effort to cripple the United States Senate's position in our constitutional framework by destroying the principle of unlimited debate. But, the congressional Republican leadership and the White House are so beholden to the extremists that they feel like they have to do what they say.

One reason that the American people are upset about what the Republican party is doing, is that while they are wasting time on their extremist agenda, they are neglecting issues like the crisis in the cost and availability of health care, the difficulty middle class families are having in making ends meet, etc.

Our founders understood that there is in all human beings a natural instinct for power. The Revolution they led was precisely to defeat the all-encompassing power of a tyrant thousands of miles away.

They knew then what Lord Acton summarized so eloquently a hundred years later: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." They knew that when the role of deliberative democracy is diminished, passions are less contained, less channeled within the carefully balanced and separated powers of our Constitution, less checked by the safeguards inherent in our founders' design-and the vacuum left is immediately filled by new forms of power more arbitrary in their exercise and derived less from the consent of the governed than from the unbridled passions of ideology, ultra-nationalist sentiments, racist, tribal and sectarian fervor -- and most of all, by those who claim a unique authority granted directly to them by the Almighty.

That is precisely why they established a system of checks and balances to prevent the accretion of power in any one set of hands -- either in one individual or a group because they were wary of what Madison famously called "factions."

Yet today that is precisely what a small group of radical Republicans is trying to do. And they threaten a fundamental break with a system that has served us well for 230 years and has served as a model for the rest of the world.

In the words of columnist George Will, "The filibuster is an important defense of minority rights, enabling democratic government to measure and respect not merely numbers but also intensity in public controversies. Filibusters enable intense minorities to slow the governmental juggernaut. Conservatives, who do not think government is sufficiently inhibited, should cherish this blocking mechanism."

Senator McCain echoed Will's sentiments, reminding his conservative colleagues, "We won't always be in the majority... and do we want a bunch of liberal judges approved by the Senate of the United States with 51 votes if the Democrats are in the majority?"

The rules and traditions of the Senate all derive from this desire to ensure that the voice of the minority could be heard. The filibuster has been at the heart of this tradition for nearly the entire 230 years of the Senate's existence. Yet never before has anyone has felt compelled to try to eliminate it.

The proposal from the Senate majority leader to abolish the right of unlimited debate is a poison pill for America's democracy. It is the stalking horse for a dangerous American heresy that would substitute persuasion on the merits with bullying and an effort at partisan domination.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Holy Warriors

Before boarding his flight to Crawford to meet with President Bush Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah presided over the arrest of 40 Pakistani Christians on Friday. Their crime? The Pakistanis were caught praying in a private home in the capital Riyadh in violation of the state’s strictly enforced religious law that bans all non-Muslim worship.

As the State Department has determined, there is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia and everyone there, Muslim or not, must obey the rules of the extreme sharia of the kingdom’s established religion, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The Saudi state indoctrinates its nationals from an early age in the Wahhabi ideology of zero tolerance for the “other.” Government textbooks and publications teach that it is a religious obligation for Muslims to hate Christians and Jews and warn against imitating, befriending, or helping them in any way, or taking part in their festivities and celebrations. The state teaches a Nazi-like hatred for Jews, treats the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact, and avows that the Muslim’s duty is to eliminate the state of Israel...

So- exactly what got decided at this meeting, besides a lot of kissing and hand-holding?

President Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah emerged from their meeting here Monday with no agreement that would lower gasoline prices in the near term, although Saudi Arabia reiterated plans to increase oil production capacity in coming years in an effort to meeting fast-growing world demand...

...the two nations issued a joint statement in which they pledged continued cooperation in the war on terrorism, promised to work together toward a peaceful settlement between the Palestinians and Israel and expressed support for the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The statement also praised the steps being taken toward democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia and announced the formation of a joint committee, to be headed by the U.S. secretary of state and the Saudi foreign minister, aimed at increasing educational, business and cultural exchanges between the two nations. The agreement also cited U.S. appreciation for the Saudi pledge to increase oil production.

News Not in American News

Why Sibel Edmonds has a gag order.

Former FBI contract translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds and her attorneys were ordered removed from the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse so that a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel could discuss her case in private with Bush administration lawyers.

In an exclusive interview on Saturday, we asked Edmonds if she would deny that laundered drug money linked to the 911 attacks found its way into recent House, Senate and Presidential campaign war-chests, according to what she heard in intelligence intercepts she was asked to translate.

"I will not deny that statement; but I cannot comment further on it," she told TomFlocco.com, in a non-denial denial...

A longer version of the same story, with more backgorund is here at TomFlocco.com.

"It’s so simple," Edmonds told TomFlocco.com. "Nobody is looking at the Department of Defense aspect of the whole 911 cover-up. The FBI is citing two reasons for my gag order: to protect ‘sensitive’ diplomatic relations and to protect foreign U.S. business relationships."...

In attempting to let the American people how close the 911 cover-up comes to home, Edmonds told us, "I will say this: the FBI is only a mouthpiece for the State Department. The State Department is the main reason for the cover-up. It has to do with foreign business relationships and who they are...Pakistan, Turkey...espionage in the State Department...preventing an investigation."

The former FBI translator has implicated everything "from drugs to money laundering to arms sales. And yes, there are certain convergences with all these activities and international terrorism," adding "they don’t deal with 1 or 5 million dollars, but with hundreds of millions."

In an interview with the website Antiwar, Edmonds cryptically pronounced "...as for the politicians, what I can say is that when you start talking about huge amounts of money, certain elected officials become automatically involved. And there are different kinds of campaign contributions--legal and illegal, declared and undeclared."

Thanks to Rigorous Intuition for the link.

The American Taliban Gets a Judge Who Declares Jihad

Just days after a bitterly divided Senate committee voted along party lines to approve her nomination as a federal appellate court judge, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown told an audience Sunday that people of faith were embroiled in a "war" against secular humanists who threatened to divorce America from its religious roots, according to a newspaper account of the speech.

Brown's remarks come as a partisan battle over judges has evolved into a national debate over the proper mix of God and government and as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) ponders changing the chamber's rules to prevent Democrats from using procedural moves to block confirmation of conservative jurists such as Brown...

"There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It's not a shooting war, but it is a war," she said, according to a report published Monday in the Stamford Advocate...

She added that atheism "handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom…. Freedom then becomes willfulness..."

...she called the New Deal the "triumph of our socialist revolution." She has described herself as a "true conservative" who believes that "where the government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates…. The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible."

Ooohhh, baby, when do the fatwahs start?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

If a Tree Falls, and Nobody Listens, Does It Make a Sound?

Ending Evil with the Power of Stupid

Over a week ago it came out that the State Department had decided to stop publishing its 19-year-old report on Patterns of Global Terror, based in part "because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism." Unless another agency steps up to provide a new publicly available report, Americans will no longer have access to a definitive assessment of global terrorism, remaining ignorant of how many terrorist attacks have happened in which parts of the world, of how effective US counterterrorism policy is, of whether, in short, the war is being won. The Medium Lobster hails this as a masterstroke - possibly the final blow to crush the jihadists once and for all.

The war on terror is a war of ideas: Freedom versus Tyranny, Justice versus Injustice, Good versus Evil. On this iconic battleground, it doesn't matter whether actual terrorism increases or decreases; it only matters that the idea of terrorism disappear. It's not important that real terrorists be caught or killed; it's only important that Americans think of them less often. It's certainly not necessary or desirable to have a persistently negative terror report remind Americans that terrorism not only exists, but thrives overseas.

Taking the fight directly to the idea of terror, the Bush Administration has cleverly opted to abandon talk of Iraq and terrorism in order to let the very concept of terror fade from the public consciousness. Indeed, the President has gone so far as to spend weeks flying across the country filling the airwaves with thousands of hours of meaningless prattle on Social Security privatization, all to distract Americans from terror, driving the very notion of Islamism from the mental landscape, until it becomes impossible to even conceive of terror as an abstract principle. Oh, blow up all the buildings you want, Osama bin Laden... but what good will that do you when we don't even know they exist!

The Medium Lobster: "a higher being with superior knowledge from beyond space and time. To your limited perception, he appears to be just another medium lobster. To your limited perception."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Let Them Eat Krispy Kreme Krullers

According to John Snow, the Treasury secretary, the global economy is in a "sweet spot." Conservative pundits close to the administration talk, without irony, about a "Bush boom."

Yet two-thirds of Americans polled by Gallup say that the economy is "only fair" or "poor." And only 33 percent of those polled believe the economy is improving, while 59 percent think it's getting worse.

Is the administration's obliviousness to the public's economic anxiety just partisanship? I don't think so: President Bush and other Republican leaders honestly think that we're living in the best of times. After all, everyone they talk to says so.

Since November's election, the victors have managed to be on the wrong side of public opinion on one issue after another: the economy, Social Security privatization, Terri Schiavo, Tom DeLay. By large margins, Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and Mr. Bush is the least popular second-term president on record.

What's going on? Actually, it's quite simple: Mr. Bush and his party talk only to their base - corporate interests and the religious right - and are oblivious to everyone else's concerns.

The administration's upbeat view of the economy is a case in point. Corporate interests are doing very well. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, over the last three years profits grew at an annual rate of 14.5 percent after inflation, the fastest growth since World War II.

The story is very different for the great majority of Americans, who live off their wages, not dividends or capital gains, and aren't doing well at all. Over the past three years, wage and salary income grew less than in any other postwar recovery - less than a tenth as fast as profits. But wage-earning Americans aren't part of the base.

The same obliviousness explains Mr. Bush's decision to make Social Security privatization his main policy priority. He doesn't talk to anyone outside the base, so he didn't realize what he was getting into.

In retrospect, it was a terrible political blunder: the privatization campaign has quickly degenerated from juggernaut to joke. According to CBS, only 25 percent of the public have confidence in Mr. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about Social Security; 70 percent are "uneasy."

Please, read it all. Again, Paul Krugman is one of the few mainstream media voices you can hear that speak plainly. Visit his own site here; visit a comprehensive compilation of his work here.

It's because his day job is tenured full professor of economics at Princeton.

How do they get away with it?, you may ask.

Simple: they own the voting machines and the mainstream media that reports all the news.

Another excellent essay can be found at the Truthout site by Stirling Newberry.

There are three basic pillars of constitutional order: the mandate of the government, the meaning which binds the people and the government together, and the mechanism by which the government pursues the mandate given to it by the people. Of the various mechanisms, money is the most important, though not in the crude sense merely of who gets money, but how money works, how it is created. Money determines, to no small extent, the incentives and range of actions that an individual has available to him.

The New Deal instituted a new kind of money, money based on assets that banks could show on their books, and backed by the Federal Reserve and deposit insurance. One of the key programs that the New Deal used to make this new kind of money work was Social Security. This money replaced the gold-backed money of the previous constitutional order, and changed, fundamentally, the way America worked as a nation. The mandate of the government was to balance the economy; the meaning was based on consensus for action; if there was a problem, or even a potential problem, then the public sense was that it had to be met head on.

Karl Rove has, more than any other single political operative, been responsible for designing a means of attacking that political order, and he has, in no small measure, accomplished this. Gone is the great spirit of bi-partisanship that dominated government from the chaotic early days of 1933 when "we weren't Democrats or Republicans, just Americans trying to save the banking system," in the words of one treasury official.

This cycle of American constitutional change, in which financial crisis leads, first, to a reactionary attempt to force the old system to work, has been seen three times before. Before the Constitution of 1787 was the financial crisis of the 1780s and the Articles of Confederation. Before the Civil War was a massive financial panic, and the infamous Dredd Scott decision, which overturned the Compromise of 1850, and opened the Great Plains to slavery. And before FDR were Hoover's futile attempts to save the gold standard and a government which was less involved in the economy than in religion.

This reactionary order has always failed in the past, because it must consume every cent of the economy. That is its nature: it is an attempt to preserve rent, which is any economic advantage that comes from position in time or space, even if it must sink the entire national surplus in the attempt. This is why the Republicans must borrow to effectively abolish Social Security; Rove knows that in order to secure Republican domination for a generation or more, he must place a weight on the back of government so heavy that no one can remove it. Should a Democrat manage to take the White House, then all that need happen is that a Republican Congress stop doing the behind-the-scenes juggling that keeps the economy going, a recession will ensue, and the Oval office will return to Republican control.

In the past, similar attempts have resulted in the bottom falling out of the economy, and a new political mandate, often one born of fire and crisis. The Civil War was such a crisis; the Great Depression was such a crisis.

Rove's strategy is to create a three-tier attack on the old order, and on anyone who would prevent his new order. That three-tier attack unifies the reactionary elements in society, by providing each one with a specific role to fulfill. His plan can be stated in three words: Bash, Break and Borrow.

Read it all, and think.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Don't tell the Grand Inquisitor

Evidence for intense local enhancements in methane on Mars has been bolstered by ground-based observations. The methane, as well as water on Mars, was detected using state-of-the-art infrared spectrometers stationed atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii and in Cerro Pachón, Chile.

Scientific teams around the globe are on the trail of methane seeping out of Mars. And for good reason: The methane could be the result of biological processes. It could also be an "abiotic" geochemical process, however, or the result of volcanic or hydrothermal activity on the red planet.

Many types of microbes here on Earth produce a signature of methane. Indeed, the tiny fraction of atmospheric carbon found as methane on our planet is churned out almost entirely biologically with only a very small contribution from abiotic processes

But according to Joe Ratzinger, the Earth is still flat and the center of the universe and Galileo was wrong- or maybe it's just that Galileo was wrong to overide the Authorities and tell people what the facts really are...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

DINOcrat Tactics, Wrethuglican Strategery, and the Conservative Conscience

Steven C. Clemmons has an excellent breakdown of the situation on the Senate floor regarding the U.N. candidate John Bolton, who represents not the Nation as a whole but the American Enterprise Institute, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation.

Although many in the press are depicting this battle as one between the Democrats and Republicans, knowing what I now know about the extreme level of indigestion in Republican circles about the nomination, depicting this investigation as a partisan one seems nonsensical.

Thus, I think we need new terms to describe what is going on. I think we need to re-cast the players in three camps:
1. The Cheney-Bolton Advocates
2. The Cheney-Bolton Opponents
3. The Undecided and Wavering

The Cheney-Bolton Advocates include Senators Norm Coleman and George Allen. Senators John Sununu and Mel Martinez also fall into this category because they have given rumblings of their intent to support the President. Regrettably, TWN must include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar who has decided to support Bolton it seems no matter what the evidence and no matter what the circumstances. He sees his job as getting the nomination of Bolton out of Committee and not having the Senate preempt this Bush administration choice -- no matter how bad it may be.

The Cheney-Bolton Opponents include all of the Democrats on the Committee: Senators Biden, Sarbanes, Dodd, Kerry, Feingold, Boxer, Bill Nelson, and Obama.

The Undecided and Wavering include Senators Lincoln Chafee, George Voinovich, Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, and Chuck Hagel.

Lisa Murkowski made her discomfort with circumstances known yesterday -- and this is something TWN thought might be cooking. While Lamar Alexander has not made such a public comment (yet), TWN has reason to believe that Senator Alexander may feel that John Bolton's dossier "offends the sensibilities" of many. Lamar Alexander, a former Presidential candidate, and someone who values decency and fair play probably shares the view that America ought to be sending someone to the United Nations whom America can be proud of -- and that person is not John Bolton.

So, there is a great deal of fragility in this battle. TWN believes that a 9-9 tie is no longer likely in the battle over Bolton. Either Senator Chafee or some other Senator will indicate a steadfastness to oppose Bolton and vote against him in Committee and bring with that vote several others, or alternatively, the Republicans will maintain a block.

That means we will either see something that looks like a 12-6 or even 13-5 vote against Bolton, or we will see a 10-8 vote in favor of Bolton. One Senator can make the difference, but once one Senator unambiguously moves and indicates a decision to oppose, then several other Senators will quickly move as well.

The ultimate issue is this: every legitimate conservative by now realizes that the TheoCon agenda cynically propagated by Bu$hCo is nothing like real conservatism nor does it represent the morals of real Christianity.

Next to Dick Cheney and James Baker, John Bolton has only one real master he serves: the financial interests of theCarlyle Group.

Thanks to Lauren Rozen at War and Piece for the link, a site that is proving to be an excellent resource for monitoring this situation.

Breaking the Rules to Change the Rules

Congressional Calvinball is in play.

From Lambert at Corrente:

The rule is, 60 votes to cut off debate. Yet Bill "Hello Kitty" Frist and his Dominionist owners claim that 50 votes can change that rule. Suppose your bass fishing club had a rule that a 60% vote was needed to admit a new member. And some guys wanted to admit a really obnoxious guy you didn't like, but only had 50% of the votes. So, with that 50%, they decide to change the rules requiring a 60% vote, so they can get their guy in. Would you stand for that? I didn't think so.

That's just what the Republicans are trying to do, and the Senate Parliamentarian (the umpire, the Republican-appointed expert on the rules) wouldn't stand for it either:

When he was majority leader, Lott appointed the parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, after firing his predecessor, Bob Dove.

Reid received the assurance from the parliamentarian during a private conversation within the past few weeks, according to aides. Reid told reporters this week that the parliamentarian assured him that, if Republicans go through with the move, “they will have to overrule him, because what they are doing is wrong.”

A Congressional Research Service report on the subject, updated this month, leaves little doubt that moves being contemplated by Republicans — specifically a ruling that a supermajority requirement to cut off debate is not in order — would not be based on previous precedents of the Senate.

The appeal of such a ruling would normally be debatable, although a Republican could move to table any such appeal — denying Democrats the opportunity to delay a ruling.

“Employment of either of these versions of the constitutional nuclear option’ would require the chair to overturn previous precedent,” according to the report, “either by ruling on a question that by precedent has been submitted to the Senate, or by ruling non-debatable a question that by precedent has been treated as debatable.”
(via The Hill)

Jim Lehrer and Norman Ornstein detail how this train wreck would happen:
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's go to the next step. Let's say the filibuster is on, the call is for the cloture vote, and then they don't have 60 votes.


JIM LEHRER: Then Bill Frist will do what, under the nuclear option?

NORM ORNSTEIN: Under the nuclear option he will stand up and make a point of order that a filibuster against a judicial nomination is unconstitutional. And the chair, which very likely in this case will be Vice President Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate -- doesn't have to be -- will agree with that point of order, and say the opinion of the chair is unconstitutional.

JIM LEHRER: Then that goes to a vote, does it not?

NORM ORNSTEIN: Goes to a vote. There's a little bit of a catch-22 here, however that is that under the Senate rules, constitutional issues themselves are debatable. So the point of order, in effect, would be debatable. And that could be filibustered.

And what will have to happen here is that the chair [Cheney or, possible, Stevens] will have to ignore the parliamentarian, who has already said that in his opinion that's what would have to take place, or they would basically overrule the parliamentarian. Then the way the Senate operates is that points of order or challenges under the rules can come to a vote, and a majority can make that decision. So it will be a majority vote.

JIM LEHRER: So then assuming that Majority Leader Frist gets his way and through some combination, either it's 50/50 and then the vice president would cast the deciding vote, so you have a new set of rules that would apply to judicial nominations, right?

"Point of order, Mr. Chairman, point of order..." The past isn't dead, is it? It's not even past.

Frist and his Dominionist cronies might still be stopped, however, if there are a few sincere traditional conservatives left in the Senate.

This happened last week when Dick Lugar, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried to ram through John Bolton's nomination over the objections of Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer.

In a remarkable dramatic two hour video clip (requires Real Player or Windows Media which can be downloaded here: go down to "RECENT PROGRAMS" and "Senate Foreign Relations Cmte. Vote on John Bolton, U.N. Ambassador Nominee (04/19/2005)"), the Democrats actually earn their pay for a change.

They managed to get enough hard data out, in front of the C-SPAN cameras, over the objections of the Committee Chair, to convince several traditional Republican Senators that Bolton might be more than your garden variety NeoCon, but that he might have serious issues of emotional instability beyond his simple doctrine of insanity.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lose the System, Gain a Dear Leader

Via Alice, who says: "We have a hard enough time convincing lefty blogosphere, nevermind the news media."

If they can disable an election, what's coming next?

“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.” — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

What if it could happen here?

This is the disquieting question I hesitate to ask because, once asked, it pretty much changes everything. The answer roars in behind it, as obvious as a Florida hurricane, an Ohio twister, ripping up the complacent heart. What if it could? What if it did?

A number of voices think it just might have.

Was the election of 2004 stolen? Thus is the question framed by those who don’t want to know the answer. Anyone who says yes is immediately a conspiracy nut, and the listener’s eyeballs roll. So let’s not ask that question.

Let’s simply ask why the lines were so long and the voting machines so few in Columbus and Cleveland and inner-city and college precincts across the country, especially in the swing states, causing an estimated one-third of the voters in these precincts to drop out of line without casting a ballot; why so many otherwise Democratic ballots, thousands and thousands in Ohio alone, but by no means only in Ohio, recorded no vote for president (as though people with no opinion on the presidential race waited in line for three or six or eight hours out of a fervor to have their say in the race for county commissioner); and why virtually every voter complaint about electronic voting machine malfunction indicated an unauthorized vote switch from Kerry to Bush.

This, mind you, is just for starters. We might also ask why so many Ph.D.-level mathematicians and computer programmers and other numbers-savvy scientists are saying that the numbers don’t make sense (see, for instance, www.northnet.org/minstrel, the Web site of Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips, lead statistician in the Moss v. Bush lawsuit challenging the Ohio election results). Indeed, the movement to investigate the 2004 election is led by such people, because the numbers are screaming at them that something is wrong.

Avedon Carol says: People don't want to know when you point this stuff out. Even if they think we're right, they want to disassociate themselves from what the media wants us to believe is just "conspiracy theory".

But the Republicans were by no means all that secretive about their utter willingness to thwart a fair election - they openly worked to prevent paper trails, they overtly acted to keep adequate voting facilities from being provided where they were needed the most. And after what happened in 2000, what thinking person could disbelieve that they would go as far as they had to in order to retain power?

And for that matter, after the four intervening years, how else would the Republicans avoid facing the music for the litany of crimes they have committed while illegally at the helm of our democratic republic? They have trashed our Constitution and disgraced our nation in the eyes of the world in an act of mass murder and a celebration of arrogance and corruption. They have behaved as if they knew they would never be held to account; what did they know? They could not afford to have power put back into the hands of the people.

All the talk about religion and such is just a distraction used to keep our eye off the reality: that it was not how people voted at all that brought us to this pass. Invisible religious folk did not surreptitiously vote late in the day without anyone noticing. Republicans did not lie to exit-pollsters, nor Kerry-voters hog their attention. Bush was unpopular on election day just as he is now.

Of course the election was stolen. If anyone says otherwise, there's a simple rejoinder: Prove it.

They can't.

Finally, Arthur Silber:
You’re not a “conspiracy nut” if you think Bush actually lost the last election.

He did.

And for any hawks and/or Bush supporters who stroll by: even this guy thinks so.

Not that this helps us in our current awful predicament, as our country hurtles still closer to hell. Nonetheless, there is a certain value in knowing what the truth is. But it’s cold comfort. Very, very cold.

...But let me make one brief point, which relates to an important distinction. There are two separate issues involved in evaluating the results of last November’s election. The first is simply to note that numerous facts and a great deal of evidence exist that lead one to the inescapable conclusion that something is very wrong about certain of the reported election results...

I’m not at all a fan of conspiracy theories in general. Usually, events are fully explainable by the actions of the major players that are in full view, and by the ideas and other factors that motivate them. However, I also think it is true that we don’t know even a fraction of what actually goes in the world at the highest levels of government (and often, even at the local level). To acknowledge that simple truth is not to endorse conspiracies: it is only to recognize that many of those in our government feel they are under no obligation whatsoever to tell us the full truth about matters that affect our lives, or anything approaching it.

And I don’t see how that can be denied, at least not by anyone who is an adult. And that’s not being cynical. It’s just being realistic. Our government leaders tell us only what they must and can no longer avoid, or what they choose to reveal. And they consider that telling us anything further is a wonderful bonus, for which we should be appropriately and grovelingly grateful. As for “the people’s right to know,” please. Don’t make me laugh.

You don't need conspiracy theories to explain what the conspirators are doing when they come right out and brag about it.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Kremlin

Condi experienced a little different reality than her hosts.

Total Misunderstanding?
The Secretary of State was not understood in Moscow

Yesterday in Moscow, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with President of Russian Federation (RF) Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rice made several unprecedented statements. She, in fact, admitted that the US will start to inspect Russian nuclear facilities. The Secretary of State demanded Putin resignation in 2008. She also hinted that Byelorussia is to expect “Orange Revolution” and Russia “a bright future.” Her Russian counterparts pretended stubbornly that they didn’t hear anything...

...In an interview with Echo Moskvy, the secretary of state said she was able to get agreement for the American side to get more access to Russian nuclear facilities. “We resolved better access for us for these facilities, but there is some work still left that we have to do,” she said. Rice also expressed hope that before the meeting of George Bush and Vladimir Putin in May in Moscow both sides will “achieve more progress on this issue.”

Responding to those who consider American access to the Russian nuclear facilities as infringing on Russian sovereignty, Rice answered “I do not consider the inspections that have to be done as a question of sovereignty. Nobody wants nuclear materials or weapons to get into the hands of the bad people. As well as the U.S., Russia also confronts very unpleasant incidents connected with terrorism. We know what is going to happen if terrorists will have access to such weapons.” Following the words of the secretary of state, it was understood that the issues of American inspections were discussed during her dinner with the Russian minister of defense on Tuesday.

However, Ivanov did not remember anything like that. He not only refuted Rice’s words but also he let it be understood that the issue of American inspections is not on the agenda at all. “The question of American experts visiting Russian nuclear facilities was not examined. And nobody’s talking about it,” he told the journalists yesterday.

...It is evident that there was no really pleasant conversation about democracy in the CIS between Putin and Rice as well. For instance, several hours before the negotiations with the president, Rice talking with Echo Moskvy said that “people of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan made steps to freedom themselves,” and “Byelorussian people deserve better,” because “nobody’s benefiting from the last dictatorship in Europe which is the Lukashenko government in Byelorussia.” For the question “is she afraid to have an Orange Revolution in Russia,” Rice responded quite evasively by saying that “she’s not afraid for the Russian future and she thinks the Russian future can be very bright.”

Condoleezza Rice and her interviewer in the studio of Echo Moskvy didn’t understand each other even when discussing the only non-political question. Alexei Venediktov asked the state secretary if she is going to run for president in 2008. “Da” (Yes) she said in Russian, but then immediately realized that she most likely misunderstood the question. She hurried to correct herself and said the word “Nyet” (No) seven times.

She's just under the misapprehension that Putin cares what reality Bu$hCo thinks it's creating. They're on the same planet, but living in vastly different worlds.

Thanks to the Agonist for the link.