Wednesday, August 31, 2005

FEMA on relief status

I addition to the weak response from President Bush it is coming out that FEMA, the agency in charge of handling major emergencies such as national disasters, has been slowly whittled down in a slow effort to eliminate it.
SEATTLE -- In the days to come, as the nation and the people along the Gulf Coast work to cope with the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we will be reminded anew, how important it is to have a federal agency capable of dealing with natural catastrophes of this sort. This is an immense human tragedy, one that will work hardship on millions of people. It is beyond the capabilities of state and local government to deal with. It requires a national response.

Which makes it all the more difficult to understand why, at this moment, the country's premier agency for dealing with such events -- FEMA -- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security.
These large-scale disasters are beyond the scope of state-level resources. Simply the food and water necessary to help the thousands displaced from a hurricane like Katrina is beyond the transportation capabilities. I heard on the radio this morning that over a thousand trucks were being sent to Louisiana and Mississippi to help.

Events on this scale need massive organization and coordination. Only a single federal organization can handle the logistics and settle the jurisdictional issues that arise. Now we see that the administration has willfully ignored the one agency capable of dealing with such a situation, a situation that was inevitable. Merely a question of when and where, not if.

Bush was kind enough to fly over the Big Easy at low altitude.

- Murphy

Jaw dropping....

I think that even sporadic viewing of PBS's Nature, NOVA or most any program on the pre-reality-show Discovery Channel would cut this number significantly.
The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that "living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time."
While the study, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, also says that 48 percent did evolve over time, the fact that 42% of the public would discount the reams and reams of researched and peer-reviewed data that details evolution as a mechanism in human development is incredible.

It's been pointed out other places, but it should be restated as often as possible. Technological innovation will drive the growth of tomorrow's economy. The U.S.'s incredible economic growth in the second half of the 20th century was a direct result of technological innovation. The G.I. bill and the U.S. position as the sole technologically capable nation post-WWII drove the success that conservatives look back so fondly upon.

It was not led by moral absolutists who deplore relativism, but are happy to ignore truth when it contradicts their metaphysical beliefs.

When the center for technological innovation and manufacturing moves out of the U.S. there will be some of us who will remain unsurprised.

- Murphy

Monday, August 29, 2005

Haliburton Critic Fired

A vocal critic of Haliburton's preferred treatment has been fired by the Defense Department. Bunnatine Greenhouse was the Army Corps of Engineer's top procurement official since 1997.
Greenhouse came to prominence last year when she went public with her concerns over the volume of Iraq-related work given to Halliburton by the Corps without competition. The Houston-based oil services giant already had a competitively awarded contract to provide logistics support for the military in the Middle East and was awarded a no-bid contract to repair Iraq oil fields on the eve of the war there in 2003.

Greenhouse complained internally about that contract. Last fall she started giving interviews to national publications. And in June she testified before a Democrat-sponsored Capitol Hill event on contracting in Iraq.

"I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper abuse I have witnessed" in 20 years working on government contracts, Greenhouse said at the Democratic forum.


- Murphy

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Assassinate those that oppose you, lest ye be troubled, -Robertson 8:22 5-6

Is Pat Robertson's abhorrent advocation of the assasination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez an example of the christian right overreaching, or is it just more bile from the leader of a christian fundraising organization, the 700 Club?

They may assume that their political clout will cover them. That may work with their political chinamen, but some have been quick to distance themselves.

- Murphy

The New Relativism

In case the conservatives lost sight of the ball in their fight against relativism John Rogers, a.k.a. Kung Fu Monkey, points out whose yard it bounced into:
Even if your kids aren't directly taught ID or aren't in one of the new Bible Class districts, the overarching cultural damage has already been done. Through this group of RadicalRighties' constant rhetoric, they consistently strip away the idea that there is indeed a rigorous scientific process through which certain non-negotiable physical truths can be ascertained. They have suffused the county with with an intellectual laziness and a terrifying narcissism. Opinion has been enshrined as superior to fact. No longer need a person take into account the way the world works when forming their worldview -- they can instead hunt down "facts" and "theories" which support their own comfort zone, and what's worse, we can NO LONGER CALL BULLSHIT. Because if our leaders -- pardon me, your leaders -- don't call bullshit, who will? They have undermined the very process by which we know WHEN to call bullshit!

For the alleged "realists" in the public arena, the guys running the Right are now the ultimate masters of relativism.
Rogers astutely points out that the future of economic development will ultimately rely on new innovations that will be created by those with the strongest tech industry. Productivity growth and new industries will continue to be fueled by the most nimble and capable tech industries. If the current support, implicit or not, for ID on the right end of the political spectrum is any guide to our future potential, we are in trouble.

There is an anti-intellectual, anti-modern, anti-science, anti-fact movement in this country and it is coming from a surprising source. For a generation or two the right has considered itself the defenders of Truth. They were the anti-subjectivity troops. They depicted liberalism and its recognition of non-quantifiable social influences and their role in public policy as the first step off the cliff into the great nothingness of a collapsed civilization.

In recent years, the intellectual right has had to perform greater and greater feats of back-bending as they try to defend and support a party that has strayed further and further into a corrupt nebulae of power and money. Their leader, President Bush has made it even harder for those who haven't given up and joined the Libertarians. His record of ceiling-busting spending, anti-intellectual attitude and his oh-so-public embrace of the religious right's agenda has left many public supporter sputtering for a response.

Bush's endorsement of Intelligent Design is perhaps the most public example of how far out of touch the President is when it comes to handling domestic policy and crafting a vision for the future of this country.

It is perhaps no wonder that Bush, given his dismissal of learned academia in areas like education and science, never seemed to question the plans that were brought to him in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Nearly every expert involved in military preparation or with middle-east experience said it would be a short war but would require a long, nasty occupation.

The situation we face today both in Iraq and at home was clear to many years earlier, but the right's slavish dedication to defending their lack-luster leader, C+ Augustus as Charlie Pierce refers to him, surpasses any commitment to truth or intellectual honesty.

James Wolcott found a perfect example of this in Charles Krauthammer.
One such sensible, rational warmonger is Charles Krauthammer, who apparently benefitted from not being homeschooled.

"Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative commentator, said the idea of teaching intelligent design — creationism’s 'modern step-child' — was 'insane.'

“'To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of a religious authority,' he wrote. 'To impose it on the teaching of evolution is ridiculous.'

"Krauthammer’s scathing article appeared in the current issue of Time magazine before Bush expressed his opinion."

Now you would think, assuming you still can, that Bush's pronouncement would therefore discomfit Krauthammer. Disappoint him. After all, if you believe teaching "intelligent design" is idiotic, then having the Idiot in Chief endorse it would be your worst educational nightmare come true.

But that would also assume that Krauthammer has a trace of intellectual integrity left over from the eighties when he was one of the bright young faces sitting around the editorial table at the New Republic. If he does, it's undetectable now. Watch him waffle and straddle and sell out from both ends.

“'It is very clear to me that he is sincere about this,' Krauthammer said [after Bush's statement]. 'He is not positioning.'

"However, he added: 'If you look at this purely as a cynical political move, it will help in the heartlands and people of my ilk care a lot more about Iraq than about textbooks in Kansas.'”

So first K praises Bush for the sincerity of his convictions--as if sincerity were the measure of anything. The Hale-Boppers who committed group suicide were sincere in their beliefs, but their beliefs were cuckoo. One of the conservative indictments of modern liberalism has been that wishy-washy libs are willing to tolerate and excuse all sorts of crackpot and heretical ideas as long as they're sincerely held, and now it's conservatives and neocons elevating Sincerity to the level of virtue. Because now they have their own flanks to protect.
It's a safe bet that Krauthammer has a chiropractor on speed dial.

- Murphy

Let he who is without...

A growing trend among administration supporters is the tactic of questioning the loyalty of former members of the military who speak out against Bush's War. This does not merely stop at the Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who are already home and speaking out but are unable to fight back against the right-wing smears, but to senior members of government. James Wolcott leads some of them to water:
Let's review, shall we?
Chuck Hagel, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for his Vietnam War service.

Jimmy Carter, seven years in the Navy, including serving under Admiral Rickover in the development of the nuclear submarine program.

Michael Ledeen? Let's just say he won't be regaling them at the VFW lodge anytime soon. Indeed, the closest he's come to combat has been listening to Roger L. Simon's Hollywood war stories from his heroic screenwriting days.

Memo to Ledeen: There's a stature gap between you and Hagel/Carter that puts you in the pygmy shade.
Criticizing an individual's ideas or a statements would stray into the realm of dialogue, but many on the pro-war side prefer the old ad hominem attack, it's much easier than trying to pick apart a person's argument and refuting its reasoning.

Don't like the war? You must be a cheese-eating surrender monkey!
Already fought in the war, returned home, and are speaking out against the corrupt, inept and possibly criminal handling of the war? You must be a cheese-eating surrender monkey!
Then there's the always popular, "you were barely wounded in battle. What's with the purple heart?" attack.

These are, of course, most often delivered by folks who never did serve.

While service vs. non-service should not be the bar to determining whose criticism is valid, when defenders of the administration attack critics who have actually served in the military as unpatriotic, that does send the hypocrisy detectors into the red zone.

At the very least it is simply bad debate style. If you can not defend your policy on its merits, it is advisable that you rethink your policy.

- Murphy

Prescient printers?

Gore Vidal, in his book Inventing a Nation decries the growing stain of corruption that is spreading throughout the head of our government. He sees a reflection of the original corruption that drove the colonists to break free of the King George's sagging, prideful, opulent government in today's leadership. He wrote the book before the revelations of Abramoff's, DeLay's and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's (R) extensive networks of greed and avarice came about.

Gore is also fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin, whom he sees as the wisest of the founding fathers. Franklin took a somewhat dim view of the future of the Republic predicting that corruption would inevitably rot out its foundation and bring it crashing down on top of the people it was meant to serve.

We already know there's rot, it's just a question of how long it will take to cut it out.

- Murphy

It's the heat...

Guest blogging for Josh Marshall, Michael Crowley of The New Republic writes about a story regarding the growing investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Let's just say, there is no way 40 FBI agents investigating your life could sit well with even the coolest of customers.

-Murphy

Monday, August 22, 2005

Breakdown

Barring some major shake-up of the drafters of Iraq's future constitution, it will codify the supremacy of Islam over secular law.
The draft also stipulates that Iraq is an Islamic state and that no law can contradict the principles of Islam, Shiite and Kurdish negotiators said. Opponents have charged that last provision would subject Iraqis to religious edicts by individual clerics.
It is hard to imagine that the administration intended the Iraq war to end in the establishment of a theocratic state, but that is likely what will occur.

The Sunni minority, the base of the original anti-U.S. guerilla movement, has objected to the federal-style government the drafters have decided upon. The agreement was mostly pushed by the Kurds who have had a de-facto state in Northern Iraq since the end of the first Gulf War.

Given the dismissal of the Sunni wishes, it's likely that they will reject any constitution:
The draft, slated for action by a Monday deadline, would be a sweeping rejection of the demands of Iraq's disaffected Sunni minority, which has called the proposed federal system the start of the breakup of Iraq. Shiites and Kurds indicated they were in no mood to compromise.

"We gave a choice -- whoever doesn't want federalism can opt not to practice it," said Shiite constitutional committee member Ali Debagh.
This shunting aside of the Sunni faction is unlikely to contribute to a peaceful transition. Given the ferocious resistance the U.S. military faced in the Sunni triangle, how likely is it that Iraqi forces could suppress Sunni factionalism if it were to turn violent?

It should also be kept in mind that the Shi'ite majority found sympathy in the Iranian leadership during Saddam's Sunni-favoring dictatorship. In fact, as Time Magazine reported recently there is a growing Iranian influence in Southern Iraq, both through the militias and local politicians.

- Murphy

Sunday, August 21, 2005

New religion gonna bring you to your knees...

In light of the recent efforts by some to expand the role of the creator in the classroom, the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are working to expand children's knowledge of not only the secret of creation, but of life.
Noodle Kaboodle
Boyardee's, The Creation of Man

To learn more about the teachings, consult the great uberpedia, Wikipedia.

A short background:
Beliefs

• The Universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. (Images depicting the creation of the universe typically show the Monster, a tree-covered mountain, and a midgit (sic)).
• All evidence pointing towards evolution was intentionally planted by this being.
• Global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct consequence of the decline in numbers of pirates since the 1800s.
• Bobby Henderson is the "prophet" of this religion.

- Murphy

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Down the memory hole

In the wake of the recent release of State Department information that points to concerns about bin Laden's increased threat potential following his move to Afghanistan and the accompanied conservative criticism of the Clinton administration, it may do well to remember this much maligned event.
Clinton strikes terrorist bases
THE United States launched cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan yesterday against centres allegedly linked with the terrorist bombings of two American embassies.

More here,
With about 75 missiles timed to explode simultaneously in unsuspecting countries on two continents, the operation was the most formidable U.S. military assault ever against a private sponsor of terrorism.
... Clinton and his national security team linked both sites to Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire tied by U.S. intelligence to the twin bombings on Aug. 7 in Kenya and Tanzania. The bombings killed 12 Americans and nearly 300 Africans.
... The president made no apologies for ordering the strikes without permission from Afghanistan or the Sudan, saying, "Countries that persistently host terrorists have no right to be safe havens."
... Clinton presented several reasons for the decision to act swiftly and forcefully, rather than to punish bin Laden through the means of diplomacy and law. Repeatedly he said bin Laden presented an imminent threat, quoting his pledge this week to wage a war in which Americans were "all targets."
(Via Seeing the Forest)
The Clinton administration certainly made mistakes in its prosecution of bin Laden and his network. However, he did take their threat seriously and became a major focus of his administration's foreign policy. Despite that, some in the Republican opposition accused him of making foreign policy in order to distract from his own domestic problems, namely the Starr hearings, which went on for years, bogging down the entire administration.

Some Republicans saw Clinton's response to bin Laden and others as political theater. Clinton was involved in planning the attack even as he was meeting with his lawyers prepare his own legal defense.

Few outside the anti-terrorist task forces (including some in the intelligence world or some members of the FBI) believed that bin Laden Al Queda had the potential to launch the attacks it did. It was simply not on the radar.

Perhaps more could have been done had the President of the United States been allowed to do his job rather than fight a politically motivated legal attack.

- Murphy

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The ties that bind

There is an interesting piece on the American Prospect's website by Jeffrey Dubner regarding a challenge to New Hampshire's parental notification law. Abortion is not an issue that comes up here often, but the amicus brief filed by the government's representative before the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General, does raise an interesting point.
[T]he U.S. Solicitor General has argued that abortion restrictions should be blocked from enforcement only if they are invalid in all possible circumstances -- an argument that lower courts have increasingly refused to accept. That is an issue the Supreme Court has never explicitly decided ...
The details of which laws should or should not be supported is too conflicting and confusing to try and sort out here, but this detail highlights a disturbing mindset on the part of the administration.

If we are to take it at face value, the potential precedent that could be set here, that a law could be overturned only if it is invalid in all circumstances, is a very troublesome one. If a decision is made in favor of such a view, then any future administration could argue that any challenge to a law they wish to pass, must also pass this test.

It leaves little room for legal challenges to potentially bad laws and actually ties the hands of the judiciary.

Of course, this could just as easily work against them in areas like federal regulations.

- Murphy

Odd Coincidence

The Iraqi wife of a Voice of America spokesperson drove to Crawford, Texas to oppose Cindy Sheehan's calls for troop withdrawls. She said she just had to come to Crawford to ask Sheehan to stop, that the soldiers had died to free her country and that they should stay to help the Iraqi people.

She was interviewed on Hardball and her statements were reported in some news outlets.

For those who aren't aware, Voice of America is a U.S. propaganda producer. It's most famous for broadcasting to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain during the cold war. It frequently made appearances in spy novels from the period, where it would broadcast coded messages to agents.

Given the floating rumors of a possible troop reduction and the President's attempts to slap down any such speculation, the appearance of an Iraqi-American married to an employee of a U.S. propaganda operation opposing calls for a pull out certainly tingle the radar.

Don't misunderstand me, VOA has done a great job over the years and has contributed much to positive impressions of America abroad. They played a crucial role during the Cold War and will likely play as significant a role in our current struggle with militant anti-modern islamic fundamentalists and the communities they draw support from. They are an important part of our foreign diplomacy. They are not a news organization but a marketing group. That said, they don't broadcast fiction, merely properly presented press releases.

- Murphy

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Making the grade in the Electoral College

Here's the conclusion to an interesting post by Publius over at BTC News. He's addressing some recent Democratic analysis about the electoral college.
So generally speaking the attempt to change the electoral college is a waste of time, since any change is probably going to make the problem worse. But be of good cheer. We shouldn’t be concerned with the electoral college as such anyway. If Democrats more competitive with rural voters, we would suddenly find ourselves doing better in a lot more states, and that the electoral college wouldn’t matter quite so much. Better to spend our time on something that may yield some positive results that just banging our head against the constitutional wall.
Since the 2000 election I have repeatedly heard the claim that the EC hurts the Democrat Party and should therefore be changed. That's not exactly how it is phrased, however, but that is essentially the argument. The EC represents an effective compromise that helps balance out differences between states in a federal system. It's not pretty, and it's not perfect, but it works almost all of the time.

Publius states exactly what the Democrats need to be doing. The problem does not lie with the EC but with Democrats performance in areas that are favored under the EC, large low-population states like some of the western states Bush won.

Democrats shouldn't be too quick to bash the EC, they also benefit from the system, California and New York provide substantial running room for Democratic candidates. If the system were changed, they may also lose out on some safe votes.

- Murphy

Monday, August 15, 2005

Keeping your enemies closer....

An important piece in Time Magazine documenting the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq (via Laura Rozen). It focuses on the role Iran has played in backing the Shi`ite militias both financially and with arms.

Recent caches of Iranian made explosives that have given the militants a greater punch against U.S. forces' armor has shed a stark light on their involvement. It's gotten people's attention better than the intelligence stories that have been cropping up since before the U.S. invasion.

While the administration continues to readjust its rationale for war and recast current progress in the most favorable light, the political and military calculus involved in any effort to leave a stable Iraq behind becomes increasingly complex.

There is seemingly little the U.S. could do to restrict Iranian influence in Iraq. Perhaps that has contributed to new talk of pressuring Iran over their nuclear program, especially the use of the phrase, "military option as a last resort." Certainly enough evidence has come to light that the Iraq invasion was not a use of force as a last resort, but a preordained certainty.

- Murphy

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A who's who you might not want to be on.

Think Progress runs down the roster of the 21 administration officials involved in the Plame leak investigation, everyone from the President down to his press secretaries.

They list the individual and the timeline of their involvement in the investigation. It doesn't asses the weight of their involvement, just how they are related to the case.

For anyone who doubts the seriousness of this case here's former Ken Starr deputy Sol Wisenberg, “The Bush interview ‘indicates there’s obviously a belief that the leak was at a high level." Wisenberg questioned President Clinton during the Starr investigation.

- Murphy

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Who sent Wilson?

Did Valerie Plame suggest her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, for the trip to investigate claims that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger?

Walter Pincus has an excellent story which organizes all the known facts regarding who sent Wilson to Niger.

This has been a contentious issue but mostly for those trying to score political points. It has been raised most often by conservatives attempting to discredit Wilson's criticism of the administration.

The CIA and Wilson maintain that while Plame was involved in process, Wilson's name was chosen by others. Defenders of the administration's use of the uranium story (since proven incorrect, as Wilson's critical New York Times op-ed stated) claim that Plame sent her husband in order to discredit the administration.

What can be said for sure is that Plame did not have the power to send her husband and Wilson's criticism of the administration's use of the report he put together was proven correct very quickly. In fact, CIA Director George Tenet had his hand forced and took responsibility for the inclusion of uranium procurement claims even though the CIA and State Department worked hard to keep the claim out of the President's State of the Union speech.

Pincus' piece breaks down the timeline as well as showing that there is some good evidence that Plame, in fact, did suggest her husband for the trip despite Wilson's claim that he was picked by others.

Certainly administration defenders will jump on this, but the question of who sent Wilson is immaterial. Wilson was the last U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and had contacts in Africa and was well regarded by President Bush's father, Herbert Walker Bush. He was well qualified to lead such an investigation.

Wilson went public with the fact that his trip was being manipulated to support false claims and he and his wife were attacked as a result. They were attacked for being credible critics of the administration's fabrications.

- Murphy

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Coup in Baghdad

Members of a Shiite militia took control of Baghdad today.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 9 - Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'├ętat. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.

"This is the new Iraq," said Mr. Tamimi, a secular engineer with no party affiliation. "They use force to achieve their goal."
Baghdad is not only the seat of power in Iraq, it is also a symbolic position.

The coup happened under the nose of the U.S. forces which are hunkered down in the capitol.

This does not bode well for hopes of a democratic or even benevolent form of government. The proposed drawdown of forces in time for the 2006 mid-terms may lead into even more out-right fighting between factions. It happens already, of course, but the small U.S. presence may serve as a deterrent to all-out fighting.

- Murphy

"Intelligent" proposal?

Running off something Kevin Drum wrote, if the Intelligent Design crowd has an issue with teaching the theory of evolution, how come they don't also go after the theory of relativity?

While evolution helps explain how to get from C to D, relativity explains how A happened in the first place. If you want to talk about origins of the species, how about the beginning of everything?

It reminds me of a story the physicist Steven Hawkings included in one of his books. He was presenting a paper in Rome and the late Pope John Paul II gave a talk to the assembled scientists blessing their efforts to further mankind's knowledge. He did however, advise against addressing the Big Bang, that studying existence is fine, but the beginning of the universe is God's domain. Hawking, who was to follow the pope on stage, was presenting a paper on just that subject. He did express worry that he would offend his Holiness, but some things are more important.

To most people the concept of intelligent design is laughable on its face and in the context of a scientific curriculum, it is even more so.

Missouri's own Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-O'Fallon) tried to introduce ID legislation in the last House session. While it failed to even move out of committee its mere introduction should speak volumes about the scientific education of our legislators.

Why this has even risen to the level of a legitimate debate is puzzling. It is a theological proposal, plain an simple. Webster defines supernatural as
1 : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil.
Metaphysics and theology deal with the supernatural while the physicists, chemists and others figure out the building blocks of reality. Attempting to mash the two together to further some religious end does everyone a disservice.

- Murphy

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Name your price....

An amendment was added to the energy bill that would ensure the continued export of weapons grade uranium to foreign countries. The material is used in medial reactors to create isotopes for medical procedures. The reactors, however, are not required to meet the same standards as U.S. facilities. The amendment was added by Senator Burr (R-N.C.) a recipient of large amounts of money from industry lobbyists.
The Burr Amendment -- named for its sponsor, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) -- would reverse a 13-year-old U.S. policy banning exports of weapons-grade uranium unless the recipients agree to start converting their reactors to use less-dangerous uranium. The Senate rejected the measure last month after critics in both parties warned that it would accelerate the worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials, but a House-Senate conference committee agreed this week to include it in the final bill
This came up earlier but other things had to be attended to. In the intervening time, Billmon over at Whiskey Bar has a scathing indictment of the level of overt corruption that has descended upon the Republican controlled Congress. While he in no way minces words when it comes to taking the few remaining Democrats to task, or the historic fact of corruption in Congress, he saves his best work for the current leadership, the Republican Party.

The New Republicanism was began its gallup to the top following the promise of Newt Gingrich and other Republicans that they would clean house and evict the gluttonous Democrats who had long been feeding off the public trough. What was quickly discovered in Washington (though has for some reason been left out of much of the reporting) is that the Republicans were not trying to drive out the Democrats for abusing their positions, but because they were taking up all the room.

Indeed there may even have been a bit of professional disgust at work as well. The Democrat-controlled congress had its pork and its corruption, but they never could have dreamed of the 19th century style grifting the Republican leadership knew was possible. As the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay have demonstrated, there is some serious money to be made if only you can drop any pretense of possessing scruples.

Abramoff went so far as to enlist the former wunderkind of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, to lobby Christian groups to push the legislators to shut down tribal casinos. Abramoff then went to the casinos and promised to help get them up and running again, for a price.

DeLay has his own machine up and running. Nearly the entire lobbying enclave of Washington is now represented by Republicans. Some are former Congressmen, some are former staffers. DeLay let it be known that nothing would get done on the Hill unless the lobbying firms hired his people and contributed to his pet projects. A lobbyist is, by trade, unscrupulous and whatever is best for business is how it is done. DeLay knew that and he turned the tables on the lobbying groups.

Before, politicians felt they needed the lobbyists. The perks and contributions they provided allowed a successful Congressman to enjoy his position and keep his campaigns financed. DeLay showed the lobbyists that they needed him. No access means no work for a lobbyist.

While their success is impressive, the resulting atmosphere is one of unrestricted abandon. Once power and contributions become the only coin of the realm, any form of decorum went out the window. Bi-partisanship? Gone. Bribery on the floor of the House? In.

Now we have a case of the United States exporting material that we (allegedly) went to war to keep out of Saddam's hands. The industry's argument is that converting the medical reactors so they can use lower-quality uranium is very expensive and therefore it is easier to simply provide the higher grade material.

The current cost of the Iraq invasion is over $200 billion and over 1,800 American lives.

Any time you hear a Republican Senator say that national security is the number one concern of his, ask him how he voted on the Burr Amendment to the Energy Bill.

- Murphy

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hunter Brumfield

I am not sure what to say about the passing of Hunter Brumfield except, damn. Too damn short.

I knew Hunter off-and-on for 10 years. We were never all that close, but we spent some good times talking over the years. I'd often run into him strolling down South Grand, we'd sit out in front of Mangia or CBGB and chew the fat for a few.

Hunter was a genuine original. He was always searching for new understanding and he wanted to bring everyone with him. If he couldn't take you, he'd make sure you knew the story or play you the song.

A born storyteller, a good person and a great loss.

He will be sorely missed.

Keep him, his family and friends in your thoughts.

- Murphy


Some other comments on Hunter's passing:
STL Streets.
Pretty War STL.

Watching the watchers?

The Political Eye asks an important question:
The EYE may be missing something, but when a police department is admitting that it has fudged crime reports, is conducting illegal background checks for organizations, and has had its tactics of rounding up homeless people declared unconstitutional, somebody at the top needs to be held accountable.

...

So, now inquiring EYES want to know why there have been no calls for an investigation of the police department by Slay or his fellow members of the Police Commission?
There is an ongoing and contentious debate over the possible appointment of a civilian review board for the Saint Louis Police Department. While the department is hesitant to allow such oversight, incidents like these only add to public pressure.

Mayor Francis Slay and the author of the civilian review legislation, Alderman Terry Kennedy (18th Ward), are in agreement that a review board can bring an additional level of oversight and provide the people of St. Louis another way to have their grievances addressed. They differ in whether the members should be elected or appointed, however. Slay believes that electing members would only create more tension and increased divisiveness.

Despite the best intentions, anyone who has seen St. Louis politics in action will have a hard time arguing that it will not quickly spread to the review board elections.

While the SLPD is certainly wary of having another set of eyes looking over their shoulder, the opacity with which the SLPD deals with incidents will only add to some people's suspicions and increase the pressure for the review board.

Police work is difficult, dangerous and far from clean. The public needs to remember the difficult position the officers often find themselves in and consider that before assuming there is an inherent animus to their actions.

The recent abhorrent comments from two DJs on 100.3 The Beat advising on tactics to disable a police officer and keep them from calling for help should highlight to everyone the environment the SLPD operates in on a daily basis. They are asked to deal with everything we are either unable or unwilling to handle and face a constant barrage of criticism.

Some criticism is justified. There are a few bad officers who shouldn't wear a badge. However, much of the criticism stems from mistakes made by officers trying to do their best in a bad situation.

That said, the SLPD needs to open itself up and take strong public action when it needs to be taken. A civilian review board may help relieve some of the animosity directed towards the department, but the department would do even better by being up-front and proactive when problems arise.

- Murphy

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hackett Results in Ohio 2nd

Ohio Democrat and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Paul Hackett gave the Republicans a run for their money.
US HOUSE Ohio 2nd Dist
753 precincts of 753 reporting

JEAN SCHMIDT 57,974 52%

PAUL HACKETT 54,401 48%
via WCPO TV
The 2nd District is a heavily Republican district. The previous Congressman from the 2nd, the late Republican Rob Portmann, regularly won reelection with 70% of the vote. President Bush won the district with 64%.

Democrats didn't win the seat, however, the race did prove that Democrats can challenge Republicans in their own backyard. The Republicans dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in order to "bury" Hackett for having gumption to challenge the Republicans on their own turf.

Hackett got in the race knowing it was a long shot. It had been a Republican seat for many years, before the "new" Republican leadership took over. Even still, he received 40% of the vote.

Hackett proved that a tough Democrat with energy and smarts can get the attention of voters, even in districts the Democratic Party thought was a lost cause. The national support he garnered shows that the 50 state campaign can work.

If the Democrats put as much energy and money into the tough races as they do for the easy races, they can force the Republicans to defend their ground. That will take energy and money away from other campaigns. The Republicans did it to the Dems, why shouldn't they return the favor. The Republican candidate for the 2nd, Jean Schmidt, merely echoed President Bush's talking points. When she was forced to face questions that didn't have pre-scripted answers, she fell apart.

Public opinion is continuing to move against the President and the Republicans. The Democrats would do well to tap into the public's sentiment and run candidates in local races to take their message to the people. The national elections, the President most of all, is won by a handful of people in districts all across the country. Improving the Democratic showing by 15+ points in those districts can sway national elections.

The Democratic Party needs to follow the lead of some of the new Democratic activists and get out of D.C. and onto people's front porches.

- Murphy

The Education President

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss “intelligent design” alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.

During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers, Bush declined to go into detail on his personal views of the origin of life. But he said students should learn about both theories, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

Associated Press, August 1, 2005


"Rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?"

Florence, South Carolina January, 2001


- Murphy

Monday, August 01, 2005

Trials in error?

Weldon Berger, over at BTC News, comments on Australian Broadcast Corporation reports that the trials for the Guantanamo detainees may be rigged. The report stems from emails sent by two prosecutors to their supervisors at the Office of Military Commissions.

Some quotes from the Australian report:
Maj Preston writes that the process is perpetrating a fraud on the American people, and that the cases being pursued are marginal.

"I consider the insistence on pressing ahead with cases that would be marginal even if properly prepared to be a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people," Maj Preston wrote.
...
Capt Carr says the commissions appear to be rigged.

"When I volunteered to assist with this process and was assigned to this office, I expected there would at least be a minimal effort to establish a fair process and diligently prepare cases against significant accused," he wrote.

"Instead, I find a half-hearted and disorganised effort by a skeleton group of relatively inexperienced attorneys to prosecute fairly low-level accused in a process that appears to be rigged."

Capt Carr says that the prosecutors have been told by the chief prosecutor that the panel sitting in judgment on the cases would be handpicked to ensure convictions.
The Pentagon's legal advisor to the commissions, Brigadier General Thomas Hemingway, denies that the cases are being handled improperly or that the system is rigged. Hemingway ways that any potential problems with the system have been attended to.

While it may be that some of the issues addressed by the former prosecutors have been dealt with, it provides continued evidence that many legal and intelligence professionals involved in these cases have some great reservations about the path the administration is taking in dealing with detainees.

Despite Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's assertion that terrorists are evil people who operate in a vacuum, unaffected by U.S. policies, the communities that these terrorists come from may feel less inclined to facilitate U.S. actions to stem the tide of terrorists.

Examples of the U.S. failing to follow its own founding principles unlikely to inspire much love in the rest of the world.

- Murphy

JAG

Speaking of the views of concerned participants, Matthew Yglesias, over at The American Prospect's blog, excerpts an article by Spencer Ackerman on the views of military lawyers regarding the administration's policies regarding interrogation techniques as well as the legal reasoning that has been trotted out to defend the President's authority in regards to ordering such "exceptional" techniques. The article itself is behind a subscription wall on The New Republic's website, but here is a section of what Ylesias excerpted.
The JAGs were commenting on the report of a Pentagon working group, convened in January 2003, to review interrogation policy changes. But a common theme in their memos is the concern that the legal rationales employed by the working group were imported wholesale from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)--whose writing on the question of torture was memorably described by Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as "perhaps the most clearly legally erroneous opinion I have ever read." (What the Justice Department lawyers actually gave to the Defense Department remains, inexplicably, classified, despite months of congressional demands.) Major General Thomas Romig, the Army JAG, essentially concurred. He denounced OLC's central contention--that any law restricting the president's ability to wage war is unconstitutional--writing caustically: "I question whether this theory would ultimately prevail in either the U.S. courts or in any international forum. ... This view runs contrary to the historic position taken by the United States Government concerning such laws and, in our opinion, could adversely impact DOD interests worldwide." Brigadier General Kevin Sandkuhler, the Marine JAG, was more specific about how adopting OLC's argument would harm the military: "Comprehensive protection is lacking for DOD personnel who may be tried by other nations and/or international bodies for violations of international law."
One thing to remember is that the military not only has to enact the policies put forth by the administration, they are also often the first to receive the response to those policies (terrorist tactics have changed that somewhat, but in general it holds true for the U.S. soldiers or agents in the field. The FBI also has agents deployed in some of the hottest spots). If the U.S. abandons high standards of practice, what is to prevent others from doing so, or to encourage others to embrace higher standards?

- Murphy

Apples and the trees they fall from...

In what is certainly going to be a talked about article, Newsweek writer Michael Isikoff keeps on the trail of potential abuse of detainees.
An FBI agent warned superiors in a memo three years ago that U.S. officials who discussed plans to ship terror suspects to foreign nations that practice torture could be prosecuted for conspiring to violate U.S. law, according to a copy of the memo obtained by NEWSWEEK. The strongly worded memo, written by an FBI supervisor then assigned to Guantanamo, is the latest in a series of documents that have recently surfaced reflecting unease among some government lawyers and FBI agents over tactics being used in the war on terror.
Some of the most vocal parties involved in asking questions about tactics being implemented by U.S. officials are from within the government itself. FBI agents, Military Judge Advocate General officials and intelligence officials. These are not outside parties, but those involved in gathering and analyzing information.

While there is certainly an understandable lack of sympathy accorded to captured terrorists, the matter is not so simple. A nation like the U.S. holds that no one is above the law and everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. From the President down to the poorest of the poor.

While we may be emotionally inclined to mete out a cruder form of justice, on the level of the treatment that the terrorists mete out to their foes, we are obligated to hold to a higher standard. To do any less is to betray the founding principles of our nation.

We certainly want and need information from these detainees. In fact a reasonable argument could be made that in an emergency situation, the use of extralegal tactics may be understandable, but only if the party comes forward to take responsibility.

However, codifying torture as an acceptable method, or passing on detainees to a third party that you know will take extraordinary measures you are legally restricted from using, that is unacceptable and illegal.

Spreading democracy and freedom is more than sending out copies of the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers. It is also setting the example that you hold those statements codified in the Constitution to be universally applicable. That we are able to set aside our rage and sorrow and operate based on the laws that have guided our nation and allowed it to escape many of our human failings .

- Murphy