Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Habeas Corpus explained

In Them’s fighting words, I tried to explain why calling Generalissimo Gonzales a fascist is justified. It has to do with his denial of the supremely obvious fact that the Constitution guarantees the right of Habeas Corpus to Americans.

Since that time, a half a million people protested against this administration in Washington, D.C. and many more in local demonstrations throughout our country. But the outrage did not ostensibly extend to the attack on basic civil rights by the Party of Bush.

I suppose the problem lies in the fact that the concept of Habeas Corpus is not widely understood, and therefore, the central role it has in the idea of ordered liberty is not appreciated. Along comes Larry Beinhart on Huffington Post. In an article entitled, What Habeas Corpus Means to You he explains what’s so great about the Great Writ. Here it is in a nutshell:
It is fundamental to - and a sort of shorthand for - the right to be in a legal system, with laws and judges, evidence and a defense.

Under Habeas Corpus, you have the right to say, I want to be brought into the court to determine if I am the right person charged, if there's an actual law prohibiting what I'm charged with, if the people who are holding me have the jurisdiction to do so, and I want that publicly known and I want the right to dispute all of that and the right to be tried too.

Without Habeas Corpus you can be swept up off the street and never heard from again. Period. Nobody has to know. Nobody - including yourself - has to know why. Nobody gets to determine if there is a law against what you're charged with. You have no rights at all.
Big Mitch is not the only one calling the Party of Bush fascists. Read Larry Beinhart’s article to see how he puts it succinctly:
Habeas Corpus means you are in a society of laws. Without it, you are in the land of Saddam Hussein, August Pinochet, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Ivan the Terrible ... and ...
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fuck the Draft, Redux

In the pre-quel to this post, I wrote:
In the past, we needed to institute a draft to protect us from the Fascism of the Axis powers. Later, we imposed a draft in the vain belief that we needed it to protect us from the totalitarianism of Chinese Communism and Soviet world domination. Now, as Charlie Rangel argues, we may need to institute a draft to protect us from American fascism. He’s got a point there.
An article, Fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan stirs thoughts of resurrecting draft, in the Anchorage Daily News on January 28th proves the point.

The Army now has about 512, 000 active duty soldiers. Bush intends to add 92,000 soldiers and marines over the next five years, which is about an 18% increase. Regarding the draft, the article reported:
“The Pentagon estimates that it would cost about $4 billion more a year to reinstate the draft. New facilities would have to be built to train and house the large numbers of inductees who’d be brought into uniform each year.”
Wait just a doggone minute!

First of all, when was the last time you heard someone in the Pentagon kvetch about spending money. It’s a new one on me.

Second, just because you have a draft, doesn’t mean you have to call up anything close to the number of young people who are eligible. The article states:
About 4 million men and women reach military age each year, but the military needs only a small fraction of that number. That’s a fact that those who argue for a return to the draft tend to overlook, said Bernard D. Rostker, the author of “I want You: The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force.”
Okay, Bernie, so now I am laser focused on it. The way I figure, if 4 million young people come of military age, you need to draft about 2.3% of them to meet the 92,000 goal stated by the Bush administration.

You could accomplish this goal by putting 365 slips of paper in a fishbowl with a different day of the year written on each one. Randomly select 10, and if your birthday is called, you have been selected to serve by your Selective Service. If this plan is followed, the Pentagon will have enough draftees to meet the goal, even after allowing for deferments and exclusions.

Since King George the Incompetent has announced that he intends to enlist this many anyway, the additional cost should be limited to the price of a fishbowl and 365 slips of paper. You can use the change from that $4 Billion to make sure the draftees, and the enlistees, are well equipped.

I am at a total loss to understand why the Generals in the Pentagon would oppose this plan unless it is because Generals do what they are told to do by the civilian leadership in the Pentagon and the White House. And, as I argued in Fuck the Draft, a draft would protect this country from homegrown fascism. That’s got to be bad for the current White House residents, and their fellow travelers in the Party of Bush.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not advocating in favor of a draft. I still can’t overcome the feeling that involuntary servitude is against deeply held beliefs about what America promises her citizens. Moreover, I don’t trust the government with the lives of young people. But in the arguments for and against the idea, I see responsible people on the left arguing that our country is at risk of falling into fascism, and on the right, I see people providing the evidence.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A series of sub-clinical doses

Back in the 1970’s, Anchorage Alaska was a wild western town. The building of the trans-Alaska pipeline put huge amounts of cash into the hands of people who didn’t have much experience with that kind of money. Many young men worked hard on the North Slope (where there was no opportunity to spend money) for a two-week shift and then they partied even harder in a town where they had no family. It is not surprising that in those days before the rise of Aids and the invention of crack, that sex, drugs and rock’n’roll were the order of the day.

I suppose it was like the boomtowns where George W. Bush being an irresponsible youth in 1972, when he was arrested for cocaine possession. (Not to be confused with his arrests for theft and vandalism in 1968, and drunk driving in 1976.)

Cocaine sold in those days for about $100 a gram, about the price of 117 gallons of gasoline. (Today, you would have to pay $300 bucks for that much gas.) Even a rich, well connected party animal like George W. Bush who went to the expense and trouble of acquiring a gram of coke was likely to want to make it last.

And therein hangs a tale.

See, in order to ration out the cocaine, a lot of people would do a little bit, and then wait for the cocaine to take effect. After a period of time, they would feel that for $100 bucks, they should be feeling a little more euphoric, and so, they would take another little bit.

Problem was, the first little bit had worn off, its de minimus effects unnoticed, and now the second little bit, had the same unnoticeable effect. A parsimonious user could go through an entire gram of cocaine with no noticeable effect, other than the loss of a C note. I knew a woman with a medical background who used a memorable phrase to describe the phenomenon: “a series of sub-clinical doses.”

After 9/11, it made sense to go after the Taliban in Afghanistan, who had harbored the murderous al Qaeda. We sent in CIA, troops and airpower and destroyed the leadership in Afghanistan. But we did not root out all the supporters of the Taliban. Rather, we used just enough force to get the job almost done and then we pulled off troops to make them available for the adventure in Iraq. Today, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan.

King George the Incompetent started a war in Iraq with just enough troops to defeat an enemy that had not been allowed to re-arm since the time his father defeated them in the first gulf war. The troops – and God bless ’em every one – won the war, but there simply weren’t enough of them to keep the peace.

As a result of the failure of planning –actually a failure to pay attention to the plans that Pentagon planners had made -- there are armed militias and they are engaged in a civil war. We are told that the Shi’ite armed militias are armed by Iran, and it makes sense to me.

You would think that after losing 3,000 troops, and spending $361 trillion we should have a little more to show for it than a banner on an aircraft carrier proclaiming “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.”

Now Dumb Dubya wants to surge the number of troops. You might call it an escalation, but that would be considered tasteless, since it is redolent of Viet Nam. He’s talking about sending in another 21,500 troops, which is about a 15% increase. You might look at it as just another in a series of sub-clinical doses.

King George the Incompetent decided before the war that he would not heed the advice of anyone who knew what they are doing. He would send in just enough troops to not get the job done. That’s why I described this plan as “more of the same, only more so.”

That Dubya is as steady as a rock. Only dumber.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, January 26, 2007

Shamelessly lifted from Slate.com

Bush's Baby Einstein Gaffe
The president lionizes a mountebank.
By Timothy Noah

In his Jan. 23 State of the Union address, President Bush paused briefly to pay tribute to a few everyday American heroes who'd been brought to the Capitol to sit beside his wife during the speech. It's a State of the Union tradition that began in 1982, when Ronald Reagan saluted Lenny Skutnik, a federal employee who, two weeks earlier, had plunged into the icy Potomac during a snowstorm to rescue the survivor of an airline crash. For the succeeding 25 years, every January some hapless White House functionary has been called upon to find a few new heroes to park next to the first lady in the House visitor's gallery. The supply was bound eventually to run a little thin, but whoever chose Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Co., should have done a little more research.

There she was, sitting with Wesley Autrey, who leapt in front of a New York City subway train to rescue a complete stranger, and Army Sgt. Tommy Reiman, who repelled an enemy attack in Iraq with two legs full of shrapnel and bullet wounds in his arms and chest. Aigner-Clark's presence was, to say the least, incongruous. Here is how Bush summarized her achievement:
After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children's videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born, and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others—producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: "I believe it's the most important thing that I have ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe." And so tonight, we are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur—Julie Aigner-Clark.
That's high praise for a businesswoman who (if I may be permitted a cynical moment) gave not a dime either to Bush or to the Republican National Committee during the last four election cycles. [See, clarification at end of article.] What is Aigner-Clark's achievement? She got rich marketing videos to infants. No one told the president, I presume, that this profit-making scheme ignores advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 years of age shouldn't watch TV. One recent study went so far as to suggest, plausibly, that too much TV at so early an age can be a risk factor for autism. (See the Oct. 2006 Slate piece, "TV Might Really Cause Autism" by Gregg Easterbrook.)

Baby Einstein is part of what Alissa Quart, in an August 2006 piece in the Atlantic ("Extreme Parenting"), called the Baby Genius Edutainment Complex, an industry that preys on the status anxiety of neurotic parents who, until Aigner-Clark and others told them otherwise, didn't sweat the meritocratic rat race until it was time to place their pint-sized strivers in preschool. That changed in the mid-1990s, when Don Campbell, extrapolating wildly from earlier research involving college students that, Quart writes, has never been duplicated, trademarked the slogan "Mozart effect" and used it to market classical-music CDs for infants. Aigner-Clark followed suit with her Baby Einstein videos in 1997.

"Essentially," Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan Lynn told the Chicago Tribune "Media Mom" (and occasional Slate contributor) Nell Minow in December 2005,the baby video industry is a scam. There's no evidence that the videos are educational for babies, and a review of the research on babies and videos concludes that while older babies can imitate simple actions from a video they've seen several times, they learn much more rapidly from real life.

In May, a child-advocacy nonprofit filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about Aigner-Clark's creation, alleging that claims made on the videos' behalf (example: With Baby DaVinci, "your child will learn to identify her different body parts, and also discover her five senses … in Spanish, English, and French!") are deceptive and false. Filed with the complaint were letters of support from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "The reality," wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics, "is that parents play the videos to give themselves some time to do other household chores, like cooking dinner or doing laundry. However, they shouldn't be led to believe that it helps their baby."

There's a sucker born every minute, but only a select few get to be president of the United States.

Clairification, Jan. 25: As usual, my problem isn't that I'm too cynical but rather that I'm not cynical enough. A reader alerts me that although Julie Aigner-Clark didn't contribute to Bush or the Republican National Committee during the last four election cycles, her husband and business partner, William E. Clark, gave $5,150 to Bush and the RNC during the 2004 cycle.

Timothy Noah is a senior writer at Slate. The original article, complete with illunimating hyperlinks is located here.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Them’s fighting words

In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire 315 U.S. 568 (1942) the United States Supreme Court affirmed a conviction under a New Hampshire statute prohibiting the use of offensive or annoying words when addressing another person in public. Chaplinsky had called the local constable a “damned fascist.” These are fighting words, outside the protection of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

I am calling Generalissimo Alberto Gonzales a damned fascist right now. I’ll get to the why in a minute, but first a little more law lessons.

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees to Americans something called “due process.” The founders were brilliant in their recognition of the fact that they were creating a republic that would last for years, and that the idea of fundamental fairness would evolve and mature, as indeed society has. Thus, they kept some things intentionally vague, confident that wise and good men would flesh out the skeleton they had created. Consider for example such phrases as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The founders were learned in English Common Law, which serves as the basis of American law. Since the mid-12th century, anyone imprisoned has had the right to petition the court and obtain a writ, commanding the jailer to bring the prisoner to court and explain the reasons for the imprisonment. By 1305, the writ was known as Habeas Corpus, and Blackstone recorded its use.

In Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 290-91 (1969) the Supreme Court recognized the fact that “[t]he writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.”

Without the Great Writ, as it is known, the other freedoms are meaningless. You can have free speech, or freedom of religion, or the right to assemble and petition your government; you can have your guarantees of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, but it all doesn’t mean a damned thing if you have no recourse when the government snatches you up and holds you indefinitely for exercising those rights.

When the federal government deprives you of life, liberty or property, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that a certain amount of procedural safeguards are due to you. That’s what the Constitution calls “due process.” After the Civil War the Constitution was amended and the 14th Amendment imposed the requirement of due process upon the States and their political subdivisions. And for the last 700 years at least, the concept of due process has included the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Do you want to know about the Original Intent of the Framers? Here’s a clue: Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution states that “the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

All of which is background to why I am calling Generalissimo Alberto Gonzales a fascist. In today’s Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel, I read:
Alberto Gonzales questioned whether the U.S. Constitution grants habeas corpus rights of a fair trial to every American.

Responding to questions from Sen. Arlen Specter at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18, Gonzales argued that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly bestow habeas corpus rights; it merely says when the so-called Great Writ can be suspended. “There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution; there’s a prohibition against taking it away,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales’s remark left Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, stammering. “Wait a minute,” Specter interjected. “The Constitution says you can’t take it away except in case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus unless there’s a rebellion or invasion?”
Sure, calling Generalissimo Gonzales a damned fascist is fighting words. It is a call to action: we must oppose these tyrants, while there is still time.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Does a leopard change his spots?

A little more than a year ago, it was discovered that the Bush administration was wiretapping Americans in a clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it violation of the Constitution and statutory law. The only court to rule on the matter agreed with this judgment. King George the Incompetent, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that they would keep on doing it and Congress, controlled by Republicans, responded by saying, “Yes, Your Highness: Your wish is our command.”

There is a new Congress in town, and it has no intention of giving King George a free pass. The administration responded by saying, in essence, “Okay, we’ll stop breaking the law.” This is confusing to many because obeying the law is so out of character for this crop of crooks.

My experience tells me that people who have been rewarded all their lives for living a certain way do not change after age 50. Dumb Dubya has believed since he was a child that the rules do not apply to him. He has surrounded himself with enablers and Alberto Gonzalez is the prime example.

Of course, people will change their conduct if the fear of getting caught or punished arises, and it is an obvious conclusion that this is what happened in this instance. Senator Arlen Spector was among the many who suggested as much when Generalissimo Gonzalez testified yesterday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Big Mitch arrives at a different conclusion. I think that the Party of Bush administration has no intention of obeying the law and that the announcement of Generalissimo Gonzalez is no more than throwing sand in our eyes.

Let’s take a clearer look. El Generalissimo says that the administration has worked out an agreement, which took the form of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to which it would over-see the domestic spying program.

The presiding judge of the FISA court said she had no objection to disclosing legal orders and opinions about the program that targets people linked to al-Qaida, but the Bush administration would have to approve release of the information.

El Generalissimo is not giving his approval, he told incredulous Senators.

“Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us a decision that you publicly announced?” asked committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “Are we Alice in Wonderland here?”

Responding, Gonzales said “there is going to be information about operational details about how we’re doing this that we want to keep confidential,” as if letting the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee know how the program worked were the same thing as putting the court’s agreement in sky-writing over Islamabad.

Meanwhile, over in the House Intelligence Committee, members were being treated to testimony from John Negroponte, the National Intelligence Director. If you can’t trust him, whom can you trust? Think back to the heady days of Iran-Contra, when he was the ambassador to Honduras, during which time military aid to Honduras rose from $4 million to 77.4 million a year, presumably to the benefit of the Contras. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Honduran military chief who was blamed for having death squads with which he dealt with political opponents, a fact which Senator Dodd accused Negroponte of disingenuously withholding from Congress.

But what has Negroponte done for us lately? Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, he said there may be separation of powers issues involved in turning over information to Congress about the program.

Did you catch that? It’s not being withheld on the basis of operational security. There’s a principle involved, and that principle is that the present administration is simply not going to admit that Congress has a role to play in running the country.

Maybe they ought to re-read the Constitution. I especially invite their attention to Article II, Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Of apologies and impugning the integrity of others

Consider Charles “Cully” Stimson, Esq., the scion of timber barons and a member of one of the richest, most influential and deeply rooted families in the Pacific Northwest. He is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs and a disgrace to the legal profession.

In a radio interview last week, Stimson spoke of the many ultra-prestigious law firms that provide pro bono legal services to detainees in Guantanamo. Like a good fascist, he named names. He said that companies might want to consider taking their business to other firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Today, he ‘apologized’ in a letter to the Washington Post:
Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo.
His original comments left no such impression: he never implied that they were unethical. If I had to bet, I would say that he is irked that, dig as he might, he can’t find a grain of dirt on any of them.

Stimson was very explicit: he was encouraging the punishment of the many prestigious law firms who were supplying attorneys on a pro bono basis to detainees in Guantanamo Bay. This is crude intimidation of those who are working for free to preserve our Constitution, and it is beneath contempt. It is the hallmark of fascists. If Stimson had a conscience have been apologizing for that.

It would be comforting to think that Stimson’s despicable attack were an isolated incident. After all, it was quickly disavowed by the Pentagon. But alas, such attacks are typical of the fascistic Party of Bush.

Tonight, Keith Olbermann reported that the Bushies are in the process of purging 7 U.S. Attorneys and giving no public explanation. One of them, Carol Lam, is responsible for the Duke Cunningham conviction, and according to Dianne Feinstein, she has subpoenas out for other members of Congress. The concern is that the purge is payback for going after corruption. A purge of those who are not loyal to the Party of Bush – it’s just so typical of these fascists.

A provision in last year’s re-authorization of the Patriot Act allows Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys for indefinite period of time. (Previously, interim prosecutors were appointed by courts.) One of Gonzales’s appointments is a 37-year-old attorney whose previous work experience consisted of digging up dirt on Democrats. Fat chance he will be prosecuting any corrupt Republicans. Consolidation of power in the hands of a unitary executive is also typical of fascists.

Get it, Stimson? That’s how you impugn the integrity of others. And I got nothing to apologize for.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tim Russert asks a good question

On Meet the Press today, he asked Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to the President:
If you were wrong about weapons of mass destruction, you were wrong about the troop levels necessary, you were wrong about the costs of the war, you were wrong about oil revenues paying for reconstruction, you were wrong about being greeted as liberators, you were wrong about the level of sectarian violence, why should the American people trust you know and think you are right about a surge?
“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Are you as outraged as I am?

All I wanted to do was sit on my sofa and watch a little football. I am just an American dad always hoping to spend quality family time with my two teenage children. And what could be more American and wholesome than watching the Philadelphia Eagles play the New Orleans Saints?

And then it happened. Thirty three minutes into the broadcast, with 8:37 left in the first quarter, the Eagles quarterback, Jeff Garcia threw long into double coverage, and the ball was knocked away from Dante Stallworth. The Fox network coverage at this point cut away to a pretty blonde in the crowd celebrating the defensive prowess of her hometown Saints. For about 7 seconds, Fox focused on the bouncing celebration of this woman, who jiggled up and down with her hands over her heads. And there, blazoned on her midriff-revealing black tee-shirt were the words, “Fuck da Eagles.”

I was shocked. Shocked!

I would have thought that this sort of thing would not happen in our America, where a Republican Congress responded to the outrage provoked by Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction by passing a law that allowed for fines of $375,000 per violation of decency standards by television networks.

The instant case cannot be seen as anything other than a pre-meditated attempt to broadcast obscenity into the homes of Americans who had hoped to see the wholesome fellowship of competition that we expect from the NFL.

If you are as shocked as I am, please let the Federal Communications Commission know.

You can file a complaint by E-mail to info@fcc.gov.

You may also choses to contact the Commissioners via E-mail
Chairman Kevin J. Martin: KJMWEB@fcc.gov
Commissioner Michael J. Copps: Michael.Copps@fcc.gov
Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein: Jonathan.Adelstein@fcc.gov
Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate: dtaylortateweb@fcc.gov
Commissioner Robert McDowell: Robert.McDowell@fcc.gov

I know that Fox Broadcasting would like you to let your government know how offended you are. Well, they would if it were CBS, which broadcast Super Bowl XXXVII.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Worst Ever? (Secretary of Defense edition)

Dick Cheney says that Donald Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense ever. Okay, that’s just stupid. But there is an open question about whether he is the worst ever.

After all, Rumsfeld over-ruled the generals who said we shouldn’t invade Iraq, and if you do, you will need three times as many troops as were used. To give Rumsfeld his due, he did send a force of 120,000 troops to conquer Baghdad, and in a matter of weeks they toppled that dreaded statue.

Sure, we took too many casualties. Rumsfeld explained it away by telling the troops that they were not the army that he wanted to go to war with, but rather the army he happened to have on hand. The real reason for so many casualties was in part that we rushed into this war without taking the time to up-armor the Humvees and provision the troops with body armor.

Of course, the biggest failing of Donald Rumsfeld is that he didn’t do enough planning for the aftermath of his war of choice. He would have you believe that he did have a plan, but that it did not survive contact with the reality on the ground. Remember how he described the plan?
Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what’s going to happen here.
How long is this war going to last? Rumsfeld told us before it even started: “It might take 6 hours, 6 days, maybe 6 weeks, but I doubt it will take 6 months.” So far it has lasted longer than World War II, but who’s counting?

Those who are counting know that this war has cost 360 trillion dollars, and the lives of more than 3,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of troops maimed, disabled and disfigured and the many more Iraqi civilian casualties most of whom are children.

Let’s be clear: even one casualty is too many in an unnecessary war that strengthens the hands of our avowed enemies, Iran and Syria, replaces one tyrant, Saddam, with another, Chaos, all the while making the entire region unstable. So much the more so, if in the prosecution of the war costs our beloved nation the respect and credibility that was our pride.

You must admit that Rumsfeld has a pretty impressive resume if he’s running for worst-ever Secretary of Defense. But Rummy goes way back with Dick Cheney and we have to assume that Dick doesn’t want to hang that collar on Rummy.

Which is why Cheney must have been delighted to have Robert Gates appointed to replace Rumsfeld. As I pointed out here, Robert Gates, when he was deputy director of the CIA, produced a phony chronology of the “enterprise,” to cover up the crimes and lies collectively known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

Since that time, Gates served in the Iraq Study Group which was supposed to be the best and the brightest thinking by experts on the subject of what to do about the mess the Bush and Rumsfeld got us into. The Iraq Study Group was hailed as bi-partisan, although it did not include anyone who opposed the war in the first place. Mostly, it was made up of friends of Bush 41, the most notable of whom was James Baker, who managed somehow to convince the Supreme Court of the United States that counting votes was unconstitutional and undemocratic.

After the report of the Iraq Study Group came out, King George was quick to praise it, but quicker yet to ignore it. Gates was appointed to be Secretary of Defense, and announced that in his new position he would need to be briefed and brought up to speed on this whole Iraq war thing.

Well, the briefing and vetting is done, and in consultation with nearly everyone, the Administration produced the latest iteration of the same old shit. Call it, “Urge to Surge,” but the bottom line it is more of the same, only more so. Now for the hard work of defending it to the American people who don’t trust Bush and disapprove of his handling of Iraq by margins of 2:1.

And so it was that Robert Gates was once more pressed into service, and how he found himself testifying in House Armed Services Committee. The Ithaca Journal reported it this way:
At one point Gates, just three weeks on the job, told lawmakers, “I would confess I’m no expert on Iraq.” Later, asked about reaching the right balance between American and Iraqi forces, he told the panel he was “no expert on military matters.”
Move over, Rumsfeld. If you want to be remembered as the worst Defense Secretary you are going to have to beat out a guy who conspired to give false testimony to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, and who now, in a surprising display of candor, testifies under oath that he is not qualified for his job.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A blast from the past

Today, CBS news is reporting U.S. Strikes in Somalia Reportedly Kill 31 Official Says Dead Were Civilians From Village Targeted In Hunt For Alleged Al Qaeda Suspects
Attack helicopters strafed suspected al Qaeda fighters in southern Somalia on Tuesday, witnesses said, following two days of air strikes by U.S. forces — the first U.S. offensives in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed here in 1993.

The targets included the senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa and an al Qaeda operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa, [CBS News national security correspondent David] Martin reported. Those terror attacks killed more than 200 people.
Can you remember back to 1998, a time when the name al Qaeda was virtually unknown in the United States? Here's an essay I wrote back then.

The terrorists who bombed the US embassy in Kenya and Tanzania call themselves “The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places.” The operation in Tanzania was named “Operation al-Aqsa Mosque.” If there is to be a jihad for the holy places of Jerusalem, let not the first casualty be truth.

The news reports typically have identified al-Aqsa Mosque as the “third holiest site in Islam.” Indeed, according to the Moslem faith, it is where Allah took Prophet Muhammad by night from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca. Muhammad was then raised to Heaven from that place and brought back to Mecca, all in one night. (See, Koran Sura 17:1,2.)

The al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is the site where King Solomon built his Temple. Jewish theology regards it as the place where God’s presence enters the world. There are many legends concerning why King Solomon built the Temple on that particular spot. By my lights, the most poignant tells of two brothers, each of whom was secretly putting supplies in the other’s storehouse under cover of darkness. As they carried food in the night, they literally ran into each other. God chose that very site for the construction of the Holy Alter.

The site is understood by Jews and Christians to be the place where Abraham endured his greatest trial. (Cf. Gen. 22:2, II Chron. 3:1 KJV) For his willingness to sacrifice his son, his only son, his son Isaac whom he loved, God vowed to him: “By myself I swear, the Lord declares: because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.” Gen. 22:16-18. JPS.

To say that the site is the holiest place in the Jewish world is to understate the case. It is the only Holy Place to the Jews, of whom it has been said, “they erect cathedrals in time, not in space.” The remnant of the wall surrounding it, built by King Solomon, was known as the Wailing Wall, until 1967 when it was liberated by the Israeli Defense Forces and since then it has been referred to as the Western Wall, or more simply, The Wall. To see a live picture of it, refreshed every 60 seconds, click here.

It is the tradition of the Jews to face towards the Western Wall when they pray, no matter where in the world they might be. (I Kings 8:30) Many Jewish homes have a decorative marker on the wall, called a Mizrach (literally: “East”) to denote the direction of the Temple Mount. When Congregation Beth Sholom was built in Anchorage, an important design element was orienting the sanctuary in light of this tradition.

During the Crusades, and since, political control over the area of the Temple Mount shifted back and forth between the Ottoman Empire, the Latin Church united with Rome, and the Orthodox Church. Freedom to make pilgrimages is regarded as a main objective of the crusades. After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders (1099), the dome of the Rock was converted into a church, (the Temple of the Lord) and al-Aqsa became a church called Templum Solomonis (Solomon’s Temple). They were converted into Muslim houses of prayer after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 and have remained so ever since.

At the conclusion of World War I, with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations, with the assent of the principle powers, granted Great Britain the Mandate of Palestine, including in Article 13, responsibility for “guaranteeing access to the holy places, religious buildings and sites and free access of worship.” In 1947, Great Britain announced that it was no longer willing to administer the Palestinian Mandate, and in 1948 the modern State of Israel was born. The Israeli Declaration of Independence declared, “The State … will safeguard the holy places of all religions.” The War for Independence ended with an armistice on April 3, 1948 according to which the site was granted to Jordanian control.

Prior to 1967 Jews were not allowed access to the holy sites on the Temple Mount. In 1967, Israel was invaded by its Arab neighbors. The cease-fire agreement of June 1967 united the city of Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction.

A meeting was held on June 27, 1967, which included the two chief rabbis, the representatives of the Muslim clergy, and the heads of the Christian communities, as well as the prime minister of Israel, Levi Eshkol. It was affirmed that the government of Israel regarded it as an essential principle of its policy to safeguard the holy places, emphasizing that the internal administration of their sites and measures to be taken for their management would be left entirely to the spiritual heads concerned. Also on that date, the Israeli Parliament passed the Law for the Protection of Holy Places, providing for lengthy prison terms for desecrating holy places, or for preventing free access to such a place.

Since 1967, the administration of the al-Aqsa mosque has been solely in the hands of the Islamic Authority. Indeed, when I visited the Temple Mount, I observed Moslems praying there, under the protection of Moslem police. The only hint of an obstacle to totally free access that I observed was a discrete sign, which said something to the effect of: “Warning: According to Jewish law, entry upon this site is forbidden because of its extreme holiness.”

Recently, Yassar Arafat has denied that there is a historical link between the Jewish people and King David’s city, Jerusalem. This, and similar remarks, are designed to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish people, and must be viewed as an attempt to create an environment for the destruction of the Jewish people, their religious sites, and their heritage. Various Palestinian leaders have fomented violence by falsely accusing the Israeli’s of attempting to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. Many in the fourth estate have repeated this libel without questioning it. For this, Charles Krauthammer took them to task in an essay entitled “A Desecration of the Truth” which appeared in Time Magazine on October 14, 1996. You can read it by clicking here.

It seems to me that reporters who identify al-Aqsa Mosque as the “third holiest site in Islam,” are not telling the story in a balanced way. A more fair description would be “a site which is regarded as the seat of the Jewish nation and religion, as well as a holy site to Islam, which lamentably has been made into a symbol for the use of those who would stir violence and anti-Jewish hatred.”

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Update to “Reading tea leaves? …

When Fred Fielding reports to work he will join one of his colleagues from the heady days of Iran-Contragate, namely, Robert Gates, who was recently appointed to replace Donald Rumsfeld as the Secretary of Defense.

In my summary of the Iran-Contra scandal, I elided over some of the many contradictions and outright lies that Ronald Reagan told regarding sales of missiles to Iran, and the involvement of other countries. You can read about them in an article by Eric Alterman in the American Prospect. The point is that enough lies had been told, especially by the Great Communicator, that pressure was building for a credible explanation of the affair.

That’s when Robert Gates, deputy director of the CIA, joined CIA chief William Casey and National Security Advisor John Poindexter, to produce a phony chronology of the “enterprise,” to cover up their illegal deeds and protect Reagan. Oliver North and Poindexter would later testify that the chronologies were deliberately “inaccurate.”

Incidentally, Poindexter was convicted on multiple felony counts on April 7, 1990 for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.[fn] Naturally, that didn't stop him from serving in the Bush administration. From December, 2002, to August, 2003, Poindexter served as the Director of the DARPA Information Awareness Office (IAO). But I digress.

Back to the subject at hand: Robert Gates. Eric Alterman concludes his article on Gates by saying:
In his own memoir, Gates later noted that “[t]he first ingredient in the Contra time bomb was an administration unwilling to make a major national political issue of Nicaragua and live with the results, yet so committed to the Contra cause that it would thwart the obvious will of Congress and, unprecedentedly, run a foreign covert action out of the White House funded by foreign governments and private citizens.” True, but a second ingredient was a CIA willing to go along with it. Let’s hope he’s learned something about the value of institutional independence in the interim.
That strikes Big Mitch as a rather modest hope. Couldn’t we at least aspire to having a government that doesn’t hire people who were right in the middle of lying to Congress to protect a criminal president?

I guess not.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”


[fn] The convictions were reversed in 1991 on the technical grounds that the prosecution’s evidence may have been tainted by exposure to Poindexter’s testimony before the joint House-Senate committee investigating the matter, in which Poindexter’s testimony was compelled by a grant of ‘use immunity’. The prosecution was not able to re-try the case.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reading tea leaves? Nah, just reading t-shirts!

Imagine the scene: Big Mitch sitting on his couch, killing time and reading other people’s left wing blogs. There on one of the many blogs that many blogs link to, is an advert for a T-shirt with the slogan: Will someone please give the President a blowjob so he can be impeached?

It’s cute because it reminds us that this President hasn’t been impeached despite the fact that he lied us into a war, was grossly, yea, criminally negligent, in his protection of the homeland against hurricanes and terrorists, and in his prosecution of the war. He has contumaciously announced via ‘signing statements’ that he has no intention of obeying the law. His response to the discovery that he is engaging in wholesale violation of the FISA law, is to thumb his nose at Congress and say, in essence, I dare you to do anything about it.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton was impeached for having oral sex with an adult woman in the Oval Office. Spare me the protestations that the impeachment wasn’t about the sex but rather, it was about the lying. Clinton’s lies can’t hold a candle to Bush’s and, anyway, if you are cheating on your wife, lying about it is the least you can do.

And so it was, that Clinton almost went down, for having Monica Lewinsky go down and perform a sexual act that was famously portrayed on screen by Linda Lovelace, in a film called “Deep Throat.”

Speaking of Deep Throat and impeachment, you may recall an event called Watergate, in which we were shocked, shocked, to learn that a Republican president was a crook, his statements to the contrary notwithstanding. There was a leaker who made Woodword and Bernstein heroes, as they broke story after story about the mendacity of Nixon and his criminal crew. To keep secret this leaker’s identity, they gave him a code-name taken from the wildly popular porno flick: Deep Throat.

Until May 2005,[fn] the identity of Deep Throat was one of the favorite guessing games of the chattering classes. In April of 2003, a team of journalism students taught by William Gaines conducted a detailed review of source materials, leading them to conclude that Deep Throat was Fred F. Fielding.

Today, it was learned that the same Fred F. Fielding was appointed to replace Harriet Miers as White House counsel. You remember her: she was nominated by King George the Incompetent to be a Supreme Court Justice, and described by him as the best person for the job. Recently, she quit her job as White House counsel for no apparent reason. All Tony Snow could tell us was that she felt it was time to move on. (Having no family, she couldn’t claim the most clich├ęd of excuses for jumping ship.)

Could it be that she wasn’t the best person for the job of White House Counsel in these trying times? (I mean ‘trying’ as in, “The impeachment of the President begins in the House and is tried in the Senate.”)

Who is this fellow, Fred F. Fielding? He was the White House counsel for Ronald Wilson Reagan, who, as you no doubt recall, was President of the United States. It is one of the many things that Reagan himself could not recall in his final days, as he suffered from the affects of Alzheimer’s. However, even before the Alzheimer’s robbed him of his personality and dignity, his memory was none too great.

For instance, he couldn’t recall that he had authorized the actions that collectively became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Wikipedia summarizes Iran-Contra thus:
The Iran-Contra Affair (also called the Iran-Contra Matter and Iran-gate) was one of the largest political scandals in the United States during the 1980s. The affair is still shrouded with secrecy and it is very hard to discover the facts. It involved several members of the Reagan Administration who in 1986 helped sell arms to Iran, an avowed enemy, and used the proceeds to fund the Contras, an anti-communist guerrilla organization in Nicaragua.

After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred. However, a week later, on November 13, he returned to the airwaves to affirm that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages.
As it was explicitly against the law to fund the Contras, and you might expect that Ronald Reagan would be impeached.

Instead, they named the national airport after him, and talked about putting his image on Mount Rushmore or, at least, on a dime. He must have had a hell of a lawyer. That would be ole Triple-F.

So, if you are looking for a lawyer who could help you fend off impeachment, you need to do better than someone who is merely the most qualified person in the country to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. You need someone with experience.

And what we know so far, is you can get Fred F. Fielding, without getting any Deep Throat. Good thing, too: A blow-job can get you impeached.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”


[fn] W. Mark Felt admitted that he was Deep Throat in May of 2005.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Daily News, Daily Blues

By now, you have heard of the President’s signing statement attached to the new postal reform act. Here’s how The New York Daily News reported it, under the headline W Pushes the Envelope on U.S. Spying:
President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.
The article, which bore the sub-headline, New postal law lets Bush peek through your mail reports that “experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.”

Let’s review what has happened.

The Constitution of the United States prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets forth the requirements of a warrant, viz., an affidavit stating probable cause to support said search.
[T]he most basic constitutional rule in this area is that “searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment - subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” The exceptions are “jealously and carefully drawn,” and there must be “a showing by those who seek exemption . . . that the exigencies of the situation made that course imperative.” “[T]he burden is on those seeking the exemption to show the need for it.”
Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-55, 91 S. Ct. 2022, 2032 (1971) [footnotes and citations, omitted].

One of the few jealously and carefully drawn, well-delineated exceptions is the so-called “exigent circumstances exception.” For instance, if a police officer walking down the street hears the moaning and crying of an injured person behind a closed door, he or she may enter to render aid without getting a warrant.

President Bush’s signing statement appears to be a simple re-statement of that proposition. Additionally, there is statutory authority under the FISA law to open mail in exigent circumstances, and then get a warrant retroactively. Again, nothing new here. (Well, I say, nothing new, but that’s not counting the fact that Big Mitch is defending King George the Incompetent.)

And yet, a big question remains. Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, put it this way: “The administration is playing games about warrants. If they are not claiming new powers, then why did they need to issue a signing statement?”

It’s a question that deserves an answer. One possibility is that King George is trying to bait the Congress and the left-wing blogosphere into a debate, when, strange though it may seem, the law is on his side.

You might think that it's working if you were to listen to the bleating of folks like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Kate Martin (“The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming.”) The entire tone and the accuracy of the Daily News article were reminiscent of another Daily News headline: “Ford to NY: Drop Dead!”

But King George can't pull off this dopey rope-a-dope. Dubya’s approval rating is in the 20’s, and his credibility is less than that of a Ouija board in the hands of a palsied moron.

The buzz on the invasion of postal privacy is just background noise -- amplification, if you will -- to the real news: Democrats control congress and they are going to investigate abuses of the FISA act, Presidential signing statements, and a whole lot more.

King George is wrong if he thinks a single instance of being right can drown all that out.

“... and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

P.S. While writing this, I did have an occassion to look at the lyrics of the Tom Paxton song whose title I borrowed. Read them yourself by clicking on the title of this article. Big Mitch

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ah, the intangible beauty of a tulip!

In 1593, a man by the name of Conrad Guestner imported the first tulip bulb into Holland from Constantinople. After a few years, tulip bulbs became a status symbol and a novelty for the rich and famous.

Initially, only the true connoisseurs bought tulip bulbs, but the rapidly rising price quickly attracted speculators looking to profit. Soon tulip bulbs were being traded on local market exchanges. By 1634, tulip mania had feverishly spread to the Dutch middle class. The name of the game was to buy low and sell high, just like in any other market. The whole Dutch nation was caught in a sweeping mania, as people traded in their land, livestock, farms and life savings all to acquire a single tulip bulb.

In less than one month, the price of tulip bulbs went up twenty-fold. All common sense and logic was thrown to the wind, and even scoffed at. This is exemplified by how many USEFUL items it cost to buy 1 single tulip bulb:

  • four tons of wheat
  • eight tons of rye
  • one bed
  • four oxen
  • eight pigs
  • 12 sheep
  • one suit of clothes
  • two casks of wine
  • four tons of beer
  • two tons of butter
  • 1,000 pounds of cheese
  • one silver drinking cup.

  • The modern day value of these items is over $40,000.

    In 1636, tulips were trading hands on the Amsterdam stock exchange as well as on exchanges in Rotterdam, Harlem, Levytown, Horne and many other exchanges in other nearby European countries. These exchanges started to offer option contracts to speculators. Option leverage allowed an investment of $1,000 to balloon into $100,000. Unfortunately, leverage is a double-edged sword. If the tulip bulb price moved downwards ever so slightly, the option buyer’s investment would be lost and they might even owe money.

    After some time, the Dutch government started to develop regulation to help control the tulip craze. It was at this point that a few informed speculators started liquidating their tulips bulbs and contracts. It was these people, or the smart money that secured large profits that were now in the form of cold hard cash. The tulip market began a slight down trend, but shortly after started to plummet much faster than prices went up.

    Suddenly the market began a widespread panic when everyone started realizing that tulips were not worth the prices people were paying for them. In less than 6 weeks, tulip prices crashed by over 90%. Fortunes were lost. Wealthy became paupers. Bankruptcies were everywhere due to the negative side of option leverage. People that traded in farms and live savings for a tulip bulb were left holding a worthless plant seed.

    The financial devastation that followed the tulip bulb crash lasted for decades, crippling Dutch commerce. The price of tulips at the height of the mania was $76,000; 6 weeks later they were valued at less than one dollar. The only people who prospered from the insanity were the smart money who liquidated at the top.

    You may think that I bring this up to talk about the impending bursting of the real estate predicted by everyone. But you would be wrong. Here’s a clue: when everyone is predicting the direction of a market, everyone is wrong. Sure, that’s a lesson you can learn from the Tulip Mania described above. Indeed, it is the lesson pointed to by Tulip Mania from which the foregoing is adapted.

    But it is not what sent my mind reeling back to the late 16th century. For that, see, the Harper’s Index in the January issue. Item no. 32, is as follows:

    Estimated percentage of the assets held by S&P 500 companies in 1980 and 2006, respectively, that were intangible: 20, 70.

    Huh? What is an intangible asset?

    An intangible asset is an identifiable non-monetary asset without physical substance. An asset is a resource that is controlled by the enterprise as a result of past events (for example, purchase or self-creation) and from which future economic benefits (inflows of cash or other assets) are expected, according to International Accounting Standard No. 38 Did you notice that they can be purchased?

    Here’s how it works: Rossum Universal Widgets decides to buy Widgets’R’Us, Inc. Five hundred dollar an hour lawyers negotiate a deal so that Widgets’R’Us gets paid 100 million dollars more than the value of its physical assets. Sweet.

    Now, whoever owned Widgets’R’Us has an extra million C-notes, and a CEO who is no longer needed. After all, R.U.W. had its own CEO, thank you, and it didn’t just spend all that money to get rid of him. What to do? What to do?

    Well, you could give the extra hundred million to the retiring CEO of Widgets’R’Us. After all, he deserves it. Maybe part of the money will be in a non-competition clause. Maybe some of it will be in a negotiated buy-out: a golden parachute, if you will. So far, so good.

    The only problem is how to deal with the accounting of the hundred million. No problem. It shows up on the balance sheet of Rossum’s as “good-will.” The tangible assets of Rossums’ may be 45 million, but the company’s balance sheet says the company is worth 145 million smackers.

    Did I say “No problem”? I guess I meant, no problem other than the fact that 70% of what the share-holders of Rossums’ Universal Widgets own went to keep some fat cat happy in his retirement.

    One more problem: The 45 million dollar widget factory is turning out widgets like there is no tomorrow. And now, everyone wants one. So the owners of R.U.W. are making money hand over fist. And of course, what’s good for Rossum’s is good for the country, because they are paying taxes on the income they are making. Cool beans!

    Well, on that taxes thing, let’s just cool it one darn minute, and talk to the bean counters. See, that 100 million dollars of good will, that won’t last forever. We are going to have to depreciate it, or expense it or something that is a charge against income. So, the cash flow isn’t affected, but the income goes down, and with it the tax liability. What’s good for Rossum’s isn’t so good for the country.

    I mean my country. Not the other America. The one owned and operated for the benefit of multi-millionaires living off the sweat of other men’s brows.

    “…and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”