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Archive for September, 2006

Double Plus Ungood

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Faithful and attentive readers of this weblog will remember that I posted the following last Sunday:

I managed to watch a few minutes of The Beltway Boys on FNC last night. It was hilarious seeing Fred Barnes try to spin this interview against Clinton. In his world, everything that happens is good for Republicans and conservatives. If W. was caught in bed with a live boy and a dead goat it would somehow be bad for liberals.

Little did I know that a national Republican would get caught in just such a scandal so quickly.

Glenn Greenwald made a similar observation about Barnes and Kondracke back in August, which I may have inadvertently “borrowed”. In any case, here is something that he posted today:

UPDATE II: As Renato notes in Comments, isn’t it about time for Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barnone, Fred Barnes and all of the objective-independent-two-sided media political pundits to start explaining how this scandal (the Mark Foley predatory behaviour and the subsequent cover up by Hastert, Boehner et al) hurts the Democrats and how it’s a win-win for Republicans? Somehow, I’m absolutely sure it’s the case that this scandal presents Democrats with the terrible dilemma of having to satisfy their rabid left-wing base without alienating the normal Americans who will naturally side with the Republicans here. How that works in this case will undoubtedly be explained to us very shortly. Check here and here for updates.

The spinning will be a wonder to behold.

Written by slothropia

September 30th, 2006 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

GOP Blues

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When things go bad they go very very bad. Representative Mark Foley’s resignation (no link, just listen to NPR for details) is very bad news for the Republican campaign for the House and Senate. It is not just one member behaving badly. The Republican leadership in the House seems to have responded very weakly to Foley’s behaviour. Once more, it is not the scandal but the cover up that does the real damage.

Foley’s problem will hurt Republicans in the election but it is not a very significant issue. However despicably Foley actions have been, they have nothing to do with the economy, Iraq , health care or the global war against islamofascist terrorists (to coin a phrase). Remember the character issue that Republicans used against Gore in 2000? Clinton’s weakness and folly were used to show that Gore was less moral than W. Bush. I know, it sounds funny now. But it worked for the GOP 6 years ago.

Foley’s depravity will hurt the GOP in a number of ways, but it is not the only burden Republican candidates for Congress must bear this season. George Allen’s racisim will also do damage, as well as Senate candidate Corker’s problems in Tennessee, Burns’ ethical and rhetorical problems in Montana, Santorum’s exteremism and hypocrisy in PA amd of course Abramoff.  Note how none of these matters have a necessary and direct connection to public policy. They are hurting the Republicans to be sure, but these are problems on top of the effect of an unpopular war, the vicissitudes of the oil market, and a widespread loss of home equity.

If the Republicans didn’t have Diebold on board they would be screwed for sure.

Written by slothropia

September 30th, 2006 at 9:14 am

Lock Us Up and Throw Away the Key

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I am neither a lawyer nor do I play one on tv. And while I like to watch lawyer shows though and just because I used to watch LA Law doesn’t mean I know anything about the U.S. legal system, constitutional law or the Geneva Conventions.

I have helped draft legislation in the Canadian Parliament, but it was always vetted by parliamentary legal staff.

I am limited and I know my limitations. That is why I am depending on people more knowledgeable than me as I develop my understanding of the military tribunal legislation passed by the Congress today. What I know and understand about it scares the bejeezus out of me.

It looks like at this point the United States government could come to the home of an innocent legal resident of the U.S., and take them away and lock them up indefinitely. Or they could even come to my house here in The Zone and take me away – and I’m a U.S. citizen.
According to Jack Balkin at Balkinization:

A U.S. citizen may be an unlawful enemy combatant under section 948a.

Section 948a(1) defines an unlawful enemy combatant as

“(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces; or

(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.”

Section 948b states that “[t]his chapter establishes procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.” So the MCA’s procedures apply only to aliens; not to citizens. Nevertheless, Congress has declared that persons falling into the definition in 948a are unlawful enemy combatants whether they are aliens or citizens.

And who is an unlawful enemy combatant? Again according to Balkin, “The new definition is fuzzy: it includes citizens who ‘materially support’ hostilities against the U.S. or whom the DoD says are unlawful enemy combatants.”

More Balkin:

Hamdi, however, states that citizens have the right under the Due Process Clause to contest their designation as enemy combatants. Because section 948a(1)(ii) purports to make determinations of enemy combatant status conclusive, it is unconstitutional to that extent. Moreover, some applications of “material support” in section 948(1)(i) would violate the Due Process Clause or the First Amendment.

But even putting those cases to one side, the new definition is still troubling: there would be many cases where the new definition is not otherwise unconstitutional but sweeps up people who pose no serious threat to national security. For example, suppose a person knowingly lets an al Qaeda operative stay at their house overnight. That person may be in violation of federal law, but it’s hardly clear that the government should have the right to detain such a person indefinitely in a military prison without Bill of Rights protections until the end of the War on Terror, whenever that is. The problem with 948a(1) is that it may place Congress’s stamp of approval on a definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” that is far too broad and that allows the government to move a wide swath of citizens outside of the normal procedural protections of the criminal justice system and into a parallel system where the Bill of Rights does not apply.

One last point: Section 7(a) of the MCA strips habeas and federal court jurisdiction with respect to aliens. It does not strip jurisdiction with respect to citizens.

However, what if the DoD determines that a U.S. citizen is an alien in a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, claims that its determination is conclusive under section 948a(1)(ii) and ships the person off to Guantanamo? As I noted before, section 948a(1)(ii) is probably unconstitutional to the extent that it suggests that DoD determinations are conclusive. The citizen should still have the right to prove that he is a citizen in a habeas proceeding, and a court must determine that question in order to determine whether it has jurisdiction. To the extent that the MCA would prevent such a determination, it is unconstitutional.

There seems to be a widely held opinion that the way the legislation deals with habeas corpus is unconstitutional. At least one of the Senators who voted for the bill agreee that such is the case.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) voted for the bill after telling reporters earlier that he would oppose it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face.” He cited its denial of the habeas corpus right to military detainees. In an interview last night, Specter said he decided to back the bill because it has several good items, “and the court will clean it up” by striking the habeas corpus provisions.

Yeah well, what if they don’t? It wouldn’t be the first time the Supreme Court ignored the constitution in order to support G.W. Bush. Not exactly a profile in courage moment for Specter nor fo that matter the House and Senate Democrats who supported the bill.
The Great White North is calling me. At least Canada has other countries detain and torture its citizens.

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September 29th, 2006 at 9:48 pm

UBL Dead?

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I doubt it. The rumor seems to have blossomed and died already.

But what difference would it make to if he were dead? None whatsoever of course.

And why does it not matter whether UBL is alive or dead? Because the Bush II administration has made a complete bollocks of the job of dealing with terrorist threats. That is not my opinion by the way. That is the finding of a National Intelligience Estimate.

So by all means begin again the hunt for Bin Laden and bring him to justice if possible. But as long as W. Bush and his posse are in charge of counter terrorism, the situation will grow bleeker with each passing news cycle.

Written by slothropia

September 24th, 2006 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Terrorism

Sunday Funnies

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I believe the entire Western world has at least heard of the Bill Clinton/Chris Wallace mismatch on Fox News Channel.

Yes, Clinton is correct when he accuses Wallace of trying to sandbag him, no doubt in my mind with the approval of whoever he reports to at FNC.

What they forgot was that when it comes to politics, Cliinton is the smartest guy, the smartest person in the room – any room. Clinton was prepared for the questions about Bin Laden, Somalia, terrorism, etc. Wallace was not prepared for the answers.

If I was Mike I would ask for a DNA test, toot sweet.

Or maybe Chris Wallace is a Democratic mole. That would explain why he gave Clinton an opportunity to torpedo the Republican ooga booga fear campaign as he did. Either that or he is an incompetent journalist, in which case he should be recruited by the George II administration.

I managed to watch a few minutes of The Beltway Boys on FNC last night. It was hilarious seeing Fred Barnes try to spin this interview against Clinton. In his world, everything that happens is good for Republicans and conservatives. If W. was caught in bed with a live boy and a dead goat it would somehow be bad for liberals. He must be paid very well to mouth on television what he must know to be falsehoods. Or he has no capacity for shame or embarrassment.

Either way, he always gives me a belly laugh.

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September 24th, 2006 at 2:39 pm

Say What You Mean

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In recent days, three men have made provocative statements aimed at an international audience: The Pope, and the Presidents of Iran and Venezuela. All three ignited what it pleases the media to call “a storm of controversy”. I am wondering to what extent each of them did so on purpose, what that purpose, if any might be, and whether or not they achieved what they wanted with their speeches.

To answer these questions fully might require speculation on my part. I am prepared to so speculate if I must.

First of all, the Pope’s September 12 speech is not supposed to have a strategy behind it. It was billed as a discussion of the relationship between science and religion, faith and science.

But some see a political motive in Benedict’s offending quote. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for one:

(Erdogan) insisted that the pontiff apologize to the Muslim world. When asked if the flap would affect the planned trip to Istanbul, where the pope hopes to meet with Orthodox leaders who are headquartered there, Erdogan left open the possibility of cancellation.

“I wouldn’t know,” the Turkish premier replied when asked if the trip would go forward. Erdogan said Benedict was speaking “not like a man of religion but like a usual politician.”

It has been reported that Benedict was uncomfortable with John Paul II’s efforts to engage the Muslim world in a dialogue of equals and that he favours a more confrontational approach. This may or may not have been part of his motive in quoting Manuel II Paleologus. The Pope must have been able to anticipate the reaction his neutral use of the offending quote would generate. He may be crazy but he aint stupid.

I am suggesting that Benedict was creating a controversy with some strategic purpose in mind. Right wing commentators like Kathleen Parker in this country have been swift to defend him and attack the demonstrators (Parker, by the way, seems to have missed the point of the Pope’s speech in the same manner as the Muslim demonstrators). Whether they share in a conspiracy or not, there does seem to be some community of purpose.

This week a member of the Pope’s world wide flock spoke at the UN and before he had really approached the substance of his speech had made the sign of the cross and referred to the Devil and the smell of sulfur. He also sold a few copies of Hegemony or Survival for Noam Chomsky.

The big news was that Chavez had attacked W. Bush and his foreign policy right there at the UN. He also had some ideas about the structure of the United Nations and especially the Security Council. Venezuela is in the running this year for one of the non permanent seats on the Security Council but is opposed but the U.S. Duh.

Chavez apparently upset a lot of people with his remarks. The entire political establishment, leaders of both major parties, columnists from right to leftish, right wing talk radio all let him have it with both barrels. Even the Daily Show piled on.

The Fox news right wing hack panel last night laughed about how he had really blundered by offending so many Americans – or words to that effect. But of course, Hugo Chavez is not running for anything in this country. And having own a couple of elections and referenda in Venezuela, I would wager that he knows how to think and act strategically.

I would be very surprised, and so would Hugo Chavez, if Venezuela won the Security Council seat this year. I do not doubt, however, that Venezuela has a constituency in the General Assembly that includes the 118 nations in the non-aligned movement. Whether or not Venezuela wins its seat this year or whether or not the UN reforms itself the way Chavez wants, the campaign – to limit U.S. power and to enhance the power of the Third World nations – has begun, and it looks like it is going according to plan.

The other spotlight hog at the UN this week was of course the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He played good cop to Chavez’ bad cop, but they had their story straight. Both criticized the current UN system and argued for a broader distribution of power (or what passes for power at the UN) within it. Ahmadinejad also said, and I hope he got a laugh, that Iran did not want to acquire nuclear weapons.

While in New York, the President of Iran also gave an interview to Brian Williams of NBC, during which he danced around his infamous Holocaust remarks and attacked the U.S. for its actions in the Middle East. And he doesn’t want the bomb.

Right wing opinion leaders are trying hard to make Chavez and Ahmadinejad look like crazed dictators. That is a mistake, even from the neo-con propaganda point of view. They are formidable and they are following a strategy. They are sitting on decade’s worth of oil revenue in a time when oil is growing scarcer.

The right likes to call foreign heads of state it does not like ‘dictators’. That won’t work with these two. They were both elected on more or less populist platforms; however flawed elections might be in their countries. Furthermore, they have a growing list of allies among Third World nations, and that is who they were both appeling to in their UN speeches and other events this past week.

When the Cold War ended I thought of Orwell’s 1984 and how Oceania was always at war with either East Asia or Eurasia over resources in less developed countries in Africa and Asia. I thought that a new model of perpetual warfare would eventually develop. I thought then that at some point a broad conflict could develop between the U.S. and some allies vs. the Third World. I wish I had documented those thoughts, because it looks like I was right.

Written by slothropia

September 23rd, 2006 at 9:44 am

Polls are for Dogs

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It looks like Bush, W. has had a good polling week. Still unpopular but not quite as dismal as a couple of weeks ago, he seems to have left the plague behind and is running neck and neck with skunk at a garden party. (Splain, Lucy.). Ok, chalk it up to 9/11. And he may have other magic up Karl’s sleeve.

However, I am not buying that the Republicans have caught up to the Democrats on the congressional generic ballot as USAToday/Gallup and Fox News are reporting. But I’ve been wrong before.

Evidence that Republicans from the top of the ballot on down are being punished comes from Conrad Black’s favourite newspaper. Governor Rod Balphabet of Illinois is 30 points ahead of his Republican rival. I am very surprised by this. He ain’t that good and she ain’t that horrible. Yes, she was a party big wig when the disgraced George Ryan was Governor, but that doesn’t explain the whole 30 point spread.

I think Governor Rod benefits and Judy Baar Topink suffers because she is GOP.

Want more proof? The same poll has the Democratic candidate for Treasurer, Whatsisname, ahead of the Republican, Whosits, by 36% to 23%. Nobody knows either one of these hacks. I don’t even know if they are hacks. Maybe they are both noble and saintly. I don’t know. And nobody else does either. But one is a Republican and she’s going down.

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September 19th, 2006 at 8:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Wal-Mart and Will – George That Is

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George F. Will has attacked what he sarcastically calls “The The big-hearted progressives on Chicago’s City Council” for passing a city ordinance requiring that big box stores like Wal-Mart pay a living wage to their employees. Will of course approves of Mayor Daley’s veto of the law.
If I recall he went into a tizzy also when Maryland made Wal-Mart provide its employees with closer to adequate health insurance.

This, according to Will, is the reason for the Chicago City Council passing the legislation:

Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America’s political argument, and they are more correct than they understand. Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets, because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots and announce — yes, announce — that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by . . . liberals.

Note the lack of evidence provided to support Will’s  assertion. He is doing that straw man thing that conservatives are so fond of. He is pretending not to know the economic and social justice reasons for living wage legislations and the living wage movement. If I thought Will would ever read this I would type the next few paragraph’s very slowly so that even he would be able to understand them.

In my mind at least there are in fact economic reasons for government’s to act to ensure that workers get paid enough to live on, such action to be legislative if necessary, but not necessarily legislative.  By which I mean to say that the economy as measured by the gross domestic product grows and the general welfare is promoted when workers are compensated adequately.

Here is the concept: people who have enough money to live on will spend it if they have it.  People who have more than enough money to live on might not spend it. They might save part of their surplus, which means investing it, or they might invest it more directly. But if I remember anything at all from  economics 101, a really good way to generate wealth and to multiply the value of the GDP is to have consumers consuming. Presto chango, everybody wins. Even the greedy rich people.

Right now of course we have declining real wages and a growing trade deficit, and a shrinking domestic consumer base. Why conservatives want such an outcome is beyond me, but that is what they are creating.

And no, being able to buy a ton of Pampers for $3.95 won’t solve these problems. That’s what Will and his class mates think is the benefit of paying starvation wages to workers. Stuff is cheaper to buy, and don’t poor people benefit from lower prices? Look at the data George. Not so much.
Right now, big huge chunks of the Wal-Mart work force earn near the minimum wage. There’s a lot of stuff they need that they can’t buy. Then too, if Wal-Mart employees can’t afford Wal-Mart health insurance, guess who gets to pay for their health care. Yup, everybody but Wal-Mart.

Living wages are not just good for the economy, they are also fair. It is fair that someone who works full time and contributes substantially tothe success of a company be paid enough to live on.
Finally, there are social reasons for doing what is necessary to ensure a living wage for everyone. I don’t have a source handy to support this observation, but it seems to me that raising relative living standards, and making society just a teensy more egalitarian would result in a healthier society – if you call Sandinavia healthy. Or Japan for that matter.

And why should governments intevene in this area? Mainly because conservatives have spent the last 60 years destroying collective bargaining. Welcome to Potterville, George.

I used to joke with my conservative friends that the right wants to bring back slavery. I’m not laughing anymore.

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September 17th, 2006 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Wal-Mart

Afghanistan is Messedupistan

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Eric Margolis is a columnist specializing in international affairs who somehow got a job with the right wing Toronto Sun (the Fox News Channel of Canadian Newspapers -or is that the National Post?).

His column today is headlined West Won’t Win Afghan War. In that column, Margolis discusses a report released by the Senlis Council, a European think tank whose work, “…encompasses foreign policy, security, development and counter-narcotics policies and aims to provide innovative analysis and proposals within these areas.”

Here is margolis on the Senlis Council’s recently released report on Afghanistan:

The respected European think tank, Senlis Council, which focuses on Afghanistan, just reported the Taliban is “taking back Afghanistan” and now controls that nation’s southern half. According to Senlis, southern Afghanistan is suffering “a humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty.

“U.S. policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy,” Senlis found.

Claims that withdrawing Western garrisons from Afghanistan or Iraq will leave a void certain to be filled by extremists are nonsense. Half of Afghanistan and a third of Iraq are already largely controlled by anti-Western resistance forces.

Were it not for omnipotent U.S. airpower, American and NATO forces would be quickly driven from the area.

Here is an article from the September 5 Guardian about the Council’s report and the British Foreign Office response (they’re in denial, of course).  I would supply a link to U.S. media coverage of this report but I can’t find any. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough.

Anyway, Margolis sums things up this way:

What the West calls “Taliban” is actually a growing coalition of veteran Taliban fighters led by Mullah Dadullah, other clans of Pashtun tribal warriors, and nationalist resistance forces under Jalalladin Hakkani and former prime minister Gulbadin Hekmatyar. Many are former mujahadeen once hailed as “freedom fighters” by the West, and branded “terrorists” by the Soviets.

The UN’s anti-narcotic agency reports narco-state Afghanistan now supplies 92% of the world’s heroin. Production surged 20% last year alone. Who is responsible? The U.S. and NATO. Washington, Ottawa and London can’t keep pretending this is someone else’s problem. Drug money fuels the Afghan economy and keeps local warlords loyal to the U.S.-installed Kabul regime.

Afghanistan’s north has become a sphere of influence of Russia and its local allies, the Uzbek-Tajik Northern Alliance (led by notorious war criminals and leaders of the old Afghan Communist Party).

The U.S. and its allies are not going to win the Afghan war. They will be lucky, the way things are going, not to lose it in the same humiliating manner the Soviets did in 1989.

Ottawa’s deepening involvement in a conflict in which it lacks any national interests — save pleasing Washington and selling lumber — jeopardizes Canada’s security.

Western troops are not fighting “terrorism” in Afghanistan, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims. They are fighting the Afghan people. Every new civilian killed, and every village bombed, breeds new enemies for the West.

So with Iraq’s Anbar province and southern Afghanistan under their belts, the Jihadists now have two enclaves from which they can plan and stage operations, whatever they may be. In other words, things are now much much worse than they were five years ago. After hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.
Heckuva job there, Bushie.

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September 17th, 2006 at 8:39 pm

GOP House Hopeful Steps In It

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The 17th Illinois Congressional District is open this year, following the retirement of Democrat Lane Evans for health reasons. The Republican candidate to replace Evans is Andrea Zinga, a former local tv news presenter, running against Democrat Phil Hare, Lane’s constituency assistant.

Hare is favoured to win the election, largely because of the profile of the district. Here is a map of Illinois Congrssional Districts, a living example of gerrymandering at its finest. Check out the wierd shape of the 17th (in Colbertese, the Fightin’ 17th).

Zinga put her foot in her mouth recently:

All Middle Eastern men should get secondary security screenings as they board airplanes, a candidate for the U.S. House said in Springfield Monday. However, Republican Andrea Zinga’s campaign manager, Charlie Johnston, said later ‘that’s not what she wanted to say.’ He said she really meant to say that there should be no threat of anti-discrimination legal action against airlines if the pre-screening system to identify problem passengers identifies more than three people from the same ethnic group.

Well, what she meant to say is a secret she shares only with her creator perhaps, but what she actually said was that all Middle Eastern men should get secondary security screenings every time they try to board an airplane. Presumably, this would include 18th District GOP Congressman Ray Lahood, who is of Lebanese descent.

Oops! No wonder her spokesman had to contradict her.

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September 15th, 2006 at 10:05 am