Saturday, May 06, 2006


Spies Among Us

Despite a troubled history, police across the nation are keeping tabs on ordinary Americans

By David E. Kaplan


In the Atlanta suburbs of DeKalb County, local officials wasted no time after the 9/11 attacks. The second-most-populous county in Georgia, the area is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI's regional headquarters, and other potential terrorist targets. Within weeks of the attacks, officials there boasted that they had set up the nation's first local department of homeland security. Dozens of other communities followed, and, like them, DeKalb County put in for--and got--a series of generous federal counterterrorism grants. The county received nearly $12 million from Washington, using it to set up, among other things, a police intelligence unit.

The outfit stumbled in 2002, when two of its agents were assigned to follow around the county executive. Their job: to determine whether he was being tailed--not by al Qaeda but by a district attorney investigator looking into alleged misspending. A year later, one of its plainclothes agents was seen photographing a handful of vegan activists handing out antimeat leaflets in front of a HoneyBaked Ham store. Police arrested two of the vegans and demanded that they turn over notes, on which they'd written the license-plate number of an undercover car, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now suing the county. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial neatly summed up the incident: "So now we know: Glazed hams are safe in DeKalb County."

Glazed hams aren't the only items that America's local cops are protecting from dubious threats. U.S. News has identified nearly a dozen cases in which city and county police, in the name of homeland security, have surveilled or harassed animal-rights and antiwar protesters, union activists, and even library patrons surfing the Web. Unlike with Washington's warrantless domestic surveillance program, little attention has been focused on the role of state and local authorities in the war on terrorism. A U.S.News inquiry found that federal officials have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into once discredited state and local police intelligence operations. Millions more have gone into building up regional law enforcement databases to unprecedented levels. In dozens of interviews, officials across the nation have stressed that the enhanced intelligence work is vital to the nation's security, but even its biggest boosters worry about a lack of training and standards. "This is going to be the challenge," says Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, "to ensure that while getting bin Laden we don't transgress over the law. We've been burned so badly in the past--we can't do that again."

Rap sheets. Chief Bratton is referring to the infamous city "Red Squads" that targeted civil rights and antiwar groups in the 1960s and 1970s (Page 48). Veteran police officers say no one in law enforcement wants a return to the bad old days of domestic spying. But civil liberties watchdogs warn that with so many cops looking for terrorists, real and imagined, abuses may be inevitable. "The restrictions on police spying are being removed," says attorney Richard Gutman, who led a 1974 class action lawsuit against the Chicago police that obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of intelligence files. "And I don't think you can rely on the police to regulate themselves."

Good or bad, intelligence gathering by local police departments is back. Interviews with police officers, homeland security officials, and privacy experts reveal a transformation among state and local law enforcement.

Among the changes:

Since 9/11, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have poured over a half-billion dollars into building up local and state police intelligence operations. The funding has helped create more than 100 police intelligence units reaching into nearly every state.

To qualify for federal homeland security grants, states were told to assemble lists of "potential threat elements"--individuals or groups suspected of possible terrorist activity. In response, state authorities have come up with thousands of loosely defined targets, ranging from genuine terrorists to biker gangs and environmentalists.

Guidelines for protecting privacy and civil liberties have lagged far behind the federal money. After four years of doling out homeland security grants to police departments, federal officials released guidelines for the conduct of local intelligence operations only last year; the standards are voluntary and are being implemented slowly.

The resurgence of police intelligence operations is being accompanied by a revolution in law enforcement computing. Rap sheets, intelligence reports, and public records are rapidly being pooled into huge, networked computer databases. Much of this is a boon to crime fighting, but privacy advocates say the systems are wide open to abuse.

Behind the windfall in federal funding is broad agreement in Washington on two areas: first, that local cops are America's front line of defense against terrorism; and second, that the law enforcement and intelligence communities must do a far better job of sharing information with state and local police. As a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police stressed: "All terrorism is local." Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was arrested by a state trooper after a traffic stop. And last year, local police in Torrance, Calif., thwarted what the FBI says could have been America's worst incident since 9/11--planned attacks on military sites and synagogues in and around Los Angeles by homegrown jihadists.

The numbers tell the story: There are over 700,000 local, state, and tribal police officers in the United States, compared with only 12,000 FBI agents. But getting the right information to all those eyes and ears hasn't gone especially well. The government's failure at "connecting the dots," as the 9/11 commission put it, was key to the success of al Qaeda's fateful hijackings in 2001. Three of the hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, were pulled over in traffic stops before the attacks, yet local cops had no inkling they might be on terrorist watch lists. A National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, released by the Justice Department in 2003, found no shortage of problems in sharing information among local law enforcement: a lack of trust and communication; lack of funding for a national intelligence network; lack of database connectivity; a shortage of intelligence analysts, software, and training; and a lack of standards and policies.

The flood of post-9/11 funding and attention, however, has started making a difference, officials say. Indeed, it has catalyzed reforms already underway in state and local law enforcement, giving a boost to what reformers call intelligence-led policing--a kind of 21st-century crime fighting driven by computer databases, intelligence gathering, and analysis. "This is a new paradigm, a new philosophy of policing," says the LAPD's Bratton, who previously served as chief of the New York Police Department. In that job, Bratton says, he spent 5 percent of his time on counterterrorism; today, in Los Angeles, he spends 50 percent. The key to counterterrorism work, Bratton adds, is intelligence.

The change is "huge, absolutely huge," says Michigan State University's David Carter, the author of Law Enforcement Intelligence. "Intelligence used to be a dirty word. But it's a more thoughtful process now." During the 1980s and 1990s, intelligence units were largely confined to large police departments targeting drug smugglers and organized crime, but the national plan now being pushed by Washington calls for every law enforcement agency to develop some intelligence capability. Experts estimate that well over 100 police departments, from big-city operations to small county sheriffs'offices, have now established intelligence units of one kind or another. Hundreds of local detectives are also working with federal agents on FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which have nearly tripled from 34 before 9/11 to 100 today. And over 6,000 state and local cops now have federal security clearances, allowing them to see classified intelligence reports.

"The front line." Some police departments have grown as sophisticated as those of the feds. The LAPD has some 80 cops working counterterrorism, while other big units now exist in Atlanta, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Then there's the NYPD, which is in a class by itself--with a thousand officers assigned to homeland security. The Big Apple's intelligence chief is a former head of CIA covert operations; its counterterrorism chief is an ex-State Department counterterrorism coordinator. The NYPD has officers based in a half-dozen countries, and its counterterrorism agents visit some 200 businesses a week to check on suspicious activity.

Many of the nation's new intelligence units are dubbed "fusion centers." Run by state or local law enforcement, these regional hubs pool information from multiple jurisdictions. From a mere handful before 9/11, fusion centers now exist in 31 states, with a dozen more to follow. Some focus exclusively on terrorism; others track all manner of criminal activity. Federal officials hope to eventually see 70 fusion centers nationwide, providing a coast-to-coast intelligence blanket. This vision was noted by President Bush in a 2003 speech: "All across our country we'll be able to tie our terrorist information to local information banks so that the front line of defeating terror becomes activated and real, and those are the local law enforcement officials."

Intelligence centers are among the hottest trends in law enforcement. Last year, Massachusetts opened its Commonwealth Fusion Center, which boasts 18 analysts and 23 field-intelligence officers. The state of California is spending $15 million on a string of four centers this year, and north Texas and New Jersey are each setting up six. The best, officials say, are focused broadly and are improving their ability to counter sophisticated crimes that include not only terrorism but fraud, racketeering, and computer hacking. The federal Department of Homeland Security, which has bankrolled start-ups of many of the centers, has big plans for the emerging network. Jack Tomarchio, the agency's new deputy director of intelligence, told a law enforcement conference in March of plans to embed up to three DHS agents and intelligence analysts at every site. "The states want a very close synergistic relationship with the feds," he explained to U.S. News. "Nobody wants to play by the old rules. The old rules basically gave us 9/11."

"Reasonable suspicion." The problem, skeptics say, is that no one is quite sure what the new rules are. "Hardly anyone knows what a fusion center should do," says Paul Wormeli of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, a Justice Department-backed training and technology center. "Some states have responded by putting 10 state troopers in a room to look at databases. That's a ridiculous approach." Another law enforcement veteran, deeply involved with the fusion centers, expressed similar frustration. "The money has been moved without guidance or structure, technical assistance, or training," says the official, who is not authorized to speak publicly. There are now guidelines, he adds, "but they're not binding on anyone." In the past year, the Justice Department has issued standards for local police on fusion centers and privacy issues, but they are only advisory. Most federal funding for the centers now comes from the Department of Homeland Security, but DHS also requires no intelligence standards from its grantees.

At the state level, regulations on police spying vary widely, but a general rule of thumb comes from the Justice Department's internal guidelines that forbid intelligence gathering on individuals unless there is a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity. Since the reforms of the 1970s, the FBI says its agents have followed this standard; Justice Department regulations require local police who receive federal funding to do the same in maintaining any intelligence files. But there is considerable leeway at the local level, and since 2001, judges have watered down police spying limits in Chicago and New York. The federal regs, moreover, have not stopped a parade of questionable cases.

Suspicion of spying is so rife among antiwar activists, who have loudly protested White House policy on Iraq, that some begin meetings by welcoming undercover cops who might be present. "People know and believe their activities are being monitored," says Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, the country's largest antiwar coalition. There is some evidence to back this up. Documents and videotapes obtained from lawsuits against the NYPD reveal that its undercover officers have joined antiwar and even bicycle-rider rallies. In at least one case, an apparent undercover officer incited a crowd by faking his arrest. In Fresno, Calif., activists learned in 2003 that their group, Peace Fresno, had been infiltrated by a local sheriff's deputy--piecing it together after the man died in a car crash and his obituary appeared in the paper.

The California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, a $7 million fusion center run by the state Department of Justice, also ran into trouble in 2003 when it warned of potential violence at an antiwar protest at the port of Oakland. Mike Van Winkle, then a spokesman for the center, explained his concern to the Oakland Tribune: "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest. You can almost argue that a protest against [the war] is a terrorist act." Officials quickly distanced themselves from the statement. The center's staff had confused political protest with terrorism, announced California's attorney general, who oversees the office.

"Absurd" threats. But this expansive view of homeland security has at times also extended to union activists and even library Web surfers. In February 2006 near Washington, D.C., two Montgomery County, Md., homeland security agents walked into a suburban Bethesda library and forcefully warned patrons that viewing Internet pornography was illegal. (It is not.) A county official later called the incident "regrettable" and said those officers had been reassigned. Similarly, in 2004, two plainclothes Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies monitored a protest by striking Safeway workers in nearby San Francisco, identifying themselves to union leaders as homeland security agents.

Further blurring the lines over what constitutes "homeland security" has been a push by Washington for states to identify possible terrorists. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security began requiring states to draft strategic plans that included figures on how many "potential threat elements" existed in their backyards. The definition of suspected terrorists was fairly loose--PTEs were groups or individuals who might use force or violence "to intimidate or coerce" for a goal "possibly political or social in nature." In response, some states came up with alarming numbers. Most of the reports are not available publicly, but U.S. News obtained nine state homeland security plans and found that local officials have identified thousands of "potential" terrorists. There are striking disparities, as well. South Carolina, for example, found 68 PTEs, but neighboring North Carolina uncovered 506. Vermont and New Hampshire found none at all. Most impressive was Texas, where in 2004 investigators identified 2,052 potential threat elements. One top veteran of the FBI's counterterrorism force calls the Texas number "absurd." Included among the threats cited by the states, sources say, are biker gangs, militia groups, and "save the whales" environmentalists.

"The PTE methodology was flawed," says a federal intelligence official familiar with the process, "and it's no longer being used." Nonetheless, these "threat elements" have, in some cases, become the basis for intelligence gathering by local and state police. Concern over the process prompted the ACLU in New Jersey to sue the state, demanding that eight towns turn over documents on PTEs identified by local police.

Another source of alarm for civil liberties watchdogs is the explosion in police computing power. Spurred by a 2004 White House directive ordering better information sharing, the Justice Department has poured tens of millions of dollars into expanding and tying together law enforcement databases and networks. In many respects, the changes are long overdue, yanking police into the 21st century and letting them use the tools that bankers, private investigators, and journalists routinely employ. From TV shows like 24 and CSI, Americans are accustomed to scenes of police accessing the most arcane data with a few keyboard clicks. The reality couldn't be more different. Law enforcement was slow to get on the technology bandwagon, and its information systems have developed into a patchwork of networks and databases that cannot talk to one another--even within the same county. Rap sheets, prison records, and court files are often all on different systems. This means that days or even weeks can pass before court-issued warrants show up on police wanted lists--leaving criminals out on the streets.

States and cities began linking up their systems in the 1990s, but since 9/11 their progress has been dramatic. At least 38 states are working on some 200 projects tying together their criminal justice records. Concerned over disjointed police networks around its key bases, the Navy's Criminal Investigative Service is funding projects in Norfolk, Va., and four other port cities, creating huge "data warehouses" stocked with crime files from dozens of law enforcement agencies. The FBI is also running pilot database centers in the St. Louis and Seattle areas in which the bureau makes its case files available to police. To local cops who have long complained about the FBI's lack of sharing, the development is downright revolutionary. "It made people nervous as hell, including me," says the FBI's Thomas Bush, who oversaw the initial program and now runs the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division. "The technical aspect is easy, but you need to have the trust of the community and the security to safeguard the system."

The benefits of all this are undeniable. Armed with the latest information, police will be better able to catch crooks and spot criminal trends. But in this digital age, with so much data available about individual Americans, the lines between what is acceptable investigation and what is intrusive spying can quickly grow unclear. Consider the case of Matrix. Backed by $12 million in federal funds, at its peak in 2004 the Matrix system tapped into law enforcement agencies from a dozen states. Using "data mining" technology, its search engine ripped through billions of public records and matched them with police files, creating instant dossiers. In the days after 9/11, Matrix researchers searched out individuals with what they called "high terrorist factor" scores, providing federal and state authorities a list of 120,000 "suspects."

Law enforcement officials loved the system and made nearly 2 million queries to it. But what alarmed privacy advocates was the mixing of public data with police files, profiling techniques that smacked of fishing expeditions, and the fact that all these sensitive data were housed in a private corporation. Hounded by bad publicity and concerned that Matrix might be breaking privacy laws, states began pulling out of the system. Then, early last year, the Justice Department quietly cut off funding.

Matrix no longer exists, but similar projects are underway across the country, including one run by the California Department of Justice. Having learned from Matrix's mistakes, users are employing what tech specialists call "distributed computing." Instead of creating a single, vast database, they rapidly access information from sites in different states, often with a single query. The effect is essentially the same. "If people knew what we were looking at, they'd throw a fit," says a database trainer at one prominent police department.

Hacker's discovery. Another concern is the quality--and security--of all that information. In Minnesota, the state-run Multiple Jurisdiction Network Organization ran into controversy after linking together nearly 200 law enforcement agencies and over 8 million records. State Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, a Republican who oversees privacy issues, found much to be alarmed about when a local hacker contacted her after breaking into the system. The hacker had yanked out files on Holberg herself, showing she was classified as a "suspect" based on a neighbor's old complaint about where she parked her car. "We had a real mess in Minnesota," Holberg later wrote. "There was no effective policy for individuals to review the data in the system, let alone correct inaccuracies." In late 2003, state officials shut down the system amid concerns that it violated privacy laws in its handling of records on juvenile offenders and gun permits.

Such problems threaten to grow as law enforcement expands its reach with increased intelligence and computing power. The key to avoiding trouble, say experts, is ensuring that concerns over privacy and civil liberties are dealt with head-on. In a recent advisory aimed at police intelligence units, the Department of Justice stressed that success in safeguarding civil liberties "depends on appointing a high-level member of your agency to champion the initiative." But that message apparently hasn't gotten through, judging from the response at a conference sponsored by the Justice Department a few weeks back on information sharing. Among the crowd of some 200 local and state officials were intelligence officers, database managers, and chiefs of police. When a speaker asked who in the audience was working with privacy officials, not a single hand went up.

As Washington doles out millions of dollars for police intelligence, its reliance on voluntary guidelines may backfire, warn critics, who worry that abuses could wreck the important work that needs to be done. "We're still diddling around," says police technology expert Wormeli. "We're not setting clear policy on what we put in our databases. Should a patrol officer in Tallahassee be able to look at my credit report? Most people would say, 'Hell, no.'" Current regulations on criminal intelligence, he adds, were written before the computer age. "They were great in their day, but they need to be updated and expanded."

Civil liberties watchdogs like attorney Gutman, meanwhile, want to know how efforts to stop al Qaeda have ended up targeting animal rights advocates, labor leaders, and antiwar protesters. "You've got all this money and all this equipment--you're going to find someone to use it on," he warns. "If there aren't any external checks, there's going to be an inevitable drift toward abuses." But boosters of intelligence-led policing say that today's cops are too smart to repeat mistakes of the old Red Squads. "We're trying to develop policies to build trust and relationships, not spy," says Illinois State Police Deputy Director Kenneth Bouche. "We've learned a better way to do it." Perhaps. But for now, at least, the jury on this case is still out.

With Monica M. Ekman and Angie C. Marek


Hayden to Replace Goss at CIA?

we all remember General Hayden from this January 23rd Ob Repor story....

Mon Jan 23, 2006 at 04:34:02 PM PDT

To follow up on georgia10's post below, here is an interesting exchange between reporter Jonathan Landay and General Hayden:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.. . .

Wow! General Hayden sure seems pretty sure about what the Fourth Amendment says doesn't he? Thats reassuring, no? In fact Hayden says this:

GEN. HAYDEN . . . Just to be very clear -- and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you've raised to me -- and I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to become one -- what you've raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe -- I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable."

Phew! And here we were worried that the NSA was trampling Fourth Amendment rights. Thank Gawd NSA employees are familiar with the Fourth Amendment and know it like the back of their hand, right? Uh, maybe not:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


The Avenger

When history derailed the presidency of Al Gore, it may actually have increased his power to save the planet. Freed from the restraints of elected office, the former vice president is now widely regarded as America's most persuasive and passionate spokesman on global warming. "Rescuing the environment from climate collapse was a -- if not the -- defining issue of my political career," says Gore, 57. "And you can be damn sure I'm not giving up on it now."

No public figure has a deeper working knowledge of the climate crisis. Gore studied the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions at Harvard and held the Senate's first hearing on the science of climate change. In 1988, when he ran for president at the age of forty, his "primary motivation was to push the global-warming issue." Four years later, he wrote Earth in the Balance, the best-selling book on global warming. Not long after that, Bill Clinton, who calls Gore "one of the greatest political and scientific intellects of our time," asked him to be his running mate.

As vice president, Gore was a chief architect of the Kyoto Protocol, the historic accord on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. But the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, calling the evidence "inconclusive." Now that the scientific consensus is irrefutable, Gore considers it "damned immoral" that the White House and Congress continue to block action on global warming. "This is an emergency of historic proportions," he says. "We are in a race against time. There is a brave and hearty band of about two percent of Washington officials who are working on this, but ninety-eight percent are in denial."

These days, Gore devotes much of his energy to pressuring Washington to act. Since 2001, he has traveled the world giving a riveting presentation titled "Global Warming: A Planetary Emergency," a lecture and multimedia display that lays out the causes and consequences of what Gore calls "the collision between civilization and the Earth." And last year, he co-founded an investment firm that supports climate-change initiatives and sustainable development.

For Gore, who grew up on a cattle farm in Tennessee and keeps a picture of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson on his desk, global warming is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. But despite the urgency of the issue, he remains, at heart, more an optimist than a doomsayer. "If Americans act immediately, we can innovate our way out of this problem," Gore says. "We must use our political institutions, our democracy, our free speech, our reasoning capacity, our citizenship, our hearts and reason with one another, see the reality of this problem and act as Americans."


The Great Conservative Walkback: Res Ipsa Loquitur Edition

Sat May 06, 2006 at 01:53:42 PM PDT

Glenn Greenwald's musings on the conservative-isn't-really-conservative-anymore walkback is intriguing (and, for the record, I'll agree that Digby is indeed probably the most prescient proto-observer of the phenomenon.) Glenn devotes his post to an argument from Jonah Goldberg.

Here's the brief part where I gratuitously insult Jonah Goldberg: though a rich target, to say the least, I generally ignore Goldberg as being uninteresting -- if we had editions of The Great Conservative Walkback on every instance that Jonah Goldberg demonstrated those principles spectacularly, the ersatz series would be dozens of entries long by now and smell like a high school gym locker. Jonah defends himself from Glenn by asserting that what he wrote didn't mean what it meant, which, in the case of Goldberg, is a valid defense, since Jonah is a poor enough writer that it is generally impossible to decipher just what the hell he is talking about, in any given column or post. And he's likely to contradict himself within a week anyway.

But I suppose I will disagree with Glenn on one specific point, here, and to be honest I'd like to hear some general discussion among the blogs about this point:

I happen to agree that, in most areas of significance, Bush has never governed as a conservative -- to the extent conservatism is understood as being devoted to principles of restrained federal power rather than an eagerness for expanded authoritarian force -- and his policies rest on premises wholly antithetical to core conservative principles (the most notable exception being judicial appointments, which have been consistently geared towards appointing and elevating conservative jurists to the federal bench).
I have to take continuing exception to the notion that Bush never governed as a conservative, even in these narrowly defined areas. Even if you say that he never actually implemented what conservatism espouses... hmm. I'm not even sure I'd agree to that, because I think it's an intentionally misleading argument.

The defining premise usually used (in these days of tanking and now near-thirty-percent approval ratings) to disassociate the failures of Bush, the House, the Senate, all their advisors, all their supporters, and the cats they loved as children from so-called true conservatism is primarily that true fiscal/governmental conservatives suppose themselves to value "restrained federal power", aka small government, which Bush allegedly does not. This, though, is a load of horsehockey. Fiscal and other conservatives may say that they value small government, but it is a fact of the movement that when in a position to actually implement those policies, they do not. And that is not a unique phenomenon: it is a traceable pattern of the movement.

They shuffle the tasks of government around, yes; they close so called "liberal" governmental tasks such as environmental protections and citizen welfare and safety programs, while hyper-boosting "conservative" governmental tasks such as defense spending and business-based "incentives" and other sops, and they outsource basic government tasks from government to for-profit industry without actually removing those tasks from the mandates (or budgets) of government, but post-Nixon conservatives have been remarkably consistent in their actual actions: increase spending; increase deficits; increase government; increase interference in citizen lives under banners of "religion" and "morality". At no point in the modern-day movement have conservative adherents actually implemented this notion of small government or fiscal responsibility that they supposedly carry around with them as guiding force. It's the label on the package, yes: but it's not in the candy bar.

Conservatism (and liberalism) must be defined by its actions, and its effects, not by the rhetoric with which adherents paint rosy and fanciful pictures of themselves. On the front of actual actions, Bush is, indeed, following the footsteps of Reagan and Bush before him. His advisors are, with microscopic exception, culled fully from the most conservative of conservative ranks, and the policies resulting from those advisors -- both foreign and domestic -- fully reflect modern conservative government ideals, as they themselves defined and espoused them. Period.

If the "results" are not considered "conservative", then that does not negate the conservatism of the inputs. It just demonstrates that "conservatism" is, like many aspects of the Trotskyite movement so admired by some of its top strategic thinkers, an unmitigated failure in actual practice. It is unsustainable. It exists only as a periodic break on ongoing social and economic liberal progress -- its only historic goal -- and when conservatism actually arises, transcendent -- as in Reaganism or Bushism -- it rapidly stalls into, well, what we're currently seeing.

Put simply, a car with all brakes and no transmission isn't going to go anywhere, at least not under its own power.

There is this luminescently self-serving notion floating around, on the right, that conservatism was "failed" by Bush through general incompetence, and that we can hardly blame conservatism for that. It is noteworthy that, in fact, no conservative has yet been able to fulfill the supposed success of conservative ideals.

The incompetence is true enough, but from the days of Cal Thomas onward, I'd say that incompetence is part-and-parcel with the conservative movement in general, in that "competence" is not high on the rating scale when it comes to "conservative science", or "conservative policy implementation", or "conservative staffing". It is an ideological movement so utterly and religiously convinced of its own brilliance that actually implementing brilliance has always been an exercise left to the imagination of the observer.

Part of modern conservatism is the assertion that conservatism is being "oppressed" or "discriminated against" by the rest of the world -- academia, science, government, media, music & Hollywood, etc., etc., am I leaving anyone out? -- which is not only liberal, but unwilling to "tolerate" conservative ideas. Therefore, "forcing" ideological conservatives into positions of power in each of these areas (often through the gawdawful power of childlike whining) is a prime conservative goal.

In other words, purity of ideology quite specifically trumps substance or experience, in "conservative" staffing efforts from academia to the White House; incompetence follows soon after as expertise is cast aside in favor of loyalty to the movement. Porter Goss may be out on his ear, but his rabid partisanship at the expense of actual intelligence and investigation efforts was legendary even before he was nominated for his latest clusterfuck -- and in fact, his rabidity and willingness to "purge" those seen as unfriendly to the conservative administration was the reason he was selected for the job, as all parties acknowledge.

It is something a bit more than simple cronyism: yes, that plays a part, and we've been playing match-up-the-Brooks-Brothers-rioters-with-their-current-trophy-jobs for six years now. But more than that, it's an explicitly endorsed ideological litmus test required for any job in a conservative government, and insofar as it is praised, endorsed, and demanded as absolutely necessary by conservatives, I'd say it's a core part of the movement. So the obvious and necessary outcome of that is also a core part of the movement: general incompetence. Incompetence dictated by an almost religious devotion to the purity of the ideology -- and I hesitate to even put that "almost" in there.

From Porter Goss to Jonah Goldberg, it's pretty demonstrably true that ideological loyalties are what gets you a job, and not, say... talent.

So it is a nagging fact that, once again, those conservative ideals have proved to be utter failures once given even the tiny reign of a mere four or six years let loose. Reagan and H.W. Bush accomplished the same rough outlines as this Bush, and then -- as now -- the outcome proved unsustainable from the start. Reagan and Bush, to their credit, softened their tax policies in the wake of ballooning deficits, and at least pretended at notions of fiscal responsibilities, and were in comparison (and out of self-preservation) even slightly more modest in the sops they granted the Moral Majority and other hard-fundamentalist movements -- thus flirting with alleged "liberalisms" decried in their times by the conservative die-hards of their own coalitions.

This Bush, however, is if anything not quite sufficiently interested in the actual tasks of government to be aware of where the failures of his own policies lie, and we have therefore been able to have a rather more spectacular demonstration of Conservatism, Unbound. He is uninterested in critique or analysis, and therefore intentionally ignorant of anything but the glowing conservative rightness of his wisdom: his conservatism is pure and unadulterated by pesky details such as economic figures or on-the-ground results. The results are uncut neoconservative foreign policy, (a now-proven fiasco), religious conservatism as overt as possible (without utterly fracturing his own coalition and causing many to doubt his sanity) and a conservative fiscal policy that burps out, with I will point out again full conservative House and Senate encouragement and one-upsmanship, deficit spending so absurdly and obviously buffoonish as to be worth nothing short of full mockery even by those coming up with the plans.

In that conservatism would appear, at this point, to be nothing but kleptocracy of the upper class coupled to whatever faux issue can be dreamed up to provide the rallying cry for the "base", I'm not sure in what aspect Bush is not the full and complete embodiment of the movement.

He does what his unapologetically and impeccably conservative advisors tell him, can we all agree on that point? And can we all agree, furthermore, that these economic, social and foreign policy advisors are all as conservative as a president could possibly manage to intentionally achieve, short of gunpoint purges? So if the advisors are unabashedly conservative, and the think-tank generated policies are from long-term conservative sources, and the Congress is controlled by conservatives, exactly where is this notion coming from that the failures of that entire collection is somehow outside the responsibilities or explicit actions of the conservative policymakers involved?

Bush's foreign policy, especially, is founded on several unapologetic cornerstones of the conservative movement: fear and dismissal of the international community, fear and dismissal of international law and treaty, and the dedicated notion that United States military power can act as forceable agent of spreading pro-American interests. Neoconservatism takes that further, to the premise that United States military power can and should in fact reshape anti-American regions into pro-American regions, through mere expenditure of bullets: it is a profoundly Stupid premise, but it rooted quite firmly only in conservative notions of international "policy".

Similarly, the corporatist premise that private industry must be removed from government intrusiveness is another critical cornerstone of the conservatism -- and is being followed, enthusiastically, by the Bush administration. Divesting government responsibilities into the hands of for-profit business, also conservative to the core. Not just "sortof" conservative, but fundamentally and unambiguously a central conservative tenet. Reducing tax burdens of the wealthy, on the oligarchic and Randian notion that the piteous blokes have enough to worry about what with the full weight of industry on their shoulders, and really can't be expected to contribute personally to the government whose very laws and infrastructure made that wealth possible -- please. You couldn't get more "conservative" than that if you shoved Reagan, Noonan, Gingrich, Buckley and Hume into a sausage making machine and fed the results to George Will during a Yankees game.

There's nothing here that's not "conservative". Calling the natural and obvious outcome of those choices as being, whoops, not what we meant is, in the case of Goldberg, Noonan, and others, tawdry and roundly dishonest.

You puts your money in; you gets your prize back out.

It is the uneasy new observation among some of the founders of modern conservatism -- actual conservative thinkers, as opposed to the mere cheerleaders we are subjected to in the usual press outlets -- that none of this is actually going very well. To their credit, many are rethinking the policies. Others, like Goldberg et al, are claiming that the Kool Ade simply hasn't been filtered down to sufficient purity yet, and when it is, you just wait, it'll all just work. The Goldberg model is basically the Iraq War model; (1) it is working, (2) it should have worked, and (3) it would have worked if only we had the discipline to be more ruthless in implementation. This is also the Vietnam model; the Drilling Our Way out of Peak Oil model; the Republicans Will Reduce Government Spending model; the School Voucher model; the Gays Can Be Converted out of Gayness model; the Star Wars Missile Defense model; the We'll Find Something On Clinton If it Kills Us model; the Contract With America model. Jim Jonesian, yes, and nobly Quixotic. If something doesn't work, do it more, dammit, and assume it'll work then.

I think the fracture of the conservative thinkers are an important point, but coupled with the natural instability of the coalition that currently passes for the movement... I think people are correct to ponder whether or not this ship is leaking from mulitiple holes, at this point.

Modern conservatism of course exists, and most of Republicanism with it, as a cobbled collection of (1) the wealthy and other tax-averse "economic" conservatives, (2) remnants and new adherents to the Southern Strategy, e.g. simple bigots, and (3) religious fundamentalism, which is becoming increasingly and intriguingly linked to low-level Christian Identity beliefs. You can spice or splice it any way you wish, or you can put nicer and more historically noble descriptions to the Southern Strategy parts, or attach sublabels such as "neoconservative" or "Randian" or "Straussian" or whatever, but the "base" of the party, such as it is, is a balsamic triumvirate of these three backwards-yearning core segments.

This is not a long-term stable coalition, by any stretch of the imagination, and the current odd equilibrium of the players is a true testament to the ability of admittedly quite brilliant Republican strategists to keep all these plates spinning on these poles at the same time. You may call it an accident of history, but it was an engineered accident, and one not dissimilar to other rightward-thinking coalitions of monarchy and religious opportunism before it. But it has problems, to say the least.

The southern strategy is slowly receding in power, as bigotries become less and less tolerated by the general public, and as such the allowable rhetoric to sustain the strategy becomes more and more obscure and watered down. We no longer have debates over whether black Americans should have the right to attend schools or drink from "white" fountains; instead, we speak of whether or not Confederate battle flags should fly over state buildings, and that is a weakened placeholder for the older, now taboo debates. Now that the battle flag is itself a war largely won, the ground has shifted to debating affirmative action. Same debate as the first, but increasingly played out on more and more modern, progressive playing fields.

The rise of religious fundamentalism -- as a phenomenon with intriguing similarities to Muslim fundamentalism, as many others have pointed out -- is similarly not a long-term stable phenomenon. The paradox of the Religious Right is that they are indeed a minority of the country, and the more success they achieve, the more hostility they stir among non-fundamentalist voters. Overturning Roe, institutionalizing pure-fundamentalist educational goals, or any other of the dreams of Dobson et al are indeed praised by the Religious Right, but would spell chaos in the ranks if actually accomplished. It is self-limiting, as the more oppressive the requirements of fundamentalism become, the fewer warm bodies will fill its ranks.

What I'm saying here is that, long term, conservatism can't particularly "win", as two of its most basic planks are simply reactions to progressivism, any more than communism could win against basic premises of social and economic freedoms. Except as momentary brake, is a failure in basic premise. They can slow social progress, yes, but historically I'm stumped with regards to coming up with any historical example of conservatism increasing over the historic scale. It's just redefined down to battling different chunks of progressive victories, while generations of conservatives themselves adapt the progressive ideals (less racism, more recognition of basic human rights) that they had fought bitterly against in the last generation.

(That last part is a very crude reading of history, mind you. I'm sure someone, somewhere, will provide examples of conservatism holding out to the last dying breath.)

So Bush is not a conservative if you define conservatism down, as Goldberg and others are doing, to a specific (heretical!) subset of the larger movement, and discard it as momentary apostasy. This is convenient for those with financial or ideological motivations for declaring their discredited ideas merely Insufficiently Followed -- after all, there are still a hell of a lot of remaindered books to be shoved out somewhere.

But if "conservatism" is to have any shred of basic meaning whatsoever, than we can clearly decide that Bush most certainly is one; the Congress is certainly conservative-led as well; the policies are conservative; the results are conservative. The premise that it isn't "conservative" if you've got big government, again -- it's not a new phenomenon. Both Reagan and H.W. Bush spouted the rhetoric of small government, but neither followed through. You could argue at the time, conceivably, that that was because of Democratic interference -- but you simply can't argue that with George W. Bush, because the entire elected conservative movement is following his big-government lead quite explicitly. The talk is one thing; the walk is very consistently another.

This is, unambiguously, the most conservative federal government in most people's personal political memories. In that conservatives have control over both the entire legislative process and the executive powers of the presidency, there's no filter here. If "small government" conservatism has even in these circumstances never been put into practice in a fashion worthy of the "purity" of the movement apologists, then perhaps, like the other variations, that is ample enough demonstration of its utter political unsustainability. It is a failed movement. It is a sound bite, nothing more: not even its own advocates, once elected, dare actually practice the anti-progressive implications of it.

I think it quite fair to judge that, too, as part and parcel of the movement.

The failure of these movement ideals when put into actual practice, and their subsequent reshuffling and rebranding, is itself an ongoing and cyclical phenomenon. I'm still waiting for the next "iteration" of the discredited conservative label to appear, the rebranding that tacitly admits the failures of the last aborted iteration, and recasts the whole thing to seem vaguely plausible again. We've had neoconservatism and the creaturelike Compassionate conservatism, and both of their heads seem quite decidedly to have been lopped off, at this point. "Crunchy Con" is a hilarious new entry, attempting to latch onto the immensely popular environmental and other liberal concerns in the same faux, ultraBranded way that Compassionate attempted to attach Reagan-era conservatism to basic premises of human decency. Crunchy Conservatism is essentially environmentalism as overscripted reality show: now, you can eat branded, agribusiness-produced "organic", and save the planet through bumper stickers.

What will be next? Likely, some play on the notion of coupling Conservative to some actually-competent foreign policy... "Competent Conservatism" or "Responsible Conservatism" come to mind, as methods for distancing the movement from their latest dungpile of world-butchering empire gone awry, or the stink of a strictly conservative-based deficit not likely to be closed for a generation. If the fundamentalist right gets even the slightest actual progress in anti-Roe or pro-prejudiced legislative success, on the other hand, I expect "Tolerant Conservatism" or "Progressive Conservatism" to mount a counter-challenge, to assure the wider public that no, all that religious nonsense really wasn't what we meant all this time, don't be silly. Vote for us again, and it'll be entirely different this time: we've got a new name for it. Same policies, same think tanks, same advisors, same pundits, same coded messages, and same political machines, but it's different this time, damn it.

Modern conservativism seems a movement quite dedicated to rebranding itself away from the constant and cyclical failures of its past. It doesn't matter what name you attach to it -- or in the case of the Great Conservative Walkback, what name you carefully deny it. It's the same car as always, and the color of the paint or which stations the radio is set to doesn't really enter into it.

And P.S., Goldberg -- the tires are flat.


Good People

by digby

So the big kahuna they are talking about to replace Porter Goss is General Michael Hayden. Yes. That General Michael Hayden:

Gen. Michael Hayden refused to answer question about spying on political enemies at National Press Club. At a public appearance, Bush's pointman in the Office of National Intelligence was asked if the NSA was wiretapping Bush's political enemies. When Hayden dodged the question, the questioner repeated, "No, I asked, are you targeting us and people who politically oppose the Bush government, the Bush administration? Not a fishing net, but are you targeting specifically political opponents of the Bush administration?" Hayden looked at the questioner, and after a silence called on a different questioner. (Hayden National Press Club remarks, 1/23/06)

And this General Hayden:

I'm disappointed I guess that perhaps the default response for some is to assume the worst. I'm trying to communicate to you that the people who are doing this, okay, go shopping in Glen Burnie and their kids play soccer in Laurel, and they know the law. They know American privacy better than the average American, and they're dedicated to it. So I guess the message I'd ask you to take back to your communities is the same one I take back to mine. This is focused. It's targeted. It's very carefully done. You shouldn't worry.

All those pesky laws are for bad people, you see. Good people don't have to follow them. People like John "death squads" Negroponte, Hayden's good friend and boss. You shouldn't worry.


"Islamo-Fascist Terrorism" Hides Our Real Threat

The United States spends as much on its military as the rest of humanity combined: more than $400 billion annually (not including the hundreds of billions of dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). These military expenses are "off limits" as we sharpen our collective pencils to find $39 billion to cut from domestic programs. And yet, despite our already huge military expenditures, these days it’s hard to get elected without promising even more military spending.

Recently, San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval appeared on the Fox News program "Hannity & Colmes." Frustrated by our government's budget priorities, Sandoval suggested America would be better off without a military. Instead, he said, "we should invest our money in our kids." Right-wing pundits pounced on these statements, and even many prominent Democrats distanced themselves from Sandoval.

Should we abolish the American military altogether? Of course not. But daydream with me for just a moment: What if we gradually scaled down military spending, chose not to rush off to foreign wars based on questionable motives, and began to take the name of our “Department of Defense” literally?

Let's be honest: Is there anyone out there who would actually want to — or, more importantly, be able to — invade the United States? Consider today's biggest perceived threat, al-Qaeda. Do Osama and his gang want to ride into Washington D.C., take over our government, and turn us into an Islamo-fascist nation? Or — as his recent offer of a "truce" suggests — do they instead want dignity for Palestine, Christian armies out of sacred Muslim territory, and freedom for the Arab world to control its own natural resources? "We do not negotiate with terrorists," our administration gravely informs us. But forcing our interests on the ever-more-volatile Middle East doesn't seem to be helping much, either. Isn't it ironic that this planet's most overtly "Christian" nation is feverishly pounding plowshares into swords?

So let's try something different. Imagine if we required our military to manage with a budget no bigger than all the militaries of our hemisphere combined: That’s Canada — $15 billion, Mexico — $6 billion, everyone from there to Tierra del Fuego — about $16 billion. Round the grand total up to $40 billion. Add to that a healthy sum to support the United Nations and our allies in their peacekeeping work (say $60 billion a year). Grand total: $100 billion.

That saves more than $300 billion a year ($400 billion less $100 billion), which we could use to tackle not “Islamo-fascism,” but more fundamental concerns: dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic; a skyrocketing debt that allows other nations (such as China and Saudi Arabia) to gain economic and political leverage over our homeland; progressively violent weather and a rising sea caused by global warming; and a lower class that's chronically in need of affordable housing, good education, and reliable health care. We could even let the wealthy keep their tax cuts.

And what if we decided that, rather than being outvoted routinely in the UN 140 to 4 on Cuba, Israel, torture, the international court, and issues of desperate importance to the developing world (such as global warming, landmines, debt relief, and AIDS), we believed it was good for our “homeland security” interests to be supported by the UN 140 to 4? Instead of being at odds with the rest of the world, we could join the family of nations in dealing with the pressing problems that confront us all.

I have many friends in Europe named "Frankie" or "Johnny" who were born in the late 1940s. Every time I see them, I’m reminded that there was a time when our allies in Europe gave their children Yankee names in gratitude for what America meant to them. This can happen once again across the world: America can become a super power in a positive sense — so appreciated that other nations would fund their militaries to protect us.

The prospect of al-Qaeda attacks is frightening. But America is being held hostage not by a man in a cave, but by clever people with a different agenda. They use Osama bin Laden to scare us — even terrorize us — into funding an agenda that’s weakening our country. It’s time for patriots to stand up to fear-mongering and broaden our definition of “sanctity of life” and “homeland security.” It’s time for some courage and eloquence on the left. And it’s time for our electorate to wake up and see the real threats to our for-the-time-being-still-great nation. If we rose to this challenge, I think we could report that "the state of our union is strong"…and it would be true.


Bush says fight against terror is 'World War III'

US President George W. Bush said the September 11 revolt of passengers against their hijackers on board Flight 93 had struck the first blow of "World War III."

In an interview with the financial news network CNBC, Bush said he had yet to see the recently released film of the uprising, a dramatic portrayal of events on the United Airlines plane before it crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

But he said he agreed with the description of David Beamer, whose son Todd died in the crash, who in a Wall Street Journal commentary last month called it "our first successful counter-attack in our homeland in this new global war -- World War III".

Bush said: "I believe that. I believe that it was the first counter-attack to World War III.

"It was, it was unbelievably heroic of those folks on the airplane to recognize the danger and save lives," he said.

Flight 93 crashed on the morning of September 11, 2001, killing the 33 passengers, seven crew members and four hijackers, after passengers stormed the cockpit and battled the hijackers for control of the aircraft.

The president has repeatedly praised the heroism of the passengers in fighting back and so launching the first blow of what he usually calls the "war on terror".

In 2002, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explicitly declined to call the hunt for Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda group and its followers "World War III."

Bullshit - ~somadude


An "Absurd" Defense of U.S. Torture Policy

Fri May 05, 2006 at 06:09:33 PM PDT

The U.S. launched a defense of its policy on human rights today at a hearing meant to evaluate American compliance with the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It marked the first time in six years that the U.S. has appeared before the U.N. panel. The panelists grilled the U.S. delegation on Guantanamo, the U.S. definition of torture, and more. In its written report to the committee, the U.S. delegation made the following statement:

"The US government does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture, or other unlawful practices, by its personnel or employees under any circumstances,"

It is against that blunt denial of abuse that the committee is examining U.S. compliance with its international obligations. The committee is examining what one U.N. official called "the longest list of issues I have ever seen." Despite being pounded with report after report of detainee abuse, the U.S. delegation stuck to its blanket denial, repeatedly dismissing allegations of torture as "absurd."

John B. Bellinger III, the legal adviser to the State Department, who led the delegation, said that criticism of United States policy has become "so hyperbolic as to be absurd." He added: "I would ask you not to believe every allegation that you have heard."

And here is Bellinger on extraordinary rendition (which is sending prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured):

Investigators for the European Parliament said last month that they had evidence the C.I.A. had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over Europe since 2001, in some cases transporting terrorism suspects kidnapped within the European Union to countries using torture. The practice is known as "rendition."

Mr. Bellinger said it was an "absurd insinuation" that all of these planes carried terrorism suspects.

But the panel wouldn't let Bellinger dismiss their concerns as "absurd"; rather, they pointed out the inconsistency of the U.S. position:

In cases where the American government has sent prisoners to countries with poor rights records -- a policy the administration defends, saying it helps to get dangerous individuals out of the United States -- it seeks assurances they will not be tortured, Mr. Bellinger added.

The panel was dubious. "The very fact that you are asking for diplomatic assurances means you are in doubt," said the committee's chairman, Andreas Mavrommatis.

The environment may have been new, but the tactics were the same. Whether in front of a U.N. body or Congress itself, these officials shrugged off reports of torture as "isolated incidents." They were tight-lipped on issues from secret CIA prisons to rendition, claiming that such intelligence matters were classified.

But in a rare moment of admission, the delegation admitted that they had documented 29 detainee deaths resulting from torture. US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Barry Lowenkron claimed that more than 600 incidents of abuse were investigated, and that 250 people have been held accountable for abusing detainees.

There have been a handful of torturers who have received prison terms for their actions: Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years, Ivan Fredrick was sentenced to 8 years, and Lyndie England was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In other cases, detainee abuse was met with reprimands.

Of course, those who established our dangerous policy relating to torture have skirted any responsibility, choosing instead to employ the "few bad apples" defense. Those who told interrogators that anything short of organ failure or death was fair game have yet to be held accountable for establishing a policy that violated both the letter and spirit of the Convention Against Torture.

The panel, headed up by Andreas Mavrommatis from Cyprus, is set to receive written answers from the U.S. delegation, and it will release a report on its findings about U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture by May 19th.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Finally! Proof that "Truth" = "Liberal Bias"

Worst. "Debunking". Ever.

Another one of those Bozell-lite critics of the dread Liberal EMM ESS EMM tries to turn this WaPo article noting the egregious flip-flop involved in Bush's recent demagogic rhetoric about the national anthem , with even more embarrassing results than usual for such an outfit. What exactly is the evidence that pointing out the comically transparent inconsistency of Bush's recent claims that makes the WaPo a liberal newspaper? It all comes back, of course, to the Clenis:

Do we have any doubt that when John Podesta was Clinton's Chief of Staff aide in the White House from 1998 through 2001, that the Washington Post wouldn't be pestering them over whether Jon Secada (or Julio Iglesias, or whoever) sang the National Anthem in Spanish at the White House?

Yes, I don't think they would. For the entirely obvious reason that Clinton never said that "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English," and many of his prominent supporters weren't making it an issue. Graham's answer to this obvious point? "...Bush's and Rice's remarks were both drummed out of them by reporters." Oh, I see--so if the President makes an argument in response to a reporter's question, than noting its egregious inconsistency with past practices is ipso facto proof of liberal bias! (I assume that Graham also believes that this applies to "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"--after all, since it was "drummed out of him," its accuracy is completely off-limits, and newspapers who don't accept that must be "conservative!") A fascinating conception of journalism.

I have to think that this is just bad faith hackery. Nobody could possibly be this stupid.

...Amanda explains in handy chart form.

It’s really quite simple. In order for something to be considered hypocrisy, it must have two features:

  1. Claiming one thing
  2. Doing/being another

Both elements are important. You can’t just have one there and actually detect hypocrisy. Thinking that you only need one element and it’s safe to call someone a hypocrite is a painfully common wingnut mistake. Oftentimes you will see a wingnut attack a liberal for hypocrisy by detecting a behavior and feeling that is sufficient evidence without actually demonstrating that the liberal ever said he/she felt otherwise. A very recent example includes a series of wingnuts declaring that they had super-special evidence that I was a hypocrite for not being in the military. This did indeed fulfill the behavior requirement, but without the necessary stated belief that I was behaving differently from. Remember, it’s a two-point requirement.

Scott at LGM found another good example today of some wingnuts claiming that it’s no big deal if Bush had been caught singing/enjoying the national anthem in Spanish, because Clinton did it, too. This is truly confusing situation, of course, since both men have the same behavior, but the important thing is both men did not make the same claims.

President Claimed that the anthem should be sung in English?
Enjoyed/sang it in Spanish Hypocrite?
Bill Clinton
No Yes No
George W. Bush
Yes Yes Yes

As you can see from the chart, both elements have to be in place for an actual act of hypocrisy to form.


Bush administration refuses to talk directly with its main foes

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Last month, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea wanted to meet privately with his North Korean counterpart, hoping he could persuade Pyongyang to return to talks on eliminating its nuclear weapons program.

But the meeting between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Premier Kim Kye Gwan on the sidelines of a conference in Tokyo never took place.

Hill's superiors in Washington forbade him from talking directly to the North Koreans, said three U.S. officials, a conference participant and another knowledgeable expert. All requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Bush administration also is refusing to talk directly with Iran about its nuclear program, with Syria about Middle East security and the infiltration of terrorists into Iraq, and, like Europe, with the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization.

This approach to diplomacy is drawing criticism.

"I believe that diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies," said Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term. "In fact, our enemies need diplomatic engagement more.

"We ought to have sufficient self-confidence in the correctness of our policy and the ability of our diplomats."

Bush administration officials argue that direct two-way negotiations raise expectations that the United States will make concessions. They say multinational pressure is more effective. Aides to President Reagan made much the same argument in an effort to derail arms-control negotiations with the former Soviet Union.

"You don't want to do the expedient thing. You want to do the right thing, the thing that's effective," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's diplomacy is in the limelight as the world's confrontation with Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program intensifies.

Republicans and Democrats are calling on the White House to offer direct talks. Some in Europe - particularly in Germany - are going public with their longstanding desire to see Washington join diplomacy with Iran.

Former Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, who served Bush's father and former President Clinton, said the United States could condition a dialogue with Iran on Europe's willingness to back tougher sanctions if Iran fails to change course. Right now, he said, Iran appears unimpressed by the penalties it faces.

"If you don't change the dynamic, you can see where we're headed," Ross said. He referred to a potential choice between allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons and conducting risky airstrikes to destroy its nuclear sites. A military attack risks fueling terrorism and sending oil prices higher.

Rice, after taking office last year, shifted U.S. policy to support negotiations with Iran by Britain, France and Germany. Those talks collapsed after Iran restarted uranium enrichment in January. Rice ruled out direct talks with Tehran.

"We have people who know our views who talk with the Iranians. I don't think that the absence of communication is the problem here," Rice told CNN on Sunday.

There's no certainty that an offer of talks would be accepted, or that the Iranian government - which, to many analysts, appears bent on developing a nuclear arsenal - would deal in good faith.

But Washington would lose nothing - it might even gain support in its confrontation with Iran - by offering to engage Tehran directly, some experts said.

"I don't trust the Iranians. I think they're playing games with us," said Joseph Cirincione of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. Yet, he continued, "It's clear to me there's no military solution to the Iran problem."

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger is sympathetic to the White House approach.

Eagleburger said he saw little sign that talking to Iran or North Korea would do much good. With Iran, he said, it could dilute Washington's message that it won't allow Tehran to acquire nuclear arms.

"Talking or not talking is almost irrelevant, unless we have some sense that by talking ... that it can have some result," Eagleburger said.

Others say that Bush's approach has lost him important opportunities.

In spring 2003, shortly after Saddam Hussein's regime fell, Iran sent a secret, one-page proposal to Washington offering a dialogue to resolve U.S.-Iranian differences, according to former White House official Flynt Leverett, who said he saw the document.

Leverett said the offer, which apparently had the backing of the Iranian government's many factions, was rebuffed. The U.S. response, he said, was to complain to Switzerland that the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who forwarded the proposal, had exceeded his authority.

More recently, administration officials refused to meet last month with an adviser to Iran's national security council who came to the United States on a private visit, and they moved to revoke his green card, said two U.S. officials on condition of anonymity.

Hill, the assistant secretary of state, was urged to attend the Tokyo conference after two senior North Korean diplomats agreed in consultations involving two former senior American diplomats that it would be a chance for him to meet privately with Kim, the North Korean envoy, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions who asked to remain anonymous.

This person and a conference participant said Hill saw it as a chance to persuade Kim to rejoin six-nation talks on eliminating North Korea's nuclear arms program. The isolated Stalinist regime has boycotted the talks since the United States took action to halt what it charges are Pyongyang-run money-laundering, drug-running and counterfeiting operations.

Kim met privately with officials from the other nations - Russia, China, South Korea and Japan - involved in the moribund negotiations, said three U.S. officials and the conference participant.

Speaking at a conference in Washington on Tuesday, Hill insisted that "it was my call" not to meet Kim.

"Is someone impeding me from having bilateral contacts? The answer is yes, and it's the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)," he said. "We are not prepared to sit outside the six-party process and let the DPRK boycott the process and look for favors to get them back."

Paik Haksoon of The Sejong Institute of South Korea said that the U.S. refusal to have face-to-face contact is giving North Korea time to expand its nuclear arsenal.

"The more the U.S. procrastinates and loses time, the more likely North Korea can consolidate itself as a nuclear power state," he said.

James Kelly, Hill's predecessor, also called for direct U.S.-North Korean discussions of the nuclear program, saying that refusing to hold them gives Pyongyang another excuse to boycott the six-nation negotiations.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Report: Katrina Contractors Bilk Taxpayers

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer

While removing enough debris to cover Britain, contractors working on hurricane recovery have overbilled the government in a $63 billion operation that only will get more expensive, according to a House report Thursday.

Mileage claims were overstated to get extra fees, debris was mixed improperly to inflate prices and companies sent bills twice for removing the same loads, Democrats on the GOP-controlled House Government Reform Committee found.

Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., who compiled the report for the hearing on Katrina contracting, also complained about layers of subcontractors that drove up costs.

A major contractor would take a large cut and pay smaller amounts to the subcontractors, down to the company with the truck hauling debris to the dump.

"It seems you get more than half," Waxman told Randall Perkins, president of AshBritt Inc. in Pompano Beach, Fla., after Perkins said his company received $23 a cubic yard in a debris removal contract but paid a subcontractor $10 to haul the material.

"We outsource to companies like yours and they go out and subcontract," Waxman said. "It's a higher overhead."

Perkins said some cleanup contractors did hire many subcontractors, but he only hired a few. He said the prices he charged were determined partially by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rules he had to follow.

In a story last October, The Associated Press reported of instances in which the Katrina debris cleanup involved five layers of subcontractors. Some haulers reported they were being paid just $6 a cubic yard. Many of those interviewed at the time said they believed the prime contractors were being paid $26 to $28 a yard. The corps refused to provide the cost figures specified in the master contracts and last month denied the AP's request for those figures, made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The committee chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said Congress approved more than $63 billion for disaster relief and that recovery expenses may top $200 billion.

Davis said many contracts were awarded without competition. Government officials at the hearing said these contracts are being replaced with competitive awards.

Davis said the sole-source contracts allowed an "unprecedented opportunity for fraud and mismanagement."

The corps said hurricanes Katrina and Rita left 87,000 square miles of debris in parts of Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi and Florida, roughly the size of Britain.

Waxman said the corps was lax in allowing fraud, waste and abuse in removing that debris. A corps official disputed that.

Waxman cited audit findings that corps officials "regularly credited contractors with hauling more debris to dumps than they actually carried." Auditors found that the corps' assessments of contractor performance were "overly generous," "unusually high," "more on the liberal side," "often very liberal" and "consistently on the high side."

The corps also was blamed for allowing inflated charges in more than $300 million in contracts for temporary roof repairs using blue plastic sheeting, Waxman said, citing audit reports.

The corps' director of civil works, Maj. Gen. Don Riley, told the committee his agency sent out the auditors who found the problems and are trying to recoup the money.

Riley said the instances of contractor fraud were "exactly what I asked our auditors to find." He said payments were withheld until the charges could be verified and the government has indicted several contractors on fraud charges.

Waxman asked Matt Jadacki, special inspector general for Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery, whether corps officials were doing their jobs to prevent fraud.

"We found some cases where there were no monitors," Jadacki said.

Waxman's report said contractors sometimes billed twice for removing the same debris and, in other cases, took advantage of extra payments of $2 per cubic yard for debris carried more than 15 miles. Auditors found mileage was overstated in more than 50 percent of the 303 trips they examined.

Contractors fraudulently mixed green waste with construction and demolition debris to inflate their billings by $2.84 per cubic yard, the report said.

Other instances of fraud found by auditors, Waxman's report said, included double billing for housing trailers and abuse of government-issued credit cards.


And Hilarity Ensues

AP, 1998:

Helping matters, Bush also speaks fluent Spanish. So does his brother, Jeb Bush, who is married to a Mexican-American and was elected governor of Florida, thanks in part to a strong Hispanic vote.

Portsmouth Herald, 1999:

Bush also took a question from a Spanish reporter and answered in fluent Spanish.

Pat Robertson on CNN, 2/24/2000:

ROBERTSON: Well, I think he could say that, but I think he's made it clear. He said it in Michigan. He said, "Look, I'm not anti-Catholic, and I don't support racism." I mean, this guy has put together a coalition in Texas of Hispanics -- he speaks fluent Spanish -- of -- of African- Americans, of Democrats. I mean, he is a very, very tolerant, broad-based guy. And I think that the media's spinning this thing way out of proportion to what really happened. That's my feeling.

New York Times, 2/28/00 (Nicholas Kristof reporting):

He also showed off his Spanish, which is fluent, by firing off a sentence in Spanish.

McLaughlin Group, 6/2000:

MR. O'DONNELL: Absolutely, and they both -- they both do it well. I mean, George W. Bush is fluent in Spanish.

National Review, 4/2000:

Yes, indeed. He was fluent in Spanish, which appeals to that minority, and he was fluent in gibberish-the touchy-feely Clintonian hogwash that the elusive "soccer mom" is said to go bananas over.

PBS, 5/9/2000:

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: I was listening the other day to Governor Bush speak fluent Spanish to Hispanic voters when it struck me that Spanish is becoming unofficially, but truly, the second language of the United States.

(this presumably could be referring to Jeb Bush, but there's no distinction made and since this was in the middle of the 2000 election I assume he meant George)

CNN 8/2000:

PRESS: Well, I wonder how good George Bush's Spanish is. Did he know what the lyrics were before he said they ought to play the song at the convention? I don't know.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he says he's fluent.

Morning call, 4/22/06:

It's also good to see President Bush, (a fluent Spanish-speaker, by the way), leading the vision for comprehensive immigration reform based on three elements: border security, effective immigration law enforcement, and very importantly, a temporary worker program.

Scott McClellan today:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the assertion did not ring true to him because, "The president speaks Spanish, but not that well."

"I'm saying that not only was that suggestion absurd, but that he couldn't possibly sing the national anthem in Spanish. He's not that good with his Spanish," McClellan said.

-Atrios 11:20 AM


GEORGE W'S PALACE: Winning Hearts and Minds

In the Chaos of Iraq, One Project Is on Target: A Giant US Embassy
By Daniel McGrory
The Times on Line UK

Wedneday 03 May 2006

The question puzzles and enrages a city: how is it that the Americans cannot keep the electricity running in Baghdad for more than a couple of hours a day, yet still manage to build themselves the biggest embassy on Earth?

Irritation grows as residents deprived of air-conditioning and running water three years after the US-led invasion watch the massive US Embassy they call "George W's palace" rising from the banks of the Tigris.

In the pavement cafés, people moan that the structure is bigger than anything Saddam Hussein built. They are not impressed by the architects' claims that the diplomatic outpost will be visible from space and cover an area that is larger than the Vatican city and big enough to accommodate four Millennium Domes. They are more interested in knowing whether the US State Department paid for the prime real estate or simply took it.

While families in the capital suffer electricity cuts, queue all day to fuel their cars and wait for water pipes to be connected, the US mission due to open in June next year will have its own power and water plants to cater for a population the size of a small town.

Officially, the design of the compound is supposed to be a secret, but you cannot hide the giant construction cranes and the concrete contours of the 21 buildings that are taking shape. Looming over the skyline, the embassy has the distinction of being the only big US building project in Iraq that is on time and within budget.

In a week when Washington revealed a startling list of missed deadlines and overspending on building projects, Congress was told that the bill for the embassy was $592 million (£312 million).

The heavily guarded 42-hectare (104-acre) site - which will have a 15ft thick perimeter wall - has hundreds of workers swarming on scaffolding. Local residents are bitter that the Kuwaiti contractor has employed only foreign staff and is busing them in from a temporary camp nearby.

After roughing it in Saddam's abandoned palaces, diplomats should have every comfort in their new home. There will be impressive residences for the Ambassador and his deputy, six apartments for senior officials, and two huge office blocks for 8,000 staff to work in. There will be what is rumoured to be the biggest swimming pool in Iraq, a state-of-the-art gymnasium, a cinema, restaurants offering delicacies from favourite US food chains, tennis courts and a swish American Club for evening functions.

The security measures being installed are described as extraordinary. US officials are preparing for the day when the so-called green zone, the fortified and sealed-off compound where international diplomats and Iraq's leaders live and work, is reopened to the rest of the city's residents, and American diplomats can retreat to their own secure area.

Iraqi politicians opposed to the US presence protest that the scale of the project suggests that America retains long-term ambitions here. The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said the embassy's size "is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country".

A State Department official said that the size reflected the "massive amount of work still facing the US and our commitment to see it through".

Behind Schedule

* A US Inspector General's report into reconstruction found that although $22 billion had been spent, water, sewage and electricity, infrastructure still operated at prewar levels.

* Despite "significant progress" in recent months, less than half the water and electricity projects have been completed.

* Only six of the 150 planned health centres have been completed.

* US officials spent $70 million on medical equipment for health clinics that are unlikely ever to be built. More than 75 per cent of the funds for the 150 planned clinics have been allocated.

* Task Force Shield, the $147 million programme to train Iraqi security units to protect key oil and electrical sites failed to meet its goals. A fraud investigation is under way.

* Oil production was 2.18 million barrels per day in the last week of March. Before the war it was 2.6 million.


I'm Beginning To Think You Must Be Surrounded By An "Ethics Cloud" to be a Republican.

Key Bush judge under ethics cloud
Following a Salon report, top Democrats say Bush nominee Terrence Boyle's record is "outrageous" and that he has "no place on the federal bench."

By Will Evans

May. 03, 2006 | Key Democrats denounced Terrence Boyle on Capitol Hill Monday and Tuesday, after a Salon report revealed that the controversial judge, nominated to one of the nation's highest courts by President Bush, violated federal law on conflicts of interest. As the debate over Boyle heated up, the White House acknowledged that Boyle should have recused himself in cases involving companies in which he owned stock -- but continued its support of the nominee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Committee, blasted Boyle on the floor of the Senate Monday, calling him "somebody who has violated every judicial ethic you can think of."

Leahy called it "chutzpah beyond all understanding" that Boyle, in one case, bought stock in General Electric while presiding over a lawsuit against the company -- and just two months later threw out most of a disability claim against the company. "Now, in the first year of law school you might get an example like this because it is so clear-cut and easy to understand," Leahy said. "This is amazing -- amazing -- notwithstanding all the other conflicts of interest he had in other cases. Whether or not it turns out that Judge Boyle broke federal law or canons of judicial ethics, these types of conflicts of interest have no place on the federal bench."

Also on Monday, the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice called on Bush to withdraw Boyle's nomination, citing the conflicts of interest.

Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada added to the onslaught on Tuesday, saying of Boyle, "I can't imagine how President Bush could bring him to the Senate for confirmation." Reid ran down a list of Democratic objections to Boyle, including his rulings on civil rights cases, but called the Salon report revealing Boyle's record of judicial conflicts of interest "the clincher."

"If this guy deserves to be a federal district court judge, I don't know what a federal district court judge is all about," Reid said. "He not only shouldn't be a trial court judge as he is, but to think that he should be elevated to a circuit court of appeals is outrageous."

The White House will stand by Boyle's nomination, said spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo.

"There were a handful of cases over the years where it appears that recusal was warranted," she told Salon. "These are mistakes that happened to many judges ... Judge Boyle has an excellent reputation for fairness and integrity -- that shouldn't be destroyed by mistakes in a tiny fraction of the thousands of cases on which he has sat."

Mamo called Salon's report "an effort to distract from the merits of his nomination," saying that Boyle "never intentionally participated in any matter in which he should have recused himself."

But if Boyle didn't know he had financial interests in a company when he sat on the case, he wasn't complying with another part of the law that instructs judges to monitor their finances to avoid conflicts, said professor Leslie W. Abramson, a legal ethics expert at the University of Louisville's law school. "Some people forget that, in the words of the Supreme Court, the appearance of impartiality is as important as the fact of impartiality itself," Abramson said.

Nevertheless, North Carolina's Republican senators also reaffirmed their support of Boyle.

"Senator Dole was just made aware of these allegations through press reports," according to a statement released by Sen. Elizabeth Dole's office Monday. "Everything she knows about Judge Boyle suggests that he is a man of integrity who abides by the highest ethical standards, and she continues to be strongly supportive of his nomination."

The longtime North Carolina federal district court judge, a one-time Jesse Helms staffer, was first nominated to the 4th Circuit Court by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. But he has been blocked for years by Democrats, who regard him as an unwavering foe of civil rights. George W. Bush nominated Boyle again in 2001. In 2005 he was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and awaits a vote on the Senate floor, which could come soon. The new revelations about his ethics record, however, appear to have added a new dimension to the long-running ideological battle over his court appointment.

A Judiciary Committee staffer who was not authorized to speak on the record said that of all the conflicts of interest that have come up with judicial nominees, Boyle's record seems "worse than most" because he bought stock in General Electric in the middle of a case against the company.

The lawyer who sued General Electric in that case, Andy Whiteman, was quoted in the Raleigh News & Observer Tuesday as saying Boyle was fair to his client, and that Boyle had indicated how he would rule in the case before he bought the stock. "To say he would be somehow conflicted by that is, really, kind of silly," Whiteman said, also noting that he is a Democrat.

But the widow of the G.E. employee who hired Whiteman to sue General Electric told Salon that the lawyer doesn't care about the ethical conflict because he and the judge are just part of an "old boys club." Martha Bursell, who described herself as a proud Republican, added: "If it's not legal, wrong is wrong and right is right. The rules should apply to everybody the same."

Whiteman, who has not responded to repeated requests for comment from Salon about Boyle's role in the case, also told the Raleigh News & Observer that he would not have asked Boyle to recuse himself even if Boyle owned the stock at the beginning of the case.

The law, however, mandates that a judge recuse himself from such cases even if the lawyers don't mind his conflict of interest. The only way a judge can stay on the case is for the judge to get rid of his financial interest.

"It's a violation of the law. It's not waiveable and it's the judge's responsibility to take himself off the case," said Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society. "There are newspaper stories every year about judges not [recusing themselves] and every year they say it's a mistake … but nothing's being done to prevent these mistakes from happening," she said. "Mistakes can be made but that they're not taken seriously is something of more concern."

Frist reportedly wants a floor vote on Boyle and other controversial nominees to energize the conservative base heading into the November elections. But with revelations of Boyle's conflicts, the Republican leadership might back off now, said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

"If Boyle hits a snag, somebody else will go ahead of him," she said. "If Boyle has problems other than something ideological in nature, that might not be worth fighting about. Frist has shown he's been willing to fight on nominees that Democrats oppose strictly on ideological grounds, but if Boyle has other problems it makes it a different case."

On April 18, a Frist aide told Washington publication CongressDaily that the majority leader plans to push through a floor vote on Boyle and another controversial nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in May. On April 19, Boyle received a letter from Salon and the Center for Investigative Reporting, detailing the cases involving his conflicts of interest, and asking for a response. On April 26, Frist's office announced that the majority leader would move forward on scheduling a May vote for Kavanaugh, but would wait to schedule Boyle.

Frist's office has not yet scheduled a vote on Boyle, and has not responded to Salon's requests for comment on Boyle's conflicts of interest.


Senate Speaks: No Permanent Bases In Iraq

Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the Iraq supplemental spending bill proposed by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) that would require the Bush administration not to use any appropriated funds for the construction of permanent bases in Iraq. The amendment also called for the U.S. not exercise control over Iraqi oil. Biden’s amendment reads as follows:

To provide that no funds made available by title I of this Act may be made available to establish permanent United States military bases in Iraq or to exercise control by the United States over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq.

Earlier this year, the House passed an amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that similarly stated no funds should be used for permanent base construction.

Congress has now spoken with a clear and unambiguous voice a time when there are troubling signs that the administration wants to make the U.S. presence permanent in Iraq. For example, the administration is currently constructing a $592 million U.S. embassy in Baghdad that spans the size of 80 football fields.

Will this be yet another law that the administration chooses to ignore?

UPDATE: Atrios believes Bush won’t listen.

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