Friday, August 31, 2007

Cheerleader in chief

Rather than learn from its readily apparent missteps in Iraq, the Bush administration is taking its closed-eyes version of policy making to a new level. The administration has rejected findings from Congress' General Accountability Office on the failures of the Iraqi government and is downplaying a report from an independent commission recommending an overhaul of the Iraqi national police. Instead, the president wants the nation to wait until we hear from Gen. David Patraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker later in September. They are expected to say the surge is making progress and should be continued. If all the president wants are reports that support his current policies, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful they are, why are we wasting our time and resources with other panels and other investigations? It's like when government contractors prepare reports to satisfy the oversight requirements of federal or state law. They hire "experts" to give them the recommendations they want, not people who will give them unbiased opinions. This defeats the whole purpose of oversight, doesn't it? In Iraq, it is painfully obvious why American forces were so unprepared for what happened. Remember? There weren't enough troops, there wasn't enough armor for them or for their vehicles, the equipment was inadequate, there weren't enough people who could speak Arabic, the troops did not protect vital assets after Saddam fell -- the list went on and on and continues to go on and on. If the president intends to rule by himself and ignore other voices, such as Congress, he'd better at least get things right.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Going down

What, I've got to be dreaming. Yet another of those holier-than-thou Republicans arrested on a morals charge. Soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a bathroom? And what did Idaho Sen. Larry Craig say when the story broke? "I'm not gay." The "I don't do things like that" part of the obligatory denial came later, like the fact that he was soliciting sex in the bathroom was not a slightly more important thing. Of course, that also was seven months after he pleaded guilty. Oh, that. If he's not gay, just what kind of sex did he think he was going to get when he solicited that cop? And does anyone think this was the first time he did that? The cops were running a sting on the bathroom to catch people doing just what Craig did. How did Craig know that bathroom was the place to go for his proclivity? And other thing -- is this guy a lawyer?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

190 billion reasons why

The Washington Post reports today that the White House will be asking for $50 billion more for the war in Iraq, on top of the $140 billion already in its pending supplemental funding bill, on top of the $460 billion already in the 2008 defense budget. The newspaper says administration insiders think Congress will not be able to block the money while the report on the troop surge in Iraq is being digested. Apparently, the report will advocate continuing the surge while progress is being made. Gee, it would be hard to think of what else a little of that money could be used for. But, of course, with these jokers in power, there's no money to do the right things in the deficit-wracked federal government. Funny how the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina just passed. Remember New Orleans?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Clarification needed

The agreement announced today in which South Korea agreed to withdraw its 3,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and discourage South Korean missionaries in exchange for the release of hostages held by the Taliban is weird. Sure, it would be great if the 19 surviving hostages, who have been held for 41 days, are actually going to be released. Two of the 23 Christian missionaries had already been killed and two released. But South Korea had already announced its intention to withdraw its troops by the end of year. Could it be that the Taliban staged this horrific kidnapping, killed several hostages and exacerbated the West's emnity for absolutely nothing? More likely, some money or other valuable considerations were promised and will be paid, proving once more that the American coalition is fragile and uncommitted, despite the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers. This will only prolong the war and the suffering of the Aghani people, whose country has been the industrialized nations' pinata for all these years. I hope the president can explain how this deal is a good thing in the big picture.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Resignation indignation

In a perfect world, today's resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be a giant step forward for the country's political system. The man was notorious for justifying inmate abuse, for misunderstanding habeas corpus, for the unabashed politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys and for transparently trying to mislead Congress. But to pin all the misdeeds on Gonzales is naive. Hopefully, Congress will continue to investigate many of these mistakes, as Rep. Charles Schumer said this morning on CNN. Let's face it -- Gonzales, Bush's longtime buddy, was not acting on his own. Most likely, everything he said or did was pre-approved by the White House. So, as every senior White House official hits the road, is it time for President Bush to likewise fade into the sunset?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Amplified implications

A criminal case pending in New York State could have serious implications for the future of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. According to the New York Times, defense lawyers in the case are challenging the legality of the terrorism convictions of two Albany, N.Y., men accused, with evidence from electronic surveillance, of agreeing to launder money for a fictitious plot to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat in a sting put on by the F.B.I. What makes this case so potentially dangerous for the Bush administration is that while previous civil cases challenging the wiretapping program have been thrown out before trial on procedural grounds, this is a criminal prosecution with no such procedural pitfalls. The challenge, filed on behalf of Yassin M. Aref, a pizza shop owner and imam of an Albany mosque, and his associate looks like it will be heard by a state appeals court, which means it could be before the U.S. Supreme Court before long. Any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court will have tremendous impact on the Constitution and the future of the First Amendment, since fundamental rights such as freedom of association and freedom of speech are implicated. Even if the two men were up to no good and are not good people, the government cannot claim the power to deprive them of their rights pre-emptively. The American Civil Liberties Union has entered the case in support of the appeal.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Having a bad day

Yesterday was a terrible day for the Bush administration's Iraq policies. Not only did the new National Intelligence Estimate from the nation's spy agencies offer bad news but a prominent Republican senator broke with the president on starting to withdraw troops from Iraq. The NIE said that while security was slowly improving in Iraq, the Iraqi government had failed to take necessary steps to stabilize the political situation in the country and might never be able to. The pro-pullout sentiment expressed by Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a former Navy secretary, can't be good news for the White House. Warner said the U.S. should begin pulling out its forces from Iraq as a warning to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. commitment was not open-ended. The U.S. wants the Iraqi government to work on bringing the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together in the political arena and to pass a revenue sharing plan to distribute Iraq's oil revenue fairly among the factions. Of course, that's an extremely tall order for people who have hated each other for so long. And, as we've discussed, we can't tell a fellow democracy what to do. Democracies have to follow their own political processes to arrive at a consensus. Can you imagine what we'd say if another country told us to fix the distribution of wealth problem in the United States before we could buy any more oil?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Questions of rhetoric

What does it mean that President Bush said today he's behind Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after implying Tuesday that he'd consider a change in Baghdad? Maybe Bush gets it that he can't decide precisely what the head of an independent democratic government will or won't do, anymore than he can tell Israel or France what to do. Anyway, the key of what Bush apparently was trying to do was send a message to al-Maliki that he won't be Iraq's prime minister for long if the political situation there does not improve, and that message was clear. I think Bush got angry that al-Maliki was making nice with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, which are on the U.S. terrorism-supporters list, but then was reminded by his advisers that the U.S. can't simply order the Iraqi government to do what it wants all the time. So, it's backup time. While we're on the subject of backup time, I'm sure everyone was happy to see the shuttle Endeavor astronauts return home safely. I just hope the NASA people who decided to bring the ship back without repairs were really sure that it would make it, and that whooshing noise I just heard wasn't the space agency's management team saying a collective "whew."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Uneasy does it

I think I'd feel a lot better if NASA had decided to fix the damaged heat shield on the Endeavor space shuttle before attempting re-entry, which is planned for today. The ship was struck by debris on takeoff, leaving a deep gouge in the heat shield, but NASA managers decided, not unanimously, that the shuttle could return home safely. I hope this was the right decision, and that the brave crew, including a schoolteacher, make it back to earth with no difficulty. But it's very hard to forget that a similar team of NASA managers decided 21 years ago that the shuttle Challenger could return safely despite similar damage, and we remember how badly that ended. It does seem a bit strange that after the Challenger disaster, NASA devised a way to fix heat shield damage in orbit but decided not to use this technology in the present situation. I hope they're right; it just seems strange.

Friday, August 17, 2007

There's something about Padilla

Rather than being gratified, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said yesterday, the Bush administration ought to be embarassed by yesterday's conviction of Jose Padilla of Chicago on terrorism-related charges. Padilla was accused of conspiring to unleash a radioactive "dirty" bomb and was captured in a highly publicized arrest that even attracted comments from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. But five years after his arrest, Padilla was convicted of lesser charges that bore no relation to the original allegations. But Padilla's case raises more-important questions that whether he was in league with al-Qaida. Do we want the government to be able to detain U.S. citizens for years without charges, without access to the courts or even an attorney, and subject them to intrusive psychological and physical stresses designed to elicit confessions? Do we condone this? Yet this is what happened to Padilla, according to his attorneys and, the Washington Post says, papers filed in court. Nobody wants the United States to be the target of another terrorist attack, but a lot of us want the United States to remain a nation of laws and principle. Yet that is precisely what's at stake under the current administration.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Same as the old boss

Does anyone really think it makes any difference that Bush senior adviser Karl Rove is leaving the White House? Judging from the noise in the newspapers and on the airwaves, political pundits think Rove's resignation is a watershed event in the closing months of the Bush administration. But there's no reason to think that anything has changed beyond the obvious. Rove won't have an office in the White House. But he'll still have unlimited access to the president, anytime time he wants, and he'll no doubt still be advising Bush. He'll probably get a contract to provide advice to Bush at a much higher rate of pay than being on the White House payroll. Of course, it could be that even Bush's loyalist supporters are deserting the foundering ship. Wouldn't that be nice, even if it's eight years too late.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trouble brewing

What does it mean that the leaders of Aghanistan and Iraq are cozying up to Iran, one of the United States' sworn enemies? Well, for one thing, it reflects the reality of living in a region where Tehran has a dominating influence -- they're powerful and they're rich and they're loud. For another, it indicates that the Bush administration's apparent goal of creating a bloc of U.S.-aligned governments in the region may be impossible. Even if it works out that Afghanistan and Iraq become stable, democratic countries, the United States cannot control what happens there. And this is when they're still dependent on us for survival! What if those countries elect leaders that are opposed to U.S. interests? Look at what happened with the Palestinian Authority and with Lebanon. They had elections but they got weak central governments, which energized the radicals in both places. Now, they're both embroiled in civil war on top of their regular regional conflicts. It's a luxury to be sure of what you're doing, like the president continues to be, but optimism cannot substitute for pragmatic thinking, especially when peoples' lives and futures are at stake.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No recollection of that

Today I read in the Contra Costa Times that President Bush said Thursday that he would like to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but can't because other nations refuse to repatriate suspected terrorists the U.S. wants to send back. Oh sure, this is believable. The U.S. captures thousands of so-called 'enemy combatants,' refuses to afford them the benefits of the Geneva Convention, refuses to give them access to the courts and, in the final analysis, blames it on their original countries. Sure, I get it. It's just more unconstitutional rhetoric from the masters at the Bush White House.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Nothing but the truth

So, the president now says he doesn't remember when he first learned that friendly fire was suspected in the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in April 2004. He may not actually recall, but that is disingenuous at best. His staff writes down anything and everything that happens to him in a day; all he has to do is check his own records. I guess the truth is that Bush was told about this before his May 2004 speech at the White House correspondents dinner in which he mentioned Tillman's sacrifice but did not discuss how the former football star had died. Congress is investigating whether Bush lied about the Tillman case. Gee, the Bush White House lying? Say it ain't so!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Something so right?

Finally, it looks like the U.S. has done something right in Iraq. The appointment of Ryan Crocker as U.S. ambassador to that country could be a stroke of genius, or whatever has been lacking so far. Crocker speaks Arabic and has experience in other diplomatic hotspots around the world. Five years ago, Crocker warned the Bush administration that an Iraq attack could 'unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions" and could provoke Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Well, we know what happened. Crocker was right. Could it be that we have the right guy in the job for once? Of course, this only works if the Iraq government we set up and protect can stay in power on its own. This seems to be a very risky prospect. Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds seem to hate eachother more than they love their country. They are acting as if they would rather see the government fail, and chaos ensue, than make the compromises needed to settle outstanding issues and commit to lasting cooperation.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tint and abrogration

No wonder people are getting frustrated with the newly elected Democratic Congress! Even as the new majority approves bills like the minimum wage hike, which the Republicans don't like, it also approves expanded wiretapping powers for the federal government. What are thinking now? We already have seen the Bush administration abuse the massive new powers it has assumed (think domestic wiretapping, the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Jessica Lynch, the looting of Baghdad), so why give the government more power? Are the politicans in Washington still afraid of taking a stand against this power grab? With the Supreme Court effectively sidelined, the people of this country must depend on Congress to preserve the power of the government to police itself. Yet they seem intent on abrogating that responsibility.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Advise and confront

What a surprise! President Bush says he won't allow his top adviser, Karl Rove, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had subpoenaed him for information on the U.S. attorney firings. The president is asserting executive privilege, a concept that is not in the Constitution but is a longtime tradition dating back to George Washington. This George W. Bush feller is getting out of hand, but this isn't the do-nothing Republican Congress he had a few months ago. Hopefully, our legislators will have the guts to take him on and protect the separation of powers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Proper gander

The problem with the military and the White House engaging in such conduct is that it's propaganda. Sure, we all expect a little of that -- let's face it, politics today is about the public's perception. Why do you think everybody you know who's in the public eye, including government officials, have publicists or PR people -- sometimes lots of them. But to tell a clear lie, that Pat Tillman died in a firefight with insurgents in Afghanistan, for the purpose of elevating the perception of the war effort at home and attacting more volunteers -- well, that's just plain despicable. If the war is a just cause, it's a just cause. It does not require lying to keep it going. Of course, I write this after watching former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testify before Congress today about what happened in the aftermath of Tillman's death. Does anyone miss seeing Rumsfeld on the nightly news?