Saturday, April 28, 2007

Looking Back in Anger

As the impeachment movement begins to gain traction, some key information about the origins of the Iraq War continue to dribble out.

For example, Senator Dick Durbin recently disclosed on the floor of the Senate that even though the intelligence committee that he is a member of had evidence which contradicted public administration claims about WMD in Iraq, he could do nothing because members of that committee are sworn to secrecy (h/t Crooks and Liars).

They should have broke that law.

The other revelation is about the deliberations conducted by the administration concerning the war. There were NO deliberations. This confirmation of the obvious comes from former CIA director George Tenet, who just published a big juicy book.

From The Independent:

The row over how President Bush went to war in Iraq has re-erupted with a charge by George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, that a coterie of top officials pushed America into the conflict with no real debate as to whether Saddam Hussein actually posed an imminent threat to the US.

Mr Tenet's angry indictment of his colleagues is the first of its kind from a top ranking member of Mr Bush's once-vaunted national security team, and was instantly rebutted by the White House.

I'm not exactly impressed by Tenet and Durbin's "revelations". These were things that many of us knew all along and these guys seem to be putting this stuff out there at a really convenient time.

Why isn't Durbin still sworn to secrecy? Because everyone knows that the administration was lying? So? If you can break secrecy to point out a lie, why do you have to wait for public opinon to catch up?

George Tenet would look a lot better without the profit motive of selling a book and without that big ass medal hanging from his neck.

This one:

Thanks guys for speaking out, next time, do it as soon as you know that the lunatics have taken over and are going to get hundreds of thousands of people killed.

Crossposted at IST.

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Friday, April 27, 2007


Today, Friday April 27, 2007 is the 1500th day since the beginning of the Iraq war on Mar. 20, 2003. U.S. military casualties are 3,337 dead, and 24,314 wounded, according to The number of dead is based on official statistics released by the DOD and does not include;
  • Allied personnel of the 'coalition of the willing'
  • Journalists (86 killed in the first 3 years)
  • Personnel working for mercenary organizations such as Blackwater, Inc.
  • Soldiers mortally wounded in Iraq who subsequently died of their wounds after being transported out of the country
  • Suicides caused by PTSD, such as the soldier who recently hanged himself at Walter Reed and whose body went undiscovered for two days
  • Anyone the administration could possibly exclude in order to keep the American public from knowing exactly how bad things are going in Iraq.
There are no official numbers for Iraqi civilian deaths, but the organization Iraq Body Count gives a range between 62,570 and 68,593 as recently as yesterday of confirmed deaths. Considering that the Washington Post estimated 100,000 dead as of Oct. 29, 2004, one must concede that the actual number is simply impossible to nail down. One could conclude from this that the government callously doesn't care about the brown-skinned Muslim populace that they 'liberated' from Saddam's cruelty. They don't even bother keeping track of how many of them have been killed.

Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that there is no prospect of victory in Iraq, no matter how that victory is defined and redefined ad nauseum by the administration's supporters. Nor is there any hope of avoiding defeat, which can easily be defined as a situation less favorable than the status quo pro ante. It is certain that the lives lost can never be regained, nor the national prestige of the US for engaging in this boondoggle. The trillion dollars plus pricetag, most of it underwritten with loans from China, will take decades to repay.

And yet another milestone is approaching. On May 1, it will be four years since the Chimperor of the Empty Codpiece declared 'mission accomplished' on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. Silly ass son of a bitch parading around in a flight suit when he avoided his training as a pilot in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam war because he refused to show up and piss in the bottle to show he wasn't too stoned to take the controls. Revelations of the lies told about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, so offhandedly cynical as to give a new definition to the word casualty - "someone whose life has been thrown away casually." Meanwhile, Bush listens to the lame comedy stylist Rich Little, who was already a has-been when Ed Sullivan was still on the air.

It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Someone is going to have to wrest power from the hands of this madman before we see the last casualty. This after Donald Rumsfeld predicted the war would last, "six days, six weeks - I doubt six months." After 1500 days it is beginning to sound more like, "We have always been at war with EastAsia."

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Moyers Documents Media Complicity

Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS last night was a ray of sunshine into a very dark place - the heart of the Corporate Owned Media (COM). Last night's piece was titled Buying the War, but could just as well have been called Selling the War. There is a point where complacency becomes complicity, and I think Moyers demonstrated that the COM went past that point a long time ago. Here's a snip from Glenn Greenwald's reaction today,
"..the documentary is -- in one sense -- a very valuable historical account of the corrupt behavior by our dominant political and media institutions which deceived the country into the invasion of Iraq. But on another, more significant level, it illustrates the corruption that continues to propel our political and media culture.

One of the most important points came at the end. The institutional decay which Moyers chronicles is not merely a matter of historical interest. Instead, it continues to shape our mainstream political dialogue every bit as much as it did back in 2002 and 2003. The people who committed the journalistic crimes Moyers so potently documents do not think they are guilty of anything -- ask them and they will tell you -- and as a result, they have not changed their behavior in the slightest."
For those of you who may have missed it, you can watch it here.

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A Faithful Way Out of Iraq

Led by the Rev. Tony Campolo and Rabbi Michael Lerner, religious leaders have proposed an Ethical Way to End the War in Iraq. At its foundation are the concepts of repentance and generosity as central to the way to the end this illegal and immoral war. The plan has three parts:

First, that American and British troops be replaced by an international police force composed of those who better understand the Iraqi culture...Americans and Brits are not only devoid of any grasp of the language and the religion of the Iraqi people, but are defined by many Muslims as a Christian army that has invaded a sacred Islamic land. Our army’s presence is perceived by many in the Muslim world as a rebirth of the medieval crusades.

Second, that the United States appropriate $50 billion to rebuild the towns and cities that the invasion of Iraq has left in shambles. This would be a small price to pay, considering the $2 billion we are presently spending every week in order to keep this war going.

Third, that our president go before the United Nations and ask the world to forgive America for what we have done to Iraq, and how we have set back efforts for world peace...

This way forward calls for a new worldview where safety and security comes not from toughness and the barrel of a gun but from generosity and caring for others, and that when we've done something wrong, we need to acknowledge it as a society. It's a radical proposal, but it's not new. It was embodied in the life and death of a prophet from Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. But maybe, just maybe, it's day has finally come.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Iraq News

Reid Says New Bill Will Bring Troops Home by October, Krugman Calls Bush Standoff With Congress Hostage Situation, Bush Gets Veto Pen Ready, Blair, Moyers, Obama, More

Harry Reid is actually kind of giving people hell lately. Nice. He went further, in fact than any prominent Democrat by saying that the war in Iraq is lost. He's now saying that Bush and that Congress will pass legislation bringing the troops home by October.

Here's the rest of the Iraq News:
VIDEO: Bill Moyer spoke to Bill Maher on Real Time about the selling of the Iraq War via the COM*. Moyer's show airs Wednesday night on PBS.
*You should know what COM means.
VIDEO: The BBC covers the carnage in Baghdad.
VIDEO: The evolution of Obama's Iraq war position.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reading Program Under Investigation

..And Other GOP Corruption Stories

You'd think the Republican party would have learned from the November elections - the American people will not accept the hypocrisy of a party that spews endless platitudes about morals while engaging in the most egregious conduct imaginable. This week alone saw Republican John Doolittle of California forced to resign his position on the house appropriations committee after the FBI raided his home seeking evidence in a corruption investigation Wednesday. On Thursday, it was Rick Renzi's turn. The Arizona representative's family business was also raided by the FBI, for as yet undisclosed reasons. According to the Arizona Republic;
"The Justice Department has been investigating Renzi for months, but the subject of the inquiry has never been made public. Media reports last fall gave conflicting versions, with authorities said to be looking into either a land swap involving a former business partner of Renzi or a Pentagon contract involving Renzi's father, a retired Army general.
Democrats in Arizona and Washington have raised questions about whether the investigation into Renzi was connected to the ouster of the state's former U.S. attorney, Paul Charlton, who was forced to resign last December as part of a controversial purge of federal prosecutors."
Renzi was also forced to leave a powerful committee position, in his case on the House Intelligence committee. The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman opines that these and other ethics breaches may hurt GOP efforts to retake Congress in 2008. Hmmmm.. D'ya think? Weisman also cited Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson's involvement in the dismissal of New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias - one of the main events in the now infamous Prosecutors' Purge Scandal.

Weisman also point to Rep. Gary G. Miller (R. - CA), Rep. Jerry Lewis (R. - CA) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R. - Pa) as being in significant legal jeopardy.
"Everybody's kind of a little bit numb," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). "There's this, 'What else can happen now?' feeling going around here."
Well Jack, when it rains it pours, as the Republican party's exposure as a systemically corrupted criminal organization proceeds in the light of the first real scrutiny they've been under in six years. Adding to the storm is this story in yesterday's Washington Post.
The Justice Department is conducting a probe of a $6 billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.

"That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing. "You don't get to override the law," he angrily told a panel of Reading First officials. "But the fact of the matter is that you did."
Just like Iraq, just like Katrina relief, in fact just like everything the Republicans touch, the beleaguered No Child program is failing miserably at its stated objectives but succeeding fabulously in the real objective they well know the American people would never countenance - making GOP cronies rich. One could only imagine how many investigations would be under way if the entire Department of Justice wasn't staffed with 'loyal Bushies' and being micro-managed from the White House.

Check out this organizational chart from the second page of that Slate article (h/t RevPhat) - in comparison to only four people in the Clinton administration authorized to talk to three in the DoJ, there are 147 Bush White House flunkies talking to 40 DoJ officials. (Click on image for larger version.) The Republican party fits the definition of a criminal enterprise as defined in the RICO statutes, as George Miller points out. Worse, the Department of Justice looks like it exists only to enable these crimes.

The Doolittle, Renzi, and other corruption investigations are what they are - influence peddling for profit. My sixth sense tells me that there are other aspects to this No Child Left Behind case that put it in a different category. I hope the reporters covering this have the sense to ask two key questions. 1) - how much has the No Child program been used as a cover for the Christianization of textbooks, tests, and curriculum? and 2) - How much has intentional neglect from US Attorneys loyal to Bush enabled this and other crimes?

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Still Mad After All These Years

For the record, I am still mad that President Bush cut and run from the Kyoto Protocol treaty to reduce global warming.

I'm mad that Bush cut and run from campaign promises about the environment:
By March 2001, the president had officially walked away from the Kyoto Protocol. He had jettisoned his campaign pledge to control CO{-2} emissions from power plants. The United States had pulled out of all debate and negotiations with the rest of the world on global warming.
I'm mad that he shelved plans to establish a biodiversity center.

I'm mad that the EPA exempted pesticides from the Clean Water Act.

I'm mad that the EPA’s new air quality standards endanger public health.

And, I'm mad that Bush named the retired chief of Exxon to chart America's course for cleaner energy use.

I'm mad the bees are disappearing.
Bill Maher on the Huffington Post:

Here's a quote from Albert Einstein: "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Well, guess what? The bees are disappearing...Sunday is Earth Day. Please educate someone about the birds and the bees, because without bees, humans become the canary in the coal mine, and we make bad canaries because we're already such sheep.
The polar bears are mad, too.

Hell, even the Republicans have gotten mad:
Russell Train, a Republican, was the EPA’s second chief under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. But he said Bush’s record is so dismal he’s casting his presidential vote for Democrat John Kerry in November.

"It’s almost as if the motto of the administration in power today in Washington is not environmental protection, but polluter protection," he said. "I find this deeply disturbing."
He's been using public resources (our taxes) to fund junk science to support policies that make his corporate friends even wealthier, and I'm sick of it.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has compiled his environmental record through 2005. They conclude:

As for the Bush administration, it has shown again and again that it will cater to industries that put America's health and natural heritage at risk; there is little doubt that more attempts to undermine environmental enforcement and weaken key programs will be made.
In his own words:

"We need an energy bill that encourages consumption."

-President Bush, Sept. 23, 2002, Trenton, New Jersey, speech

And in the words of his minions:

"If we are saying that the loss of species in and of itself is inherently bad -- I don't think we know enough about how the world works to say that."

-Interior Department Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, appointed by President Bush to position overseeing the Endangered Species Act, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 12, 2003

Remember, we share one planet...

Biodiversity, not just a good idea; it's Life.
(Click the forward arrow to advance the slide show.)

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Cross-posted at Ice Station Tango.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Who Would Jesus Blame?

Jesus, did you hear about the massacre at Virginia Tech? Thirty-three students and professors were gunned down. Why did those students die and not others? What did they do to deserve such a death?

The blame game began almost instantaneously. You've already heard this played out on the internet and on tv, and I'm not going to link to them. They died because they were cowards. They died because of video games. They died because of the failure of our mental health system. They died because of anti-depressant drugs. They died because society won't allow students and teachers to arm themselves.

And from the Chimperor himself: They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus isn't surprised by these questions. He's heard it all before. When they were walking along a road and encounter a blind man, his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) Later some people tell Jesus about how the Roman soldiers slaughtered some gentiles and mixed their blood with the Jewish sacrifices.
"What?, responded Jesus, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (See Luke 13:1-9)
Jesus knows that there is fear hidden behind our blaming. And certainly survival’s guilt is a phenomenon with which we have grown distressingly familiar as we mark the tragedies at Waco and Oklahoma City and Columbine this week. It may not be flattering to know this about ourselves, but this impulse also tempts us to congratulate ourselves for our own well-being. Are we fortunate? Virtuous? Blessed? In Luke’s story Jesus turns away from such individualistic explanations. Those who have died were no worse than any others. Their fate, according to Jesus, may not have been their own fault, yet those who fail to repent — to turn toward life abundant — bring judgment upon themselves.

I like how the commentator from Out In Scripture puts it.
Jesus implies what we know is true: blaming the victim never helps anyone, and more often than not, it provides empty excuses to withhold compassionate service to those who suffer. Jesus, the bearer of peace, calls all people to repent — to turn away from a culture of violence, retribution and scapegoating and turn toward life, shalom, and peace.
Meanwhile we're debating gun control and how soon we could arm our teachers.

Fortunately, in the midst of this grave warning, Jesus also injects a word of hope for us. He weaves a story about a man who has planted a vineyard. (See Luke 13:6-9) Finding no fruit on a fig tree for three years, he orders the gardener to cut it down. The gardener resists, suggesting that the landowner wait one more year while he worked in a little fertilizer to see if the fig tree might bear fruit.

Thanks be to God for God’s patience with us and with our judgment-oriented society!

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Gonzo: "The Dog Ate My Homework"

Last Sunday I said about Alberto Gonzales, "Under the stern glare of Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy he will squirm, blink, sweat, cough, and fidget like a truant in front of the high school vice principal." Well, he certainly didn't disappoint - with 45 instances of 'I don't recall' before the panel broke for lunch! He did badly, so badly that he generated the following reviews;

- "he went down in flames. Crashed and burned."
- "he certainly didn't do anything to help his own cause."
- "it was like watching a baby seal being clubbed to death."

And that's just what the Republicans were saying. But it was anticipated that he would have a rough time. His prior statements had already been overwhelmingly contradicted by prior testimony from his own aides, people like his own former chief of staff D Kyle Sampson and by considerable documents released to the Judiciary Committee. He had a lotta 'splainin' to do going in.

Without going into great details, the simplest characterization of the hearings would be to compare it to a worm trying to wiggle of a hook. The 'fake news show' The Daily Show did a better job of illuminating how well he did at that than the only other coverage (if it's even worthy of the word) I watched, which CNN managed to squeeze into their continuing coverage of the VT massacre three days after it has become a moot point.
Gonzo-Gate (courtesy of Politics TV)
More video of the actual hearing is available from Politics TV (Great job of this, BTW) HERE. I understand they will be adding more videos as they can convert to Flash format.

The worst thing about this testimony, from Gonzales' point of view is that, painful as yesterday's performance was, he's STILL gotta lotta 'splainin' to do. For one thing, he is now contradicted not only by statements made by underlings - he has contradicted his own previous statements - and it's hard to deny that some of his testimony contradicts other testimony. Pretty hard not to do that when you're trying to simultaneously rely on a main theme of, "I was involved in the decisions, I approved the decisions, but I don't really know on what basis the decisions were made" leading, as Stewart points out to the mind-boggling assertion that, even though he has no knowledge of how things were done, he can assure us that it was all done properly.

If you want to focus on specifics it doesn't get any better for Gonzo. This article on the San Diego Union Tribune's website nicely deconstructs Gonzo's weak argument for the dismissal of Carol Lam. Sen. Diane Feinstein naturally went after this in her questions to Gonzales - I think she made him look a complete idiot. Sen. Russ Feingold also did a nice job, focusing on the recent reversal of a conviction of Wisconsin state procurement supervisor Georgia Thomson. This story is one of those demonstrating the possible impropriety of at least one of the other 85 US Attorneys who were not dismissed. From TalkLeft:
According to one judge on the panel:
"I have to say it strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin," federal Appeals Judge Diane Wood told prosecutors. "I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Finally, the justice system has corrected itself and freed Wisconsin's unwitting political prisoner, Georgia Thompson. The former state procurement supervisor went to trial and to prison on the basis of evidence so flimsy it's scary. If such weak proof can put her behind bars, are any of us safe?
The larger question involves U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic:
Is his quickness to put the heat on Democrats the reason he was spared in the purge of U.S. attorneys? Is he a "Bushie," as a White House aide called top prosecutors who toe the party line?

Good question.

What are the people of Greater Left Blogsylvania saying in the testimony's aftermath? Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo remarks how even the Republican party has abandoned Gonzales.
He's given people too many causes of termination to choose from. You can want him to go for subverting the federal justice system. Or if that's too much for you to handle you can say he should go for running Main Justice like some ungainly combination of a Young Republicans summer camp and Michael Brown's FEMA. And if even that creates too much collateral damage for you to deal with you can just say he should go for lying about everything that happened.
Paul Kiel at Muckraker notes how thin the Republican support is for Gonzo, and how the right wing media still manages to focus on those few still behind him. One key supporter is significant - the President. "President Bush was pleased with the Attorney General's testimony today. After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the Senators' questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred." Yeah, right. At least FOX "news" will have something to report on the hearings.

Glenn Greenwald has a couple of good posts over at Salon, here and here. FireDogLake liveblogged the hearings, and posted a recap here. So what snowflake could I possibly add to this blogging blizzard? Just one observation, and a couple of follow-up questions that should have been asked (maybe they were and I missed them - I am not omniscient or anything.)

The observation is a simple one, and by no means unique. When all is said and done, Gonzales tried to fob responsibility for the Prosecutor Purge affair off on his staff, saying that he had no reason not to trust their judgement. It was they, not he, who made the evaluations of the prosecutors and decided who should stay and who should go. Here are my follow on questions to that;

#1 - How many of these top staffers you relied on were themselves chosen for being 'loyal Bushies', rather than for possessing any outstanding qualifications, experience or talent? How many Regent University grads like Monica Goodling were involved?

#2 - If you can't show us evaluations of the US Attorneys that justify their dismissal, could you show evaluations of your staff justifying the enormous trust you put in them to make these critical and potentially controversial decisions unsupervised?

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

FBI Raid John Doolittle's House

Wow, it's quite a busy day out there today. Among other things Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be facing a Senate Judiciary oversight committee hearing into his conduct in the Purged Prosecutors Affair. For background, check out my posts here and here. This story though, concerns John Doolittle (R - CA), who barely clung to his seat against Charlie Brown in the last election, despite outspending him by a wide margin.

From Roll Call via TPMmuckraker:
"The FBI raided the Virginia home of Rep. John Doolittle and his wife on Friday, though the Congressman’s lawyer contended the raid was focused on Julie Doolittle’s fundraising records rather than any of the California Republican lawmaker’s own activities."
Muckraker's Paul Kiel's added information reveals the fact that it is NOT all about Doolittle's wife. Besides - hiding behind a woman's skirt, John? - how despicable.
" Remember that a former key aide to Doolittle, Kevin Ring, who'd worked with Abramoff, resigned suddenly from his job late last week. As I wrote before, that's a clear sign that Ring may be preparing to plead guilty and implicate Doolittle.

Update: According to The Hill, the FBI searched the home last Friday -- the same day that Ring resigned."
While it is possible that Ring is co-operating with investigators to implicate Julie Doolittle over fundraising irregularities, it is far more likely that the real target has something to do with Doolittle's longstanding connection to convicted GOP bribemaster Jack "me" Abramoff.

Video: excerpted from a debate between Doolittle and Charlie Brown last October. Good job by mobster Jump To The Left jumping all over this one: Doolittle Exposed!

UPDATE: I couldn't hope to equal the unparalleled coverage given this story by Nate at Get In Their Face! Nate worked for the Charlie Brown campaign that opposed Doolittle in the last election, so if anybody has the skinny on this toad, it would be him. Say hi from the unruly mob. Oh, and another thing. Crooks and Liars is reporting that Doolittle is giving up his seat on the House Appropriations Committee. Seems the corrupt shouldn't be allowed near the money. Didn't something similar happen to Tom DeLay before he was forced out of politics?

Moyers Reveals Extent of Political Theater

Between Bush Administration and Media on Iraq

Let's go back in time, shall we?

From The Observer:
I bet you didn’t know this. On March 6, 2003, President George Bush held a press conference at the White House. In that press conference the president said that Saddam Hussein and his weapons were “a direct threat to this country.”

More than 24 times during the press conference the president reflected on Al Qaeda and 9/11 and a connection between Saddam Hussein, all of which we know now was untrue. Bad enough. But here’s the chilling part, as revealed in Bill Moyers’ upcoming Buying the War (which will air on PBS on Wednesday, April 25 at 9 p.m.): after the president’s speech the White House press corps, those highly paid and highly visible big shots from CBS, CNN, the New York Times , The Washington Post and so on, started rasing their hands. But certain reporters had been pre-selected by the administration to be chosen by the president, something that everybody in the room was aware of. At one point, the president is shown to say, “This is scripted” and he makes a little laugh. Among the tough questions thrown to the president, or should we say, pre-selected, were “How is your faith guiding you?” to which the president responded, “My faith sustains me because I pray daily.” Media critic Eric Boehlert, reflecting on this piece of theater notes that there is a lot of nervous giggling going on. “I don’t now if it is out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along,” he says. “After a question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.”

The writer of this preview, Alistair Highet, sums it up better than I can right now--I'm just too pissed to trust myself:
The cost of all this collusion between the mainstream press and the government in a lie: Bin Laden on the loose, one trillion dollars and counting spent on the war, 3,300 American dead, global distrust of the United States, and somewhere in the region of 600,000 dead Iraqis.
When do we start holding these people accountable?

VIDEO: Here's a preview of Buying the War:

Crossposted at IST.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Last Boy Scout

Nothing about yesterday was very real, except for the blood and the panic.

The biggest news story today will not be the missing emails or Alberto Gonzales’ testimony on Capitol Hill about the US Attorney firings or even Iraq but the 32 students, teachers and possibly staff who were gunned down at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia yesterday.

Asian gunmen almost dressed like a Boy Scout killing nearly three dozen people is, if anything, even more of a rarity than the snow that was swirling around the surviving victims as they were evacuated out of the building. Only someone who’d survived Columbine or any of dozens of other school shootings can possibly relate to the surreal horror of having their lives threatened or turned upside down by violence that more readily recalls Quentin Tarantino or Sam Peckinpah than real life.

I don’t know where this shocking lack of respect for human life comes from but it’s obviously not restricted to Iraq. Some of my readers may recall a post I’d written last February entitled “Imagine” in which I’d conjured up an image of America if it suffered a proportionate amount of violence to that witnessed every day in Iraq.

A man walked into two buildings yesterday intent on killing as many people as possible then himself and did just that. The campus police never expected a second, far deadlier wave of violence. 32 are now dead, after initial reports listed the casualties at 21, then 31 and finally, this morning, 32.

This is a taste of what Iraqis live with day in and day out, only sometimes the casualties are much higher, all too often numbering over 100. Welcome to Iraq.

But the only people who will truly come to grips with their grief, the only ones who will have to see the bullet holes in the walls, the blood that couldn’t be readily washed off will be the students, educators and staff members who actually go to Virginia Tech. Them and their parents and other loved ones.

It’s impossible to wrap your mind around this if it doesn’t personally affect you and that sense of disaffection, of disconnect, is perhaps where this and other killing sprees start out. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community,” George W. Bush said in response to the shootings. I’ll suspend my usual snarky and ironic rejoinder long enough to agree with him. You walk into a building intent on getting an education in an environment in which you’re protected by the campus police and the local constabulary. Getting a paper cut and a bad grade would qualify as a bad day.

Then, abruptly, surreal chaos, mind-numbing violence, cell phone calls to family saying goodbye, just in case, incredulity that congeals into grief. No one should ever have to make a call home to say goodbye for the last time.

I couldn’t walk away from blogging for at least a while without commenting on what will surely be considered one of our nation’s greatest tragedies and offering my condolences to the hundreds or even thousands of people directly affected by this. Virginia Tech’s good name now will be as synonymous with senseless mass murder as Columbine, the University of Texas at Austin or Kent State.

Or virtually any town or city in Iraq.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Picture Emerges

In yesterday's post I tried as best I could to bring us up to date on the Prosecutor Purge Scandal that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales must testify about tomorrow. You might have gotten the impression that I don't like Gonzales very much, and you would be right. As White House counsel he signed off on the US torturing prisoners and on warrantless wiretapping, and he also supported the ludicrous theory of the Unitary Executive, basically a claim to dictatorial powers vested into the hands of the President. Most of the excesses of the Bush Administration can be laid right at the feet of Alberto Gonzales. He is one of the few people more detestable than George W. Bush himself, an execrable pile of excrement responsible for more misery and death than the worst serial killers of all time. But I'll try to be as objective as a viewing of this video clip allows. When Arlen "magic bullet" Specter can criticize you for departing from plain common sense, you know you're in trouble.

To continue our timeline. Monica Goodling, that brightly shining star of Regent University's 'fourth tier' Law School quickly gave way in the headlines to the Mysterious Case of the Missing Emails. This is a story and a scandal unto itself. By using outside RNC accounts, many White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act, which aims to ensure that all official business is recorded, not only for posterity, but also to ensure that it is on the up and up. This was put into law after Watergate, so the implications are clear - you pull any funny business, you don't get to use the fancy office stationery. Despite administration protests that this parallel secret government existed to comply with the Hatch act, most people weren't buying that line. As Bennet Kelley points out in a very worthy (must-read) Huffington Post article,
The same president that today expects Americans to relinquish their Fourth Amendment rights to permit him to monitor their private phone calls, emails and mail since "if you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about," also has sought from day one to conceal or distort information that the public is entitled to under the law - including creating a shadow email system to escape scrutiny. It is worth noting that our courts have long held that when a party is engaged in suppressing or fabricating evidence "the inevitable conclusion is that he has something to conceal and is conscious of guilt." Attorney-gate begs the question - what are they hiding?
Another aspect of the missing emails case is that it points to Karl Rove as being at the center of this shitstorm. Where there is dirt, you always seem to find KKKarl.

Flying in under the media radar was this story I missed until yesterday's marathon research session. At the beginning of April, the White House was actually trying to get the Senate to move up the date of Gonzales' testimony. "The push to more quickly get Gonzales to Capitol Hill reflects the frustration of Republican senators, the White House and even the Justice Department over how long it will take for the embattled attorney general to testify before Congress. Each passing day adds life to the story." Since it seemed earlier that Gonzo would prefer to delay any testimony under oath on the subject, why do you think they were suddenly so eager?

The answer lies in what was revealed by the document dump of this past Friday, the 13th of April, revelations so damning that Gonzo really is going to have to wear Depends® to the hearing. The dump was making the administration and DoJ look pretty bad, as evidenced in this New York Times piece citing an email from Kyle Sampson dated Jan 9, 2006 "and several related documents."
The e-mail message and several related documents provide the first evidence that Mr. Sampson, the Justice Department official in charge of the dismissals, had focused on who would succeed the ousted prosecutors. Justice officials have repeatedly said that seven of the eight prosecutors were removed without regard to who might succeed them.

Some of the new documents show the department’s acute awareness of individual United States attorneys’ political and ideological views. An undated spreadsheet attached to a Feb. 12, 2007, e-mail message listed the federal prosecutors who had served under President Bush along with their past work experience.

The chart included a category for Republican Party and campaign work, showing who had been a delegate to a Republican convention or had managed a Republican political campaign. The chart had a separate category indicating who among the prosecutors was a member of the Federalist Society, a Washington-based association that serves as a talent pool for young conservatives seeking appointments in Republican administrations..

..One e-mail message shows the White House urging the Justice Department to call Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, to give him information about the placement of J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove, as the interim United States attorney in Arkansas..

..“WH political reached out to Sen. Sessions and requested that he ask helpful questions to make clear that Tim Griffin is qualified to serve,” said a January 2007 e-mail message from Monica Goodling, a former senior aide to Mr. Gonzales, to other department officials. “Here are the talkers on Griffin, as well as a narrative that can be used by staff, and his résumé. I think it would actually be helpful for all of the Rs to have it.”
While this certainly proves the process to be political, the question should be asked, is it improper? Let's apply the 'if it looks like a duck' method. The 'talkers' (talking points) Ms. Goodling refers to could just as well be characterized as a cover story. One email for instance (sorry, I've lost the link) refers to the fact that some of the prosecutors flagged for dismissal were in states bordering Mexico - and it could be spun that they were too soft on illegal immigration cases. Whether it is improper or not can well be inferred by these administration officials themselves, who consistently acted as though they at least thought it was improper.

Another story that emerged Thursday has also got to have Electrode Al worried. That story, a rumor really, reported 'according to one very solid congressional source' by MSNBC and phrased as a question by Time Magazine. "Will Congress grant Monica Goodling immunity from prosecution in order to compel her to testify about the Bush Administration's firing late last year of eight U.S. Attorneys?"

That's a good question, and it brings up an even better question. Goodling a 'trained' attorney (supposedly she is among that small minority of Regent Law School grads who actually passed the bar) seems to think that some aspect of this case was not only improper, but illegal. Criminal. Felonious. The only felony that has even been mentioned thus far in connection with this is a possible obstruction of justice charge relative to Carol Lam's dismissal. Or could charges be construed in the matter of Pete Domenici's improper conduct? There must be a number of felonies associated with a US Attorney abusing his offices to knowingly pursue a bogus criminal case. And just yesterday this story broke at the Albuquerque Journal (via TPM, via AMERICAblog) connecting Bush himself to the sordid mess of David Iglesias' firing.

You'd think that would be enough, but there's even more - there is this OpEd piece from yesterday's New York Times.
When the public first learned about the firing of eight United States attorneys, administration officials piously declared that many of the prosecutors had ill served the public by failing to aggressively pursue voter fraud cases (against Democrats, naturally). But the more we examine this issue, the more ludicrous those claims seem.

Last week, we learned that the administration edited a government-ordered report on voter fraud to support its fantasy. The original version concluded that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud.” But the publicly released version said, “There is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.” It’s hard to see that as anything but a deliberate effort to mislead the public.
The motive behind this was to further Republican efforts to disenfranchise groups traditionally friendly to Democrats - the elderly, the poor, ethnic minorities, etc. - by increasing support for measures like special voter IDs. "Claims of rampant voter fraud also give the administration an excuse to cut back prosecutions of the real problem: officials who block voters’ access to the polls."

That sends my mind back to the hundreds of thousands of minority voters who were 'mistakenly' disenfranchised by being included on lists of convicted felons. That was in Florida back in 2000 - the lists were drawn up by Data Base Technologies, since acquired by Choicepoint firm. Even Choicepoint's own webpage put up to counter the 'myth' of impropriety don't dispute that something very suspicious took place. Their main talking point is that they didn't yet own DBT at the time it happened.

This brings us full circle back to the HuffPo article I cited at the top of the page. As Bennet Kelley notes;
The administration, however, may be forced to take a hard line in order to prevent Attorney-gate from becoming its own political Waterloo, since the discovery of the White House's shadow email system raises numerous questions such as whether or not the system was used to conceal information in the Valerie Plame investigation or other matters. In particular, with reports that the shadow email system was hosted on the same servers used for the 2004 Ohio election results combined with lingering questions about Ohio voting irregularities; last month's sentencing of two election workers from Ohio's largest county for rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential vote; and recent blog reports that Karl Rove and some of his political operatives are under investigation by Italian and Mexican authorities for election tampering, it is conceivable that this investigation could lead to the biggest scandal in American history and reveal that Bush was never legitimately elected.

There must be some connections that I missed. If you know of anything substantial, let me know in comments so I can make the necessary additions to this post, the previous post, or possibly in some future post. Something HUGE may emerge from tomorrow's testimony that renders all of the preceding a mere bagatelle. At any rate, I have hopefully provided the background to fully appreciate the questions that will probably be asked, and the veracity of Gonzales' responses.

You can get your own popcorn.

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The Iraq News

Al-Sadr's Supporters Quit Government, Surge Analysis, Pincus, Moyers, More

Supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr announce tomorrow they're quitting the Iraqi government.

From AFP:
The political bloc of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday said it is quitting the Iraqi government, as a wave of bombings left another 43 people dead in Baghdad.

"We will announce our withdrawal from the government tomorrow," Saleh Hassan Issa al-Igaili, a lawmaker from the Sadr group, told AFP.

More Iraq News:
VIDEO: BBC coverage of suicide bombing in Karbala.

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Crossposted at IST.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Connecting the Dots

Background on Gonzo Testimony

In less than 48 hours
Alberto 'Abu' Gonzales will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee again. Reports that he has been practicing testimony aside, I can't see him doing any better than he has in the past. Under the stern glare of Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy he will squirm, blink, sweat, cough, and fidget like a truant in front of the high school vice principal. The man has a positive talent for exuding guilt, and Leahy knows exactly how to bring that talent out to the full. Frankly I'll be impressed if he doesn't piss himself - he has a lot of tough questions to answer.
This from ABC News:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has an uphill battle in convincing senators he's capable of running the Justice Department after the botched firing of federal prosecutors, two influential Republican senators said Sunday.

Two days before Gonzales is to make a showdown appearance before Congress, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said none of Gonzales' public statements so far has convinced him that the department's ouster of eight U.S. attorneys was justified.
Here's some background to ensure that you fully appreciate the flavor of the upcoming testimony, and some heads-up on recent developments. If nothing else, if you don't like my take on this story you'll have lots of links to pursue. It should also remind you of some elements of the story you may have forgotten. This is a long post, because there is a lot of ground to cover, but I'll try to stay on point.

This story goes back to Dec. 7, 2006 when eight US Attorneys were asked to resign so that they could be replaced with Bu$hCo™ loyalists. The story didn't really get picked up by the media until mid-January, as evidenced by this Olbermann video featuring the ever-incisive Jonathan Turley. Neither Olbermann nor Turley had picked up on what this was really about yet, but my own post on the subject got it even wronger. I thought it was judges, not US Attorneys who had been let go. One crucial element of the story that was evident from the start - the replacements would be picked by a new authority given the President under the USA PATRIOT Act. The provision making this possible was literally snuck into the act by Arlen Specter's top aide in the middle of the night - just after the Nov. 7 elections, and in the waning days of the Republican congressional majority. That stinks, and nobody with a nose failed to notice.

By late February, early March details were beginning to emerge about who had been fired, how it was done, and who the replacements were. Significantly a House Judiciary subcommittee subpoenaed some of the fired attorneys to find out more about the circumstances. Here in point form is some of what we now know, in part due to testimony given under those subpoenas:
  • At least some of the dismissed attorneys (all, BTW Republicans and Bush appointees) were FURIOUS that their dismissals were being bandied about as being performance related.
  • Carol Lam, the California US Attorney who had convicted GOP Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham was on the point of issuing more subpoenas in that case, directed at, among others, a high ranking CIA official. Also in possible jeopardy if the Cunningham case was pursued were Republican California representatives Duncan Hunter and John Doolittle, both of whom had overt ties to the Brent Wilkes 'earmark clique', as Josh Marshall calls it. Hunter had the nerve to defend Lam's dismissal on the grounds she was too soft on drug cases.
  • David Iglesias' story is perhaps the best known. He was the US Attorney in New Mexico who testified that he had been phoned at home by first Republican Representative Heather Wilson, then Republican Senator Pete Domenici. Both inquired whether Iglesias would be pursuing corruption charges against Democratic state officials - and could he please get them filed prior to the Nov. 7 election? When Iglesias answered in the negative, both callers abruptly hung up on him. It was this testimony that gave the story legs, and prompted further investigations into the matter.
  • Arkansas US Attorney Bud Cummins was replaced by senior Karl Rove aide Tim Griffin. Griffin's role working for Rove was in finding 'dirt' that could be used against Democratic candidates.
  • Daniel Bogden wasn't comfortable about the stated reasons for his own dismissal, and asked an official at the agency's headquarters if the firing was related to his performance or to that of his office. 'That didn't enter into the equation,' he said he was told.
  • John McKay was the US Attorney in Seattle who among other things helped to convict the Millenium bomber. "So when the attorney general said McKay was fired for performance reasons, he was livid. 'I knew that was false and I felt obligated to speak up,' ... McKay believes it was what he didn't do that got him fired... A Democratic candidate won Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial race by just a couple of hundred votes. McKay didn't call a grand jury to investigate questions of voter fraud, and he heard about it when he sought a promotion."
With Lam being dismissed on the verge of pursuing charges against Republican officials, and with Iglesias and McKay both testifying that they felt they had been fired for not pursuing charges against Democrats, a clear pattern was emerging that anyone not watching FOX "news" could readily discern. A couple of observers tore themselves away from the Libby conviction to make comments compelling in their logic, and devastating in their implication for Bu$hCo™. We'll give Paul Krugman the first scathe;
"The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance."
Jonathan Turley's observation is equally acute;
"In my opinion, the most important (and alarming) part of the story is where the authority to do this derives from: The USA Patriot Act. How exactly does giving Bush the power to replace inconvenient prosecutors protect us from terror? Oh, wait, it doesn't. It just protects him and his cronies from prosecution. Talk about politicizing terror."
By mid March the pressure was mounting on the Attorney General, and for that matter the entire Department of Justice. Gonzales' chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson announced his resignation on Mar. 12., an obvious target of the next round of subpoenas. It was also around this time that the parallel scandal broke about the FBI's abuse of National Security Letters. In Japan, Gonzales would by this point have been required to spill his guts on the floor - literally. Senator Charles Schumer (D - New York) called for Gonzales' immediate resignation. The New York Times has the money quote (Watch Senator Schumer's statement on Youtube);
Senate Democrats vowed today to get explanations, with or without subpoenas, from high Bush administration officials as revelations about the dismissal of federal prosecutors put renewed pressure on the White House.

“Just when we thought our faith could not be shaken any further, it has been,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The latest revelations prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there has been unprecedented breach of trust, abuse of power and misuse of the Justice Department.”
On March 13, Gonzales gave this Press Conference (video opens in new window) on the scandal that had become known as the Prosecutor Purge. Herein was introduced the odious phrase, 'at the pleasure of the President.' We would hear those weasel words over and over for the next few weeks. Herein also was introduced the idea that, while he accepted responsibility for everything that went on in the Department of Justice, he wasn't really responsible because he didn't really know what was going on in the DoJ. The old Bu$hCo™ excuse of ignorance. Specifically though, he claimed to be 'out of the loop' on the whole affair. From TPM Muckraker: "He said that his chief of staff Kyle Sampson, now resigned, headed up the process for replacing the U.S. attorneys, and that Gonzales himself was 'not involved in seeing any memos' or 'any discussion of what was going on.' "

Gonzales must hate Fridays the way the rest of the world hates Mondays. Friday is Document Dump Day for the Bush administration, the day when they release information they know to be damaging in order to reduce as far as possible the media attention it will get over the weekend. Friday, March 23 was just such a day, and the docs dumped put the lie to Gonzales' press conference claims from only 11 days earlier.
"The e-mails, delivered to Congress Friday night, show that Gonzales attended an hourlong meeting on the firings on Nov. 27, 2006 - 10 days before seven U.S. attorneys were told to resign. The attorney general's participation in the session calls into question his assertion that he was essentially in the dark about the firings."
Joshua Marshall's comment pretty much says it all, "It is not too much to say that everything that has come out of Alberto Gonzales' mouth on this issue has been a lie. Sure, that sounds like hyperbole. But it's just a factual summary of what the public record now shows." I quoted another part of the same piece in a previous post from that same weekend. "
This isn't a case where Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of the president's standards or bungled some process. This is the standard. The Attorney General has done and is doing precisely what is expected of him... the president is fine with all of this. Fine with the fact that the Attorney General has not only repeatedly lied to the public but has also been exposed as repeatedly lying to the public. He's fine with at least two US Attorneys being fired for not giving in to pressure to file bogus charges to help Republican candidates.

Of course he's fine with it. Because it comes from him. None of this is about Alberto Gonzales. This is about the president and the White House, which is where this entire plan was hatched. Gonzales was just following orders, executing the president's plans. This is about this president and this White House, which ... let's be honest, everyone on both sides of the aisle already knows."
It was about this time that Monica Goodling's name became more prominently attached to the scandal. By the time anybody knew who she was, she had already been subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee, and announced through her lawyers her intention to avoid self-incrimination by resorting to the Fifth Amendment. Suddenly the administration starts recognizing the existence of the Bill of Rights, a document that they had studiously ignored for their first six years in power.

Well, I'm getting exhausted, so will continue with this tomorrow. We will continue with the story of the missing emails, including several details that have come out in the last few days. I have plenty more links to go through. This past Friday, the 13th. was another Document Dump, which brought out some interesting facts. In the meantime, I leave you with some of my conclusions, which I wrote before starting this timeline.

In all of this we must hold onto one thought, the ultimate response to the reight wing theme of 'there was nothing improper. US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President.' That is utter bullshit, and I'll tell you why. It has to do with the Constitutional principle of separation of powers.

The Constitution describes a government that has three independent branches. Once appointed by the President, all US attorneys become part of the Judiciary Branch, and take an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States of America. They are no longer working for the administration, or the President, and they are certainly not working for the Republican party or KKKarl Rove.

Any effort to interfere with judiciary independence through his power of nominating appointees is a usurpation of power by the president. Remember, until this odious aforementioned provision was secretly added to the USA PATRIOT act, these appointments had to be confirmed by the Senate. So right off you have one branch of government (the administration) treading on the turf of the legislative branch. All of this heaped on top of the indignity of Bush's signing statements, and tacitly approved thus far by a complacent complicit Republican majority in both houses. And Bush has used his lack of opposition in the legislative branch to stake out territory in the Judiciary.

It's not just about these eight US Attorneys, nor even about the 85 who were compliant enough to retain their positions. It goes much higher up. To the degree that someone like Alberto Gonzales himself, or one of the Supreme Court Justices appointed by either Bush or his father perceives his loyalty as to the President personally, or to the Republican party rather than to the Constitution, the doctrine of separation of powers goes out the window. Once gone, it will be nigh unto impossible to retrieve this vital principle. It was put there for a reason.
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of a tyranny."
-- James Madison --
UPDATE: I've finished the second and last part of my timeline - A Picture Emerges
(The result of connecting those dots)

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

My Church in the News

The local newspaper did a write up of the church I pastor. You need to read to the end where it talks about the ministries we're doing today. This congregation is amazing. It is such an honor to work with such a generous, accepting and down to earth people.

Is Regent University Branching Out?

Recently considerable attention has been given to Monica Goodling's alma mater, Regent University.
Monica Goodling, the Department of Justice official who said Monday that she'll invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than talk to lawmakers, is a frequent figure in department e-mails released so far as part of the congressional investigation into the firings and hirings of U.S. attorneys.

Goodling, 33, is a 1995 graduate Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., an institution that describes itself as "committed to an embracing evangelical spirit."

She received her law degree at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. Regent, founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, says its mission is "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world."
Well it seems they have been doing that, though the changes they are making to the world don't seem to be anything of which Regent is particularly proud. Until very recently, the official Regent website boasted of '150 graduates serving in the Bush administration.' You won't find that claim by clicking the above link, you'll have to go to the cached version. Maybe Regent expunged this information due to the apprehension that many of these grads could well be facing criminal charges in the near future. Or could it be that Ms. Goodling's refusal to appear before Congress by invoking the Fifth Amendment reflects poorly on Regent's Law School? You see, invoking the fifth is something that is usually done on the stand, and in response to a particular question. It has never to my knowledge been used before to allow a potential witness to simply not show up. That would normally be considered as contempt.

The Boston Globe ran a very informative profile last week on Regent, including this snippet from one of their law classes;
The title of the course was Constitutional Law, but the subject was sin. Before any casebooks were opened, a student led his classmates in a 10-minute devotional talk, completed with "amens," about the need to preserve their Christian values.

"Sin is so appealing because it's easy and because it's fun," the law student warned.
Hmmmm.., sin is FUN .. and EASY?!? Who knew and wasn't telling me? I'll have to look into that later, it really does sound appealing. But I digress. It seems that serious and lengthy discussions on whether it's better to burn a witch right away or to bind her in a sack first and throw her in a nearby pond don't leave much room for things like the Bill of Rights. Whatever, how important can it be if it's not in the Gospel according to Josh?
Because Goodling graduated from Regent in 1999 and has scant prosecutorial experience, her qualifications to evaluate the performance of US attorneys have come under fire. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked at a hearing: "Should we be concerned with the experience level of the people who are making these highly significant decisions?"

And across the political blogosphere, critics have held up Goodling, who declined to be interviewed, as a prime example of the Bush administration subordinating ability to politics in hiring decisions.

"It used to be that high-level DOJ jobs were generally reserved for the best of the legal profession," wrote a contributor to The New Republic website . ". . . That a recent graduate of one of the very worst (and sketchiest) law schools with virtually no relevant experience could ascend to this position is a sure sign that there is something seriously wrong at the DOJ."
D'ya think?!? If all it takes is knowing the secret handshake and a phony piece of paper from a law school with a something less than exemplary pedigree? Regent, "is ranked a "tier four" school by US News & World Report, the lowest score and essentially a tie for 136th place." Where did these guys come from?
The Regent law school was founded in 1986, when Oral Roberts University shut down its ailing law school and sent its library to Robertson's Bible-based college in Virginia. It was initially called "CBN University School of Law" after the televangelist's Christian Broadcasting Network, whose studios share the campus and which provided much of the funding for the law school. (The Coors Foundation is also a donor to the university.) The American Bar Association accredited Regent 's law school in 1996.
Wow, that's right up there with Sun Myung Moon's newspaper, The Washington Times, whose advertisements boast of an ink that is less likely to rub off on your hands as you read it - which feature is probably necessitated by the chronic drooling of its readers.

Here's the thing. The latest news on the prosecutors purge is all about the Mysteriously Missing E-mails, which brings up an interesting question. Are the White House and/or DoJ being supplied with IT (Information Technology) personnel trained at Regent University? Because the incompetence require to lose over 5,000,000 emails is biblical in proportions, comparable in fact to the infamous Hebrew guide who led his hapless tour group around the desert for a full 40 years. I have these strange thoughts of a class being taught in Faith Healing for Appliances, 101. Let's listen in on the instructor;
All right clayuss, try to foller along. Put yer right hayyyunnd on the Wholly Buyable. That's it. Now, put yer left hayyyunnd on the computer monitor. No Josh, the monitor, not the mouse. Do yeh want to burn out the USB port uhgayin? Okay, now everybody say a little prayyurr. All together now, 'In the nayyyummm of the Lowurrd Jayissusssuh, I commayyund yew, FDISK!!' No, Josh FDISK, not FORMAT. How many times do I have to tell you?
UPDATE: Bill Maher does a great bit on Regent's supplying 'talent' to the White House and DoJ. Video available at Crooks and Liars.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another First Amendment Right

I've had a great time with Blog Against Theocracy Weekend, which for me was extended for a couple of days of reading terrific, provocative posts spanning the gamut of First Freedoms First issues. Now, back to blogging, but we're not going to stray too far from the nest for our first post-swarm post. Here's how the first amendment reads,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The blogswarm has been all about the first 16 words of the amendment, known as the establishment clause. This post is about the next 10 words, which guarantee freedom of speech, and of the press. A number of things converged to compel me to address this subject. The one you're most likely familiar with is the controversy surrounding Don Imus' on-air idiocy. On top of that are a couple of items in my inbox, the first from Blue Gal,
"Thought you would want to see this and maybe even linky.
Ben Heine Silenced by DKos
Ben Heine is a Belgian Cartoonist. A Cartoonist, folks.
Where has this kinda censorship happened before? Huh?"
That's my private inbox. I got this from comments, which I think of as kind of my public inbox.
"hey sbt,
sorry to be off topic, but check this out:
The link goes to an Amy Goodman article in TruthDig called Take Back the Airwaves.
"As the TV pundits on the networks gab about the tens of millions of dollars raised by the top presidential candidates, what they don’t talk about is where that money is going: to their own networks.

Money is now considered the single most important factor in our electoral process. Ideas and issues take a back seat to the bottom line. This prostitution of our electoral process has one key culprit: television advertising."
These three items converge onto an issue so full of complexities that I hesitate to even approach it. Hopefully I can bring out some aspects that will provoke everyone to think it through themselves a bit. I'll start with my off-the cuff response to the TruthDig link, from comments, "The TruthDig article is right on the money, one of my top concerns - actually two - the overbearing influence of money on American politics, and the conflict of interest that DOES exist in a medium that accepts advertising dollars from the candidates."

To continue in that vein, most broadcasting facilities in America are owned by corporate interests who have other fish to fry than just the revenues they make from politicians on a cyclic basis. (meaning those revenues dry up when there is no pending election) They pay taxes, and face various forms of regulations, so it is in their interest to promote politicians that reduce any associated costs. In many cases the broadcast companies are in turn owned by larger corporations. An example of this is NBC, owned by General Electric. (I learned that from Dave Letterman) GE is a huge corporation, with major revenues coming from such things as supplying equipment to the military - guidance packages for smart bombs, that sort of thing. On balance, these concerns could far outweigh something as trivial as a few million dollars in advertising every couple of years. They might even be tempted to side with politicians who were pro-military, interventionist, and in favor of lower taxes, even if their opponents spent twice as much on campaign ads.

These circumstances apply to all the media; television, radio and print - to varying degrees from entity to entity. You might think the truth would stand as much chance in this environment as an elderly lawyer facing Cheney with a shotgun in his hands. There use to be something called the fairness doctrine, which required overtly political opinions expressed over the air to be balanced by someone with a differing view. That died in 1987.

Now we depend on broadcasters to be fair and balanced due to their respect for the fine traditions of journalistic integrity. The problem is, people like Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly etc. don't even pretend to be journalists, but most of their audience assumes that they are anyway. They self-identify as entertainers, commenters, editorialists, or that old standby, pundits. I don't think that word even existed in the days of real journalists like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, or Huntley and Brinkley.
[There is a lot of difference between the legislative control that can be exerted over on-air broadcasting and cable or satellite broadcasting. The former is subject to regulation because of its dependency on a limited electronic spectrum or bandwidth - you can't have two Channel 5's in the same geographical area after all, their signals would interfere with one another. This makes bandwidth a precious commodity which has always been construed as belonging to the public and doled out to the broadcasters as a sacred trust. Cable and satellite can get around this technical restriction, and in so doing escape most of the government's regulative authority. This explains why you see so much of Janet Jackson's nipple on cable.]
Back to Imus. To me the biggest effect of this story has been that it has given the rest of the media an excuse to conduct their own senseless swarm over a relative non-issue. I can't believe how much airtime has been devoted to this over the last couple of days. Oh, yes I can. On top of the questions of who's Anna Nicole's baby's daddy and who has a chance to advance on American Idol, it's helping the Corporate Owned Media (COM) to push the real news (like White House illegal emails, for instance) off the headlines. And flash to CNN et. al. - it only takes 30 seconds to announce that charges have been dropped in the Duke lacrosse rape allegation case, not 25% of total airtime for 48 hours. How about mentioning the recently released scathing report on Walter Reed Hospital? Oh, right - that one makes Bu$hCo™ look bad. Or how about this story that totally yanks the rug out from under the DoJ's reasoning for firing David Iglesias? Oh, right...

What we have here is a failure to communicate the truth to the American people. That is serious business. Listen to Abe Lincoln on this one,
"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts."
-- Abraham Lincoln --
"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
-- Abraham Lincoln --
The thing is, the COM are trying to fool all of the people - by not bringing them the real facts. At least not the relevant facts. I would support Don Imus's right to spew whatever idiotic diatribe he likes. It is after all his First Amendment right to do so, and the best way to deal with an abuse of free speech really is with more free speech. But there's a problem with that.

More and more, free speech in America is being defined as 'money talks.' After Nixon was brought down, not by the FBI, not by Congress, not by the Department of Justice, but by the media, the right wing responded in a predictably slimy way. First, they bought up as much of the media as they could. Second, Reagan appointed head of the FCC Mark S. Fowler worked to abolish the fairness doctrine. Third, FOX "news" and a number of right-wing news consortia spent a lot of money and time on a relatively unknown Florida case to establish as a matter of law that they had a RIGHT under the first amendment to LIE to their audiences. That's right. No, that's very, very wrong. Sad, but true. PLEASE click the last three links - herein lies the oh-so-sad truth of how the first amendment is being interpreted in modern America. Lincoln would weep.

The complexity of this issue derives from the tension between First Amendment free speech guarantees and the necessity in a democracy, recognized by Lincoln, of the electorate being informed by the truth. As the Third link shows, the right wing are exploiting the first amendment in order to manipulate the American political arena. Swiftboat Veterans For Truth cynically relied on the First Amendment to get their message out, for instance. FOX "news" regularly exploits their position to act as a blatant propaganda arm of the GOP. How much of this form of freedom of speech can America stand before democracy itself falls?

As American journalist A. J. Liebling of the New Yorker magazine pointed out, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." In modern times, the impact of YOUR freedom of speech can only be meaningfully measured against that of those who own, not just a newspaper, which is expensive enough - not even a chain of newspapers, but a freaking television network. Think about that. Here are a few more talking points for discussion.
"Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell."
-- Hugo L Black --
"War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it."
-- George Orwell --
"All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values."
-- Marshall McLuhan --
"Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless."
-- Sinclair Lewis --
"The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."
-- Henry A. Wallace, Vice President to FDR, 1944 --
The Danger of American Fascism

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