Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What the hell is going on?

I've said it before: the function of the opposition is to oppose. Still, many of us here in Vermont get tired of hearing that there isn't much we need to do on the national level, whatever the issue, because our delegation already has it right.

And yet, when we're in the minority and trying to get into the majority, the impetus to play it safe seems to be too strong for some of the leaders to resist. Take a look at this post from TPMmuckraker:

[N]ow that the Republicans have worked out a deal on detainees, Democrats are not planning any organized effort to filibuster the deal in the Senate, even though they may not agree with some of the specifics in the legislation.

With just a few days left before the election recess, Democratic aides say they are not going to give Republicans an opportunity to paint them into a corner.

“We’re going to do what we can to limit the amount of daylight between us and them on national security issues in order to neutralize this as a political issue,” a senior Democratic aide said.

Now I ask you, what the hell are the D's in Washington doing trying to "limit the amount of daylight" between them and the government that has weakened the national defense and strengthened the terrorists?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

From today's Times:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 — A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

So when we were saying that the war in Iraq was hurting American interests, and Bush was saying we had to fight the terrorists in Iraq so we wouldn't have to fight them in Pittsburgh, who was right?

Previous drafts described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, and some policy makers argued that the intelligence estimate should be more focused on specific steps to mitigate the terror threat. It is unclear whether the final draft of the intelligence estimate criticizes individual policies of the United States, but intelligence officials involved in preparing the document said its conclusions were not softened or massaged for political purposes.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Union Makes Us Strong

Republican Senators fold on torture

I don't know all the details, but it appears that the Republican holdouts on the torture issue, McCain, Graham, and Warner, have folded on Bush's proposals regarding detention, treatment, and trial of alleged terrorists.

The Post has a summary of the so-called compromise, but it's hard to see what Bush gave up.

Here are what look like the key points:

1. Bush gets an agreement to provide a specific definition of the acts defined as violating the Geneva Convention. This is something that human rights activists were opposing because it gives the interrogators the ability to go right up to the line, and tailor any techniques to evade the protections of the law. This is not possible under the Geneva Convention's prohibition of outrages against personal dignity.

2. Bush gets a total pass on any past violations of the Geneva Conventions.

3. Detainees don't get to see the evidence against them, although they may get to see redacted "summaries". As a trial lawyer for more than twenty-five years, I can tell you that summaries are no substitute for the actual evidence that is introduced against you.

4. There appears to be no protection for illegal detention. I can't tell what the compromise does to habeas corpus, but from what I can tell it seems to be out the window.

5. A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that Bush essentially got what he asked for in a different formulation that allows both sides to maintain that their concerns were addressed. "We kind of take the scenic route, but we get there," the official said.
This doesn't necessarily prove it, since the Administration is obviously interested in coming out looking like a winner, but given the vehemence of Bush's opposition earlier in the week it certainly suggests that they think they won.

And here's the kicker: Democrats sounded a cautious note about the Republican accord, calling attention to the past Republican division rather than taking a position on the compromise.

We have to fight this hard. Where is the outrage?

Call your Senators today!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who's more effective at fighting terror?

So the polls always tell us that the thing the Republicans still have the edge over the Democrats on is the war on terror. It's hard to understand, isn't it? Except that the R's have been very successful at scaring people, and when people are frightened they will go for the most dangerous, violent person to protect them.

The problem is, what Bush wants to do doesn't work. We see the report from today's Times. It's the report on "extraordinary rendition", the practice of kidnaping someone, sending them away to a country with fewer scruples about torture than we claim to have, and torturing them until we get tired of it. As a device to obtain intelligence, however, it would probably be more effective if we were doing it to people who actually know something. But here's what we now know about Maher Arar, the victim of extraordinary rendition in this particular report:

“I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada,” Justice Dennis R. O’Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.

That's right, your government grabbed an innocent guy off his airplane, flew him to Jordan and drove him to Syria, and had him tortured there. He didn't know anything, had no connection with al Qaeda, posed no threat to the United States or Canada, so when we got tired of beating him with an electrical cable because he didn't have any information to give us, we kicked him on the ass and sent him back to Canada.

And Bush wants to be able to keep on doing this! That's right--he wants to be able to keep torturing people, and, one thing that most people haven't focused on, even the "compromise" bill that the Republican senators want abolishes the writ of habeas corpus, so that if the government decides they want to capture you and hold you captive there is nothing you or any court can do about it.

And this is what they say they need to fight terrorism. Our enemies torture innocent people, so if we can't do the same thing we'll lose out on the torture race. Kind of like the arms race back in the 60's, only the people we're torturing are unarmed.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of examples of what actually works, and the people who know what works work for the government. Jane Mayer has a great piece in last week's New Yorker about the work the FBI has done with an informer they call Junior. They've gotten a lot of information from him, they've been working with him for years, and here's what the experts who are actually talking to him and getting useful information from him say:

Coleman, for his part, believes that “people don’t do anything unless they’re rewarded.” He says that if the F.B.I. had beaten a confession out of Fadl with what he calls “all that alpha-male shit,” it would never be able to talk to him now. Brutality may yield a timely scrap of information, he conceded. But in the longer fight against terrorism such an approach is “completely insufficient,” he says. “You need to talk to people for weeks. Years.”

So who is really able to fight terrorism? The party that wants to keep kidnaping and torturing people, or the party that wants our government to follow the law?

Not a hard question, is it?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Watch "The Wire"

I haven't written too much about cultural topics, but this is something you must not miss.

HBO's series The Wire just started its fourth season last week, and you should be watching it if at all possible. Maybe you've heard about it, and maybe you know it's a cop show. So what, you've seen a lot of cop shows.

Only not like this. I started watching it when I happened to tune in the a rerun of the first episode of Season Three. The scene was people standing around on the site of a demolished housing project, and the theme was the social and economic impact of the destruction of public housing in the inner city. The whole season followed that theme through the eyes of the drug dealers who have to adjust to the loss of their turf and the police who are trying to keep a lid on things or, to be blunt about it, trying to avoid catching shit from their bosses, pretty much any way they can, while knowing they're not winning the "War on Drugs" anytime in their lifetime.

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, calls it best TV show ever broadcast in America. I don't know whether that's true or not. What I do know is that it's unique: more than any other cop show, The Wire explores the perspective of every part of the system, good and bad. You get to know and like some pretty unlikeable police officers and politicians, as well as some very interesting drug dealers.

Seasons One and Three mainly covered the drug trade in and out of the projects, while Season Two addressed corruption and smuggling on the docks, with great portrayals of the world around the longshoremens' hiring hall, the men who depend on the work, which they have only when a ship comes in with enough work for them, and the union leaders who, while corrupt, are desperately trying to keep their union alive.

Current episodes of The Wire are just getting started again, with tonight's broadcast the second episode of Season Four.This season we're going to see the Baltimore public schools, and the precarious position of the young boys whose futures are still in doubt, but who are pulled between being kids and getting drawn into the drug business.

Seasons One-Three are out on DVD. Put them on your Netflix list or buy them, but watch them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

No comment

Who's bad for defense?

Although things may have started to change lately, one area that Republicans have had an edge over Democrats lately in the polls is national defense. New evidence shows that this is one more area in which Republicans can't be trusted.

Here are a few of the facts:

* Fully two-thirds of the active U.S. Army is officially classified as "not ready for combat."

* The National Guard is "in an even more dire situation than the active Army but both have the same symptoms; I just have a higher fever."

* The Army has almost no nondeployed combat-ready brigades at its disposal.

* The equipment in Iraq is wearing out at four to nine times the normal peacetime rate because of combat losses and harsh operating conditions.

* The total Army--active and reserve--now faces at least a $50 billion equipment shortfall.

* After failing to meet its recruitment target for 2005, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 40 in January--only to find it necessary to raise it to 42 in June.

* The number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year.

* Basic training, which has, for decades, been an important tool for testing the mettle of recruits, has increasingly become a rubber-stamping ritual. Through the first six months of 2006, only 7.6 percent of new recruits failed basic training, down from 18.1 percent in May 2005.

* Thousands of white supremacists may have been able to infiltrate the military due to pressure from recruitment shortfalls.

Howard Dean used to point out that the Republicans can't be trusted with our money. Now we know they also can't be trusted to keep our people safe.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years of failure

Josh has a great post about the theme for this year. He points out that we have to get off the defensive and push our winning themes. In keeping with that idea, here are a couple of points.

1. Okay. Where's bin Laden?

I want justice," Bush said. "And there's an old poster out West… I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"

"The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone "stone cold."

What's happened in Afghanistan?

"The Afghan Taliban is better organized today than it was in 2001," says Gannon, "they have more recruits [and they] have been able to take advantage of the lawlessness, the criminal gangs, and the corruption in the government."

Taliban Resurgence Restricting Women’s Freedoms In Afghanistan

Bob Wright points out this week that even in these times it may be pretty hard for the extremists to convince people to blow themselves up to kill Americans. It might help if by our actions we can make it less, not more, likely that they will want to do so. Bush's crusade doesn't seem to be helping, does it?

Monday, September 11, 2006

"You've Covered Your Ass, Now"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is the war good politics for us?

Here's the lede from an AP story today. It shows that Bush is losing support from a core element of his base, specifically because of the war.

President Bush's once-solid relationship with Southern women is on the rocks. "I think history will show him to be the worst president since Ulysses S. Grant," said Barbara Knight, a self-described Republican since birth and the mother of three. "He's been an embarrassment." In the heart of Dixie, comparisons to Grant, a symbol of the Union, is the worst sort of insult, especially from a Macon woman who voted for Bush in 2000 but turned away in 2004.

Naturally, I don't agree with the Southern view of Ulysses Grant, since he is one of the three or four people that we owe the existence of the United States to, but even his supporters don't defend his presidency.

What seems significant, though, is that if even Southerners are willing to put Bush on the same level as Grant, and particularly Grant's failed presidency, it clearly can't be good for the R's, and clearly should be good for us if we can capitalize on it.

That, of course, is the big if.

Friday, September 01, 2006

George Bush's economy

It's not just Iraq. Sure, Bush has been a massive failure in foreign polic, with his adventure in Iraq making things more dangerous for the people we were supposedly trying to help in Iraq, and the people he was supposedly trying to protect in the United States. Still, take a look at the economy and what Bush has done there. Here's what he says: “The foundation of our economy is solid, and it’s strong. Because of the tax cuts we passed, American workers and families and small businesses are keeping more of the money they earn. And they’re using that money to drive this economy of ours forward.” And here's what his sycophant Larry Kudlow says about it: Bush has the story right. Low tax rates, strong economic growth and shrinking budget deficits — it’s still the greatest story never told.

On the other hand, here's a quote from E.J. Dionne's op-ed piece in toda's Post: Worse is that the proportion of the poor who are very poor has risen. People are considered in deep poverty if they have half or less of the yearly income of those at the poverty line. In 2005 half the poverty line for a family of three was $7,788; for a family of four it was $9,985. (Try living on that.) According to the new report, 43.1 percent of poor people lived in that sort of deep poverty -- a record since 1975, when the government started assembling such statistics.

What's the difference? The difference is that what Dionne says is based on the facts.

And what this means is that in the next two months we need to do everything we can to elect Democrats to Congress, so we can stop Bush's war on the poor.