Worried about social-network data mining? Facebook hires Ted Ullyot, former right-hand man to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, as its general counsel. Tapping Ullyot, who worked on the infamous torture memo and other illustrious projects, is a sign that the burgeoning Scrabble platform "is a little more grown-up," says Facebook public-policy VP Elliot Schrage.
Cross another item off of President Bush's to-do list before he leaves the White House: hobbling the Endangered Species Act and allowing federal agencies to gauge the environmental impact of their projects for themselves. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the changes were needed to ensure that the ESA would not be used as a "back door" to regulate greenhouse gases.
“You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas." A Vanity Fair reporter investigates the chain of command that tossed out the Geneva Conventions and instituted coercive interrogation techniques -- some might call them torture or even war crimes -- in Bush's Global War on Terror. UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo's now-obsolete 81-page memo to the Pentagon in 2003 [available as PDFs here and here] was crucial, offering a broad range of legal justifications and deniability for disregarding international law in the name of "self-defense." Others say that Yoo was just making "a clear point about the limits of Congress to intrude on the executive branch in its exercise of duties as Commander in Chief." [previously here and here.]
Who's soft on terrorism? Surely not the Democrats, who are about to enable the National Security Agency to extend its secret domestic wiretapping program after saying otherwise for months. Surely not the Republican White House, determined to rush out a new Osama bin Laden video even if it burns an intelligence connection spying on Al Qaeda that has been carefully cultivated for years.
I am sullied -- no more. Colonel Ted Westhusing was a soldier's soldier -- a multilingual West Point graduate, tough as nails, who was committed to the ancient Greek warrior's ideal of ἀρετή ("arete," excellence). He volunteered to go to Iraq, where he was commanded by another outstanding rising-star officer, counterinsurgency expert David Petraeus. (Westhusing's widow, Michelle, recalls that her husband thought his country was doing "a great thing" there.) After working with one of the shadowy contractors the US has relied on to train Iraqi security forces, USIS, Westhusing became increasingly despondent. In May 2005, investigators say, he put a 9mm bullet in his brain after writing a note that said, "Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it." Westhusing died, as was previously discussed here, and his former "cdr" is now running the war. Lots of new information in this article from the Texas Observer.
Keith Olbermann's Edward R. Murrow* moment: A Textbook Definition of Cowardice. MSNBC's host excoriates Bush, FOX News host Chris Wallace, and the media for its response to former president Clinton's "tantrum" [still being discussed here]. Note: Don't just read the transcript. Watch the video, because Olbermann's use of visuals adds greatly to the power of his presentation. No matter which side of the red/blue-state divide you're on, students of politics and media will be reviewing this clip for years to come as a little cultural watershed -- if only a consummate example of "Democrat" angerTM.
"I'm not here for the Iraqis. I'm here for George Bush." How the reconstruction of Iraq was bungled by inexperienced staffers and officials who passed the GOP's loyalty test -- including their views on Roe v. Wade. A WashPost excerpt from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's new exposé Imperial Life in the Emerald City. (Corruption in Iraq previously discussed here.)
Keep Bush away from the press. Joe Scarborough (in the news lately for asking rude questions about the President's intelligence) opines that "If George Bush has lost his ability to give a commanding presser, then stage manage him differently. Play to his strengths... Show him only in settings where he is in control." Curiously, while Bush's press conferences have become unsetllingly less coherent in recent days -- even for him -- the so-called liberal media and even the blogosphere have barely mentioned it (perhaps in the spirit of preserving the dignity of the office, like FDR's wheelchair?) Example: watch this video -- what happens at 1:34 or so, right before the President abruptly terminates the questioning? Will Bush in his twilight years, as Foxborough advises, become like Ronald Reagan, protected from public humiliation by his faithful staff?
The practical future of the country formerly known as Iraq. [NewsFilter, but a significant acknowledgement of something long-in-coming.]
NewsFilter: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the chapel, teh gay menace strikes again. The GOP-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee backs the Constitutional amendment to prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. In a fractious hearing, Republican chairman Arlen Specter shouted "Good riddance!" when Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) walked out. Laura Bush recently advised her party's candidates not to campaign on this issue and to handle it with "great sensitivity." Maybe next time.
Newsfilter: CIA director Porter Goss resigns. After taking some of the
fall heat for bad intelligence in the months before 9/11, Cheney's "cat's paw" finally gets out of the kitchen.
Rollback. Media critic Jay Rosen rises above the McClellan/"shake-up" foofaraw to put several pieces of the puzzle together and show how the Bush administration has significantly altered the long-standing relationship of the press to the White House. (More from Rosen here.) Another piece that fits: Donald Rumsfeld's bold, frequent, and rarely-challenged assertions that the American press is being expertly "manipulated" by Al Qaeda "media committees" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I've been silent long enough... My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results." Marine Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, the Pentagon's former top operations officer, becomes the latest military insider to raise his voice against the "zealots" who led the US into war in Iraq. He writes in Time magazine: "Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again... After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq--an unnecessary war." During the Vietnam war, such discontent among soldiers sparked a massive campaign of disobedience and peace activism (as well as, more darkly, fragging) within the ranks, as recounted in a new documentary called Sir! No Sir! Can it happen again? Ask the Soldiers for the Truth.
Whooops! While making a required filing to the state ethics commission, Ohio Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell finds Diebold shares in his stock portfolio that he now claims to have bought "accidentally." Yes, that Diebold -- the e-voting company whose chairman promised to "deliver the vote" to George Bush. And yes, that Blackwell, whose state helped deliver the White House to the GOP. Blackwell insists that the humble amount of Diebold stock was in one of those "blind trust" type of arrangements that worked out so rewardingly for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. [newsfilter via RawStory.]
Hindsight on Iraq is 20/20 -- but views diverge. Reason magazine asks notable libertarians, conservatives, and academics -- from Instapundit Glenn Reynolds (one word: "win") to Illuminatus! author Robert Anton Wilson ("Bush has used [the invasion] as an excuse to destroy the last few tattered remnants of the Bill of Rights") -- if they would have chosen differently in 2003, knowing how the war would develop.
Former GOP senior strategist Kevin Phillips wrote the political Bible of the New Right, The Emerging Republican Majority. He coined the term "Sun Belt." He voted for Reagan twice and still considers himself a staunch Republican. But now Phillips, the author of a new book called American Theocracy, is warning that the party of George Bush and Karl Rove ("W brand Republicans," in the phrase of GOP pollster Jan van Lohuizen) has become "God's own party" -- the champion of a convergence of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex." Phillips also cautions that the W-brand party's "sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution." [Phillips was also discussed here.]
Intrigues at the White House: Andrew Card, Bush's longtime chief of staff -- the guy who briefly interrupted the President's reading of The Pet Goat one rough morning in 2001 and took heat for the Katrina and Dubai debacles -- is out, replaced by budget director "Yosh" Bolten, the one-time founder of a club called "Bikers for Bush." Meanwhile, is Rove rolling over for Patrick Fitzgerald, and if so, what's the angle?
"Don't worry Mr. President, we have Kansas surrounded." Warrantless searches: they're not just for wiretaps anymore. U.S. News and World Report probes the Bush administration's covert drive to conduct physical searches of American homes without court approval.
"Resolved that the United States Senate does hereby censure George W. Bush, president of the United States, and does condemn his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans." Invoking "high crimes and misdemeanors," Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold introduces a motion to censure [PDF link] President Bush for his controversial, legally dubious NSA wiretapping program. Feingold declares: "The President must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law." Republican leader Frist retorts: "It's a crazy political move" that sends a "terrible" signal to Iran. Democratic bloggers say: Call your senator. [More legal fallout from the NSA program recently discussed here.]
Newsfilter: Secret arrests, secret renditions, secret interrogations in secret jails, and now, secret rulings from US federal judges. More fallout from the Bush administration's NSA domestic-spying program [recently discussed here].
Adieu, Abu Ghraib -- we hardly knew ye (classified, ya know.) In the wake of a damning Amnesty International report, military spokesperson Keir-Kevin Curry says the infamous Baghdad prison will be closed within three months, its occupants transferred to other facilities in Iraq, including Camp Cropper (and don't ask what's happening there , or the terrorists win.) Or is Curry's statement premature? And would the closing of Abu Ghraib represent a change of policy, or merely rebranding the same old same old to avoid bad associations?
'The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," said Jay Rockefeller, vice-president of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after the committee quashed a broad inquiry into the legality of the NSA spying on Americans -- despite an increasing number of legal scholars coming forward and declaring that the program is "blatantly illegal," in the words of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Meanwhile, the GOP proposes giving spying on Americans the "force of law" while subjecting it to "rigorous oversight."
The cheesesteak -- a veritable cornucopia of heart-healthy ingredients on a bun. Pat and Geno make 'em in Philly (where else?), inspiring a rivalry not quite as intense as Sunni vs. Shi'a. (In bad taste, you say? Since when is a cheesesteak in good taste?) Some people put Cheese Whiz on 'em (a "Whiz wit"). Jim FedExes 'em. Philadelphians have strong opinions about 'em. The leader of the Free WorldTM eats 'em and then lies about 'em. Faux-fu, they ain't. Ever eaten one and lived?
Notice: henceforth, the Minister of War shall address the people only through the Ministry of Truth. The story-behind-the-story of the Vice President's hunting mishap is the denigration of the MSMTM as the traditional proxy of the public interest, says NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen. "It strikes me that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times is," Cheney told cherry-picked Fox "News" correspondent Brit Hume yesterday. GOP spokesperson Mary Matalin underlined the point by saying that Cheney considered holding a news conference, but that "would have meant a lot of grandstanding" by reporters; Donald Rumsfeld often goes even farther, claiming that terrorist organizations manipulate the American press directly through "media committees." Judging by the administration's contempt for the Fourth Estate, says Rosen, "The public visibility of the presidency itself is under revision. More of it lies in shadow all the time. Non-communication has become the standard procedure, not a breakdown in practice but the essence of it." Even arch-conservative pundits like George Will are starting to get nervous about the lack of check and balances under the current regime. There's no doubt that the White House press corps seems angrier these days -- but are they missing the bigger stories by focusing their wrath on Scott McClellan's birdshot spin?
Zeitgeistfilter: Lumpen Leisure and Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown... Now Shut Up and Buy Something -- two fine rants about our current state of disunion by James Howard Kuntsler, author of The Long Emergency (excerpt), and writer and Vietnam vet Joe Bageant. "All over but the keening for our soon-to-be-lost machine world," Kunstler predicts in The American Conservative, while Bageant taps the inner stream-of-unconsciousness for Dissident Voice: "Things cannot be as bad as the alarmists say. They cannot be as bad as I often suspect they are. If there really were such a thing as global warming they would be starting to do something about it. And besides, even if it were true, science will find a way to fix it. If there really were genocide going on in so many places far more people would be concerned... If the earth were heating up we would surely notice it. If our soldiers and government agencies were torturing people around the world it would make the news. If millions were being exterminated, it would be more obvious, would it not?" (Kunstler's book previously discussed here, Bageant here.)
What unites hardliners like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh -- their uncompromisingly conservative take on politics? In a provocative blog post titled Do Bush followers have a political ideology?, Glenn Greenwald persuasively argues otherwise. He believes that the conservative movement -- traditionally against big government, excessive spending, and federal intrusion into the private lives of Americans -- has been hijacked by something much more dangerous: an authoritarian cult of personality, or as Greenwald puts it, "a form of highly emotional mass theater masquerading as political debate."
"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," writes former CIA official Paul Pillar, coordinator of U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until 2005, in an article soon to appear in Foreign Affairs, hardly a radical rag. More confirmation that Seymour Hersh was right about the administration "cherry-picking" intelligence to justify a foregone conclusion to go to war in Iraq.
Evidence of a slippery slope continued: Newsweek reports that White House counsel Steve Bradbury believes President Bush can order killings on US soil as part of the Terrorist-Surveillance ProgramTM. Meanwhile, while Attorney General Gonzales "lashes out" at the media and insists that the TSPTM is "not a dragnet that sucks in all conversation and uses computer searches to pick out calls of interest," the Washington Post reports it's precisely that -- "computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears" -- and has led to very few leads. (See also discussion of Arlen Specter and the legality of the TSPTM here.)
Then: Q - Mr. Secretary, on Iraq, how much money do you think the Department of Defense would need to pay for a war with Iraq? Rumsfeld - Well, the Office of Management and Budget, has come up come up with a number that's something under $50 billion for the cost. How much of that would be the U.S. burden, and how much would be other countries, is an open question. And now: The estimated cost to US taxpayers of the Iraq war to date is $250 billion and rising, or $100,000 per minute. Total cost of the Bush doctrine of spreading "democracy" since September 11th -- half a trillion dollars, or nearly the cost of the 13 years of the Vietnam War, adjusted for inflation. What else could we have done with that kind of money? Also see here.
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald says emails relevant to the Valerie Plame leak investigation have gone missing from the White House. "In an adundance of caution," Fitzgerald wrote [PDF] to "Scooter" Libby's lawyers on January 23, "we advise you that we have learned that not all email of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." Might this help explain why Alberto Gonzales -- now the Attorney General, and lately so busy mustering arguments to assert that Bush's NSA domestic-spying program is "legal" -- waited 12 hours before instructing White House staff to preserve documents relevant to the leak investigation after telling Andrew Card about it? Shades of the late, great yoga instructor, Rose Mary Woods. [More on Plame here.]
Bush administration tries to silence NASA's chief climate expert James Hansen from granting interviews about global warming. Meanwhile, a new study by Australian researchers confirms that global sea levels are rising, and may make island nations like Tuvalu and the Maldives uninhabitable by the end of the century. [via RawStory]
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win: SDS is reborn. Founded in 1959 and imploded ten tumultous years later, the Students for Democratic Society was one of the most dynamic and controversial forces at work in organizing a mass movement against the Vietnam war, particularly among draft-age kids. The group's original manifesto, Tom Hayden's Port Huron statement, still rings prophetic in Bush's America. Now SDS is relaunching and planning its first national convention since 1969, with a new crew of young radicals issuing calls to action to their own supposedly apathetic generation: "We seek liberation from the dominant business interests that have degraded our cities, paved over our communities, drowned out small business, and commodified our culture... Cooperative self-reliance is the only moral and material salvation of our nation, and the only release from a system that demands each of us be an accomplice to its heinous crimes."
Shades of Stalin's pre-Photoshop erasing of Trotsky from history: Joanne Amos admits to Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall that her GOP-friendly company, Reflections Photography, scrubbed images of President Bush with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff from both their online archive and CD record of official events. [Photos previously discussed here.]
The (Broken) Triangle: Progressive Bloggers in the Wilderness. The Huffington Post's Peter Daou, whose dour forecast of how Bush and lazy media would spin away the NSA scandal proved prescient, on why "netroots activists" can't get traction: "It's slow-motion-car-wreck painful, and most certainly NOT where the left's triangle should be a half decade into the new millennium, as the Bush-propping machine hums and whirrs, poll numbers rise and fall, Iraq bleeds, scandal dissolves into scandal, terror speech blends into terror speech. The landscape is there for everyone to see, to analyze. Enough time has elapsed to make the system transparent. It is dismaying for netroots activists to see the same mistakes repeated..."
Is your name James Moore? If so, you may be a terrorist. Or at least the NSA thinks so, having added that name -- which also happens to be the name of the author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential -- to its mysteriously targeted and infamously mismanaged "No-Fly" list [previously discussed here.]
"I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story..." President Bush really did not want journalists to reveal his NSA spying program against Americans [discussed here.] And in yesterday's rare press conference, the President said: "An open debate about law would say to the enemy, 'Here's what we're going to do.' And this is an enemy which adjusts... Any public hearings on programs will say to the enemy, 'Here's what they do. Adjust.' This is a war." Neocon guru William Kristol argues that talk of Bush being an "imperial" president" is "demagogic" and "irresponsible" since "Congress has the right and the ability to judge whether President Bush has in fact used his executive discretion soundly." What is the role of "open debate" in a war against terror that may last for decades?
[TotalitarianismFilter] Don't be asking your college librarian for a copy of that Little Red Book to do a class assignment, or your parents might get a visit from the good folks at the Department of Homeland Security. More evidence that the Bush administration cannot restrain itself when granted enhanced surveillance powers.
Bush in the Bubble. Newsweek's analysis of the man who is possibly "the most isolated president in modern history."
The administration's latest innovation in its effort to export democracy: Soviet-style gulags, a network of secret C.I.A. prisons known as "black sites." [From the Washington Post]. Meanwhile, SecDef Rumsfeld says no thanks to the idea of U.N. inspectors talking to detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
Why outing Plame mattered. If you wonder what's really at stake behind all the media buzz around the Fitzgerald indictments, read this lengthy and cogent analysis by Stratfor's no-nonsense George Friedman. "Rove and Libby had top security clearances and were senior White House officials. It was their sworn duty, undertaken when they accepted their security clearance, to build a 'bodyguard of lies' -- in Churchill's phrase -- around the truth concerning U.S. intelligence capabilities... The minimal story -- that they talked about Plame with a reporter -- is the end of the matter."
You know that ranger job in the National Park Service that you're gonna apply for as soon as you get through school or quit waiting tables? Fuhgeddaboutit, unless you've pledged your loyalty to the
Ba'ath party President's Management Agenda and its roster of "faith-based and community initiatives," "competitive sourcing," etcetera, and Interior Secretary Gale Norton's "4C's," which seem to have to do with communication, consultation, cooperation, conservation, and Clinton-bashing. (Oh, sorry, that's 5 C's. It's just that Norton can't seem to stop denigrating "the previous administration" -- while advocating drilling in ANWR -- for such absurd ideas as banning snowmobiles from Yellowstone.)
Global warming -- the upside: the entrepreneurs poised to make millions from new ports and shipping lanes in the formerly ice-bound Arctic circle. A fascinating New York Times article on the international land-grab following the news (reported here, discussed here, whitewashed here, et. al.) that the polar ice caps and Siberian permafrost are melting. Goodbye Gulf Stream, hello Club Med Santa-style -- first SUV to the North Pole wins!
Ethicsgate continues: Today, the bipartisan Government Accountability Office declared that the Bush administration broke the law by paying Armstrong Williams to write favorable columns about the No Child Left Behind Act, funneling public funds to a PR firm to sift through news stories and gauge media perception of Bush policies, and financing phony TV news reports giving the President's education policies "an A-plus," creating what the GAO called "covert propaganda." [Williams et. al. previously discussed here.]
The Matrix shatters before the eyes of the nation (sorry, WMP link) -- and on Fox News! For those old enough to remember, it's so significant that Geraldo Rivera says of conditions in the New Orleans Convention Center, "it's like Willowbrook in there." (Rivera became famous in 1972 by exposing the horrendous conditions in a home for the mentally retarded called Willowbrook; finally, after decades of degrading himself, he remembers what his job is.) And Slate's Jack Shafer on "the rebellion of the talking heads" -- the refusal of reporters on the ground in New Orleans to regurgitate the official spin. [via TalkLeft]
You can't make this stuff up: Rumsfeld announces that the Bush administration is planning to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with an "America Supports You freedom walk" from the Pentagon saluting the troops deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, followed by a show by "country music superstar" Clint Black at the National Mall. (Not to imply that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11 or anything...)
Bush comes out in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution in American schools. Is this the latest evidence of the White House willing to champion worthy but controversial ideas that have been sidelined by liberal bias, or strictly from Paul Krugman's theoretical headline, "Shape of Earth: Views Differ"? [Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Texas educators ignite brouhaha by adding Bible study to the public-school curriculum].
Bush to Senate: Go to Hell. As expected, President Bush bypassed the confirmation process and made a recess appointment to elevate John Bolton to the post of US ambassador to the United Nations, brushing off what he calls "partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators." Bolton was previously discussed on MeFi here.
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