Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, September 28, 2006
Serious foreign policy analysis from the party that knows what it's doing
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:59 PM

Presented without comment:

Lott: Bush barely mentioned Iraq in meeting with Senate Republicans
From CNN's Ted Barrett

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

"No, none of that," Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. "You're the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don't for the most part."

Lott went on to say he has difficulty understanding the motivations behind the violence in Iraq.

"It's hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he said. "Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? Why do they hate the Israeli's and despise their right to exist? Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me."

1 comments on this post
Bush officially named dictator
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:23 PM
Good news, America. Thanks to the bill passed by the House yesterday (and sure to be passed by the Senate and soon to be signed by the President), we now live in a police state. The administration now has the Congressional seal of approval to detain and torture "enemy combatants" (which means anyone the administration says is an "enemy combatant," a classification that includes those giving money to charities deemed to be supporting terrorism), even American citizens, pretty much at will.

In other words, all it took was a single terrorist attack to undo our entire system of due process. Congress meekly lined up and gave Bush total power to shuffle whoever he pleases off to secret torture prisons.

I never thought America was so fearful, so spineless, so completely lacking in confidence in its own ideals, history and purpose as to abandon all pretense to justice so quickly and completely, without significant opposition. I thought enough people -- at all points on the political spectrum -- thought "freedom" was more than a meaningless mantra that they wouldn't throw it away so easily. I thought we were, you know, better than the tinpot Third World juntas and Stalinist megastates.

I thought wrong.

Enjoy your dictatorship, America. You asked for it. Here is how you were sold tyranny:

"The Global War on Terror is different from any war we have ever known. As a country we must understand that adaptation to these new situations is critical in order to achieve victory over those who seek to hurt us as a nation." -- Dennis Hastert

"Let's bring justice before the eyes of the children and widows of Sept. 11." -- James Sensenbrenner, Jr.

"It is outrageous that House Democrats, at the urging of their leaders, continue to oppose giving President Bush the tools he needs to protect our country." -- John A. Boehner

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Saturday, September 23, 2006
If Bush likes a "compromise," you know it's not a compromise
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:21 PM
I'll let Glenn Greenwald explain why anyone telling you the torture "compromise" is a good thing is a fan of torture.

I'll also echo Glenn's frustration that "Democrats" are so eager to lavish praise on the nominally "independent" Republicans that rolled over on this issue. It's bad enough that the Democrats defer to Republicans to provide meaningful opposition to the White House -- the fact that they don't even notice when the Republican opposition caves is completely pathetic.

From here on out, I think we can refer to the Democrats as the "Democratic wing of the Republican Party."

9 comments on this post
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Ironic Product Names Dept.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:41 PM

With great fanfare, Microsoft has introduced its "iPod killer" Zune media player. This is an interesting evolution for Microsoft, since to date it has focused on a comprehensive software solution for media content delivery and copy protection rather than hardware. They spearheaded the "PlaysForSure" program as a common umbrella for Windows-based hardware and content vendors to work with, and nearly every media player that isn't an iPod and online content provider that isn't iTunes now use this technology. Now Microsoft leaps into the hardware arena with the Zune player and announces a new software solution to go with it...

...that isn't compatible with PlaysForSure.


Such is the way DRM works -- you pay money for something that's only a software change away from not playing anymore. Microsoft is furiously spinning this, telling people, "So they're two complementary solutions -- not everyones gonna want Zune and not everyone's gonna want PlaysForSure. They're different paths there, and we're okay with both of them."

Great. So now you're selling two incompatible playback solutions. So, what, if I buy a Sandisk player and my wife gets a Zune, we've got buy everything twice? Of course not. We'll get a CD and not have to worry about it, like every sane consumer. (Assuming we haven't been driven into the embrace of Bittorrent.) Any odds on when "different path" #3 appears?

Meanwhile, in the same interview, Microsoft VP J Allard (is his first name really just "J"?) has a great suggestion on how to get video content into your shiny new Zune player:

We have really pretty strong commitment to being compatible with your existing libraries. We know we're not the first player in this space, and that there's a ton of media out there, and so we put a bunch of codec support in there. [...] Lots of DVD ripping software out there that encodes to those formats, so the most popular formats out there, whether it's MPEG-4 or H.264, we'll support those. So, we really are taking a relatively agnostic approach to different formats.

That's a fantastic idea. Too bad ripping DVDs violates the DMCA.

But there's a silver lining. If Microsoft is saying that it's OK to rip a DVD and strip out its copy protection to load it on your Zune, then it must also be OK to strip the DRM out of PlaysForSure media to load that onto your Zune.

I don't think it would be a good idea to hold your breath waiting for Microsoft to endorse that solution, though.

7 comments on this post
Monday, September 18, 2006
John Yoo speaks ignorance to the serfs
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:50 PM
One of the primary architect's of the Bush administration's hatred of the Constitution, John Yoo, published an op-ed in the New York Times explaining to us all why we need to redefine the powers of th executive branch in order to protect us from the Islamofascinazicommuextremoevilist hordes. Here's a list of things he finds to praise about the Bush regime:

It has re-classified national security information made public in earlier administrations and declined, citing executive privilege, to disclose information to Congress or the courts about its energy policy task force. The White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority. That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements -- more than any previous president -- reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws.

Once again -- this is Yoo lauding the administration. He thinks this behavior is good and proper and ideal. Bush breaking laws ("sidestep" sounds so dainty) is just a valid exercise of executive power.

But even more breathtaking than that (and I've got to give Yoo credit for that feat) is this:

The changes of the 1970’s occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon’s use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents.

Wow. Just... wow. Now, I'm not trying to minimize the general nefariousness of the Islamofascinazicommuextremoevilist threat, but I think I'm on pretty safe ground when I say that the absolute worst that al Qaeda could do to "United States soil" would hardly be a mosquito bite compared to the capabilities of the Soviet Union. Yoo is seriously suggesting that the national security situation during the Cold War was casual and carefree, and that's why we picked on poor Richard Nixon. Because we had nothing better to do.

And the result?

The Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act required the government to get a warrant from a special court to conduct wiretapping for national security reasons... [leading to] the wall between intelligence and law enforcement that contributed to our failure to stop the 9/11 attacks.

That's right -- FISA caused 9/11! (Bad FISA!) If only we'd just let Nixon spy on whoever he wanted for political purposes, the World Trade Center would still be standing.

The subtext here is crystal clear. Either we allow Bush to operate independently of the law (since in Yoo's fomulation the correct person to decide what laws the President should follow is the President), or we all die at the hands of the evildoers.

Any similarity of that message to the fundamental tenets of fascism are, I'm sure, purely coincidental.

Glenn Greenwald has a much more thorough examination of Yoo's completely wrongheaded op-ed available here.

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GOP: First Amendment protections not worth paying for
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:04 AM

As noted on NPR this morning, but conspicuously absent from mainstream media (a Google News search turned up only press releases from various interest groups), the full House will soon vote on the "Public Expression of Religion Act." Here's the summary of the bill, from the bill itself:

To amend the Revised Statutes of the United States to eliminate the chilling effect on the constitutionally protected expression of religion by State and local officials that results from the threat that potential litigants may seek damages and attorney's fees.

And here's the important part:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a court shall not award reasonable fees and expenses of attorneys to the prevailing party on a claim of injury consisting of the violation of a prohibition in the Constitution against the establishment of religion brought against the United States or any agency or any official of the United States acting in his or her official capacity in any court having jurisdiction over such claim, and the remedies with respect to such a claim shall be limited to injunctive and declaratory relief.

English translation: the theocrats know that they can't win Establishment Clause cases on legal merit, as their track record in court is abysmal. So, they seek to stop lawsuits before they begin by not allowing legal fees to be paid by the defense in the event the plaintiff wins. Which means that you can only bring suit against First Amendment violations if you are able to pay for legal representation out of your own pocket, or if the lawyer is willing to work for free. This leaves aspiring theocrats at all levels of government free to use government money to promote the religion of their choice without the "chilling effect" of being held accountable for their violations of the Constitution.

At this point, it would be easier to discuss what parts of the Consitution *haven't* been subjected to shredding by the current party in power. If they didn't get so much money from the NRA, that list would be even smaller.

3 comments on this post
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Film fest
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:59 PM
I don't make it to the theater much, and am far too disorganized to watch movies as they are released on DVD. So, by the time I see things, no one wants to talk about them any more. Well, too bad. Today, Nero's Fiddle reviews the movies of several months ago.

Crash -- This looks great and boasts some fine performances by the likes of Matt Dillon and the always-impressive Don Cheadle. Unfortunately, all that is in service of a script that reads like a tenth-generation Xerox of Magnolia (which itself was second-hand Robert Altman). Featuring an ensemble cast "connected" in the most hackneyed and belief-beggaring ways imaginable, we are asked to constantly be surprised by the "unexpected" ways these characters behave. After the opening, in which Ludacris complains about being treated as a criminal by whites and then commits a carjacking, we are pummeled senseless by more of the same. Racist people aren't totally evil! Good people can do bad things! Stereotypes are sometimes right! And sometimes wrong! Wow! Crash is a film that shallow people think is deep, which might explain its Best Picture win.

Good Night And Good Luck -- I have to give George Clooney credit for pursuing an artistic vision at the expense of commercial appeal. This black-and-white movie consists almost entirely of pasty white guys smoking and talking. And it's riveting. David Strathairn spookily channels Ed Murrow, while Joseph McCarthy plays himself and ridiculously overacts the part. The filmmakers are guilty of some oversimplification here, making the Murrow/McCarthy feud appear to exist in something of a vacuum, which is perhaps inevitable in reducing such tales to 90 minutes. But the importance of the events depicted can hardly be overstated, which makes the impact of this understated film all the greater.

V For Vendetta -- I have not read Alan Moore's graphic novel, so I cannot accurately judge Moore's complaints about the movie. Moore's beef, in a nutshell, is that his work was specifcally about England, fascism, and anarchy -- and if the Wachowski brothers wanted to make an allegory about America, neo-conservatism and liberalism, they should have made up their own characters and situations with which to tell it. Moore accuses the filmmakers of cowardice in using his work as cover to attack the US government. While he may have a point, the movie is still a hugely entertaining and gripping one on its own merits. Hugo Weaving gives a memorable performance from behind a Guy Fawkes mask, which ought to be an awardable achievement.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy -- This adaptation gets some things right -- the deisgn (and emphasis on practical vs. CGI effects) is excellent, particularly the inspired Marvin costume, and Bill Nighy is a delight as Slartibartfast. Sadly, it gets more things wrong. Sam Rockwell seems to be under the impression that he was hired to do a half-assed Bush impersonation, portraying Zaphod as a drawling semi-coherent dimwit instead of a jerk whose narcissism overwhelms his brilliance. Its worst offense, though, is treating Douglas Adams' words as secondary. Lines are mumbled and rushed through instead of delivered. Memorable monologues are edited into pale shadows. Gags are started and then abandoned. In all its previous and varied incarnations, Hitchhiker's great strength was Adams' inspired wordplay. For some reason, the makers of this great-looking film decided to go in a different direction, and made a curiously pointless movie.

Stay tuned! I'll soon be analyzing the 2004 elections.

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Monday, September 11, 2006
The angry guy in the sky
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:57 PM
The Washington Post has a thought-provoking article up on the difficulties of getting a handle on the "religiosity" of America:

The unaffiliated -- people who check "none" or "no religion" when asked their affiliation -- have been closely eyeballed since 1990, when major surveys showed they doubled, from 7 percent of the U.S. population to 14 percent, reflecting, sociologists say, increasing secularization that is occurring at the same time American society is becoming more religious.

But the Baylor survey, believed to be one of the most detailed ever done about religion in America, found that a tenth of people who picked "no religion" out of 40 possible religious groups did something interesting when asked later where they worship: they wrote down a place.

Which could in fact be a classic case of asking one question and getting an answer to a different question. While the poll-takers assumed an answer of "none"/"no religion" meant "agnostic/atheist", a sizable number of those polled chose "none" were in fact spiritual/theists who didn't claim any of the 40 religions on offer. If "other" was an option, then people weren't completing the survey correctly. If "other" was omitted, then it was a poorly constructed survey. Either way, it seems that pigeon-holing faith is becoming increasingly difficult.

I was more struck, however, by this section later on:

Among the most innovative aspects of the Baylor survey, scholars who know about it say, are questions that probe how Americans describe God's personality. Respondents were offered 26 attributes ranging from "absolute" and "wrathful" to "friendly," and asking if God is directly involved in and angered by their affairs, and worldly affairs.

The researchers separated God's attributes into four categories: angry, judgmental, benevolent or distant. Researchers found that the largest category of people -- 31 percent -- was made up of people who believe God both wrathful and highly involved in human affairs.

People's beliefs about God's personality are powerful predictors, according to the survey. Those who found God engaged and punishing were likely to have lower incomes and education, to come from the South and be white evangelicals or black Protestants. People who believe God is distant and nonjudgmental are more likely to support increased business regulation, environmental protections and the even distribution of wealth.

Sounds like the 31 percent who believe in the "pissed-off hands-on" God prefer to leave the questions of justice to the angry guy in the sky.

Finally, we have this:

The changing demographics of America demand different polls as well, religion pollsters say. For example, approximately 3 percent of Americans come from faith traditions besides Christianity and Judaism. While still small, this group is growing rapidly, and scholars say if current trends continue, that number could reach 10 percent.

According to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, who focuses on religion, that is already the figure for Americans under the age of 25. Questions about the frequency of "attending" religious services aren't as relevant to Hindus and Buddhists, who often have worship spaces in their homes. Questions about "weekly" prayer services aren't as relevant to Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, she said.

"The broader point is that this country that's always been religiously diverse," said Green, "is becoming religiously diverse in a new way."

If I'm interpreting all this correctly, we could be looking at a situation in the foreseeable future where a quarter of the country will identify as non-Judeo-Christian. How Bill O'Reilly will deal with this remains to be seen.

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You want to talk about 9/11? Fine.
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:03 AM
Five years ago today, the United States was given an exceedingly rare opportunity. Almost a gift. It seems almost blasphemous to say that, given the monstrous evil carried out that morning. But the hindsight of five years tells us that behind the cliche of a "world-changing" event is the reality that the world will change, and though Osama bin Laden was responsible for the event, the course of the resulting change was up to us.

When al Qaeda slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, a world that had been sensitized to violence and cynical about fighting "evil" was, for a moment, galvanized and shocked. Innocent civilians of all nationalities were burned alive and ground into dust in the name of a wild-eyed interpretation of a volatile religion. Chaos reigned. Stories floated through the news stations and the crippled internet of the State Department in flames, car bombs going off in front of the Capitol. The President of the United States scurried off to a secret location to wait out the crisis, and the rest of us were left to see what would remain intact when the sun set.

(As part of my job, I was surrounded by very rich men that day. They screamed into cell phones and demanded the ability to control the situation. They could not. They were utterly adrift.)

No one knew what would happen next, because, truly, anything could happen next. The reason such moments are important and memorable and marked with an annual orgy of pseudo-reverent news coverage is the inherent split of "before" and "after." We all knew the "after" would be somehow different, everyone had an opinion, but it was unknowable.

Very few could argue against the proposition that the Taliban had to go, and very few did. It was a nearly universally despised regime, and as comedian David Cross memorably observed, even Ralph Nader would have invaded Afghanistan. That move was a given.

After that, the world was ready to stand with us to clean house and reject violent extremism. Those regimes still benefiting from terror were palpably intimidated by the righteous unity and clarity of purpose exhibited by everyone else. For a brief instant, it seemed possible the world could wipe the slate clean, set aside old greivances, use the horrific example Osama bin Laden had given us as a signpost of what to move away from, and find something better to move toward.

And, as 9/11 gave the world the opportunity to move forward, 9/11 gave the Bush administration the opportunity, and the responsibility, to lead that movement. The chance to recognize that our power flowed not from our military but from our ideals. The chance to acknowledge that our attempts to mold the world through force are not without unforeseen consequence, as our backing of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s gave rise to al Qaeda, and our establishment of long term bases in Saudi Arabia during and after the Gulf War gave the fanatics an excuse to project their rage onto us.

Instead, Bush invaded Iraq.

The administration is fond of accusing those who disagree with its policies of having a "pre-9/11 mindset." Yet it's difficult to conceive of an action more representative of a pre-9/11 mindset than the invasion of Iraq. Iraq was the old enemy. Saddam was a secular despot, a Sunni ruling a country of Shiites, a military dictator with a crumbling army that had never recovered from the long war against Iran in which we supported him. Iraq was contained. Iraq was not the problem. But Iraq was an old grudge. Iraq was unfinished business. In the end, Iraq was the free shot we squandered.

America and the world required no intense sales pitch to fight al Qaeda. Their threat could not be questioned. Their intent was unmistakable. The case for action was compelling. The decmiation of al Qaeda would have sent a clear message to Hamas, Hezbollah and their sponsors that terror was no longer tolerated.

Instead, Bush had to invent reasons to attack Iraq. He had to hype already dubious intelligence about weapons of mass destruction into a "grave and gathering threat" that turned out not to exist at all. He had to grasp at tiny straws of unclear evidence to weave a tattered narrative of a collaboration between Iraq and al Qaeda that turned out not to exist, either. He had to pump up minor players like Zarqawi into supervillians with ties to Saddam that... turned out not to exist.

Most of the world didn't buy the initial sales pitch. Of those that joined us in the invasion, most would not stay long, after the justifications for the war fell apart and the rosy predictions of a trouble-free transition to a secular West-friendly democracy proved wrong.

Instead, it seems clear that what we have instead accomplished is presenting Iran with a new ally and al Qaeda with a new base of operations. Instead of making terrorism unacceptable, we have given it new life and vitality. Just as 9/11 was a moment of "before" and "after," so was the invasion of Iraq. What March 20, 2003 turned out to signify was the end of the truly global war on terror and the beginning of the increasing isolation of the United States.

The World Trade Center has been burdened by more symbolism in the last five years than even its 13 million square feet could hold. But I'll still add a little more -- the Twin Towers represent twin tragedies. The horrible, barbaric loss of life that happened five years ago from the from very minutes I type this. And, perhaps equally tragic, the loss of a moment of opportunity that we may never have again.

1 comments on this post
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Following the President's example
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:39 PM
Inspired by the federal executive branch, Ohio is now deciding that things like trials and due process shouldn't hinder their ability to punish people:

A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.

The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.

A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.

I hear this sort of thing is popular in countries that don't believe the Almighty has given them the gift of freedom.

3 comments on this post
The forgotten attacks
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:54 PM
From Cheney today (when he wasn't calling those who don't think the Iraq war was a great idea terrorist sympathizers or continuing to flatly contradict the CIA on the nature of the relationship between Saddam and Zarqawi):

"I don't know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years . . . of defeating the efforts of al-Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans," Cheney said. "You've got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right."

I don't want to sound like a spoilsport, but I don't understand the national amnesia that leads to the statements of "five years of no attacks."

Someone launched a very well-publicized terror attack shortly after September 11, 2001. The attacker used a substance that President Bush would later classify (while selling the Iraq war) as a biological weapon -- a weapon of mass destruction. This attack killed five people and injured seventeen others. It caused a national panic. Many buildings and facilities were closed for years, and the FBI estimates the total dollar cost of the attacks at $1 billion. Members of Congress were direct targets of this attack, which may have had an effect on the subsequent passage of the Patriot Act.

Yet, this is never mentioned. There are no "five years after" stories. We hear again and again from the administration and its apologists that America has been untroubled by terror since 9/11, as though these attacks never happened. Even worse, the case remains unsolved and no one seems to be much interested in solving it.

Why is this? Did the government not find a connection to Islamic terrorism and so disregard this terrorism (using WMDs!) as not relevant to their "war on terror"? Is five not a large enough body count to get attention? Is it only terrorism if airplanes are involved? Do attacks on Democrats and the media not worry right-wingers? (After all, people like Ann Coulter often publicly fantasize about violent attacks on Democrats and the media.) Do the American people simply not want to remember? Does it simply just not fit into the media's preferred "9/11 happened, then we fought back" narrative?

I don't know. But it's mighty strange.

3 comments on this post
You go to war with the SecDef you have
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:05 PM
Via Tom Tomorrow's blog, we learn Rummy wasn't particularly interested in the boring stuff that came after "shock and awe":

In 2001, Scheid was a colonel with the Central Command, the unit that oversees U.S. military operations in the Mideast.

On Sept. 10, 2001, he was selected to be the chief of logistics war plans.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he said, "life just went to hell."

That day, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Central Command, told his planners, including Scheid, to "get ready to go to war."

A day or two later, Rumsfeld was "telling us we were going to war in Afghanistan and to start building the war plan. We were going to go fast.

"Then, just as we were barely into Afghanistan ... Rumsfeld came and told us to get ready for Iraq."

Scheid said he remembers everyone thinking, "My gosh, we're in the middle of Afghanistan, how can we possibly be doing two at one time? How can we pull this off? It's just going to be too much."

Planning was kept very hush-hush in those early days.

"There was only a handful of people, maybe five or six, that were involved with that plan because it had to be kept very, very quiet."

There was already an offensive plan in place for Iraq, Scheid said. And in the beginning, the planners were just expanding on it.

"Whether we were going to execute it, we had no idea," Scheid said.

Eventually other military agencies - like the transportation and Army materiel commands - had to get involved.

They couldn't just "keep planning this in the dark," Scheid said.

Planning continued to be a challenge.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

0 comments on this post
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:56 AM
While we are being subjected to the mass media orgy of Five Years Of Terra, it's worth noting that the government is finally starting to admit that we spent three and a half of those five years fighting the wrong war:

Saddam Hussein rejected overtures from al-Qaida and believed Islamic extremists were a threat to his regime, a reverse portrait of an Iraq allied with Osama bin Laden painted by the Bush White House, a Senate panel has found.

The administration's version was based in part on intelligence that White House officials knew was flawed, according to Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing newly declassified documents released by the panel.

The report, released Friday, discloses for the first time an October 2005 CIA assessment that prior to the war Saddam's government "did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward" al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or his associates.

As recently as an Aug. 21 news conference, President Bush said people should "imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein" with the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction and "who had relations with Zarqawi."

Democrats singled out CIA Director George Tenet, saying that during a private meeting in July Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him and that he agreed to back up the administration's case for war despite his own agents' doubts about the intelligence it was based on.

'Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to 'say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,'" Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Friday.

Tenet also told the committee that complying had been "the wrong thing to do," according to Levin.

"Well, it was much more than that," Levin said. "It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director's duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy."

Leaders of both parties accused each other of seeking political gain on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Republicans said the document contained little new information about prewar intelligence or postwar findings on Iraq's weapons and connection to terrorist groups.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., accused Democrats of trying to "use the committee ... insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime."

"That is simply not true," Roberts added, "and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it."

The report speaks for itself, Democrats said.

The administration "exploited the deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, leading a large majority of Americans to believe -- contrary to the intelligence assessments at the time -- that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Still, Democrats were reluctant to say how the administration officials involved should be called to account.

Asked whether the wrongdoing amounted to criminal conduct, Levin and Rockefeller declined to answer. Rockefeller said later he did not believe Bush should be impeached over the matter.

According to the report, postwar findings indicate that Saddam "was distrustful of al-Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime." It quotes an FBI report from June 2004 in which former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview that "Saddam only expressed negative sentiments about bin Laden."

Saddam himself is quoted in an FBI summary as acknowledging that the Iraqi government had met with bin Laden but denying that he had colluded with the al-Qaida leader. Claiming that Iraq opposed only U.S. policies, Saddam said that "if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China," the report quotes the FBI document.

The Democrats said that on Oct. 7, 2002, the day Bush gave a speech speaking of that link, the CIA had sent a declassified letter to the committee saying it would be an "extreme step" for Saddam to assist Islamist terrorists in attacking the United States.

Levin and Rockefeller said Tenet in July acknowledged to the committee that subsequently issuing a statement that there was no inconsistency between the president's speech and the CIA viewpoint had been a mistake.

They also charged Bush with continuing to cite faulty intelligence in his argument for war as recently as last month.

The report said that al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader killed by a U.S. airstrike last June, was in Baghdad from May 2002 until late November 2002. But "postwar information indicates that Saddam Hussein attempted, unsuccessfully, to locate and capture al-Zarqawi and that the regime did not have a relationship with, harbor or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi."

In June 2004, Bush also defended Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Saddam had "long-established ties" with al-Qaida. "Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection to al-Qaida affiliates and al-Qaida," the president said.

The report concludes that postwar findings do not support a 2002 intelligence community report that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, possessed biological weapons or ever developed mobile facilities for producing biological warfare agents.

A second part of the report finds that false information from the Iraqi National Congress, an anti-Saddam group led by then-exile Ahmed Chalabi, was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:53 PM
Let's listen to the sophisticated foreign policy analysis of the President. First, he talks about the Bad Guys:

We face an enemy that has an ideology; they believe things. The best way to describe their ideology is to relate to you the fact that they think the opposite of the way we think. We treasure the freedom to worship. We value the freedom for people to express themselves in the public square. We honor the right for people to be able to raise their children in a peaceful society so they can realize their dreams. The enemy we face doesn't believe in dissent. They don't believe in the freedom to worship. They got a narrow view of freedom. But this enemy is particularly lethal because they're willing to use whatever tactic is necessary to achieve their objective.

Gee whiz. "They think the opposite of the way we think." That is a FACT, according to our elected leader. Among their Bizarro-world beliefs -- "The enemy we face doesn't believe in dissent." As opposed to Americans, who label dissent as treason and threaten to lock up reporters for reporting facts they don't like. "They have a narrow view of freedom... they're willing to use whatever tactic is necessary to achieve their objective." As opposed to Bush, who, as noted in the post below, spoke passionately about the value of secret prisons, torture, and absence of due process as dandy ways to achieve his objectives.

But enough of that. What did Bush have to say about the Good Guys?

The United States of America must understand that freedom is universal, that there is an Almighty, and the great gift of that Almighty to each man and woman in this world is the desire to be free.

So, the man we have entrusted with our freedoms has decided that we, his lowly subjects, "must understand" that "there is an Almighty." So all that talk only three paragraphs ago about the "freedom to worship" means exactly that -- you are free to worship. Not worshipping is apparently forbidden in the land of the free, the country founded by people fleeing religious persecution and, allegedly, currently threatened by those who, according to Bush a few scant paragraphs later, "want to spread their view, their vision." It is the most common of hypocrisies: insisting people believe like you is Spreading the Truth -- someone else insisting you believe like them is a Threat to Civilization.

You have to be simple-minded to so completely contradict yourself while explaining something that should be self-evident: that wacko Islamic terror groups need to be put out of business. (Leaving aside how to do such a thing, which Bush also has a shaky grasp of.) No one with a shred of rhetorical ability or cognitive deftness could possibly mess up making the argument that they're Bad Guys who do Bad Things. But Bush somehow manages to look bad arguing the obvious. And gets applause.

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The President makes demands
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:00 PM
The President of the United States is acting like a three-year-old the day after his birthday party, suddenly confronted with a day without presents and constant reinforcement that he's the most important person on earth:

President Bush acknowledged yesterday that he'd authorized a secret CIA detention program and announced plans to bring to trial 14 top terrorist suspects, including some of the alleged architects of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush used the announcement, delivered five days before the fifth anniversary of the 2001 attacks, to challenge Congress to authorize him to wage the war on terrorism on his terms. At stake is defining how the rule of law governs the executive branch as it deals with captives who it suspects are terrorists.

Speaking to a White House audience that included relatives of Sept. 11 victims, Bush demanded that lawmakers revive his plan for military tribunals without key legal safeguards for those on trial, legalize the CIA's detention program and shield U.S. officials from prosecution for possible war crimes.

Translation: "Yes, I have secret CIA torture prisons on foreign soil. Yes, I hold anyone I want captive indefinitely without charges or hearings. Yes, I tap phones and intercept e-mail without a warrant. Yes, I want to have my own kangaroo court where I make the rules. Yes, I want to torture anyone I want. Yes, I consider myself immune from prosecution. Yes, I consider myself a despot. I dare you to do something about it."

Memo to Congressional Democrats and non-insane Republicans: anyone care to step up to the plate?

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Get your re-up
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:39 PM

Many years ago, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun named David Simon spent a year with the Baltimore homicide squad, doing what today would be called "embedded" reporting. The result of that work was a book called Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets. Even after it was filed away with the lurid exploitation material in the "True Crime" section, the excellent journalism in the book shone through. Homicide stripped out the cop show cliches and exposed real, grinding, everyday police work in exacting and fascinating detail.

In one of the bigger pop culture ironies in recent history, the book that demolished cop show stereotypes was made into a cop show on NBC, Homicide: Life On The Streets. The surprising aspect of the show was that, especially in its early seasons, it stayed true to the source material and delivered drama that was only heightened by its believability. Plots weren't tidily wrapped up, there were no car chases, and detectives were often not emotionally bound to their cases in predictable ways. (One memorable episode featured a guest-starring Robin Williams as the husband of a murder victim who is shocked to stumble upon the detectives joking about the case.) Add to that a cast of top-shelf talent including Yaphet Kotto, Ned Beatty and the mind-bogglingly good Andre Braugher (indeed, even guest stars like Steve Buscemi and the aforementioned Robin Williams never stole the show), and you have what many (including your humble blogger) believe is the best "cop show" ever made, and a strong contender for the best show on network TV, period.

David Simon was involved to a certain extent with Homicide the TV show, penning a couple of episodes. After the show ended in 2000, Simon went on to work with former detective Ed Burns on a book called The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighborhood. Using the same journalistic toolbox that he brought to Homicide, Simon, along with Burns, produced a look at the crumbling neighborhoods of Baltimore and drug trade that dominates them. (The Corner was later made into a miniseries for HBO by Simon and Burns.)

After these two projects, Simon and Burns realized that the cops and drug dealers had more in common than not -- both were part of entrenched bureaucracies that ground down the foot soldiers while pushing the most Machiavellian among them up the chain of command. And they came to an even greater epiphany -- the dysfunction of police departments and drug gangs mirrored the dysfunction in most areas of American urban life, where broken and corrupt institutions of industry, politics and education try to cope with events and circumstances they can barely acknowledge, let alone address.

Clearly, this was a story that needed to be told. The result was the HBO series The Wire. On its surface, it resembles a cop show, but in truth it's perhaps the most amibitous drama ever attempted on US television. In it's first season, it examined a group of Baltimore police and a group of Baltimore drug dealers, and their attempts to outsmart each other while simultaneously struggling with the limitations and frustrations of their own roles. In the second season, the story expanded to include the story of an embattled labor leader on Baltimore's docks and his family as they tried to cope with the slow but steady erosion of the urban working class. The third season looked at the issue of reform within the police department, the government and the drug gangs -- the best intentions of reformers and the way the status quo passively wears them down.

On Sunday, the fourth (and potentially final -- the renewal for season four was a close call) season begins on HBO, with the theme of education and the introduction of new young actors in the roles of inner-city middle school students getting pulled into the various compromises of adulthood.

Education is an apt theme for this show, as for the viewer it's a tough learning curve. At this point, there are enough speaking roles to fill six or seven shows (and the amazing part is that they'd all be shows worth watching). It's not a comforting show, either -- there's not a whole lot in the way of uplifting messages about hope for the future and the dignity of man. The Wire isn't interested in politics (except as a symptom) -- it's instead the best sort of journalism. It does not preach to you, it challenges you to justify to yourself the conditions it shows you. Watching the show can be work. But if you're at all interested in why America looks the way it does and behaves the way it does and treats its citizens the way it does, it is work worth doing. Check it out this weekend, or get your hands on the DVD sets of the first three seasons. (The HBO site I linked above has a good primer to get you up to speed on the cast of thousands.)

At the very least, it's a better way to spend time with your television than ABC's outrageous right-wing propaganda disguised as a documentary.

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