Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Capitol Hell

Tonight's funny is Capitol Hell Video. YouTube poster vonrex3 says:

Dick Cheney as Dickula? Clintonsteins? Nosferudy? Monsters on the Right and Horrors on the Left! Animated snippets from a wild new satirical book!
It's funny. Happy Halloween.

There's more: "Capitol Hell" >>

A year out, and the MO 06 is already heating up

The 2008 elections might still be 53 weeks hence, but it is already getting brutal in the Missouri 6th.

For the first time since Sam Graves slid into the seat in 2000, he is facing a real challenger in the person of popular former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, and it is already getting nasty.

This race is quite possibly going to be the nastiest fought battle for a seat in the entire 111th congress. Graves is, without a doubt the meanest sonofabitch in the Missouri delegation, if not the entire congress. He routinely uses that white-trash, trailer-park minion of Rove, Jeff Roe to wield a hatchet – but Kay is highly skilled with a scalpel. May she show Roe his black little political heart before it stops beating. I think he – and Graves – may have made a tactical error in conflating winning elections against sacrificial lambs with successful electoral strategy. Graves has been a nasty, negative campaigner from day one, starting with the Republican primary in 2000.

[keep reading]

In 1999, the National Republican Congressional Committee recruited Teresa Loar, a moderate Republican to challenge popular conservative Democrat Steve Danner, the son of long-term and much-loved Congressman Pat Danner. Then late in the election cycle, Danner stepped aside, guaranteeing that a first termer would be elected in November 2000.

Congressional attack dog DeLay saw a chance to put a junkyard cur in that seat, and there was no room for an ethical moderate Republican who would work for the constituents instead of the Party Agenda. DeLay wanted an acolyte, he wanted a swaggering jingoistic goon, and he was gonna have one, no matter what. Roy Blunt and Tom DeLay called Loar personally, telling her, in essence, “Step aside, little lady.”

When she didn’t, Roe unsheathed the long knives. They went through her trash, they followed her, they staked out her home and office, they stalked her like paparazzi, getting in her face and snapping pictures nonstop.

Sam Graves is busily trying to paint Kay Barnes with the Nancy Pelosi brush, making sweeping statements like “She’s going to be very frustrated because the 6th is not like San Francisco.”

And that is the kind of garbage that makes this daughter of the 6th just want to slap the jackass silly. I went to high school in the 6th, I am the same age as Graves, and I know a dozen jerks just like him. No kidding the 6th isn't like San Francisco! You don't say! Why, I would have been totally confused without Sammy setting me straight. (Get it? That was a poke at San Francisco and the Camp cover. Geez, Sam, try to keep up. These are the jokes, Son...)

We tire of your antics. The 6th has a history of flipping regularly, the people are not as homogeneous as Graves would like to think. A whole bunch of us have been to college - hell, some of us have even been to europe! For the most part, we aren't scared of brown people, don't think terrorists are gonna blow up the courthouse in Trenton, And are more concerned about CAFO's than gay marriage. Shoot, a whole bunch of us realize that our marriages aren't in jeopardy if the gay people we know are given equal standing in their relationships.

Graves is banking everything on xenophobia and immigration. And yeah, we are concerned about the problem of undocumented labor, and the drain on our schools and healthcare systems - but we are also smart enough to cypher two and two and come up with four. We know that deporting ten million people en masse would wreak economic havoc. We also realize that if they would get the CAFOs under control, a lot of our problem with immigration would be solved as a byproduct.)

Graves has been the most loyal of Bushies, and it’s going to bite him in the ass. He can’t run away from his support of Bush on virtually every issue. His unflagging support of a war that the district wants over yesterday would probably be enough to sink his chances in 2008.

But then, he followed aWol off the SCHIP cliff. Bush isn't running next year, but Graves is. And that is gonna hang him. The people of the 6th are fed up with the dirty politics, the lies, and the loyalty to Bush. They went for McCaskill last November, and they passed Amendment 2 with a comfortable margin. So keep misreading and underestimating us. And by all means, continue the way you have.

I already have my little black dress picked out for January 20, 2009!

There's more: "A year out, and the MO 06 is already heating up" >>

Torture, Schmorture

Enough with all the cowardly liberal hysteria over a little water on the face. Let's listen to a counterrorism expert whose job it is to subject U.S. soldiers to actual waterboarding in training them how to resist torture.

Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

There, you see? Now do you understand why Ben Chandler (DINO-KY 6) and Hillary Clinton voted to allow the U.S. to torture enemy prisoners, thus exposing U.S. soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen to torture at the hands of the enemy?

TPMmuckraker publicized the above description from a former Navy Instructor as a primer for Attorney General nominee Mike Mukasey, who claims not to know whether waterboarding is torture.

(More after the jump.)

Mukasey should listen to longtime counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance. Nance, a veteran of counterterrorism operations in Iraq, has written a moving post for the counterinsurgency blog Small Wars Journal explaining, in more detail than anyone else has in public, what exactly waterboarding is. And Nance knows what he's talking about. As a former instructor at the Navy's training program, Nance (full disclosure, a TPMm pal) confesses that he "personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people" -- not detainees, of course, but would-be SEALs, so they could learn how (hopefully) to resist torture. That training program, known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE), became a template for how to abuse detainees in U.S. custody.

Nance's experience leads him to some sharp conclusions:

"Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor."

After the chilling description above, Nance writes:

"Call it “Chinese Water Torture,” “the Barrel,” or “the Waterfall,” it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets."

There have been a lot of calls in the liberal blogosphere for waterboarding apologists to undergo the procedure themselves. See if they think it's torture then.

Much as I wish Chandler, Clinton and the rest to live to deeply regret their un-American, un-Constitutional, anti-military, inhumane votes, I cannot wish waterboarding on them.

I'm a proponent of the death penalty, but after reading Nance's description, I wouldn't wish waterboarding on anyone.

Cross-posted at BlueGrassRoots.

There's more: "Torture, Schmorture" >>

This round goes to Gates

The Department of Defense and the State Department agreed on Tuesday that the DoD would assume a greater role in the oversight and management of armed security personnel operating in Iraq.

The DoD has wanted greater control over the mercenaries who run in and out of the battle space wreaking havoc since the earliest days of the occupation. Blackwater alone has been involved in over 190 incidents in which they discharged their weapons since 2005, and have earned a reputation as trigger-happy thugs who undermine the mission (whatever it is this week). The most recent incident, on September 16, left 17 Iraqis dead and started a deluge of bad publicity for Blackwater, including charges of weapons smuggling, theft of military aircraft, and tax evasion.

The rate of Blackwater violence is at least twice that of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the other security companies operating in Iraq. Blackwater’s hired guns are just that, discharging weapons, on average, twice every convoy. (The other companies frequently escort convoys completely without incident.)

“You can find any number of people, particularly in uniform, who will tell you that they do see Blackwater as a company that promotes a much more aggressive response to things than other main contractors do,” a senior American official said. “Is it the operating environment or something specific about Blackwater?” asked one government official. “My best guess is that it is both.”

While the bloody rampage at the Nissour traffic roundabout was the most shocking in the level of wanton killing, the modern-day Pinkerton's of Blackwater are under investigation in six other episodes that left ten people dead and at least 15 wounded.

Slowly, American officials are accepting the position that Blackwater's behavior in Iraq is counterproductive to the stated 'mission' by fueling resentment among the local population.

“They’re repeat offenders, and yet they continue to prosper in Iraq,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who has been broadly critical of the role of contractors in Iraq. “It’s really affecting attitudes toward the United States when you have these cowboy guys out there. These guys represent the U.S. to them and there are no rules of the game for them.”

[keep reading]

Currently, there are approximately 10,000 armed mercenaries running around Iraq, under contract to various branches of the United States government and NGOs. I know it sounds bizarre, but there is no central oversight authority to which they must answer.

Pragmatically, it just makes sense to bring all armed civilians who are under contract to American government agencies and NGOs, as well as the American military under one authority. It would mean, effectively, that those armed civilians would no longer have multiple bosses at multiple levels and a disparate set of rules. Pentagon officials say it would allow for better coordination and communications between the American military and the private security personnel.

When contractors get in trouble, they call on the US military to bail them out. Fully 30% of the incidents in which the military was called on to save mercenary bacon involved movements and convoys that the military was not even aware had mobilized.

American commanders often perceive the private security personnel in an adversarial light. Civilian casualties, victims of mercenary gunfire, infuriate the Iraqi government and damage the American perception and image among the locals. This frustrates military officers who say the heavy-handed, shoot-first-and-don’t-even-bother-to-ask-questions-later tactics by mercenaries undermine the broader mission.

Also on Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament hammered out draft legislation that would repeal Order 17, the imperialistic, extraterritorial immunity granted to mercenaries by Paul Bremmer on his way out of town when the CPA turned over authority to the Iraqi government. Order 17 exempts mercenaries who commit wanton murder of Iraqi civilians (and any other crimes) from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

It was already a given that State was not going to be of much help to their hired guns. Indeed, it has been known for a while now that Blackwater is on it's way out of Iraq, and State will not be renewing their contracts. But the constant barrage of evidence pointing up the incompetence and fecklessness of the State Department under Condi Rice, including the revelation less than 24 hours before the agreement was made that State Department investigators had sanctioned Blackwater lawlessness by routinely issuing immunity to mercenaries involved in shooting incidents, Gates got less resistance from State than was expected.

There's more: "This round goes to Gates" >>

Hillary Clinton's "Howard Dean Scream" Moment?

As a public service here is video of Hillary Clinton answering the driver's licenses for illegal aliens question. I am not sure that I don't agree with her basic answer. All Spitzer is trying to do is deal with a real problem states face everyday. My problem is with Hillary's clear unwillingness to be forthright.

Does anybody have a take on this exchange? How would you rate Hillary's response on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being no impact on her campaign at all and 10 being utter Howard Dean scream level destruction?

This was posted to YouTube by flyon8787. It is the same video everybody else is using.

LEAVE THE SPAN and id="more" TAGS (on the Edit Html tab) WHERE THEY ARE
(If there IS no "REST OF YOUR POST" then DELETE the ID tag and both the SPAN tags)

There's more: "Hillary Clinton's "Howard Dean Scream" Moment?" >>

Campaign Video of the Day -- October 31, 2007

This morning I watched several great clips from last evening's democratic debate. There was one from John Edwards who asks Will You Look Your Children In The Eye? There is another video from Barack Obama who says we should be Turning The Page On Conventional Thinking. Joe Biden has put up his wonderful take on Rudy's Three Words. Any of them is good enough to be campaign video of the day.

Missing last night was Mike Gravel. Today's campaign video of the day is an extended video of what he might have said had he been in Philly. The video is entitled MIKE GRAVEL- OCT.30 MSNBC 2007 DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS-MAD AS HELL. It was posted to YouTube by TRUEADONIS. You will find his extensive "liner notes" concerning the video after the break. Happy Halloween.

If you find a video worthy of being Campaign Video of the Day please email a link to Subject: Campaign Video of the Day.

About This Video
Mike Gravel was to be excluded unfairly from th...
Mike Gravel was to be excluded unfairly from the Oct. 30 Democratic Presidential debates hosted by MSNBC and held at Drexel University. That was until he decided that he was "Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." Mike Gravel brought the audience and all of the other Democratic candidates at that debate to a standstill. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and even Dennis Kucinich could do nothing but stare in awe as Gravel spoke the cold stinging truth. Enjoy the highlights from the Oct. 30th Democratic debate and watch Mike Gravel DESTROY the other candidates. People all around the United States joined with Mike Gravel and decided that they too were tired of the media censorship, the corporate bullying, the spread of misinformation, the military industrial complex, the Iraq War, NeoCons, the stifiling of science and technology, the dependency on foreign oil. They got angry. They got mad. They decided to get out of their chairs, and declare that they too were "Mad As Hell, and NOT going to TAKE it Anymore!!"

Mike Gravel and Ron Paul have waged from the start, an uphill battle against the Mainstream media and big corporations. They want to control YOUR VOICE, YOUR VOTE, YOUR FREEDOM in exchange for mindless servitude. Are you going to let them by remaining complacent? Or are you going to open your window and declare that you are "MAD AS HELL, AND NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!"

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.
[shouting] You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,
'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:

[screaming at the top of his lungs] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

There's more: "Campaign Video of the Day -- October 31, 2007" >>

Crybaby Mitch

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Benen at TPM launched a new meme about the tendency of republicans to faint over the least little thing:

In other words, by throwing a fit, Republicans end up looking weak and hysterical. Indeed, it reinforces the least flattering GOP caricature of all -- these guys can't govern, but they can fall onto a fainting couch like nobody's business.

For years, Republicans worked to create the opposite reputation. They're tough. This is the macho "daddy party." They don't care about "political correctness" and wussies who cry over words that rub people the wrong way. This is a crowd that calls it like they see it, and doesn't look bad or apologize.

And yet, they've now spent the better part of a year trembling over mild rebukes from liberals. If Democrats were smart, they'd look at this as an opportunity to rebrand the GOP as pathetic cry-babies who can barely go a week without throwing a hissy fit over one manufactured outrage or another.

Now Media Czech at BlueGrassRoots adds to the meme with evidence of Mitch McConnell's hurt feelings:

Poor little Mitchy. He of the $10 million war chest, fancy black tie dinners fit for a queen, socialist government handout healthcare, and bribes contributions from big foreign arms contractors. Yes, the third most powerful Republican in the country decided to send out another whiny and pathetic fundraising letter today. Once more, Mitch cries about how the badass liberal blogosphere in Kentucky is kicking his ass.

(More after the jump.)

"3. Liberal bloggers have made numerous unfounded allegations against me and spread these distortions across the web with few holding them to account"

Oh, have some dignity you big fucking baby! This is the second time Mitch has acted like a drama queen in distress in his fundraising letters. Earlier this summer, he whined about how Team Ditch Mitch was holding him accountable for his bullshit.

"Liberals on the internet have already created a website called "Ditch Mitch," and 6,000 radicals from across the nation have already signed up."

Mitch, you may have a big war chest, but the truth is free. And we'll be spreading it every damn day until you go down in flames one year from now. Money can't change the fact that your office spread a false smear of a brain damaged 12-yr old boy and his family to reporters, and then you blatantly LIED about this on camera. Money can't change the fact that you have blocked the expansion of SCHIP and student loans. Money can't change the fact that you have stood by and rubberstamped Bush's horribly disastrous policy in Iraq.

And as you can see in recent polls, Kentuckians are onto you and your days are numbered.

And Mitch, you may be scared to death of us, but please, for your own sake, try to show a little more dignity in public. Voters don't like a whiny drama queen.

Cross-posted at Blue in the Bluegrass.

There's more: "Crybaby Mitch" >>

The Missouri Plan: In Plain English

In 1940, following an era of machine politics in St. Louis and Kansas City that out-Tammanied Tammany Hall, Missourians amended the state constitution to change the way judges were selected to fill vacancies on the benches of the Missouri Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the circuit courts of Jackson County and the municipality of St. Louis.

The amendment was placed on the ballot and enacted in response to the hijacking of the justice system by the powerful political machines of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City and Edward Butler of St. Louis. Under the Bosses, justice resided in their pockets, and nowhere else.

The amendment offered was dubbed “The Missouri Plan” and under it, judicial elections were replaced with a judicial commission comprised of judges, lawyers and citizens which reviews and interviews applicants for vacancies on the bench and winnows the field to three choices. The Governor then has sixty days to select the new judge from those three candidates. If he fails to do so in the allotted time, the decision reverts to the recommending body. At the first General Election following one year on the bench, the new judge faces the voters who decide whether the appointed judge shall be retained.

In balloting to determine whether judges be retained, the state Bar Association issues ratings for the judges before the election, and the ratings and recommendations are made available to the public. It is in the best interest of attorneys and citizens alike for judges to be fair-minded and non-partisan, so the ratings are extremely apolitical.

This system has worked very well for us for 67 years, and has served to keep the state courts as apolitical as possible, while efficiently and promptly filling vacancies on the bench with qualified jurists. In the years since 1940, it has been expanded to include all circuit court judges in Clay, Platte and St. Louis Counties.

One of the most elegant features of the plan is the way it defangs the money monster. Success in partisan elections depends on money, on the financial contributors of donors (a very iffy proposition when we are talking about the very concept of Justice).

The Missouri plan works so well that in the intervening decades, 36 additional states have adopted the plan in whole or in part.

Unfortunately, last summer the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White (famously "blue slipped" by Ashcroft and denied a hearing after Clinton nominated him to the Federal bench) created a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court and gave little Matty Blunt the opportunity to stamp his wittle feet and pitch a hissy-fit and try to break another part of the state government that actually works. Injecting politics back into the process appeals to him, too, of course. And as a bonus, he got to throw a tantrum because he doesn't think the commissions pay him proper homage as the elected executive of the state.

Don’t be fooled, his hissy-fit is pure political theater. Blunt is attacking the nonpartisan judge selection because he wants total control of the appointments. But there is a more insidious undertone to it, too. He’s firing a warning shot across the bow of the judges not covered by the non-partisan system who do have to stand for election. It makes the Governors position crystal clear – if he doesn’t like their decisions, he can orchestrate a deluge of money for opposing candidates. It has already happened.

In June, a thinly-veiled BluntCo initiative rolled out to attack the judicial selection process. Flying under the flag of something called "The Adam Smith Foundation" the minions of the governor went on the attack, while simultaneously playing the victim card....neat trick, that.

June 26th, 2007

Adam Smith Foundation Launched

(Jefferson City) - The Adam Smith Foundation is proud to announce its official launch as an organization committed to promoting conservative principals [sic] and individual liberties for Missouri. Our Foundation seeks to provide Missourian's with information they need to hold their State and local elected officials as well as activist judges directly accountable for their actions.

"There are countless leftist political groups in Missouri, but only a handful of conservative organizations. We strive to fill an important void by holding politicians in Jefferson City accountable." said John Elliott, organization President. "Big spenders in state and local governments have forgotten that tax dollars belong to the citizens, and we will promote ways to reduce the size of government."
Blunt pursues this agenda at the peril of further splitting the Missouri GOP. When State Senator Kris Koster left the Republican party in August, he cited the Blunt Administrations attack on the judiciary was one of his key reasons for switching parties. Koster, a former prosecuting attorney for Cass County summed up the Blunt administration very well when he said “I can’t think of another administration in our lifetime that has such disregard and such contempt for the third branch of government.”

There's more: "The Missouri Plan: In Plain English" >>

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blunt's E-mail Policy

There's more: "Blunt's E-mail Policy" >>

George Bush's Coors Light Commercial

Tonight's funny is called George W. Bush Coor's Light. It was posted by DeadAmericans. It's funny, and you have no rights.

There's more: "George Bush's Coors Light Commercial" >>

State Department Complicit In Blackwater Lawlessness

Blue Girl has previously supplied an excellent synopsis of the emerging roiling scandal surrounding the State Department's grant of immunity to the Blackwater contractors involved in the Nissour Square massacre. Deb-TUD has written about the contorted use of Garrity immunity agreements in the circumstances surrounding independent contractor incidents. The Supreme Court in Garrity v. New Jersey did not envision situations involving non-agency personnel, and the immunity agreement derived from that decision never anticipated application to such situations either.

Now comes the latest news courtesy of the LA Times, via the AP. It turns out that the state Department has blithely been handing out immunity to all Blackwater mercenaries involved in shooting incidents all along.

Limited immunity has been routinely offered to private security contractors involved in shootings in Iraq, State Department officials said Tuesday, denying such actions jeopardized criminal prosecution of Blackwater USA guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

The shooting investigation was initiated by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security hours after the attack. The inquiry was turned over to the FBI in early October after Justice Department prosecutors realized that the Blackwater bodyguards' statements could not be used in court.
A second senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry, said the agency has for years required its security contractors to give written statements within hours of any so-called "use of deadly force" in Iraq.

Waivers granting a security worker limited immunity -- by barring those statements in a criminal case against the worker -- are a "routine part" of the investigations by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the official said.

The waiver given to Blackwater guards reads, in part: "I further understand that neither my statements nor any information or evidence gained by reason of my statements can be used against me in a criminal proceeding, except that if I knowingly and willfully provide false statements or information, I may be criminally prosecuted for that action."

It's not clear whether the waivers were ever authorized by the Justice Department, which decides whether cases are prosecuted. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined comment about whether the immunity waivers were part of the security firm's contract with the State Department. ... (emphasis added)
So, the wholesale granting of immunity to any, and apparently every, Blackwater contracted mercenary involved in a shooting incident in Iraq, no matter how egregiously criminal, is not a bug, but rather a feature of State Department protocol. The rule of law simply does not apply to the Bush Administration and their hired guns. This is the way the State Department has run their little lawless operation all along. How nice.

The State Department has intentionally and routinely done this in an attempt to do everything they could to stop, and otherwise bugger up, any potential investigation and prosecution of their precious mercenaries. While it is true that there may not have been a good chance of a successful prosecution of these cases to start with thanks to Paul Bremer's Order 17, but the State Department sure did everything they could through delay, obfuscation, removal of evidence and witnesses, and, now we find, immunization, to screw up any possibility of prosecution. The pattern of conduct by State is neither that of an entity that thought the Blackwater conduct proper, nor that thought there was no potential culpability. The conduct of State screams cover-up and insolence to the rule of law, and the rights of humanity, from start to finish.

This is an insane way to investigate shootings that are clearly often questionable homicides. Immediately grant all the immunity you can to everyone involved? As a matter of routine? Amazing. The really interesting tidbit in the story is that Blackwater refuses to confirm it is part of their contract with the State Department. The bet here is that it is in the contract between Blackwater and the State Department. The whole State Department mercenary operation appears to have been designed to be completely lawless, and Blackwater won't even let it's high priced people talk to State without an even further grant of immunity. This is a sick setup.

There's more: "State Department Complicit In Blackwater Lawlessness" >>

Watching the Debate

UPDATE: It's now 1.50 minutes into the Democratic Debate. The one thing that will make me and a lot of Independents vote for the Democratic designee in the General Election is the overall intelligence of the entire Democratic field. It stands out when you look at any Democratic candidate while looking at a Republican candidate - much further above the Christianist language of the voting wing of the Republican voters.-The bottom line is that the least of our candidates appeal to the most of the voters - regardless of their affiliation or NPA.


I'll admit that everyone who knows me knows that I respect and have great regard for Hillary Clinton. I've been watching tonight's debate from the beginning. I don't mean to "live blog" it but I see something interesting happening.

Suppose you were in a private enterprise, on a training day, wondering who really was in charge. I think today, as in every other debate, that question is answered by who is playing "Catch up". Who is running the stage as opposed to replying

Frankly, it looks like everyone on stage is playing catch up to Hillary. This may be "poll inevitability" or not. Whatever. I'm just commenting on the leader on stage.

Even when Biden led the message that Pakistan was a greater threat than Iran; even when Kucinich attacked over nuclear power; even when Edwards attacked on the lobbyist money issue, Clinton was the strongest candidate.

I think we want a candidate who will stand up. When Edwards wonders who will take care of this mess, I'm less concerned about Hillary having seen tonight.

But, I'll admit, you really have to listen.

Kudos to Biden for calling attention to Mayor (Rudy Gulliano) for the inexperience he has (or doesn't). He has awesome experience in foreign policy. I hope Biden is the Secretary of State or Defense for the next Democratic nominee. He's one of the best we have to offer. I'll be posting my Organizational Chart of the next Democratic President and Cabinet soon.

Stay tuned.

There's more: "Watching the Debate" >>

Total Rout in KY: 6 Days Out, Beshear Up 24 Points

The other day a dem friend sighed wistfully, "wouldn't it be great if Steve beat Ernie 80 to 20?" We all laughed. "Don't get greedy," we said.

Silly us. WHAS-11 trumpeted the news today: the latest Survey USA poll has Admitted Criminal Republican Incumbent Governor Ernie Fletcher losing to Democratic challenger Steve Beshear 36-60.

As he has been doing since May, Beshear is once again winning big across the demographic and category board - everyone except Hispanics and Other races, republicans, conservatives and those who don't want a vote on expanded gambling.

Other than those 14 people, Steve's pretty solid.

Money's pouring into Beshear's campaign faster than even their thousands of volunteers can count it, county clerks are bracing for an avalanche of changed party registrations starting next Wednesday, and across the state there's only one question left:

If Ernie loses by 50 points, takes repug incumbent Secretary of State Trey Grayson down with him, demolishes the state repug party to the point that next year it loses its four Congressional seats, the State Senate AND Mitch McConnell, and turns Kentucky Blue for the next three generations ...

Will that satisfy Kentucky Democrats?

There's more: "Total Rout in KY: 6 Days Out, Beshear Up 24 Points" >>

Cry me a river on China trade issues, John Edwards

Edwards does the Curly Shuffle on not wanting to talk about how he approved free-trade relations with China while he was in the Senate.

Last Thursday in Iowa, [Tom asked him whether he now regretted voting for the China trade deal and whether competition from Chinese workers is a major reason why American manufacturing workers are so hard pressed.

He replied, “I think America’s trade policy as a whole is why workers are suffering. I wouldn’t isolate any particular trade relationship or any particular trade deal.”

He added, “We need to enforce China trading responsibilities, which is not being done. They’re manipulating their currency. They’re sending goods into the United States that are not safe and are largely not being inspected. I think the president has a responsibility to enforce China’s trading obligations to the WTO (World Trade Organization) and that has not been done.”

Asked again whether he regretted his 2000 vote, he said, “Bringing them into the world trading community, subject to rules, makes some sense. But it doesn’t make any sense if you don’t enforce their responsibilities and don’t hold them accountable for their violations of those responsibilities.”

He then proceeded to denounce the Chinese for building up their military, for their too cozy relations with Sudan and Iran, and for “devastating the environment” by building one coal-fired power plant every week.

Weren’t all of these same complaints true at the time you voted for the free-trade deal, John?

No, don’t shake your head “No.” Don’t try to always change the subject to Iraq. Just nod your head up and down and say “Yes.”

There's more: "Cry me a river on China trade issues, John Edwards" >>

Garrity Rights

I'm not an expert on Garrity rights but I've seen my share of its use as my husband has been a public employee in law enforcement for almost 28 years. It strikes me as a stunning event that the Blackwater guards were provided with Garrity immunity during the investigation into their actions. TPMuckraker points us to the ABC News story:

Officials said the Blackwater bodyguards spoke only after receiving so-called "Garrity" protections, requiring that their statements only be used internally —
and not for criminal prosecutions.

The reason this makes no sense to me is the very nature of Blackwater's mission. They are private contractors, not public employees. Garrity specifically applies to public employees. This explanation is pretty general but adequately explains Garrity and its reason for being:
The Garrity rule is somewhat similar to Miranda rights, but for public employees.

These people were not public employees but even if they were, they were not threatened with the loss of their jobs if they did not give a statement:
Important to the Garrity rule is the following: (1) whether the employer actually ordered or required the employee to respond to questions; and (2) whether the employee was compelled by the threat of discipline to answer.

In fact, the contractors were not subject to any disciplinary action from the DOJ, only from Blackwater, a private company that has relentlessly stood by their employees. To my knowledge, none of the involved security guards have been removed from their duties.

Aside from the issue as to whether the Diplomatic Security official had the authority to grant any type of immunity, the more important one is that Garrity did not apply in this situation. It could be argued that they should have been mirandized but that applies only to custodial interrogation, not the case here.

With all the legal horsepower in blogosphere (even here in our little corner), I'd really like to hear a more reasoned opinion, but right now, I'm thinking the immunity is crap.

There's more: "Garrity Rights" >>

This is getting too cozy for comfort...

Let me point out my prejudices right up front.

I am the ultimate cold-war brat. When a teacher asked if anyone knew what the Great Plains were, my hand shot up and I answered "The F-14's!" I was still my Dad's dependent when I married my husband on a Saturday afternoon, and by the end of the following week, we were living atop 18 10-megaton Titan II ICBMs, and would live with those massive killing machines until the last one was pulled out of the ground. The first decade of our marriage, we both did our part to complete the SAC mission and win the Cold War.

The thing is, I never really thought it was "won" in the traditional sense, because George H.W. didn't get together with the top commie and sign a treaty ending it all. Hell, I have always thought the end of the Cold War was less of a sure thing than the Korean armistice. The Soviet Union simply collapsed, but the same people were still running things, they just weren't encumbered by the party any longer, and criminal enterprises - never in danger of extinction in Russia - has flourished. I have never trusted our former adversaries, and thought the administration was beyond stupid to underestimate Putin and the Russian inclination to empire.

So this stuff disturbs me...

Remember that two weeks ago, Putin made a "Nixon goes to China" trip to Tehran, the first Kremlin leader to visit Iran since 1943. That trip took place just days after he snubbed and mocked Condi Rice and Bob Gates when they went to Moscow.

Well, as I type another Russian potentate is in Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while in the neighborhood on a visit to Kazakhstan in Central Asia, popped in on Ahmadinejad for tea. A spokesman said the impromptu visit was to discuss Iran's nuclear activities as well as bilateral ties between the two nations.

After the visit by Putin, Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Laranjani (who resigned last week over differences with Ahmadinejad) said that the Russian leader had delivered a proposal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that represented a new approach to the current nuclear standoff with the Bush administration. Neither the Russians not the Iranians were willing to divulge details of the proposal, but the Iranian side was said to be studying it.

State-run television and news agencies quoted Ayatollah Khamenei at the time as telling Putin, "We will think about what you said and about your proposal," even as he added that Iran was "determined to provide our country's need for nuclear energy."

In the ever-escalating one-upsmanship that the aWol bush maladministration mistakes for foreign policy, unilateral sanctions against Iran were imposed last week in a feeble attempt to punish Iran for their nuclear program, and accusing the Revolutionary Guard of illegally spreading WMDs. Iran seemed to brush off the administrations latest hissy-fit.

Putin reportedly mocked the move, and news agencies quoted him as saying "Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end?"

In the meantime, I am viewing this new "BFF" status that the Iranians and Russians seem to be with a wary eye. We have been down this path before with the proxy wars between the two superpowers. They facilitated the deaths of 58,000 Americans in Vietnam, and the United States backed the Mujihideen fighters in Afghanistan, who killed approximately 15,000 Red Army soldiers.

I do not believe that the recent muscle-flexing by Russia is just that. I think the messages are quite clear. The world is realigning along an energy axis. Iran and Russia have it, and we need it. But so does China, and they can pay for it with the intrest we pay them on the debt accumulated to finance aWol Bush's vanity war!

Thanks to the arrogance, ignorance, jingoism and hubris of this administration, American influence has been drastically undermined and American interests have been compromised. Perhaps to a point they can't be repaired.

There's more: "This is getting too cozy for comfort..." >>

Housing prices take another tumble

Housing prices fell in August for the eighth month in a row and took the biggest decline in 16 years.

An index of 10 U.S. metropolitan areas fell 5 percent in August from a year ago. That was the biggest drop since June 1991. The lowest ever was a decline of 6.3 percent in April 1991.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence took a tumble, to the lowest point since just after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
I’m still waiting for presidential candidates to address the housing issue and possible recession more, and when they do discuss it, to do something besides offer a simple, guilt-free bailout. Remember, many subprime mortgages were not the lessee’s first home to buy, and in some cases, were even used to buy second or third homes as investment properties.

There's more: "Housing prices take another tumble" >>

Hillary Waffles On Mukasey Vote

TMP's headline Hillary "Troubled" By Mukasey On Torture, But Won't Rule Out Supporting Him says all you need to know about Hillary Clinton's greatest weakness. Voting against Michael Mukasey would seem to be a no-brainer for any Democratic Presidential candidate. her spokesman Philippe Reines has announced that "Senator Clinton is deeply troubled by Judge Mukasey's unwillingness to clearly state his views on torture and unchecked executive power," but he refuses to say that Senator Clinton will be voting against the suddenly troubled AG nominee whose views on waterboarding and other torture (er enhanced interrogation) techniques, and the aggregation of power in the executive would seem to simultaneously cast him as a good fit with the Decider's administration and disqualify him from any position of power in any civilized democracy.

TPM's commenter Michael snarks "Her majesty has spoken. Can't wait to see how the staffers spin this one. Uh, how do you spell waffle? Can she take a stand on ANYTHING? Wow, what a leader. When's the coronation?"

Well I guess today's indecision is going to last until she gets the results of the 3rd focus group.

Tonight's debate might be very interesting.

UPDATE: Hillary has issued a press release saying that she will oppose Mukasey.

The full release is after the break. Thanks Deb.

October 30, 2007

Statement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Her Opposition to the Nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to be Attorney General of the United States

We need an Attorney General who has the strength to challenge this Administration when it is wrong, who is committed to reestablishing the independence of the Department of Justice and to restoring respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. I am deeply troubled by Judge Mukasey’s continued unwillingness to clearly state his views on torture and unchecked Executive power.

The Attorney General is the chief defender of the rule of law in our country. After Alberto Gonzales's troubled tenure, we cannot send a signal that the next Attorney General in any way condones torture or believes that the President is unconstrained by law. When we leave any doubt about our nation’s policy on torture, we send a terrible message to the rest of the world. Judge Mukasey has been given ample opportunity – both at his confirmation hearings and in his subsequent submission to the Judiciary Committee – to clarify his answers and categorically oppose the unacceptable interrogation techniques employed by this Administration. His failure to do so leaves me no choice but to oppose his nomination.

We need to restore the nation’s confidence in the Department of Justice. The Department must once again defend our Constitution and the rule of law without regard to ideology and partisanship. And we need to protect the country from terrorism while also respecting Americans’ civil liberties.

There's more: "Hillary Waffles On Mukasey Vote" >>

Campaign Video of the Day -- October 30, 2007

Hillary hasn't forgotten that this is still the primary season.

The last couple of days Barack Obama has been using Social Security as an exemplar of Hillary's trademark refusal to ever take a substantive position. Today Hillary strikes back with a video she calls There For You.

The ad is a classic example of what I call a "big brother" ad. George Orwell would have recognized it in an instant. Polished to a high focus group shine, it evokes powerful emotional themes without ever really saying anything. The ad doesn't even mention policy choices. Obama has to be pulling out his hair because while Hillary's ad is a perfect example of what he is complaining about, it is so well done most people wont notice it is meaningless pap.

If you have a video in need of a look please email a link to subject Campaign Video of the Day.

There's more: "Campaign Video of the Day -- October 30, 2007" >>

Incompetence? Or Obstruction?

Justice Department officials grappling with bringing to account the Blackwater mercenaries involved in the murderous rampage in Nissour Square on September 16 got a nasty surprise. Investigators from the State Department - who lacked the authority to do so - offered Blackwater USA security guards immunity in exchange for their statements. State Department protocols require that Diplomatic Security agents investigate and report all incidents in which force is used. Last week, the chief of the Diplomatic Security Bureau, Richard J. Griffin, resigned abruptly. Presumably, his inability to control Blackwater was at the root of his sudden departure, but now it looks like he may have left in advance of this information becoming public.

FBI agents took over the State Department's investigation two weeks after the Sept. 16 killing spree, but the damage was already done. None of the information obtained during questioning of the guards by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the division of the State Department that oversees security contractors, will be admissible. (I believe that defense attorneys call this "fruit of the poisoned tree.")

Subsequently, some Blackwater guards have cited promises of immunity from State, and refused to even be interviewed by the FBI. The Justice Department is not precluded from bringing charges using other evidence, but the inadmissibility of their initial statements complicates matters significantly.

[keep reading]

From the New York Times:

Most of the guards who took part in the Sept. 16 shooting were offered what officials described as limited-use immunity, which means that they were promised that they would not be prosecuted for anything they said in their interviews with the authorities as long as their statements were true. The immunity offers were first reported Monday by The Associated Press.

The officials who spoke of the immunity deals have been briefed on the matter, but agreed to talk about the arrangement only on the condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to discuss a continuing criminal investigation.

The precise legal status of the immunity offer is unclear. Those who have been offered immunity would seem likely to assert that their statements are legally protected, even as some government officials say that immunity was never officially sanctioned by the Justice Department.

Spokesmen for the State and Justice Departments would not comment on the matter. A State Department official said, “If there’s any truth to this story, then the decision was made without consultation with senior officials in Washington.”

This complicates an already-dicey legal situation. Blackwater and other mercenary outfits are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law under Order 17, signed by Paul Bremmer on his way out of town. The order still stands, the Iraqi parliament has not repealed it. They can't be tried in military courts (at least not yet.) And it is unclear what American criminal statutes apply to armed Americans operating in a war zone.

A review panel sent by State to investigate the incident determined that the legal standing to hold the Blackwater mercenaries to account under U.S. federal statute was lacking, and urged Congress to address this gaping loophole in accountability and oversight authority. To date, the House has passed a bill with an overwhelming majority that would hold all security contractors* liable under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act; the Senate is considering similar legislation. Some legal experts have suggested that the Nissour Square killings be the first cases prosecuted through the act once it is extended.

But...(Isn't there always a great big But...?)

For a case to be tried in federal court, evidence is only admissible when it meets a very high chain-of-custody bar, designed to put in place guarantees that evidence has not been tampered with. Evidence gathered by foreign investigators and turned over to U.S. investigators is reflexively seen as suspect on it's face, and the admissibility of the evidence would be contested by any first year law student. Additionally, the Constitutional guarantee of the accused to cross-examine witnesses is problematic in these instances, requiring foreign witnesses be transported to the United States to appear in court.

What was from the outset a brutally difficult case to bring was complicated further by the actions of the State Department investigators.

So was it incompetence? Could the Keystone Kops run a better State Department?

Or was it obstruction? Yet another instance of sand in the umpires eyes?

*security contractors = mercenaries

There's more: "Incompetence? Or Obstruction?" >>

Monday, October 29, 2007

Waterboardin' With Mukasey

There's more: "Waterboardin' With Mukasey" >>

Leah Kauffman's "Perfect Me"

Tonight's funny is just about the hottest video on YouTube--Leah Kauffman's "tribute" to Ann Coulter -- "Perfect Me." I think everybody ought to enjoy this except maybe Ann.

Posted to YouTube by barelypolitical.

There's more: "Leah Kauffman's "Perfect Me"" >>

Bateman on Hanson, Round 1: Cannae, 2 August 216 B.C.

[It is my distinct honor to announce that the withering takedown of Victor Davis Hanson's latest jingoistic, neocon screed by Military Historian Lt. Colonel Robert Bateman will appear in weekly installments on our humble little blog. Without further ado, here is chapter one. --BG]

--By guest blogger Lt. Colonel Robert Bateman

It may be moderately obscene, I admit, but I have always enjoyed teaching students about this battle. At the tactical level it is the story of a force, outnumbered and fighting far from their base, defeating another force almost twice their size and doing so in such a decisive manner as to stun the world and be passed down for more than 2,000 years. At the operational level of war competing philosophies of conflict are at play. Finally, at the strategic level of war there is a lesson to be learned about the strategic vision of one leader, and the inability of another to grasp more than what happens on the battlefield. In short, the story of Cannae is complex and a challenge to teach.

Rather than rail overmuch here at the outset, however, I prefer to allow Mr. Hanson to light his own petard. Hanson’s basic contention is that face-to-face infantry battle is a cultural legacy exclusive to the “West.” In Carnage and Culture he sets out to demonstrate this by resurrecting the hoary old 19th Century model of “Decisive Battles” and claiming that the study of battle is the One True Way. Here is how he lays out the reason for his focus upon individual battles.

[keep reading]

It may be moderately obscene, I admit, but I have always enjoyed teaching students about this battle. At the tactical level it is the story of a force, outnumbered and fighting far from their base, defeating another force almost twice their size and doing so in such a decisive manner as to stun the world and be passed down for more than 2,000 years. At the operational level of war competing philosophies of conflict are at play. Finally, at the strategic level of war there is a lesson to be learned about the strategic vision of one leader, and the inability of another to grasp more than what happens on the battlefield. In short, the story of Cannae is complex and a challenge to teach.

Rather than rail overmuch here at the outset, however, I prefer to allow Mr. Hanson to light his own petard. Hanson’s basic contention is that face-to-face infantry battle is a cultural legacy exclusive to the “West.” In Carnage and Culture he sets out to demonstrate this by resurrecting the hoary old 19th Century model of “Decisive Battles” and claiming that the study of battle is the One True Way. Here is how he lays out the reason for his focus upon individual battles.

“In an analysis of culture and conflict why should we concentrate on a few hours of battle and the fighting experience of the average soldier – and not the epic sweeps of wars, with their cargo of grand strategy, tactical maneuver, and vast theater operations that so much better lend themselves to careful social and cultural exegesis? Military history must never stray from the tragic story of killing, which is ultimately found only in battle.” (pg. 7)


“There is an inherent truth in battle. It is hard to disguise the verdict of the battlefield, and nearly impossible to explain away the dead, or to suggest that abject defeat is somehow victory.”

Just a short while later Hanson rams home the point…again.

“We owe it to the dead to discover at all costs how the practice of government, science, law, and religion instantaneously determines the fate of thousands on the battlefield – and why.” (pg. 8)

A few lines later he repeats himself, and at this point you are starting to think, ‘Hmmmm, well maybe he’s serious about this focus on battle as being what matters thing.’

“War is ultimately killing. Its story becomes absurd when the wages of death are ignored by the historian.” (pg. 8)

In case you were not listening, he keeps up the same drumbeat throughout the book.

Hanson is saying that the study of battle provides the evidence to support his main idea. Hanson outlines his overall thesis in a section sub-headed, “The Singularity of Western Military Culture.” In that section Hanson puts it this way:

“All armies engage in mass confrontations at times; few prefer to do so in horrendous collisions of shock and eschew fighting at a distance or through stealth when there is at least the opportunity for decisive battle…”

And then,

“Foot soldiers are common in every culture, but infantrymen, fighting en masse, who take and hold ground and fight face-to-face, are a uniquely Western specialty…” (pg. 445)

In other words, only Western armies seek out shock battle and short, sharp, hard fights. Others try to avoid battles, using movement, misdirection, deception, and other stratagems so as not to fight.

But there is one big problem with that thesis: One of the most famous battles in all of history runs 180 degrees against Mr. Hanson’s thesis. It is a battle so famous that Hanson cannot ignore it or pretend that it did not happen, as he does with many other battles (which we will see in later weeks). But more than that, it was not just one battle, but a whole string of battles, all of which ran counter to his idea that the cultural legacy of the “West” generates an inclination for head-on battles, and that inclination leads to victory. Worst, what eventually led to an overall victory for the Roman (“Western”) side in the war was not battle, but actually the active avoidance of battle! Those last two points, however, Hanson concealed.

The short version of what happened in the Punic Wars runs something like this: Rome and a North African city called Carthage fought a series of wars that spanned almost 120 years. During the second war, a Carthaginian leader named Hannibal marched his army from Spain, across what is now the south of France, over the Alps, and into Italy. During those marches he confronted small Roman detachments and Roman allies. He beat them all. Then, once he invaded the Roman homeland, he defeated several Roman armies in a row.

In the first major battle Hannibal and his army directly confronted an equally sized Roman army and wiped out about 20,000 of perhaps 36,000 Romans on the field. In the next battle he again offered direct combat with his army, again on equal terms, and in that battle his army killed 30,000 Romans while capturing the remaining 10,000. So, in two battles, Hannibal’s non-Western army killed or captured something like 60,000 out of almost 80,000 Romans sent against them, while barely losing any of their own strength. Hanson, of course, never talks about these numbers or battles in any detail. He grants them light, one-sentence asides and concessions, but generally brushes past their meaning. These three fights are examples that run counter to Hanson’s thesis. One battle might have been an exception to the rule. But when the historical record shows battle after battle where the “Western” way of war is shown up, on home turf, when the Westerners outnumbered the enemy, the thesis begins to lose air. Hanson, however, brushes this aside by admitting that Cannae “was not a fluke.” But he does so in just one sentence.

But back to the narrative: Finally, the series of pitched battles culminated in the absolute destruction of the largest Roman army yet thrown against the Carthaginians. Out of an estimated 70,000 Roman legionnaires who arrived in the vicinity of the battlefield at a place called Cannae, Hannibal’s army killed about 50,000 of them in a few hours. The Carthaginians did this by pretending to pull back in the middle of their line, until they sucked the Roman army into a three-sided trap, which their cavalry then closed from behind. It was the definition of a historic battle, but the really interesting stuff came later. More on that in a moment.

Now to give the devil his due, Hanson’s description of the battle that occurred in 216 BC is generally accurate, in the broadest outlines. He does go pretty far, however, in trying to twist the language around to suit his needs. So, while he takes no liberties with the specifics of what happened on that day, he is tricky with his use of language. Hanson tries to minimize the impact of the horrific Roman defeat at Cannae by making it seem like the actual size of the massive Roman army did not matter. Instead, he suggests, the Romans that lost there were effectively the second-stringers.

For example, he mentions, how at Cannae the African troops in the Carthaginian army were “veterans.” Then he conversely describes many of the 70,000 Romans as, “adolescents who filled the Romans ranks, depleted by the thousands butchered earlier at Trebia and Lake Trasimene” (pg. 101). In another part of the text, while the Hanson says that Hannibal “arrayed 10,000 skilled horsemen,” he goes on to describe the opposing Roman cavalry as “6,000 poorly trained mounted Italians.” (pg. 102) Now the problem with that is that the sources do not describe the Roman cavalry as “poorly trained.” It is true that the Romans generally did not have the best cavalry. But in this specific case, Hanson is just making an assertion. He does this because it fits his thesis. He does not know what training the Roman cavalry had, any more than he knows how many “adolescents” were in the Roman army that day. The historical record is, effectively, silent on those specific points. In other words, Hanson is merely guessing, but writing his guesses in such a way as to make them appear authoritative.

But all of this is small fry compared to the greatest offenses.

How, one might be asking themselves at this point, can Hanson defend his thesis of the supremacy of the Western Way of War given the facts of these battles? How can he continue to assert that the West is supreme in infantry shock battle, when all major Roman battles of the Second Punic War mentioned in this chapter show the Romans being beaten in direct head-to-head shock battle by non-Westerners? Well, the answer is moderately simple. Hanson tries to save his thesis by saying something like, “Uh, battle matters…except when it doesn’t.” In fact, this is what he says:

“Cannae, like so many of these landmark battles, is the exception that proves the rule: even when Roman armies were poorly led, foolishly arranged, squabbling before battle over the proper deployment, and arrayed against a rare genius, the catastrophic outcome was not fatal to their conduct of the war.” (pg. 105)

“What is remarkable about Cannae is not that thousands of Romans were so easily massacred in battle, but that they were massacred to such little strategic effect.” (pg. 111)

“Students of war must never be content to learn merely how men fight a battle, but must always ask why soldiers fight as they do, and what ultimately their battle is for.” (pg. 131)

So, you see, despite Hanson having written over and over again that battle is what matters, when confronted with irrefutable historical evidence contrary to his thesis that the “West” is supreme in infantry-centric shock battles, Hanson becomes a flip-flopper. In these quotes above he is saying, because he must, that it actually does not matter who wins the battle!

But what about what happened afterwards? If what really matters, according to this new Hanson formulation, is the bigger picture, then what happened next? What happened after the Romans were crushed, for a third time, on their home turf? Hanson writes,

“Marcus Junius was appointed dictator, with formal directives to raise armies in any manner possible. He did so magnificently. More than 20,000 were recruited into four new legions. Some legionaries were not yet seventeen. Eight thousand slaves were purchased at public expense and given arms, with a proviso that courage in battle might lead to freedom. Junius himself freed 6,000 prisoners and took direct command of this novel legion of felons.” (pg. 127)

Huh? Wait a second. In an earlier passage Hanson wrote, “Western armies often fought with and for a sense of legal freedom.” (pg. 21) This, in fact, was a foundation to his hypothetical motivation for the Western soldiers. According to Hanson it was because of their freedoms that men in the West fought so hard and so well in infantry shock battles.

Yet here, of 20,000 new troops Hanson is lauding the Roman’s for raising in the wake of the disaster at Cannae, a full 14,000 of them are either slaves or prisoners. (And I thought our recruiting difficulties in the U.S. Army were rough.) How can one be a slave and at the same time fight due to a sense of one’s civic responsibility to the Roman state? This is an especially difficult question since most Roman slaves were from foreign sources in the first place, and so would have had no allegiance to Rome.

But the legions were raised, and by the end of the chapter Hanson’s logic has become so twisted around that this fact, not the facts of what happened in the battle, is what Hanson contends matters. But then what did the Romans do with those legions? Perhaps this line might help. (Primer: “Hasdrubal” is another Carthaginian leader. Metaurus was a battle that took place in 207 BC, nine years after Cannae.) Here Hanson is offering a hypothetical and comparing the strategic levels of war by talking about the Carthaginian political leadership vice that of the Romans.

“After Hasdrubal’ catastrophic setback at the Metaurus, there was no likelihood that the Carthaginian Assembly, as Rome had done after the far worse slaughter at Cannae, would have ordered a general muster of all its able-bodied citizenry – a real nation in arms arising to crush the hated resurgent legions.” (pg.9)

Now, from that sentence one gets the impression that after the battle of Cannae, the Romans did, in fact, arise as a “real nation in arms” and that they subsequently immediately sought battle and then “crushed” the Carthaginian army under Hannibal, right?

Wrong. Though Hanson makes only one slight mention of it, the fact is that Hannibal stayed in Italy for the next 14 years. He stayed on Roman soil, moving with near impunity, year after year. How could Hannibal do that?

Well, completely contrary to Hanson’s thesis about how Western armies seek battle, hold ground, and strive for short and sharp shock conflicts, the reality was that the Romans, for the next 14 years, deliberately avoided shock and pitched battles with Hannibal. (Remember these Hanson lines? “All armies engage in mass confrontations at times; few prefer to do so in horrendous collisions of shock and eschew fighting at a distance or through stealth when there is at least the opportunity for decisive battle…” and “Foot soldiers are common in every culture, but infantrymen, fighting en masse, who take and hold ground and fight face-to-face, are a uniquely Western specialty…” (pg. 445))

What the Romans actually did was exactly the opposite of the Hanson thesis. They broke up their armies into smaller forces and harassed Hannibal indirectly. They gave ground, regularly, and lived to maneuver another day. They sought to wear him down, while preserving their own forces. They avoided pitched battles on any large scale. In short, they followed the direct advice of one of the other most famous generals of all time, one who is only mentioned by name a single time in the entire chapter (and then without noting his actions). That man was Quintus Fabius Maximus, called “Cunctator” (The Delayer), and it is from him that we have the term “Fabian Strategy” which was so magnificently put into play by a fellow named George Washington, a few millennia later.

How Hanson missed that extra 14 year part where the Romans avoided major pitched battles in Italy is curious.

Folks, this is just one chapter, and it was a chapter dealing with events within Hanson’s specialty. It gets worse from here.

Next Week: Leaping Through Time to Poitiers and Beyond.

There's more: "Bateman on Hanson, Round 1: Cannae, 2 August 216 B.C." >>

Campaign Video of the Day -- October 29, 2007

Yesterday I told you about the "thisweek" round table segement where the very serious Paul Krugman and the very serious George Will examined Barack Obama's recent statements about social security. I still think they are missing Obama's point.

Here is the Krugman/Will conversation titled Barack Obama on social security by YouTube poster adpdg.

Barack Obama has put up a new ad called "WIND" using social security to make the same point made in yesterday's video--Hillary is just another ordinary non-committal "politician" whose "ideas" have been focus group tested to exhaustion. There is no way the very timid Hillary is going to lead us to real change. She is afraid of offending anybody and everybody.

Social security is merely the issue Obama has chosen to deliver his real message that Hillary can't be trusted to be an agent of change. He probably chose that issue because Hillary has been particularly vague on her social security reform plans.

If you see a campaign video in need of play please email a link to subject "campaign video of the day.

There's more: "Campaign Video of the Day -- October 29, 2007" >>

Why Are Free-Market Economists Still Taken Seriously?

They've been shown to be wrong time and time again. And their policies have led to widespread disaster and misery for millions of people.

Who am I talking about?

The NeoCons and their wrong-headed views on Iraq?

Nope, I'm talking about free-market economists.

No group of "experts" has a worse track record on accurate information about how our world really works. And yet, mysteriously, free-market economists are still held in reverence and awe by many. And their proclamations are hailed as the gospel truth by everyone from politicians to academia to the mainstream media.

Free-market economics seemingly got an enormous boost in credibility in the 1980s and has reigned supreme as the only conceivable policy for running America's economy ever since.

There's only one problem with free-market economists and their followers: they're full of sh*t and they have a dismal track record on the truth. And worse, the world simply doesn't operate the way they believe it does.

Free-market economists are rabid advocates of a unfettered, dog-eat-dog, ruthless form of capitalism. Leaving everything to the "free market" is the best way to run a society, they maintain. And at the end of the day, no other economic system can possibly compete with capitalism, they say.

As "Exhibit A," the free-market economists proudly point to capitalism's vanquishing of the Soviet Union's style of communism in the Cold War.

What more proof could one want that capitalism is the best way to create wealth and prosperity?

Actually, in the years since the Cold War ended, a few dissenting voices have started to speak up about the supposed superiority of unfettered capitalism.

First, there is the issue of whether the United States really prevailed in the Cold War, after all. A number of commentators have pointed out that, without enormous sums we borrowed from Japan in the 1980s, the U.S. wouldn't have "won" the Cold War.

Indeed, as the brilliant author Chalmers Johnson has pointed, out, it was really Japan, not the U.S. that won the Cold War. Indeed, the decade of the 1980s was nicely summed up by MIT economist Lester Thurow when he wrote: "We borrowed a trillion dollars from the Japanese and threw a party."

I should point out here the irony of celebrating an economic system that is totally dependent on vast amount of foreign capital in order to function. And make no mistake, no matter how one views the Japanese economy, it is definitely NOT anything that a Western economist would recognize as "capitalism."

Indeed, the Japanese model couldn't be further removed from U.S.-style economics. In Japan, the nation's economic destiny is shaped by powerful technocrats at the Ministry of Finance. Industrial policy is set by the government, rather than determined the whims of the private sector. It is a heavily regulated system that is a million light years removed from American-style "capitalism."

What's more, the Japanese economic model has been widely imitated throughout East Asia (which is now by far the most dynamic and fast-growing area on Earth). From Taiwan to South Korea to mainland China itself, Japanese economic policies are widely implemented these days. For example, China has copied elements of Japan's employment system, its mercantile policies, its emphasis on manufacturing, and even its Keiretsu system of organizing companies into powerful groups.

This important development, of course, is completely ignored by U.S. economists. Many of them maintain that "unfettered, free-market, U.S.-style capitalism" is the model that East Asia aspires to. Indeed, the "conventional wisdom" in U.S. economics is that Japan itself is "yesterday's news" and is a fading power. It's a bizarre viewpoint indeed, when one considers that the supposedly "more efficient, superior" U.S. economy would collapse were it not for the hundreds of billions of dollars in Japanese capital that props up the American economy and the dollar these days.

A big part of the problem with U.S. economists is that they are a remarkably ignorant about the rest of the world. The only country that they've studied at all, or paid any attention to (outside of the U.S.) is Britain.

Which brings me to another misconception spread by U.S. free-market economists. The latter are constantly praising the era of Margaret Thatcher.

What more proof does one need that unfettered capitalism reigns supreme than the example set by Thatcher's Britain, they ask? After all, Thatcher busted the unions, cut regulations and decimated the welfare state---and as a result, the former "Sick Man" of Europe prospered in the 1980s.

At least that's the fairy tale we've been led to believe.

As they did with Reagan's revolution, though, the economists aren't telling the whole story of the Thatcher era as they breathlessly sing the praises of the Iron Lady. Over the years, a growing number of writers, like James Howard Kunstler,
have pointed out that what really made Britain shine in the 1980s wasn't Thatcherism at all. Rather, it was the incredible bounty that Britain reaped with the North Sea oil bonanza in the 1980s.

It's this latter point that really irritates me and makes me question the honesty of the economics profession. The field's dishonesty can be summed up thusly:

1. Starting in the 1970s, free-market "Chicago School" economists urged various "reforms," from gutting the welfare state to crushing unions to abolishing any and all regulations on business.

2. In the 1980s, the above prescriptions were implemented in the U.S. and Britain, under Reagan and Thatcher.

3. The economies of both the U.S. and Britain prospered, thanks to hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars (in the case of the U.S.) and the North Sea Oil boom (in the case of Britain).

4. As the U.S. and Britain boomed, economists proclaim their free-market prescriptions "vindicated"---completely ignoring the fact that the prosperity in both nations had nothing to do with their remedies.

Free-market economists are so arrogant and sure of the wisdom of their teachings that they've become oblivious to the fact that the real world simply doesn't work the way they believe it does. (For example, the real economic success story of the past quarter century has been China---a nation which completely rejects every single tenet of how a nation's economy should be run, according to the gospel of the free-market economists).

And their ideas remain in vogue to this day among American policy-makers. Never mind the fact that the U.S. is in increasing peril, thanks to their policies. The gigantic deficits that Reagan racked up in the 1980s now seem trivial, compared to the even-more titanic deficits that America faces today.

Free-market economics has been directly responsible for America's out-of-control and spiraling fiscal and trade deficits. The latter crisis threatens to force a collapse in the value of the dollar. And when the dollar melts down, America's reign as a superpower will come to an end.

Free-market economists, of course, are blissfully unconcerned about this looming crisis. For them, the solution to anything and everything is more of the same. More tax cuts for the rich, more union busting, more elimination of any and all red tape and the complete rejection of anything remotely resembling a national industrial policy. As far as deficits go, they maintain a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" approach.

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with anything that Pat Buchanan ever said---but actually, he of all people, once made a comment that neatly sums up the view of all those who wear free-market economics blinders: "To worship at the altar of free-market economics is no less a form of idolatry than worshipping at the altar of socialism."

Free-market economists have done at least as much damage to our nation as the NeoCons over the past quarter century. How much longer will we as a nation continue to follow their disastrous, wrong-headed advice?

By Marc McDonald of the progressive blog,

There's more: "Why Are Free-Market Economists Still Taken Seriously?" >>

DoE will miss legislatively-mandated security deadlines

Over a year after congress told the Department of Energy to get their house in order and fortify the security measures around the nations stores of fissile materials (and over five years after Condi Rice breathlessly warned us that that we didn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud) at least five of the eleven nuclear facilities in question will miss their deadlines - some of them by years.

The DoE has reportedly delayed compliance at some facilities with an eye to consolidating material handling to fewer sites. However, the Government Accountability Office testified in a Senate briefing that that project was also likely to run way behind schedule. Of course, there is an element of politics that comes into play. Everyone agrees that centralizing the nuclear fuel supply is a good idea, but Robert Alvarez, who served as an adviser to the Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration explains why actually getting it done is like herding cats: “There’s a lot of pushback about moving fissile materials from a site, because then you lose a portion of your budget and prestige.”

[keep reading]

Danielle Brian, executive director for the private group The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) was prepared to hold the DoE accountable. She admitted that congress had set a tight deadline, but maintained that if the Energy Department “had taken seriously consolidating and making this an expedited effort, they wouldn’t be having these problems now.”

...Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has taken a particular interest in nuclear security, said in a statement, “The department seems to think that the terrorist threat to its nuclear facilities is no more serious than a Halloween prank, as evidenced by its failure — more than six years after the 9/11 attacks — to do what it must to keep our stores of nuclear-weapons-grade materials secure.” Mr. Markey said the delay was unsurprising but unacceptable.

One site that will miss its deadline by years is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which holds a large stock of weapons-usable uranium. The laboratory plans to dilute the uranium, but that will take until 2015, the auditors found.

Two other sites that will miss their deadlines are operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for weapons security. The agency was established in 1999 after a number of security breaches in the weapons complex, and in January its director was forced to resign because of other security lapses.

Now we all know that practically the entire damned country went collectively insane about 10:45 eastern on 11 September 2001, and only now is society starting to get their metaphorical meds adjusted.

But by the evening of 12 September, my husband (a former Air Force nuke guy) and I were talking about getting a handle on the fissile material that is out there - way too much for either of us to be comfortable.

A mole or two of uranium gone missing is the stuff my nightmares are made of (and with an atomic weight of 238, a mole ain't much volume, but it's a lot of mass.)

So when the Department of Energy changed it's “design basis threat” for weapons facilities, we thought that was good news. (A design basis threat is the level of attacking force a facility is prepared to defend against.) These details always, of course, remain classified, but the new protocols specified a larger, better armed and more capable commando-type group of attackers.

To underscore the preparations and their importance, Congress passed into federal statute that DoE weapons facilities must submit plans detailing the steps they would take to meet the requirements. Knowint the department's history of missed deadlines, the Congress inserted into the law the specification that all delays and missed deadlines be approved by either the Secretary of Energy or the deputy secretary. The DoE reports that they have finally managed to meet the standards set in the 2003 dbt protocol changes, but are still lagging on meeting the newer standards that were adopted in 2005, although they are working toward them.

According to declassified portions of the DoE's first report to the Congress, which took place in 2006 said that more than $420 million had been spent in an aggressive program that up-armored the vehicles security personnel used, and provided them larger caliber guns. The DoE told Congress at that time that six of eleven sites will meet the 2008 deadline, but the GAO says that one of the six, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, will fail to meet the deadline.

Kinda makes you shake your head in wonderment that we ever managed to get our act together to do the whole Manhattan Project/Race to the Bomb in the first place, doesn't it?

Then the wonderment passes, and you're left feeling pissed. One thing is for damned sure - if that hyperventilating scenario of Condi's comes true, we'll know who to blame - a feckless administration that lacks the fortitude and the political will to even take the security of the nations fissile materials seriously.

There's more: "DoE will miss legislatively-mandated security deadlines" >>

Sen. Roberts' Logic: Bacon Cheeseburgers Don't Make People Fat, People Make People Fat

The dismal science of economics is governed by a few heaps of sacred cowshit -- Say's "Law" comes to mind -- but also by certain immutable, virtually indisputable, laws. One such principle is that when a product is subsidized, and it becomes cheaper and more plentiful as a result of that subsidy, more people are very likely to buy and consume more of that product.

But one thing I've observed about economic theory is that adherents of the supposed "free market" feel quite free to apply and interpret it according to whim. Right now there's a push to get federal farm policy to stop subsidizing producers of fat- and sugar-laden foods as much, and shift some of that government sugar-daddy action to, you know, fruits, veggies, whole grains and such. All the stuff that's so dull and so goddamned good for us.

And, it's doctors who are helping lead the charge. Nobody in his or her right mind should be ready to accuse them of being hostile to the "free market."

But, we discover, what a rancid affront to the American Heartland! Here was the response from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.:

"I agree that obesity and health are serious issues in America today. However, blaming the cause on the crops that we grow in Kansas and/or the U.S. farm program is overlooking the personal responsibility we all have in our daily lives and diets."

Ah, yes -- personal responsibility. Republicans are really big on that -- when they're in the mood. And they're always in the mood if the issue involves poor people.


Here, from McClatchy Newspapers, is the crux of this conflict:

If you’re feeling fat these days, blame Congress.

That’s just what the nation’s doctors are doing, saying that federal lawmakers are responsible for the fact that a salad costs so much more than a Big Mac.

Hoping to produce thinner waistlines, many doctors — including the American Medical Association — want Congress to stop subsidizing the production of foods that are high in fat and cholesterol and spend more to promote fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains that are not. ...

The debate is intensifying as the Senate prepares to vote on a new farm bill. On Thursday, the agriculture panel approved a bill that would give a record $2 billion for specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. That’s at least four times as much as what Congress provided in the 2002 farm bill.

The 2007 farm bill will determine which food industries get the most help from U.S. taxpayers over the next five years.

"The real scandal in Washington is the farm bill," said Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "Senators take millions from corporations that produce bacon, burgers and other fatty foods. Then Congress buys up these unhealthy products and dumps them on our school lunch program. Companies get rich, and kids get fat."

The effect of the subsidies on prices has been telling:

According to Barnard’s group, agribusiness political action committees have given more than $5 million over the last four election cycles to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. From 1995 to 2004, nearly three-quarters of farm bill agricultural subsidies for food — more than $51 billion — went to producers of sugar, oil, meat, dairy, alcohol and feed crops used for cattle and other farm animals.

The group said that in 2005 alone, Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest meat producer, received $46.6 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity contracts.

Less than half of 1 percent subsidized fruit and vegetable production, the group said. ...

In September, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, noted that since 1985, the actual price of fruits and vegetables has increased 40 percent, while the price of sugar and fats has declined 14 percent.

Sen. Roberts seems to be trying to adapt the inane anti-gun-control argument to the Agriculture Department's perennial subsidization of fatty, sugary foods.

Bottom line, senator: Yes, a person has to be willing to eat that double-meat bacon cheeseburger. An underprivileged person can always opt for fresh fruit and veggies, to the extent they can afford them. But when you subsidize meat, cheese, and refined flour, you make it possible for fast-food chains to offer these sinful treats at 99-cents plus tax, and advertise them complete with depictions of minorities -- "Eat like a rock star, for $1." I've seen these ads many times. Are we to assume these have no effect?

Yes, senator -- bacon cheeseburgers, left to sit, won't make a person obese. Maybe the dog will eat them, and he or she will bloat up and eventually die.

But you, and the producers you represent, don't aim for them to sit anywhere except in a lot of people's outsized bellies. Are you going to tell me this doesn't make anyone's self-undoing infinitely easier?

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.

There's more: "Sen. Roberts' Logic: Bacon Cheeseburgers Don't Make People Fat, People Make People Fat" >>