Sunday, December 25, 2005

Can democracy take root in Iraq?

Amidst the chaos, Iraq has seen some progress since the US invaded it. Most notable were the three democratic elections that were successfully held with Hussein no longer in power. The Iraqi people have expressed their sincere desire to further the democratic process in their land by proudly displaying their purple ink-stained fingers.

Unfortunately, although the results are not even in yet, Sunni Arabs are already charging that the election was beset with widespread fraud. Twenty-thousand Iraqis protested the election in a mass demonstration organized by 35 Sunni Arab and secular Shiite parties Friday. Granted, these protests might be dismissed as simply "sour grapes," with the Sunni minority losing the controlling power it previously held in Iraq, but that makes them no less troubling.

Although some 1,500 complaints have been lodged against the election, what's even more troubling is that Iraq's leading Shiite religious bloc is ready to discuss Sunni Arab participation in a coalition government. Why is this troubling? Because it circumvents the already very fragile democratic state that's developing in Iraq. How will the majority of Iraqi people who voted in the election feel if their vote is not what establishes membership in the Parliament but, instead, negotiated deals by political power brokers do?

In the latest news, Sunni Arab political leaders asked the main Shiite political bloc to give them ten of the parliamentary seats the Shiite won in the election. The Shiite turned them down, which is the appropriate action for those who believe in democracy. However, it's likely to inflame ethnic tension. Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish communities have historically been victims of the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime. The Sunni are sure to be concerned about the possibility of retribution once the Shiite firmly establish control of the government.

Now democracy is stuck in a Catch 22. Democracy cannot take hold in Iraq unless the people participate but, now that the Iraqi people can finally vote, their elected leaders will not all go along with the democratic process. As grand a vision Bush's is, of planting the seed of democracy in Iraq to spread across the Middle East, perhaps the biggest barrier to accomplishing it is that the Iraqi society simply cannot sustain democracy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A shameful act

Since October 2001, president Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on thousands of Americans' private phone and email communications domestically without a court order. At a press conference today, president Bush said that leaking information about his executive order to do so "was a shameful act." How could any American construe the leak as the shameful act?

Only an American who has not read the Constitution could do so -- and Bush is clearly one of them. This is all the more ironic when you consider that he twice vowed to uphold the Constitution, the most basic decription of his job. If he had simply read the Bill of Rights, he would've seen that Amendment IV grants all Americans the right to privacy:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Bush cited Article II of the Constitution of the United States as permission for his acts. This citation only reinforces the observation that he has not read the Constitution. Nowhere does Article II permit him to spy on American citizens. However, if he had read it, he would've seen that it says, "The President ... shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Violating the civil rights of thousands of Americans clearly qualifies as grounds for impeachment, so his activities should lead to articles of impeachment coming out of Congress soon.

Bush also claimed the USA PATRIOT Act authorized his action. However, this directly contradicts what he said of the Act and wiretapping at an event he held in Wisconsin in July of 2004:
"A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order."
Granted, the Act does authorize law enforcement officials to secretly tap telephone communication without getting a subpoena beforehand. However, they must request a warrant shortly thereafter, something Bush still has not required years after his spying activity started. Perhaps this is what allowed freedom-loving Senators to prevail in their filibuster to prevent extension of the most controversial sections of the Act (although Bush considers this "inexcusable"). Fortunately, they will expire at the end of this year if congress goes into recess for the holidays with the filibuster still active.

Bush tried to dodge the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as the appropriate vehicle for spying on Americans. He knows full well that it would require a judge to issue a warrant before law enforcement officials could tap a phone line or intercept email communications from the US. His excuse was that using FISA would not permit quick action. However, Bush said "I have re-authorized this program more than 30 times. I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat." Regularly renewing his executive order for years on end does not indicate activity requiring quick action. That's strike three.

Bush called the leak of his spy program a shameful act but he didn't stop to think why someone in his administration would do that. If he did, Bush would have to face the probability that the whistle blower did so because he or she got fed up with the president acting as if he is above the law. Law-abiding American citizens are also fed up and they consider the president spying on them a shameful act.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The incredible George W. Bush

George W. Bush has no credibility in Europe. In his 2003 State of the Union speech, the president declared that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa. Yet more than a year prior, the French counterintelligence service repeatedly warned the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence of this claim. It's no surprise that the Europeans give Rice's claims about CIA activity there no credibility.

Now that lack of credibility has spread to Capital Hill. Democrats in the House are now demanding the president turn over pre-war intelligence on Iraq to Congress. Specifically, they are seeking drafts and documents related to his October 2002 speech in Ohio and his 2003 State of the Union address. It should also come as no surprise that the GOP is trying to rebuff the disclosure of those documents, with only one Republican congressman siding with the Democrats.

Even today, Bush still presents his pack of lies on his website without a single acknowledgement that his claims have since been proven to be false.

Offshoring takes a new twist

Secretary of State Rice has been touring Europe echoing Bush's words: "We do not torture." Although the claim is unambiguous about torture, Rice is more coy about the 'black sites,' neither confirming nor denying that the CIA is maintaining secret prisons in Europe. Nonetheless, to avoid embarrassment, CIA officials said that al Qaeda suspects were moved from detention in Europe to Africa before Rice's visit.

Although Hungarian officials were quick to deny the existence of such facilities in their country, il manifesto reported that the CIA was holding terrorists under "illegal conditions." The Polish prime minister is not so confident. While Polish officials repeatedly deny their existence, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz commissioned a detailed investigation into the existence of 'black sites' in Poland.

The Polish probe better go back a few years. It turns out the CIA was rendering terrorist suspects to foreign countries for interrogation at least as far back as 9/11. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was handed over to Egypt in January 2002, subsequently fabricating claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda (that the bush administration relied on to justify invading Iraq). The Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified report in February 2002 expressing skepticism about Libi's credibility, saying he made the claims under duress of harsh treatment by the CIA.

The world has known for some time about 'black sites' in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Now it's becoming clear that the administration runs a network of secret prisons around the world. While the Democrats express concern about jobs being sent offshore, it seems the Republicans have been sending prisons and torture offshore.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Stay the course

Bowing to political pressure to regularly report on the progress of the war in Iraq to the Senate, the president released a 35-page document detailing his National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Replete with the same rhetoric we've heard from the president for more than two years, his strategy can be summed up in three words: stay the course.

In all fairness to the president, the document elaborates on that summary, painting a beguiling picture of what the neo-conservative principles say will come to pass in Iraq. In fact, this Utopian society is something most Americans, including opponents of the president, would love to see in the Middle East. No one would deny how nice it would be to have this strategy bear out. However, this begs the question: How likely is it to play out as planned?

Even in retrospect, that'll be difficult to determine. Therein lies one of the problems with the president's strategy: it specifies no quantitative benchmarks against which success can be measured. Beyond that, it has precious few objective criteria of any kind that Americans can use to tell if we're making any progress with the plan. That leaves only the president himself to notify Americans of how well his strategy is playing out according to his own subjective determination.

For example, he defines victory in Iraq in three stages: short, medium, and longer term. However, he uses terms like "Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists ... and standing up security forces" to define short term victory. Midterm, Iraq is "on its way to achieving its economic potential." Longer term, "Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure." What does any of that mean? How can Americans tell if any of these milestones have been achieved unless the president makes the call?

The president goes on to lay out a three track strategy for victory. One of those tracks is The Security Track. That track has a three-part campaign:
  1. Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven;
  2. Hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security force presence; and
  3. Build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.
Unfortunately, we've already failed on the first two parts. For example, immediately after being reelected, the president approved the destruction of Fallujah and the razing of its mosques to clear it of enemy control. In the process, 1200 "insurgents" and 800 civilians were killed, with the rest of the enemy being driven out of the city. However, after troops left the city to clear other areas, insurgents flowed right back into the city. Just last Thursday, the enemy killed ten Marines in Fallujah and injured many of the others in their attack on the patrol of more than twenty Marines.

The president's document concedes that "victory will take time." However, it refuses to tell Americans how much time. Instead, it says their "strategy is working." This is the same administration that told us, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Since then, almost 500 more American troops have been killed by the insurgency. Considering that they have been wrong about every prognostication they have made about the war, is there any reason to believe their strategy is working?

Instead of a timetable, the strategy is conditions-based. It identifies three metrics as the most important for tracking the conditions:
  1. Political ... the number of Iraqis from all areas willing to participate in the political process as evidenced by voter registration and turnout.
  2. Security: The quantity and quality of Iraqi units; the number of actionable intelligence tips received from Iraqis...
  3. Economic ... electricity generated and delivered; barrels of oil produced and exported...
While the Shiite, with a 60% majority of the Iraqi population, are likely to participate in the political process, they're unlikely to get cooperation from the other major ethnic groups in Iraq. Hard-line Sunni clerics refuse to join the political process, denouncing the constitution, and Shiite militiamen battle the Sunni militants. Meanwhile, sitting on the oil-rich part of Iraq, the Kurds fly their own flag, speak their own language, and their militia wear a different uniform than the rest of the country, being "100% for independence."

Measured against the Security metric, conditions are getting worse as time passes. Last year there were three Iraqi battalions at what is called Level One readiness. However, the top American commander in Iraq, General George Casey, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September. He told congress that the number of Iraqi battalions capable of combat without U.S. support had dropped to just one.

The Economic metrics fared little better, with electricity and oil production falling well below the pre-war levels for years after the invasion. It wasn't until this past summer that electricity production was finally restored to the levels maintained while Hussein was in power and it's still hampered by frequent outages caused by insurgents sabotaging the grid. As of May, Iraqi oil production was less than three-quarters what it was before the invasion.

The president's strategy is far superior to any plan he had in place for Iraq before last week. However, it's still preliminary at best. More than a year and a half ago, this blogger recommended that the president put a plan in place that meets four basic criteria:
  1. He provides an unambiguous plan for winning the peace in Iraq.
  2. He provides milestones and objective metrics of success with each milestone.
  3. He provides an exit strategy from the war with a projected timeline for achieving it.
  4. He provides unambiguous criteria as to what constitutes the completion of the mission in Iraq.
As a fellow MBA, the president should recognize these as the most basic components of a plan to manage a project as complex as a war. Nonetheless, his latest strategy does not even meet one criterion. It's just 35 pages of flowery language saying stay the course (see This Modern World: America, a brief parable).

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Self-imposed barriers to the prosecution of terrorists

Jose Padilla is an American citizen. He has been detained more than three years in a Federal DoJ facility without being permitted a trial in a court of law. This, in spite of the Bill of Rights stating that, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Senior Bush administration officials claim that Padilla conspired with al Qaeda to set off a "dirty [hydrogen] bomb" on American soil. He is alleged to have traveled to Afghanistan on a number of occasions to meet with al Qaeda officials to plot other attacks against the US. He supposedly also spoke to fellow detainees about plans to use natural gas lines to blow up apartment buildings and hotels in New York.

Padilla is such a danger to the US that president George W. Bush wrote a memo to his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, saying (among other things) that:
  • Mr. Padilla is closely associated with al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al Qaeda
  • Mr. Padilla represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States, and detention of Mr. Padilla is necessary to prevent him from aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States
Even if Padilla is a heinous man, closely affiliated with al Qaeda, who is threatening to attack the US, he is still an American citizen. Although Bush has tried for years to deny him the basic rights afforded to all American citizens -- including mass murderers, child molesters, serial rapists, and the like -- an impending showdown with the Supreme Court compelled the DoJ to finally try Padilla as a criminal in a court of law.

He is being charged with participating in a "North American support cell" by providing material support for terrorists and conspiring to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country. The indictment neither mentions Padilla's reported plot to detonate a "dirty bomb" nor his purported involvement with al Qaeda, even though those are grounds that Bush used to justify holding Padilla as an "enemy combatant." Government officials said that he is being charged with the less serious crimes because the Bush administration is unwilling to allow testimony from two senior members of al Qaeda who had been subjected to harsh questioning.

This directly contradicts Bush's claim that "We do not torture." However, the CIA inspector general found that they had subjected the man who could tie Padilla to the bomb plots to excessive "waterboarding," a technique that involves near drowning. The other al Qaeda member who could testify against Padilla is thought to be held in the CIA's secret detention system and the Bush administration doesn't want its existence to be revealed in a criminal court.

Padilla should be convicted of all the crimes he has committed, not just the less severe ones. However, the incompetent manner in which Bush is waging the war on terror is not only causing an increase in global terrorism, it's also now preventing us from being able to punish terrorists to the fullest extent of the law here at home.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Peter Drucker's legacy

'Management is about human beings.'

Can congress dispel the hex of fear?

The USA PATRIOT Act (The Act) was up for reathorization in congress this week. At first, it seemed that it was business as usual in the House, with our representatives succumbing to 9/11 hysteria. However, by the end of the week, it began to look like some semblance of rationality might be settling in, particularly in the Senate.

The Act is very intrusive on Americans' right to privacy and has proven wholly ineffective at intercepting and obstructing terrorism. Fortunately, some of the sections of The Act that are most destructive to our civil liberties are set to expire at the end of this year. Unfortunately, some of the rabid-right (ironically, since they traditionally stand for laissez faire government) would prefer that law enforcement agencies continue to have the unfettered ability to intrude on our freedoms. Therefore, they moved to eliminate the clauses of The Act that require the expiration of those sections.

This past summer, the House approved a bill to achieve these ends, believing that the dangers of terrorism warrant suspending our right to privacy (even though The Act has not led to a single conviction on terrorist-related grounds over the four years it has been in effect). Senators, on the other hand, seem to have slowly come to their senses and realized that (as Benjamin Franklin once said), "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." The Senate passed a bill that returns judicial oversight to the power of law enforcement agencies to confiscate the personal records of American citizens without their knowledge. Therefore, members of both houses met this week to reach an agreement on a bill that could pass both houses before the end of the year, when some sections of The Act expire.

Repeating the error that happened just before The Act was passed in 2001 of working out the details in secrecy, conferees met behind closed doors and came out with a bill that eliminated the safeguards to our freedoms that the Senate's version of the bill held. According to Bob Barr, former Republican representative from Georgia, "It's very similar to the process in 2001. We believe it's a very inappropriate and dangerous game to play. Politics seems to be driving this whole game. The Senate worked long and hard to fashion a compromise." Lisa Graves, senior counsel for legislative strategy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "There's been a lot of pressure by the administration and the Justice Department to refuse to go along with advances in the Senate bill. There's definitely an attempt to railroad this through."

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. By Friday, liberals and conservatives from both sides of the aisle in both houses formed a coalition to block the latest version of the bill. They did so by dropping the immediate consideration of the bill and, thereby, avoiding a filibuster in the Senate over the weekend. What this broad coalition indicates is the recognition by many different political affiliations of the serious flaws in The Act. Although some legislators are still under the spell of the terrorist tactics of the Bush administration, there are now enough legislators who have regained their appreciation for the Constitution to stymie those who would surrender our liberties. Let's hope they can do it again at the end of the year when the bill is sure to come up for a vote again before sections of The Act expire.

Monday, November 14, 2005

We do not torture

Last week, president George W. Bush met president Torrijos of Panama in Panama City. While there, they held a joint press conference. When asked if he agreed with vice president Cheney that the CIA should be exempt from legislation to ban torture, Bush's response was "We do not torture."

The presidency is notorious for having a hard time understanding advanced English vocabulary. After all, who could forget president Clinton saying, "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is." Last week's press conference leaves us wondering what Bush thinks the meaning of "we" is.

First of all, the context of the reporter's question that elicited the response begs the question. Why would Cheney want the CIA to be permitted to torture detainees if we do not torture? Does the CIA, an agency which is part of the executive branch of government led by Bush, not qualify as "we"?

If the CIA does not qualify as "we," then what about the military? The events at Abu Ghraib are now infamous incidents of torture. However, the highest rank court martialed for that torture was a sergeant. Could that have been a way to distance the guilty parties from the president? The former commander at Abu Ghraib, brigadier general Janis Karpinski, makes a convincing case that she was a scapegoat of her immediate commanders, military intelligence officials, and Rumsfeld. Do none of them qualify as "we" to the commander in chief?

In fact, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld is being sued by two Iraqi businessmen. What are they suing him for? They claim they were tortured by American forces for months, violating their rights under the US Constitution and international law. This occurred after they were arrested during a business meeting in 2003, in spite of the fact that they were not part of any anti-American activity.

Iraq is not the only place where torture occurs at the hands of Bush's troops. An FBI memo documents abuses occurring at Guantanamo Bay as far back as 2002. It describes one incident in which a soldier reportedly bent a prisoner's thumbs back and "grabbed his genitals." In another, an FBI agent saw a detainee "gagged with duct tape" for refusing to stop chanting the Quran. In a third episode, a prisoner allegedly was threatened with an aggressive dog and the man was placed for three months in "intense isolation," causing him to experience "extreme psychological trauma."

But that was all in the past, right? Maybe Bush says we do not torture because things have changed. Well, according to Human Rights Watch, troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) near Fallujah were doing the following as recently as last year:
  • routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment
  • a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee'’s leg with a baseball bat
  • detainees were forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out
  • soldiers applied chemical substances to detainees'’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold
  • detainees were stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water
Granted, there are no reports of torture being committed by Bush's own hands. Perhaps when he says we do not torture, by "we" he means anyone else in his line of authority and himself working as a tag-team.
We do not torture.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Contradictory juxtaposition

U.S. Launches Major Offensive in IraqPresident Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended
U.S. Launches Major Offensive Near Syrian Border; Two U.S. Troops Killed in Other Areas of IraqRemarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California
Nov 5, 2005May 1, 2003

Can both of these statements be true? If not, which one is the lie? Apparently, someone didn't get the News flash!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Let's get it straight

Karl Rove was not exonerated of culpability for exposing a CIA operative and the indictment of "Scooter" Libby is about lying the nation into an illegitimate war! The Sunday news shows today have been replete with conservatives and Republicans claiming that prosecutor Fitzgerald came up empty-handed with his Grand Jury not accusing anyone of the crime he was initially investigating. They claim that Rove not being indicted means that he never committed a crime. They also claim that Libby's indictment of obstruction of justice, false statements, and perjury is a trivial accusation. Therefore, conservatives make the reasoning that the Iraq War was instigated with complete and honest information.

But let there be no mistake: Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald only handed down indictments on those charges where he's confident that he can get a conviction. Acting responsibly (unlike Kenneth Starr), he is strictly maintaining his allegations within the scope of his indictments. However, that does not mean that no other crimes were committed. It simply means that the burden of proof to convict someone of disclosing the identity of a covert intelligence personnel and improper disclosure of national defense information [the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative] requires proving intent on the part of the person leaking the information. Without being inside of the head of the person, proving intent is almost impossible to do. Therefore, Fitzgerald wisely decided not to try to bring indictments over which it would be difficult to prevail.

Like a smart prosecutor, Fitzgerald levied charges that will be relatively straightforward to prove. In his press release, he makes a compelling case for obstruction of justice, false statements, and perjury. In fact, this case is only missing one component to convict Libby of disclosing classified information: intent. And it's naive to claim that this indictment has nothing to do with the Iraq War. Fitzgerald only publicly said this was the case to act responsibly and maintain his credibility as he presses charges. However, the indictment has references to ambassador Joseph Wilson debunking the claims that Iraq had WMDs all over it. It's no accident that Fitzgerald makes it clear in his indictment that the American people were being deceived without actually pressing charges against someone for doing so.

It's also naive to claim that Karl Rove is innocent of any crimes simply by virtue of the fact that Fitzgerald leveled no charges against him. There's no question that the person Fitzgerald refers to in his indictment as "Official A" is Karl Rove. And although Fitzgerald made it clear that Official A is not currently under indictment now, he never closed the door on the possibility that he might be charged later. This is another case of a charge not being levied only because the burden of proof is great. Rove is a shrewd character, and he did not make some of the blatant mistakes Libby did, thereby not exposing himself to indictment for the easier charges to prove which Libby is alleged to have done. Fitzgerald would have had to show intent to convict Rove of the charges he was initially investigating. As mentioned before, intent is a very difficult thing to prove unless you're in the head of the accused.

Finally, conservatives who try to claim that the charges in the indictment are trivial, as opposed to the crimes that were initially investigated, are sadly lacking in ethics. Fitzgerald spoke at length about the importance of truth when he presented the indictment at a press conference Friday. His indictment explicitly states:
When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth. Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government. In an investigation concerning the compromise of a CIA officerÂ’s identity, it is especially important that grand jurors learn what really happened. The indictment returned today alleges that the efforts of the grand jury to investigate such a leak were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Federal Emergency Maximization Agency

Americans expect the federal government to come to our aide when faced with an emergency. The agency tasked with that responsibility is FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Backed by the vast resources of the US government, surely Americans can rely on FEMA in time of need. At least that's what residents of the Gulf Coast thought this summer as hurrican Katrina was bearing down on them. Let's see how FEMA actually responded.

One would expect FEMA to be closely coordinated with the US military since they all fall under the administration of the executive branch of government. Therefore, Captain Nora Tyson weathered hurricane Katrina in the USS Bataan so it could follow the storm in immediately after making landfall and be a first responder. The Navy vessel had hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, and landing craft staged just 40 miles from New Orleans. The captain was ready to allow many of the 1,200 sailors to go ashore to help with the relief effort. However, FEMA never requested the Bataan's assistance. Said Bill Fish, the commander of one of the 135-foot landing crafts, "It was a disappointment. I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We've got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We've got water, toilets. We've got food."

Everyone knows the valuable role that the Red Cross plays in assistance and recovery after disasters. One would think that it would be the first NGO FEMA would reach out to, especially when faced with tens of thousands of hungry and thirsty American refugees at the New Orleans Convention Center. However, Renita Hosler, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said:
The Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans. Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day [asking for access]. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders.
Perhaps these resources were not used by FEMA because they wanted people specifically trained in rescue to precede recovery efforts. So neighboring states sent firefighters and other local first responders to the Gulf Coast to lend aide. How were these highly-trained rescuers greeted? FEMA required them to take an eight-hour sexual harassment class, then go hand out flyers -- all this while thousands of New Orleans residents still needed to be rescued. After experiencing this cool reception, a discouraged Texas firefighter suggested to his superiors back home that they not send any more volunteers. He declined to give his name because FEMA warned them not to talk to reporters, but he did say, "They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified. We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

While turning away local and NGO resources that were made available in the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration had prioritized the use of federal resources in the recovery from hurricane Katrina. Shortly after the hurricane struck Mississippi, knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline. The two Colonial Pipeline power substations in Collins that were restarted send fuel to the Northeast -- hundreds of miles away from the area destroyed by Katrina. Meanwhile, the vice president's order to restart them delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt of Mississippi.

Other countries' resources got no closer to the Gulf Coast. Germany sent a military cargo jet carrying fifteen tons of food to the United States. The contribution was intended to feed the hungry victims of hurricane Katrina. But the food supplies never made it. The Bush administration refused the jet permission to land. Forced to turn around, the plane headed back to Cologne still fully loaded. Food from other countries had also been banned.

Americans also wanted to contribute. According to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, Wal-Mart loaded three trucks with food and water. FEMA, which controlled access to New Orleans, turned them back. A Coast Guard ship invited local authorities to get 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but FEMA ordered it to turn down the offer. Volunteers from Lafayette, LA, with 500 boats, headed for New Orleans to aid in rescue efforts, but FEMA turned them back.

Acadian Ambulance Service was tasked with transporting refugees in need of medical care out of New Orleans. Unfortunately, FEMA's paperwork slowed the evacuation of patients from the airport, and Acadian's frustrated medics waited with empty helicopters. Since they couldn't get patients out fast enough, the company sent in outside doctors and nurses to the airport, where patients were dying and medical care was in short supply. Nonetheless, FEMA rejected the help because the doctors and nurses weren't certified members of a National Disaster Medical Team.

Marc Creswell, an Acadian medic, said:
At one point I had 10 helicopters on the ground waiting to go, but FEMA kept stonewalling us with paperwork. Meanwhile, every 30 or 40 minutes someone was dying ... When the doctors asked why they couldn't help these critically ill people lying there unattended, the FEMA people kept saying, 'You're not federalized.'
FEMA distributed so much money so quickly when hurricanes hit Florida last year that Floridians that did not qualify for emergency aide were receiving funds. However, just a scant year later in New Orleans, rather than managing the emergency, FEMA became the Federal Emergency Maximization Agency.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The unraveling of the Right

For a while, hurricane Katrina seemed to fix America's eyes on the Gulf Coast. With the media's focus off of Capitol Hill, one might think it would be an opportunity for the Right to gloss up its image, but it was not to be. FEMA's rescue effort in New Orleans led by president Bush's crony was badly bungled. The Right did their best to lay the blame on Democrats, but with little effect -- there was no denying that the Executive branch of the government, i.e. the Bush administration, had ultimate responsibility for the biggest failures. Although Bush, Chertoff, Rumsfeld, and Richard B. Myers all claimed they were not told that New Orleans' levees failed until August 30, a staffer recently testified that FEMA was actually notified on the morning of August 29.

As if that wasn't bad enough news for the Right, the media's attention has now turned back to the Hill. That pesky story about the uncovering of CIA agent Valerie Plame has blown up bigger than ever. It turns out that her identity was leaked by not one, but two White House senior staffers -- both Bush's senior advisor, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby. It seems that Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor investigating the leak, might not be satisfied with simply leveling indictments for "outing" an undercover agent. Rove and Libby now have serious exposure to legal liability for obstruction of justice -- that's right, a cover-up in the White House again.

That's not the only old story rearing its ugly head again. The investigations into Tom DeLay's ethics violations have come to a head. The prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, formally charged DeLay with state conspiracy and money laundering. DeLay seemed unflappable, taking a very flattering mug shot, but it still reflects badly on the GOP in congress. Of course, charges of corruption on the Right are not limited to the head of the House. Senate majority leader Bill Frist is also under investigation. What is Frist doing voting on healthcare bills while holding significant ownership and interest in Hospital Corporation of America anyway?

Surely the troubles on the Right must be a new phenomenon, right? This must all be part of the second-term controversies that seem to plague all re-elected presidents, mustn't it? Well, maybe not. The chief of staff for the first term's secretary of state recently spoke out about the administration. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served in the State Department from 2001 to 2005, said that Bush's foreign policy was controlled by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal," making the country more vulnerable to future crises, not less so. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, went on to say that the national security apparatus has become more twisted under Bush than he has ever before seen in all of his "studies of aberration, bastardizations" and "perturbations."

With the Right crumbling all around him, Bush had the opportunity to bolster conservatism by nominating a Supreme Court justice. How did he respond? By turning to his old stand-by: cronyism. Bush nominated his own counsel, Harriet Miers, to the highest bench in the land. It turns out that Miers is as qualified to be a Supreme Court justice as "Brownie" was to be the director of FEMA. With no judicial experience to signal what kind of justice Miers would be, criticism of this appointment is louder from the Right than it is from Democrats. Even with the GOP holding a majority, senator Schumer said today that Miers lacks the votes to be confirmed by either the senate at large or the Judiciary Committee. The Left is concerned about her apparent lack of a grasp of Constitutional law, and the Right is not confident that she would rule according to their conservative values on important cases.

The Republican party holds the White House and is the majority in both houses of congress. Right-wing blather floods the talk show radio airwaves. Red states filled the map in the last election. But this dominance cannot be sustained while the leadership continues down the path it's heading unraveling the Right.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Posse Comitatus Act

The Posse Comitatus Act was established in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, and continues in force to this day. It prohibits the application of the US Army and Air Force to enforce civilian laws domestically.

However, recent events in the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita have caused some to question the appropriateness of the Posse Comitatus Act. Those who do, think that it might have prevented the Federal government from being able to control the social disorder in the wake of the disaster -- particularly in New Orleans. The logic is that lives might have been saved if the Posse Comitatus Act was not in effect.

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute summed up this philosophy in a nutshell last week when he referred to it as a "federal war on hurricanes." He is asking that America not make rash decisions while still strongly influenced by the emotional response to the hurricane disaster. Healy is questioning whether an extremely rare case should drive policy that can be applied at any time.

No one questions that the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast was turned around in large part by Lieutenant General Russel Honore. It's also clear that the US military is the most effective mass logistics force on Earth. Military personnel and equipment can play a crucial role in domestic recovery following a natural disaster. However, the more important question is whether that role should include law enforcement. Even Honore constantly ordered his troops to point their weapons down and remember they were not in Iraq.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow from the Center for American Progress inadvertently stated the gravest danger to abolishing the Posse Comitatus Act while attempting to justify doing so. When asked under what criteria US troops should be activated domestically, Korb responded that, "the president has to make that judgement." This becomes a dangerous situation when the president has poor judgement -- the danger is compounded when the president additionally lacks intelligence, critical thinking skills, and respect for any form of government other than the Federal executive branch, as is the case with George W. Bush.

The US military has overwhelming power that can be beneficial in a domestic disaster when directed by local authorities. However, in the wrong hands, that power can also be very destructive. Since local authorities know local needs better than Federal authorities ever could, the decision to apply US military forces in a locality should be left up to the respective mayors and governors. That way, if the local authorities make poor decisions, the local citizens can lay the blame on them and not on our troops.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bush breeds global terrorism

During a press conference in April of this year, President George W. Bush said, "Iraq has — have got people there that are willing to kill, and they're hard-nosed killers. And we will work with the Iraqis to secure their future." His comments turned out to be prophetic; Bush has secured the future of hard-nosed killers in Iraq. A CSIS study released less than a week ago found that 90- to 96-percent of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqi nationals, not foreign elements.

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist, quashing any insurgent uprising before it could take hold. Bush's invasion of Iraq unseated the government, opened the borders, and created the perfect breeding grounds for an insurgency, now some 30,000 strong. However, Bush's invasion has not only spawned well over 25,000 Iraqi insurgents, it is also recruiting foreign fighters into the jihad against the US.

There are only approximately 352 Saudi insurgents in Iraq. However, they are the most sought-after militants because of their contributions of cash to the Iraqi insurgency and because when they are "martyred," it brings great media attention in the Middle East to the Iraqis' cause. The CSIS study cites Saudi intelligence analysis that leads to the conclusion that the Saudi militants were "radicalized almost exclusively by the Coalition invasion."

In the aforementioned press conference, Bush also claimed that "we've made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home. And when you engage the terrorists abroad, it causes activity and action." Studies from the state departments of both the US and Britain show terrorist "activity and action" have grown to unprecedented levels around the globe since Bush has been engaging them abroad, so Bush got that part right. However, his logic that engaging them abroad prevents you from having to face terrorists at home is flawed.

First of all, this post already ascertains that most of the insurgents in Iraq are home-grown in less than the past three years, so they were of no threat to the US until Bush "engaged" them (his polite term for "invading their homeland"). Furthermore, the insurgents Bush created in Iraq are attacking fellow Iraqis more than they do Americans. The bigger problem is the foreign militants that have been able to infiltrate Iraq since the invasion.

Thomas Sanderson of CSIS said these foreign militants are:
exposed to international networks from around the world [in Iraq, and] returning with bomb-making skills, perhaps stolen explosives, vastly increased knowledge. If they are succeeding in a hostile environment, avoiding … US Special Forces, then to go back to Europe, my God, it's kid's play.
Sanderson's concerns are shared by US counter-terrorism officials. They fear that Islamic militants are fighting in Iraq so they can return to Europe with battle training and a passion to harm the West. There's no reason to believe the threat is limited to Europe. With American security forces spread across the globe, US ports and borders are left almost entirely unguarded. Considering American citizens comprise some of those Islamic militants trained abroad, it won't be long before America has to face more terrorists here at home.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Frist under fire

So what if both the SEC and the DoJ are investigating Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist? This should come as no surprise since his position makes him a lightning rod attracting strikes by the minority party. These investigations must be as inconsequential as all the other attacks against Senator Frist have been, right?

Perhaps if you look at just the latest developments, it might appear that way. However, if you start by looking back as far as Frist's first days in the Senate, the picture begins to look very different.

Frist came to the Senate in 1995, holding a blind trust with HCA shares in it. This should come as no surprise because HCA was founded by Frist's father, and his brother is a Director. Since Frist is not supposed to make decisions to purchase or sell securities in his blind trust, his claim was that there was no conflict of interest between his position in the Senate and his holdings in the trust because, "It is illegal right now for me to know what the composition of those trusts are. So I have no idea."

Nonetheless, Frist came under immediate criticism for holding HCA stock while directing legislation on patient issues and Medicare reform. Senate rules permit legislators to divest their shares in a company from a blind trust, but only if they assume new duties and find that their ownership presents the appearance of a conflict of interest. However, according to Frist, "So as far as I know, I own no HCA stock."

Now let's take look at more recent activities surrounding this issue. It seems that the SEC and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan are (independently) contacting Senator Frist regarding the sale of HCA stock in June when it was near its 52-week high. The sale came just two weeks before the corporation issued a poor earnings forecast that drove its stock price down over fifteen percent. The hospital conglomerate is also under subpoena by the same attorney's office for documents related to the sale.

Not to worry: a statement from Frist's office made it clear that the Senator, "had no information about the company or its performance that was not available to the public when he directed the trustees to sell the HCA stock. His only objective in selling the stock was to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest."

But this begs a couple of questions. First of all, why would he suddenly be concerned about a "conflict of interest" when he wasn't in prior years? Even more curious, didn't Frist claim no knowledge of owning the stock? It turns out that two weeks before disclaiming the knowledge, the trustee, M. Kirk Scobey Jr., notified Frist of HCA stock being contributed to the trust. Even as far back as 2002, the trustee notified Frist of separate HCA investments to his trust in the amounts of $15,000, $50,000, $250,000, $500,000, and $1-million.

Democrats were quick to fire on Frist. According to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), "Bill Frist has this all upside down. He thought Terri Schiavo could see and his trust was blind." And, in classic Howard Dean style, the Chairman of the DNC said of the issue that, "Republicans in Washington have made their culture of corruption the norm."

Dean's comment is right on target, and the GOP has the power in both the legislative and the executive branches of government. This makes one question whether or not we'll see Frist take a fall for this. But if we do, it's sure to have repurcussions throughout the Republican party and maybe in the 2006 elections.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fight to the last drop of other people's blood

He's "ready to fight to the last drop of other people's blood." Surely that must be a reference to George W. Bush, right? Wrong! It's MP George Galloway refering to Christopher Hitchens.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear an American representative say such a thing about the President? Unfortunately, you'll never hear them speaking truth to power. Nowadays, if you want to hear someone speak the unvarnished truth about American leadership, ironically, you have to look to Scotland for those words.

Last Friday, a Scotsman squared off against a fellow Brit in a no-holds-barred grudge match. Meeting at Baruch College in New York, they debated the war in Iraq. Besides the above-referenced quote, the audience was privy to ad hominem remarks like, "What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history — the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug," when Galloway inferred about Hitchens that, "the one thing a slug leaves behind it is a trail of slime." Not to be undone, Hitchens claimed of Galloway that, "The man's hunt for a tyrannical fatherland never ends. The Soviet Union let him down, Albania's gone. Saddam's been overthrown. But on to the next, in Damascus."

Such pearls are rarely heard spoken by Americans. But Galloway honed his oratory in the British Parliament, and Hitchens is a socialist turned neo-conservative who is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair and a political analyst oft-featured in American periodicals & TV. shows. Hitchens challenged Galloway to a debate after his testimony before a Senate committee accusing him of complicity in the oil-for-food controversy.

The normally unflappable Hitchens showed up at the debate looking unkempt with his tousled hair and unbuttoned shirt. On the other side of the stage, Galloway showed up in a perfectly tailored suit. However, betraying appearances, Hitchens went barb for barb with Galloway, giving away little ground. Nonetheless, Galloway got the better of Hitchens, as one would expect from someone competing from the high ground.

Regardless of which side of the Iraq War argument you're on, you're bound to find the debate at once entertaining and enlightening. For those who prefer listening to reading, you can hear a recording of the debate online. Alternatively, you can read the transcript. Those who were fortunate enough to catch it on CSPAN, you witnessed the first time the network could compete with reality TV villains like Omarosa and Jerri.

Monday, September 19, 2005

To infinity and beyond

Buzz Lightyear demonstrated more vision in Toy Story than President George W. Bush could. However, at least Bush is looking partway to infinity. He has called on NASA to take an astronaut to our moon and Mars. NASA's plans are spectacular, reading like a science fiction novel. It would make America feel great to accomplish all of this.

Unfortunately, these grand plans leave out one small detail: what tangible benefit they will bring America. As usual, Bush has no qualms about constantly increasing spending of our tax dollars (in contradiction to one of the basic principles upon which his GOP is based). Also true to form, he plans to pay for it by ... cutting taxes?!? National debt be damned!

I'll be the first to admit that it would be "kewl" to do all this space exploration. But unless NASA can tell us how everyday Americans will benefit from it, I'd prefer we all stay on this planet. Furthermore, until we could explore space and still run a budget surplus, my tax dollars would be better spent here in America, feeding the poor who go hungry in Appalachia and providing medical care to children across this country without insurance.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Brownie points for 'Brownie'

Speaking to the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Michael Brown, about his response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." That, in spite of a concurrent overwhelming din of criticism regarding FEMA's performance in the rescue of the residents of New Orleans and aide to recovery of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Certainly with his unmatched access to the finest intelligence, W. must have known about the numerous discrepancies in Brown's resume, and that his background in "emergency services" was wildly exaggerated. In fact, Brown's performance in the aftermath to Katrina led to his dismissal from the management of the disaster and sent him packing back to Washington, D.C. However, that lasted only a couple of days before piling on his questionable experience led to his subsequent resignation from FEMA.

W. has a long, storied track record of rewarding abject failure and promoting those whose incompetence rises above the rest, so it might come as no surprise to hear him giving "Brownie" points to the (former) Director. Nonetheless, could there be more to this commendation in the face of Brown's very public blunders than meets the eye? A look back to the last hurricane season exposes why W. expresses such loyalty to Brown.

In 2004, the state of Florida was struck by three hurricanes in one season. They happened to coincide with the forthcoming presidential election. A FEMA consultant noted in a three-page memo on the topic that the hurricanes could cause a "huge mess" that would negatively impact W.'s campaign, considering that Florida was a "battleground state."

How did FEMA, directed at the time by Brown, respond? A Florida official reported that FEMA began distributing funds in Florida "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind." Widespread mismanagement of disaster relief funds was uncovered in hundreds of Governor Jeb Bush's emails.

Not surprisingly, the nation heard nothing about this from the President's brother. The Sun-Sentinel had to threaten a lawsuit against the Governor's office to get them. Additionally, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Richard Skinner, conducted a four-month audit of FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) in the Miami area following Hurricane Frances. What did the audit find?

It found that the Miami-Dade County area did not experience hurricane-force winds from Frances, and it questioned whether the area warranted the FEMA assistance it received at Jeb Bush's request. It found waste and poor controls in every level of FEMA's assistance program. For example, the report said FEMA paid $10-million to replace hundreds of household items even though only a bed was reported to be damaged. "Millions of individuals and households became eligible to apply for [money], straining FEMA's limited inspection resources to verify damages and making the program more susceptible to potential fraud, waste, and abuse."

Were these criticisms partisan? The chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, Senator Susan Collins, is a Republican. In reference to Brown, she said during a committee hearing that he:
"...approved massive payouts to replace thousands of televisions, air conditioners, beds, and other furniture, as well as a number of cars, without receipts, or proof of ownership or damage, and based solely on verbal statements by the residents, sometimes made in fleeting encounters at fast-food restaurants.

"It was a pay first, ask questions later approach. The inspector general's report identifies a number of significant control weaknesses that create a potential for widespread fraud, erroneous payments, and wasteful practices."
Why the uproar? Because with the impending presidential election, the DHS report on the IHP audit found that FEMA suddenly abandoned its controls it had previously used to ensure its emergency funding went to people who needed it. Instead, it wastefully distributed money to Miami-Dade County residents without the standard verifications, leading to incidents like the following:
  • FEMA awarded $13.1-million to Miami-Dade applicants for rental assistance and home repair and replacement. However, the implementation of the Housing Assistance component of the IHP was hampered by several procedural omissions and generally weak guidelines for performing inspections and documenting results.
  • FEMA provided $82,764 in expedited assistance to 114 applicants who were not, or may not have been, eligible. Those applicants reportedly had insurance, did not report a need for housing, or reported that their homes were not damaged.
  • Sufficient criteria were not in place to reasonably assure that the $9-million of rental assistance provided to 4,985 Miami-Dade County residents was made to eligible applicants.
  • FEMA caseworkers authorized payments of $15,743 for three funerals, which were insufficiently documented to establish the deaths as disaster-related.
  • FEMA awarded $192,592 for miscellaneous items to applicants in Miami-Dade County based only upon the verification that such items were purchased — not whether a disaster-related need existed.
  • The amount authorized for automobile replacement, particularly for older vehicles, was generally far in excess of the market replacement costs or an amount needed to acquire comparable transportation.
W. went on to win re-election, as well as the state of Florida (although many question the validity of the results in that state). Can Brown be credited with the 'W' (pun intended)? Probably not, but it's clear that he made sure that Hurricane Frances would not cause a loss for W. For that, Bush gives him "Brownie" points.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Too little, too late

Surely the man standing next to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the East Room of the White House two days ago must have been an imposter. President George W. Bush would never say, "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

Then today the nation saw a man who claimed to be the President of the USA say, "When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as President, am responsible for the problem, and for the solution." That sounds more like President Harry Truman than it does like President George W. Bush. It turns out President Bush is now claiming responsibility for mistakes at every turn.

However, this is the same man who never admitted a single mistake in the first five years of his presidency. This blog widely documents the incessant mistakes, errors, and bad decisions of George W. Bush. To claim that he made no mistakes is simply disingenuous. Yet, George W. Bush instead rewards failure and gives promotions to the most incompetent in his administration. For example, after former CIA Director George Tenet insisted that it was a "slam dunk" that Hussein possessed WMDs and former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer "misplaced" $9-billion dollars that were supposed to go to rebuilding Iraq, Bush awarded both men the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor).

Also last year, a reporter asked George W. Bush, "After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be?" But the closest he could come to an admission of guilt was the following eloquent statement:
"You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet...

I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."
I agree that it's rare that anything pops into the President's head, and there's no question that he's not as quick on his feet as he should be, but being "under the spot" is no excuse for not being able to think of at least one minor error out of a career of countless monumental blunders.

Has the President suddenly turned over a new leaf and subscribed to the adage, "The buck stops here"? I doubt it, and I think the world doubts it. His sudden non-stop claims of responsibility and admissions of failures in his administration are falling on deaf ears. The words will ring hollow until responsibility is followed up with accountability -- something that is never accepted in this administration.

Mr President, all your apologies this week are too little, too late.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Relatively Sophisticated Syndication

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) -- what a misnomer! I'm a Microsoft Certified System Engineer and a Cisco Certified Design Associate. I've built and managed e-business for seven years, including both corporate websites and personal websites. I still didn't find RSS to be at all simple.

L.S. Butts finally got me motivated to learn about it. He has a pretty kewl blog, Justice E.R. Butts told me about how he uses RSS on his blog and gave me a little primer. He suggested I use it for some site feeds on The Progressive Zone. So I did. A tip of the hat to him :-)

First of all, I have the FeedBurner going now, and I added a chicklet in the sidebar. Then I published my Atom site feed in a couple of places. Among others, I thought The Progressive Blog Alliance was a particularly apropos place.

I still have a lot to learn about RSS, but at least I finally got started. Just don't tell me it's "really simple."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fascism lives in the USA

Many have used the word "fascism" to describe the Bush administration. However, when they do, others write off such references as inflammatory rhetoric that is not based on fact. Let's take a closer look and see which position can be best supported.

First of all, look at the definition of the word. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
fas·cism: 2 a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control
The key words are "a tendency toward." This means a state does not have to be ruled by a dictator to be fascist. If the administration of the state tends to be autocratic, that's fascism.

Does the Bush administration tend to be autocratic? The 1,760 people detained in New York during Bush's convention recognize the GOP as being autocratic. Crowded into a filthy pier, the detainees were exposed to the frigid New York nights common in the autumn, some without needed medical care, and many without ever being charged with a crime. The conditions were so bad, a judge finally ordered the release of those held over 24 hours, although the police department refused to obey the order.

If that doesn't sound fascist to you, watch the video of a recent event in Utah. You'll see camouflaged "troops" trespass into a licensed and insured party and show. Dropping in from helicopters, armed with assault rifles, and firing tear gas, the police began kicking women and siccing their dogs on the men. The one thing the police failed to bring was a warrant permitting them onto the private property where the peaceful event was being held.

I'm sure Cyrus Kar considers the administration to be fascist. Iranians considered what happened to him so outrageous that they reported it in their newspaper. After all, this American citizen was imprisoned in Abu Ghraib for 55 days without being given his day in court. He was finally released without being charged for any crime (because the FBI cleared him of any suspicion). Even this former Navy Seal, known as being decidedly right-wing, was not exempt from the Bush administration's autocracy.

If you still think Bush believes in freedom, then scrutinize his idea of "free speech." Before any public appearance, Bush sends his Secret Service to set up a "designated free speech zone." What are these zones? They are the only place where peaceful protestors against Bush's administration are permitted to "publicly" express their discontent. While Americans are permitted to cheer him anywhere they please, those who want to jeer him are caged and roped off into small areas well away from Bush's -- and the media's -- view. Don't naively assume that all of the United States is a free speech zone anymore.

Sadly, the examples of fascism in our great nation these past five years could go on and on. However, it's not necessary to cite them all. The above events are sufficient to show that there is now a tendency toward strong autocratic control of Americans by our government. So, the next time someone tries to tell you we don't live in a fascist state, break out the dictionary.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


On Wednesday, Speaker of the House, Congressman Dennis Hastert (R-IL), said of New Orleans that, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Reinforcing that comment, when asked about spending billions of dollars to rebuild a city that sits below sea level, he replied, "That doesn't make sense to me."

Apparently, Hastert wanted to leave no doubt about his position on the issue. His statements are unambiguous, right? Wrong! Just a day later, Hastert issued a statement saying, "I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated." He added that his earlier comments were "not to suggest that this great and historic city should not be rebuilt."

This begs the question: how does Hastert manage to stand upright without a backbone? His statements on one day clearly directly contradict his statements on the next. Hastert immediately buckled under political pressure. This is a perfect example of the classic political "flip-flop."

This weakness is shameful considering Hastert's original statements showed the marks of fiscal responsibility that his party used to stand for, but is conspicuously absent in the GOP the past five years. America is saddened by the tragedy in New Orleans, but why should it be compounded by spending countless billions of dollars to rebuild it in a location where it would be virtually guaranteed to suffer the same consequences all over again some time in the future?

Misplaced priorities

Even a major critic of the Bush administration like me is hard-pressed to directly blame the administration for the catastrophe on the Gulf Coast precipitated by Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, there's one aspect of this tragedy for which the administration can definitely be blamed.

The administration has its priorities all wrong. The costs for the Iraq War are approaching $300-billion. That's enough money to completely rebuild every bit of damage wreaked by Katrina and fully reimburse every American impacted by it for their financial losses. However, the Federal government won't be taking anywhere near this comprehensive a scope of the burden for the recovery of the Gulf Coast. It will say it doesn't fit in the budget. Yet, the costs for the Iraq War -- an elective war undertaken only because the president wanted it to happen -- are no problem for the Federal budget to bear?

Furthermore, money is not the only issue. Other resources are diverted away from the Gulf Coast by the Iraq War. We have 150,000 troops in Iraq, not to mention millions of pieces of equipment. Many of the troops are Louisiana's Nation Guard, which should be stationed in Louisiana to respond to homeland threats just like Hurricane Katrina -- that was the intended purpose of the states' National Guard programs, not to fight foreign wars. If they were not on the other side of the planet fighting an unnecessary war, there's no question that vast rescue resources could have been deployed to the Gulf Coast in much shorter order, saving thousands of lives which have since been lost.

Meanwhile, people are still stranded in attics in New Orleans, entire cities are completely flattened in Mississippi, and thousands of American refugees are without food, water, & medicine for nearly a week now. It wasn't until today that the situation in the Gulf Coast has turned from getting progressively worse each day to finally making some headway towards improving the situation, although the situation is still a dire catastrophe. And the major reason why help took so long is because the Bush administration's priority is the Iraq War, diverting vast resources away from the calamity here on our own shores and distracting Federal agencies' attention away from where it should have been focused this past week.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Covered by the flood

With the news of Hurricane Katrina covering the front page and most of the air time of the news, activities in Iraq are obscured by the deluge of information about the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, U.S. forces dropped eight bombs on residential areas in Iraq today.

This doesn't sound like the type of action you'd hear about in a place where "major combat operations ... have ended" more than two years prior. Yet, forty-seven people were killed in air strikes near the Syrian border. Among the dead were children and women, as well as two members of the medical crew staffing a makeshift hospital.

The president has chosen the very shrewd tactic "to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home." I'm sure Americans feel much safer that those women, children, and medical workers are now unable to come to our shores and terrorize us. This will also go a long way in Bush's campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, where the family of the dead children and women will be comforted by the military spokesman's assertion that the healthcare headquarters were actually an al Q'aeda safe house.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Not tiddlywinks

TiddlyWiki. It's an incredible DHTML technology developed by some guy named Jeremy Ruston. He tries to describe it as a non-linear personal blog.

However, it's not that easy to wrap your brain cells around. It's an altogether new mental construct, so you have to explore one for a while to get it. In fact, to fully understand it, I recommend getting your own (it's open source) and create your own TiddlyWiki. Don't worry, it requires no knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, or CSS (its underlying technologies). If you know how to use a browser and save a file, you're ready to go.

That's not to say it's without limitations. For example, it's best suited for textual information because, although you can include images in a TiddlyWiki, you don't have quite the control over the images as you would in a standard Web page. Additionally, since all the content is stored in one file, if the Web page has a large volume of content, it could take a while to download the page after it's requested.

That said, it's potential for a Web "site" is amazing! In fact, probably one of the best examples I've seen of Web user interface design is a TiddlyWiki page. Elise Springer, a philospher at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA, is using TiddlyWiki for her homepage. You can check it out at MyWiki is also a TiddlyWiki page. It's not nearly as impressive as Elise's, but if you're so inclined, you can check it out at

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The 'noble cause'

Too few Americans have the courage to speak truth to power this century. However, an unlikely spokesperson has emerged recently: Cindy Sheehan. Cindy is the mother of a soldier who was killed in the Iraq War.

Like most Americans -- those who support the War and those who oppose it alike -- Cindy is proud of her son doing his duty. However, she's not buying the line that his life was given for a noble cause. In fact, like most Americans who oppose the War, she doesn't even believe the Commander in Chief even knows what his mission in Iraq is.

So Cindy is calling the president to task. She is camped outside Crawford Ranch for the five weeks Bush is on vacation there until she gets to meet with him. She wants Bush to identify the "noble cause" for which her son died. Explaining why she's going to such great lengths for a personal audience, Cindy wrote:
“He’s said that my son -- and the other children we’ve lost -- died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is. And I want to ask him: 'If it’s such a noble cause, have you asked your daughters to enlist? Have you encouraged them to go take the place of soldiers who are on their third tour of duty?' I also want him to stop using my son’s name to justify the war. The idea that we have to 'complete the mission' in Iraq to honor Casey’s sacrifice is, to me, a sacrilege to my son’s name. Besides, does the president any longer even know what 'the mission' really is over there?”

The preceding is just an excerpt of her entire statement. I encourage you to read all of it. Cindy eloquently echoes the words that many patriotic Americans would say to the president. In fact, in a Gold Star Families for Peace television commercial, she went so far as to flat-out accuse the president of "lying to us" about the original justifications for invading Iraq.

The truth hurts. Now the right-wing media is trying to cast Cindy in a harsh light. In fact, many claim that Cindy is damaging the anti-war movement with the directness of her comments. On Meet the Press today, Byron York referred to her comments as "the kind of rhetoric that you normally associate with fringe elements on the left," adding that "she'll diminish her own credibility."

The White House correspondent was specifically referring to a conference call Cindy had with some anti-war bloggers. During that conference (in which she also called the 2004 presidential election "the election, quote-unquote, that happened in November"), she said:
“They can't ignore us, and they can't put us down. Thank God for the Internet, or we wouldn't know anything, and we would already be a fascist state.

“Our government is run by one party, every level, and the mainstream media is a propaganda tool for the government.”

Has Cindy gone too far with her comments? On this issue, I disagree with York. On the contrary -- I believe the truth can never go too far. Yes, Cindy's comments sound a lot like inflammatory rhetoric. Sadly, they're also soberingly objective truths.

The truth be told, the reason why Cindy's words are getting so much play is because Americans find it refreshing to hear plain speaking rather than tip-toeing around what increasingly more Americans are beginning to recognize as reality: not even Bush can explain what his "noble cause" in Iraq is in a manner that we can clearly grasp.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iraq War: a foregone conclusion

On July 23rd, 2002 — eight months before the US invaded Iraq — British prime minister Tony Blair gathered top members of his administration for a top-secret meeting. My commentary on what transpired at that meeting could not do it justice. The best testimony comes from a confidential memorandum that summarized the meeting. All I will do is set the scene and highlight a couple of excerpts. I recommend reading the entire memo yourself so you can draw your own conclusion of the implications.

The meeting preceded Saddam Hussein’s 1,200-page declaration to the UN of the status of his weapons programs. It preceded weapons inspectors entering Iraq for the inspections immediately prior to invasion. It also preceded US secretary of state Colin Powell’s now debunked presentation to the UN security council.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the memo:
"There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy...

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran...

"The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult."
Eighty-eight congressmen became concerned that the president intended to abrogate their authority to declare war, granted congress by the constitution. Four years after the fact, they wrote a letter to the president, asking him to answer a few questions on the issue. You can read the full letter and see the signatories at:

Being a little too little, a little too late, the letter is not nearly as enlightening as the "Downing Street memo" itself. I think it's crucial to read the full text of that memo yourself, so here it is in its entirety:

From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)