Saturday, May 7

al-Liby is not al-Libby?

Ok, maybe he's not "Number 3" - possibly not even Number 33, but according to this London Times report, he's a lousy would-be assasin that apparently makes a mean pot of coffee!
Captured Al-Qaeda kingpin is case of ‘mistaken identity’
THE capture of a supposed Al-Qaeda kingpin by Pakistani agents last week was hailed by President George W Bush as “a critical victory in the war on terror”. According to European intelligence experts, however, Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not the terrorists’ third in command, as claimed, but a middle-ranker derided by one source as “among the flotsam and jetsam” of the organisation.

Al-Libbi’s arrest in Pakistan, announced last Wednesday, was described in the United States as “a major breakthrough” in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.



Bush called him a “top general” and “a major facilitator and chief planner for the Al- Qaeda network”. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said he was “a very important figure”. Yet the backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI’s most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department “rewards for justice” programme.

Another Libyan is on the FBI list — Anas al-Liby, who is wanted over the 1998 East African embassy bombings — and some believe the Americans may have initially confused the two. When The Sunday Times contacted a senior FBI counter-terrorism official for information about the importance of the detained man, he sent material on al-Liby, the wrong man.

“Al-Libbi is just a ‘middle-level’ leader,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, a French intelligence investigator and leading expert on terrorism finance. “Pakistan and US authorities have completely overestimated his role and importance. He was never more than a regional facilitator between Al-Qaeda and local Pakistani Islamic groups.

According to Brisard, the arrested man lacks the global reach of Al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s number two, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, or Anas al-Liby.

Although British intelligence has evidence of telephone calls between al-Libbi and operatives in the UK, he is not believed to be Al-Qaeda’s commander of operations in Europe, as reported.

The only operations in which he is known to have been involved are two attempts to assassinate Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, in 2003. Last year he was named Pakistan’s most wanted man with a $350,000 (£185,000) price on his head.

No European or American intelligence expert contacted last week had heard of al-Libbi until a Pakistani intelligence report last year claimed he had taken over as head of operations after Khalid Shaikh Mohammad’s arrest. A former close associate of Bin Laden now living in London laughed: “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.

What is known is that al-Libbi moved from Libya to Pakistan in the mid-1980s before joining the jihad in Afghanistan. He married a Pakistani woman and is said to specialise in maps and diagrams. He is thought to have joined Bin Laden in Sudan with other Libyan nationals in about 1992 and to have become Al-Qaeda’s co-ordinator with home-grown Pakistani terrorist groups after 9/11.

Some believe al-Libbi’s significance has been cynically hyped by two countries that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing Bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.

Even a senior FBI official admitted that al-Libbi’s “influence and position have been overstated”. But this weekend the Pakistani government was sticking to the line that al-Libbi was the third most important person in the Al-Qaeda network.

One American official tried to explain the absence of al-Libbi’s name on the wanted list by saying: “We did not want him to know he was wanted.” [?!?]

Whatever his importance, al-Libbi is the sixth Al-Qaeda figure to have been caught in Pakistan, suggesting that the country is now the organisation’s centre of operations. The interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, conceded that Bin Laden and his deputy might be hiding in a Pakistani city.

“But the capture of al-Libbi will have made them very apprehensive. Whether big fry or small fry, they’re on the run, I can tell you that.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1602568,00.html


Church Electioneering Bill

Church Split In North Carolina Shows Dangers Of Partisan Politics In Pulpit, Says Americans United

Church Electioneering Bill In Congress Would Invite More Disputes Over Politics In Houses Of Worship, Says AU's Lynn

A bitter controversy over partisan politics at a North Carolina church shows the danger of electioneering in the pulpit, according to Americans United of Separation of Church and State.

According to news media reports, the Rev. Chan Chandler of East Waynesville Baptist Church in Haywood County told members that they must vote for President George W. Bush. Nine members who did not do so have since been told to leave the congregation. An additional 40 members have reportedly left in protest.

“This is an outrage,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Houses of worship exist to bring people together for worship, not split them apart over partisan politics.

“I think there is an important lesson here for the whole country,” Lynn continued. “Americans do not expect to be ordered to vote for certain candidates by their religious leaders.”

Religious Right groups have been pressing evangelical churches to get deeply involved in partisan politics, Lynn said, and this kind of controversy is the natural outcome.

Lynn said matters will become even worse if a bill now pending in Congress becomes federal law.

H.R. 235, a measure introduced by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), would allow clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit and still retain a tax exemption of their house of worship.

“Introducing partisan politics into our churches is a terrible idea,” said AU’s Lynn. “I hope this incident in North Carolina will cause our members of Congress to reject Rep. Jones’ bill.”

Bush/Blair Memo hits CNN





Video in Real Media format (1 minute)

Censorship Rising

Published on 4/29/2005 in the Associated Press
Will TV Indecency Ban Become Censorship?
by FRAZIER MOORE

In the minds of many viewers, the current anti-indecency crusade isn't just out to make the airwaves safe for families and children. Another likely goal is to punish TV for its brazen smut-peddling.

With a four-letter word here and a "wardrobe malfunction" there, surely someone in power - the executives, the stars, the creators? - deserves a good thrashing. Viewers may not agree on what indecency is or how to fix it. But they want someone to answer for TV's sins.

No wonder politicians are climbing over one another to yank the chain of the media elite. Cracking down on TV content is the latest rage in the culture wars. And who wants to be seen as a war resister?

Apparently not Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., who recently advocated criminal prosecution for indecent material aired by broadcasters.

A less draconian proposal would expand the purview of the Federal Communications Commission beyond over-the-air broadcasting to add cable and satellite programming - which would place shows from such networks as MTV, FX and even HBO (with its F-word-riddled drama "Deadwood") under the thumb of the feds.

And don't forget a bill passed by the House [H.R. 310] that would hike existing indecency fines from $32,500 to as much as $500,000 per infraction.

"There's a herd mentality when the issue of indecent programming comes up," says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "You can say, 'Well, the networks deserve it.' But underneath it all is the First Amendment, and there are very few champions in Congress to warn us about the dangerous consequences of encouraging censorship."

At least one legislator, Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has voiced such warnings. And striking back against indecency zealots, he has introduced a bill that would clarify the FCC's authority for policing content as being limited to broadcast television and radio - not cable, satellite or Internet fare. He calls it the Stamp Out Censorship Act.

"We don't need to have United States government commissars telling the American people what they can watch," says Sanders, who is concerned that already, even without new restrictive laws in force, spooked broadcasters are erring on the side of caution. In other words, censoring themselves.

He points to the 66 ABC affiliates that opted not to air the patriotic war film "Saving Private Ryan" last November because of fears that the FCC might rule certain swear words in the film to be indecent (it didn't). And last spring, some PBS stations removed the image of a nude lithograph from "Antiques Roadshow."

Not too much further down this slippery slope, Sanders warns, "you might find some people here in Congress and some right-wing fundamentalists arguing that, in the midst of the war on terrorism, attacks against the president of the United States border on indecency."

A poll released last week reported broad public support for curbing media indecency. But the Pew Research Center survey found something else: By 48 to 41 percent, respondents saw greater danger in the government imposing undue restrictions on the entertainment industry than from harmful material the industry might dispense.

Media scholar and activist Robert W. McChesney understands the public's concern over vulgar programming. But he has his own theory for the underlying cause of it: fewer and bigger media owners.

"Companies that produce the most vulgar fare," he says, "are News Corp. (owner of the Fox network), Viacom (owner of MTV and more than 185 Infinity Radio stations, as well as CBS, which aired Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flashdance) and Clear Channel (with more than 1,200 radio stations). What these companies have found is, once you gobble up a lot of media outlets, the least expensive way to generate an audience is through vulgarity.

"It's a commercially driven phenomenon," says McChesney, creator of a media reform Web site. "A solution to the problem would be more local ownership and more competition. Let the system work through the problem, without having any censorship."

Much to everyone's surprise, the public rose up against the FCC's efforts to oblige Big Media with eased limits on how many outlets a conglomerate could own. Thanks to citizens' outcry, portions of the rules passed by the FCC two years ago were overturned by Congress. Then a U.S. Court of Appeals tossed out most of the rest.

Says Sanders, "I think you're gonna see the same thing here: 'Please, don't tell me what I can watch, especially when I'm paying for the privilege of watching it."'

He looks for continued public pressure to buck the government-assisted trend toward bigger media conglomerates. And he expects more people to recognize that, however badly they may want to punish the media, censorship will backfire by punishing them worse.

Friday, May 6

Rolling Stone:The Quagmire

The Quagmire
As the Iraq war drags on, it's beginning to look a lot like Vietnam
By ROBERT DREYFUSS

The news from Iraq is bad and getting worse with each passing day. Iraqi insurgents are stepping up the pace of their attacks, unleashing eleven deadly bombings on April 29th alone. Many of the 150,000 Iraqi police and soldiers hastily trained by U.S. troops have deserted or joined the insurgents. The cost of the war now tops $192 billion, rising by $1 billion a week, and the corpses are piling up: Nearly 1,600 American soldiers and up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians are dead, as well as 177 allied troops and 229 private contractors. Other nations are abandoning the international coalition assembled to support the U.S., and the new Iraqi government, which announced its new cabinet to great fanfare on April 27th, remains sharply split along ethnic and religious lines.

But to hear President Bush tell it, the war in Iraq is going very, very well. In mid-April, appearing before 25,000 U.S. soldiers at sun-drenched Fort Hood, in Texas, Bush declared that America has succeeded in planting democracy in Iraq, creating a model that will soon spread throughout the Middle East. "That success is sending a message from Beirut to Tehran," the president boasted to chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" from the troops. "The establishment of a free Iraq is a watershed event in the global democratic revolution." Staying on message, aides to Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, later suggested that U.S. forces could be reduced from 142,000 to 105,000 within a year.

In private, however, senior military advisers and intelligence specialists on Iraq offer a starkly different picture. Two years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is perched on the brink of civil war. Months after the election, the new Iraqi government remains hunkered down inside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, surviving only because it is defended by thousands of U.S. troops. Iraqi officials hold meetings and press conferences in Alamo-like settings, often punctuated by the sounds of nearby explosions. Outside the Green Zone, party offices and government buildings are surrounded by tank traps, blast walls made from concrete slabs eighteen feet high, and private militias wielding machine guns and AK-47s. Even minor government officials travel from fort to fort in heavily armed convoys of Humvees.

"I talk to senior military people and combat commanders who tell me that the situation is much more precarious than admitted," says Col. Patrick Lang, former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Even inside the Green Zone you are not safe, because of indirect fire. And if you were to venture outside at night, they'd probably find your headless body the next morning."

More...

Wednesday, May 4

The Smoking Gun Appears

Secret US/British Plan to Attack Iraq Revealed

This week reports have arisen in the British Press of a Classified 2002 memo which details a Downing Street meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior staff that outlines a plot to manufacture WMD evidence in order to persue a regime change in Iraq.

Excerpts from the Downing Street Memo.
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.

...

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.

The release of this memo has prompted a rather strongly worded letter to the President from Ranking Minority Judiciary Committe member John Conyers (D) and a scathing editorial by Greg Palast.

Conyers wrote on Dailykos:

Dear Mr. President:

We write because of troubling revelations in the Sunday London Times apparently confirming that the United States and Great Britain had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in the summer of 2002, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action. While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your Administration. However, when this story was divulged last weekend, Prime Minister Blair's representative claimed the document contained "nothing new." If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own Administration.

So far, Conyers has 50 signatures on his letter. Palast made the case in far stronger terms on Buzzflash:

The memo, uncovered this week by the Times, goes on to describe an elaborate plan by George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to hoodwink the planet into supporting an attack on Iraq knowing full well the evidence for war was a phony.

A conspiracy to commit serial fraud is, under federal law, racketeering. However, the Mob's schemes never cost so many lives.

...

A month ago, the Silberman-Robb Commission issued its report on WMD intelligence before the war, dismissing claims that Bush fixed the facts with this snotty, condescending conclusion written directly to the President, "After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons."

We now know the report was a bogus 618 pages of thick whitewash aimed to let Bush off the hook for his murderous mendacity.

Read on: The invasion build-up was then set, says the memo, "beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections." Mission accomplished.

You should parse the entire memo and see if you can make it through its three pages without losing your lunch.

The sad truth is most Americans have been so blase and accepting of each new horrific revelation concerning their government, I suspect they'll have no trouble swallowing this at all - then moving easily on to desert.

Most people forget that Saddam actually did allow the inspectors back into Iraq prior to the start of the war in 2003. They forget that in 1998 when he originally kicked the inspectors out, President Clinton responded with a massive bombing campaign that targeted each and every suspected WMD factory or storage facility. Wonder we're the WMD's went? They were already destroyed in 1998 - that's where.

Vyan

al Qaeda's Number 3 Man Arrested

Apparently proving that the "War on Terror" hasn't been a complete waste of our treasury and lives, US and Pakistani Forces arrested the reported "Number 3" man in the Al-Qaeda Network today. From the Associated Press:

"President Bush hailed the capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi, al-Qaida's alleged operational planner, as a "critical victory" that "removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America and for those who love freedom" although al-Libbi is not on theFBI's list of most-wanted terrorists.

Al-Libbi, a native of Libya who's thought to use at least five aliases, is believed responsible for planning attacks in the United States, a U.S. counterterrorism official said.

U.S. officials described the arrest as the greatest blow to al-Qaida in more than two years. Al-Libbi is a confidant of bin Laden and was behind only Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri and the al-Qaida chief himself in the terror organization's hierarchy, they said."


Although I think we should all applaud this success, the immediate release of this information, which smacks of an attempt to gain political traction for the President's waining approval numbers, has to be questioned when having access to such a valuable al-Qaeda asset - without their knowledge - could have allowed for the trapping of critical intelligence which could have crippled the network.

In his book Imperial Hubris Michael Scheurer, former head of the CIA's Bin Laden Desk addresses the subject of repeated and costly al Qaeda leaks.
Beyond the growing volume of leaks, there has been a sharp increase in leaking data that has no clear purpose in terms of shaping U.S. domestic or foreign policies but rather a form of bragging to the world and the enemy about what we know and how we know it.

... Leaks are a major factor limiting the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to defeat Osama bin Laden, et al. The first serious leak about al Qaeda was in the Washington Times after the 20 August 1998 U.S. cruise missle attack on al Qaeda camps near Khowst, Afghanistan. The attack was in response to the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania thirteen days earlier. In the 24 August Times article, "Senior" U.S. Department of Defense officials revealed that precise U.S. targeting of the camps was based on electronically intercepting bin Laden's conversations.

... Said one U.S. official: "We want to see who is still using the same cell phone numbers,'" Apparently these genius leakers had decided it was time to make sure the terrorist would not use the phone again. Well, as night follows day, the intelligence community lost this priceless advantage when bin Laden and his men stopped using the phones.

... Because of such [sic] leaks, the United States cannot fully exploit its clandestine services's numerous, often astounding captures of senior al Qaeda fighters. From the capture of Abu Zubaydah in March 2002 to that of Khalid bin Attah in March 2003, word of the arrests has been leaked by senior U.S. officials within days,, and often hours of their occurrence.

...I can say with confidence that the most damaging leaks about al Qaeda come from the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the White House. A reliable rule of thumb for the reader is that the federal agencies who have done least to protect America from al Qaeda leak the most to take credit for others' work and disguise their years of failure.

Although it goes against the normal standards of criminal jurisprudence, there are some good reasons to maintain security involving the arrest and capture of critical terrorist personnel and assets - just as the U.S. maintained the secret that we had broken the Japanese codes just prior to the start of World War II.

Vyan

Lynndie England - "Not Guilty"?

From the Associated Press:

FORT HOOD, Texas - A military judge on Wednesday threw out Pfc. Lynndie England's guilty plea to prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, saying he was not convinced that she knew her actions were wrong at the time.

Col. James Pohl entered a plea of not guilty for England to a charge of conspiring with Pvt. Charles Graner Jr. to maltreat detainees at the Baghdad-area prison.

The mistrial for the 22-year-old reservist, who appeared in some of the most notorious photographs from the 2003 abuse scandal, kicks the case back to the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

The action came after Graner, the reputed ringleader of the abuse, testified as a defense witness at England's sentencing hearing that pictures he took of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash at Abu Ghraib were meant to be used as a legitimate training aid for other guards.

Other photos showed England standing next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid and pointing at a prisoner's genitals.

When England pleaded guilty Monday, she told the judge she knew that the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of the guards.

Pohl said the two statements could not be reconciled.

"You can't have a one-person conspiracy," the judge said before he declared the mistrial and dismissed the sentencing jury.

Under military law, the judge could formally accept her guilty plea only if he was convinced that she knew at the time that what she was doing was illegal.

By rejecting the plea to the conspiracy charge, Pohl canceled the entire plea agreement.

...

Graner maintains that he and the other Abu Ghraib guards were following orders from higher-ranking interrogators when they abused the detainees

More...

Congress considers National ID

In response to alleged concerns of terrorists and illegal immigrants gaining access to drivers licenses, the House and Senate will soon vote on the "Real ID" program which will create a Nationalized ID card.

From Reuters and the New York Times
The "Real ID'' program aims to take driver's licenses out of the hands of anyone who cannot prove they are in the United States legally. By so doing, supporters argue that illegal aliens would not be able to board airplanes or gain access to government buildings by using a state driver's license as identification.

``Eighteen of the 19 (Sept. 11) hijackers could've used their passports but chose instead to use state-issued ID and driver's licenses and it allowed them to get on the planes without detection,'' Lungren said.

The commission found that lax screening procedures and failure to follow up on intelligence information contributed to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of Real ID complain it would basically establish a national identification program and will be a bureaucratic nightmare for states to enforce.

This bill involves creating a national database including personal information from all Americans who wish to drive, a burden that will fall upon the states - yet funding for such a massive undertaking is not provided in the bill, and frankly such a database wouldn't have prevented the 18 hijackers from gaining drivers licenses as none of them entered the country illegally.

Rep John Conyers (D-MI) addressed this topic in a recent editorial column:
The driver's license provisions [of "Real ID"] negate a carefully negotiated bipartisan compromise law and would instead mandate federal one-size-fits-all driver's license standards without any input from the states that must issue them. In so doing, the legislation will prevent millions of immigrants from not only obtaining driver's licenses, but from being able to buy automobile insurance. The result will inevitably be far more dangerous highways and more accidents involving uninsured drivers. At the same time, the driver's license provisions threaten the civil liberties of American citizens by creating a massive new database run by the government, in which all of our personal information will be stored. The legislation contains virtually no safeguards against abuse or misuse of the information.
Vyan

Tuesday, May 3

Ignore the Pink Elephant

President George W. Bush holds a press conference in the East Room Thursday, April 28, 2005. "Social Security has provided a safety net that has provided dignity and peace of mind for millions of Americans in their retirement," said President Bush as he discussed many topics with reporters. "Yet there's a hole in the safety net because Congresses have made promises it cannot keep for a younger generation." White House photo by Paul MorseAfter years of accusations of so-called "Liberal Bias", it appears that the press has become experts at a peculiar new game. Ignore the Pink Elephant in the Room. This was made abundantly clear during President Bush's Press Conference this past Thursday, as the press repeatedly failed to address critical issues and flaws in the Presidents choices, policy and tactics.

Pink Elephant #1. Gas Prices.

Question: Good evening, Mr. President. Several times we've asked you or your aides what you could do about the high price of gasoline, and very often the answer has come back, Congress needs to pass the energy bill. Can you explain for us how, if it were passed, soon after it were introduced, the energy bill would have an effect on the current record price of oil that we're seeing out there?

THE PRESIDENT: John, actually I said in my opening statement that the best way to affect the current price of gasoline is to encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market. That's the most effective way, because the price of crude oil determines, in large measure, the price of gasoline. The feed stock for gasoline is crude oil, and when crude oil goes up the price of gasoline goes up. There are other factors, by the way, that cause the price of gasoline to go up, but the main factor is the price of crude oil. And if we can get nations that have got some excess capacity to put crude on the market, the increased supply, hopefully, will meet increased demand, and therefore, take the pressure off price.

Listen, the energy bill is certainly no quick fix. You can't wave a magic wand. I wish I could.
But the President doesn't need to "wave a magic wand", all he has to do is release access to the Strategic Petrolium Reserve (SPR), which is currently at 98% capacity. According to the Department of Energy:
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is the world's largest supply of emergency crude oil. The federally-owned oil stocks are stored in huge underground salt caverns along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico.

Iraq's Oil Production and Consumption, 1980-2003E graph.  Having problems contact our National Energy Information Center on 202-586-8800 for help.Decisions to withdraw crude oil from the SPR are made by the President under the authorities of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. In the event of an energy emergency, SPR oil would be distributed by competitive sale. Although the SPR has been used for emergency purposes only once (during Operation Desert Storm in 1991), its formidable size (more than 600 million barrels) makes it a significant deterrent to oil import cutoffs and a key tool of foreign policy.

The second magic trick the President could perform is ask the various U.S. oil companies such as Texaco and Exxon/Mobil who have been granted exclusive access to Iraq's oil fields - just what are they doing with all that oil?

According to data from the DOE, the Iraqi oil fields are the third largest in the world and by 2004 should be producing approximately 2.2-3.0 million barrels of oil per day, yet in the last year oil prices have risen to $56 a barrel, gas prices have risen nearly a $1 per gallon with no apparent end to long term prices increases in sight. It's quite possible we could see $3 per gall on gas by the end of this year, and $4 per gallon by same time next year.

To be fair, the President just recently met wtih Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (holder of the worlds largest oil fields), and there was a slight slip in the price of oil - dropping to $53 per barrel last tuesday - following that meeting. But clearly there is more that can be done, and most of it is less destructive and more productive than exploratory drilling in ANWR. Reports are that if we increased our fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon, we would save more fuel than we can expect to find in Alaska.

Lastly, yet another reason may exist for the rising price of gas-- the falling value of the dollar. A weakened dollar is a boon to sellers of foreign goods, including crude oil that has been exported from abroad.

Pink Elephant #2 - Winning the War on Terror
Question: Your top military officer, General Richard Myers, says the Iraqi insurgency is as strong now as it was a year ago. Why is that the case? And why haven't we been more successful in limiting the violence?

President George W. Bush discussed many topics such as energy consumption and Social Security during a press conference in the East Room Thursday, April 28, 2005. "Today there are about 40 million retirees receiving benefits; by the time all the baby boomers have retired, there will be more than 72 million retirees drawing Social Security benefits," said the President. White House photo by Paul Morse THE PRESIDENT: I think he went on to say we're winning, if I recall. But nevertheless, there are still some in Iraq who aren't happy with democracy. They want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness, torture chambers and mass graves. I believe we're making really good progress in Iraq, because the Iraqi people are beginning to see the benefits of a free society. They're beginning -- they saw a government formed today.

The Iraqi military is being trained by our military, and they're performing much better than the past. The more secure Iraq becomes, as a result of the hard work of Iraqi security forces, the more confident the people will have in the process, and the more isolated the terrorists will become.

In 2003 there were approximately 150 terrorist attacks world wide. In 2004, that number had tripled to 650 attacks killing hundreds of people. Just this week, rather than becoming more "isolated" the terrorist have been launching more and more coordinated attacks. The New York Times reports:
Insurgents determined to destabilize Iraq's new government executed a devastating series of coordinated attacks on Iraqi forces on Friday, detonating 12 car bombs across greater Baghdad and striking military targets throughout Iraq. At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded.

The attacks, a direct challenge to the new Shiite-dominated government that was formed Thursday, were aimed at Iraqi police officers and national guardsmen at their bases and traveling in convoys in northern and southern Baghdad and in Madaen, 15 miles southeast of the capital. At least 23 Iraqi policemen and troops were killed. Some reports put the total death toll at as many as 50 people.

If the insurgents are indeed growing weaker as the Iraq government and security forces strengthen - they seem to be the last people to know it. Since the so-called "End of Major Combat Operations in Iraq" over two years ago our troups have been attacked 3000 times and suffered over 1,500 casualties. Clearly this is "Hard Work" as the President has said, and the outpouring of hope and courage shown by the Iraqi people in the elections this past January was indeed impressive, but that isn't enough. People can't rebuild their lives, and begin to put together a functioning economy and a functioning country if they have no security. The true danger of the insurgency isn't the number of lives lost, it's the inability to establish "normalcy" in the region and the endless drain on our economy that a constant defensive posture creates. While we continue to spend hundreds of billions in Iraq, our own citizens are beginning to suffer from dramatic cuts in support and services.

It might even be argued that part of the reason we are still dealing with Pink Elephant #1 (Gas Prices) may be a result of the ability of the insurgency to derail the attempts of American corporations to harvest Iraqi oil -- but then again, we "don't really have an insurgency problem" according to this White House.

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UN Nominee John Bolton
Pink Elephant #3 - John Bolton the poor set-upon "Tough" Guy.

Q Mr. President, have you asked your ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador John Bolton, about allegations that he acted improperly to subordinates? Do you feel that these allegations warrant your personal intervention? And if they're true, do you feel that they should disqualify him from holding the post, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt. John Bolton can get the job done at the United Nations. It seemed like to me it makes sense to put somebody who's capable, smart, served our country for 20 years, been confirmed by the United States Senate four times, and who isn't afraid to speak his mind in the post of the ambassador to the U.N.

See, the U.N. needs reform. If you're interested in reforming the U.N., like I'm interested in reforming the U.N., it makes sense to put somebody who's skilled and who is not afraid to speak his mind at the United Nations.

The issue with John Bolton isn't that he's a "tough" guy. The issue is that he has a track record of intimidating and bullying people who are telling the truth (such as analyst Christian Westerman), when it comes to intelligence reporting about foreign nations. and in recent years poor intelligence reporting has lead us into some rather problematic decision making. John Bolton was a state department deputy in charge of weapons proliferation when Secretary of State Colin Powell made his famous "yellow cake" speach to the United Nations in order to bolster international support for the Iraq invasion. Now, we face nuclear threats from both North Korean and Iran, the last thing we need is someone who gets it wrong as our chief representative to the rest of the world.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) has made the following statements concerning Bolton.

"He has no right to be promoted to a job at this level, having engaged in the behavior he has," said an impassioned Democratic Senator Chris Dodd at the meeting.


"At a time when we've watched the credibility of the United States and its intelligence information being drawn into question, and where we had a secretary of state go before the United Nations and make allegations about the weapons of mass destruction that we know are wrong today ... we promote an individual to a position who has engaged in behavior that I think all of us find deplorable," Dodd told his colleagues on the panel.
As former UN Weapons inspector Scott Ritter has pointed out, the push to have someone like Bolton at the UN may have nothing to do with the Oil for Food Scandal (which mishandled less money than the $8.8 billion the U.S. has apparently "misplaced" in Iraq over the last two years), and everything to do with fostering a more adverserial posture with Iran in preparation for a June attack on their nuclear facilities.

This issue may also have an impact on Elephant #1 (Gas Prices) as the President may be continuing to hold the SPR in reserve in the event that Iran retaliates against a US/Israeli attack by sinking a Oil Tanker in the mouth of the Tigres River where it empties into the Persian Gulf and functionally blocking all direct Oil exports from Iraq, forcing them to divert through Kuwait.

President George W. Bush tours the Treasury Agency's Bureau of Public Debt, with Director Susan Chapman, in Parkersburg, W.Va., Tuesday, April 5, 2005. White House photo by Paul Morse Pink Elephant #4. Full Faith in Empty Promises
President Bush: When the baby boomers start retiring in three years, Social Security will start heading toward the red. In 2017, the system will start paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. Every year after that the shortfall will get worse, and by 2041, Social Security will be bankrupt.

...any reform of Social Security must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with real assets, real money. I believe the best way to achieve this goal is to give younger workers the option, the opportunity if they so choose, of putting a portion of their payroll taxes into a voluntary personal retirement account. Because this money is saved and invested, younger workers would have the opportunity to receive a higher rate of return on their money than the current Social Security system can provide.

The money from a voluntary personal retirement account would supplement the check one receives from Social Security. In a reformed Social Security system, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

The "empty promises" that the President describes happen to be U.S. Treasury Bonds which just seconds later he claims are "backed by the full faith and credit" of the U.S Treasury. Are they worthless "IOU's" packed in file cabinets or are they the most "conservative and safe" investment option available to America's people? Which is it?

There are many ways to solve the problem we face with Social Security. The first option is to simply let the Bush tax cuts expire as they were originally intended to do, and begin to bring the budget back into balance and allow for the Social Security trust fund to be taken off-budget where it will have a chance to actually begin earning a return on it's investment rather than being borrowed against to make the deficit appear smaller than it is. I don't suggest that we remove all of the cuts, only enough to solve the problem without creating a downward spiral in the economy - only a fraction of the cuts would be needed, and would also help address the actual crisis currently facing Medicare and Medicaid. Before one proclaims to be "open to all suggestions" - they should not first take the easiest and most effective solution off the table.

FactCheck.org has pointed out that claims of the alleged Wall Street Windfall from personal accounts remain exaggerated, as a result it may be possible to include some type of personal retirement account system and gain much of the "value of ownership" the President has promoted, however placing it within Social Security will cost an additional $1 to 2 Trillion for a system that the President says is already headed toward "bankruptcy" and a supposed $11 Trillion shortfall, is simply piling horrific on top of awful. Placing a voluantary personal saving account system outside of Social Security once it's solvency problem is corrected using other means, is far more promising than heaping more debt upon the system and our children.


FRC Head James Dobson
Pink Elephant #5. Bush disses his "Base"? Yeah, right.

Question: Thank you, sir. Mr. President, recently the head of the Family Research Council [James Dobson] said that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith. And I wonder whether you believe that, in fact, that is what is nominating [sic] Democrats who oppose your judicial choices? And I wonder what you think generally about the role that faith is playing, how it's being used in our political debates right now?

THE PRESIDENT: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I've nominated. Some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That's not my view of the proper role of a judge.

Speaking about judges, I certainly hope my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. They deserve an up or down vote. I think for the sake of fairness, these good people I've nominated should get a vote. And I'm hoping that will be the case as time goes on.

The role of religion in our society? I view religion as a personal matter. I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life, or lives her life. And that's how I've tried to live my life, through example. Faith-based is an important part of my life, individually, but I don't -- I don't ascribe a person's opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.

Frankly, I found the President's comments on religion here to be inspiringly civil. He certainly said something that needed to be said on this issue, however I find that what is more important than his words - are his actions. It's clear that he's playing "Good Cop" while Dick Cheney does what he does best - play "Bad Cop". In a private meeting with Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid, the President promised that the White House would not get involved in the current dispute over the filibuster in the Senate. Yet recently Vice President Cheney stated that if called upon, "as President of the Senate" he would vote to ensure that the President's nominees receive an "Up or Down" vote for confirmation, indicating that he would support implementation of the Nuclear Option to abolish the filibuster for judicial nominees. Senator Harry Reid responded:

“In the span of three minutes, the vice president managed to reinvent 200 years of Senate history and ignore the fact that Congress has already approved 205 of this administration’s nominees. Apparently, a 95 percent confirmation rate is not enough for this president. He wants it all, even if it means shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules. Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

“It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers. Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case.
Is it possible that Dick Cheney didn't get the memo from the little Oval Office down the hall? Somehow, I doubt it. I'm sure James Dobson and Pat Roberson (head of the Christian Coalition and 700 Club), who have both repeatedly trumped the "Liberals hate people of Faith" line while remaining staunch supporters and allies of President Bush, would know better.

Vyan

Monday, May 2

RNC Hypocrites

Here are excerpts from the latest Releases from the RNC...

Hypocrite - noun, one who pretends to be what he is not or to have principles or beliefs that he does not have.

The Democrats' efforts to block President Bush's qualified judicial nominees are not only hypocritical but are examples of partisan politicking at its worst.

Republicans in the Senate are working to ensure that all of President Bush's judicial nominees receive a fair and final up-or-down vote. Despite Senate history and tradition, Democrats are aggressively trying to prevent qualified judges from receiving what's been afforded every judicial nominee for over 200 years.

During the Clinton Administration, Democrats demanded up-or-down majority votes on judicial nominations, but, now that they are in the minority, they have become the party of obstructionism and double standards.

At it's worst? During the Clinton Administration nearly 60 of his judicial nominees were blocked from having a vote on the Senate Floor. And further, from Media Matters...

Of the 10 Bush nominees filibustered by Senate Democrats, only three -- Miguel Estrada, David McKeague, and Priscilla Owen -- have received a unanimous "Well Qualified" rating from the ABA (ratings for all nominees are listed during the 108th Congress and the 109th Congress), and McKeague initially received a split rating of "Well Qualified" and "Qualified" during the 108th Congress before receiving an unanimous "Well Qualified" rating during the 109th Congress. Of the remaining seven filibustered nominees, four received a split rating of "Well Qualified" and "Qualified," and three received a split rating of "Qualified" and "Not Qualified."
Republicans have repeatedly claimed that the filibustering of judicial nominees is unprecedented, yet in 1968, Lyndon B Johnson's nomination of Judge Abe Fortas was indeed filibustered. This action was "the first filibuster in Senate history on a Supreme Court nomination," according to a "Historical Minute Essay" on the U.S. Senate website. Not surprisingly this fact is ignored as Republicans have repeated claimed that Judge Fortas "didn't have majority support", or that this filibuster doesn't matter in the current debate because he was being nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, rather than for an appelate position.

Yet when it comes to appellate appointments Media Matters reports:
"...cloture votes were necessary to obtain floor votes on Clinton judicial nominees Richard A. Paez and Marsha L. Berzon in 2000, as the Los Angeles Times reported on November 13, 2003. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who is leading the Republican opposition to Democratic filibusters, voted against cloture for the Paez nomination. And in October 1994, Republicans attempted to filibuster the nomination of U.S. district judge H. Lee Sarokin to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals."

More from a subsequent RNC Mailing:
Leader Frist's proposal would guarantee President Bush's nominees a fair up or down vote on the Senate floor while allowing all Senators an opportunity to have their say through a guaranteed 100 hours of debate.
This is a reasonable resolution to the Democrats' unprecedented use of the filibuster against President Bush's nominees, and will ensure that the filibuster remains intact for use against legislation.
Democrats are obstructing President Bush's nominees because they know that these nominees will strictly interpret the law -- not legislate from the bench. Democrats have even gone so far as to say they will "shut down" the Senate if they do not get their way on judicial nominations.

One of President Bush's nominees, Janice Rogers Brown, grew up as the daughter of Alabama sharecroppers and became the first African American woman to serve on the California Supreme Court. In 1998, Californians reelected her with 76 percent of the vote and the majority of Senators support her nomination for a federal judgeship, but Democrats are standing in the way of her receiving an up or down vote on the Senate floor.
Despite her difficult upbringing Judge Brown..."has twice received an "Unqualified" ratingPDF file from the California judicial evaluation committee, which wrote that she was "prone to inserting conservative personal views into her appellate opinions," according to an April 26, 1996, Los Angeles Times report."

1) [H]er troubling dissents concerning discrimination, consumer rights, and other issues; 2) her disturbing disregard for precedent, especially with respect to constitutional and civil rights; 3) her ultra-conservative ideological views as reflected both in her speeches and judicial opinions; 4) her strong support for extreme "private property" rights theories, including long-discredited legal theories that threaten important governmental actions regulating corporate behavior; and 5) her troubling disagreement with constitutional protection for fundamental rights and liberties. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has concluded [in an October 29, 2003, editorial], Brown's views are "far out of the mainstream of accepted legal principles" and she is "not qualified for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit."
Futhering the "legislating from the bench" issue, we turn to Judge Pricilla Owen (nominated by President Bush to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals).
While serving on the Texas Supreme Court, Owen dissented strongly from the court's 2000 ruling on Jane Doe 1(II), 19 S.W.3d 346, which determined that "Jane Doe" had met the legal requirements for a judicial bypass under the state's parental notification law governing abortion for minors. Owen said the court had acted "irresponsibly." Her dissent earned a harsh rebuke from fellow Republican justice Alberto Gonzales, who is now U.S. attorney general. Gonzales accused Owen essentially of rewriting the law by ignoring the language of the statute and legislative history, and wrote that adopting Owen's position on the case "would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism."
Something tells me that the RNC, and particularly Bill Frist need to go back and re-read the definiton of "Hypocrite" yet again, and look in the mirror while they do it.

Vyan

News around the world...

The Italian press has responded rather badly to the America Shooting report of Italian Secret Service agent Nicola Calipari during the rescue of Italian Journalist Guilina Sgrena in Iraq.

"The latest slap in the face by the United States," was the verdict of the authoritative Corriere della Sera newspaper, which quoted an Italian official rejecting the testimony of the soldiers on which the U.S. military report was largely based.

"The soldiers' evidence was contradictory and in some cases totally untrustworthy," the investigator told the paper.

Surprising almost noone, the lastest news from England has placed Prime Minister Tony Blair in rather hot water leading into Thursday's upcoming national election as leaked documents indicate that the reasons for entering the War with Iraq were not entirely justified.

A SECRET document from the heart of government reveals today that Tony Blair privately committed Britain to war with Iraq and then set out to lure Saddam Hussein into providing the legal justification.

The Downing Street minutes, headed “Secret and strictly personal — UK eyes only”, detail one of the most important meetings ahead of the invasion.

It was chaired by the prime minister and attended by his inner circle. The document reveals Blair backed “regime change” by force from the outset, despite warnings from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, that such action could be illegal.

The minutes, published by The Sunday Times today, begins with the warning: “This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know.” It records a meeting in July 2002, attended by military and intelligence chiefs, at which Blair discussed military options having already committed himself to supporting President George Bush’s plans for ousting Saddam.

“If the political context were right, people would support regime change,” said Blair. He added that the key issues were “whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan space to work”.

The political strategy proved to be arguing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed such a threat that military action had to be taken. However, at the July meeting Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said the case for war was “thin” as “Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran”.

Straw suggested they should “work up” an ultimatum about weapons inspectors that would “help with the legal justification”. Blair is recorded as saying that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors”.

A separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to “create” conditions to justify a war.

In the US, while the President has publically denounced the practice of racial profiling, it seems that the Secret Service hasn't quite received the memo according to the Washington Post.

The Secret Service has requested racial information on journalists and guests scheduled to attend a reception tomorrow night with President Bush.

White House reporters said they were offended that after furnishing the customary information -- name, date of birth and Social Security number -- they were also asked for the race of each person expected to attend the small reception scheduled before the White House Correspondents' Association's annual dinner.

The Secret Service said that it has been routine for many years to request such information of people who will be near the president, and that the information allows for quicker and more accurate searches of criminal databases. The policy has not been applied universally, however; such information is not requested of the people who greet the president and first lady at White House Christmas parties, for example, and is not always asked of people who have appointments in the White House complex.

And lastly, although President Bush continues to proclaim that we are "winning the war on terror" the insurgents in Iraq don't seem to agree, as continuing attacks have killed 123 since the Iraqi government selected a partial cabinet last week.
May 2, 2005 -
Bombs kill 11, wound 29 in Iraq,
Three car bombs strike Baghdad, killing eight,
Car bomb kills 6 in Iraq; militants claim new hostage

April 30, 2005 -
Four killed by Iraq car bombs

Vyan