Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Democrats, Distracted Again, By The Firing of U.S. Attorneys

Begging for dollars (Washington Monthly's annual subscription drive is on) Kevin Drum writes:
THE PURGE....Why did the Justice Department fire a bunch of U.S. Attorneys recently? Because they were too zealous in prosecuting Republican politicians? Maybe. Because the Bush administration wanted to reward one of Karl Rove's ex-aides? Definitely. Because they were insufficiently gung-ho about indicting Democrats before last year's midterm elections? That's what one of them said today:
David Iglesias said two members of Congress separately called in mid October to inquire about the timing of an ongoing probe of a kickback scheme and appeared eager for an indictment to be issued on the eve of the elections in order to benefit the Republicans. He refused to name the members of Congress because he said he feared retaliation.

....Iglesias, who received a positive performance review before he was fired, said he suspected he was forced out because of his refusal to be pressured to hand down an indictment in the ongoing probe.

"I believe that because I didn't play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign," said Iglesias, who officially stepped down Wednesday.

This scandal started out slowly, but it's really been picking up steam as time goes by. Expect hearings soon.

We'd better hope not.

With all that there is to investigate about this administration, to waste time and the public's goodwill holding hearings on the firing of U.S. attorneys makes Democrats no better than Republicans; it's political, and to Americans who are expecting Democrats to be serious protectors of the Constitution and the nation, it's insulting.

Of course the firing of those U.S. attorneys was politically motivated. But it wasn't illegal.

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. They can be fired at any time and for any reason. And no, Republicans shouldn't be bad-mouthing the performances of these attorneys. They don't need to. They don't need to justify the firing. The fact that they are reaffirms for me that they hope Democrats do take a swing at them; it's good for wasting more time and space in the media instead of working on issues of relevance to Americans. Until Joe Lieberman crosses the aisle and joins the Republican Caucus, Bush's playbook for his last two years in office is more delay, stonewall and obfiscate.

I know this because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This is what Bush does when he's playing defense.

Bush has hired Fred Fielding to replace Harriet Miers and word has it that Fielding is there to frustrate all attempts to access paper from the Executive branch. And elsewhere, loyalists (like Gonzales) will ignite logs and roll them into Democrats (see Spartacus). The firing of U.S. attorneys is one such burning, rolling log - something perfectly legal. Political, sure, but so what?

For Chuck Schumer or any Democrat to take a swing at it tells me that Schumer is just another hack politician, worse than the Republicans because he's useless at taking them out and working on behalf of the American people.

It is two years until the next election and all we got out of Democrats from the last election in November 06 was 100 hours (less than two weeks of work in January), of the House passing bills that are unlikely to ever get signed into law. The House is already back on a 3-day work week, the Senate has held all the hearings they're going to have on Iraq and nobody is bringing the troops out. We're in full Presidential election mode two years out. How insane is that?

I hold both Hillary and Obama responsible.

They had no right hijacking the process this early, by not letting the Democratic House and Senate victories remain above the fold after the midterm elections. With their newfound majorities, Senate and House business should have superceded all Washington political news for at least a couple of months. But Obama started this even before the midterm elections. He wasn't even running for re-election, but there he was, everywhere in the media, sucking all of the oxygen out of the elections. Neither Hillary nor Obama are the answer. And I don't see anyone who is on the horizon.

A leader is going to have to emerge, naturally, who is able to effect a plan for the Al Qaeda problem. Not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the whole of the region, solving our energy and economic problems in a way that doesn't require war and one in which all Democrats (at the least, and including some Republicans) can rally around.

If Hillary and Obama, and any others in the race, got out of the coffee klatches in Iowa and New Hampshire, and went back to work in Washington, started doing their jobs and working towards this, I'd be interested. The nation is waiting for someone with the vision and the presence to bring Americans through what are going to be very rough times, and together with people all around the world.

But it begins with us. Americans need to reclaim the democracy, and it's going to have to come at the local level, at the grassroots, with citizens pulling together and drafting new candidates for all seats in both houses of Congress.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Canada Scraps Anti-Terror Laws

Reuter's reports:
Canada's Parliament scrapped two contentious anti-terror measures on Tuesday, angering the minority Conservative government, which accuses opposition legislators of being soft on terror.

The House of Commons voted 159-124 not to renew the provisions -- which expire on March 1 -- on the grounds that they had never been used.

One provision allows police to arrest people suspected of planning an imminent terrorist attack and hold them for three days without charge. The other provides for investigative hearings in which a judge can compel witnesses to testify about alleged terrorist activities.

The measures were introduced by the then-Liberal government after the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the United States. In a bid to allay fears over human rights, Ottawa agreed the provisions would expire after five years.
The Conservative government controls just 125 of the 308 seats in the House and did not have the votes to extend the measures.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives won power in January 2006 on a platform that promised to crack down on crime, says the Liberals of Stephane Dion are soft on terror and cannot be trusted to keep Canadians safe.

"It is time the leader of the Liberal Party acted like Canadians should trust his judgment on national security issues," he told Parliament on Tuesday.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Canada was sending the wrong message to allies and potential terrorists. "You say you're backing off. That, frankly, is not a message that I want going out there," Day told CTV television a few minutes before the vote.

The Liberals will be the main threat to the Conservatives in elections that some political observers expect this year.

Dion rejects the charges, saying Harper is using fears of terrorism and crime in a bid to win votes.

"Soft on terrorism? That's awful. It will not stop me from finding the best solutions. I will not be intimidated by these bullying strategies," he told Reuters on Monday.

"I know very well how important it is to protect Canadians against terrorism ... I came to the conclusion with my caucus that the two provisions we are speaking about are not helpful and represent a risk to individual rights."

Some government officials suggested a compromise on Monday whereby the measures would be extended by six months to give a special parliamentary committee time to review the matter further. Dion said the offer had been made far too late.

The vote was the second time in a week that elements of Canada's anti-terror legislation had been eliminated.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a law that allowed foreign suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial on the basis of secret evidence.

"Now we see that a nation can regain its senses after calm reflection and begin to rein back such excesses," the New York Times said in its main editorial on Tuesday, calling on the administration of President George W. Bush to take similar steps in the United States.

Is Canada now a nation of sitting ducks, ripe for a "terror attack" to change their minds? Or is Canada well-positioned and in the driver's seat for a lucrative deal with the U.S. in exchange for resurrecting these anti-terror laws?

I can't imagine any scenario whereby the Bush-Cheney administration will tolerate our closest neighbors bailing out on their war on terror. Because if Canada can hold human and civil rights paramount, could a Democratically-controlled U.S. Congress be far behind in overturning the Patriot Act and last year's Torture Bill (Military Commissions Act of 2006)?

We can only hope.

Dow Plunges 415.02 Points - Will U.S. Congress Stop Bush's Wars Now?

Another Leg Drops Out of the U.S. Economy as Stocks Fall on Weak Economic Data, Geopolitical Woes, Shanghai Tumble

With housing slowing down, retail sales not great, and a Fed that has been worried about inflation and raising interest rates when it should be lowering them, a recession isn't far behind. The WSJ reports:
Stocks plummeted Tuesday, with the Dow down as much as 545 after a nearly instantaneous drop of about 200 points right around 3 p.m. Eastern time, but then recovering some of the losses. Indexes declined amid a broad selloff encouraged by a confluence of factors including weakness on the Shanghai market, disappointing durable-goods data and uncertainty increased about Iran and Afghanistan.

Will the Fed lower interest rates when it next meets (March 20/21, 2007)?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bush Family Lining Up Behind Mitt Romney's Campaign

With the Christian Right’s dream candidate, Jeb Bush, seemingly serious about not running, who is the Bush family putting their time and money on?

At Newsweek, Eleanor Clift reports:
Watching the Republican candidates elbowing each other for position on the right is a classic Washington spectator sport. Nobody quite measures up, and they all look a little craven trying. The prize they’re seeking: the evangelical vote, which is crucial to success in the GOP primaries. Republicans can’t win the White House without them, and social conservatives so far have been lukewarm toward everybody in the field.

There’s one politician the Christian right could get excited about: John Ellis (Jeb) Bush. But he’s not running—surely in part because the Bush brand has been so badly tarnished by the Iraq misadventure. A handoff from brother George would have been easy—if only the president had stayed focused on finding Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan rather than rushing off to invade Iraq. But for his brother’s mess, Jeb would be a formidable candidate.

He’s still a likely contender at some point—maybe even as a vice presidential pick in ’08. He can raise money, he has a Mexican-born wife who could help with California, and he can deliver Florida. The restoration is premised on the Republican nominee needing the credibility with the religious right that Jeb could bring. The Bush family seems to be moving its chips to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Several of Jeb’s gubernatorial staffers have signed on with Romney, and Jeb’s sister, Doro Bush Koch, is cohosting a fund-raiser for him. Mom and Dad are reportedly telling friends he’s a fine man and the class act in the race. With front runner John McCain faltering and Rudy Giuliani an unlikely fit with Republican primary voters, Romney looks like the Bush Dynasty’s best bet.
Jeb’s ambition, his intellect and his tenacity have not dimmed. Combine these personal characteristics with his ability to raise money and you’ve got a potent political force, says S.V. Dáte, the Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post and author of “Jeb: America’s Next Bush.” The book is not particularly flattering. Dáte says Bush governed with the openness and transparency of the Politburo; that his tax cuts went to the top 4.7 percent of Floridians and that he created the lowest number of jobs of any governor since 1970. Despite that record, polls show a consistent high regard for him, especially among social conservatives who remember his tireless efforts to sustain Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose survival in a vegetative state—in the face of her husband’s efforts to end life supports because of the grim prognosis—became a cause célèbre for the religious right.

The younger Bush was the one the family thought would become president, but that calculus went out the window when Jeb lost his initial bid for governor in Florida, and George was elected in Texas. Dáte says he wonders what would have happened if both brothers had won that year. George is seven years older but is otherwise out-classed by Jeb, the intellect of the family and, at 6 feet 4, a significant physical presence. Would they have run against each other in the primary? Would there have been a playoff game of horseshoes?

In Washington on a promotional tour, Dáte took questions at Politics & Prose, a bookstore in northwest Washington, where key chains counting down the hours, the minutes and the seconds left in Bush’s term sold out over the holidays. Dáte began with the top five e-mails he got in response to an article he wrote for The Washington Post speculating what a Jeb Bush presidency would be like in its seventh year, if the family plan had worked like it was supposed to. Many readers thought he was endorsing Jeb because he said that the younger brother wouldn’t have screwed up hurricane relief. Dáte believes Jeb would have followed the same siren song of the neocons into war. But once in Iraq, “Jeb would have been less prone to botch the job through inattention and cronyism,” Dáte says.

The thought of another Bush headed for the presidency struck most readers as preposterous. “The single most idiotic article I’ve read in The Washington Post,” said one. “Is this column a humiliating payback for a lost wager?” asked another. “The Bush family (expletive deleted) the world. I have a Colorado spruce in my front yard smarter than you.”

But the author is undeterred by the skepticism. He says it is “inevitable” Jeb will run for president, though he admits ’08 is problematic. Still, if the troops start to come home by the end of this year and the president’s approval ratings start climbing, who knows? Dáte states in The Washington Post piece that John McCain swung by Tallahassee in December 2005 to sound Jeb out about the prospect of running with him, and adds that any Republican candidate would be foolish not to put Jeb on the shortlist. Evangelicals make up a quarter of the country, according to some estimates—and as much as 35 to 45 percent of Republican voters in some states. If anybody has a lock on them, it’s Jeb.

The actual campaign doesn't begin for a long time.

But for an election cycle to have begun so early, and to overheat this quickly, tells me that there are going to be several major shake-outs before the campaigns seriously get off the ground and under way. And two years is a very long time for a vice-president with heart problems and clots in his leg to resist subpoenas and investigations. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Bush family has several contingency plans at the ready, one which calls for their hand-chosen heir (Romney) to replace an ailing (or deceased) Cheney just months before the election.

For that leg up, Romney might then turn around and tap Jeb Bush to run on the Republican ticket with him. It would be so typically 'Bush' to slide Jeb into national politics that way, given that he wouldn't have a chance in hell of getting into the oval office through the front door after the mess his brother has made of the world.

That's just one possibility out of many. Like I said, two years is an eternity in politics.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Plan Afoot To Bypass Congress's Ban & Drill Oil In ANWR

If it's not the Bush administration's ceaseless efforts to grab power over the other two co-equal branches of government, it's Republicans in those other branches assisting in their own demise.

Not for nothing, though.

Anchorage Daily News reports:
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday tossed out a new approach for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Make it part of the nation's emergency stockpile of oil.

The idea came up during a nearly hour-long briefing for news reporters in Anchorage. Alaska's senior senator also talked about the war in Iraq, the Alaska gas pipeline and the interim U.S. attorney.

Stevens, wearing a casual brown shirt and no tie, said he was struck by a Sunday column in The Washington Post that analyzed President Bush's call to expand the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The stockpile consists of about 700 million barrels of federal-government-owned crude stored for a national emergency in huge salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas. The president can release it if commercial oil supplies are disrupted, and it also can be drawn down for other nonemergency reasons.

Stevens said his staff and Sen. Lisa Murkowski's have been reviewing the president's proposal, publicized last month in his State of the Union speech, to buy more oil for the reserve.

"We came up with the thought 'Why not ask that they add ANWR to the petroleum reserve?' And now this op-ed piece says the same thing," Stevens said.

The refuge lies in the northeast corner of Alaska. Its coastal plain is considered the nation's best onshore prospect for a major oil discovery. It also is an area prized by environmentalists nationally. Efforts in Congress to open the coastal plain to oil development have failed repeatedly over the past three decades.

In his column, Gal Luft, head of the energy security think tank Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said "reframing the issue to cast the refuge as an emergency stockpile rather than a source of production might well change the politics."

Congress could compensate Alaskans by leasing the oil for a set amount of time, after which the state could sell it, Luft said in the column, under the headline "An Oil Reserve Right at Hand."

Alaskans who have tried to open ANWR to drilling said they haven't heard of this new twist but noted that execution would be very complex.

"I don't understand the concept," was the immediate reaction of Roger Herrera, an oil and gas consultant in Anchorage who has been working on ANWR nearly 30 years.

After giving the idea some quick thought, he said that additional exploration likely would be required to confirm the amount of oil in ANWR, and that equipment would need to be in place so that it could be extracted when needed.

Stevens told reporters he thinks the reserve idea may solve the ANWR issue.

"It is in the national interest to produce from ANWR and certainly by the time we could get it ready to produce it would be a ready reserve," Stevens said.

At a time when we need to be developing alternative energy resources.

Monday, February 19, 2007

War Jitters

Newsweek reports, "America's Hidden War With Iran":
Jalal Sharafi was carrying a videogame, a gift for his daughter, when he found himself surrounded. On that chilly Sunday morning, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad had driven himself to the commercial district of Arasat Hindi to checkout the site for a new Iranian bank. He had ducked into a nearby electronics store with his bodyguards, and as they emerged four armored cars roared up and disgorged at least 20 gunmen wearing bulletproof vests and Iraqi National Guard uniforms. They flashed official IDs, and manhandled Sharafi into one car. Iraqi police gave chase, guns blazing. They shot up one of the other vehicles, capturing four assailants who by late last week had yet to be publicly identified. Sharafi and the others disappeared.
At the embassy, the diplomat's colleagues were furious. "This was a group directly under American supervision," said one distraught Iranian official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Abdul Karim Inizi, a former Iraqi Security minister close to the Iranians, pointed the finger at an Iraqi black-ops unit based out at the Baghdad airport, who answer to American Special Forces officers. "It's plausible," says a senior Coalition adviser who is also not authorized to speak on the record. The unit does exist—and does specialize in snatch operations.

The Iranians have reason to feel paranoid. In recent weeks senior American officers have condemned Tehran for providing training and deadly explosives to insurgents. In a predawn raid on Dec. 21, U.S. troops barged into the compound of the most powerful political party in the country, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and grabbed two men they claimed were officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Three weeks later U.S. troops stormed an Iranian diplomatic office in Irbil, arresting five more Iranians. The Americans have hinted that as part of an escalating tit-for-tat, Iranians may have had a hand in a spectacular raid in Karbala on Jan. 20, in which four American soldiers were kidnapped and later found shot, execution style, in the head. U.S. forces promised to defend themselves.

Some view the spiraling attacks as a strand in a worrisome pattern. At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran, and they were also quick to deny any link to Sharafi's kidnapping. But the fact remains that the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and NEWSWEEK has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years.

Sometimes it seems as if a state of conflict is natural to the U.S.-Iranian relationship—troubled since the CIA-backed coup that restored the shah to power in 1953, tortured since Ayatollah Khomeini's triumph in 1979. With the election of George W. Bush on the one hand, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the other, the two countries are now led by men who deeply mistrust the intentions and indeed doubt the sanity of the other. Tehran insists that U.S. policy is aimed at toppling the regime and subjugating Iran. The White House charges that Iran is violently sabotaging U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East while not so secretly developing nuclear weapons. As the raids and skirmishes in Iraq underscore, a hidden war is already unfolding.

Yet a NEWSWEEK investigation has also found periods of marked cooperation and even tentative steps toward possible reconciliation in recent years—far more than is commonly realized. After September 11 in particular, relations grew warmer than at any time since the fall of the shah. America wanted Iran's help in Afghanistan, and Iran gave it, partly out of fear of an angry superpower and partly in order to be rid of its troublesome Taliban neighbors. In time, hard-liners on both sides were able to undo the efforts of diplomats to build on that foundation. The damage only worsened as those hawks became intoxicated with their own success. The secret history of the Bush administration's dealings with Iran is one of arrogance, mistrust and failure. But it is also a history that offers some hope.

For Iran's reformists, 9/11 was a blessing in disguise. Previous attempts to reach out to America had been stymied by conservative mullahs. But the fear that an enraged superpower would blindly lash out focused minds in Tehran. Mohammad Hossein Adeli was one of only two deputies on duty at the Foreign Ministry when the attacks took place, late on a sweltering summer afternoon. He immediately began contacting top officials, insisting that Iran respond quickly. "We wanted to truly condemn the attacks but we also wished to offer an olive branch to the United States, showing we were interested in peace," says Adeli. To his relief, Iran's top official, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, quickly agreed. "The Supreme Leader was deeply suspicious of the American government," says a Khameini aide whose position does not allow him to be named. "But [he] was repulsed by these terrorist acts and was truly sad about the loss of the civilian lives in America." For two weeks worshipers at Friday prayers even stopped chanting "Death to America."

The fear dissipated after Sept. 20, when the FBI announced that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks. But there was new reason for cooperation: for years Tehran had been backing the Afghan guerrillas fighting the Taliban, Osama bin Laden's hosts. Suddenly, having U.S. troops next door in Afghanistan didn't seem like a bad idea. American and Iranian officials met repeatedly in Geneva in the days before the Oct. 7 U.S. invasion. The Iranians were more than supportive. "In fact, they were impatient," says a U.S. official involved in the talks, who asked not to be named speaking about topics that remain sensitive. "They'd ask, 'When's the military action going to start? Let's get going!' "

Opinions differ wildly over how much help the Iranians actually were on the ground. But what is beyond doubt is how critical they were to stabilizing the country after the fall of Kabul. In late November 2001, the leaders of Afghanistan's triumphant anti-Taliban factions flew to Bonn, Germany, to map out an interim Afghan government with the help of representatives from 18 Coalition countries. It was rainy and unseasonably cold, and the penitential month of Ramadan was in full sway, but a carnival mood prevailed. The setting was a splendid hotel on the Rhine, and after sunset the German hosts laid on generous buffet meals under a big sign promising that everything was pork-free.

The Iranian team's leader, Javad Zarif, was a good-humored University of Denver alumnus with a deep, measured voice, who would later become U.N. ambassador. Jim Dobbins, Bush's first envoy to the Afghans, recalls sharing coffee with Zarif in one of the sitting rooms, poring over a draft of the agreement laying out the new Afghan government. "Zarif asked me, 'Have you looked at it?' I said, 'Yes, I read it over once'," Dobbins recalls. "Then he said, with a certain twinkle in his eye: 'I don't think there's anything in it that mentions democracy. Don't you think there could be some commitment to democratization?' This was before the Bush administration had discovered democracy as a panacea for the Middle East. I said that's a good idea."

Toward the end of the Bonn talks, Dobbins says, "we reached a pivotal moment." The various parties had decided that the suave, American-backed Hamid Karzai would lead the new Afghan government. But he was a Pashtun tribal leader from the south, and rivals from the north had actually won the capital. In the brutal world of Afghan power politics, that was a recipe for conflict. At 2 a.m. on the night before the deal was meant to be signed, the Northern Alliance delegate Yunus Qanooni was stubbornly demanding 18 out of 24 new ministries. Frantic negotiators gathered in the suite of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. A sleepy Zarif translated for Qanooni. Finally, at close to 4 a.m., he leaned over to whisper in the Afghan's ear: " 'This is the best deal you're going to get'." Qanooni said, " 'OK'."

That moment, Dobbins says now, was critical. "The Russians and the Indians had been making similar points," he says. "But it wasn't until Zarif took him aside that it was settled ... We might have had a situation like we had in Iraq, where we were never able to settle on a single leader and government." A month later Tehran backed up the political support with financial muscle: at a donor's conference in Tokyo, Iran pledged $500 million (at the time, more than double the Americans') to help rebuild Afghanistan.

In a pattern that would become familiar, however, a chill quickly followed the warming in relations. Barely a week after the Tokyo meeting, Iran was included with Iraq and North Korea in the "Axis of Evil." Michael Gerson, now a NEWSWEEK contributor, headed the White House speechwriting shop at the time. He says Iran and North Korea were inserted into Bush's controversial State of the Union address in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. At the time, Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn't ready to say so. Gerson says it was Condoleezza Rice, then national-security adviser, who told him which two countries to include along with Iraq. But the phrase also appealed to a president who felt himself thrust into a grand struggle. Senior aides say it reminded him of Ronald Reagan's ringing denunciations of the "evil empire."

Once again, Iran's reformists were knocked back on their heels. "Those who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized," says Adeli. "The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America's intentions." The Khameini aide concurs: "The Axis of Evil speech did not surprise the Supreme Leader. He never trusted the Americans."

It would be another war that nudged the two countries together again. At the beginning of 2003, as the Pentagon readied for battle against Iraq, the Americans wanted Tehran's help in case a flood of refugees headed for the border, or if U.S. pilots were downed inside Iran. After U.S. tanks thundered into Baghdad, those worries eased. "We had the strong hand at that point," recalls Colin Powell, who was secretary of State at the time. If anything, though, America's lightning campaign made the Iranians even more eager to deal. Low-level meetings between the two sides had continued even after the Axis of Evil speech. At one of them that spring, Zarif raised the question of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a rabidly anti-Iranian militant group based in Iraq. Iran had detained a number of senior Qaeda operatives after 9/11. Zarif floated the possibility of "reciprocity"—your terrorists for ours.

The idea was brought up at a mid-May meeting between Bush and his chief advisers in the wood-paneled Situation Room in the White House basement. Riding high, Bush seemed to like the idea of a swap, says a participant who asked to remain anonymous because the meeting was classified. Some in the room argued that designating the militants as terrorists had been a mistake, others that they might prove useful against Iran someday. Powell opposed the handover for a different reason: he worried that the captives might be tortured. The vice president, silent through most of the meeting as was his wont, muttered something about "preserving all our options." (Cheney declined to comment.) The MEK's status remains unresolved.

Around this time what struck some in the U.S. government as an even more dramatic offer arrived in Washington—a faxed two-page proposal for comprehensive bilateral talks. To the NSC's Mann, among others, the Iranians seemed willing to discuss, at least, cracking down on Hizbullah and Hamas (or turning them into peaceful political organizations) and "full transparency" on Iran's nuclear program. In return, the Iranian "aims" in the document called for a "halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of the status of Iran in the U.S. and abolishing sanctions," as well as pursuit of the MEK.

An Iranian diplomat admits to NEWSWEEK that he had a hand in preparing the proposal, but denies that he was its original author. Asking not to be named because the topic is politically sensitive, he says he got the rough draft from an intermediary with connections at the White House and the State Department. He suggested some relatively minor revisions in ballpoint pen and dispatched the working draft to Tehran, where it was shown to only the top ranks of the regime. "We didn't want to have an 'Irangate 2'," the diplomat says, referring to the secret negotiations to trade weapons for hostages that ended in scandal during Reagan's administration. After Iran's National Security Council approved the document (under orders from Khameini), a final copy was produced and sent to Washington, according to the diplomat.

The letter received a mixed reception. Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage were suspicious. Armitage says he thinks the letter represented creative diplomacy by the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who was serving as a go-between. "We couldn't determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's," he says. He added that his impression at the time was that the Iranians "were trying to put too much on the table." Quizzed about the letter in front of Congress last week, Rice denied ever seeing it. "I don't care if it originally came from Mars," Mann says now. "If the Iranians said it was fully vetted and cleared, then it could have been as important as the two-page document" that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger received from Beijing in 1971, indicating Mao Zedong's interest in opening China.

A few days later bombs tore through three housing complexes in Saudi Arabia and killed 29 people, including seven Americans. Furious administration hard-liners blamed Tehran. Citing telephone intercepts, they claimed the bombings had been ordered by Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda leader supposedly imprisoned in Iran. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld growled. Although there was no evidence the Iranian government knew of Adel's activities, his presence in the country was enough to undermine those who wanted to reach out.

Powell, for one, thinks Bush simply wasn't prepared to deal with a regime he thought should not be in power. As secretary of State he met fierce resistance to any diplomatic overtures to Iran and its ally Syria. "My position in the remaining year and a half was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran," he says of the end of his term. "But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that." The former secretary of State angrily rejects the administration's characterization of efforts by him and his top aides to deal with Tehran and Damascus as failures. "I don't like the administration saying, 'Powell went, Armitage went ... and [they] got nothing.' We got plenty," he says. "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start'."

Terrorism wasn't the only concern when it came to Iran. For decades, Washington's abiding fear has been that Iran might pick up where the shah's nuclear program (initially U.S.-backed) left off, and make the Great Satan the target of its atomic weapons. The Iranians, who were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, insisted they had nothing to hide. They lied. In August 2002, a group affiliated with the MEK revealed the extent of nuclear activities at a facility in Isfahan, where the Iranians had been converting yellowcake to uranium gas, and in Natanz, where the infrastructure needed to enrich that material to weapons-grade uranium was being built. A year later Pakistani scientist AQ Khan's covert nuclear-technology network unraveled, bringing further embarrassments and investigations.

For months, European negotiators worked to get Tehran to formalize a temporary and tenuous deal to freeze its nuclear fuel-development program. In May 2005, they met with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, at the Iranian ambassador's opulent Geneva residence. There was some reason to be optimistic: in Washington, Rice had announced that the United States would not block Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Yet a sense of enormous tension filled the room, according to a diplomat who was there but asked not to be identified revealing official discussions. The Europeans told Rowhani they hadn't nailed down exactly what they could offer in return for a freeze, and the Americans still weren't fully onboard. Iran would have to wait for the details for a few more months. But in the meantime, the program had to remain suspended.

Rowhani, in full clerical robes and turban, obviously was not authorized to make any such deal. "The man was in front of us sweating," says the European diplomat. "He was trapped: he couldn't go further ... I realized very clearly that he couldn't deliver, that he was not allowed to deliver. Psychologically he was broken. Physically he was almost broken."

Part of the problem was that elections in Iran were only a few days away. They brought to power a man who satisfied the darkest stereotypes of Iran's fervid leaders. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly renounced the freeze on Iran's nuclear fuel-development program, broke the seals the International Atomic Energy Agency had placed on Iran's conversion facilities at Isfahan and pushed ahead with work at Natanz. In the span of no more than a month or two, nuclear enrichment had become a symbol of national pride for a much wider spectrum of Iranian society than the voters who elected Ahmadinejad. In a warped parallel to Bush, who found his voice after 9/11 rallying Americans to the struggle against a vast and unforgiving enemy, the Iranian president rose in stature throughout the Middle East as he railed against America. The one problem U.S. negotiators had always had with Iran was determining who in the byzantine regime to talk to, and whether they could deliver anything. Now they faced another: the Iranians had almost no incentive to talk. With the United States bogged down in Iraq, Iran now had the leverage—roles had reversed.

In its second term the Bush administration, despite Powell's sour memories, has supported European efforts to resolve the nuclear impasse diplomatically. Rice has offered to meet her Iranian counterpart "any time, anywhere." "What has blocked such contact is the refusal of Iran to meet the demands of the entire international community," says a White House official, who could not be named discussing Iran. The official expressed deep frustration with critics. He argued they were naive about Tehran's intentions, and "parroting Iranian propaganda."

By last summer Iran seemed ascendant. Hizbullah's performance in the Lebanon war had rallied support for Ahmadinejad, one of the group's loudest proponents, across the Arab world. In a series of meetings in New York in September the Iranian president was defiant, almost giddy. (A senior British official who would only speak anonymously about deliberations with the Americans describes Tehran's mood around this time as "cock-a-hoop.") He would not back down when grilled about his dismissals of the Holocaust, and scoffed at the threat of U.N. sanctions over Iran's nuclear defiance.

The West's patience was running out. In Baghdad, American troops seemed powerless to stop a wave of gruesome sectarian killings that they claimed were fueled by Iran. In Amman and Riyadh, Arab leaders warned darkly of a rising "Shia crescent." After Bush's defeat in the midterm elections, Israeli officials began wondering aloud if they would have to deal with the Iranian threat on their own. Partly in consultation with the British, U.S. officials began to map out a broader strategy to fight back. "We felt we needed to have a much more knitted-together policy, with a number of different strands working, to hit different parts of the Iranian system," says the senior British official.

Critics have questioned how much of that plan is military—whether the administration is secretly setting a course for war as it did back in 2002. Last week officials were at great pains to deny that scenario. "We are not planning offensive military operations against Iran," said Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. The Pentagon does have contingency plans for all-out war with Iran, on which Bush was briefed last summer. The targets would include Iran's air-defense systems, its nuclear- and chemical-weapons facilities, ballistic missile sites, naval and Revolutionary Guard bases in the gulf, and intelligence headquarters. But generals are convinced that no amount of firepower could do more than delay Tehran's nuclear program. U.S. military analysts have concluded that nothing short of regime change would completely eliminate the threat—and America simply doesn't have the troops needed.

Iraq is another story. American military officials and politicians accuse the Iranian government of providing Iraqis with an new arsenal of advanced rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, heavy-duty mortars and the newest armor-piercing technology for roadside bombs—explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), said to have been developed by Hizbullah. Military security experts are especially worried by "passive infrared sensors," readily available devices that are often used for burglar alarms or automatic light switches but increasingly seen as triggers for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Unlike cell phones, remote-control systems and garage-door openers, the sensors emit no signal, making them that much tougher to spot before they detonate.

What's scant is hard evidence that the weapons are provided by the Iranian government, rather than arms dealers or rogue Revolutionary Guard elements. "Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq," says the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tehran is failing to stop the traffic. The Iranians themselves admit they're not trying as hard as they could. "I can give you my word that we don't give IEDs to the Mahdi Army," says an Iranian intelligence official who asked not to be named because secrecy is his business. "But if you asked me if we could control our borders better if we wanted to, I would say: 'Yes, if we knew that the Americans would not use Iraq as a base to attack Iran'."

The real thrust of Washington's multipronged attack is political. Banking restrictions levied by the U.S. Treasury have begun to pinch the Iranian economy. Voters angry about rising prices dealt Ahmadinejad an embarrassing blow in municipal elections in December, when his supporters were trounced. That wouldn't much matter if he still retained Khameini's support. But that may no longer be the case. The Khameini aide says the Supreme Leader blames Ahmadinejad's overheated rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust for the unanimous Security Council resolution that passed in late December, demanding that Tehran suspend its nuclear program.

Every time America or Iran has gained an advantage over the other in the last five years, however, they've overplayed their hand. More pressure on Ahmadinejad could well make him popular again—the chief martyr in a martyr culture. Sunni insurgents in Iraq need only kill some Americans and plant Iranian IDs nearby to start a full-scale war. Like so many times in this complicated relationship, this is a moment of opportunity. And one of equally great danger.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Humans and Their Animals, and Friday Cat Blogging

Wisconsin Man Spears a 6-Foot Sturgeon:
The fish's long shadow slid under the ice, causing Darren Horness to blink. "I was skimming some ice off the hole, and all the sudden I thought I caught a little bit of movement, and I had to kind of take a step back," said Horness, 36, of Howards Grove. "The fish was actually coming up into the hole, I just could see part of it and could tell it was a kind of a nice fish, but I had no idea how big it really was."

The 102-pound, 72-inch sturgeon was nearly as long as he was tall.

He had cut a hole through the 16 inches of ice on Lake Winnebago, and the sturgeon arched through it, coming within six inches of the surface. Horness heard the fish's back scrape the ice on the bottom edge of the hole.

"I had to get down on my knees and I had to spear almost horizontal because it was so high up into the hole," he said. "I didn't know how good of a hit that I had on it because it was such a weird throw."

The spear lodged in the fish's tail, about two feet from the end. Within minutes, the female was tiring and had moved close enough to the surface for Horness to see what he'd caught.

"My knees just almost buckled because it looked so humongous in the water," he said.

It's Westminster Kennel Club Show Time Again:

Bill Cosby's Dandie Dinmont, Fineus Fogg, goes for Best in Show:
The Westminster Kennel Club competition is threatening to turn into the Cosby show.

It's no joke - comedian Bill Cosby's terrier could win Best in Show at the prestigious competition in Madison Square Garden.

Fineus Fogg, the contest's only Dandie Dinmont terrier, was awarded Best in Breed and Best in Category yesterday, qualifying him to compete against six other finalists for the grand title tonight.

"They were all beautiful dogs out there," Cosby's daughter Erinn Cosby told The Associated Press, "but there was only one."

Cosby wasn't there last night; the dog's handler said the star thinks he has bad luck, and didn't want it to rub off on Fineus Fogg, rated as the country's top dog.

But now that the dog, also known as Harry, has won, all bets are off.

I bet 'Harry' is Camille's dog:
Camille (Mrs. Bill) Cosby

The story of 'Fat Cat' 'Goliath' 'Hercules':

For four years the pudgy kitty was Earnest's constant companion. Earnest, 31, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the mucus lining of the lungs and leads to breathing problems. In June, Earnest flew to Seattle for a rare double-lung transplant at the University of Washington Medical Center. A housesitter watched Hercules, but the cat disappeared and Earnest assumed his beloved pet was dead.

But Hercules, it turned out, was alive and well -- so well that last month he sneaked into a stranger's garage, snacked on food and got his ample frame stuck exiting through a doggie door. He landed at the Oregon Humane Society, which alerted reporters to the cat's escapades. His story was picked up by reporters, was aired on local television news and eventually spread worldwide.

One night in early January, while watching television, Earnest saw the fat cat's mug flash on the screen during a newscast.

That looks like Hercules, he thought.

Indeed it was.

These days, Earnest speaks to schools and community groups about twice a week, and sometimes his famous cat tags along. Earnest -- told at age 29 that he would die without a lung transplant -- talks about his own experience as an organ transplant recipient and encourages others to become organ donors.

In his talks, he's always sure to mention Hercules.

The way Earnest sees it, he and his cat have something in common.

"He came back from the dead like I did," he said.

Most days, Hercules can be found resting, more like dozing, on a towel draped on Earnest's bed or footrest. Every morning, Earnest puts his cat on a leash, and the pair head into the neighborhood for exercise.

Since Hercules has returned home, he's been placed on a diet. So far, he's lost about a pound, slimming down to a still-rotund 19.6 pounds. (According to his veterinarian, Dr. Joshua Horner, Hercules could stand to lose another three or four.)

Hercules may look, well, how to sensitively put this, big boned to the rest of us, but to Earnest he's perfect.

"He's just a big, big cat," he said. "I don't want to see him get any smaller."

Earnest and Hercules, Reunited.

American Cat Idol, anyone?:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Preserving Our Way of Life

Talking Urinal Cakes Warn Against Drunk Driving reports:
New Mexico is hoping to keep drunks off the road by lecturing them at the last place they usually stop before getting behind the wheel: the urinal.

The state recently paid $21 each for about 500 talking urinal-deodorizer cakes and has put them in men's rooms in bars and restaurants across the state.

When a man steps up, the motion-sensitive plastic device says, in a woman's voice that is flirty, then stern: ``Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks? Think you had one too many? Then it's time to call a cab or call a sober friend for a ride home.''

The recorded message ends: ``Remember, your future is in your hand.''

The talking urinal represents just the latest effort to fight drunken driving in New Mexico, which has long had one of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the nation. (The new tactic is aimed only at men, since they account for 78 percent of all driving-under-the-influence-related convictions in New Mexico.)

``It startled me the first time I heard it, but it sure got my attention,'' said Ben Miller, a patron at the Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. bar and restaurant. ``It's a fantastic idea.''

Jim Swatek, who was drinking a beer nearby, said: ``You think, `Maybe I should call the wife to come get me.'''

Turtle Mountain Brewing owner Niko Ortiz commended the New Mexico Transportation Department for ``thinking way outside the box.''

Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said the bathroom is a perfect place to get the message across. In the restroom, ``guys don't chitchat with other guys,'' he said. ``It's all business. We've got their total attention for 10 to 15 seconds''

Similar urinal cakes have been used for anti-drug campaigns in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Australia, and for anti-DWI efforts on New York's Long Island, said Richard Deutsch of New York-based Healthquest Technologies Inc., which manufactures the devices.

But Deutsch said he believes New Mexico is the only state to buy the devices.

New Mexico had 143 alcohol-related deaths in 2005, for the nation's eighth-highest rate per miles driven. The problem is blamed in part on the wide-open spaces that make it necessary to drive to get anywhere, and the poverty and isolation that can lead people to drink to relieve their boredom or misery.

Also, some have complained that the state has only recently begun to emerge from years of lax enforcement.

Gov. Bill Richardson led a successful push two years ago to require ignition locking devices for anyone convicted of DWI -- a first in the nation -- and each year the Legislature has agreed on tougher penalties for repeat offenders.

New Mexico also has started a toll-free ``drunk buster'' hot line, boosted DWI enforcement in problem areas and increased police checkpoints. The state also has a DWI czar.

In November, a wrong-way drunken driver slammed into a car near Santa Fe, killing five family members, authorities said. The governor has since directed state regulators to issue cease-and-desist orders against three airlines to stop serving alcohol on flights to and from New Mexico. The culprit in the fatal wreck had been seen drinking on a flight into Albuquerque hours before the accident.

At the Turtle Mountain, the urinal cakes have proved so intriguing that three have been swiped already.

``I'm mystified why someone would stick their hand into one of our urinals,'' Ortiz said. ``But I'm sure we'll see them on eBay. Hopefully, the seller will advertise it as, `Stolen from Turtle Mountain.'''

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day at

I am all for businesses looking to expand their market share and stretching their creative muscles when advertising to customers ways to spend money.

But White Tower on Valentine's Day?
Feast on slyders ® and fries at White Castle on Valentine's Day between 5 and 8 p.m. Reservations required for hostess seating, with your own server at a candlelit red plastic covered table.[Photo by ntkriced]

Or take it 'to go':
Get a "Cupid’s Crave Kit," which includes eight cheeseburgers, one sack of fries, two regular soft drinks, coupons and keepsake items to heat up your homespun romance.

['Keepsake' items?]

This is what I think when I see White Tower:

Notwithstanding Paul Newman's comment on adultery ("Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?"), I suspect that a great many American love affairs began over hamburgers. Maximillian and I met over a bacon-cheeseburger at $2 Bill's, a greasy spoon (long defunct) in Los Angeles. John Edwards proposed to his wife, Elizabeth, at a Wendy's, and they celebrate every wedding anniversary at one.

"Hot and juicy," I can understand, but "steamed and 'Martinized'"?


Everyday Acts of Resistance, Rebellion & Revolution

The War Tapes Screenings

Democracy for America and TrueMajority Action have united to keep the pressure on the President and Congress to not only stop the escalation, but end the occupation and bring our brave men and women home. Attend a screening of The War Tapes and after the movie we'll send postcards to our senators demanding action.
Straight from the front lines in Iraq, The War Tapes is the first war movie filmed by soldiers themselves. You have never seen film like this before. The film is powerful and moving conveying both the passion and mindset of American soldiers and the incredible human and community cost of war. There is little wonder why the film won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. You will leave this movie more motivated than ever to end the occupation and bring our troops home.

Find a screening near you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Failing 9/11 Responders Over & Over & Over Again

9/11 Health Costs $393 Million Per Year

Associated Press reports:
Respiratory ailments, mental trauma and other problems that arose after the Sept. 11 attacks are costing the U.S. health care system $393 million per year, according to an analysis that city officials released Tuesday.

The estimate was part of a report by a panel that Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened last year to study Sept. 11 health effects and treatment programs, which are said to be running out of funding 5 1/2 years after the attacks.

Some of the people who worked amid the dust, smoke and ash at the site have died. Others have developed conditions including respiratory problems, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and the report noted the troubling prospect of later-emerging diseases including cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.

The panel noted the liability fight as another mounting expense. At least 6,000 federal lawsuits have been filed by emergency workers who aided in the rescue operation and nine-month cleanup, alleging that the city and its contractors were negligent in monitoring the air.

Thousands more lawsuits are expected, and the city already has spent millions fighting the claims. That money has come from the WTC Captive Insurance Co., which Congress funded with $1 billion in 2004 to provide liability coverage against claims.

Instead of using the money in court, the mayor's panel recommended that Congress change the law to let the city put the money into a compensation program for sick workers, an idea that members of New York's delegation have already floated.

"We're not about to abandon the men and women who helped lift our city back onto its feet during our time of greatest need," Bloomberg said. "They deserve first-class care without exception, and we will work to ensure that they get it."

The fund would be similar to the victims compensation fund that awarded $7 billion to the families of those who died in the attacks and to injured survivors. The application deadline for that fund was December 2003, which excluded those whose diagnoses or symptoms came later.

The Bush administration last month announced a proposal to spend at least $25 million more on treatment programs. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is calling for $1.9 billion over several years.

Several sick workers said Tuesday they were frustrated that it was taking so long to ensure health care.

"When I got called to the World Trade Center, it did not take me five years to get there -- it shouldn't have taken five years to talk about compensation," said Marvin Bethea, a paramedic who survived the collapse of the twin towers and suffers from afflictions including post-traumatic stress disorder and asthma. "People don't want to be millionaires. They're in the hole because of all these health problems."

Country Music Industry to Dixie Chicks: "If You're Trying to Offer an Olive Branch to Country Radio, That's Not The Way To Do It"

Grammys or not, Dixie Chicks still country-radio "outlaws."

The Seattle Times reports:
Country radio still isn't ready to make nice with the Dixie Chicks.
With a haul of Grammys on Sunday, the Texas trio topped their comeback from their 2003 Bush-bashing comment that turned them from superstars to pariahs — but Nashville's Music Row isn't welcoming them back into the country-music fold.

"Most country stations aren't playing the Chicks, and they aren't going to start now," said Jim Jacobs, owner of WTDR-FM, a country radio station in Talladega, Ala.

The awards might have the opposite effect, sparking another radio backlash against the group. Country broadcasters said Monday that the group's five Grammys show how out of touch the Recording Academy is from the average country fan.

"I think [the listeners] are outraged," said Tony Lama, program director for KXNP in North Platte, Neb. "This is rural, conservative America. They are just disgusted."

Country stations quit playing the Chicks in 2003 after singer Natalie Maines told a London audience: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

Almost overnight, Maines became a lightning rod in the debate over the Iraq war, with conservatives blasting her for criticizing the president, especially while on foreign soil.

The Chicks sang about the controversy in their single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," which won Grammys as record and song of the year. Their album, "Taking the Long Way," won album of the year.

Country radio may not be ready to embrace them again, but the Grammy runaway suggests that a significant portion of the rest of the country has come around to their way of thinking. The president's approval ratings are down, and his party was ousted in the midterm elections.

"I'm slowly getting my faith back in mankind," Maines said Sunday.

But the rift with country-music radio seems impossibly wide. The Chicks have said they never felt at home on Music Row, even when they were a top-selling country act.

"If you're trying to offer an olive branch to country radio, that's not the way to do it," said Ken Tucker, Billboard country-music correspondent. "The Chicks are celebrating being the outlaws."

$367 billion dollars later, more than 3100 U.S. troops dead, more than 23,000 wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraq civilians dead and wounded, a no-win-and-escalating-out-of-control civil war, and the Bush-loving country-music industry thinks that it's the Dixie Chicks who owe an apology?!??

When do these people realize that they have no business going anywhere near a ballot box? And why aren't they in Iraq?

Piss them off even more and drive the Dixie Chicks' sales through the roof.

What's Black & White . . . .

. . . . And bred all over?

Panda cubs drink milk at the Giant Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu, China. Some 34 pandas were born by artificial insemination in 2006 and 30 survived, both records for the endangered species.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bush says, "Car-Pooling - Bad; Build More Highways & Charge For Use - Good!"

The most obvious measure of Americans' freedom is been our ability to travel freely. For years, Republicans have been edging toward curtailing that freedom, by requiring tolls on roads, bridges and highways, and the selling off of roads and highways built by America's laborers and paid for by American taxpayers.

Ignoring yet again the looming global warming catastrophe, the Bush administration is proposing the increased use of fossil fuels by building more roads and allowing private corporations to charge for their use.

Reuters reports:
Carpooling won't do much to reduce U.S. highway congestion in urban areas, and a better solution would be to build new highways and charge drivers fees to use them, the White House said on Monday.

"It is increasingly appropriate to charge drivers for some roadway use in the same way the private market charges for other goods and services," the White House said in its annual report on the U.S. economy.

While some urban areas have designated roads for vehicles with two or more passengers, those high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are often underused because carpooling is becoming less popular, the administration said.

Based on the latest data supplied by the White House, only about 13 percent of motorists carpooled to work in 2000. That compared with 20 percent of daily American commuters in 1980.

"This trend makes it unlikely that initiatives focused on carpooling will make large strides in reducing vehicle use," the White House said.

Building more highways won't reduce congestion either, unless drivers are charged a fee, according to the administration.

"If a roadway is priced -- that is, if drivers have to pay a fee to access a particular road -- then congestion can be avoided by adjusting the price up or down at different times of day to reflect changes in demand for its use," the White House said. "Road space is allocated to drivers who most highly value a reliable and unimpaired commute."

Critics of such fees argue that road tolls would make new highways reserved mostly for wealthy drivers, who are more likely to travel in expensive, gas-guzzling vehicles.

But the White House said urban road expansions should be focused on highways where drivers demonstrate a willingness to pay a fee that is higher than the actual cost of construction, allowing communities to avoid raising taxes on everyone to build the roads.

The administration argued that congestion pricing is already used by many providers of goods and services: movie theaters charge more for tickets in the evening than they do at midday, just as ski resorts raise lift prices on weekends. Similarly, airlines boost prices on tickets during peak travel seasons and taxi cabs raise fares during the rush hour.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Agents of Change

The Dixie Chicks had the last laugh at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards.

After a boycott by corporate radio stations nationwide, death threats, CD burnings, and the loss of a lucrative country music career after lead singer Natalie Maines told an audience in London on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq: "We're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas," the Dixie Chicks won 5 Grammy awards for an album they produced after the controversy in response to their critics, including awards for the top 3 categories - Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year. The last artist who won the top 3 awards was Eric Clapton in 1993. They performed their biggest hit song from the album, "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice":

The Dixie Chick accept the award for 'Best Country Album' of the year:

The Dixie Chicks accept the award for 'Best Song of the Year':

Tonight we celebrate what is all right with the world, for tomorrow, it is back to the trenches: The House of Representatives debates Bush's splurge in Iraq.


Michael R. Gordon, A Tape Recorder? It's A Joke?

With a tongue wedged between gum and cheek, Jonathan Schwarz of Tiny Revolution posts, "New York Times Reveals 'Reporter' Michael Gordon Actually Voice-Activated Tape Recorder":
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller today announced that the paper’s longtime staff writer Michael Gordon is not an actual person, but rather a voice-activated tape recorder:
“I’m not sure why everyone didn’t figure this out before now,” said Keller, pointing to the fact that, in Gordon’s 26-year career, all of “his” stories have consisted entirely of transcribed statements by anonymous government officials.
According to Jill Abramson, the paper’s Managing Editor, Gordon was purchased for $27.95 at a Radio Shack on West 43rd Street. Describing the situation as “a prank” that had “gotten slightly out of hand,” Abramson said the paper had decided to acknowledge Gordon’s identity because—after the tape recorder’s front page story today, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says”—there “was no place left to take the joke.”

Keller described how he and Abramson “really had a good laugh” while preparing the Iran story, which is based on the following sourcing:

U.S. Says…United States intelligence asserts…reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies…civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided…military officials say…The officials said…The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with American officials…Administration officials said…according to the intelligence…According to American intelligence…Some American intelligence experts believe…they assert…notes a still-classified American intelligence report…a senior administration official said…according to Western officials…Officials said…An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said…Other officials believe…American military officers say…American officials say…According to American intelligence agencies…Assessments by American intelligence agencies say…Marine officials say…American intelligence agencies are concerned…Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

“You can’t deny that’s funny,” said Keller, adding that the lack of skepticism displayed by Gordon was “literally inhuman.” Keller and Abramson asserted that the Iran article is “even more hilarious” than Gordon’s 2002 stories on Iraq’s purported nuclear program, written with Judith Miller.

According to the paper’s management, the Times plans to keep the tape recorder on its staff indefinitely, given that it does not require health insurance and its voice-activation feature “saves a lot of tape.” Indeed, the tape recorder formerly known as Michael Gordon has already filed its own story on the matter, consisting entirely of transcribed statements from anonymous government officials.

It's too bad it's a spoof. It would have been the closest Keller and Abramson have come to speaking truth in years. Here, is the butt of the joke:

Michael R. Gordon is the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1985. He is the coauthor, with Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor, of The Generals At War. He has covered the Iraq War, the American intervention in Afghanistan, the Kosovo conflict, the Russian war in Chechnya, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the American invasion of Panama. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area. [photograph & bio courtesy of Random House]

At UC Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, Harry Kreisler interviewed 'Michael R. Gordon' (watch webcast)
"Vice President Cheney thought at the end of the Gulf War that Saddam would fall of his own weight. I know that because he told me that in an interview I did with him for my previous book, The General's War. We even had a bet on it, which I've yet to collect."

Audio: Bernie Gwertzman, editor of, talks to the Times's military affairs correspondent, Michael R. Gordon, who accompanied the vice president on his trip to the Middle East.

RELATED MATERIALS: Cheney, in Jordan, Meets Opposition to Move Against Iraq (March 13, 2002)

Holding the Media Accountable

Study Gordon's face well. If you should happen to run into him on the street, ask him how much the bet with Cheney was for. Once you break the ice, ask him why he got into journalism, and what he believes good journalism is. And what, if any, responsibility he thinks a journalist has to the public.

Don't forget to check his back for batteries.

Friday, February 09, 2007

If It's Not One Sideshow Distraction, It's Another

The lengths that media will go to to avoid focusing on what's really important in our lives.

We, in the blogosphere, have our own sensationalistic distractions, and for the last couple of days it's been this fool:

Bill Donohue and his Catholic League

From Digby:
I'm sure most of you have already seen this, but if not, click over to C&L to see The Daily Donohue, a new public service feature by John Amato devoted to the talk show oeuvre of the ubiquitous president of the conservative Catholic league.

Here's the money quote:

“As for the alleged abuse, it’s time to ask some tough questions. First, there is a huge difference between being groped and being raped, so which was it Mr. Foley? Second, why didn’t you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?”

Reporters all over the country are quoting this man as being a leading spokesman for Catholics all over the nation.

Does he speak for you?

Fred Bear, one of Digby's readers responds:
yes...lifelong catholic and he speaks for me.

By the many liberal bloggers, media people, reporters, editors, and TV commentators have ever been accused of sexual molestation???
Bet nobody's gonna touch that one!

PS.....or how many muslim leaders also?

Dear Fred,

What differentiates it is that it's institutional within the Catholic church.

The abuse has been investigated from both inside the Catholic church (all the way up to the Vatican) and from outside. All investigations have led to the same conclusion: The sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has been so widespread and protected by the hierarchy of the church that the civil actions against the church will lead to the church's bankruptcy.

That's a whole lotta money.

The problem for the church is that it has chosen to protect sex offenders wearing the collar. These aren't men who are just gay and who are just breaking vows of chastity. If they were, that would be a matter between the church and their followers.

These are men who are committing sex crimes. They're raping children while disguised as priests. I contend that these men are not priests - there is nothing holy about them. They're disordered sex offenders, yet the church hierarchy has chosen to let itself be identified with them. By allowing these men to remain within the church as priests, the church becomes a co-conspirator. "You can be a priest and rape children, and if you get caught, we'll just retire you to a cloistered seminary in another country."

But sexual predation is not the only child abuse charge that gets made against the Catholic church. The church has a long history of physically and emotionally abusing children in its care - The Magdalene Sisters is one movie that depicts it. It was much more pervasive before the 'enlightenment' (the 1960s), when the liberal left exposed the damage done to people by punitive parenting and caretaking.

For Bill Donohue to continue to refer to it as "alleged abuse" indicates the man is steeped in denial. He's a caricature and mainstream media gives this man access to the public's air waves because of his entertainment value. Donohue speaks for my "fresh-off-the-boat-despite-7-decades-in-America" grandmother (100 when she died) who believed that priests walked with God and that children should do whatever the priest tells them to do - "Don't question authority!"