Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Monday, June 29, 2009
News blast: Billy Mays dead, Madoff sentenced, white firefighters prevail
The celebrity deaths are coming fast and furious, folks. Loud, exuberant Pitchman Bill Mays has died at age 50 of an apparent pulminary embalism. (Medical examiner press conference just wrapped up in Tampa.) Apparently he hit his head during a plane's hard landing, but the medical examiner says the bump on the head was not the cause.

In even bigger news ...

Bernie Madoff gets 150 years, after a morning of angry testimony from his victims. Bye, Bernie!

A weekend coup shakes up Honduras, before that country's president could hold a referendum that would bust the country's term limits. From the Economist:
THE scene was reminiscent of many in the 20th century, when military coups against democratic governments were sadly common across much of Latin America. At dawn on Sunday June 28th a group of soldiers barged into the residence of Manuel Zelaya, Honduras’s president, disarmed his guards, dragged him to an air base and flew him to exile in San José, Costa Rica. The army silenced the state television station, cut electricity supplies and the bus services in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and sent tanks and planes to patrol the city. “I was brutally taken out of my house and kidnapped by hooded soldiers who pointed high-calibre rifles at me,” said Mr Zelaya. “But until the next elections, I will continue to be the president of Honduras. Only the people can remove me.”

The toppling of Mr Zelaya took the region by surprise. Honduras, although small, poor and ravaged by corruption and violent gangs, has seemed a more solid democracy than, for example, neighbouring Guatemala. Mr Zelaya, a Liberal, alienated the leaders of the country’s main political parties last year by joining the leftist Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an alliance led by Venezuela’s populist president, Hugo Chávez. Yet Mr Zelaya’s policies have been only mildly social-democratic, such as an increase in the minimum wage.
The Bolivian government reacts strongly to the coup, and for good reason ...

Back here in the States, a group of white firefighters have prevailed in the New Haven promotions case. The Supreme Court ruled for Frank Ricci and 19 other firemen, saying the city was wrong to throw out a test that would have led to promotions for them, but none for African-American firefighters who also passed the test, but not with a high enough score. Somewhere out there, Pat Buchanan is mourning the loss of a 2010 election issue. Justice Kennedy was the swing vote:
The court ruled that New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the AP says. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

“Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the white firefighters “understandably attract this court’s sympathy. But they had no vested right to promotion. Nor have other persons received promotions in preference to them.” Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens signed onto Ginsburg’s dissent.
The significance of this case now is that the conservative members of the court have reversed Judge Sonia Sotomayor, their very likely soon-to-be colleague. The right will make hay. It's what they do. But the real issue will continue to be affirmative action, and Frank Ricci has become the issue's new poster boy.

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posted by JReid @ 12:11 PM  
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The president's press conference delivered
He smacked down John McCain ("only I'm the president...") apparently pleased the increasingly troll-like Krauthammer and his friends at Hot Air, explained the logic of competition ("if the insurance companies say they're delivering a great product, why can't they compete [with a public plan?]" and issued a strong statement on Iran, that in reality, is much like his previous statements, only not in writing. Had enough, neocons? (probably not). Best moment of the presser: when poor Major Garrett showed his Fox "News" creds by asking whether non-existent Iranian diplomats would be welcome at the White House on the Fourth of July ... Earth to Major: we don't have Iranian diplomats because we have no formal diplomatic relations with Iran.

Read, man. Read.

Meanwhile, a better liveblog at the NYT.

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posted by JReid @ 1:56 PM  
Iran's Dubya to be sworn in mid-August
Iran becomes a darker shade of America, circa 2000:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the winner of Iran's disputed presidential election, is to be sworn in by mid-August, Iranian media reported today after the authorities ruled out an annulment of the result.

IRNA, the official Iranian news agency, said Ahmadinejad, who won a "closely contested and disputed 10th presidential election", would be sworn in before parliament between 26 July and 19 August.

... A spokesman for the powerful guardian council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted by Iran's state-run English language Press TV as saying the organisation had found "no major fraud or breach in the election". As a result, he said, the outcome would not be annulled.

The move came after Iranian security forces yesterday threatened a "decisive and revolutionary confrontation" with opposition demonstrators if protests continued against the regime..

The BBC offers several expert views on what might happen next.

Previous: Well, if you insist ... Shah's son positions himself...

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posted by JReid @ 10:13 AM  
Monday, June 22, 2009
Neda's revolution

Thanks to Kathy Riordan for correcting me (and everyone else) on the previous, erroneous, Neda photo. Read more about the photo snafu on her blog.

The death of a 27(?)-year-old Iranian philosophy student whose murder in the streets of Tehran, apparently at the hands of the "Basij" militia, was captured on cellphone video, has become the new rallying cry for Iranian protesters. With a name and face to put on the protests, it seems the Twitter Revolution is morphing into Neda's revolution, at least in the media...

There have conflicting stories about her age, with some news reports putting her age at as young as 16 (which is what CNN was still saying this morning), which may be part of the mythology that's building around the still boiling uprising in Iran.

Meanwhile, a man who says he was Neda's Fiancé, speaks.
"Neda wanted freedom, freedom for everyone," said Kaspeen Makan, who was engaged to Neda Sultani, 27, the young Iranian woman who has become a symbol of the reformist struggle in Iran after a video of her being killed by a Basij sniper during a protest on Saturday was posted on the Internet.

"She said a number of times that even if she dies and takes a bullet to the heart, which apparently is what happened, it will be a step forward. Neda, in her young age, taught a lesson to many people," said Makan in an interview with the BBC.

He noted that she was not affiliated with any political camp. "Neda's goal was not Mousavi or Ahmadinejad, but her homeland. It was important to her that the homeland advance a step forward."

Full BBC interview here. It's clear that one of the reasons that the Neda story is so affecting is that she was a pretty, western looking young woman. That's evident from some of the right wing blog reaction. Case in point (from The InQuisitor):
I think AllahPundit at HotAir put it so well:

I hope to god this isn’t really her…because the thought of her being so beautiful and dignified makes the murder somehow that much more obscene….If there’s any justice, there’ll be videos like this of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad someday soon.

Neda Sultani pictured without headscarf. AFP.

Yeah, that usually moves the wingers. For the rest of us, Neda's story is tragic and affecting just on its own, and our hearts go out to her family and to the people of Iran who are risking their lives for the future of their country.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials admit that ballot stuffing took place in 50 cities, to the tune of perhaps 3 million votes. Lucky for the regime they rigged the election by 11 million votes!

More liveblogging and updates on what's going on in Iran, where the government apparently put down Neda mourning protests yesterday with brute force, (though apparently, Islamic tradition states that mourning takes place 3, 7 and 40 days after a death, so there could well be more "Neda protests" coming...) from the Beeb (minus their reporter, who was kicked out of Iran over the weekend) and the Times of London. More opinion on Neda via Taylor Marsh, and of course the Huffpo.

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posted by JReid @ 1:53 PM  
Monday, June 08, 2009
Current events: North Korea, torture, and more
Two American journalists are sentenced to 12 years hard labor in North Korea.

A former Gitmo detainee denies being a terrorist, and says yes, he was tortured.

The SUPCO has rejected a challenge to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. (Expect activists to lose their natural minds today at the Obama administration for fighting in court on behalf of the policy...) As is not uncommon, the Moderate Voice has a good post on the topic.

Laura Bush speaks up for the few remaining reasonable people in the Republican Party (did I mention she grew up a Democrat?) ... and for Judge Sotomayor.

More later.

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posted by JReid @ 12:23 PM  
If you missed the NBC News special on Iran...
You really missed something. It was a fascinating look at a fascinating, and in this country, largely unknown country, which by the way, appears to have more compassionate healthcare policies than we do. Go figure. Here's part one:

Watch the rest here.

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posted by JReid @ 12:09 PM  
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Torture, secret detentions and Europe strikes back
On the radar today:

It's not just Spain. Other NATO allies are considering perusing torture prosecutions against CIA and Bush administration officials if the Obama administration doesn't.

Meanwhile, British officials have released new information about the Bush administration attempts to cover up their crimes on the way out the door. In short, military prosecutors tried to pressure a former Gitmo detainee, Binyam Muhammad, into signing a plea deal that would have imprisoned him for 10 years in addition to the 7 he'd already been held, and that they tried to get him to sign a statement claiming he was NOT tortured, when he was, to promise not to sue, and to not talk to the news media.

Meanwhile, a United Nations special rapporteur on international law is launching a probe into illegal U.S. rendition/black site programs that drew in other countries, including many from the old Soviet Union, and where torture likely took place.

In the Mideast, Hamas' diplomatic isolation appears to be melting.

... while Iraq continues to be a very violent place, where bombings killed scores yesterday/today, even as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq (a group the Bush administration was kind enough to put there) is arrested.

What's going on at Apple? And who in their right mind would come up with a baby shaking game, anyway?

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posted by JReid @ 9:29 AM  
Friday, April 03, 2009
Quick takes: unemployment, detainees, and the Obamas take Paris!
The March unemployment figures are as dire as you thought they'd be: 663,000 jobs lost, unemployment at 8.5 percent. As per usual, Wall Street could care less. Meanwhile:
Google also rose before the bell, although its gains were limited as Techcrunch, the website, reported the company may be in talks to buy Twitter, the microblogging service that has become the latest online craze. Google’s shares picked up 0.8 per cent to $365.45.
If the Googs make Twitter as bug-free as Blogger, we're all in big trouble...

Overseas, President and Michelle Obama get the full red carpet treatment as they arrive to a rapturous welcome in Paris, where the president held a town hall and promised a less arrogant America. Meanwhile, were Michelle O and Carla Bruni Sarkozy wearing the same dress in different colors??? You be the judge:

Meanwhile his G20 summit performance, and the meet-up in general, are getting high marks for producing substantive proposals on the global financial crisis. President Obama and his wife have the global popularity thing nailed down, and Obama even broke up a fight! The Prez had another win: getting France to agree to taking at least one Gitmo detainee. And wingers won't like that Sarko the American, served up what sounds like a dis to the former U.S. president:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today that his country will accept one prisoner from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay as a way of demonstrating approval of President Obama's decision to close the facility, adding that "it feels really good to work with a U.S. president who wants to change the world."
Even further overseas, Israel's army has banned its soldiers from wearing T-shirts mocking brutality against Palestinians. Reuters reports:

One of the t-shirts has a rifle sight aimed at a pregnant Palestinian with the slogan "1 shot, 2 kills," according to a report last month in the Haaretz newspaper.

A spokesman for the military called the shirts "simply tasteless," and said the armed forces' chief educational officer had instructed commanders to ensure soldiers did not create or wear the items and to discipline those who disobeyed.

Haaretz said soldiers graduating from a snipers' course designed the t-shirts with the gun sight on the pregnant woman and printed them privately. The paper described examples of soldiers in other units printing shirts with their own slogans.

This as some Israelis fear a growing isolation of that country from Europe, and potentially, from the Obama administration. Indeed, when it comes to the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel's new ultra-right wing government is quickly becoming the odd man out, with its new foreign minister, Mr. Lieberman, even pissing off Israel's one sem-friend in the region, Egypt.

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posted by JReid @ 10:22 AM  
Friday, March 13, 2009
The Stewart v. Cramer beat-down: the reviews
The NBC family may not want to deal with it, but the reviews on the Jon Stewart thrashing of Jim Cramer are positively brutal. A sampling:

Jon Stewart uses sports term, then hammers Cramer


Jon Stewart thrashes Jim Cramer


It's true: Jon Stewart has become Edward R. Murrow

Atlantic Online

After Being Eviscerated By Jon Stewart, Cramer Skips Morning Show ...

Think Progress

Brawl Street: Jon Stewart beats Jim Cramer by TKO


Meanwhile the NYT Opinionator blog picks up the back and forth Twittering between Joe Scarborough and the "elites" who don't get that the real point is that Cramer is sad because fellow Democrats are "turning on him..." Whatever, Joe.

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posted by JReid @ 1:49 PM  
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Afternoon roundup: Steele stupid, Utah common sense, and Sully took a pay cut???
A bit of news for your afternoon enjoyment ... or not...

Michael Steele is at it again. The RNC chair (and officially the dumbest man in America,) has issued a threat to any elected Republican who would dare cooperate with President Obama:

Speaking of Senators Arlen Specter, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Steele said that the Senators were likely to face primaries as a result of their vote for the stimulus bill.

Then Steele was asked by Fox’s Neil Cavuto: “Will you, as RNC head, recommend no RNC funds being provided to help them?”

Steele confirmed that he would “talk to the state parties about.” When pressed on whether he was open to it, Steele said: “Oh, yes, I`m always open to everything, baby, absolutely.”

This is obviously about throwing red meat to the base, but it’s pretty interesting, because it sets the RNC up to take a hit from the right if he doesn’t follow through with this.

Whatever you say, baby.

Meanwhile, over in the real world, the governor of Utah declares Washington Republicans irrelevant:

The Republican governor of Utah on Monday said his party is blighted by leaders in Congress whose lack of new ideas renders them so "inconsequential" that he doesn't even bother to talk to them.

"I don't even know the congressional leadership," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. told editors and reporters at The Washington Times, shrugging off questions about top congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "I have not met them. I don't listen or read whatever it is they say because it is inconsequential - completely."


And how's this for crazy: hero pilot Chesley "Sully " Sullenberger testified on the Hill today, and had this to say:

The pilot who safely ditched a jetliner in New York's Hudson River said Tuesday that pay and benefit cuts are driving experienced pilots from careers in the cockpit.

US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger told the House aviation subcommittee that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise "worth pennies on the dollar" from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said.

The reduced compensation has placed "pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation," Sullenberger said. "I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps."

And if they'd kneecap Sully...

Meanwhile, the doctors and nurses treating the Travis the chimp victim are so traumatized by what they witnessed, they now need therapy:

Much of Charla Nash's face was chewed off in the horrific attack, requiring a team of surgeons to operate for seven hours to save her life.

Now, those same surgeons along with other doctors and nurses at Stamford Hospital have a group of outside experts available to them for counseling.

"While Stamford Hospital is a level two trauma center, we typically don't see cases of this magnitude," said hospital spokesman Scott Orstad.

"The hospital felt it was possible that this could have an impact on them, and it may not be something they initially realized in the first 24 hours."

Orstad said counseling sessions were first made available to hospital staff in the day's following the tragedy.

The savagery of the attack on Nash, 55, even left seasoned EMTs stunned.

Stamford EMT Bill Ackley said Nash's head injuries "involved her entire face and scalp" and both of her hands were torn apart.

Nash's eyes were injured, but Ackley would not say how extensively. Her hair had been ripped out.

Still want a pet monkey? Oh wait, think again...


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posted by JReid @ 2:40 PM  
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
In case you missed it: George W. Bush checks out on reality
Summary: George W. Bush wasn't even here when all that "economic collapse" stuff happened, don't look at him if you want to blame somebody for Iraq, he's never sad (sorry poor people, families of dead people and the rest of you suckers,) and boy, Air Force One is cool! Here's part one:

... and part two:

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posted by JReid @ 3:44 PM  
Friday, November 28, 2008
Battle still raging in Mumbai
From the BBC:
Fresh explosions and gunfire have been heard at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace hotel, one of several sites targeted in attacks that have killed at least 130.

Loud blasts have also rocked a Jewish outreach centre where commandos were attempting to free several hostages.

A 29-year-old rabbi and his wife were confirmed as being among five hostages killed inside Nariman House.

India's foreign minister said "elements with links to Pakistan" were involved in the attacks on Mumbai.

That last part is what's scary. It seems that what we're looking at is not what righties will jump to calling al-Qaida terrorism, but rather a continuation of the India-Pakistan problem -- a potential stand-off between two nuclear armed, endlessly entangled countries. To illustrate the point:
The BBC's Pakistan correspondent, Barbara Plett says there is a feeling among senior officials in Islamabad that India has acted too hastily in linking the Mumbai attackers to Pakistan.

In the UK, security officials said they were investigating reports that British citizens of Pakistani origin were involved.

Yikes. More on the possible UK connection from the Independent:
Two gunmen arrested after the Mumbai massacre were of British descent, the country's chief minister said today.

UK authorities played down reports that the terrorists included Britons as violence in the city continued for a third day.

Gordon Brown said there was no mention of any of the terrorists being linked with Britain during a conversation with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He said: "At no point has the Prime Minister of India suggested to me that there is evidence at this stage of any terrorist of British origins but obviously these are huge investigations that are being done and I think it will be premature to draw any conclusions at all.

"We remain steadfast and firm standing with India and all other countries against any form of terrorist activity and we will be vigilant in both helping the Indian authorities and in making sure that in every part of the world we support those who are fighting terrorism."

But Indian Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh claims two British-born Pakistanis were among eight gunmen arrested by Indian authorities, according to Associated Press reports.

And from the Asia Times, a blow by blow account of Mumbai's night of terror:
MUMBAI - The unprecedented night of horror in India's financial capital began at about 9.30 pm for two Germans, Rita and Thomas, part of a Lufthansa in-flight crew finishing dinner at Leopold Cafe in Colaba in south Mumbai.
Mumbai's night of terror
By Raja Murthy

MUMBAI - The unprecedented night of horror in India's financial capital began at about 9.30 pm for two Germans, Rita and Thomas, part of a Lufthansa in-flight crew finishing dinner at Leopold Cafe in Colaba in south Mumbai.

Barely five hours earlier, Asia Times Online published an article ( Closing time for India's Iranian cafes) mentioning the restaurant

as a favorite of Western tourists, and this popularity caused it to be among the first of 12 terrorist targets on Wednesday night that killed more than 80 people and injured nearly 300, and the figures are rising.

Apart from the cafe, groups of militants armed with automatic weapons and grenades burst into luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station, spewing death. As of publication time, many tourists were being held hostage in the Taj Mahal hotel, a 105-year-old landmark, and the five-star Trident Oberoi.

"I saw the terrorist firing his machine gun at people sitting at the next table," Rita said, "and then thought the gun would turn around to me." But the terrorist, in his mid-30s, swung the gun away from her, momentarily distracted by his accomplice waiting in the mezzanine floor and firing randomly at diners.

Her life had been saved in that split second. Police said they had killed four gunmen and arrested nine. A group identifying itself as the Deccan Mujahideen said it was responsible, per emails sent to news organizations. Virtually nothing is known of this group. "Deccan" is an area of India and "Mujahideen" is the plural form of a Muslim participating in jihad. Security officials believe it unlikely an unknown group could carry out such a precise and heavily-armed attack.

It is more likely to be the work of the Indian Mujahideen, an Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for other attacks in India. On Thursday morning, speaking from inside the Oberoi where foreigners are being held hostage, a man identified as Sahadullah told India TV he belonged to an Indian Islamist group seeking to end the persecution of Indian Muslims: "We want all mujahideens held in India released and only after that we will release the people."

No one knows how the terrorists arrived in the city. One theory is that they came from the sea in an explosives-laden boat. But there is no doubt about their agenda.

And the drama continues. And by the way, while you've been watching Mumbai, nobody has noticed that Thailand is also in turmoil, with gunman having stormed the Bangkok airport.

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posted by JReid @ 12:51 PM  
Friday, August 08, 2008
Top 5 people who are glad John Edwards is the top story today
John Edwards' sex life is one of the least interesting stories I can think of off the top of my head. But that doesn't mean that some people out there in the world aren't damned happy he has admitted to cheating on Elizabeth with a blonde filmmaker type lady who has a baby girl that might be his. Let's count them down, in no particular order...

1. John McCain -

McCain dodges a media bullet today (something he's kind of used to at this point) since now that Edwards is the story, no one cares that he has had to return $50,000 in ill-gotten campaign contributions from a Jordanian national who's the business partner of a shady McCain bundler in Florida named Harry Sargeant.

The Post first reported on Sargeant's efforts on behalf of McCain and other political candidates earlier this week. McCain's campaign has credited Sargeant for collecting dozens of $2,300 and $4,600 checks, many of them from ordinary families in California. The manager of several Taco Bell restaurants, an auto mechanic, and the one-time owners of a liquor store all wrote big checks, even though many were not registered to vote.

Sargeant told The New York Times this morning that he at times left the task of collecting the checks to a longtime business partner, Mustafa Abu Naba'a. The problem with that is that Abu Naba'a is not an American citizen. According to court records, Abu Naba'a is a dual citizen of Jordan and the Dominican Republic.

The law on this question appears to be unclear, said Fred Wertheimer, a campaign finance expert who runs the advocacy group, Democracy 21.

"There's probably very little law on this," Wertheimer said. "If it is not illegal for a foreign national to bundle checks, it ought to be, since it's illegal for a foreign national to make contributions in the first place."

2. Barack Obama -

Barack is finally taking some time off this week, taking advantage of the Olympics to head to Hawaii on vacation. Maybe now that Edwards is the story (and he's not available to comment on it today,) he can take some time to reduce his media profile and come out fresh before the campaign. Also, the Edwards problem helps to highlight his happy, stable marriage to Michelle -- and if the media cares to make the connection, the extent to which the other adulterous elephant in the room -- John McCain -- can relate to Senator Edwards, since McCain's current marriage is the product of cheating on his wife, and then dumping her for a Paris Hilton-style heiress with issues. (Flashback article of the day: High Infidelity)

3. China -

The Communist government in Beijing has detained White House reporters and staff, deported foreign protesters, and generally clamped down on its own population (but not the smog ... not much they can do about the smog...) during an Olympics that never should have been awarded to them, given their human rights record. The idiots who made that award are probably also breathing a sigh of relief today that at least until the Edwards fever breaks, no one will care what basic human rights they're violating. Instead, the foreigners will focus on bright, shiny objects like their cool architecture and snazzy technological wonders ... rather than on their police state:

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums, highways and railways -- all in record time. It has razed whole neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks to an "anti-spitting" campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month -- a sort of government-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the games -- Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent bloggers -- hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months. Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one of Beijing's 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

4. Russia -

Hey, have you heard the one about Russia invading former Soviet captive state Georgia? Probably not, thanks to John Edwards' libido. Just in case, here's the story:
On the day the Olympic Games begin to promote unity and healthy competition between nations, Russia and the breakaway state of Georgia have made more brutal and disastrous headlines. It appears that Russia has invaded Georgia after a series of violent exchanges. Before Russia invaded Georgia, Georgia sent troops to the region of South Ossetia, a region that has been demanding independence from Georgia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, Russia sent troops to strike back at Georgia, putting the two on the brink of war.

Russia's invasion of Georgia is the latest climax of a conflict going back to the end of the Soviet Union. Georgia won it's independence as a result, but South Ossetia wanted it's independence from Georgia. South Ossetia has officially been labeled as a Georgia province, but they have sought to break away from the state.

Russia and Georgia have long conflicted over not only South Ossetia, but over Georgia's desire to be part of NATO. Russia has long opposed these efforts, and has also given support to South Ossetia's separatist forces that are fighting Georgia.
And last, but not least:

5. Hillary Clinton -

I'll bet it feels good to send her thoughts and prayers to some other humiliated wife for a change. And now she can finally klatch with someone other than Chelsea.


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posted by JReid @ 4:36 PM  
Monday, July 28, 2008
Vets suicide hotline drew 22,000 callers; veterans respond to McCain
The war at home:

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 22,000 veterans have sought help from a special suicide hot line in its first year, and 1,221 suicides have been averted, the government says.

According to a recent RAND Corp. study, roughly one in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan displays symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, putting them at a higher risk for suicide. Researchers at Portland State University found that male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than men who are not veterans.

This month, a former Army medic, Joseph Dwyer, who was shown in a Military Times photograph running through a battle zone carrying an Iraqi boy, died of an accidental overdose after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder for almost five years.

Janet Kemp, national suicide prevention coordinator for the Veterans Affairs Department, said the hot line is in place to help prevent deaths such as Dwyer's. "We just want them to know there's other options and people do care about them, and we can help them make a difference in their lives," she said in an interview.

The VA teamed up with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to launch the hot line last July after years of criticism that the VA wasn't doing enough to help wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In April, two veterans groups sued the VA, citing long delays for processing applications and other problems in treatment for veterans at risk for suicide. The department has spent $2.9 million on the hot line thus far.

The hot line receives up to 250 calls per day — double the average number calling when it began. Kemp said callers are divided evenly between veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars. Richard McKeon, public health adviser for SAMHSA, said 10 to 20 of the 1,575 calls received each week have to be rerouted to high-volume backup call centers throughout the country.

The VA estimates that every year 6,500 veterans take their own lives. The mental health director for the VA, Ira Katz, said in an e-mail last December that of the 18 veterans who commit suicide each day, four to five of them are under VA care, and 12,000 veterans under VA care are attempting suicide each year.

Meanwhile, the Huffpo has some reactions from members to John McCain's smear campaign against Barack Obama. A sample:

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Senator McCain has yet to clearly define what victory in Iraq looks like for the United States, it is extremely discouraging to hear such divisive rhetoric coming out of what Senator McCain promised would be a campaign "on the issues." During my time as a soldier and now as a civilian, I have never doubted that anyone on either side of the political spectrum has wanted anything less than the complete success for our troops. It is so unfortunate to see Senator McCain adapt the old tactic of baselessly calling a political opponent's patriotism into question as a campaign tool.

Neil Riley
Ashburn, VA
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
2002-03 and 2004-05


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posted by JReid @ 2:50 PM  
OMG: Robert Novak has a brain tumor
The Prince of Darkness has gotten some bad news:
BOSTON (AP) -- Syndicated columnist and former "Crossfire" host Robert Novak has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and is suspending his journalistic work.

Novak issued a statement Monday saying the tumor was found Sunday after he had been rushed to Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital from Cape Cod, where he was visiting his daughter.

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist says he is suspending his journalistic work for an indefinite, "but God willing, not too lengthy period." His statement did not say if the tumor was malignant.

Novak's most recent columns include a prediction that Mitt Romney as a running mate could clinch Michigan for John McCain, and his column today suggesting that McCain could fumble and fumble his way right into the White House if Obama doesn't "close the deal." Well, I could have written that...

Anyway, here's hoping the P.O.D. gets well. Even a man who would out a CIA agent and who hits old guys with his Porsche deserves human sympathy.


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posted by JReid @ 2:01 PM  
Quick take headlines: hacks, red ink and redrum
A Justice Department report confirms that two former underlings of America's worst Attorney General EVER, Alberto Gonzales, broke the law by taking political persuasion into account in JD hiring. The perps: Regent University "Law School" grad Monica Goodling, and fellow traveler D. Kyle Sampson. Alberto wasn't faulted in the report... why? The only remaining question: how quickly does Michael Mukasey announce that he will do nothing?

Meanwhile, how big of a budget deficit will George W. Bush leave to the next president? Try $490 billion:

The next president will inherit a record budget deficit approaching $490 billion, a Bush administration official said Monday.

The official said the deficit was being driven to an all-time high by the sagging economy and the stimulus payments being made to 130 million households in an effort to keep the country from falling into a deep recession. A deficit approaching $490 billion would easily surpass the record deficit of $413 billion set in 2004.

The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because the new estimate had not been formally released. Administration officials were scheduled to do that at a news conference later Monday.

The new figure actually underestimates the deficit, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.

White House press secretary Dana Perino had no comment on the $490 billion figure. But she told reporters that the White House and lawmakers acknowledged months ago that they were going to increase the deficit by approving a short-term boost for the slumping economy.

"Both parties recognized that the deficit would increase, and that that was going to be the price that we pay," Perino said.

The White House had earlier predicted next year's deficit at $407 billion. Figures for the 2008 budget year ending Sept. 30 may also set a record.

When Dubya took office in 2001, the CBO estimated the U.S. had a ten-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion. Bush even trumpeted the surplus in a campaign ad back in 2000:

Bush for President, Inc.

30 sec. TV spot run in NH latter part of Jan. 2000.
Maverick Media

Male Announcer [music]: George W. Bush's tax plan is called an economic agenda worthy of a new president.

The Bush plan reserves $2 trillion of the surplus to protect and strengthen Social Security and pay down the national debt. The rest is dedicated to priorities--education, rebuilding our military, and providing a real tax cut for every taxpayer.

Some Washington politicians say it's better to keep the money in Washington. Governor Bush believes we can meet priorities and still give families back more of what they earn.

Ah, history...

Over to Iraq (a/k/a "Surgistan,") where two apparent female suicide bombers killed more than 50 people and injured some 240 others in Baghdad and Kirkuk. The Guardian puts the death and injured toll even higher, at 55 and 300.


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posted by JReid @ 12:04 PM  
Thursday, July 03, 2008
The Thursday morning blend
Rush Limbaugh signs an eight year, $400 million deal to continue his top-rated radio show. Premiere Radio Networks: Palm Beach County's property tax rolls (and the underground pill trade), thank you.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the pay scale: U.S. employers cut another 62,000 jobs in June, making it six months in a row of job cuts for the Bush economy. And, says the New York Times:

... as job losses mount, even those still on payrolls have felt the pain: employers are cutting hours for their full-time employees and shrinking salaries, just as workers face record-high prices for gasoline and food.

The unemployment rate stayed steady in June at 5.5 percent, the highest level in four years. The elevated figure dispelled speculation among some economists that last month’s half-percentage point jump, the biggest monthly spike in 22 years, was a statistical anomaly.

...In the last 12 months, the economy had seen a net gain of only 15,000 jobs, the lowest net increase since November 2003.

The Hill reports that both the Obama and McCain campaigns are touting plans to turn the bleak employment picture around.
The Democratic presidential candidate promised that he would “restore broad-based, bottom-up growth that benefits all Americans.”

“I will provide working families with a middle-class tax cut; fight for affordable health care and college tuition; work to help raise workers' wages, and invest in infrastructure, education and a clean energy future to create millions of new jobs,” he said.

Sen. John McCain also noted that Americans are feeling the pain of a struggling economy and said that “Washington can no longer abdicate its responsibility to act.”

“To get our economy back on track, we must enact a jobs-first economic plan that supports job creation, provide immediate tax relief for families, enact a plan to help those facing foreclosure, lower healthcare costs, invest in innovation, move toward strategic energy independence and open more foreign markets to our goods,” the Arizona Republican said.

Both sought to paint the other party as responsible for the woes.

But of course! (The San Francisco Chronicle has a story about how some banks are trying to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes.)

Meanwhile, the Hill also reports that McCain says he did indeed get a heads-up on the Colombian Army's FARC raid.
Last night, President Uribe and the defense minister did brief us that the operation was going to take place today,” said McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who was visiting Colombia Wednesday to promote a free trade agreement and to discuss drug trafficking.

“Today, I spoke by phone to President Uribe. He told me some of the details of the dramatic rescue of the people who were held hostage. Three Americans are now free and Ingrid Betancourt is now in good condition,” said McCain. “I’m pleased with the success of this very high-risk operation.”
No word on whether he got wind of the raid from the Bush administration before he planned his trip...

The WaPo, meanwhile, has a story on the Bush administration's shocking and entirely unexpected foreknowledge of a U.S. oil company's plans to do an end-run around the new Iraqi government, by cutting an oil deal with the Kurds:

Bush administration officials told Hunt Oil last summer that they did not object to its efforts to reach an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, even while the State Department was publicly expressing concern that such contracts could undermine a national Iraqi petroleum law, according to documents obtained by a House committee.

Last fall, after the deal was announced, the State Department said that it had tried to dissuade Hunt Oil from signing the contract with Kurdish regional authorities but that the company had proceeded "regardless of our advice." Although Hunt Oil's chief executive has been a major fundraiser for President Bush, the president said he knew nothing about the deal.

Yesterday, however, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released documents and e-mails showing that for nearly four months, State and Commerce department officials knew about Hunt Oil's negotiations and had told company officials that there were no objections. In one note, a Commerce Department official even wished them "a fruitful visit to Kurdistan" and invited them to contact him "in case you need any support."

That guidance contradicted the administration's public posture. The Bush administration made an Iraqi national petroleum law, which has still not been adopted, a top priority last year in the hope it would more tightly bind the country's regions together and open the way for international oil companies to invest in much larger oil fields south of Iraq's Kurdish region. The State Department said, and continues to assert, that it opposes any contract with a regional Iraqi authority in the absence of a national petroleum law.

The Bush administration dabbling in secret oil deals? Say it isn't so!

The Post also has news of hundreds of Zimbabwean opposition members seeking refuge in the U.S. embassy to escape the wrath of monstrous dictator Robert Mugabe's goons.

Meanwhile the Independent UK has a story about how Zimbabwe's political crisis could affect, of all things, cricket.

And the paper reports that Google is being forced by a federal court to disclose viewing data on Youtube, to satisfy a copyright infringement claim by Old Media company Viacom.

A coming Jerusalem "Berlin Wall"? ... The Guardian reports on a possible move to partition Jerusalem's Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, after this week's deadly bulldozer attack.

And the Guardian profile's freed Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, "Colombia's Joan of Arc."

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posted by JReid @ 11:58 AM  
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The morning read

To the New York Times, where we learn one of the places the Pentagon got their ideas for how to torture prisoners:
The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Some methods were used against a small number of prisoners at Guantánamo before 2005, when Congress banned the use of coercion by the military. The C.I.A. is still authorized by President Bush to use a number of secret “alternative” interrogation methods.

Look for the right wing crazysphere to begin calling for the heads of the reporter and New York Times editor shortly...

The Times also reports on a factual error in the recent Supreme Court ruling on executions for child rape. And who uncovered the mistake? Why, your friendly neighborhood milblogger:
When the Supreme Court ruled last week that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, the majority noted that a child rapist could face the ultimate penalty in only six states — not in any of the 30 other states that have the death penalty, and not under the jurisdiction of the federal government either.

This inventory of jurisdictions was a central part of the court’s analysis, the foundation for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s conclusion in his majority opinion that capital punishment for child rape was contrary to the “evolving standards of decency” by which the court judges how the death penalty is applied.

It turns out that Justice Kennedy’s confident assertion about the absence of federal law was wrong.

A military law blog pointed out over the weekend that Congress, in fact, revised the sex crimes section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2006 to add child rape to the military death penalty. The revisions were in the National Defense Authorization Act that year. President Bush signed that bill into law and then, last September, carried the changes forward by issuing Executive Order 13447, which put the provisions into the 2008 edition of the Manual for Courts-Martial.

Anyone in the federal government — or anywhere else, for that matter — who knew about these developments did not tell the court. Not one of the 10 briefs filed in the case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, mentioned it. The Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the federal government in the Supreme Court, did not even file a brief, evidently having concluded that the federal government had no stake in whether Louisiana’s death penalty for child rape was constitutional.

The provision was the subject of a post over the weekend on the blog run by Dwight Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve who now works for the Air Force as a civilian defense lawyer handling death penalty appeals.

Mr. Sullivan was reading the Supreme Court’s decision on a plane and was surprised to see no mention of the military statute. “We’re not talking about ancient history,” he said in an interview. “This happened in 2006.”

His titled his blog post “The Supremes Dis the Military Justice System.”

This morning, CAAFlog takes his bows, as well he should. Good catch!

Over to the Washington Post, where the top story is the deadly upsurge in U.S. combat deaths, with June being the deadliest month for American troops since the war began in late 2001. 

Meanwhile, the Post attempts to do a "gotcha" on Barack Obama, reporting that ... shock of all shocks ...!!! a well-to-do elected official got a great mortgage loan deal! No... NOOOOOOO!!!!!! Memo to the reporterati, most Americans get that borrowers with more money in the bank, better credit, larger down payments, and who are seeking higher loans, get better mortgage deals. The Post reports the Obama discount saved him and his wife a whopping $300 a month. What's that, 1/1000th of the cost of just one out of eight Cindy McCain homes? 

One more: the Post also reports on the double-dilemma faced by some SUV owners:
With $4-a-gallon gas coming between drivers and their very large vehicles, consumers are dropping their once-beloved rides, fast. But not fast enough, it seems. As the price of gas has gone up, the value of sport-utility vehicles has gone down.

In the past six months, the price of a used Chevrolet Suburban has dropped as much as $8,000, said Mike Parker, manager of used-car sales at Lustine Toyota/Dodge in Woodbridge.

For those determined to swap their fuel-thirsty behemoths for gas-sipping subcompacts, the glut increasingly means taking a financial hit. In the worst cases, declining SUV values leave owners owing more money to the bank than their vehicle is worth.

The question they face is: Which is worse for the wallet -- the cost of gas or the money lost selling the vehicle?

The Moonie paper has a swanky new, pimped out website, and their big stories today: a bulldozer vs. bus attack in Jerusalem, and a report that the Clinton campaign has scrubbed all the anti-Obama stuff from Hillary's web-site. No! Really?

Over to the left coast, where the L.A. Times' Greg Miller reports that the U.S. is so confident in the Iraqi Army we're training, we spy on them.
WASHINGTON -- Caught off guard by recent Iraqi military operations, the United States is using spy satellites that ordinarily are trained on adversaries to monitor the movements of the American-backed Iraqi army, current and former U.S. officials say.

The stepped-up surveillance reflects breakdowns in trust and coordination between the two forces. Officials said it was part of an expanded intelligence effort launched after American commanders were surprised by the timing of the Iraqi army's violent push into Basra three months ago.

The use of the satellites puts the United States in the unusual position of employing some of its most sophisticated espionage technology to track an allied army that American forces helped create, continue to advise, and often fight alongside.

The satellites are "imaging military installations that the Iraqi army occupies," said a former U.S. military official, who said slides from the images had been used in recent closed briefings at U.S. facilities in the Middle East. "They're imaging training areas that the Iraqi army utilizes. They're imaging roads that Iraqi armored vehicles and large convoys transit."

Military officials and experts said the move showed concern by U.S. commanders about whether their Iraqi counterparts would follow U.S. guidance or keep their coalition partners fully informed.

"It suggests that we don't have complete confidence in their chain of command, or in their willingness to tell us what they're going to do because they may fear that we may try to get them not to do it," said John Pike, director of, a website about intelligence and military issues.

And in a story that's sure to get a lot of play on cable news today, the LAT has scored video of staffers at ironically named Martin Luther King Hospital literally ignoring a patient to death.:
Edith Isabel Rodriguez writhed for 45 minutes on the floor of the emergency room lobby at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital as staffers walked past and a janitor mopped around her. Her boyfriend called 911 from a pay phone outside the hospital, pleading futilely for help.
The infamous incident in May 2007 was captured by a security camera, but the tape was actually seen by very few people. Los Angeles County has insisted for more than a year that the tape is "confidential, official information," refusing to release it to Rodriguez's family or to The Times.

This week, however, excerpts of the grainy video were sent anonymously to the newspaper and are available on The Times' website.

The public airing of the tape comes the same week as an eerily similar -- but much clearer -- surveillance tape was released showing a woman collapsing and writhing on the floor of a Brooklyn, N.Y., hospital's waiting room last month. She lay there more than an hour, as patients and security guards looked on.

According to published reports, Esmin Green had been waiting in the psychiatric emergency room of Kings County Hospital for nearly 24 hours when she fell from her seat June 19. An hour and three minutes later, a staffer who had been alerted by someone in the waiting room went up to Green, tapped her with her foot and tried to awaken her.

Finally, the Guardian reports that the opposition in Zimbabwe is in no mood for talks with Mugabe.

And the Guardian reports on a BBC radio execs take on the media's pornographic coverae of Amy Winehouse, which the exec said has contributed to her troubles. Hear hear.


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posted by JReid @ 9:17 AM  
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Mugabe's 'victory,' Africa's shame
Robert Mugabe was received as a hero this week by fellow African leaders following his blunt-force victory in a no-contest poll in Zimbabwe, where he remains dictator. The venue was the African summit, where the heads of the continent's 53 nations gathered just after Zimbabwe's phony elections. Many of the African "presidents" share Mugabe's methods, so I guess they do really understand him:

President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who has held power for 41 years and won a series of widely criticised elections, gave his public backing for Mr Mugabe as leaders met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"He was elected, he took an oath, and he is here with us, so he is President and we cannot ask him more," said Mr Bongo. "He conducted elections and I think he won."

Mr Bongo added that African leaders would not allow Western governments to dictate their view of Zimbabwe. "We have even received Mugabe as a hero," he said. "We understand the attacks but this is not the way they should react. What they've done is, in our opinion, a little clumsy, and we think they could have consulted us first."

But the real shame is that the few real democrats (small d) in Africa, like South Africa's Thabo Mbeke, couldn't find the strength to do much more than complain:

Mr Mugabe has faced fierce criticism from his fellow Africans. The AU's election observers ruled that Zimbabwe's presidential contest did not meet democratic "standards", the first time they have ever denounced an African poll.

Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister, urged the AU to respond by taking punitive steps against Mr Mugabe. "They should suspend him and send peace forces to Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections," he said.

While many are deeply unhappy about Zimbabwe's crisis, African leaders are unlikely to snub Mr Mugabe or pass judgement on his country's crisis at this summit. Instead, they will probably confine themselves to urging Mr Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to negotiate.

South Africa's foreign ministry said that talks on the creation of a "transitional government" to cope with Zimbabwe's "challenges" were needed.

The private frustrations that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has felt towards Zimbabwe's regime have now emerged. In 2001, he wrote a 37-page "discussion document" for Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party setting out a series of stark warnings and recommendations.

"Of critical importance is the obvious necessity to ensure that Zimbabwe does not end up in a situation of isolation, confronted by an array of international forces she cannot defeat, condemned to sink into an ever-deepening social and economic crisis," wrote Mr Mbeki.

The British have taken to targeting Mbeki for criticism, (they're not alone. In early June, a pre-election article in the New Yorker called Mbeki:
... a lame-duck President, required to step down next year, and he has lost control of the A.N.C. party apparatus to his chief rival, Jacob Zuma. But his coddling of Mugabe has made him complicit in Zimbabwe’s devastation. So perhaps there is some justice in the fact that the Zimbabwean crisis he denies threatens to become the defining crisis of his Presidency. After all, the recent mayhem in South Africa only serves Mugabe, creating a distraction as he bleeds Zimbabwe in the final stretch of the election, with forebodings of greater slaughter hanging over the outcome. ...
... though to be fair, the Brits don't do much themselves beyond complain, for fear of looking like the colonial power trying to butt back in. Nor has the United Nations been much help (surprise, surprise...) And the Bush administration? Put it this way: like the late Saddam Hussein, Mugabe is a thug, who holds pretend elections and terrifies his own people into knuckling under (his militias burned a political opponent's wife alive this election cycle.) Unlike Saddam, he has no oil that Bush and Cheney's friends in the Industry want to exploit for their own gain...

So far, the African leader most willing to stand up to Mugabe has been Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, who has called for Zimbabwe's suspension from the AU:
Earlier, Odinga broke ranks with other Africa leaders following Mugabe's widely discredited re-election as the Zimbabwean president.

Speaking from Nairobi, he said: "The African Union should not accept or entertain Mugabe.

"He should be suspended until he allows the African Union to facilitate free and fair elections between him and his opponent."

Yesterday, Odinga called for AU peacekeepers to be sent to Zimbabwe and the UN urged the union to negotiate a political settlement.

But Odinga is largely alone, and few other African nations have the strength or stability to challenge the status quo. And with South Africa being the strongest country, economically and politically, in sub-Saharan Africa, it will continue to bear the brunt of criticism for Africa's collective inaction. That same New Yorker article, written by Philip Gourevich, concluded:
To watch the intertwined agonies of South Africa and Zimbabwe today is to see what Frantz Fanon meant when he wrote, in “The Wretched of the Earth,” that “the last battle of the colonized against the colonizer will often be the fight of the colonized against each other.” Mbeki and Mugabe belong to a generation of liberation fighters who seem incapable of seeing the world through any lens beyond that of anti-colonial struggle, and who invoke their revolutionary bona fides as immunity against all political criticism and all challengers. Their time has passed.
Pity no one has told the dictators.

Meanwhile, back at the AU summit, Mugabe tells his critics to "go hang."


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posted by JReid @ 10:52 AM  
Monday, June 30, 2008
The morning read, insomniac edition
Robert Mugabe retains power, dodges the Hague ... plus other morning news

Swiftboat veterans seek to reclaim the dignity of the name from the sleazeballs who attacked John Kerry's service in Vietnam in 2004. Meanwhile, T. Boone Pickens is a phony and a liar, just like the attack group he funded...

In the New York Times: Surprise! The Bush administration "advised" the Iraqi government on contract deals with five major wester oil companies:
A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say.

The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts’ announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism.

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

And why would they do such a thing?

Though enriched by high prices, the companies are starved for new oil fields. The United States government, too, has eagerly encouraged investment anywhere in the world that could provide new oil to alleviate the exceptionally tight global supply, which is a cause of high prices.

Iraq is particularly attractive in that light, because in addition to its vast reserves, it has the potential to bring new sources of oil onto the market relatively cheaply.

As sabotage on oil export pipelines has declined with improved security, this potential is closer to being realized. American military officials say the pipelines now have excess capacity, waiting for output to increase at the fields.

Ah yes, the oil. The oil!

“We pretend it is not a centerpiece of our motivation, yet we keep confirming that it is,” Frederick D. Barton, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “And we undermine our own veracity by citing issues like sovereignty, when we have our hands right in the middle of it.”
And the story wouldn't be complete without a completely contradictory comment from Condi Rice:
Criticism like that has prompted objections by the Bush administration and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who say the deals are purely commercial matters. Ms. Rice, speaking on Fox News this month, said: “The United States government has stayed out of the matter of awarding the Iraq oil contracts. It’s a private sector matter.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a wrenching, first-person account of treating PTSD among our troops returning from the dual war zones.
The soldier from Ohio studied the wall carefully. It was amazing, he said, how much the layout of those picture frames resembled the layout of the street in Tikrit that was seared in his memory; the similarity had leapt out at him the first time he came in for a session. He traced the linear space between the frames, showing me where his Humvee had turned and traveled down the block, and where the two Iraqi men had been standing, close -- too close -- to the road.

"I knew immediately something was wrong," he said. The explosion threw him out of the vehicle, with his comrades trapped inside, screaming. Lying on the ground, he returned fire until he drove off the insurgents. His fellow soldiers survived, but nearly four years later, their screams still haunted him. "I couldn't go to them," he told me, overwhelmed with guilt and imagined failure. "I couldn't help them."

That soldier from Ohio is one of the nearly 40,000 U.S. troops diagnosed by the military with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007; the number of diagnoses increased nearly 50 percent in 2007 over the previous year, the military said this spring. I saw a number of soldiers with war trauma while working as a psychologist for the U.S. Army. In 2006, I went to Fort Dix as a civilian contractor to treat soldiers on their way to and return from those wars. I was drawn by the immediacy of the work and the opportunity to make a difference. What the raw numbers on war trauma can't show is what I saw every day in my office: the individual stories of men and women who have sustained emotional trauma as well as physical injury, people who are still fighting an arduous postwar battle to heal, to understand a mysterious psychological condition and re-enter civilian life. As I think about the soldiers who will be rotating back home from Iraq this summer as part of the "pause" in the "surge," as well as those who will stay behind, I remember some of the people I met on their long journey back from the war. ...

Also in the WaPo, would-be gunslingers line up in D.C. ...

"We've had a lot of people inquiring," Metta said. "What's happening now is a huge history maker."

He said his best-selling handguns are Glocks, Berettas and Rugers, which cost $350 to $700. People usually say they want them for self-defense, or sometimes as collector's items, he said.

...or just to generally, you know, blow someone away...

On the lighter side, the San Francisco Chronicle does an episode of "all the candiates' wives."

So now we know: Michelle Obama shops at Target, hates pantyhose ("painful") and made the "fist pump" cool.

And Cindy McCain does lots of under-the-radar charity work, favors Oscar de la Renta and has a credit card bill that's been somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 this year.

But rest assured, America: With a major female presidential candidate no longer in the running, there's plenty more we'll learn about the stylistic, literary, grooming and culinary penchants of the two women who aspire to be first lady of the United States.

In the Financial Times, John McCain gets the cold shoulder from workers at a GM plant in Ohio:

Three hours after John McCain’s campaign bus left General Motors’ plant in Lordstown, Ohio, workers started streaming in and out of the factory’s gates for the mid-afternoon shift change.

Only a fraction had caught a glimpse of the Republican presidential candidate when he toured the production line and still fewer attended the meeting he held in an adjacent conference room. “Management invited him,” said 38-year-old Tim Niles. “It had nothing to do with us. We’re with Obama.”

Mr Niles, a white, working-class Democrat who wears a “Bubba’s Army” T-shirt, is exactly the kind of voter Mr McCain was courting on his trip to northern Ohio on Friday. On the day Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton staged their first joint rally, Mr McCain was trying to undermine their reconciliation by wooing Mrs Clinton’s blue-collar base.

His efforts appeared wasted on many. “We’re a working-class factory,” said 49-year-old Greg George. “McCain calls himself moderate, but his party has been a disaster for working people over the past eight years.”

And the U.S. warns that Mexico's battle against powerful drug cartels is threatening to escalate into a crippling, all-out war.

Over at the Guardian, the thoroughly discredited dictator Robert Mugabe is sworn in after an election in Zimbabwe in which people were forcibly marched to the polls, where the results were sealed through intimidation, and in which the opposition was threatened, attacked, and forced to quit the election and flee for his life.

Meanwhile, reports the Independent, the world rises in revulsion, as Mugabe rushes to form a coalition government with the opposition he just terrorized, his fears of winding up in the Hague temporarily quelled by the phony election.


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posted by JReid @ 12:39 AM  
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sunday best
My four must-reads for today:

Sy Hersh has a new article about the Bush administration's stepped-up covert operations against Iran:

L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

The Washington Post takes a fascinating look at the economic up-trends and down-trends for two states; Virginia and West Virginia, and plumbs the ramifications for Democrats and Republicans:

... "Democratic areas are sopping up people with BA degrees; Republican areas are sopping up white people without degrees. Church membership is declining in Democratic areas and increasing in red counties," said Bill Bishop, author of "The Big Sort." "There are all these things telling people they should be around people like themselves. And every four years, this has political consequences."

Overall, the most wealthy are still more likely to vote for GOP candidates, particularly in red states, where it is the rich, not the working class, who are most reliably Republican. The split is more evident in education and vocation, with professionals and voters with post-graduate degrees trending Democratic.

But in general, where economic dynamism is concentrated, Democrats are gaining. Bishop found that Gore and Kerry did much better in the 21 metro areas that produced the most new patents than in less tech-oriented cities. Virginia Tech demographer Robert E. Lang found that Kerry did better in the 20 metro areas most linked to the global economy -- based on business networks, shipping and airport activity -- than in metro areas as a whole.

Thomas Franks' next book could well be called, "What's the matter with West Virginia..." Also, Frank Rich of the New York Times, wonders who really would benefit if a terror attack were to occur before the election, starting with a deconstruction of McCain's top strategist, Charlie "a terror attack would help us out" Black:
In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign’s perspective, for this terrorist attack — before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it “help” if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?
Rich goes on to critique the "terror = M-c-win" strategery of Karl Rove, saying that should the unthinkable occur:
... voters might take a hard look at the antiterrorism warriors of the McCain campaign (and of a potential McCain administration). This is the band of advisers and surrogates that surfaced to attack Mr. Obama two weeks ago for being “naïve” and “delusional” and guilty of a “Sept. 10th mind-set” after he had the gall to agree with the Supreme Court decision on Gitmo detainees. The McCain team’s track record is hardly sterling. It might make America more vulnerable to terrorist attack, not less, were it in power.

Take — please! — the McCain foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. He was the executive director of the so-called Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, formed in 2002 (with Mr. McCain on board) to gin up the war that diverted American resources from fighting those who attacked us on 9/11 to invading a nation that did not. Thanks to that strategic blunder, a 2008 Qaeda attack could well originate from Pakistan or Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden’s progeny, liberated by our liberation of Iraq, have been regrouping ever since. On Friday the Pentagon declared that the Taliban has once more “coalesced into a resilient insurgency.” Attacks in eastern Afghanistan are up 40 percent from this time last year, according to the American commander of NATO forces in the region.

Another dubious McCain terror expert is the former C.I.A. director James Woolsey. He (like Charles Black) was a cheerleader for Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi leader who helped promote phony Iraqi W.M.D. intelligence in 2002 and who is persona non grata to American officials in Iraq today because of his ties to Iran. Mr. Woolsey, who accuses Mr. Obama of harboring “extremely dangerous” views on terrorism, has demonstrated his own expertise by supporting crackpot theories linking Iraq to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On 9/11 and 9/12 he circulated on the three major networks to float the idea that Saddam rather than bin Laden might have ordered the attacks.

Then there is the McCain camp’s star fearmonger, Rudy Giuliani, who has lately taken to railing about Mr. Obama’s supposed failure to learn the lessons of the first twin towers bombing. The lesson America’s Mayor took away from that 1993 attack was to insist that New York City’s emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center. No less an authority than John Lehman, a 9/11 commission member who also serves on the McCain team, has mocked New York’s pre-9/11 emergency plans as “not worthy of the Boy Scouts.”

If there’s another 9/11, it’s hard to argue that this gang could have prevented it.
"The company you keep" will be a theme this year, and not just for Barack Obama... Back at the WaPo, an article that breaks no news, but which states an obvious conclusion that will have major implications for the campaign: a McCain win could push the Supreme Court to the right. Say it isn't so!


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posted by JReid @ 4:39 PM  
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The morning read
Good morning, North Korea! So what's in the papers?

The Axis of Evil is down to one member this morning, as George W. Bush rushes North Korea out the door (more on that in this post.)

Also in the Post, something for the bitter gun clingers: the Supreme Court will rule on the D.C. gun ban today. (Politico's Ben Smith says the Obama camp is bracing for the ruling, too, and getting their politics in order.)

On the Hill, a GOP Senator holds up housing reform, demanding that Democrats put more money into renewable energy! ... is it just me, or is that kind of counterintuitive... this guy must be in one hell of a tight re-election race...

And the paper covers the White House's attempts to silence the EPA on automobile emissions. The Post is a couple of days behind the New York Times, which on Monday covered the case of the unopened email.

Staying with the Times, when it comes to unity talks, it's just Barack, Hillary and their lawyers...

The Times also covers the Supco, with the editorial board mounted a defense for yesterday's death penalty/child rape ruling, and the news side covering the SupCo's decision to slash the damage awards in the Exxon Valdez case.

On a local level, the Times reports that officials in the Bronx are looking to have every single citizen tested for H.I.V.

The Los Angeles Times reveals more bad news for the GOP from its poll with Bloomberg. According to the poll, 75% of Americans blame President Bush for the lousy economic times:
Nine percent of respondents said the country's economic condition had improved since Bush became president, compared with 75% who said conditions had worsened. Among Republicans, 42% said the country was worse off, while 26% said it was about the same, and 22% thought economic conditions had improved.

Phillip Thies, a registered Republican and clothing-store owner in Cedar, Mich., who was one of those polled, said the president was doing an able job through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but "right after that, it was steadily, steadily downhill."

"There has been a lack of leadership and a lack of timeliness of leadership, of not being conscious of the magnitude of the problems," Thies said of Bush in a follow-up interview. "He's always a day late and a dollar short."

And McCain wants to continue Bush's policies? Not smart, John. Not smart.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has a sort of pathetic story about President Bush and his McCain-sized crowd of 300 fans, who helped him raise a whopping $500,000 for Republican candidates -- a lot of money, to be sure, but rather puny for a sitting president, don't you think?

And leave it to the Miami Herald to come up with a story that tracks the nexxus of anthrax, the National Enquirer, and Elvis.

Across the pond, the Guardian reports on Nelson Mandela's criticism of Mugabe (Bill Clinton is in the U.K. attending Mandela's birthday party...) and Mugabe's push-back. And if you think race relations are sticky here in the U.S., check out this story about a BBC executive's big complaint: "too many black faces on TV." Seriously.

And the Independent doesn't disappoint with three intriguing stories on its website:

First, the U.S. isn't the only place where the defense industry has invaded government. In the UK, the paper tells of the arms dealer who used what amounts to a ringer, to gain access to MPs.

The paper also reports on Palestine's richest man, and his drive to see a state for his people before he dies.

And last, but not least, the perils of affirmative action, UK style.

Okay, before I go, here's a quick round of "questions I personally don't need the answer to, but will have to endure hearing on cable news":

1. Is Bill Clinton still mad at Barack Obama?
2. Why did Don Imus say something inflammatory again?
3. Will the netroots stay mad at Barack? (The answer is either "no," or "yes, but they'll vote for him in huge numbers anyway.")


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posted by JReid @ 8:48 AM  
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The morning read
Lots going on this morning, starting with a blast from the values voter past:

From ABC News, a pastor who defended Barack Obama yesterday against James Dobson's "fruitcake" tirade says he will press the candidate to insert an abortion-reduction plank into the Democratic Party platform headed for Denver. Says the Rev. Jim Wallis:
"Taking abortion seriously as a moral issue would help Democrats a great deal with a constituency that is already leaning in their direction on poverty and the environment," said Wallis. "There are literally millions of votes at stake."
He's right, and it's probably a very good idea.

Also on ABC, an exclusive report about still more funny money coming out of the Bush administration, this time of the "faith-based" kind...
A former top official in the White House's faith-based office was awarded a lucrative Department of Justice grant under pressure from two senior Bush administration appointees, according to current and former DOJ staff members and a review of internal DOJ documents and emails.

The $1.2 million grant was jointly awarded to a consulting firm run by Lisa Trevino Cummins who previously headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and a California evangelical group, Victory Outreach.

The grant was awarded over the strong objections of career DOJ staff who did not believe that Victory Outreach was qualified for the grant and that too great an amount of the funds was going to Cummins' consulting company instead of being spent on services for children.

Cummins' company, Urban Strategies LLC, was slated to get one third of the money for helping the self-described "evangelizing" Victory Outreach use the rest of the funds.
The investigation is part of a DOJ probe into "irregular contracting practices" within its ranks.

And speaking of "irregular," what does it take to get an internship or entry level job in the Bush Justice Department? Good, solid right wing credentials, apparently. From the Seattle Times:
Justice Department officials illegally used "political or ideological" factors in elite recruiting programs in recent years, tapping law-school graduates with conservative credentials over more qualified candidates with liberal-sounding résumés, an internal report found Tuesday.

The report, prepared by the Justice Department's own inspector general and its ethics office, tells how senior department screeners weeded out candidates for career positions whom they considered "leftists," using Internet search engines to look for incriminating information or evidence of possible liberal bias.

One rejected candidate from Harvard Law School worked for Planned Parenthood. Another wrote opinion pieces critical of the USA Patriot Act and the nomination of Samuel Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. A third applicant worked for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and posted an unflattering cartoon of President Bush on his MySpace page.

The report is the first to come after the department's controversial 2006 firings of nine U.S. attorneys, including Seattle's John McKay.

Investigators are also looking into whether those firings were prompted by partisan political reasons, whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his aides misled Congress, and whether civil-rights and voting-rights cases were politicized. Those studies could be issued soon, according to lawyers following the issues.

Tuesday's report singled out Michael Elston, the former chief of staff to former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, and Esther McDonald, a former department lawyer, as violating anti-discrimination and hiring laws.

While Inspector General Glenn Fine said he wasn't able to prove officials intentionally singled out applicants, he said his investigators had found enough of a pattern to indicate that political or ideological affiliations were being weighed in 2002 and 2006. As a result of actions by Elston and McDonald in 2006, "many qualified candidates" were weeded out, he said. Fine concluded that the pair had committed misconduct, but he didn't find any violation of criminal law. Attorneys for Elston and McDonald didn't immediately return calls requesting comment. Both resigned last year.
As Johnathan Turley pointed out last night on "Countdown," this is an unheard of practice, and is sending chills through Washington's legal community. He also says that Ms. McDonald may find it difficult to find a job that has any relationship to law, since the Gonzales-era politicking has even offended conservative attorneys.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has a story about pushy evangelizing at America's military academies.
In interviews at West Point, seven cadets, two officers and a former chaplain said that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, was a constant at the academy. They said that until recently, cadets who did not attend religious services during basic training were sometimes referred to as “heathens.” They said mandatory banquets begin with prayer, including a reading from the Bible at a recent gala.

But most of their complaints center on Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, until recently the academy’s top military leader and, since early May, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The cadets and staff said General Caslen, as commandant of cadets at West Point, routinely brought up God in speeches at events cadets were required to attend.
Also in the Times, Congress nears a deal on a sweeping overhaul of the broken mortgage industry:
The centerpiece of the Senate package is a rescue-refinancing plan aimed at stemming the tide of more than 8,000 new foreclosures a day that lenders are filing across the country. The plan would allow distressed borrowers and their lenders to stem losses by allowing qualified owners to refinance into more affordable, 30-year fixed-rate loans with a federal guarantee.

The legislation would also provide benefits for first-time buyers, who would receive a refundable tax credit of up to $8,000, or 10 percent of the value of a home, on purchases of unoccupied housing.

As part of a regulatory overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants, the bill would permanently increase to $625,000, from $417,000, the limit on loans they can purchase from lenders in expensive housing markets, making it easier for borrowers to obtain mortgages at discounted rates. Despite a presidential veto threat, the package received overwhelming bipartisan support, clearing by 83 to 9 a crucial procedural vote in the Senate on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, over at the Wall Street Journal, lawsuits! One involving an anti-trust case that will reap big payments to American Express, (go back to the NY Times to read more, without paying for a WSJ subscription,) and the other, a planned investigation and lawsuit by the Illinois attorney general's office, against notorious mortgage lender Countrywide.
In a draft of the complaint, Illinois alleges that the company engaged in "unfair and deceptive practices" in the sale of mortgage loans. The 78-page document says the company loosened its underwriting standards, structured loans with "risky features" and engaged in "marketing and sales techniques" that incentivized employees and mortgage brokers to push loans whether or not homeowners had the ability to repay them.

The complaint says the company's actions were driven by its desire to boost market share and to satisfy Wall Street's appetite for mortgage securities. "Investor demand and secondary market valuation...became the primary concern when determining what kinds of loans to market and sell and at what price, rather than the consumers' ability to repay the loans," said the complaint.
And the Washington Post indulges its McCain crush with a story about his "plan for greener government." (Does that include bathing Florida and California beaches with sweet, wonderful oil slick?)


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posted by JReid @ 9:06 AM  
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The morning read
The Associated Press reports that Dr. James Dobson is bringing down the wrath of ... Dobson ... on Barack Obama today on his radio show, accusing Obama of "distorting scripture." Wait for it. This one's all about abortion... But first, Dobson, in a pre-taped 18-minute sermon for which Focus on the Family's PAC bought time, attacks a speech Obama gave in 2006 before a liberal Christian group, Call to Renewal:
"Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?" Obama said. "Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" referring to the civil rights leader.
Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which Biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."
"Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," Obama said.
Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament.
"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said.
"... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."
Then, he gets down to business:
Dobson reserved some of his harshest criticism for Obama's argument that the religiously motivated must frame debates over issues like abortion not just in their own religion's terms but in arguments accessible to all people. He said Obama, who supports abortion rights, is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

"Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?" Dobson said. "What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."
Meanwhile, over to the Denver Post, where a new Pew survey suggests that while most Americans believe in God, most do NOT believe in Dr. James Dobson ...
Most of the faithful, 70 percent, think there are paths to eternal life other than the one prescribed by their own religion. And 68 percent think there is "more than one true way" to interpret the teachings of their religion.

"That's higher than I would have intuitively thought," said Jacob Kinnard, an associate professor at the University of Denver's Iliff School of Theology. "But this has been a pluralistic country for a long time. People are much more exposed to religions other than their own."

Only Mormons (57 percent) and Jehovah's Witnesses (80 percent) have majorities who say that only their religion is the "one true faith leading to eternal life," the survey found.

About 57 percent of Evangelical Protestants and 56 percent of Muslims think many religions can lead to eternal salvation — a view also held by 89 percent of Hindus, 83 percent of mainline Protestants, 82 percent of Jews and 79 percent of Catholics.
"One of the things that would be surprising to Americans is how Muslims answered," said Kinnard, referring to the fact that more than half of Muslims surveyed think many religions can lead to eternal salvation.
Sorry, Dr. Dobson.

The cable chat shows will be focusing on a New York Times story today about Muslim-Americans feeling snubbed by Obama. Congressman Keith Ellison is quoted in the story as saying that he too, got the cold shoulder from the Obama campaign. Ironically, the same cable shows that will harp on this story today have been central to whipping up Americans' anti-Muslim hysteria, "war on terror" mythology, and even questions about Obama's faith. As Chuck Todd just said on MSNBC, apparently paraphrasing Mike Barnacle, imagine how the mainstream media would erupt if Obama did visit a mosque. Just close your eyes and imagine the Fox News coverage alone...

Also in the Times, Zimbabwe continues to ride the handbasket to hell, with the opposition candidate for president taking refuge in the Dutch embassy, and the U.N. doing what it does: calling for all parties to stop the violence. Thanks, Ban Ki Moon.

And the Times also has this interesting piece of news:
WASHINGTON — An American ambassador helped cover up the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition that a Pentagon contractor bought to supply Afghan security forces, according to testimony gathered by Congressional investigators.

A military attaché has told the investigators that the United States ambassador to Albania endorsed a plan by the Albanian defense minister to hide several boxes of Chinese ammunition from a visiting reporter. The ammunition was being repackaged to disguise its origins and shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by a Miami Beach arms-dealing company.

The ambassador, John L. Withers II, met with the defense minister, Fatmir Mediu, hours before a reporter for The New York Times was to visit the American contractor’s operations in Tirana, the Albanian capital, according to the testimony. The company, under an Army contract, bought the ammunition to supply Afghan security forces although American law prohibits trading in Chinese arms.

The attaché, Maj. Larry D. Harrison II of the Army, was one of the aides attending the late-night meeting, on Nov. 19, 2007. He told House investigators that Mr. Mediu asked Ambassador Withers for help, saying he was concerned that the reporter would reveal that he had been accused of profiting from selling arms. The minister said that because he had gone out of his way to help the United States, a close ally, “the U.S. owed him something,” according to Major Harrison.

Mr. Mediu ordered the commanding general of Albania’s armed forces to remove all boxes of Chinese ammunition from a site the reporter was to visit, and “the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing,” Major Harrison said, according to his testimony.

Investigators interviewed Major Harrison by telephone on June 9, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made excerpts of the transcript public on Monday.

At the time of the meeting, the company, AEY Inc., was under investigation for illegal arms trafficking involving Chinese ammunition.
AEY is an interesting company. It's CEO is just 22 years old. The leg work on the case was done by the great Henry Waxman, who "invited" the young CEO to testify before the House Government Oversight Committee back in April. (Little Efraim Diveroli's Army contract was suspended a month before the hearings.) So how does a 22-year-old get a $300 million defense contract? His dad:
AEY Inc. was founded in 1999 by Michael Diveroli, Efram's father. Michael Diveroli now operates a police supply company down the street from AEY's office.
More on Little Efraim, and his interesting history (and rap sheet) from TPM Muckraker back in March. Apparently, Michael has a new company now, Worldwide Tactical, which sells police and military uniforms, and which is registered with the federal government as "minority owned..." Apparently, the father is continuing the practices of his "former" company, falsely labeling his companies as "small disadvantaged businesses" to gain more contracting opportunities.

Over to the Washington Post, where the paper's top story online is the four Americans killed in a Sadr City explosion in Iraq.
A bombing inside a local government office in Baghdad killed two American soldiers and two civilians on Tuesday, the second attack in a week that the U.S. military has blamed on rogue Shiite "special groups" linked to Iran.

The blast, inside a district council office in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, also killed six Iraqis and wounded ten others, according to preliminary reports.

In an initial news release, U.S. officials did not provide details about the two civilians who were killed. The Reuters and Associated Press news agencies, attributing the information to an official at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, said that one of the civilians worked for the State Department and the other for the Defense Department.

They were attending a meeting of the local District Advisory Council in a section of Sadr City that was brought under U.S. and Iraqi military control after sometimes intense fighting earlier this year. The councils are part of a U.S. campaign to build the authority of local government throughout the country, an effort that has accelerated in other parts of Iraq as violence has ebbed.
The Bush administration's reaction should set at least some of your hair on fire, because they appear to be systematically laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran, which they hope to be able to label as "retaliation":
The release also made clear who the U.S. feels is responsible -- one of the Iranian-backed Shiite "special groups" that some officials consider a significant long term threat to Iraq's stability.
Except that Iran and Iraq are now friendlier than they have ever been, and friendlier than either country is with us...

The WaPo also reports on the upcoming meeting in Unity, New Hampshire between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and on Obama's moves to court women voters (whom he's already winning in most polls, but no matter! The story must go on!)

The Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis reports on Barack's tack to the center, which is irritating some left-leaning groups, like Could such a fight help Obama in the swing states? Writes Davis:
The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conducted in early June, showed that 58% of voters perceive Sen. Obama as a liberal and 24% view him as a moderate. In contrast, 34% view Sen. McCain as a moderate and 48% see him as a conservative.

To be sure, the predominant view among party leaders is that a turn toward the center is smart politics, and that Sen. Obama's willingness to buck the left wing on issues such as the spy bill signals he is maneuvering to fight Sen. McCain directly for voters in the middle of the political spectrum.

"I applaud it," a senior Democratic lawmaker said. "By standing up to and the ACLU, he's showing, I think, maybe the first example of demonstrating his ability to move to the center. He's got to make the center comfortable with him. He can't win if the center isn't comfortable."


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posted by JReid @ 8:22 AM  
Monday, June 23, 2008
The morning papers
Trying out a new feature for the blog, which will make morning blogging more efficient on my end, and hopefully provide a jumpstart to your morning read. Enjoy!

This morning...

The New York Times hits Barack Obama with a story about Obama advisers Tom Daschle and Jason Grumet's ethanol ties (forecast: Obama favors subsidies, wins Iowa in November. All politics is "economically local"...) On this one, I think McCain may be right about one thing: the U.S. should stop tariffing sugar ethanol out of the market. It's cheaper, produces more energy, and in Brazil at least, it's working ... Still, Obama is probably right on the politics, as this statement from the campaign makes clear:
“It does not serve our national and economic security to replace imported oil with Brazilian ethanol,” he argued.
It's the domestic production and jobs, stupid, though once he's in office, hopefully Obama will broaden his view. Sugarcane ethanol imports could not only help Brazil, it could be a lifeline for another country where sugar grows: Haiti.

Also in the Times: the Border Partrol is looking for a few good (black) men ... and George Carlin is dead at age 71.

The Washington Post follows up last night's damning "60 Minutes" piece on America's Middle East TV network, al-Hurra, one of many disastrous Bush administration attempts to "win the hearts and minds" of Muslims around the world.

Also in the Post, Obama seeks to close the Phil Gramm/Enron loophole, and while the rest of the nation squeals in pain, Houston laps up the benefits of $4.10 a gallon gas. But the story the cable chatters will probably spend most of their time on today will be yet another Obama reinvention story, this time by Dan Balz and Ann Kornblut.

The Miami Herald runs down this weekends U.S. Conference of Mayors summit, which featured two major ships passing in the night: Barack Obama on Saturday and Bill Clinton on Sunday. Clinton was mum on the election, but he did talk up the benefits of growing green.

The Boston Globe reports on John McCain's $300 million prize for whoever can build a better car battery. One question: where in the world are we getting the $300 million in a recession? And it wouldn't be a McCain plan without money for Big Bizness:
In addition, a so-called Clean Car Challenge would provide U.S. automakers with a $5,000 tax credit for every zero-carbon emissions car they develop and sell.
And there you go. Meanwhile, the Globe proffers a long puff piece by Sasha Issenberg on John McCain's war experience and how it shaped his present views. The piece skims past his contentious relations with POW/MIA groups who believed that U.S. troops remained alive in Vietnam, even skipping a notorious episode in which McCain reduced a mother of an MIA soldier to tears during televised hearings in which he lived up to his Academy nickname, "McNasty." The Globe also fails to mention the ambivalence, and even downright hostility, that some Vietnam vets continue to feel about McCain (yes, there is an anti-McCain 527.)  I doubt such information would have been left out of an article on John Kerry, and I doubt that the press will pursue the issue, given the media's reluctance to replay the Swift Boat episode from 2004 and general reverence for McCain's war service (as should be afforded any veteran.)

Last but not least, the paper reports on the Obama campaign bracing for race-based attacks during the campaign.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has a piece about the Obama campaign's careful targeting of black voters -- emphasizing the tightrope Obama has to walk between courting a needed base, and not turning off certain white voters. 

And across the pond, the Guardian reports that as the recent Mideast oil summit fails to halt rising oil prices, a leading climate scientist will go before Congress today and call for top oil executives to be put on trial. And last but not least, if you think politics is toxic in the States, try Zimbabwe.


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posted by JReid @ 8:15 AM  
Friday, June 13, 2008
OMFG Time Russert's dead
Damn. Tim Russert died of a heart attack today, apparently while at work at NBC.
Russert was recording voiceovers for Sunday’s “Meet the Press” program when he collapsed, the network said. He and his family had recently returned from Italy, where they celebrated the graduation of Russert’s son, Luke, from Boston College.

No further details were immediately available.

Jeez. He was only 58... For you locals, that's the same thing that happened to Bubba at AM940, and he was even younger...

BTW who knew Russert was a lawyer? This one's shocking as hell...

UPDATE: TVNewser has NBC News chief Jeff Zucker's statement:
We are heartbroken at the sudden passing of Tim Russert. We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated. More than a journalist, Tim was a remarkable family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, their son, Luke, and Tim's entire extended family.
The news spread quickly once it broke. The competing networks are all paying homage.

Not that it means a damned thing to his family, but am I the only one thinking, biggest election ever ... no Russert on the TV. Boy, does God have a wicked sense of humor...?

UPDATE 2: The shock is reverberating around the news business tonight. MSNBC has had on Howard Fineman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan, a puffy-eyed Chuck Todd, a crying Jack Welch, David Gregory, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Al Hunt, John Meacham, Andrea Mitchell, who choked up briefly when saying that Russert was one of only two people to call her "Mitch" (the other being her father,) and Chris Matthews, who called in from his vacation in Paris. Every cable news channel is doubling down on coverage, and the shell shock is evident on all the faces. Keith Olbermann seemed like he was ready to break down. Even Barbara Walters called in. Mitchell is at the helm on MSNBC now. The parade of journos will likely continue throughout the night.

Meanwhile, the NYT Caucus blog has Russert's final vacation, in Italy with his family and other revelations about Lil' Russ.

The WaPo's The Fix blog says what everyone is thinking: nothing in political coverage will be the same. (Election night with no clipboard? Unbelievable...)


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posted by JReid @ 4:05 PM  
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pervez Musharraf hears the voice of the Pakistani people ... and the voice is not friendly:
With counting from Monday's election nearly complete, the two main opposition parties won a total of 154 of the 268 contested seats, according to the Election Commission.

The pro-Musharraf party trailed with 39 seats, and the group's leader acknowledged the loss.

"We accept the election results, and will sit on opposition benches," Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told AP Television News. "We are accepting the results with grace and open heart."

And from the quite nicely redesigned Guardian:
"All the King's men, gone!" proclaimed the headline in the Daily Times as jubilant voters danced in the streets, sang and fired celebratory bursts of gunfire into the air.

"It turned out to be a referendum on Musharraf," said analyst Irfan Husain. "I don't give him more than a few months, unless there is pressure from the US."

The main winner was the Pakistan People's party (PPP) of murdered opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, which polled the most seats. But the surprise performance came from Sharif, a former prime minister, whose party finished a close second.

Neither party has an outright majority. Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, and Sharif arrived in Islamabad for power-sharing talks last night. The horse-trading was widely welcomed as dire predictions of vote rigging and violence failed to materialise. Although there were localised complaints of irregularities they were not enough to halt the opposition surge.

Sharif, ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup, ran a campaign dominated by one unflinching demand: the removal of "dictator" Musharraf. Now he has his chance.

Ecstatic loyalists chanted "The lion is coming again!" outside Sharif's Lahore home, where the bullish opposition leader recalled an old Musharraf promise. "He would say 'when people want, I will go'. Now the people have given their verdict," he said, vowing to work out a plan to "say goodbye to dictatorship forever".

In a striking sign of the retired general's faltering authority, lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who has been under house arrest for over three months, welcomed the media to his home. Ahsan said his phone was re-connected as the results streamed in on Monday. Yesterday, jail officials assigned to guard him failed to show up for work.

Change: it isn't just for American elections anymore. What will Dubya do now that his man is in trouble ...?

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posted by JReid @ 8:33 PM  
Fidel marches on

Having survived nearly 50 years in power, and 9 U.S. presidents who failed to do so, Fidel Castro takes himself out of the picture. He's stepped aside as Cuba's president (for life) leaving his Brother Raoul and five other men in charge. The U.S. embargo just became even more pointless.

The conventional wisdom is that Raul will move to make changes in the island's way of doing business -- even if not on the social repression his brother became infamous for (at least not right away,) but it's hard to imaging Cuba not changing rather thoroughly in the years to come, as European and Latin American friends begin to open up country in the way Cuba's closest neighbor, and worst enemy, could not.

Meanwhile, GWB makes some comment or other about democracy or whatever, that nobody really cares about...

Europe reacts, too, with Gordon Brown pretty much going a "what he said," with Bush:
We can only hope that a new path will open up after this withdrawal and that there will be more democracy in that country.

More about Fidel "the great survivor," from the BBC here.

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posted by JReid @ 11:36 AM  
Friday, November 30, 2007
Hostage situation at Clinton NH campaign office ends
A kook claiming to have a bomb took several people hostage inside a Hillary Clinton for President office in Rochester, New Hampshire this afternoon. The situation has come to an end, now, after a five-hour ordeal, but it was pretty high drama throughout the day.
A woman with a baby was released by the hostage-taker early on, she told a witness, Lettie Tzizik, who spoke to WMUR.

"A young woman with a 6-month or 8-month-old infant came rushing into the store just in tears, and she said, 'You need to call 911. A man has just walked into the Clinton office, opened his coat and showed us a bomb strapped to his chest with duct tape,' " the Web site reported.

Apparently, 46-year-old Leeland Eisenberg was distraught over the state of mental healthcare. He also has a prior arrest for alleged stalking.

New Hampshire's WMUR is getting a lot of attention today, and they have lots of info, including a statement from Camp Clinton.

Blogger HistoryMike has a good, comprehensive post with possible aliases for Eisenberg, and more about his Freeper-like ideology...

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posted by JReid @ 6:27 PM  
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Nearly one million Californians -- the largest movement of Americans inside the United States since the civil war -- have fled the massive fires raging across southern California. This is no joke, Glenn Beck, you idiot, it's a national disaster and tragedy -- a "super Katrina" (thank God the officials running Qualcomm Stadium and several other refuges have their act together).


Officials now say they cannot stop the wildfires, which are being spread by the ferocious Santa Ana winds...

Unless the shrieking Santa Ana winds subside, and that’s not expected for at least another day, fire crews say they can do little more than try to wait it out and react — tamping out spot fires and chasing ribbons of airborne embers to keep new fires from flaring.

“If it’s this big and blowing with as much wind as it’s got, it’ll go all the way to the ocean before it stops,” said San Diego Fire Capt. Kirk Humphries. “We can save some stuff but we can’t stop it.”

Meanwhile, the opening headline of this story says it all, when it comes to George W. Bush:

Sharply criticised for his slow response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, President George Bush moved on Wednesday to assert a leading role in efforts to combat wildfires in California.
Damn. It sucks to be Bush.

AP updates here.

Meanwhile, satellite photos of the fires are making their way onto TV and the net. Here's one from NASA:

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posted by JReid @ 8:06 AM  
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Quick take headlines: hoo-ra
Top story on the New York Times website this morning: the Marines follow Great Britain's example, and look for a way to get the hell out of Iraq.

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of the House vote to authorize lethal force against the government of Iraq. So how did the House Judiciary Committee celebrate? By trying to undo the wiretapping frenzy known as the Protect America Act. President Bush had demanded that the Congress send him a bill protecting telecom companies from lawsuits arising from their participation in wiretapping you, but the Judiciary Committee declined.

Why is Mitch McConnell leading the winger slimeblog army that's smearing a 12-year-old boy and his family? And does Michelle Malkin's stalking of Graem Frost's family count as child endangerment? And what's the Going To Hell quotient on sliming a little kid and his family for needing state-assisted health insurance?

Have I mentioned that Michael Medved is an idiot today? Writing an unsolicited diatribe defending American slavery as not so bad, thank you very much, is dumb enough that even fellow wingers can't find the words to support him. Not a new item, but I might have missed calling Medved a dummy this morning...

How do keep an officer in the U.S. Army when it's bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq? Cold ... hard ... cash ...

Albertcito lawyers up. He might want to explain the growing evidence of a White House led conspiracy to use the Justice Department to promulgate political prosecutions of Democrats.

Carter fresgebs yo his critique of the Bushies, and calls Dick Cheney a disaster walking ... and in subtext, a coward.

The House has passed a bill making war profiteering a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison plus a fine "of $1 million or twice the gross profits of the contract, whichever is greater." Well it's about time... here's hoping Joe Lieberman doesn't pull a procedural trick to kill it in the Senate. ... that is if he can be bothered to care about war profiteering...


posted by JReid @ 8:18 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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