Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Party's Over

As most of you already know, the Dow Jones Average fell over 400 points today. At one point it appeared to be in a free fall.

Was this simply what market analysts like to call a "correction?" Or is it Black Tuesday? There are a couple indications that it's probably the latter.

The MarketWatch article cites "Concerns about the sub-prime lending market" as one of the factors that caused today's rapid descent. That's financialese for lending large amounts of money to anything with a pulse, a practice which fueled the housing boom during its glory days and which anybody marginally smarter than a brick knew would lead to disaster. Now it's come back to haunt us.

Even more troubling, however, are "Concerns that tighter credit conditions in China and Japan might dampen global growth," which means this country's credit-card binge might be over.

So is this the end? Does it mean we will no longer be able to pay for two or three wars, expand the size of the war machine, and simultaneously give gigantic tax breaks to any billionaire who doesn't feel like ponying up? And here we thought we could borrow Oriental money endlessly, and keep the party going forever. After all, that debt figure isn't real money, it's just a number on a piece of paper.

Leveler heads have seen this coming for a long time. And you'll have fun, fun, fun 'till your daddy takes the T-Bird (and your credit card) away.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sy Hersh -- America's Chief Drain Inspector

Seymour Hersh looked worried -- more worried than usual. He was on Wolf Blitzer's show on CNN, and Blitzer was interviewing him about his latest bombshell of a New Yorker article, which details the sordid ebb and flow of secret Bush administration and Saudi money through the intricate diplomatic and military plumbing of the Middle East.

"And a lot of this money, and I can't tell you with absolute certainty how — exactly when and how, but this money has gotten into the hands — among other places, in Lebanon, into the hands of three — at least three jihadist groups," Hersh was saying earnestly. "We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way…"

The article, "The Redirection," in the latest issue of the New Yorker, appeared on line yesterday and set off a huge internet buzz. In it, Hersh attempts to lay out the details of the intricate, confusing, and sometimes contradictory new administration policy of shifting favor away from the Iraqi Shi'a and their Iranian brethren, and tilting toward the Sunni.

Revealing the unvarnished facts, often sordid and unpleasant, of complex and sometimes baffling events and policies is nothing new for Hersh, who turned 70 this year. He broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1969, which won him a Pulitzer. He was strongly criticized in some quarters then, and continues to be, for telling the truth whether we want to hear it or not, and doing so has sometimes entailed great personal risk. For example, in "The Redirection" he describes the arrangements for his meeting in Lebanon for an interview with Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the Hezbollah leader:

"Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah’s aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda."

In recent years Hersh has written mostly for the New Yorker and has also become a frequently interviewed guest on cable news shows, where he distinguishes himself as a reporter who actually does the hard work of closely covering events rather than just talking about them. In recent years, he published a series of 2004 New Yorker articles detailing the military's abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, and revealed that the torture there was deliberate and systematic, as part of a secret program ordered by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called "Copper Green."

In 2005 Hersh began working deep inside the Pentagon in order to lay bare the administration's determination to attack Iran, and his April, 2006 article, "Iran Plans" detailed Bush's and Cheney's intentions to use nuclear weapons as part of that attack, which Bush dismissed as "wild speculation."

His latest article, "The Redirection," is an anatomy of the administration's new Iraq War strategy and general mideast policy, which entails removing favor toward Shi'a elements in Iraq, because Iran, a Shi'ite government, is seen as the main threat against both Iraq and wider regional security right now, and tilting toward the Sunni in Iraq and elsewhere, especially Saudi Arabia. The problem with this is that supporting the Saudis and Iraqi Sunnis also entails support for Wahhabism and al-Qaida (!).

One of Hersh's sources, an unnamed "former senior intelligence official," explained it this way: “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

"High-risk venture" is a charitable way of putting it. Posting on her blog "Hullabaloo," the writer known only as "Digby" has this take on Hersh's revelations: "Today we have the DOD equivalent of Brownie running around with boatload (sic) of cash making deals with Muslim extremists and Saudi princes, whom the administration has divided up into completely useless designations of 'reformer and extremist.' Nobody knows who's talking to who or what agenda they really have. Liberals think up complex plots like this and make them into movies. Republicans steal billions from the taxpayers and actually try to implement their hare-brained schemes."

Hersh has done a remarkable job of detailing a sloppy, contradictory, and very frightening set of policies, conceived by amateurs, implemented by unsupervised spooks, and overseen and audited by no one. The same people who gave us the debacle of Iraq are now determined to broadcast their peculiar brand of ineptitude and clumsy ignorance over the entire region. I don't blame Hersh for being worried.

But worried or not, I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this from Seymour Hersh.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Style Points

This is not really a political post, although I suppose it marginally fits into the "America enters the age of Bread and Circuses" category.

I work hard at writing, so I appreciate people who are really good at it. And nobody's better than James Wolcott, which I guess is why he's making the big bucks. Check out his preview of tonight's Oscars at Vanity Fair:

Oscar night comes but once a year and then it’s time to report back to rehab, but until then we can savor the excitement, the anticipation, the gastrointestinal intensity of a pagan ritual in which Hollywood, America, indeed the earth itself pay homage to a gold phallic totem as screen royalty gladden the red carpet and wave to the plebeians, never missing a beat as they chomp on their Nicorette gum.

That's a perfect paragraph, which is also, coincidenally, a perfect sentence. Good writers tend to choose the right, or perfectly appropriate word, and Wolcott chooses a bunch of them here -- rehab, gastrointestinal, pagan ritual, phallic totem, and chomp. Everything there is right on, from the correct spelling of "plebeian" (who knew?) to the capitalization of "Nicorette."

Wolcott is kind of stuck up sometimes, but if I was as good as him I probably would be too. And he's not always this good. Sometimes he's pompous and gassy, but when he's on there's nobody better.

The problem with him is, he knows it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Too Soon for Al

Al Gore is going to win an Academy Award tonight, and many people are speculating that he'll use the occasion to announce that he's a candidate for the presidency in '08.

I don't see that happening. It's too soon, and I don't expect Gore to announce one way or the other until December of this year or January of '08. If it's a go, he'll probably run as a Democrat, not an independent.

He'll hit the rest of the field like a rolling boulder, if he decides to run.

The prestige conferred by his winning an Oscar will be campaign gold. It's immense.

If there's a more qualified candidate, I don't know who it would be.

There Be Pirates

The Bush administration is ready to haul down the American colors and run up the Jolly Roger. Its client regime in Baghdad is about to pass a hydrocarbons law which will grant control of exploitation of the country's huge oil reserves to American, British, and Dutch petroleum giants.

Despite Washington's and Baghdad's strenuous efforts to keep it secret, copies of the law leaked onto the internet during the week of Valentine's Day.

In a series of interviews at al-Jazeera, an Iraqi blogger, architect, and Iraq's project director for Global Exchange, Raed Jarrar, talked about the law's main provisions.

"(I)t’s a very long document, around thirty pages," Jarrar says, "but...there are three major points. Financially, it legalizes very unfair types of contracts that will put Iraq in very long-term contracts that can go up to thirty-five years and cause the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars from Iraqis for no cause.

"The second point is concerning Iraq's sovereignty. Iraq will not be capable of controlling the levels -- the limits of production, which means that Iraq cannot be a part of OPEC anymore. And Iraq will have this very complicated institution called the Federal Oil and Gas Council, that will have representatives from the foreign oil companies on the board of it, so representatives from, let’s say, ExxonMobil and Shell and British Petroleum will be on the federal board of Iraq approving their own contracts."

The crux of the law itself, available in English (pdf) on Jarrar's blog Raed in the Middle, is Article 11, which states that "regarding the ownership of the oil and gas resources, the distribution of its revenues, and monitoring the federal revenue distribution, the ministers council must submit a federal law draft to the representatives council regulating these matters in adherence to the sections of this article." That means the actual numbers specifying shares of the loot will be dealt with in separate, yet-to-be-considered legislation. However, foreign oil companies are expected to take about 70 percent of the profits during the initial stages of these 30-year contracts.

Article 11 also provides for setting up an Iraqi national "oil revenues treasury," to be administered by "representatives from the federal government, regions’ governments, provinces, and a number of independent consultants..." Independent consultants means, of course, representatives of foreign oil companies.

Now that we've stripped away all the fictional motivations used to justify this war -- the weapons of mass destruction, the al-Qaida connection, the brutal dictator who murdered his own people, our idealistic desire to spread democracy, and all the rest of the entire boatload of bombastic bullshit -- the American invasion and destruction of Iraq stands revealed irrefutably and undebatably as a naked, piratical act of plunder and brigandage, no different than Cortez's gold-inspired invasion of Mexico.

There be global capitalism, or to put it another way, there be pirates.

Our Precious Bodily Fluids

By the time President Bush announced his escalation in Iraq on the night of January 10, the debate over the war had grown so intense that it was easy to forget the reasons, real and imagined, that we went to Iraq in the first place.

Oil is the life's blood of modern industrial infrastructure and the body politic of industrialized nations. We went to Iraq to get the oil, and we need to always keep it in mind.

A reminder of that sordid fact came on January 7, from the foreign press, naturally, when the U.K.'s daily The Independent announced that Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The paper's reporters said they had seen the draft of the controversial new law which would give 30-year leases to oil giants such as BP, Shell, and Exxon. These would be the first such Iraqi concessions to foreign oil firms since the country's petroleum industry was nationalized in 1972.

"The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil," the article noted, and went on to quote Vice-President Cheney, who in 1999, when he was CEO of Hallibuton, said that by 2010 the world would need an additional 50 billion barrels of oil a day.

"So where is the oil going to come from?" Cheney asked rhetorically. "The Middle East," he answered, "with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Keep your eyes on the prize.

The Independent also pointed out that the terms of the proposed deals would allow oil companies to pocket up to three-fourths of revenue accruing from exploitation of Iraqi oil in the early stages of the contracts, dropping to 20 percent in the leases' latter portions. But even that latter figure is twice as much as the typical producer's cut usual in such deals with foreign governments.

Oil industry spokesmen say these unusually large payouts offer the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back to regular and efficient operation after years of sanctions, wars, and loss of expertise.

The article also quoted voices opposed to the proposed deals. A spokesman for the human rights and environmental group Platform, which monitors the oil industry, "said Iraq was being asked to pay an enormous price over the next 30 years for its present instability. 'They would lose out massively,' he said, 'because they don't have the capacity at the moment to strike a good deal.'"

And James Paul, a director of the Global Policy Forum, an independent international government watchdog, maintained that the vast majority of Iraqis will oppose these deals. "To do it anyway, with minimal discussion within the [Iraqi] parliament is really just pouring more oil on the fire," Paul said.

Whether Iraq's refineries and pipelines can even be secured sufficiently against sabotage to maintain regular operations is questionable, and the oil giants may never be able to gather the spoils of this sweetheart deal. But George Bush is doing his best to provide the protection his friends in the industry are going to need, and sending reinforcements.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


In a short post at HufPo, Ari Emanuel makes three fearless predictions:

1) John McCain will not be the Republicans' presidential candidate;

2) Hillary Clinton will not be the Democrats' presidential candidate;

3) Before Bush leaves office, Kindaloser Ricepuffs will be vice-president (of the U.S.).

The first two are kind of foregone conclusions, since both those wannabees are performing ritual self-immolations right now. As for number three, I hadn't thought of it before, but on reflecting it makes sense.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

60 Years

2007 Will mark the 60th consecutive year in which Congress approved a budget for the Central Intelligence Agency without knowing what is in that budget.

So, how do you like living under a military dictatorship in which the executive has his own private army, beyond the pale of any legislative restraint (the C.I.A.) and his own private praetorian guard (the Uniformed Secret Service), similar to Hitler's Gestapo or Lenin's Cheka, which can sweep people up on his word alone?

I find it unacceptable.

Our rulers (not "leaders") like to talk about "a shining city upon a hill." This is good rhetoric employed in the service of bad mythology. This country bears no more resemblance to the republic founded by Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, and Jefferson than it does to Liechtenstein.

It's a lot closer to Imperial Rome.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Unreported Occupation

Jimmy Higgins at Fire on the Mountain has the story of the wave of occupations of congressional office sweeping the country. The corporate media have not seen fit to take notice of this democratic surge.

Typical of this movement is Sacramento for Democracy's month-long daily nine-to-five occupation of Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui's office. Matsui "has stepped up her anti-war rhetoric in response," Higgins says, "but that’s all so far."

Even more important, however, is Higgins's reporting of the Murtha Plan, now being floated in the House as a way to end the Iraqi occupation. He provides a video link to Murtha's explanation of the plan, while noting that "There is, unfortunately, another concealed agenda item in his plan—providing cover for Democrats who are under massive pressure to vote No on the upcoming $93 billion emergency appropriation Bush needs to continue the war."

In other words, this plan would not end the occupation, but would only change its rules.

Those without a high-speed connection capable of supporting video can get the details from these two opposed posts at DKos. Mcjoan, who takes a positive view of the plan accurately reports that "His legislation would dictate how long troops can stay, the equipment they use and whether any money could be spent to expand military operations into Iran. Murtha says few units could meet the high standards he envisions, meaning Bush's plan to keep some 160,000 troops in Iraq for months on end would be thwarted.

"Under his plan, he says, Democrats would be helping and not hurting troops by making sure they have what they need before being thrown into combat."

The more skeptical dov12348 maintains, also accurately, that "Pelosi and Murtha are deciding to continue to support the war by continuing to support funding for the war. They impose 'conditions' but no specifics or timetables.

"Anyway, in an emergency, not only are these options excruciatingly slow, Bush will be just happy to dance around any such legislation that's enacted," dov concludes.

Thanks to Stan Goff for calling these matters to our attention.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Welcome to the Real World

I'd like to know when we're going to put partisanship aside and address the real threats to our ever being able to restore a republic.

Look at this graph of "defense" spending over the last 55 years (scroll about one-third of the way down the page to see the graph). Can anyone doubt that the war machine has dominated our politics, economy, and culture for the last half century?

Author and blogger Arthur Silber points out accurately that "Bush would not have been possible but for the Democrats who...preceded him."

If that's not true, then point out the Democratic president who has seriously challenged the growth of the war machine, and its lethal domination of our government and society.

Not Carter. Not Clinton.

The war machine has given rise to the quest for empire, which currently expresses itself in attempts to dominate the Middle East and its petroleum resources.

People who oppose this policy -- and there are many of us here -- have generally not thought through the consequences of opposition. As Jim Kunstler points out, many of us are like the lady driving the Ford Explorer with the "War is not the Answer" bumper sticker, when for her, war is the answer.

The war machine, the quest for empire, and our addiction to cheap gas and easy motoring have come together in a gigantic clusterbomb which threatens our republic, our civil society, the world's social order, and the planet's environmental integrity.

The Democrats show no more willingness to confront these problems than the Republicans do. The liberals think we can abandon our Middle East policy and still drive our cars from suburbia to the big box store, and enjoy prosperity and justice for all.

I've been accused of chicken-littleism. I'd encourage anyone making that accusation to read a little history, only with an open mind this time. The histories of the Roman and Chinese empires, just to cite two of many possible examples, clearly show the almost infinite capacity of things to get worse than we ever thought they could.

Ten years from now we won't be living the way we're living now. Good-bye cars. Good-bye suburbs. Good-bye mountains of debt. Good-bye mega-multi-billion dollar "defense" budgets. Good-bye imperial hegemony. Good-bye Baghdad. Good-bye republic.

We better wake up folks. Our time's not long, and the Democrats aren't helping.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Regret -- "a painful sense of dissatisfaction or self-reproach"

Hillary Clinton said the other day of her "yes" vote on the authorization to use military force,"I take responsibility for having voted to give (Bush) that authority," and then followed up with "I have said clearly and consistently for quite some time that I regret the way the president misused the authority."

Nice try, Hill, but some of us took that required course called "Logic" as freshmen, and we actually know what "regret" means.

I can regret what I've done, but I can't regret something someone else has done. And what Hillary is doing here is verbal gymnastics -- trying to give the impression of being sorry while at the same time disclaiming responsibility for an immoral act she committed.

It's a world away from John Edwards's mea culpa.

This kind of dishonesty won't fly. We've learned enough to know what the definition of "is" is.

Clinton is Lieberman in a skirt. She's a dissembling, hypocritical, pro-war, pro-corporatocracy, pro-Israel lobby, big-donor suckup who embraces everything that's wrong with the political system, while trying to appear to be something else.

Having said that, I hope she gets the Democratic nomination. There are millions of progressives who will refuse to vote for her.

Think about it. McCain vs. Clinton. Two totally unacceptable candidates. The senile, incoherent ragehead versus the conniving, smug, and cynical operator.

Can you think of a better scenario for opening the door for a real, viable third party? Greens, anyone?

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Writing at Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World" blog, Greg Saunders nails this past week's cartoon-induced bomb scare in Boston:

I really hate how 9/11 legitimized all sorts of paranoid dipshittery. It’s embarrassing enough that the people who make the rules think bringing a bottle of water to the airport is a security risk, but now it seems that it’s a crime to inadvertently frighten a bunch of fools...

The story, which probably most of you know by now, is that Turner Broadcasting hired an agency called Interference to publicize a cartoon show, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." Interference in turn hired two young Bostonians, roommates who have made a sort of spotty career of hanging video art, and offered to pay them $300 each to spend a day putting the magnetic, LED-illuminated advertising signs around the city.

The signs hung in ten cities, including Boston, for ten days before the panic of Wednesday, January 31. After the two workers were arrested on a "hoax" charge, Turner and Interference hung them out to dry. Friends had to put up bail for them.

According to the Boston Globe, "...late Wednesday morning when the friends saw television footage of police blowing up one of the signs (they) realized what was happening. The friends e-mailed links to the footage to one another. About 1:25 p.m. Berdovsky e-mailed several friends and said the advertising firm had told him to keep quiet..."

The Globe also reported that the "suspicious device" panics "forced the temporary shutdowns of Interstate 93 out of the city, a key inbound roadway, a bridge between Boston and Cambridge, and a portion of the Charles River" but that the advertising LED's "were quickly determined not to be explosive."

"With all the loaded language," Greg Saunders says, a person might even be tempted to think these two young guys did something wrong. "After all, this 'device' was a 'hoax' that 'forced' the Keystone Cops to chase each other in circles while waving their tiny baseball bats at each other. Throw this guy in jail because we all know this kind of panic isn’t the fault of the people who overract to anything they consider weird."

In the movie "Borat," the eponymous hero appears as a guest at a Wyoming rodeo and congratulates the assembled cowpersons for their support of "The war of terror." And it seems from what happened in Boston last week, if one of the purposes of bin Laden and his minions in carrying out 9/11 was to impose a permanent state of fear and panic on Americans, he succeeded at least in some places.

You can't protect people from their own fear and stupidity.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jane Fonda's Speech to the United for Peace and Justice Anti-War Rally in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2007

I’m really here because I want to thank you all -- I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here today.

So many of you, so many of today’s speakers including my fellow actors up here, were here at the very beginning, before we went into Iraq, because you knew, and they knew what was in store. Thank you so much for the courage to stand up before this mean-spirited, vengeful administration.

Your actions are proof that the most precious part of this country, its soul, is alive and well, so thank you. Your ongoing commitment to ending this war allows people in other parts of the world to remain hopeful that America has the stuff to become again a country that they can love and respect. Thank you.

I especially want to thank and acknowledge the servicemen and women, and the military families and gold star mothers that are here.

A lot of press people have been asking me today, “What’s the difference between now and during the Vietnam War?” And I’ll tell you one huge, crucial difference – it took six years for Vietnam veterans, active-duty servicemen, gold star mothers, and military families to come out against the war. It has happened now within three years of the war. Their presence here is critical, and we should acknowledge their courage.

I haven’t spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years, because I’ve been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new anti-war movement. But silence is no longer an option.

My daughter, who is here with me today, (to daughter) come here, she was a little girl when she would come with me to the anti-Vietnam War protests. She’s here today with her two little children, my grandchildren. I’m very proud that they’re here, but I’m so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War. That we’ve made the same mistakes – blindness to the realities on the ground, hubris and arrogance in dealing with a people and culture far older than we are, and that we understand so little. Carelessness and thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we’ve destroyed. Allowing billions of dollars to be stolen – squandered at the hands of private contractors, just as this administration has done in our own gulf, in the post-Katrina era.

So thank you. Thank you for being here, and we will continue to be here for as long as necessary. God bless.

(Transcribed from the YouTube record of the event.)

Are Your Papers in Order, Comrade?

Only extraordinarily sanguine and trusting people could fail to be alarmed by the Bush administration's new passport regulations, which recently began to go into effect. They represent a tightening of governmental scrutiny of a population already being watched, monitored, and spied upon to an unprecedented degree.

According to the State Department's website, the so-called Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative "will require all travelers to and from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda to present a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States. The goal is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate international travelers."

Why is such a new policy necessary? The State Department explains that "The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated that the U.S. Secretaries of Homeland Security and State develop and implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport or other appropriate identity and citizenship documentation when entering the United States."

Right. War on Terror. Gotcha.

Starting last month, passports, merchant marine docs, or NEXUS Air cards are now required for all air travel within the Western Hemisphere, for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.

The remainder of the regulations required by the anti-terrorism act cited above will be in effect by January first of next year. They specify that "U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), may be required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security."

Besides being subjected to new and unprecedented levels of monitoring, checking, and general eyeballing by Big Brother's minions, Americans traveling abroad will also now be liable for the steep costs of documenting themselves in conformity with the new regulations. The fee for acquiring a new passport is $97 for adults and $82 for children under 16. It would cost a family of five traveling to Mexico for a week's vacation $440 just in passport fees, and the State Department estimates that 73 percent of Americans currently do not hold passports.

The new rules will also throw a monkey wrench into some people's travel plans. Although the State Department says that the wait for a passport is typically six weeks, it may take up to twelve weeks after you've had your picture taken and filled out your form for the document to arrive -- unless you want to pay an extra $60 for expedited service.

According to a story in the New York Times, the travel industry, fearing a dropoff in business, has been lobbying for a delay in the implementation of the new rules, but to no avail. "For now, cruise companies and travel agencies are urging travelers not to wait to get their passports," the Times says, and quotes one California travel agent who pointed out that even on cruises to Hawaii or Alaska, passengers may need passports, because many of those ships make foreign stopovers. "The Alaska cruises from Seattle all touch base in Vancouver, and that’s a foreign port," she said.

In addition to being ominous and spooky on their own, the new passport regulations work in tandem with the Real ID Act of 2005. This little-remarked law was signed by President Bush in 2005 as part of a military appropriations bill, and would require all Americans to carry a "federally approved" identification card by May, 2008 in order to "travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments or take advantage of nearly any government service. States will have to conduct checks of their citizens' identification papers, and driver's licenses likely will be reissued to comply with Homeland Security requirements," according to a January 30 story at DailyKos. Most state driver's licenses fitted with magnetic strips would be "federally approved," as would passports.

However, there is some indication that the Real ID act is not going to fly. Maine has already flatly rejected the Department of Homeland Security's demands that states be required to supply an identification mechanism that meets a federal specification, but without any federal funding. This would lay an uncompensated burden on the states, and there are some indications that other states will soon follow Maine's example.

So while Americans may be able to dodge the Real ID law, and avoid being asked to show their papers so as to prove they're not terrorists trying to open a terrorist bank account, there is no remedy on the horizon for the new passport regulations. Starting now, we can't travel unless our papers are in order, comrades.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

B-plus Journalism Returns

Rather than using this space to say nasty things about the corporate media like I usually do, I have to admit that at least one network evening news broadcast -- the one I watch -- is getting better.

After NBC's shameful cheerleading during the runup to the Iraq War (and yes, I know, they were all doing it at the time), "Nightly News" had to improve. It couldn't have gotten any worse, and had no place to go but up.

Maybe the show's producers don't want to end up sitting where Judith Miller, former warmonger-in-chief for the New York Times, has been for the last couple of days. They have to have learned something in the last four years.

Last night's broadcast was especially good, featuring not necessarily in this order:

*A debunking of the administration's claims concerning Iranian involvement on the side of "the terrorists" (which ones?) operating in the Iraq War. This was the "in-depth" segment, hosted by Andrea Mitchell (a.k.a. Mrs. Greenspan) no less. Mitchell stopped just short of calling the administration's claims a lie.

*The continuing expose of "tens of millions" of dollars wasted in Iraq reconstruction projects carried out by American contractors who were awarded sweetheart contracts, singling out Parsons Corp. as one of the worst offenders.

*The lede story was Joe Biden's dumb comments about Barack Obama which, while complimentary, simultaneously insulted every other black candidate who has ever sought the presidency (see below).

*A segment on the role of pharmaceuticals commercials in the creation of new and previously unremarked illnesses, focusing on the newest among them, "restless leg syndrome." Turns out that's a real condition, but never identified as something that needed treatment until pharma companies discovered that a medication already being marketed for Parkinson's Disease could alleviate the symptoms.

Altogether it was a commendable half-hour wrap-up of the day's events and trends, especially the segment on the administration's anti-Iran propaganda. I hope this is a trend, and that after the amount of egg the corporate media still has on its face due to the Iraq disaster, that newsmen and women have broken that nefarious habit of receiving government handouts, re-typing and slightly re-wording them, and then reading them over the air. Real journalism requires that the content of those handouts be subjected to at least a minimal scrutiny and skepticism.

I Miss Her Already

Beautiful Molly Ivins died yesterday. She was just my age. Breast cancer got her, after a long struggle during which she got rid of it twice. But it was determined, and came back a third time, and took her away.

Rather than saying she was witty and sometimes wicked, I'll just refer you to her farewell to Donald Rumsfeld, which she wrote shortly after the midterm election last November:

"I'm rather going to miss Rumsfeld's Zen-like nuggets of wisdom, the most famous of which is probably about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns:

'As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.'

According to Newsweek, Air Force Secretary Jim Roche went to Rumsfeld early on and said, 'Don, you do realize that Iraq could be another Vietnam.'

Replied Rummy: 'Vietnam? You think you have to tell me about Vietnam? Of course it won't be Vietnam. We are going to go in, overthrow Saddam, get out. That's it.'

I don't know what happened to that excellent plan, but I would like to know who knew it was unknowable."

Rota Fortuna

Consider the wheel of fortune, upon which all of us are passengers. The same movement that propels some toward the apogee simultaneously and inevitably sends others plummeting toward the nadir. This is nowhere truer than in politics.

Barack Obama's star is ascending, and never more rapidly than it did yesterday when the freshman senator finally revealed an unambiguous anti-Iraq War policy. He introduced a bill that would require the beginning of withdrawal of American troops very soon, with the withdrawal to be completed by March, 2008. As John Amato at Crooks and Liars notes, "Sen. Clinton has said she would consider it 'irresponsible' for Bush not to have withdrawn all troops by the end of his term in January 2009. Obama is now recommending making it a matter of law that troops be out ten months earlier than that."

It's too early to tell whether Obama's bill will have any effect. There are so many Iraq bills and Iraq resolutions circulating in the upper chamber right now it sometimes seems as if every senator's got one. But Obama has moved decisively to oppose the president's "surge" plan, to unambiguously call for an end to the war, and in doing so has opened up some ideological daylight between himself and Mrs. Clinton. His proposed legislation isn't guaranteed to gain him any traction, but it certainly will if it ends up being the rallying point for Senate Democrats, and there's no way such a policy could hurt him.

Mush-mouthed poltical triangulation is out of style, and Obama is smart enough to read the currents of public opinion, which at this point are aligned with his own, and act accordingly.

And Obama, this week's ascending star, is coincidentally the pretext for the bucket-footed tumble of another presidential hopeful, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Biden, who has a history of being hoist on his own petar, yesterday managed to simultaneously praise Obama and insult every other black candidate who ever lived in one thoughtless effusion of badly-chosen words when he said: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man."

No, man, that's not a storybook. That's an idiotic gaffe. As John Aravosis at AmericaBlog remarks, "(W)ho isn't tired of of all those unclean, stupid, ebonics-speaking African-Americans in politics?"

Say "Good-Night," Joe.