Can Gore Let It Rip?

Next time he runs for president, things will be different. That was Al Gore’s pledge to Democrats after the 2000 election: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d just let it rip. To hell with the polls, the tactics and all the rest. I would have poured out my heart and my vision for America’s future.”

Will Gore run in 2008? The question will echo throughout his appearances Wednesday before the House and Senate committees dealing with climate change. It likely will echo through all of American politics for months to come. There are two ways to ponder the question.

The logic of politics suggests Gore has already given his answer. He is not raising money. He is not urging friends and associates to stay on the sidelines until he makes a decision. He has said repeatedly that he has no plans to run. Shouldn’t we take him at his word?  Not yet, we shouldn’t. The logic of psychology and even history suggests that Gore should run. And if he should run, it is hard to believe that a man who has organized most of his adult life around public service and the pursuit of the presidency won’t in the end actually do it.

For the moment, Gore’s legacy in American politics rests on two opposing facts:

– From the perspective of Democrats, no politician has been more right, more often, on more important questions. On global warming, words that had a radical edge in 1992 — and still do, to many conservative ears — Gore wrote “Earth in the Balance,” anticipating mainstream liberal rhetoric by a decade. Many Washington Democrats cringed at what they regarded as his shrill people-vs.-powerful 2000 convention speech, when he warned that a Bush presidency would favor special interests and the wealthy. They cringed even more in 2002 at what they regarded as Gore’s naive warnings that the coming Iraq war was a disaster in waiting and a distraction from other fronts in the campaign against terrorism. But within a year or so of both speeches, most Democrats inside Washington and beyond essentially embraced Gore’s argument and tone.

– From the perspective of people who believe, as nearly all Democrats do, that the Bush presidency has been a historic debacle, no Democratic politician is more culpable for these consequences than Gore himself. A more poised, focused and self-confident campaign surely would have won the election and not just the popular vote in 2000. As the chosen leader of his party, Gore had a responsibility to wage that campaign.


The Lessons of Iraq

Former Senator and Presidential Candidate Gary Hart has published a great piece on the Huffington Post:

Very soon a new industry called “The Lessons of Iraq” will be born, even as the search for the end-game continues against the back-drop of the theme “who lost Iraq.” Partisan strategists will be allocating blame while more thoughtful citizens will try to draw lessons for future generations.

Some lessons are apparent. Do not manufacture justification for invasions. Plan for all eventualities, including the most unpleasant. Do not pay exiles to tell you what you want to hear. Deal honestly with Congress and the American people. Be candid about possible costs in lives and money. And an endless list of common sense, and Constitutional, dos and don’ts.

The second kind of lessons are less obvious and have to do with the new realities of the 21st century:

First, treat jihadist terrorism more like organized crime than traditional warfare. By declaring “war on terrorism” we made the fatal mistake that it could be crushed using conventional warfare and massed armies…

Second, liberate the U.S. from dependence on Persian Gulf oil. We can then sharply reduce the U.S. military presence in the region and remove the single most important incentive for jihadism…

Third, restore principle to American foreign policy. Neoconservatives who dominate the Bush administration have used the Wilsonian rhetoric of “democratic idealism” even as they pursue the most cynical and dishonest policies…

Fourth, engage the nations of the world in achieving security for the global commons. Security in the 21st century now means much more than it did in the Cold War 20th century.

Read the full article at the link below:


F.B.I. Is Warned Over Its Misuse of Data Collection

WASHINGTON, March 20 — House Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday in warning the F.B.I. that it could lose the power to demand that companies turn over customers’ telephone, e-mail and financial records if it did not swiftly correct abuses in the use of national security letters, the investigative tool that allows the bureau to make such demands without a judge’s approval.

The warnings came at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee into a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine. The report found that the F.B.I. had repeatedly violated the rules governing the letters, sometimes by invoking emergency procedures to exercise them when there was no emergency, and had bungled record keeping so badly that the number of letters exercised was often understated when the bureau reported on them to Congress.

“I just want to convey to you how upset many of us are who have defended this program and have believed it is necessary to the protection of our country,” Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, told Valerie E. Caproni, the bureau’s general counsel.


Before Jon Stewart

The truth about fake news. Believe it.

Fake news arrives on doorsteps around the world every day, paid for by You, Time magazine Person of the Year, a.k.a. Joe and Jane Citizen, in one way or another. Take for instance, the U.S. government’s 2005 initiative to plant “positive news” in Iraqi newspapers, part of a $300 million U.S. effort to sway public opinion about the war. And remember Armstrong Williams, the conservative columnist who was hired on the down low to act as a $240,000 sock puppet for the president’s No Child Left Behind program? Williams’s readers had no idea he was a paid propagandist until the Justice Department started looking into allegations of fraud in his billing practices.

Fake news has had its lush innings. The Bush administration has worked hand-in-glove with big business to make sure of it. Together, they’ve credentialed fringe scientists and fake experts and sent them in to muddy scientific debates on global warming, stem cell research, evolution, and other matters. And as if that weren’t enough, the Department of Health and Human Services got caught producing a series of deceptive video news releases— VNRs in p.r.-industry parlance—touting the administration’s Medicare plan. The segments, paid political announcements really, ended with a fake journalist signing off like a real one—“In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” and they ran on local news shows all over the country without disclosure. All of this fakery taken together, it may be fair to say that the nation’s capital has been giving Comedy Central a run for its money as the real home of fake news.


‘Children used’ in Iraq bombing

And you thought suicide bombings couldn’t become any more abhorrent:

A US military official has said children have been used in a bomb attack in Iraq, raising fears that insurgents are using a new tactic.

Gen Michael Barbero said a vehicle stopped at a checkpoint was waved through because two children were seen in the back, but was then detonated.  Militants were changing tactics in response to tighter security, he said.

Gen Barbero said there had been also two adults in the car. They parked it near a market, abandoned it with the children inside and apparently detonated it.

The two children died, along with three civilians in the vicinity, officials said.

[BBC News]

White House official: No probe launched into Plame leak

Rep. Waxman – House Oversight Committee

In testimony given today before the house oversight committee, James Knodell, Director of the Office of Security at the White House, revealed that the the administration had never launched an internal probe to determine the source for the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. In addition to revealing a deep reluctance on the part of the administration in determining the party responsible for the leak, Knodell’s testimony directly contradicted a prior statement from President Bush promising a full internal probe.

Ms. Plame Wilson, who in testimony earlier today confirmed her status at the time of the scandal as a covert CIA official and struck down assertions that she designed her husband’s 2002 mission to Niger, told the committee, “My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department. I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.”

Asked about an obligation of federal officials to report on any knowledge of a leak to a security officer, Knodell confirmed the requirement and admitted that not a single member of the administration had come to speak to him.

Committee chair Henry Waxman, who in his opening statement described the the panel’s duty to “determine what went wrong and insist on accountability,” was taken aback by the implications of Knodell’s testimony, describing it as “a breach within a breach.”


Ex-Milan CIA chief goes into hiding over kidnapping of Muslim cleric

Robert Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan, has gone into hiding, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reports Tuesday. But “to this day, he continues to pay his $4,000 mortgage.”

The subject of an extradition order from Italian authorities for the role he played in the kidnapping of radical Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan… Lady was in Florida last, but reportedly moved on already. The only place the former agent can feel truly safe is the United States, now that an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for him — just as it has done for 25 of his colleagues, who are said to have been involved in the Feb. 17, 2003 abduction of radical Muslim cleric Abu Omar along Via Guerzoni in downtown Milan.”

“The suspects are expected to be tried, in absentia, in June at Milan’s Palace of Justice in what will amount to the world’s first-ever trial against CIA agents accused of kidnapping,” Der Spiegel adds. “Until very recently, it seemed certain that the case would move ahead. But last week the Italian government asked the country’s highest justices at the constitutional court to determine whether the trial could proceed. This has fueled hope for Seldon and, indeed, the entire US administration, that a legal drama might still be prevented.”

“According to recent findings brought to light by American journalist Matthew Cole, writing in the March issue of GQ, it’s not just the agents involved in the abduction who need to be protected,” the paper adds. “Those truly responsible are to be found in the higher echelons of the US administration, according to Cole, who claims that current US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice personally approved the operation when she served as President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. She apparently OKed Abu Omar’s abduction and then, according to Cole’s report, “fretted” during her meeting with the CIA over how she would inform Bush about the operation.”


Prisoners to be put in cargo containers

Specially converted sea containers imported from China are to be turned into temporary jails to ease the British prisons overcrowding crisis, The Observer has learned.

The plan is to have the modules installed in five prisons by June at a cost of £3.5m each. Prisons earmarked for the new units include Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution in Shropshire and Wayland Prison in Norfolk.

The government has also placed an order for two large-scale units comprising five containers bolted together and capable of holding 300 prisoners apiece. These larger modules will require planning permission, which means they are unlikely to be introduced until the end of the year. It is understood Rochester Prison in Kent has been identified as one possible site for the new units.


Britain bans ‘dumb’ cluster bombs

The government has banned its armed forces from using “dumb” cluster bombs to cut the number of civilians killed and maimed by them, the Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday.

In future, British troops will only be allowed to use “smart” cluster bombs with features such as self-destruct mechanisms if they fail to explode on initial impact.

Charities such as Oxfam and Amnesty International have long argued for a ban on cluster bombs — devices containing hundreds of small bomblets which disperse over a large area — because they can leave a deadly legacy for years after the end of conflicts.

“It is our duty to make sure our forces have the equipment they need to do the job we ask of them,” Defence Secretary Des Browne told parliament in a written statement.


“Obama more liberal than Kucinich, analysis reveals”

WASHINGTON _ The most liberal member of Congress running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination isn’t Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

It’s Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

And the Republican candidate who’s grown less conservative over his years in Congress? Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Those are among the interesting findings in a recent analysis of votes by all the members of Congress who are running for president.

They cut to the heart of debates going on among activists in both major parties: Can a liberal Democrat win a general election? Which Republican is ideologically pure enough to win support from conservatives?

The study, released this month by the National Journal, a respected inside-the-Beltway research report, will help voters cut through the spin and hype of TV sound bites in coming months and judge these candidates for themselves.

Read more of the findings at the link below:


Talking About Israel

Another great piece from Nicholas Kristof:

There is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. And that silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself.

Within Israel, you hear vitriolic debates in politics and the news media about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Yet no major American candidate is willing today to be half as critical of hard-line Israeli government policies as, say, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper.

Three years ago, Israel’s minister of justice spoke publicly of photos of an elderly Palestinian woman beside the ruins of her home, after it had been destroyed by the Israeli army. He said that they reminded him of his own grandmother, who had been dispossessed by the Nazis. Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?

…You can argue that Arabs pursue a double standard, focusing on repression by Israelis while ignoring greater human rights violations by fellow Arabs. But the suffering in Palestinian territories, while not remotely at the scale of brutality in Sudan or Iraq, is still tragically real…

…Hard-line Israeli policies have profoundly harmed that country’s long-term security by adding vulnerable settlements, radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hezbollah, isolating Israel in the world and nurturing another generation of terrorists in Lebanon. The Israeli right’s aggressive approach has only hurt Israeli security, just as President Bush’s invasion of Iraq ended up harming U.S. interests…

(Times Select subscription required)

Bush’s Shadow Army

The Bush Administration is increasingly dependent on private security forces to do its dirty work, Jeremy Scahill reveals in his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. 

The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq — an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.

To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld resigned he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a “road map for change” at the DoD, which he said had begun to be implemented in 2001. It defined the “Department’s Total Force” as “its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors — constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions.” This formal designation represented a major triumph for war contractors — conferring on them a legitimacy they had never before enjoyed.

Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq, only one has been indicted for crimes or violations. “We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren’t being counted, and the danger is that there’s zero accountability,” says Democrat Dennis Kucinich, one of the leading Congressional critics of war contracting.


Rocker David Byrne Making Sense at SXSW Fest

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wants record labels to focus more on marketing than on manufacturing and distribution in the face of increasing digital album sales.

Byrne gave a presentation entitled “Record Companies: Who Needs Them?” at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, Thursday. He offered a slide show that predicated digital sales would outstrip CD sales by 2012.

That year will be the “tipping point,” much like the mid-to-late ’80s when CDs overtook cassette sales. Once download sales became the norm, Byrne said, it will allow manufacturing and distribution costs to approach zero. “That is a fact,” he said.

He said at that point, record labels will be faced with a sort of choice — to ramp up marketing services to use music as a loss leader for tours and merchandise revenue, or aim only for international stars of the ilk of Britney Spears.


Blair made secret deal with Saudis

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair struck a secret deal with the king of Saudi Arabia, assuring him there would be no criminal charges against anyone implicated in bribery in Britain’s biggest arms deal.

In July 2005, Mr Blair assured the then crown prince, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who is now the Saudi King, that Britain would abandon an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged massive corruption. It concerned a £60 million ($146 million) “slush fund” allegedly set up by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest military contractor, to support the lifestyle of some members of the Saudi royal family.
Mr Blair told crown prince Abdullah during a visit to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that the evidence would instead be offered to the Saudi authorities.

Sources with knowledge of the discussions say that even as the major fraud inquiry was expanding with the arrest of five British business executives, Mr Blair was telling crown prince Abdullah that the inquiry “was going nowhere.”

Disclosure of the secret deal undermines a parliamentary statement made by British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith last December that prosecutors, rather than Downing Street, had made the final decision to drop the inquiry. The news comes as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development prepares to send inspectors to London to find out why the inquiry was dropped. The OECD rebuked the Government for its decision to drop the case.


Iraq experts say draft oil industry law fraught with problems

AMMAN (AFP) – Some Iraqi oil experts and politicians are aghast over their government’s approval of a bill that many fear will deliver the country’s oil wealth to international firms on a platter.

In February, capping months of bitter wrangling, the Baghdad government approved a draft law that aims to distribute revenue from crude oil exports equitably across Iraq’s 18 provinces and open the sector to foreign investors.

The multi-party government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sees the legislation as a key plank in moves to reunite a country torn apart by sectarian violence, and hopes that parliament will ratify the bill in May.

But former Iraqi oil industry officials, experts and lawmakers gathered in Jordan to debate the bill have warned that the timing is wrong, and expressed strong concerns that
Iraq would lose control of its own “black gold.”

shocking, right?