The Ides of March 2003

Our ninja Frank Rich does it again:

TOMORROW night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it’s an eternity. That’s why a revisionist history of the White House’s rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same “bad intelligence” before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion’s aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. “If only I had known then what I know now …” has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration’s case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

[NYTimes]
(Times Select subscription required)

McCain Stumbles.

First on HIV prevention:

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Then, the racism slips:

Republican presidential contender John McCain on Friday used the term “tar baby,” considered by some a racial epithet, and later said he regretted it.

Answering questions at a town hall meeting, the Arizona senator was discussing federal involvement in custody cases when he said, “For me to stand here and … say I’m going to declare divorces invalid because of someone who feels they weren’t treated fairly in court, we are getting into a tar baby of enormous proportions and I don’t know how you get out of that.”

After the event, McCain told reporters: “I don’t think I should have used that word and I was wrong to do so.”

Thousands march to protest Iraq war

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators, some carrying yellow and black signs reading “U.S. out of Iraq now!” marched on the Pentagon on Saturday, one of several protests worldwide to mark four years of war.

The march, on a cold, cloudy and windy St. Patrick’s Day, comes just before the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war on Tuesday and 40 years after a similar protest at the Pentagon over the Vietnam War.

On a stage in the Pentagon parking lot, speaker after speaker demanded the end of the war in Iraq and some called for President George W. Bush’s impeachment. A flag-draped coffin was displayed near the stage bearing a picture of a young soldier killed in Iraq.

[Reuters/Yahoo!]

Richardson to sign bill, legalize medical marijuana

SANTA FE, N.M. – Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, poised to sign a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to legalize medical marijuana, said Thursday he realizes his action could become an issue in the presidential race.

“So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do,” said Richardson, one of the candidates in the crowded 2008 field. “What we’re talking about is 160 people in deep pain. It only affects them.”

The legislation would create a program under which some patients — with a doctor’s recommendation — could use marijuana provided by the state health department. Lawmakers approved the bill Wednesday. The governor is expected to sign it in the next few weeks.

Richardson has supported the proposal since he first ran in 2002. But he pushed especially hard for it this year, leaning on some Democrats to change their votes after the bill initially failed.

“Give him credit. It’s not something you do because you’re going to garner great political support for it. It is a bit controversial,” said Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. By the same token, Mann says, it is not likely to hurt him in the Democratic contests.

[Yahoo!/AP]

‘Yahoo Betrayed My Husband’

Five years later, Yu, 55, sits in the dining room of a small house in Fairfax and weeps softly. She is a slight woman — 100 pounds and barely 5 feet tall in slippers. Her eyes betray her exhaustion; but she is determined, too. She carries a thick stack of notes with her, and she has scrawled more on her left hand.

“Yahoo betrayed my husband and deprived him of freedom,” Yu says through a translator, her voice trembling. “Yahoo must learn its lesson.”

Yu’s husband is now in Beijing Prison No. 2, serving a 10-year sentence for inciting subversion with his pro-democracy internet writings. According to the written court verdict, the Chinese government convicted Wang, in part, on evidence provided by Yahoo.

After a year of preparation, Yu flew into Washington, D.C., last week for one purpose: to find a lawyer and sue the internet giant. She told her story to Wired News in the Virginia headquarters of The China Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group headed by former dissident Harry Wu, who helped arrange Yu’s travel to the United States.

Now that she’s here, Yu says she’s not leaving until she has held Yahoo accountable.

[WIRED]

How the Right Went Wrong

But everything that Reagan said in 1985 about “the other side” could easily apply to the conservatives of 2007. They are handcuffed to a political party that looks unsettlingly like the Democrats did in the 1980s, one that is more a collection of interest groups than ideas, recognizable more by its campaign tactics than its philosophy. The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan’s legatees. Government is not only bigger and more expensive than it was when George W. Bush took office, but its reach is also longer, thanks to the broad new powers it has claimed as necessary to protect the homeland. It’s true that Reagan didn’t live up to everything he promised: he campaigned on smaller government, fiscal discipline and religious values, while his presidency brought us a larger government and a soaring deficit. But Bush’s apostasies are more extravagant by just about any measure you pick.

[TIME]

See also: The Coulterization of the American Right 

Chiquita to Pay $25M Fine in Terror Case

Banana company Chiquita Brands International said Wednesday it has agreed to a $25 million fine after admitting it paid terrorists for protection in a volatile farming region of Colombia.

The settlement resolves a lengthy Justice Department investigation into the company’s financial dealings with right-wing paramilitaries and leftist rebels the U.S. government deems terrorist groups.

In court documents filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said the Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers paid about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.

The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports. The U.S. government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist organization in September 2001.

Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers. In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted.

[The Guardian]

Kucinich: ‘Impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran’

During a speech on the House floor on Thursday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) declared that “impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran.” The 2004 presidential candidate, who is running again in 2008, told RAW STORY that his House floor statement “speaks for itself.”

“This House cannot avoid its constitutionally authorized responsibility to restrain the abuse of Executive power,” Kucinich said on the floor today. “The Administration has been preparing for an aggressive war against Iran. There is no solid, direct evidence that Iran has the intention of attacking the United States or its allies.”

Kucinich noted that since the US “is a signatory to the U.N. Charter, a constituent treaty among the nations of the world,” and Article II states that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” then “even the threat of a war of aggression is illegal.”

“Article VI of the U.S. Constitution makes such treaties the Supreme Law of the Land,” Kucinich continued. “This Administration, has openly threatened aggression against Iran in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Charter.”

[RawStory]

Google To Anonymize Data

Google is reversing a long-standing policy to retain all the data on its users indefinitely, and by the end of the year will begin removing identifying data from its search logs after 18 months to two years, depending on the country the servers are located in.

Currently, Google indefinitely retains detailed server logs on its search engine users, including user’s IP addresses – which can identify a user’s computer, the query, any result that is clicked on, their browser and operating system, among other details. Even if a user never signs up for a Google account, those searches are all tied together through a cookie placed on the user’s computer, which currently expires in 2038.

The new policy will be global, but there will be variances by country, especially in Europe where a data retention rule passed in 2005 requires ISPs and phone companies to keep data from six months to two years. After that time period, Google will “anonymize” the search data from web and image searches by dropping either the second half or last quarter of I.P. addresses, thus turning an address such as 127.0.34.35 into 127.0 or 127.0.34. The goal is to make it technically impossible to retroactively tie a query back to a computer, unless the query included identifying information.

[WIRED]

Dems abandon war authority provision

WASHINGTON – Top House Democrats retreated Monday from an attempt to limit President Bush’s authority for taking military action against
Iran as the leadership concentrated on a looming confrontation with the White House over the Iraq war.

Officials said Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the leadership had decided to strip from a major military spending bill a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats as well as lawmakers concerned about the possible impact on Israel had argued for the change in strategy.

[Yahoo!/AP]

Two Perspectives on the Iraqi Draft Oil Law

“Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?” [NYTimes]:

A new oil law set to go before the Iraqi Parliament this month would, if passed, go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal. The Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraq’s oil out of the exclusive hands of the Iraqi government and open it to international oil companies for a generation or more.

In March 2001, the National Energy Policy Development Group (better known as Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force), which included executives of America’s largest energy companies, recommended that the United States government support initiatives by Middle Eastern countries “to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.” One invasion and a great deal of political engineering by the Bush administration later, this is exactly what the proposed Iraq oil law would achieve. It does so to the benefit of the companies, but to the great detriment of Iraq’s economy, democracy and sovereignty.

“Three cheers for Iraq’s new hydrocarbon law” [Slate.com]:

The recent hydrocarbon law, approved after much wrangling by Iraq’s council of ministers, deserves a great deal more praise than it has been receiving. For one thing, it abolishes the economic rationale for dictatorship in Iraq. For another, it was arrived at by a process of parley and bargain that, while still in its infancy, demonstrates the possibility of a cooperative future. For still another, it shames the oil policy of Iraq’s neighbors and reinforces the idea that a democracy in Baghdad could still teach a few regional lessons.

To illustrate my point by contrast: Can you easily imagine the Saudi government allocating oil revenues so as to give a fair share to the ground-down and despised Shiite workers who toil, for the most part, in the oil fields of the eastern region of the country?

Cheney makes 9/11-Iraq claim AGAIN

Vice President Dick Cheney, lashing out at Democrats for the first time since the felony conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his former top deputy, resumed his controversial claims Monday that the war in Iraq is the central front in the worldwide U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney linked Iraq and al Qaeda even though post-invasion reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the presidential Commission on Intelligence Capabilities found no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda before the U.S.-led invasion on March 19, 2003.

In remarks to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Cheney contended that U.S. Marines face al Qaeda operatives in Anbar province, that the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown has unmasked al Qaeda car bomb operations in Baghdad and that Osama bin Laden has promised to make Baghdad the capital of a radical Islamic empire reaching from Indonesia to Spain.

“As we get farther away from 9/11, I believe there is a temptation to forget the urgency of the task that came to us that day, and the comprehensive approach that’s required to protect this country against an enemy that moves and acts on multiple fronts,” Cheney told the annual conference of the pro-Israel group, which interrupted his speech at least 27 times with applause.

[SanFranciscoChronicle]

US Rep Defends Mixtapes and Mashups on Floor of Congress

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Representative Mike Doyle made a moving statement on the congressional floor last week in defense of music mashups and mix tapes.  Doyle discussed remix artist Girl Talk, arrested mix tape maker DJ Drama and even Paul McCartney’s admission that he used a bass line right out of a Chuck Berry song.  The statement was made as part of the very important (and frightening) congressional debates about the future of radio. 

Video and more at the link below:
[SplashCast]

Spying Too Secret For Your Court: AT&T, Gov Tell Ninth

AT&T told an appeals court in a written brief Monday that the case against it for allegedly helping the government spy on its customers should be thrown out, because it cannot defend itself — even by showing a signed order from the government — without endangering national security.

A government brief filed simultaneously backed AT&T’s claims and said a lower court judge had exceeded his authority by not dismissing the suit outright.

Because plaintiffs’ entire action rests upon alleged secret espionage activities, including an alleged secret espionage relationship between AT&T and the Government concerning the alleged activities, this suit must be dismissed now as a matter of law,” the government argued in its brief (.pdf).

The telecom giant and the government are appealing a June ruling in a federal district court that allowed the suit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the telecom to proceed, despite the government’s invocation of a powerful tool called the “states secrets privilege,” which allows it to have civil cases dismissed when national secrets are involved.

California Northern District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled, however, that since the government had admitted it was wiretapping Americans without a warrant and that AT&T had to be involved, the case could go forward tentatively. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the government and AT&Ts’ appeal in the coming months.

[WIRED]

The Coulterization of the American right

Gary Kamiya puts it perfectly:

American conservatism sold its soul to the Coulters and Limbaughs of the world to gain power, and now that its ideology has been exposed as empty and its leadership incompetent and corrupt, free-floating hatred is the only thing it has to offer. The problem, for the GOP, is that this isn’t a winning political strategy anymore — but they’re stuck with it. They’re trapped. They need the bigoted and reactionary base they helped create, but the very fanaticism that made the True Believers such potent shock troops will prevent the Republicans from achieving Karl Rove’s dream of long-term GOP domination.

It is a truism that American politics is won in the middle. For a magic moment, helped immeasurably by 9/11, the GOP was able to convince just enough centrist Americans that extremists like Coulter and Limbaugh did in fact share their values. But the spell has worn off, and they have been exposed as the vacuous bottom-feeders that they are.

It will be objected that Coulter, Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage and their ilk are just the lunatic fringe of a respectable movement. But in what passes for conservatism today, the lunatic fringe is respectable. In the surreal parade of Bush administration follies and sins, one singularly telling one has gone almost entirely unremarked: Vice President Dick Cheney has appeared several times on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Think about this: The holder of the second-highest office in the land has repeatedly chummed it up with a factually challenged right-wing hack, a pathetic figure only marginally less creepy than Coulter. Imagine the reaction if Al Gore, when he was vice president, had routinely appeared on a radio show hosted by, say, Ward Churchill. (The comparison is feeble: There really is no left-wing equivalent of Limbaugh, just as there is no left-wing equivalent of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy.)…Yet the grotesque Cheney-Limbaugh love-in doesn’t raise an eyebrow. We’re so inured to the complete convergence of “respectable” conservatism and reactionary talk-radio ravings that we don’t even deem it worthy of comment.

[Salon.com]
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