Friday, January 13, 2006

Mean Streak: From Clarence Thomas to Samuel Alito

He comes across as relaxed, self-assured, sharp and tough, but affable, even likable: Samuel Alito is not acting. That’s him on the television screen, being himself. He doesn’t need to act. He only needs to let his smoother persona, his dinner-table geniality, play into television’s weaknesses for those qualities. Not to make exaggerated claims, but it’s possible to be a crook, a hit man, a Jay Gould or an Abramoff and still be a terrific dinner companion. Robert Bork was a boor, in person and in his legal thinking. He came across as both in his Senate hearings. Alito is not a boor in person, nor is he coming across as such in his hearings. Not in the least. His questioners’ tactical mistake from the start was to try to make him look like a boor, like Bork, for his personal beliefs, his past demeanors, his associations, his indifference to conflicts of interests. Of course they failed. But Alito is a boor only in his legal philosophy. Hunting for scandal, Senators missed the obvious: the sort of thinking that will have Alito imprinting our laws for the next thirty-some years. It’s all there in his past decisions, his speeches, his on-the-record advocacies. Read the rest...

Blogs & Print From Every Time Zone

updated Friday, January 13, 2006 8:53 AM EST
  1. Iraqi Sunni warn of Constitution impass (Beirut Daily Star)

  2. Israeli military selas off parts of West Bank (Haaretz)

  3. Iran threatens to cut links with nuke watchdog (LTimes)

  4. 345 dead in Mecca pilgrimage stampede (Arab News, SA)

  5. Rice rules out early attack on Iran (AFP/The Age)

  6. Bolivia's Morales extends conciliatory hand to US (CBS)

  7. Hamza urged militants to kill non-Muslims (BBC)

  8. Alito headed for confirmation as Justice (Washington Post)

  9. 389,000 acres open to oil drilling in Alaska (Anchorage DN)

  10. Pluto, here we come: NASA mission set to go (HoustonC)

  11. First sign that bird flu is mutating dangerously (Indepdt)

  12. NYC mayor attacking food (Boston Globe)

  13. Japan to deploy foreign spy planes in 2007 (Japan Times)

  14. Canadian study urges legalization of polygamy (TG&M)

  15. Veiled doll more popular than Barbie in Egypt (BBC)

  16. Cleavage and midriffs targeted in new dress code (NZH)

  17. India renegs on Kyoto greenhouse caps (Reuters)

Bloggerback: The latest blog chatter: From the left, the right, the in-between:

  1. Rightank on Alito’s past two days of misery

  2. TPM on the Abramoff money trail

  3. Brendan Nyhan on how Bush attacked dissent at VFW speech

  4. Huffington on Jack Murtha’s answer to Bush war road show

  5. Ezra Klein on progressive health care reform in W.Va.

  6. Ezra Klein on the cost of a deportation offensive

  7. Digby on Republican corruption and Democrat responses

  8. James Wolcott on Mrs. Alito’s craven crying game

  9. TalkLeft on Federal Crack sentences actually getting shorter

  10. Kim Hynes on Lieberman and an Alito filibuster

  11. RedState wants John Shadegg for House Majority Leader

  12. Bradford Plumer on the NRA’s global lobby

  13. M. Yglesias on a new Bush administration colonial office

  14. Ruy Teixeira at Donkey Rising on Hispanics bailing from GOP

  15. Memento Moron on Parenthood cliches

  16. Ruminate This on the wiretapping scandal

  17. Andrew Sullivan on James Frey, the “factually challenged” memoirist

  18. Booklust wonders why Oprah is defending the memoirist

  19. Althouse on the Alito hearing

  20. Belgravia Dispatch on Brzezinski

  21. Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy on Swiftboating Alito

  22. Grumpy Old Bookman finjds something to like in Chabon's The Final Solution

  23. Terry Teachout in About Last Night gets snippy about his space

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rejecting Alito

"Imagine this. The nation sustains a string of terrorist attacks. The president suspends the writ of habeas corpus. For precedent, he cites Abraham Lincoln doing the same during the Civil War. We're at war, the president claims, and for now, his authority -- for the sake of national security -- must be obeyed more urgently than the Constitution. What does the Supreme Court do at that point? What would Samuel Alito do, as a justice?" [See the complete NJ editorial...]

From Every Time Zone

Updated Thursday, January 12, 2006 7:59 AM EST
  1. India renegs on Kyoto greenhouse caps (Reuters)

  2. US hails private sector at anti-Kyoto congress (Guardian)

  3. Pentagon grilled on body armor shortage (Newsday)

  4. Guantanamo detainee boycotts his trial (Al-Jazeera)

  5. Turkish press outraged at pope shootist's release (BBC)

  6. Alito leaves door open to reverse Roe v. Wade (WPost)

  7. Germany's economic growth stalls, blow for Europe (FT)

  8. Australian teen breaks leg killing spider (SMH)

  9. Setback in Iraq: Shias reneg on Constitution (Khaleej Times)

  10. Global warming is killing amphibians (Independent)

  11. Wal-Mart benefit furor spreading across US (StLouisPD)

  12. Senior UK officer slams US tactics in Iraq (BBC)

  13. Clinton worried about Mideast's Future (Haaretz)

  14. Malaysia delays adoption of sexist Islamic law (KualaL. Star)

  15. Despite threats, Zapatistas launch pilgrimage (GuadalajaraR)

  16. Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel (Guardian)

  17. Spain on edge after general threatens revolt (Belfast Tgrm)

  18. Canada liberals: push for space weapons ban (TG&M)

  19. Alito Believes in an all-powerful presidentcy (Independent)

Limbo Be Damned

[From our scribe in Brittany...]

The rococo tapestry of Catholic travesties must hang somewhere in the stag rooms of the Vatican underground, surely within glint of the Holy See’s tithe-begotten treasures. It is weaved from two millennia of yarn, enough for comedies divine, human and inhuman, enough to make skins crawl, Inquisitions sing and St. Francis’s snakes fly. (Forgive me Father for I have spite, a side-effect of faith’s curatives.) The tapestry must be magnificence incarnate, beauty and morals having never been a requisite pairing in Church aesthetics if chronicling the immoral could look good on a wall. Look at the tapestry closely. There but for the greens of St. Augustine’s garden go the drab grays of limbo, that cruelest of Church creations. For all those centuries many a mother has imagined her child eternally damned to the second-class bliss of limbo for having died unbaptized. For that, many a mother’s grieving soul has gone to its grave long before death’s deliverance. Never mind, the Vatican now says. It was “only a theological hypothesis,” in the 1984 words of the late Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. What difference does it make when belief in a billion hearts is blind to theology’s hair-splits? It wasn’t even “theological hypothesis” that enabled centuries of pogroms against Jews. More like theological hypnosis. But there they were, the church mercenaries dutifully and joyfully spearing, burning, boiling, gassing Jews until another Never Mind by Benedict’s Cracovian predecessor. Limbo be damned now. What convenience. What guile. What next? Say, Nicea…

—L.D. Amabed Jr.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

From Every Time Zone

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Proof of CIA Secret Sites

The Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick reported on Sunday that it has what it calls "The first proof" of CIA secret "torture prisons in Europe. That," the article claims, "is revealed by a fax between the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs and its message in London. The message was intercepted by Swiss secret service." The report claims a Swiss secret service listening post "a few kilometers south of Berne" intercepted the fax exchanged between the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Cairo, and its Ambassador in London. "The Egyptians have sources which confirm the existence of American secret prisons," says the fax. The message, written in French, goes on to say that 23 Iraqi and Afghan citizens were believed to have been interrogatred at a military base known as Mihail Kogalniceanu, near Constanza, a Romanian port city on the Black Sea, with similar interrogation centers in the Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Egyptian embassador in Berne would not confirm or deny the authenticity of the fax. The information echoes reports by Human Rights Watch last year of CIA flights from Romania and Poland, and specifically of a CIA flight from Mihail Kogalniceanu on September 23, 2005.

In Switzerland meanwhile, Le Monde reports today of severe embarrassment over the leak on the part of the defense ministry. The Financial Times reports the new disclosures today, so do the Guardian and the Telegraph in Britain, but so far not a single American news source has done so.

The Deception of Dow 11,000

The disclaimer appears ahead of most movies formatted for television: “This film has been edited for content and modified from its original version to fit your TV.” A similar disclaimer should apply to the Bush administration infomercials drugging up newscasts about the economy. In black and white, the recent surge of statistical exuberance looks good indeed. Four million jobs created in the last two years. Unemployment below 5 percent. Inflation relatively in check. Still-cheap interest rates. Economic growth between 3 and 4 percent, better than every western economy but Denmark’s. “It’s getting pretty hard for the critics to make the case that the tax cuts weren’t good for the economy,” Vice President Dick Cheney told workers at a Harley-Davidson plant in Kansas City last week. Actually, it’s never been easier to show why the tax cuts were closer to the worst thing for the economy, if it’s ordinary Americans’ well-being you’re worried about (as opposed to shareholder comforts). Read the full column...

From Every Time Zone

Updated Tuesday, January 10, 2006 7:35 AM EST [From The Notebooks’ home site]
  1. Iran resumes nuclear research, defying world (BBC)

  2. Bird flu spreads in Turkey, dozens of cases (Independent)

  3. GM crops fail to deliver benefits to Africa (Joh'brg M&G)

  4. The wit and wisdom of the late Tony Banks (Independent)

  5. How US troops destroyed my family home (Guardian audio)

  6. Japan panics over safety of schoolchildren (Asahi Shimbun)

  7. American Apparel: advertising or soft porn? (Guardian)

  8. Dr Albert Hofman, father of LSD (Independent)

  9. Did US use Nepalese as vaccine guinea pigs? (India Sttmn)

  10. In $70 million deficit, Turin Olympics hit lottery (CDSerra)

  11. Conservatives surge, Canada election in 2 weeks (TStar)

  12. Alito before US Senate, polished script in hand (WPost)

  13. Five new bird flu cases in Turkey (Guardian)

  14. Aussie opposition: Iraq occupation kills peace (The Age)

  15. Dow closes above 11,000 for first time since 2001 (NYT)

  16. 53 % of Americans want Alito confirmed (WPost)

  17. Questioning, from Australia, cost of US alliance (The Age)

  18. Delhi shivers on coldest day in 70 years (The Hindu)

  19. False alarm: Cheney in and out of hospital (Reuters)

  20. Turkey to release Pope gunman (BBC)

  21. Close Guantanamo, says German chancellor (Der Spiegel)

  22. 10 million girls aborted as Indians seek male heirs (Ind't)

A Whore's Royalties

The latest From our scribe in Brittany, Mr. Amabed (from the Notebooks):

“I once knew a whore in Nairobi…” I can’t claim the line. My whoring has never taken me to East Africa. But at least 50,000 clients of one Salome Simon in the slums of Nairobi can. A Canadian newspaper tells the story of the 44-year-old Tanzanian woman who, deserted by a husband years ago and left to feed three children, turned to the old trade for 70 cents a trick. She kept working her five to ten men per diem to feed and educate grandchildren, too. Nothing remarkable there, but this: Ms. Simon has never contracted HIV even though her colleagues’ roll call falls on tombstones, her daughter’s name among them. Her natural immunity is researchers’ Rosetta stone. Crack its code, and they may have a vaccine, a Nobel, a windfall in the billions. They’ve poured millions of dollars on studies and clinics in Ms. Simon’s neighborhood, dispensing condoms and collecting blood samples. But they’ve also kept her in business, a slave to johns, a slave to science. They pray she won’t die, or quit, or find the means to start her dream fruit-stand, which they could start for her for the price of two dinners, if they wanted to. One day a vaccine will be discovered. She’ll have played her part. It would be justice that the vaccine, or a new Nobel for medicine, be named after her and proceeds shared with her — not just for helping to crack a disease’s immunity from defeat, but for earning her trade royalties it has been owed before and since Mary Magdalene. That fantasy, of course, plus 70 cents, will get you in the sack with Ms. Simon’s next-of-corps.

L.D. Amabed Jr.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Abramoff! Abramoff!

Abramoff's Guilt Only Tip of Titanic Iceberg:

"When it wasn't being mistaken for a brand of vodka, the name Abramoff would have meant nothing to most Americans not long ago. It is now one of the most Googled words in the universe. For a few members of Congress and the Bush administration -- maybe more than a few -- it is also the most fearsome name in Washington, even though Jack Abramoff is the capital's most famous crook." Read the rest of the NJ editorial...

Around the World in 80 Dailies

Updated Monday, January 9, 2006 8:16 AM EST
  1. 53 % of Americans want Alito confirmed (WPost)

  2. Questioning, from Australia, cost of US alliance (The Age)

  3. Delhi shivers on coldest day in 70 years (The Hindu)

  4. False alarm: Cheney in and out of hospital (Reuters)

  5. Turkey to release Pope gunman (BBC)

  6. Close Guantanamo, says German chancellor (Der Spiegel)

  7. 10 million girls aborted as Indians seek male heirs (Ind't)

  8. Fiji military boss threatens coup (New Zealand Herald)

  9. Scandal of force-fed prisoners at Guantanamo (Guardian)

  10. Guantanamo's 16-year-old grenade thrower (Toronto Star)

  11. Former Syrian VP calls for popular revolt (BBC)

  12. Taliban torch co-ed school in Afghanistan (Al-Jazeera)

  13. She slept with 50,000 men, never got AIDS (Globe & Mail)

  14. Compensation for uprooted Palestinian trees (Haaretz)

  15. Sex and the Saudis: on Arab hypocrisy (Arab News, SA)

  16. Loch Ness Monster trumped Cold War priorities (Times)

  17. Porn industry's annual awards Vegas party (LAT/Blog)

  18. Conservatism shaped Alito in 70s (Washington Post)

  19. Scotland also fighting obesity epidemic (Scotsman)

  20. Shia accuse US of appeasing insurgents (Independent)

  21. China aims for pop. below 1.37 bln by 2010 (People's Daily)

  22. US generals disagree over exploding Iraqi violence (SMH)

War Costs: Iraq, Vietnam, Ruin

In September 2003, less than six months into the war in Iraq, USA Today reported that the “combined” monthly costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were almost $5 billion, not including the cost of rebuilding, added costs to the Veterans Administration, subsequent health care, and so on. “In Vietnam,” the paper wrote, “the last sustained war the nation fought, the United States spent $111 billion during the eight years of the war, from 1964 to 1972. Adjusted for inflation, that's more than $494 billion, an average of $61.8 billion per year, or $5.15 billion per month.” Those costs are now a wishful and distant memory.

In October 2005 the Congressional Research Service calculated that the two wars’ costs have escalated to $7 billion per month, for a total bill, so far, adding up to $357 billion. Iraq accounts for $251 billion of that, Afghanistan $82 billion, and “enhanced base security” another $24 billion. “DOD’s current monthly average spending rate is about $6 billion for Iraq, $1 billion for Afghanistan and $170 million for enhanced base security.” The costs of war in Iraq alone, by those calculations, exceed the costs of Vietnam by at least $2 billion a month, if Iraq is to account for a share of that “enhanced base security” cost. Needless to say, those costs are growing, not declining—notwithstanding President Bush’s “Drop Dead” message to Iraqi reconstruction goals.  

The Congressional Budget Office is estimating that war costs will total $260 billion between 2006 and 20010, assuming that a phased withdrawal begins in 2007. The figures, needless to say, are wildly optimistic. Now comes the estimate by Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Prize foe economics, 2001; former senior VP and chief economist of the World Bank) and Harvard lecturer Linda Blimes estimating, conservatively, that the cost of the war in Iraq alone will top $2 trillion by 2010. Let’s put that estimate aside for a moment and stick with the $250 billion already spent in Iraq, according to CRS calculations. Then recall any of a series of news reports about what the Bush administration was (and mostly wasn’t) saying about the costs of war in Iraq in January 2003, three months before kick-off. This from a CNN report from January 2: “The White House is downplaying published reports of an estimated $50 billion to $60 billion price tag for a war with Iraq, saying it is "impossible" to estimate the cost at this time. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels told The New York Times in an interview published Tuesday that such a conflict could cost $50 billion to $60 billion -- the price tag of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.”  Of course the White House was downplaying the costs. But it couldn’t do it alone. It had help from the media, who never seriously pursued calculations of what an invasion would cost, never doubted the lies and obfuscations and mealy-mouthed deceptions dribbling out of the White House, and helped crucify Larry Lindsey, the Bush economic adviser, who dared suggest that the war could cost up to $200 billion. He was promptly fired. Congress, meanwhile, was chatting up possibilities of a $93 billion war. Even that was a gross understatement. It isn’t that more relatively correct estimates weren’t being prepared. But as with pre-war intelligence about WMDs, it never mattered how accurate or inaccurate the information was. What mattered, exclusively, was what the Bush administration wanted to hear. And it wasn’t interested in hearing anything about costs. This from a New York Times article on February 28, 2003: Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war’s duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.” No one was demanding absolute accuracy. Only some realism. But to assume that anyone in the administration was looking for realism at any time is to upend everything we now know about the administration.

Bush, incidentally, was quoted in that CNN report as saying that “This economy cannot afford to stand an attack.” He was referring to this American economy (as in, “This American House.”) He was referring to a  terrorist attack. And he was, in the absolute and in retrospect, terribly wrong. Revolting as it is to say, the economy — virtually any western economy — could easily afford, or rather absorb, terrorist attack after terrorist attack. But “This economy” cannot afford a $100 billion-a-year war. It has one on its hands, and with it the certainty of slow-baked ruin à-la-1970s, but in worse, not long from now. In the 1970s, as the United States was recovering from Vietnam and the costs of the Great Society, it could at least bank on a solid financial foundation, relatively little debt, a trade surplus and a budget deficit that looks laughable in retrospect. None of those cushions exist now. But hey: another opportunity to force small (domestic) government down the throats of society. What choice will we have but to cut and run, at home, from every other domestic program that once made this country livable? The administration knew what it was getting into in Iraq. It just didn’t care to be stopped. Deception was part of the plan all along.

One final note by way of a case in point. The CRS report is full of collateral revelations that deserve their own set of congressional hearings: The Department of Defense, the CRS report tells us,  “also used $2.5 billion from prior year monies to prepare for the Iraq war before passage of the joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq in October 2002.” There was also the matter of the $7 billion “lost” by the Department of Defense somewhere along the way. Those not-so technical bombshells have, and will, receive barely a peep from either a public or media too infatuated with all things military to question a trampled Constitutional principle here or a lost billion there.