Drawing the lone superpower into an endless global struggle, draining it of its wealth and will

Wanted: Competent Big Brothers

After four and a half years, our intelligence and national-security apparatus still hasn’t learned how to track terrorists, and the Bush administration has put forward little more than cosmetic reforms.

The legal controversy over the NSA surveillance program has obscured an intelligence issue that is at least as important to the nation’s future: sheer competence. Do we have any idea what we’re doing? One reason the NSA is listening in on so many domestic conversations fruitlessly—few of the thousands of tips panned out, according to The Washington Post—is that the agency barely has a clue as to who, or what, it is supposed to be monitoring.

While soaking up the lion’s share of the $40 billion annual intel budget, the NSA continues to preside over an antiquated cold-war apparatus, one designed to listen in on official communications pipelines in nation-states. Today it is overwhelmed by cell-phone and Internet traffic. While terror groups multiply, the NSA is still waiting for the next Soviet Union to arise (which many in the Pentagon see as China, say, 50 to 100 years from now). As a December 2002 report by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee noted, “Only a tiny fraction” of the NSA’s 650 million daily intercepts worldwide “are actually ever reviewed by humans, and much of what is collected gets lost in the deluge of data.”

As the hearings over the NSA continue as the article suggests the Senators need to be questioning both the legality and the competence of the Bush directives. Are the Bushies giving our national security the Katrina treatment and mostly spinning wheels or are they doing something substantive. Its not the American people, but it seems like a majority of humanity has often times been caught up in a furuor of nationalism at the expense of holding the powers that be accountable for real measurable accomplishments. The righties claim to care about national security and on some level I’m sure that some of them do, but way too often the shouts of anti-patriotism to drown out any legitimate critism of Bush may be in fact putting America’s long term security in peril. While the cartoon bruhaha has mushroomed into a serious matter it is also distracting from even more serious matters like the best and most effective uses of our intelligence assets and the role that Iran and probably Saudi Arabia is playing in formenting unrest among certain Muslim communities.

Former NSA senior director Philip Bobbitt, writing recently in The New York Times, provided a vivid example of the importance of data mining and pattern analysis. On Sept. 10, 2001, he wrote, the NSA intercepted two messages: ”The match begins tomorrow” and ”Tomorrow is zero hour.” They were picked up from random monitoring of pay phones in areas of Afghanistan where Al Qaeda was active. No one knew what to make of them, and in any case they were not translated or disseminated until Sept. 12. But “had we at the time cross-referenced credit card accounts, frequent-flyer programs and a cellphone number shared by those two men, data mining might easily have picked up on the 17 other men linked to them and flying on the same day at the same time on four flights,” Bobbitt wrote. Today the NSA seems hardly more capable of piecing together the next “tomorrow is zero hour” intercept.

Which would seem to indicate that since Bush and minions can’t handle the proper processing of intelligence from legal uses of surveillance, should they be going out of their way to circumvent FISA laws to data mine information from thousands of Americans that in the vast majority of the time have yielded little in the way of useful information…chickens…running..around..heads..and so forth. It not like Bush and Cheney have any achievements of note on their respective resumes.

Only one person has the power to slice through the bureaucratic inertia and set real reform in motion: the president of the United States. But to do so, of course, could put the permanent war in jeopardy. And if you’re a “war president,” as Bush describes himself, and you want to reassert presidential power, as he does, then permanent war can be a good thing. Perhaps that is why Karl Rove, with his war-works-for-the-GOP campaign strategy for 2006, looks so happy these days. Perhaps it is why the president—who once dismissed Osama bin Laden as unimportant as he diverted the nation’s attention and resources to Iraq—now says that Americans should take the mastermind of 9/11 “seriously.” (Wasn’t it just Groundhog Day recently?) Perhaps it is why the Bush administration is now devoting so much to its military buildup while stripping critical education programs needed to make America more competitive, insisting on permanent tax cuts and ensuring monster deficits for decades.

Wait a minute. Drawing the lone superpower into an endless global struggle, draining it of its wealth and will … that was Osama bin Laden’s strategic goal, right? Didn’t we have some intelligence on that once?

Its not just Bush, we’ve been under one party rule for a while and any critism from his own party is timid and usually ignored. So hey let’s party like this war will never end, because it looks like that the way certain people want it even if that’s not their intention.

02-10-06: updated for typos

beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil

Were the King’s ears burned, His gentle ears

Dan Froomkin asks the following question:

But was it appropriate to take advantage of Bush’s attempt to reach out to the African-American community to publicly berate him? Bush, after all, changed his schedule to attend and deliver his own gracious, if bland, tribute .

“I’ve come today to offer the sympathy of our entire nation at the passing of a woman who worked to make our nation whole,” Bush said, before sitting down and getting his ears boxed.

Oh lord, yes. George Bush is not a king. He is not owed our deference.

Reaching out?

FEMA is about to kick thousands of people in the street with no place to go after surviving Katrina

Our diffrrences with George Bush are not trivial or based on policy. They are real and substantial. People’s children are dying in Iraq, New Orleans is a wasteland, and we’re supposed to be upset that he got his feelings hurt at a funeral.

Look, 90 percent of the audience thought he was there for show anyway. He didn’t much care about the King family when she was alive, and his lame speech is now supposed to impress people now that she’s dead?

If white commentators expect black people to react to their pained words of criticism, they are going to be sadly suprised at the indifference their complaints will meet. Black people bury their leaders how we choose fit. If Jeff Greenfield doesn’t like it, well, no one asked his opinion.

Was he ripping into the online racists as they mocked the dead of Katrina?

Of course not.

With Tom Delay roasting over a flame of his own making and Republicans the sole recipients of Abramoff money, Republicans were going to fight the Culture of Corruption image by selecting someone that would be clean of ties to lobbyists, enter Rep. John A. Boehner as House leader, Boehner Rents Apartment Owned by Lobbyist in D.C.

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was elected House majority leader last week, is renting his Capitol Hill apartment from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

snip

Boehner’s work closely coincides with the interests of Milne. In 2002, the House approved the Economic Security and Worker Assistance Act, a tax measure originally drafted by Boehner, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) as the Back to Work Act. The measure eventually was signed into law.

Lobbying disclosure forms indicate that one of Milne’s clients, Fortis Health Plans, hired him to lobby the Economic Security and Worker Assistance Act.

Another client, the Buca di Beppo chain of Italian restaurants, hired Milne to push the Small Business Tax Fairness Act, which would allow restaurants to deduct the cost of investments at a faster pace. The measure was introduced by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) in 2003, with Boehner as one of 15 co-sponsors. Many of its provisions have since become law.

Fortis, now called Assurant Health, also asked Milne to push Health Savings Accounts, the tax-free savings accounts established by Congress to help with health care costs not covered by high-deductible plans. Boehner is a proponent of such accounts, which President Bush is targeting for a major expansion.

Buca di Beppo and another restaurant chain, Parasole Restaurant Holdings Inc., also hired Milne to lobby on the minimum wage and tax credits for tips, issues directly under the Education and the Workforce Committee’s purview.

The restaurant industry has long fought minimum-wage increases, seeking instead to augment restaurant wages with tips that become more valuable if they can avoid taxation. Despite numerous attempts by Democrats and some pro-labor Republicans, the minimum wage has not been raised since 1997, when it was lifted from $4.75 to $5.15. Since then, inflation has eroded its value to near-record lows.

I think this is now standard operating procedure in the Conservative Handbook, reward moral corruption: DeLay Lands Coveted Appropriations Spot

Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay, forced to step down as the No. 2 Republican in the House, scored a soft landing Wednesday as GOP leaders rewarded him with a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

DeLay, R-Texas, also claimed a seat on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, which is currently investigating an influence-peddling scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with lawmakers. The subcommittee also has responsibility over NASA a top priority for DeLay, since the Johnson Space Center is located in his Houston-area district.

Allowing Tom DeLay to sit on a committee in charge of giving out money is like putting Michael Brown back in charge of FEMA Republicans in Congress just can’t seem to resist standing by their man,” said Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Our quote of the day in bold.

Are we through with Cartoon Wars yet? Not really because it does speak to broader issues of what some see as blasphemy and others see as an issue of free expression. While I come down on the side of damn the torpedoes full free expression ahead, thoughts of respect for others beliefs cannot help but enter into the discussion. That in mind, this is worth a read….A Startling New Lesson in the Power of Imagery

What may be overlooked this time is a deep, abiding fact about visual art, its totemic power: the power of representation. This power transcends logic or aesthetics. Like words, it can cause genuine pain.

Ancient Greeks used to chain statues to prevent them from fleeing. Buddhists in Ceylon once believed that a painting could be brought to life once its eyes were painted. In the Netherlands in the 1560’s, pictures were smashed in nearly every town and village simply for being graven images. And in the Philippines, enraged citizens destroyed billboards of Ferdinand Marcos.

To many people, pictures will always, mysteriously, embody the things they depict. Among the issues to be hashed out in this affair, there’s a lesson to be gleaned about art: Even a dumb cartoon may not be so dumb if it calls out to someone.

Ezra Klein suggests and kind of picks up on a previous post that the Muslim world needs to work through the cultural pains of its own Reformation, How Not To Change a Culture

Everyone ought to object to the illiberal and antifeminist aspects of Islamic culture, and people across the world ought to work together to change them. The great delusion of right-wing bloggers is that this change can be achieved by military means. That can sometimes work against a nationalistic ideology, where the complete defeat of a nation in battle can break the will of its people. But religion puts its highest value on things outside the world, far beyond the blast radius of laser-guided bombs.

Ezra is probably right in saying that most right-wing bloggers do not want to bomb every Muslim country in the world into a mound of dust. On the other hand there are some that don’t mind the idea at all. Some comments I found at Free Republic about Muslim reaction to the cartoons,

This is why we have Cluster bombs.

Yawn … mooslims are upset and want to kill us … this is supposed to be news ??

Exactly, their “work” will consist of, blackmail, murder, suicide, kidnapping, be-headings and bomb-making.

This is why we have Cluster bombs.

Exactly. We should start using them more often and throw in some daisy cutters for good measure.

It seems like I remember some guy that had similar thoughts about Jews, liberals, and communists…like if we just put them all in camps and kill them we’ll have paradise here on earth. There is a failure now to condemn the worst aspects of militant Islam without sweeping all Muslims up in a net of national prejudices and condemnation. It is a fact that not every Muslim in the world has gone out and killed someone or blown-up an embassey. According to Wikipedia, Islam is the world’s second largest religion with over 900 million adherents; which would suggest that if all Muslims were pathological we’re not seeing the level of violence that 900 million people are capable of. The entire population of the United States is around 300 million just to give an idea of proportion. According to a 1991 survey there are over 5 million Muslims in the United States. I don’t know that any religion that can really claim to be the religion of peace, but it does look as if Muslims were somehow inherently violent as a whole even if only half of US Muslims decided to start rioting we’d have a real problem rather then the fantasized problems of the paranoids such as those at Free Republic, or Fox News for that matter. It doesn’t get much press, but there is a movement within Islam for more modernity and rationalism, Modern Islamic philosophy

Muhammad Iqbal sought an Islamic revival based on social justice ideals and emphasized traditional rules, e.g. against usury. He argued strongly that dogma, territorial nationalism and outright racism, all of which were profoundly rejected in early Islam and especially by Muhammad himself, were splitting Muslims into warring factions, encouraging materialism and nihilism.

Ismail al-Faruqi, …. “Islamization of knowledge” program sought to converge early Muslim philosophy with modern sciences, resulting in, for example, Islamic economics and Islamic sociology.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a political ecologist, argues that khalifa in Islam is fundamentally compatible with ideals of the ecology movement and peace movement, more so than conventional interpretations of Islam. He argues for an ecology-based ecumenism that would seek unity amongst the faiths by concentrating on their common respect for life as a Creation, i.e. the Earth’s biosphere, Gaia, or whatever name. Pope John Paul II has made similar suggestions that “mankind must be reconciled to the Creation”, and there is a Parliament of World Religions seeking a “global ethic” on similar grounds.

If Tom Clancy were to write a spy thriller that told of an out of control president that thinks he has all the power and prerogative usually associated with authoritarian rulers, people would just smile and talk about how that Tom can sure spin a tale, Secret Court’s Judges Were Warned About NSA Spy Data

Twice in the past four years, a top Justice Department lawyer warned the presiding judge of a secret surveillance court that information overheard in President Bush’s eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to obtain wiretap warrants in the court, according to two sources with knowledge of those events.

The revelations infuriated U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly — who, like her predecessor, Royce C. Lamberth, had expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring of phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal. Both judges had insisted that no information obtained this way be used to gain warrants from their court, according to government sources, and both had been assured by administration officials it would never happen.

Bush:let’s tax WIFI

President George W.Bush is proposing a tax on WiFi and other unlicensed technologies as a way to get some cash into the government coffers and make up for the deficit. Apparently, now that it has become a viable business and innovation opportunity, the Government believes its time to tax it. Yet another example that there is a serious disconnect between Washington DC and Silicon Valley.

From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but to have them erect their own buildings. My plan was to have them, while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods of labour, so that the school would not only get the benefit of their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity; would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake. My plan was not to teach them to work in the old way, but to show them how to make the forces of nature–air, water, steam, electricity, horse-power–assist them in their labour.

At first many advised against the experiment of having the buildings erected by the labour of the students, but I was determined to stick to it. I told those who doubted the wisdom of the plan that I knew that our first buildings would not be so comfortable or so complete in their finish as buildings erected by the experienced hands of outside workmen, but that in the teaching of civilization, self-help, and self-reliance, the erection of buildings by the students themselves would more than compensate for any lack of comfort or fine finish.

I further told those who doubted the wisdom of this plan, that the majority of our students came to us in poverty, from the cabins of the cotton, sugar, and rice plantations of the South, and that while I knew it would please the students very much to place them at once in finely constructed buildings, I felt that it would be following out a more natural process of development to teach them how to construct their own buildings. Mistakes I knew would be made, but these mistakes would teach us valuable lessons for the future.
excerpt from Up From Slavery: An Autobiograph, Chapter X. A Harder Task Than Making Bricks Without Straw, by Booker T. Washington