Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Lynching of Saddam Hussein
by Tarik Ali

It was symbolic that 2006 ended with a colonial hanging--- most of it (bar the last moments) shown on state television in occupied Iraq.

It has been that sort of year in the Arab world. After a trial so blatantly rigged that even Human Rights Watch---the largest single unit of the US Human Rights industry--- had to condemn it as a total travesty. Washington's orders; defence lawyers were killed and the whole procedure resembled a well-orchestrated lynch mob. Where Nurnberg was a more dignified application of victor's justice, Saddam's trial has, till now, been the crudest and most grotesque.

The Great Thinker President's reference to it 'as a milestone on the road to Iraqi democracy' as clear an indication as any that Washington pressed the trigger. The contemptible leaders of the European Union, supposedly hostile to capital punishment, were silent, as usual.

That Saddam was a tyrant is beyond dispute, but what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who now occupy the country. It was, as he admitted in one of his trial outbursts, the approval of Washington (and the poison gas supplied by West Germany) that gave him the confidence to douse Halabja with chemicals in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war. He deserved a proper trial and punishment in an independent Iraq. Not this.

The double standards applied by the West never cease to astonish. Indonesia's Suharto who presided over a mountain of corpses (At least a million to accept the lowest figure) was protected by Washington. He never annoyed them as much as Saddam. And what of those who have created the mess in Iraq today? The torturers of Abu Ghraib; the pitiless butchers of Fallujah; the ethnic cleansers of Baghdad, the Kurdish prison boss who boasts that his model is Guantanamo.

Will Bush and Blair ever be tried for war crimes? Doubtful. And Aznar, currently employed as a lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington, DC , where the language of instruction is English of which he doesn't speak a word. His reward is a punishment for the students.

Saddam's lynching might send a shiver through the collective, if artificial, spine of the Arab ruling elites. If Saddam can be hanged, so can Mubarik, the Hashemite joker in Amman and the Saudi royals, as long as those who topple them are happy to play ball with Washington.
Saddam Hussein Hanged for the Wrong Reason

Gwynne Dyer, Arab News

It was not the Iraqi government but its American masters that chose to execute Saddam Hussein in a great rush as soon as the first sentence was confirmed, thus canceling all the other trials on far graver charges that awaited him. The current Iraqi government had nothing to hide if those trials went ahead; the United States government did.

Cast your mind back to the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Washington’s pretext for war then was Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, with barely a word about bringing democracy to the downtrodden Iraqi people. But in order to persuade us that Saddam’s WMD were a threat to the whole world, we were told a lot about how wicked he was, how he had even “gassed his own people.”

Well, there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, so now the script has been changed to say that the war was about bringing democracy to Iraq. But that still requires Saddam Hussein to be a monstrous villain (which he certainly was), and it needs some dramatic supporting stories about how he abused his own people, like his poison gas attacks on rebel Kurds in 1988. So let’s try him for the slaughter of the Kurds in 1988, and then we’ll hang him.

Fair enough, and the trial for the gassing of the Kurds actually got started a couple of months ago. Other trials, for his savage repression of the Kurdish revolt in 1988 and the Shiite revolt in 1991, were already scheduled to happen in the New Year. But none of that came to pass. All the other trials have been cancelled, and they actually hanged Saddam for the judicial murder of 144 villagers in the town of Dujail who were allegedly involved in a plot to kill him in 1982.

Dujail? Here is a man who began his career in power in the late 1960s by exterminating the entire (mostly Shia) leadership of the Communist party in Iraq, went on to launch an invasion of Iran in 1980 that cost up to half a million lives, massacred his own Kurdish population in 1987-88 when some of their leaders sided with the Iranians, invaded Kuwait in 1990, and massacred Iraqi Shiites in 1991 when they rebelled against his rule at the end of that war. And they hanged him for Dujail?

It’s as if they had taken Adolf Hitler alive in 1945, but ignored his responsibility for starting World War II and his murder of six million Jews and just put him on trial for executing people suspected of involvement in the July 1944 bomb plot. With all of Saddam’s other crimes to choose from, why on earth would you hang him for executing the people suspected of involvement in the Dujail plot?

Because the United States was not involved in that one. It was involved in the massacre of the Iraqi Communists (the US Central Intelligence Agency gave Saddam their membership lists). It was implicated up to its ears in Saddam’s war against Iran — to the point of arranging for Iraq to be supplied with the chemicals to make poison gas, providing Baghdad with satellite and AWACS intelligence data on Iranian targets, and seconding US Air Force photo interpreters to Baghdad to draw Saddam the detailed maps of Iranian trenches that let him drench them in poison gas.

The Reagan administration stopped Congress from condemning Saddam’s use of poison gas, and the US State Department tried to protect Saddam when he gassed his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja in 1988, spreading stories (which it knew to be false) that Iranian planes had dropped the gas. It was the US that finally saved Saddam’s regime by providing naval escorts for tankers carrying oil from Arab Gulf states while Iraqi planes were left free to attack tankers coming from Iranian ports. Even when one of Saddam’s planes mistakenly attacked an American destroyer in 1987, killing 37 crewmembers, Washington forgave him.

And it was George W. Bush’s father who urged Iraq’s Shiites and Kurds to rebel after Saddam was driven out of Kuwait in 1991, and then failed to use US air power to protect the Shiites from massacre when they answered his call. The US was deeply involved in all of Saddam’s major crimes, one way or another, so no trial that delved into the details of those crimes could be allowed.

Instead, the spin-doctors in the current Bush administration put the Dujail trial first and scheduled the trials for Saddam’s bigger crimes for later, knowing that they would all be canceled once the death penalty for the Dujail incident was confirmed. The dirty laundry will never have to be displayed in public. But it does mean that the man who was hanged last Saturday morning not only had a farce of a trial before a kangaroo court; he was executed for the wrong crime.
Silencing Saddam
by Robert Scheer

It is a very frightening precedent that the United States can invade a country on false pretenses, depose its leader and summarily execute him without an international trial or appeals process. This is about vengeance, not justice, for if it were the latter the existing international norms would have been observed. The trial should have been overseen by the World Court, in a country that could have guaranteed the safety of defense lawyers, who, in this case, were killed or otherwise intimidated.

The irony here is that the crimes for which Saddam Hussein was convicted occurred before the United States, in the form of Donald Rumsfeld, embraced him. Those crimes were well known to have occurred 15 months before Rumsfeld visited Iraq to usher in an alliance between the United States and Saddam to defeat Iran.

The fact is that Saddam Hussein knew a great deal about the United States’ role in Iraq, including deals made with Bush’s father. This rush to execute him had the feel of a gangster silencing the key witness to a crime.

At Nuremberg in the wake of World War II the U.S. set the bar very high by declaring that even the Nazis, who had committed the most heinous of crimes, should have a fair trial. The U.S. and allies insisted on this not to serve those charged, but to educate the public through a believable accounting. In the case of Saddam, the bar was lowered to the mud, with the proceedings turned into a political circus reminiscent of Stalin’s show trials.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Another Victory for Mr.Bush

The New York Times

December 31, 2006
Hussein Video Grips Iraq; Attacks Go On

BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 — Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.

His last words were equally defiant.

“Down with the traitors, the Americans, the spies and the Persians.”

The former ruler of Iraq’s final hour began about 5 a.m., when American troops escorted him from Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport, to another American base at the heart of the city, Camp Justice.

There, he was handed over to a newly trained unit of the Iraqi National Police, with whom he would later exchange curses. Iraq took full custody of Mr. Hussein at 5:30 a.m.

Two American helicopters flew 14 witnesses from the Green Zone to the execution site — a former headquarters of the deposed government’s much feared military intelligence outfit, the Istikhbarat, now inside the American base.

Mr. Hussein was escorted into the room where the red metal gallows stood, greeted at the door by three masked executioners known as Ashmawi. Several of the witnesses present — including Munkith al-Faroun, the deputy prosecutor for the court; Munir Haddad, the deputy chief judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal; and Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament — described how the execution unfolded.

To protect himself from the bitter cold before dawn during the short trip, Mr. Hussein wore a 1940s-style wool cap, a scarf and a long black coat over a white collared shirt.

His executioners wore black ski masks, but Mr. Hussein could still see their deep brown skin and hear their dialects, distinct to the Shiite southern part of the country, where he had so brutally repressed two separate uprisings.

The room, only 30 feet square, had a foul odor. It was cold, had bad lighting and a sad, melancholic atmosphere. With the witnesses and another 11 other people — including guards and the video crew — it was cramped.

Mr. Hussein’s eyes darted about, trying to take in just who was going to put an end to him.

The executioners took his hat and his scarf.

Mr. Hussein, whose hands were bound in front of him, was taken to the judge’s room next door. He followed each order he was given.

He sat down and the verdict, finding him guilty of crimes against humanity, was read aloud.

“Long live the nation!” Mr. Hussein shouted. “Long live the people!”

He continued shouting until the verdict was read in full, and then he composed himself again.

When he rose to be led back to the execution room at 6 a.m., he looked strong, confident and incredibly calm. Whatever apprehension he may have had only minutes earlier had faded.

The general prosecutor asked Mr. Hussein to whom he wanted to give his Koran. He said Bandar, the son of Awad al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court who was also to be executed soon.

The room was quiet as everyone began to pray, including Mr. Hussein. “Prayers be upon Mohammed and his holy family.”

Two guards added, “Supporting his son Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.”

Mr. Hussein seemed a bit stunned, swinging his head in their direction.

They were talking about Moktada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric whose militia is now committing some of the worst violence in the sectarian fighting; he is the son of a revered Shiite cleric, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who many believe Mr. Hussein had murdered.

“Moktada?” he spat out, a mix between sarcasm and disbelief.

The national security adviser in Iraq, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, asked him if he had any remorse or fear.

“No,” he said bluntly. “I am a militant and I have no fear for myself. I have spent my life in jihad and fighting aggression. Anyone who takes this route should not be afraid.”

Mr. Rubaie, who was standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Hussein, asked him about the murder of the elder Mr. Sadr.

They were standing so close to each other that others could not hear the exchange.

One of the guards, though, became angry. “You have destroyed us,” the masked man yelled. “You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution.”

Mr. Hussein was scornful. “I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persian and Americans.”

The guard cursed him. “God damn you.”

Mr. Hussein replied, “God damn you.”

Two of the witnesses exchanged a quiet joke, saying that they gathered the goal of disbanding the militias had yet to be accomplished.

The deputy prosecutor, Mr. Faroun, berated the guards, saying, “I will not accept any offense directed at him.”

Mr. Hussein was led up to the gallows without a struggle. His hands were unbound, put behind his back, then fastened again. He showed no remorse. He held his head high.

“He proved that he was courageous,” said one of his bitter enemies who could not help respect his calm in the face of death.

The executioners offered him a hood. He refused. They explained that the thick rope could cut through his neck and offered to use the scarf he had worn earlier to keep that from happening. Mr. Hussein accepted.

The platform he stood on was very high, with a deep hole beneath it.

He said a last prayer. And then, his eyes wide open, no stutter or choke in his throat, said his final words cursing the Americans and the Persians.

At 6:10 a.m., the trapdoor swung open. He seemed to fall a good distance, but he died swiftly. After just a minute, he was not moving. His eyes still were open but he was dead.

His body stayed hanging on the rope for another nine minutes as those in attendance broke out in prayer, praising the Prophet, at the death of a dictator.

Ali Adeeb and Khalid al-Ansary contributed reporting from Baghdad.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Saddam: The death of a dictator
Through the bumbling of the U.S.-backed regime, justice becomes revenge, and a despot becomes a martyr.

By Juan Cole

Dec. 30, 2006 The body of Saddam, as it swung from the gallows at 6 a.m. Saturday Baghdad time, cast an ominous shadow over Iraq. The execution provoked intense questions about whether his trial was fair and about what the fallout will be. One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice. Instead of promoting national reconciliation, this act of revenge helped Saddam portray himself one last time as a symbol of Sunni Arab resistance, and became one more incitement to sectarian warfare.

Saddam Hussein was tried under the shadow of a foreign military occupation, by a government full of his personal enemies. The first judge, an ethnic Kurd, resigned because of government interference in the trial; the judge who took his place was also Kurdish and had grievances against the accused. Three of Saddam's defense lawyers were shot down in cold blood. The surviving members of his defense team went on strike to protest the lack of protection afforded them. The court then appointed new lawyers who had no expertise in international law. Most of the witnesses against Saddam gave hearsay evidence. The trial ground slowly but certainly toward the inevitable death verdict.

Like everything else in Iraq since 2003, Saddam's trial became entangled in sectarian politics. Iraq is roughly 60 percent Shiite, 18 percent Sunni Arab and 18 percent Kurdish. Elements of the Sunni minority were favored under fellow Sunni Saddam, and during his long, brutal reign this community tended to have high rates of membership in the Baath Party. Although many members of Saddam's own ethnic group deeply disliked him, since the U.S. invasion he has gradually emerged as a symbol of the humiliation that the once-dominant Sunni minority has suffered under a new government dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Saddam was a symbol of Sunni-Shiite rivalry long before the U.S. occupation. In 1991, while he was in power, he had ferociously suppressed the post-Gulf War Shiite uprising in the south, using helicopter gunships and tanks to kill an estimated 60,000. After the invasion, many Shiites wanted him to be captured, while many Sunnis helped him elude capture. When Saddam was finally caught by U.S. forces in late 2003, Shiites in the Baghdad district of Kadhimiya crossed the bridge over the Tigris to dance and gloat in the neighboring Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya, provoking some clashes. After his capture, students at Mosul University, in Iraq's second-largest and mostly Sunni Arab city, chanted, "Bush, Bush, hear our refrain: We all love Saddam Hussein!" and "We'll die, we'll die, but the nation will live! And America will fall!"

As the U.S. consolidated control over Iraq, meanwhile, Sunni alienation increased. The American occupiers adopted punitive measures against members of the Baath Party, who were disproportionately though by no means universally Sunni Arab. The army was dissolved, sidelining 400,000 troops and the predominantly Sunni officer corps. Thousands of Sunni Arab civil servants and even schoolteachers were fired.

A "de-Baathification" committee, dominated by hard-line Shiites like Nouri al-Maliki (now prime minister) and Ahmed Chalabi, denied large numbers of Sunni Arabs the right to participate in political society or hold government positions on grounds of links to the Baath Party. Sometimes politicians were blackballed simply because a relative had been high in the party.

As Iraq spiraled down into a brutal civil war with massive killing and ethnic cleansing, many Iraqis began to yearn for the oppressive security of the Saddam period. After the destruction of the golden dome of the Shiite Askariya mosque in Samarra last February, Iraqis fell into an orgy of sectarian reprisal killings.

By the time of Saddam's trial, sectarian strife was widespread, and the trial simply made it worse. It was not just the inherent bias of a judicial system dominated by his political enemies. Even the crimes for which he was tried were a source of ethnic friction. Saddam Hussein had had many Sunni Arabs killed, and a trial on such a charge could have been politically savvy. Instead, he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982. This Shiite town had been a hotbed of activism by the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, which was founded in the late 1950s and modeled on the Communist Party. In the wake of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, Saddam conceived a profound fear of Dawa and similar parties, banning them and making membership a capital crime. Young Dawa leaders such as al-Maliki fled to Tehran, Iran, or Damascus, Syria.

When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

Passions did not subside with time. When the death verdict was announced against Saddam in November, Sunni Arabs in Baquba, to the northeast of the capital, staged a big pro-Saddam demonstration. They were attacked by the Shiite police that dominate that mixed city, who killed 20 demonstrators and wounded a similar number. There were also pro-Saddam demonstrations in Fallujah and Mosul. Baghdad had to be put under curfew.

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.

The political ineptitude of the tribunal, from start to finish, was astonishing. The United States and its Iraqi allies basically gave Saddam a platform on which to make himself a martyr to Iraqi unity and independence -- even if by unity and independence Saddam was really appealing to Sunnis' nostalgia for their days of hegemony.

In his farewell address, however, Saddam could not help departing from his national-unity script to take a few last shots at his ethnic rivals. Despite some smarmy language urging Iraqis not to hate the Americans, Saddam denounced the "invaders" and "Persians" who had come into Iraq. The invaders are the American army, and the Persians are code not just for Iranian agents but for Iraqi Shiites, whom many Sunni Arabs view as having Iranian antecedents and as not really Iraqi or Arab. It was such attitudes that led to slaughters like that at Dujail.

In his death, as in his life, Saddam Hussein is managing to divide Iraqis and condemn them to further violence and brutality. But the Americans and the Shiite- and Kurd-dominated government bear some blame for the way they botched his trial and gave him this last opportunity to play the spoiler.

Iraq is on high alert, in expectation of protests and guerrilla reprisals. Leaves have been canceled for Iraqi soldiers, though in the past they have seldom paid much attention to such orders. But perhaps the death of Saddam, who once haunted the nightmares of a nation, will soon come to seem insignificant. In Iraq, guerrilla and criminal violence executes as many as 500 persons a day. Saddam's hanging is just one more occasion for a blood feud in a country that now has thousands of them.
A Calculated Lawlessness
John Nichols writes that the abrupt execution of Saddam Hussein has confirmed the reality at the heart of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq: the crude lawlessness of Hussein has been replaced by the calculated lawlessness of a new regime.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Larisa Alexandrovna :

Sometime this morning, all the various and truly bizarre events the Bush administration has been engaged in recently with regard to troop levels and surges suddenly crystallized for me, as though I were sitting at a chess board and seeing the entire strategy unfold before my eyes.

This is of course my opinion and I may very well be wrong. In fact, I hope I am wrong. But the news that Saddam Hussein would be executed soon, and then the news that it would be in the next 48 hours, boggled my mind. Why on earth would anyone want to set off an ideological bomb during an already chaotic situation? I do not defend Saddam Hussein, not by any measure. But when Iraq is falling into total chaos and civil war, and as American troops continue to die, why would anyone want to add fuel to that fire, enough fuel to destroy what is left?

Suspend your emotions and think strategically. Now look at the question again and in context.

The administration is stalling as it supposedly weighs its Iraq options, when in fact they have already made their decision. How do I know they have made their decision? One need only look at the slow leaks coming out, not the least of which was Joe Lieberman’s op-ed in the Washington Post, to understand that we are going to be sending more troops to Iraq. So why does the administration wait to tell us this?

In the meantime, naval carriers are deployed to send Iran “a warning,” as though the threats thus far and the passing of sanctions are not warning enough. Add to that the detainment of Iranian diplomats invited to Iraq by the Iraqi leadership. Why is the US arresting diplomats invited to a country that the US claims is a sovereign nation governing itself?

And what about those sanctions, which ultimately mean nothing and sadly mean everything? The sanctions are so watered down as to have no real effect on the Iranian population or economy. Why even bother passing them?

Why censor Dr. Leverett's opinion piece on Iran when the CIA already cleared it?

Now given this entire context, ask yourself again why Saddam Hussein is being executed now, during Hajj even? What is the urgency?


This is what I think may be playing out, my opinion of course. And yes, the strategy is so brazenly obvious, arrogant, and antithetical to everything America is supposed to be and stand for that it will be difficult to digest.

What the Bush administration appears to be waiting for, stalling for, while they allegedly mull over the Iraq question, is for the naval carriers and other key assets to fall into position. This will happen in the first week of January. Saddam Hussein is being executed (and I would not be surprised if every major network aired it) to enrage tempers and fuel more violence in Iraq. This violence will justify an immediate need for a troop surge, although I think it will be described as temporary. Remember too that the British press has for the past week done nothing but report that Britain will be attacked by the New Year. Clearly they are preparing themselves for a contingency, and that contingency is the massive violence that will erupt across the Muslim world as they watch (and I really believe it will be televised) Saddam’s hanging just before the New Year.

Why is the rush to execute Saddam Hussein not account for Hajj? Or does it?

The carriers will be in position. I imaging there will be an event of some sort in Iraq, or the violence will spill into friendly (our friends) territory. It will be dramatic, even more so than the immediate violence.

The attacks will be blamed on Iran, with the help of the Saudis and Pakistan. Iran will be blamed for something that happens in Iran. The naval carriers, again, will be in position. The sanctions, as watered down as they are, have given the administration the blank check they needed from the world (and they still have their blank check from Congress) to order aerial strikes. The surge troops will be in position, and I estimate that ground support will begin around late February, early March.

Saddam’s execution and the violence will also be a convenient cover while the administration moves pieces into position.

But what the planners in the administration don’t seem to realize is that the Persians are the most expert of chess players, and they are a patient, strategy minded opponent. They are watching this develop, all of it, and they too are planning their counteraction. They know better than to strike first, because in doing so, they would lose the moral argument in the eyes of the world, as well as the advantage of counteraction. The US has a superior air force, but Iran has a formidable navy, and while the house of Saud will fuel this, the fallout will be fatal. Why?

Here is why: Because the US is too stretched to be able to protect Israel, and Israel cannot sustain a long term attack. They can sustain a few hits, but they will not be able to sustain a full blown attack.

If you have any doubt, go back to the recent war with Lebanon. The British will pull out, despite promises of support. Blair is on his way out, and the British public will not tolerate support for Israel, because of its help in supporting US imperialistic aggression. Whatever terrorist cells lurk in the US, and make no mistake, our administration has done little to address this issue, will be activated.

Also consider that the house of Saud is not prepared to defend itself against an uprising, and that the US cannot protect it while simultaneously operating on three different fronts and covertly in god knows how many. Despite the various sectarian differences in the Muslim world, there are two enemies that they all agree to fight and die fighting against: the US and Israel. This attack will set off a Muslim counterattack so large, that nothing will be able to stop it or contain it.

But our leadership does not see this, because they cannot think strategically and won't think in human terms, so they are left with nothing but arrogance. And we ae left with a world ablaze. '

Larisa Alexandrovna maintains the blog At-Largely and is Managing Editor - of Raw Story.

Media Matters has collected, stomached and ranked the 11 most outrageous conservative comments of 2006, including Rush Limbaugh blaming America’s obesity crisis on the left and Ann Coulter calling Al Gore a “total fag.”
Sen. Johnson Improves, Is Expected to Miss Start of Congress

Associated Press
Friday, December 29, 2006; A17

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) turned 60 yesterday, two weeks after emergency surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage that has left him in critical condition.

Julianne Fisher, a spokeswoman for the senator, said Johnson will not be present in the first days of the new Congress next week but is continuing to improve. She said he is responsive to directions from his wife but has not yet spoken.

It is too soon to tell how long recovery will take, Fisher said.

In a statement yesterday, Johnson's doctors said he remains in intensive care at George Washington University Hospital. They have released few new details about Johnson's condition and prognosis since the days after the Dec. 13 surgery to stop bleeding in his brain.

Vivek Deshmukh, head of Johnson's surgical team, said in a statement that the senator's overall condition has improved and that he is gradually being weaned off sedation to help his brain heal.

Johnson's wife, Barbara, said that her husband "continues to give us great hope" and that two of the couple's three grown children were at the hospital on his birthday.

Johnson was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst. He was rushed to the hospital after becoming disoriented during a call with reporters.

His illness raised questions about the Democrats' one-vote majority in the upcoming Senate session. Should Johnson's seat become vacant, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, could replace him with a Republican.

A Republican appointee would create a 50-50 tie and effectively allow the GOP to retain Senate control because of Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote. But there is precedent for senators to continue to hold office while incapacitated.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

George Will is a complete Ass

By: John Amato

On "This Week,' with George Stephanopoulos, HuffPo's new political editor, Melinda Henneberger, joined ABC National Security Correspondent Jonathan Karl and columnist George Will to discuss the politics of the surge and the very despicable Virgil Goode. Melinda did a fine job representing the blogosphere. She calls Virgil Goode a bigot (OK, that was an easy one) and tabs Gore's movie about Global warming the most important story of the year. (Pick your own.)

However, George Will once again just can't help himself from eating a good helping of zombie brains before he goes on the air. He tries sooo hard to sound sooo much smarter than everybody else that I got bored and almost missed it.

Will: Baghdad is the problem and while we debate what to do in Baghdad, the Shiites are changing the facts on the ground in Baghdad through incremental—not at all stealthy—rather rapid ethnic cleansing. So we may get a monochrome Baghdad out of this which would be ahhh, sad, but perhaps tranquilizing.

Monochrome and Tranquilizing? Is he fraking kidding me. You don't need Will's thesaurus to understand how sick and twisted that statement was. The insurgents are slaughtering hundreds of people (did he expect them to kill a little stealthier?) at a time and he calls the outcome of that display of savagery as having—a calming effect…You know–I wonder if George Will has ever looked in the mirror?
Gerald Ford, Unsentimentally
By Matthew Rothschild

Sorry, but I refuse to let my tear ducts open over the death of Gerald Ford.

There’s something profoundly undemocratic and vaguely medieval about the almost mandatory salutes that we, the people, are supposed to offer when a former President dies.

The niceties of custom all too often reinforce the habits of blind obedience to the unworthy wielders of power.

Say no ill of the dead, we are told.

Hogwash. Let’s look at Gerald Ford’s record.

The first thing he did was to pardon Richard Nixon, even though ten days previously he had said that the special prosecutor should proceed against “any and all individuals” and a year before, he averred that “I do not think the public would stand for it.”

The pardon short-circuited the necessary prosecution of Nixon, which would have served as a salutary check on future inhabitants of the Oval Office. Instead, the pardon set a precedent for such flagrant lawbreakers as we have in the White House today.

If impeachment of Bush and Cheney may be just a remote possibility, prosecution and incarceration remain inconceivable. And so Bush and Cheney, thanks to Ford, can float comfortably above the law.

On domestic policy, Ford was a standard issue Republican, vetoing social spending bills, cutting food stamps and housing and education programs, infamously denying aid to New York City while all the while boosting Pentagon spending. And, in a move Bush and Cheney would have applauded, he proposed the nation’s first official secrets act to provide criminal penalties for the unauthorized disclosure of classified material.

On foreign policy, Ford was damnable.

He fronted for Pinochet in Chile, and kept aid flowing to that vicious strongman.

And on December 6, 1975, Ford and Henry Kissinger flew to Jakarta to meet with dictator Suharto and to give him a green light to invade East Timor.

According to a declassified State Department cable, here was part of their conversation.

Suharto to Ford and Kissinger: “We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.”

Ford: “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.”

Kissinger: “We understand your problem and the need to move quickly, but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned.”

Ford and Kissinger returned to the United States, and Suharto launched his invasion hours later.

Suharto’s invasion and occupation cost the lives of 200,000 Timorese.

But never mind. We’re not supposed to remember those things. Just that Jerry Ford was such a nice guy.
Against Hagiography: The Relevance of Gerald R. Ford

by Frank Dwyer

In 1970 Representative Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) led a movement in the House to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on the grounds that Douglas had published an article in the "pornographic" Evergreen Review.

That's my favorite Ford moment, even better than the typically earnest, forthright way he liberated Poland, all by himself, in his 1976 campaign debate with Jimmy Carter.

In fact, Ford obligingly liberated more than Poland, revealing an eerily (though blessedly smirkless) George W. Bush-like grasp of the Terra Incognita beyond his Grand Rapids bailiwick. "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," the Babbitt of Grand Rapids told a surprised and presumably grateful nation, "and there never will be any under a Ford administration."

Wow. That's a really good Ford moment, too: he didn't only bump his head on helicopters. But it was the hot-button Whip Douglas Now episode that delighted me then and has remained one of my favorite sightings, in the pages of American history, of the not-so-rare Boobus Americanus. Gerald R. Ford, defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. There he was in all his glory: anti-liberal, anti-Constitution (he justified his attack on Douglas by claiming that an impeachable offense was whatever Congress said it was at the time, which is almost exactly what Humpty Dumpty told Alice in a similar situation), anti-literature, anti-culture, anti-dissent, anti-art, anti-nudes (there were, I have to admit, a few arty nude photographs in that issue of the Evergreen Review: I had to see them for myself, purely in the service of defending America, just like my colleagues across the aisle).

When he called for Douglas's impeachment, Ford was either a typical Republican political hypocrite, playing to his easily-riled moron base, or (and this is worse) he was sincere, thereby revealing himself to be truly, deeply, incontrovertibly stupid.

People are either qualified by intelligence and some basic level of information (and ideally some basic level of decency) for public office, or they aren't. Most aren't. (Which reminds me: why aren't liberals demanding that Silvestre Reyes step down from his new chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee? Imagine how we'd all be howling if a Republican chairman couldn't say whether Al Qaeda was "predominately" Sunni or Shia.)

Judging Gerald R. Ford by what he knew about Soviet domination (as he presided over the end of the hottest part of the cold war), or what he knew about the Constitution (as he went after liberal Justice Douglas's political scalp), he apparently didn't even have "the necessities" to represent Grand Rapids, much less lead the nation.

He looks pretty good now, of course, for the same reason he looked pretty good back then, compared to the man he replaced or our hapless Decider. ( But is this comparison altogether fair to Bush? One reason Bush looks so bad today is that he let himself be guided by those two now fully-metastasized machiavels, Rumsfeld and Cheney, that he inherited from Ford!)

How good for us was Ford? What verdict will history render on his Presidency? Over the next few days, as we break away occasionally from the evidently irresistible proto-American total immersion in sanctimonious eulogy and sappy hagiography, we might want to consider whether all the intoning newsreaders are right. He made his own French toast! He was the best athlete ever to hold that high office! But was he, was this comparatively decent, amiable, unmonstrous, non-criminal, "healing" nonentity, really just what this country needed after Nixon. Really? And was his sincere conviction that "our long national nightmare" ended with him, was that, in fact, true. I don't think so. I think the heartbreaking pardon of Nixon has actually worked to prolong our national nightmare, one way or another, to the end of time. Americans need accountability, justice. (Look how Ford's poll numbers plummeted after his profile-in-courage pardon.) Americans need to believe in the institutions of their government. Most of all, they need to believe that the same law that applies to them applies to everyone, even CEOs, even Presidents. Do you think that most Americans believe that now?

Would the trial, conviction, and incarceration of Richard Nixon have torn us apart? Really? But we were already torn apart. It's funny how the Grand Old Party that has, in general, such a soft spot for executions and harsh sentences was so sure the Nixon pardon was "good for us." What about the "deterrent power" of swift and sure punishment that was usually so important to them? Isn't it possible that Nixon's mug shot, perp walk, prison fatigues-that the thought of him working in the prison library, say, or the kitchen, patiently doing his time for his crimes-isn't it possible all that would have reminded future presidents that they too were bound by the rule of law? Isn't it possible that Nixon's example would have made them think twice before committing their own high crimes and misdemeanors?

Healing. It's such a lovely notion. Nixon in jail might have been a true prescription for healing this country, healing all of us, one by one, and truly ending the long national nightmare. But however useful it might have been for "closure," it would surely not have been necessary as a deterrent. Surely not. Surely no American president, in the long wake of Watergate, would ever again allow himself to participate, say, in the wiretapping of the rival party's campaign committee, and then lie about it and cover it up. Surely not.

Our long national nightmare isn't over, not yet, but there may be light--a surge of light-at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

His Way

Steve Coll on the White House’s delay in putting forth its Iraq strategy.
Ford Coverage: Nixon, Chevy Chase And Football, But Something's Missing

by Rachel Sklar

Fox owned the late-night coverage of the passing of Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States, the only network to continue its live coverage straight through the night (and announcing that fact frequently). During that time there were frequent replays of classic clips ("Our long national nightmare is over"), the Nixon pardon, unusual status as the only person to be Vice-President and President but totally not elected to either office, way-back-when promotion of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, recurring SNL character as played by a pratfalling Chevy Chase, plus mentions of his football prowess (central to this morning's report on ESPN, at least according to a brief channel-surf). Yet there was nothing on one of history's most famous front pages, courtesy of the New York Daily News: "Ford To City: Drop Dead."

The headline, penned by former NYDN managing editor William J. Brink, was the NYDN's sulky response to Ford's refusal to bail New York City out of potential bankruptcy during the city's fiscal crisis in the mid-Seventies. It's a strange omission not only because of its general American pop culture significance but also because of its political significance: Ford lost New York state to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, and Ford is said to have acknowledged the headline's role in that loss, and by extension, the loss of the presidency. As Fox tells it, that loss is largely attributable to Ford's full pardon of Nixon a month after taking office (with a nod to Ford's odd assertion that there was no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. Oops). Probably mostly true, but still, an omission. One which, I should add, was also made by MSNBC in their Brian Williams-narrated segment (which, I'm sorry, is absolutely more authoritative than the Fox overnight pundits, particularly the woman who said that one of the assassination attempts on Ford was "by a member of the Manson family, I believe" as though that was an obscure, little-known fun fact). The MSNBC/NBC segment featured footage of Williams in a 2003 sit-down with Ford plus a way more varied clip reel than Fox (including essential Chevy Chase pratfall footage), but no "Drop Dead" cover (it does, however, have some sweet footage of 1974-era Tom Brokaw, looking pretty newsworthy himself). The omission of one newspaper headline over the course of an entire presidency and distinguished, honorable career is certainly no big deal, but this one in particular is so colorful, so iconic and so famous that its absence seems worthy of note.

Also worthy of note, particularly to soap opera fans: Presidential son Steven Ford struck out in a slightly different direction than his father as an actor, first coming to prominence (at least for this writer) as Andy Richards on The Young And The Restless, notable for being the best friend/sidekick to longtime character "Paul Williams" (Doug Davidson), who played an integral role in the breathless 1983 storyline where Paul's fiancee Lauren Fenmore (Tracey Bregman) was buried alive by her psycho manager (see the stunning climax here, in the not-original German!). The younger Ford also played the role of "Joe" in When Harry Met Sally, who didn't have much screen time but was a major plot point. More on Steven Ford here; more on his father on the cable news channels and across front pages from coast to coast.

Terrell Owens Blames Poor Game On Drew Bledsoe, Offensive Line, Hamid Karzai, NASA, Samsung

Issue 42•41

DALLAS—Troubled, underperforming Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens lashed out in a press conference at the Cowboys practice facility Tuesday, blaming a combination of teammates, world leaders, scientific organizations, and multinational electronics companies for his three-reception, 45-yard performance against Philadelphia Sunday. "I can't catch the ball if the quarterback can't pull the trigger on those passes, and he can't get the pass off if no one's blocking—and who can maintain concentration when [Afghan president] Hamid Karzai is criticizing [Pakistani leader Pervez] Musharraf for not doing enough to stop extremists in his country?" Owens said in response to reporters' questions regarding how he was feeling. "And now NASA says the shuttle came back from its last mission with damage to the protective foam? And I got to watch that news on a Samsung HP-S5053 that makes everything look all oversaturated. Is anyone out there besides me doing their damn job?" Bledsoe, the Cowboys' linemen, NASA, and the Samsung corporation have not commented on Owens' remarks, though Karzai took time yesterday to call Owens a "pass-dropping bitch asshole" on the floor of the United Nations.

© Copyright 2006, Onion, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.

Gerald Ford, 38th President, Dies at 93

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bush Can't Kick the Habit

by Robert Scheer

Here we go again: A new secretary of defense and yet another call for ending the war in Iraq by escalating it. What are they smoking in the Bush White House?

Even as government statistics now show marijuana is America's No. 1 cash crop, it is important to remember that militarism is the most dangerous drug threatening our sanity.

Yet even formerly sober folks--first Colin Powell and now new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates--get a contact high from cozying up to the walking hallucinogen that is our president.

Succumbing to the Bush fantasy that freedom is fertilized by firepower, a vision that has mucked up Iraq beyond recognition, Gates told CBS that "as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for generations to come."

This from a man who recently made sense, during his confirmation hearings, when he told members of Congress that we are not winning this war, despite having committed, proportionally, as many troops as we did in Vietnam. But now, as a rising chorus of obsessed hawks calls for a "surge" in U.S. troop deployment in Iraq--a call echoed even by some prominent Democrats--Gates endorses the staying-the-course strategy for compounding the Iraq failure rejected by the voters. A member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) who had apparently supported its unanimous findings that the military strategy was bankrupt is suddenly blinded by Bush's Iraq victory myopia.

In a sign of just how out there Bush is on Iraq, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff are in "unanimous disagreement" with "White House officials aggressively promoting the concept ... . [T]he Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission [in Iraq]."

All this despite the fact that the ISG report correctly underscored that the real failures in the Mideast have clearly been political, not military. The accurate subtext of the report is that the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the key source of chaos in the region--inflaming religious fanaticism from Beirut to Baghdad and leaving the United States dependent on the tyrants in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia to now bail us out.

So with Bush rejecting the sage advice of a commission headed by his father's secretary of state to cut our losses is there any hope the Democrats who now control Congress will stop playing the role of enabler to these war junkies? After all, it was the Democratic congressional leadership that provided Bush with bipartisan cover for his irrational "anti-terrorism" invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some, like John Kerry, now recognize that folly, and even Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, in her appearance on NBC's "Today" show Monday, finally expressed her regrets for supporting the war and opposed a "surge" in U.S. troops for Iraq.

But other Democrats continue to play the dangerous game of supporting Bush's escalation. Particularly alarming were the remarks on Sunday of incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid endorsing a buildup as long as it aims at getting the troops home by 2008: "If the commanders on the ground said this is just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that."

Reid's strategy is as obvious as it is opportunistic: This is a Republican war, goes the thinking, and the Dems will give the Republicans all the rope they need to hang themselves in '08. This seems a deeply cynical position, when you consider that the Pentagon just announced that attacks on American and Iraqi targets are at their highest levels, with a 22 percent leap from just this summer. The difference between taking a position and positioning oneself is what determines leadership; if the Dems fail to provide real leadership on ending this war, they will deservedly lose the next election.

The convenient lie behind all of this is that U.S. military occupation is the indispensable agent of Mideast enlightenment. No, we have become the enablers of Iraqi madness, be it in the form of torture or the ascendancy of religious tyranny in Iraq, where daily life has been reduced to an unmitigated horror.

Yet, like a junkie who needs one more hit to get his life in order, Bush is hooked on the drug of military might. If the Democrats continue to feed his dangerous habit they will only help Bush visit greater mayhem upon Iraq while undermining the core values of our own country.

Godfather of Soul

Jon Wiener offers an appreciation of how James Brown, the hardest-working man in show business, taught a generation what it means to be black and proud.
A decisive year for "the decider"

The Bush presidency plunged into a death spiral as the reality of Iraq spurred Americans to hand over Capitol Hill to the Democrats.

By Walter Shapiro

"In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country."-- George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 31, 2006

Rarely in the annals of American democracy has a president spoken with such godlike prescience about the year to come. The choices made by the voters in the 2006 elections altered the future of the nation and asserted the character of the country. A religious man, Bush undoubtedly appreciates these words of Jesus: "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country." But, as seems evident, Bush never expected this biblical statement to apply directly to him and his tragic misadventure in Iraq.

How bad a year was it for Bush? There are four distinct stages in the death spiral of a presidency -- and Bush managed to reach three of them in 2006. He began the year with desperate, reality-defying belief in spin, as symbolized by this brazen line from the State of the Union: "We're on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory." Then came denial, as the president in his bunker believed Field Marshal Karl Rove's assurances that the Republicans had wonder weapons they would deploy on Election Day. Now we are in the Harry Truman phase, as Bush frequently likens himself to that midcentury president whose approval rating hit 23 percent during the Korean War. Pretty soon the star-crossed Bush (whose own popularity score is barely hovering above 30 percent) may display this motto on his desk: "The Luck Stops Here." All that is missing in this four-part saga is for Bush to start talking to the portraits on the White House walls -- the political version of the Book of Revelation that truly heralds Nixonian end times.

The year's most politically significant eight-word sentence comes at the beginning of the December report by the Baker-Hamilton Commission: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." While the actual recommendations of the Iraq Study Group are fading faster than Judith Regan's literary reputation, the establishment's bipartisan verdict that the war is close to unwinnable will endure. Nearly four years after the statues of Saddam Hussein were toppled in Baghdad, 2006 was the year that reality set in about the Mesopotamian mess.

Outside the closed-loop universe of conservative talk radio and Fox News, there no longer is a constituency for vaporous visions of victory. Even the president himself belatedly conceded the obvious about the situation in Iraq when he told the Washington Post in a year-end interview, "We're not winning, we're not losing." The voters themselves are even more pessimistic. A mid-December CNN poll found that 70 percent of those surveyed believe that the likely outcome for the U.S. in Iraq will be either stalemate or defeat.

All this brings us to defrocked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the fall guy of the decade. Without glossing over his grotesque errors of military judgment and his legendary intolerance for dissent at the Pentagon, it does seem that all during the run-up to the 2006 elections Rummy was single-handedly taking the rap for the administration's collective failures in Iraq. By early November, even desperate Republicans were bellowing, "Fire Rumsfeld!" when asked about an exit strategy from the war, as if a new defense chief would automatically bring the Age of Aquarius to Iraq. Still, Bush's decision to wait until the day after the elections to relegate Rumsfeld to retirement remains baffling, especially to the maybe dozen GOP congressional incumbents who might have held their seats if the president had opened the (Robert) Gates earlier.

Much of what played out politically in 2006 seems inevitable in hindsight. OK, no one would have guessed that Virginia Sen. George Allen would have his "macaca" moment and go from a smart-money pick for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination to unemployment in a few short months. In fact, compared with Allen (whose racially insensitive past came to light along with his Jewish ancestry), Rumsfeld had a rather good year. Also unexpected was Joe Lieberman's zigzag path back to the Senate from Connecticut (he lost the Democratic primary to antiwar blogger hero Ned Lamont, only to win handily in November running as an independent).

Depending on perspective, the Lieberman saga proved a) the warriorlike worth of the netroots in Democratic primaries; b) the weakness of one-issue liberal candidates in the general election, even in New England; c) the weirdness of Connecticut's election laws, which permitted Lieberman to run twice; or d) the wobbliness of largely self-funded candidates like Lamont in races against politically experienced incumbents.

Hard to remember how much skepticism there was last January among the seers and soothsayers about the chances that the Democrats would soon shed their minority status in Congress. The political culture in Washington is inordinately fond of identifying iron laws of human behavior based on the results of the last three or four elections. The conventional wisdom in early 2006 was that a Democratic upheaval on par with the 1994 Gingrich revolution in the House would be virtually impossible because of computer-enhanced partisan gerrymandering, the lack of close congressional elections in recent years, the Republican Election Day turnout machine and the diabolical genius of Rove. CNN political analyst William Schneider captured with perfect pitch the Beltway political orthodoxy when he wrote in National Journal in January, "Democrats are likely to make gains this year. But it would take a political earthquake for Democrats to win control of the House or Senate. Few House seats are truly up for grabs." Eleven months later, the seismic rumbles are still reverberating, as the Democrats won 29 new House seats, won six Senate seats and took over six additional governorships, including those in New York and Ohio. The most stunning statistic: Not a single Democrat running for reelection was defeated for Congress or governor.

There are many explanations for the Democratic sweep, beginning with the underappreciated value of that thing called luck -- a shift of 12,000 votes in Virginia and Montana (where Jon Tester upended scandal-singed GOP incumbent Conrad Burns) would have left the Republicans in control of the Senate by a 51-49 margin. But more than anything, the 2006 elections were a top-to-bottom repudiation of Rove's hard-right-is-never-wrong theory of politics. Despite ruin in Iraq and the culture of corruption in Congress (symbolized by disgraced Florida Republican Mark Foley's inappropriate advances to House pages), Rove's beloved conservative base turned out to loyally vote for GOP candidates, the same as always. What changed was that these angry evangelicals and antitax conservatives were about the only people voting Republican. As pollster Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, wrote, "The outcome of this election ... was determined by the shifting sentiments of independents and moderates. It is no exaggeration to say that the views of the least ideological voters decided this election for the Democrats."

The year 2006 may someday be remembered as the year when the ascension of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court -- with Senate Democrats proving to be all talk and no filibuster -- created a permanent majority of jurists seemingly willing to give blank-check powers to the president in national security cases. (The precise trajectory of the Roberts court will not be known for years -- and, in fact, civil libertarians were buoyed by Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a landmark decision in June that challenged many premises of the war on terror.)

Historians may also look back at the meteoric rise of such would-be presidents as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the outgoing Massachusetts Republican governor. These chroniclers may note the lack of even a day's pause between the 2006 congressional elections and the start of the 2008 presidential race, demonstrating that politics (not software, entertainment or financial services) is 21st century America's dominant industry.

But mostly this was a decisive year for a president who may wonder why he sought a second term. Now, mired in an unpopular war and deprived of the protection of a Republican Congress, George W. Bush -- the only true "decider" per self-proclamation -- must decide how to handle his final two years in office. For even amid the splendid isolation of the White House, Bush cannot escape the big message of 2006: The American people have offered a stinging vote of "no confidence" in his presidency.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Money money money

Nonprofit Connects Murtha, Lobbyists
Ties to Pa. Group Mutually Beneficial

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006; A01

For a quarter of a century, Carmen Scialabba labored for Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), helping parcel out the billions of dollars that came through the House Appropriations Committee, so when the disabled aide needed a favor, Murtha was there.

In 2001, Murtha announced the creation of Scialabba's nonprofit agency for the disabled in Johnstown, Pa. The next year, with Scialabba still on his staff, Murtha secured a half-million dollars for the group, the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals With Disabilities (PAID), and put another $150,000 in the pipeline for 2003, according to appropriations committee records and former committee aides. Since then, the group has helped hundreds of disabled people find work.

But the group serves another function as well. PAID has become a gathering point for defense contractors and lobbyists with business before Murtha's defense appropriations subcommittee, and for Pennsylvania businesses and universities that have thrived on federal money obtained by Murtha.

Lobbyists and corporate officials serve as directors on the nonprofit group's board, where they help raise money and find jobs for Johnstown's disabled workers. Some of those lobbyists have served as intermediaries between the defense contractors and businessmen on the board, and Murtha and his aides.

That arrangement over the years has yielded millions of dollars in federal support for the contractors, businesses and universities, and hundreds of thousands in consulting and lobbying fees to Murtha's favored lobbying shops, according to Federal Election Commission records and lobbying disclosure forms. In turn, many of PAID's directors have kept Murtha's campaigns flush with cash.

When the Democrats take control of Congress on Jan. 4, ethics and budget restructuring will be the first orders of business. Among the provisions in the Democrats' ethics package are demands for more transparency in the doling out of federal funds to home-district projects and a required pledge that no earmarks benefit a member of Congress personally. That could put an uncomfortable spotlight on lawmakers such as Murtha.

"It's a real tangled web between the congressman, the nonprofit, the defense contractors and the lobbyists," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "It's hard to say where one stops and the others start."

Murtha declined to respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails from The Washington Post requesting comment.

Scialabba, a former Marine whose young boxing career was cut short by polio and who relies on a wheelchair, said PAID's efforts to put a chronically underemployed population to work have rendered it above reproach. The group has provided information, training and resources to encourage businesses to hire disabled workers.

"Everyone's trying to make this a political thing, and it makes me very mad," Scialabba said last week in a brief interview, defending the collaborations. "Would you rather have tax dollars spent on some [disabled] guy sitting at home? We're not looking for handouts, damn it."

But to some watchdogs, including Taxpayers for Common Sense, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, PAID looks a lot like the cozy nexus between lawmakers, lobbyists and business interests that Democrats railed against in the midterm campaigns.

Its board of directors includes Scialabba and five government contractors who have received millions of federal dollars through appropriations measures obtained by Murtha. Its advisory council includes three lobbyists from KSA Consulting, which employs Scialabba and employed Murtha's brother, Kit. Its honorary board members include still more defense contractors.

In turn, the lobbyists and businesses associated with PAID have become supporters of Murtha's campaigns, contributing a total of nearly $125,000 in the past three election cycles, when Murtha raised a total of $7.2 million, according to campaign records. And those same players have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at three lobbying shops with close Murtha ties: the PMA Group, Scialabba's KSA Consulting and Ervin Technical Associates.

In the past year, Murtha, a Marine combat veteran and defense hawk, has gained national prominence as the leader of the Democratic charge to pull U.S. troops from Iraq. After the Democrats won control of Congress in November, he made an unsuccessful bid to become House majority leader, with strong backing from House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) The main source of his power is his perch as the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, which controls nearly a half-trillion federal dollars a year. His largess to his friends and hardscrabble district is legendary. But now that he is assuming the chairmanship of the defense subcommittee, his actions are coming under new scrutiny.

Under Murtha's watch, for instance, Windber Medical Center has been transformed from a struggling hospital outside of Johnstown into a burgeoning cancer research center, thriving on Defense Department funding. Hospital officials have paid the PMA Group some $380,000 in lobbying fees since signing on in 2001. And hospital employees have financed Murtha's political campaigns to the tune of nearly $25,000.

"It sounds like DeLay Inc.," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Democratic-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, referring to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who set up his own charities that became the focus of attention by businesses and lobbyists seeking to curry favor with him.

But Murtha has his defenders. "Jack Murtha is supportive of everything you can think of around here, from roads and sewers to defense contractors," said Bill Kuchera, chief executive of Kuchera Industries of Windber, Pa., and a PAID director. "But without Jack Murtha, there'd still be a Kuchera. We don't lean on Jack Murtha at all."

Murtha repeatedly intervened on behalf of PAID to help Kuchera expand.

After PAID's founding, Scialabba approached Kuchera to get involved. Kuchera jumped, not only joining the group's board but ramping up hiring of disabled workers, who now compose a third of the 200 employees in his company's defense business. The federal government picked up Kuchera's $7 million training bill. This year, Murtha earmarked $1.3 million for Kuchera's chemical and biological weapons detection research.

Kuchera employees donated more than $31,000 to Murtha in the past three election campaigns, according to federal election records. Between 1990 and 2000, contributions totaled $1,000. And congressional lobbying disclosure forms tally $140,000 in payments since 2001 from Kuchera to Ervin Technical Associates, whose chairman is former representative Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.), a close Murtha ally.

The Kuchera experience is not unique. Ed Washington, another PAID director, hails from MTS Technologies, an Arlington defense contractor that recently secured $8.9 million in federal funds to expand its Johnstown facility. MTS's lobbyist, the PMA Group, has disclosed some $300,000 in fees from the company since 1998. And PMA has returned the favor: Since 1989, the firm's employees have given Murtha $107,500.

Daniel DeVos, an honorary PAID board member, represents Concurrent Technologies, whose employees have lavished Murtha with more than $53,000 in campaign contributions and PMA with $820,000 in fees. That may sound steep, but the rewards have been substantial: a $150 million contract to operate the Navy Metalworking Center; a $4 million contract from the Army to evaluate fuel-cell systems; and $1.7 million for a weapons of mass destruction response laboratory, among others.

Another PAID director, Jim Estep, is a central figure in an investigation of Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W.Va.), a Murtha ally and fellow member of the Appropriations Committee. Estep heads the West Virginia High-Technology Consortium Foundation and the Institute for Scientific Research, two nonprofit organizations that Mollohan helped set up and has plied with federal funds.

James Brown, 73, Dies; ‘Godfather of Soul’
James Brown, one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years, was a founder of rap, funk and disco as well as soul music.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Twas the Night...

by Warren Berger

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Iraq
Not a creature was stirring; no sign of attack.

The soldiers were sleeping; their dreams filled the air.
They envisioned their homes, and saw themselves there.

Whilst I was on watch, trying hard not to doze;
But losing that battle, my lids started to close.

Then out in the desert, there arose such a clatter;
I sprang up prepared, to deal with the matter.

And what, to my wondering eyes, should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, with eight tiny reindeer.

The driver had white hair, his cheeks plump and ruddy;
And soon I did know him -- an old and trusted buddy.

"Murtha!" I cried out in shock, "what brings thee to I-raq?"
He said to me, "It's Christmas -- and I've come to bring you back."

This welcome news did fill me, with a great and joyous urge;
Though I wondered about my mission, and about that final "surge."

He said to me, "Your mission's done; you served it well and true.
You've followed every order, and done all you can do.

And now it's time to come on home, and get back to your life.
You cannot end the bloodshed here, you cannot quell the strife."

I had to nod at good old John; I knew that he was right;
And in my heart, I also knew: I'd no more wish to fight.

"But how will you take us all?" I asked. "You've only one small sleigh."
He laughed "ho-ho" and pointed -- to the others on the way.

He waved at all those drivers, and called out loud and clear:
"Come Harry and come Nancy. Come Hillary -- have no fear!"

They all drove up, in their sleighs, still tentative yet cheerful.
But I noticed some faces missing, and it made me a bit fearful.

"Where's Cheney, and where's Rummy? And where's our old pal Joe?"
John smiled soon as he heard this, and answered, "Don't you know?

They're safe at home in their comfy beds, with nary a thought of you.
They're dreaming up new half-baked plans -- for things we must never do."

I summoned all my sleeping mates, who rubbed their tired eyes;
We climbed into those little sleighs, and rode into the skies.

Murtha led the whole way back, with stops at many a door;
Where each soldier was left off at home, to stay forever more.

I was brought home last of all, to join my wife and son;
I hugged them for a good long time, and then I turned to John.

But he'd already left my door, and was sailing in mid-flight;
I heard him cry, "Merry Christmas to all -- and to all, good night."

And after that came peace on earth, until I heard the crack
Of a fresh new round of gunfire -- I awoke, still in Iraq.

Probes of Bush Policies in Works
Mass. lawmakers to launch hearings

by Rick Klein

WASHINGTON -- Massachusetts lawmakers are set to launch a blizzard of investigations in the new Congress, probing issues such as wartime contracting, post-Katrina housing assistance, and the Bush administration's relationship with Cuba and other countries in Latin America.

In what could be closely watched proceedings, two members of the Massachusetts delegation -- representatives William D. Delahunt of Quincy and Martin T. Meehan of Lowell -- are planning joint committee hearings to examine the administration's Iraq war policies, particularly the reasons for the military's lagging efforts to train Iraqi troops. Delahunt is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and Meehan will take over the same subcommittee on the House Armed Services Committee.

Armed with the power to force sworn testimony for the first time after 12 years in the minority in Congress, members of the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation are positioned to play major roles in investigating policies and actions that cut across the federal government and the business community.

"We could be the Bush administration's worst nightmare come to pass, in terms of the questions we'll be able to ask from positions of power," said Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden, the dean of the Massachusetts delegation. "There are a lot of secrets that have been hidden from the American people in terms of the way business has been done for the past six years."

Democrats in general say that when they become the majority party in Congress, they intend to shine a spotlight on administration policies and management, where the Republican power structure has done little to check the authority of the president. With the GOP powerless to stop them, Democrats say, they hope their oversight will protect taxpayer dollars and shape the political agenda going into the 2008 presidential election.

The hearings and investigations planned by Massachusetts' members of Congress will complement and, in some cases, compete with a dizzying array of other investigations Democrats are expected to launch early next year, and Senate committees are expected to be just as active as those in the House.

In addition to Delahunt and Meehan, Massachusetts will have House members in high-ranking posts on several major investigatory committees.

Representative Barney Frank of Newton will become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which has sweeping authority over the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commissions, and the nation's housing policies. Frank has outlined an agenda that includes a year long examination on the issue of wage inequality in the United States.

He is also planning hearings in late January or early February on consumer protections in federal banking laws, as well as the federal government's efforts to rebuild housing destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.

"A lot of low-income housing was destroyed, and they've done virtually nothing to replace it," Frank said. "The federal government's role in this has been a disaster."

Representative Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston serves on the Government Reform Committee, which will look at the role that industry groups played in shaping the closed-door energy task force convened by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001. Representative Richard E. Neal of Springfield, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, wants hearings on the impact of President Bush's tax cuts on the federal budget deficit, given the administration's promise that the tax cuts wouldn't throw the budget out of balance.

The cumulative effect of the ramped-up congressional scrutiny will probably lead Republicans to accuse Democrats of political payback after six years of one-party rule in Washington, said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. But after years in which the Bush administration has faced virtually no scrutiny from a Republican-controlled Congress, troves of embarrassing revelations about Republicans during their six years in power seem destined to pour from a Democratic House and Senate, he said.

"The Republicans will claim that the Democrats are obsessed with publicity-oriented witch hunts, but the Republicans are more vulnerable than the Democrats," Berry said. "A lot of these hearings are going to be compelling, and are going to produce storylines that readers and viewers are going to be very interested in."

The Iraq war is likely to be a particularly popular subject of inquiry, with a range of committees set to examine pre war intelligence, troop readiness, and the administration's plans moving forward. Democratic House members say they expect House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi's office to help streamline the various investigations and set a manageable timeline for higher-profile inquiries when the next legislative session begins next month.

In the meantime, Meehan has outlined a full agenda for his Armed Services subcommittee on oversight, which Republicans disbanded in 1995 but which Democrats will reconstitute next year. He is hiring five investigators -- including specialists in weapons systems and Pentagon budgeting -- and promises to look into equipment shortages among soldiers in Iraq, military recruiting and retention, and corruption allegations involving Defense contractors operating in Iraq.

"For the past six years, Congress has rolled over and played dead while the president has done anything he wanted to, particularly in the war in Iraq," Meehan said.

After Republicans made it primarily a mechanism to criticize the United Nations, Delahunt said, he plans to broaden his International Relations subcommittee on oversight. He wants to examine government-funded broadcasts that reach Cuba; the international component of the president's grant programs for faith-based health organizations; and the impact in Latin America of the administration's push to sign "bilateral immunity agreements" to shield US citizens from being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

"Does this work to our benefit? We're losing influence in Latin America," Delahunt said.
What About the Iraqis?

By Christian Caryl

Americans, by now, can be forgiven for believing that we know something about the situation in Iraq; we hear about it, after all, every day, in what seems like benumbing detail. And yet, in reality, what we know about the lives of individual Iraqis rarely goes beyond the fleeting opinion quote or the civilian casualty statistics.

The Irrelevance of Joe Lieberman

Ari Melber writes that the fall and rise of Joe Lieberman was one of the big political events of 2006. But Beltway and netroots pundits agree, he'll be as irrelevant in 2007 as G.W. Bush.
The Clock is Ticking, Mr. President
by Sen. Harry Reid
The President must understand that there can only be a political solution in Iraq, and he must end our nation's open-ended military commitment to that country. I do not support an escalation of the conflict.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Nuckin' Futs!"
JibJab's year in review.

The man in the red suit
An endearing enigma in a scarlet fur-trimmed jacket, Santa has spent the past 150 years spreading joy -- and shilling for Macy's, Maxwell House and Dewar's scotch
By Mary Lisa Gavenas

Attacks Kill 5 American Troops...December Now 2nd Deadliest Month Of 2006...
NY Times Runs Op-Ed Censored By The White House...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Destroying Freedom to Save America

By Joe Conason

The flimsy philosophizing of Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and aspiring presidential candidate, isn’t designed to bear any great weight. For many years, he has been willing to say anything that would win him the public attention and political power he still craves. Yet in the mainstream media and among Republicans, his intellectual pretensions are often taken seriously—and when he promotes authoritarian “solutions” to national problems, that must be taken seriously, too.

His latest insight is that America can survive only if we impose severe curbs on freedom of speech.

At a recent event in New Hampshire—where he shows up often these days—Gingrich explained why he believes that the First Amendment must be reconsidered in these trying times. He chose to deliver these remarks at an annual dinner held in memory of the late publisher of the Manchester Union-Leader, honoring individuals who stand up for free speech.

We confront an existential threat, he said, “that will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country, that will lead us to learn how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear or biological weapons.”

He went on to advocate measures that “use every technology we can find to break up [the terrorists’] capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us, to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.”

Such vague prescriptions sound sensible enough. Certainly no sane person wants terrorists using the Internet, and nobody wants them recruiting young suicide bombers on the Internet, either. The problem is in the details. Exactly how the former speaker would deter the enemies of freedom from using free speech was anything but clear.

About a week after his New Hampshire speech, he expanded on his remarks in an article for the ultraconservative Union-Leader newspaper. “The fact is that not all speech is permitted under the Constitution,” he wrote.

He noted the ominous remarks of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the outreach by Hezbollah to sympathizers in Latin America, and the stated determination of Islamist militants to “use the Internet for the sake of jihad.” He suggested that the government be empowered to shut down websites that recruit suicide bombers and urged “an expeditious review of current domestic law to see what changes can be made within the protections of the First Amendment to ensure that free speech protection claims are not used to protect the advocacy of terrorism, violent conduct or the killing of innocents.”

That’s only a sample of the many big mouthfuls of rhetoric emanating from Mr. Gingrich on this topic, but you get the idea.

When he appeared on “Meet the Press” Dec. 17, host Tim Russert asked him how his fantasy would work. Who would define such murky offenses as “advocacy of terrorism” or “violent conduct”?

Gingrich seemed to be annoyed by the question. His answer was not only unimpressive but also unintentionally funny.

“You close down any website that is jihadist,” he said.

“But who makes that judgment?” insisted Russert.

“Look, I—you can appoint three federal judges if you want to and say, ‘Review this stuff and tell us which ones to close down.’ I would just like to have them be federal judges who’ve served in combat,” replied Gingrich.

Considering the source, that was a remarkably weird response. A panel of three judges who’ve served in combat? As a qualification for making crucial decisions about combating terrorists, combat service would surely eliminate Gingrich—a certified chicken hawk who loves war but successfully avoided the Vietnam draft—from running for president.

Logic aside, he has offered at least one example of how he would apply his new set of speech standards. He believes that the six Muslim scholars who were removed from a plane in Minneapolis last month for such suspicious behavior as praying in the airport “should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists.”

That ridiculous assertion could only have thrilled the leaders of Al Qaeda. Nothing they can ever put on a website or videotape will be nearly as effective in encouraging young Muslims to hate America and reject freedom as Gingrich’s cloddish demagogy.
Virgil Goode is Directly Attacking Me and I'm Pissed
by Ceny Uygur

The more I think about it, the angrier I get. Virgil Goode thinks he can challenge how American I am. Here's an American response - screw you!

Does this barbarian really think we are not equal citizens because of our heritage or our beliefs? Does he really believe people like me need to be kept out of the country?

Look at what he says. He literally says less people like me need to come to America:

[I]f American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran ... I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

My family is Muslim and we immigrated to this country when I was eight years old. We made an active choice to seek this nation out because we believed in its principles and we believed that it was the land of opportunity. America became my home, not just in where I lived, but in my heart. So, I became a citizen sixteen years ago.

I chose America because I love America. It's one thing to be born in Nebraska and call yourself an American. But it's another to move to a country where you weren't born, go through the long legal process, profess your allegiance to that country and adopt it as your own because you believe in it. That's not an accident of birth, it's an act of faith.

I chose to be an American because America is a light unto the world. America is the greatest country on earth because we do not discriminate, we are not a religious state and we do not exclude people based on their race, color or creed. We are an open society that believes in liberty and human dignity.

We built the United Nations, we rebuilt our enemies into our allies through the Marshall Plan and we saved the world from fascism and communism. We are the fortress of hope.

I say "we" not because my ancestors were here when these things happened but because these are the actions and the beliefs I signed up for when I became a United States citizen.

My family went through all of the legal processes that we needed to. We played by the rules. Now a bunch of conservative hacks who have no idea what this country truly stands for are going to try to take that away from us. I don't think so.

No racist, hick, ignorant Congressman from Virginia is going to tell me I'm not an American. These colors don't run.

I don't want an apology. He obviously believes the racist things he says. He has said he stands by his letter and won't apologize. I am not interested in his crocodile tears from now on when he realizes his seat is in jeopardy. I wouldn't accept his apology even if he groveled at my feet, or went into rehab with Mark Foley.

The man is an embarrassment. What kind of Congressman thinks this country is only for certain races, religions or ethnicities? One who doesn't belong in the hallowed halls of our Congress. He is worried about what people swear in on when they take their oath of office. How about worrying about what you swear the oath to? The United States Constitution.

Will other Republicans stand by Rep. Goode? Will they allow him to represent their party? Is this what all Republicans believe -- that America is only for certain races or creeds? Every Republican in office must be asked this question. We need to know who is representing us and what they really believe.

Finally, I have been conflicted on whether to call myself a Muslim-American since I don't practice Islam anymore. I am ethnically Turkish and religiously agnostic. But as the loathsome Debbie Schlussel said about Barack Obama, "[O]nce a Muslim, always a Muslim."

She meant it as an insult. But I'll take it as a compliment. I am proud of my background, as all of you are. Right now, Islamic extremism is a significant problem in the world. But there are over one billion Muslims in the world that are not part of that problem. They are good people trying to provide for their families and seeking peace.

If someone's got to stand up for them, I'm ready and willing. I am a Muslim by birth and an American by choice, and that is not a contradiction.

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