February 20, 2006

Safe Harbor For Terrorists

“If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist.”
-President George W. Bush, addressing 101st Airborne Division, 2001
"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."
--President Bush, Nov. 6, 2001

The Bush Administration has announced its approval, after a SECRET REVIEW PROCESS that bypassed Congress, of a deal to turn over control of 6 of America's largest and busiest ports (Baltimore; New York; Newark; New Orleans; Miami and Philadelphia) to Dubai Ports World.

DPW is a government-owned company from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a loose federation of 7 emirates on the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. The UAE is a major oil and gas producer, and its population is 96% Muslim.

Here's the current state of port security in the U.S.:
--Of the 7 million cargo containers shipped into U.S. ports each year, less than 5 percent are examined. This is years after Tom Clancy published his 1991 book "The Sum of All Fears" (later to become a lame movie starring Ben Affleck), about terrorists who smuggle a nuclear bomb into the U.S. aboard a ship.
--The 2004 9/11 Commission Report stated that "major vulnerabilities still exist in cargo and general aviation security."

Here's a partial record regarding the UAE and terrorism:

--In 1996, when Osama Bin Laden left Sudan for his new base in Afghanistan, Bin Laden's airplane refueling stop was in the UAE.
--Marwan Al-Shehhi of the UAE co-founded and maintained an al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Germany in the late 1990s. Al-Shehhi later became one of the 19 9/11 hijackers, crashing the plane into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
--The last known address of another of the 9/11 hijackers, Satam Al Suqami, was in the UAE (source: FBI Press Release, "FBI Announces List of 19 Hijackers," Sept. 14, 2001).
--From 1996 to 2001, top UAE officials, including Sheik Mohammed ibn Rashid al Maktum, UAE Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai, visited, hunted and went falconing with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Some of these officials developed ties with and gave money to the Taliban (source: MSNBC.com, 9/5/03).
--Osama Bin Laden underwent surgery in a Dubai hospital in July 2001.
--UAE banks provided most of the cash for the 9/11 hijackers.
--Many of the 9/11 hijackers travelled through the UAE.
--The UAE refuses to formally recognize the State of Israel, and participates in the Arab League's longstanding economic boycott of Israel. The UAE did, however, recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, one of only three nations to do so.
--In Feb. 2004, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, confessed to selling nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. His clandestine meetings took place in Dubai, and his shipments of the nuclear components, including centrifuge tubes, originated in Dubai.

Meanwhile, 75% of the U.S. population lives within 200 miles of the coastline. It is estimated that, by 2010, 75% of the U.S. population will live within 50 miles of the coast.

Feeling any safer yet?

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February 16, 2006


After much tooth-pulling by dogged reporters and several different versions from White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, here is what we now know about Dick Cheney's hunting accident at a Texas ranch, where he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington:
1. Cheney did not have a proper hunting license.
2. Even though Cheney had an entourage of vans, he did not accompany Whittington to the hospital, where it would have been obvious if he had been drinking. Instead Cheney returned to the ranch and had a cocktail with dinner.
3. Cheney never got on the phone with President Bush to tell him what had happened. Likewise, Bush never got on the phone with Cheney to tell him to get out there right away and explain to the public what had happened.
4. Officers from the sheriff's department did not come to the ranch to question anyone about the shooting until the next morning.
5. Ranch owner Katherine Armstrong was designated to inform the public about the incident, by telling a local newspaper. Armstrong waited until Sunday morning to do so, after the Sunday television news shows (which would have made the story the centerpiece of their broadcasts) had taped. Armstrong claimed that no one in the hunting party had consumed any alcohol on the day of the hunt.
6. Scott McClellan was not informed about the shooting until Sunday morning. McClellan did not brief reporters about it until Monday. When McClellan did so, he blamed Whittington, stated that no one had been drinking that day, and joked about the shooting.
7. On Tuesday morning, Whittington suffered a heart attack due to one of the pellets having lodged in or near his heart. McClellan was informed but did not mention this several hours later during his daily press briefing.
8. While the headlines and the questions grew, Cheney remained silent until Wednesday evening, when he finally took responsibility for the accident and said that he had drank "a beer" during lunch on Saturday.

At best, the handling of the news of the incident by Cheney's and the White House staff was highly unusual and did not follow White House protocol. Cheney's supporters claim that the subsequent press coverage of the accident has been overblown, due to political animosity by the media toward the man. These supporters also say that the White House press corps was agitated about the way the incident was publicized because Cheney had the Katharine Armstrong inform the Corpus Christi Caller-Times about it, instead of a major paper. A better reason why the story has made big headlines for five days is because it feeds existing stereotypes about Cheney that he has created: those of a man who rules, and who is part of an Administration that lives, by dishonesty, secrecy, cronyism and incompetence.

Dishonesty -- there are many examples of the Vice President's dishonesty. Here are two: (1) Cheney speaking at the VFW 103rd annual National Convention, Aug. 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." (2) Interview with Tim Russert, NBC, Meet the Press, Dec. 9, 2001 : CHENEY: "Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he [9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack." Interview with Gloria Borger, CNBC, June 17, 2004: Borger: 'Well, let's go to Mohamed Atta for a minute, because you mentioned him as well. You have said in the past that it was, quote, 'pretty well confirmed.' ' Cheney: 'No, I never said that.' Borger: 'Okay.' Cheney: 'Never said that.' Borger: 'I think that is . . . ' Cheney: 'Absolutely not."

Secrecy -- saying that Cheney is secretive is like saying that Lara Flynn Boyle is dieting. From the early days of his "undisclosed location" whereabouts, to his refusal to name the participants in his Energy Task Force, to his failure to face serious questioning by the media more than about once a year (his recent interview with lapdog Brit Hume of Fox News hardly counts as serious questioning), Cheney has been especially reticent to answer to the American people for anything. He seems to ignore the fact that he is the Vice President of the United States, a public official whose salary is paid for by the American taxpayers and whose actions affect all Americans. Such secrecy naturally breeds suspicion, especially when combined with ...

Cronyism -- Cheney received very special treatment by the friendly sheriff's office in the friendly state of Texas after the accident. He was not questioned by authorities until the next morning. He was never given a breathalyzer test. He never had his weapon taken away. This privileged treatment reminds some Americans of the multi-billion dollar no-bid Iraq contracts given to Halliburton, a company that Cheney recently ran and with which he still has a financial relationship. Halliburton was found to have grossly overcharged the government -- meaning we, the American taxpayers -- for the work done under these contracts. It reminds some people of his last famous hunting trip, the one with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in January 2003, just three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take up Cheney's appeal in lawsuits seeking to force him to turn over documents disclosing details of his secret energy task force (see secrecy above). That hunting trip took place at a Louisiana camp owned by oilman Wallace Carline. The most recent hunting trip took place at a Texas ranch owned by Armstrong, a major Bush fundraiser and registered lobbyist for Parsons Technology, which was awarded billions of dollars worth of Iraq contracts. It's enough to make one think Bush and Cheney are running the country as an exclusive club, and that Cheney is the chief bagman in the center of it all, rewarding his cronies with giant tax cuts and giant contracts in Iraq while the underprivileged send their sons and daughters there to die, or to have their limbs blown off, or to do same to over one hundred thousand Iraqis.

Incompetence -- one reason why Cheney's hunting accident and subsequent PR blunder has resonated with the American people (according to MSNBC's online poll 2/16-17, respondents care about the incident by a margin of 72% to 28%) may be that Cheney's literal inability to shoot straight here is reminiscent of his, and the Administration's, figurative inability to do so in Iraq. For example, Cheney made the now-infamous statement on CNN's Larry King live eight months ago that "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." That follows his statement in March 2003 that "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." Of course, both of these statements have been drowned out by the harsh facts on the ground in Iraq: too few troops; not enough body armor or armor for their Humvees to protect them; 2274 U.S. soldiers dead; over 16,000 wounded; a fierce insurgency greeting us as anything but liberators after President Bush donned a flight suit and pranced around under a giant banner declaring "Mission Accomplished;" thousands of terrorists where previously there were none; and instead of victory, at best a quaqmire and at worst a civil war that will lead to a fundamentalist Islamic state in place of a secular one. In the hunting accident, as in Iraq, Cheney went in without the proper license, an innocent person was shot, and Cheney refused to level with the American people in a timely way about what had occured. Likewise, incompetence is the word that comes to mind in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where thousands of FEMA trailers costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, which were supposed to be brought into Louisiana to house homeless hurricane victims, instead sit unused on a farm in Hope, Ark., while the hurricane victims are being evicted from hotels.

So, if the White House press corps, and the American people, are asking some tough questions about Cheney's actions before, during and after his hunting accident, it may well be more a case of blowback than of payback. And that is why Cheney's hunting accident will become his Chappaquiddick, the episode for which he will always be known, criticized and ridiculed.

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February 11, 2006

Bush 41, The Truth 0


BUSH: I respected Coretta, like her husband, because they rejected race-baiting by those who opposed as well as those who supported the civil rights movement.


"When Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, they gave weekend passes to convicts, and this guy raped a woman and stabbed her companion. It didn’t say a black man killed a white woman, but that was the message you got. Race is effective because it divides.The reality is that negative ads are intended to do one thing. They’re called wedge commercials. They divide. You’re not looking to boost turnout and include people in your campaign. You’re hoping to actually send people home."

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February 07, 2006

Something Else We Can Agree On -- Cartoons

In my 10/6/05 post entitled Something We Can All Agree On, I wrote that condemning the use of torture by or on behalf of the U.S. is something we should all be able to agree upon, no matter where we stand in the political spectrum. After several months of not being able to find any more such common ground, I have finally found some, regarding the Muslim cartoons. Over the past week or so, thousands of Muslims have been protesting in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey and elsewhere, against a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in an unflattering light. In many of these cases, "protesting" is the wrong word. A more accurate term would be "deadly rioting." The protesters have stormed, firebombed and torched several Danish embassies. A number of protesters, police and others have been killed and injured. The cartoonists have received death threats.

The rioters are upset that a Western newspaper printed images of Mohammed, since the Muslim religion (or at least some sects) forbids such images. Further, the rioters are upset that some of the cartoons are indeed very harsh, including one that depicts Mohammed with a turban shaped as a bomb. But Danish newspapers are not bound by Islamic law. While the Muslims are offended by what they see as religious intolerance, their attempt to have non-Muslims around the world obey their Islamic tenets is the height of religious intolerance, or worse, religious imperialism. Indeed, the Danish paper that printed the cartoons, Jyllands-Posten, has said it did so to test the limits of free speech at a time it was under threat because of the influence of radical Islam.

Firebombing embassies and killing people is not an appropriate way to protest unflattering or even blasphemic cartoons of one's religious leader. The U.S. Constitution, and the laws of other countries, give newspapers and other media the freedom of speech to print offensive material. If newspapers never printed anything offensive to anyone, we wouldn't need a First Amendment protecting their right to do so. The drafters of the Constitution believed that there should be a free marketplace of ideas, wherein the truth would win out. If someone prints or utters an offensive, inaccurate or intolerant message, others can counter that message with messages of their own, explaining why the first messenger is wrong. The blogosphere in which you are reading this message right now, with the ability to comment, is the manifestation of this principle. The Consitution also gives people the right to protest peacefully. Now, our Constitution may not have been adopted by or even be right for every country, but free speech and the right to protest peacefully against offensive cartoons or anything else are the marks of a civilized people. Riots, firebombing, death threats and killing to protest cartoons are not. Ghandi did not resort to these tactics when he and his Hindu followers successfully protested England's continued colonization of India, which included things much more horrific than mean cartoons. And one day after the memorial service for Coretta Scott King, we must remember that Martin Luther King successfully preached and practiced peaceful, nonviolent protest as the way to end discrimination against blacks, including KKK cross-burnings, firehoses and attacks by police with vicious German shepherds.

It is also important to point out the great hypocrisy behind the rioters' selective outrage. Where is their outrage when, for decades, children in the Madras religious schools in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have been indoctrinated with the most anti-Western and anti-Christian teachings, writings and images? Should the Christians of Denmark and other nations have firebombed their Saudi and other embassies? Should Christians firebomb the offices of Rolling Stone Magazine, whose current issues depicts rapper Kanye "George Bush doesn't care about black people" West as Jesus? Where is the Muslim outrage when, for centuries, Christians and Muslims of many nations have spewed the most vile anti-Semitic filth and lies in cartoons, newspapers, publications and elsewhere, and perpetrated the Holocaust and other horrific crimes resulting in the deaths of millions of Jews? Where is their outrage when Palestinian suicide bombers board buses and enter cafes in Israel, detonating their bombs and killing scores of innocent civilian men, women and children at a time, or when, just a few weeks ago, newly elected Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map?" Should Jews have been permitted to riot, firebomb and kill non-Jews around the world in protest? In fact, the brave citizens of Denmark saved many Jews during the Holocaust, at great peril to themselves, because of their concern for the principles of freedom of religion and human rights.

That said, it is important to point out several other related hypocrisies, each of which has taken place here in the U.S. First, some of the most outspoken critics of the Muslim rioters are American conservatives. Many of these same conservatives spend lots of time trying to force religious views, such as the Catholic view against abortion or the euthenasia of Terry Schiavo, upon the rest of America in the form of legislation or Supreme Court votes. Religious intolerance does not require a Muslim head scarf. Second, many of those conservatives, including President Bush and his underlings, who tout the importance of the Constitution's First Amendment in this case, have trivialized or ignored the importance of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures, in defending the NSA domestic spying program. Just as the Constitution guarantees equal protection of our citizens, the various amendments in our cherished Bill of Rights also deserve equal protection and equal treatment. And third, even if the focus is the First Amendment, those in the White House have a very selective view, supporting it only in cases like this which bolster Bush Administration policies. When critics of the Bush Administration, such as Cindy Sheehan, Ambassador Joe Wilson or the New York Times, rely on the First Amendment to air their criticism, the White House toadies are quick to bash these folks and brand them as unpatriotic.

Sadly, however, the Muslims' violent rampages only serve to further the damaging stereotype that they are protesting in some of the cartoons -- that of a people who are quick to express their grievances by resorting to violence.

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