Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jon Stewart on Robert Novak Accusing Him of "Airs of Grandeur"

I'm not going to deny I'm a pompous ass...but "airs of grandeur"?? We couldn't figure out how to appropriately mock "airs of grandeur." Earlier we actually tried rehearsing with a guy in a white powdered wig who walked out with a scroll, but it... felt too real.

To Robert Novak, if you're watching...and I know you're not...I think it's time we buried the hatchet. We need to get together and talk. I know that you're a good person, deep down in your...the thing they replaced your heart with, that pumps the .... I know you have redeeming qualities. For example, when you're on television you let others shine, while you generously absorb all light...and oxygen. When you leave an area, it stops raining. And I know in the past I've referred to you as a...douche-bag, but that's not an "air of grandeur"... that's just mean... and sophomoric. And I only said those things to you because I sincerely believe you're a terrible person.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mysterious Agreements on Torture - White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino

Revamped Terror Suspect Plan Weighed

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration was sending the revised language in hopes of reaching agreement.

"Our commitment to finding a resolution is strong," Perino said. "This legislation, once finished, will provide not only a way to bring the mastermind of 9/11 to justice, but also provide clarity to our men and women in the intelligence community who are interrogating these high-value detainees who helped provide information that allowed us to disrupt and prevent additional terrorist plots against America."

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That's quite a sentence.

Senate Races Close to Tie

Senate Balance of Power

Rasmussen Reports
September 18, 2006

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is getting closer—much closer. Little more than a week ago, our Balance of Power summary showed the Republicans leading 50-45 with five states in the Toss-Up category. Today, Rasmussen Reports is changing three races from “Toss-Up” to “Leans Democrat.” As a result, Rasmussen Reports now rates 49 seats as Republican or Leans Republican while 48 seats are rated as Democrat or Leans Democrat (see State-by-State Summary). There are now just three states in the Toss-Up category--Tennessee, New Jersey, and Missouri.

Today’s changes all involve Republican incumbents who have been struggling all year. In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has fallen behind Jon Tester (D). Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) survived his primary but starts the General Election as a decided underdog. Sherrod Brown (D) is enjoying a growing lead over Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R).

Four other seats are now ranked as “Leans Democrat”—Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan.

Virginia is the only state rated as “Leans Republican.”

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How and When McCain and Graham Got Warner

NYT: How 3 GOP veterans stalled Bush's detainee bill

A front page story in Sunday's edition of the New York Times explores how three GOP veterans stalled President Bush's detainee bill.

"Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham cornered their partner, Senator John W. Warner, on the Senate floor late Wednesday afternoon," begins an article credited to Carl Hulse, Kate Zernike and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

"Mr. Warner, the courtly Virginian who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had been trying for weeks to quietly work out the three Republicans’ differences with the Bush administration’s proposal to bring terrorism suspects to trial," the article continues. "But Senators McCain, of Arizona, and Graham, of South Carolina, who are on the committee with Mr. Warner, convinced him that the time for negotiation was over."

Traveling Through Time That Doesn't Exist

The End of Time by Julian Barbour

Terminator-type time travel, with its history-rewriting journeys along a linear timeline, is an attractive but ridiculous idea. The resulting universe would be utterly insane and impossible to order.

The problem in our thinking begins with the idea of the timeline. Time is not a line, or anything else we ordinarily perceive it to be, and all we ever do is journey through a universe that is essentially...at rest.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Senate Armed Services Committee Defies Bush

Senators Defy Bush On Terror Measure

Panel Backs Rival Bill On Interrogations

By Charles Babington and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 15, 2006; A01

A Senate committee rebuffed the personal entreaties of President Bush yesterday, rejecting his proposed strategies for interrogating and trying enemy combatants and approving alternative legislation that he has strenuously opposed.

The bipartisan vote sets up a legislative showdown on an issue that GOP strategists had hoped would unite their party and serve as a cudgel against Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections. Instead, Bush and congressional Republican leaders are at loggerheads with a dissident group led by Sen. John McCain (R), who says the president's approach would jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops and intelligence operatives.

Despite heavy lobbying by Bush, who visited the Capitol yesterday, and Vice President Cheney, who was there Tuesday, McCain and his allies held fast. Even former secretary of state Colin L. Powell weighed in on McCain's side.

Moments after the Armed Services Committee voted 15 to 9 to endorse McCain's alternative bill, the Arizona senator lashed out at CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, who had also lobbied lawmakers personally.

McCain told reporters that Hayden wants Congress to give the CIA a virtually free hand to treat detainees as it wishes so that he and his agents will be immunized against accusations of unlawful conduct. "He's trying to protect his reputation at the risk of America's reputation," McCain said. The senator noted that other nations would be more likely to abuse U.S. captives if Americans appeared to sanction such conduct.

A CIA spokesman said Hayden "wants to protect the people who work for him" and who take risks to "help keep all Americans safe."

The committee action puts McCain and his allies on a collision course with the administration, whose supporters hope to change the bill in the full Senate, and with the House, which is expected to approve the president's bill next week.

With virtually all Senate Democrats likely to back McCain, he appears to have enough Republican support -- for now, at least -- to fend off amendments on the Senate floor and to block passage of the House version if it emerges from a conference committee.

Congress is scheduled to adjourn in two weeks, and lawmakers said they will be hard pressed to resolve the matter before the elections.

The disagreement centers mainly on how to square the CIA's techniques with the Geneva Conventions, which say wartime detainees must be "treated humanely." The administration bill says the United States complies with the conventions as long as interrogators abide by a 2005 law barring "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of captives.

McCain and his chief Republican allies on the Senate committee, Chairman John W. Warner (Va.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), say that this requirement is too narrow and that the United States should not try to limit its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. Instead, they want CIA officers to abide by the common understanding of the treaty's meaning, including a ban on "outrages upon personal dignity."

Bush's bill would also allow alleged enemy combatants to be convicted by military commissions relying on classified information not shared with the suspects. The McCain-backed measure would make the exclusion of classified information more difficult, and it states in general terms that defendants have the right to examine and respond to any evidence directly related to guilt or innocence.

Joining McCain, Warner and Graham in voting for their bill yesterday were Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and all of the committee's Democrats.

The dispute has fractured the GOP establishment. Powell and numerous retired military officers wrote letters supporting McCain's position, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials weighed in on Bush's behalf. The president made a rare visit to Capitol Hill yesterday to rally House Republicans and thank the House Armed Services Committee for overwhelmingly approving legislation that mirrored his position.

"The most important job of government is to protect the homeland, and yesterday they advanced an important piece of legislation to do just that," Bush told reporters. "I'll continue to work with members of the Congress to get good legislation so we can do our duty."

White House officials released a letter from senior Pentagon uniformed lawyers, who said they "do not object" to two key sections of the administration-backed bill that would reinterpret U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions and protect U.S. intelligence agents from war crimes prosecutions. They then summoned senators from the Armed Services and intelligence committees to an afternoon meeting with Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Seven attended, sources said.

The Pentagon letter immediately generated controversy. Senior judge advocates general had publicly questioned many aspects of the administration's position, especially any reinterpreting of the Geneva Conventions. The White House and GOP lawmakers seized on what appeared to be a change of heart to say that they now have military lawyers on their side.

But the letter was signed only after an extraordinary round of negotiations Wednesday between the judge advocates and William J. Haynes II, the Defense Department's general counsel, according to Republican opponents of Bush's proposal. The military lawyers refused to sign a letter of endorsement. But after hours of cajoling, they assented to write that they "do not object," according to three Senate GOP sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were divulging private negotiations.

Graham, a former Air Force judge advocate general, promised to summon the lawyers to a committee hearing and to ask for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the letter.

One of the military lawyers, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap Jr., reiterated yesterday that he still has reservations about the administration's proposal, just not in the areas discussed in the letter. He said he was not forced to sign.

"I made my several personal objections to the administration's proposal clear in my [House] testimony," Dunlap said. "This matter was not among them."

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters yesterday that Bush "will not accept something that prevents the [CIA detention] program from going forward." At a feisty briefing, Snow said critics have misconstrued the administration's intent, which he said is to define the Geneva Conventions' ban on cruel and inhumane treatment, not to undermine it.

"Somehow I think there's this construct in people's minds that we want to restore the rack and start getting people screaming, having their bones crunching," Snow said. "And that's not at all what this is about."

He said Powell did not discuss the issue with the White House before releasing his letter.

"They don't understand what we're trying to do here," he said of Powell and retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., who wrote a similar letter. Asked if Powell is "confused," Snow said, "Yes."

McCain, who was tortured as a Vietnam War prisoner, dismissed similar comments in the committee session, saying Powell knew exactly what he was doing.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Senate Armed Services Committee Strikes Down Bush

Bush faces Senate rebellion on tribunals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate committee rebelled against President George W. Bush on Thursday, passing a bill it said would protect the rights of foreign terrorism suspects and repair a U.S. image damaged by harsh treatment of detainees.

Hours after Bush went to Capitol Hill to urge fellow Republicans to back his proposals for putting terrorism suspects on trial, a divided Senate Armed Services Committee approved its own bill which it said would meet demands of the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down Bush's original plan.

The committee also resisted Bush's bid to more narrowly define the Geneva Conventions' standards for humane treatment of prisoners, which Bush said was essential to enable the CIA to elicit valuable information from detainees.

Bush has been under fire for indefinite detentions and harsh treatment of foreign suspects at Guantanamo Bay as well as abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Human rights groups say mistreatment of prisoners has damaged U.S. moral standing.

Some lawmakers say they fear the practices put American soldiers at greater risk of harm or abuse if they are captured in conflicts overseas.

The bill -- pushed by chairman John Warner of Virginia and fellow Republican heavyweights John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- cleared the committee 15-9 with support from Democrats and Maine Republican Susan Collins.

The committee bill would require that defendants have access to classified evidence used against them, limit the use of hearsay evidence and restrict the use of evidence obtained by coercion.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bush Plans to Legalize Torture

Treason of the Tormentor: George W. Bush Set to Legalize Torture

by Chris Floyd

September 9, 2006

We told you: the Bush Gang is going to grow more brazen as their popularity sinks and they face the prospect of losing control of part of the conventional government in November. (The "secret government" – that subterranean realm of grease, baksheesh, black ops and skullduggery where most of the state's power actually lies, remains safely in Bush Faction hands, and will do so regardless of the outcome of this year's elections.) As we noted yesterday, the Bushists are now embarked on an open campaign to subvert – and pervert – the very notion of law (not to mention morality and honor), in order to "normalize" their crimes.

So now comes the latest salvo: a back-door measure to legalize the same torture techniques that the Pentagon rejected this week. Stuck into the back of an 86-page bill, and obscured by a blizzard of technicalities, the measures are explicit about avoiding the Bush goons' worst nightmare: criminal prosecution for their very clear, very deliberate and very self-aware violations of American law.

What's more, the bill would essentially eliminate the U.S. Supreme Court as an independent arbiter of the Constitution. It specifically bars the Court from drawing on the Geneva Conventions in any ruling on Bush's torture regimen. This despite the fact that the Geneva strictures against torture have been incorporated directly into U.S. law. What Bush's new bill says, then, is that the United State Supreme Court is forbidden from citing United States law to rule against torture. That's a sweet deal for a sadistic tyrant, one who seems to have a pathological need to know that torture is being inflicted on his captives, despite the near-universal opinion of experts that, morality aside, torture is counterproductive, wasteful and pointless in terms of producing genuine, actionable intelligence. Bush insists otherwise, with a slathering glee that he can barely restrain. He wants people to be tortured, at his orders; he seems to need this somehow. He is a sick and twisted little man.

Friday, September 08, 2006

New York Times Ignored Torture and Homicide: Columbia University School of Journalism

Failures of Imagination

By Eric Umansky
Columbia Journalism Review
Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism

Carlotta Gall was curious. It was early December 2002, and Gall, the Afghanistan correspondent for The New York Times, had just seen a press release from the U.S. military announcing the death of a prisoner at its Bagram Air Base. Soon thereafter the military issued a second release about another detainee death at Bagram. “The fact that two had died within weeks of each other raised alarm bells,” recalls Gall. “I just wanted to know more. And I came up against a blank wall. The military wouldn’t release their names; they wouldn’t say where they released the bodies.”

Gall started calling the governors of provinces, she says, “asking if a family had received a body back from Bagram in their province.” None had, but Gall did learn that U.S. forces had detained some suspects near the eastern border town of Khost.

She visited Khost and left empty-handed, but a few weeks later, she got another tip and traveled back. The body of one of the detainees had been returned, a young taxi driver known as Dilawar. Gall met with Dilawar’s family, and his brother handed Gall a death certificate, written in English, that the military had issued. “It said, ‘homicide,’ and I remember gasping and saying, ‘Oh, my God, they killed him,’” says Gall. “I hadn’t really been thinking that before.”

The press release announcing Dilawar’s death stated that the taxi driver had died of a heart attack, a conclusion repeated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, then-Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, whom Gall later cited as saying that Dilawar had died because his arteries were 85 percent blocked. (“We haven’t found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action,” McNeill declared.) But the death certificate, the authenticity of which the military later confirmed to Gall, stated that Dilawar — who was just twenty-two years old — died as a result of “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.”

Gall filed a story, on February 5, 2003, about the deaths of Dilawar and another detainee. It sat for a month, finally appearing two weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I very rarely have to wait long for a story to run,” says Gall. “If it’s an investigation, occasionally as long as a week.”

Gall’s story, it turns out, had been at the center of an editorial fight. Her piece was “the real deal. It referred to a homicide. Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can’t get much clearer than that,” remembers Roger Cohen, then the Times’s foreign editor. “I pitched it, I don’t know, four times at page-one meetings, with increasing urgency and frustration. I laid awake at night over this story. And I don’t fully understand to this day what happened. It was a really scarring thing. My single greatest frustration as foreign editor was my inability to get that story on page one.”

Doug Frantz, then the Times’s investigative editor and now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says Howell Raines, then the Times’s top editor, and his underlings “insisted that it was improbable; it was just hard to get their mind around. They told Roger to send Carlotta out for more reporting, which she did. Then Roger came back and pitched the story repeatedly. It’s very unusual for an editor to continue to push a story after the powers that be make it clear they’re not interested. Roger, to his credit, pushed.” (Howell Raines declined requests for comment.)

“Compare Judy Miller’s WMD stories to Carlotta’s story,” says Frantz. “On a scale of one to ten, Carlotta’s story was nailed down to ten. And if it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the Bush administration but to other news organizations.”

Instead, the story ran on page fourteen under the headline "U.S.Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody." (It later became clear that the investigation began only as a result of Gall’s digging.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Taliban Control Southern Half of Afghanistan

Taliban taking over

by Sanjay Suri

September 7, 2006

LONDON - The Taliban have regained control over the southern half of Afghanistan and their front line is advancing daily, a group closely monitoring the Afghan situation said in a report this week.

The report on the reconstruction of Afghanistan marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US is based on extensive field research in the critical provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Herat and Nangarhar.

"The Taliban front line now cuts halfway through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces," says a report by the Senlis Council, an international policy think-tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels.

The report from Senlis, which has reported extensively on Afghanistan over recent years, says: "A humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty has gripped the south of the country." The report blames "the US-and-UK-led failed counter-narcotics and military policies" for this situation.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Sheikh of Al-Azhar : Jihad initiated for self-defense and not for threat or attack

Sheikh of Al-Azhar : Jihad initiated for self-defense and not for threat or attack

Cairo, Egypt, September 5, 2006

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, endeavored to correct many of the concepts of religious beliefs of Islam in the West, and especially the idea of jihad. He pointed out that Al-Jihad began in self-defense, and not to threaten others or commit aggression on innocent people. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar at the end of the Muslim-Christian dialogue between Al Azhar and the Episcopal Church in Britain, yesterday evening stressed the importance of Islamic-Christian dialogue, and the discussion of religious concepts inherent in Islam and other religions. Participating in the meeting which was held at the headquarters of the Episcopal Church in Egypt were the most venerated Al-Azhar, the Mufti of the Republic, Dr Nasr Farid Wasel, in addition to a large number of bishops and heads of the Christian communities in Egypt and Britain. The Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh, denying a conflict between religions or civilizations, stressed that religions cooperate together and that difference of religion does not preclude that. He stressed the Islamic principle which states that there shall be no compulsion in religion and that freedom of belief is guaranteed, and any practices that violate that principle constitute a departure from true Islam. He renewed his support for freedom of expression, calling that freedom conditional on not manipulating the religious sanctities of any creed. For his part, the Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a member of the British House of Lords, Islam and Christianity have common areas of high human values that enable followers to embrace cooperation and coexistence and transcend ideological differences. At the conclusion of the Muslim-Christian dialogue, its participants released a statement expressing regret for the events of the crisis in the Palestinian territories. They called on the international community to work to help the Palestinian people. The clerics condemned the Israeli aggression on Lebanon and the mass destruction it has suffered, and urged clerics to use their influence to bring about reconciliation and peace.