Political MoJo

Judge Rules Against ACLU In Georgia Prayer Case

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 8:35 PM EDT

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story has ruled that prayers that refer to Jesus Christ do not violate the U.S. Constitution and may continue to be offered at the Cobb County, Georgia county commission meetings.

Judge Story did affirm that repeated sectarian prayers given at meetings do violate the Constitution, but that such a violation did not occur with the Cobb County commission meetings. The plaintiffs in the case, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit a year ago because they believed that the council's prayer selection process showed a preference of one religion over the other. Judge Story said that it did not, but he also ruled that the selection of the Cobb County planning commission in 2003 and 2004. In January, Judge Story ruled against the plaintiffs' bid for a preliminary injunction to halt the prayers.

The ACLU also filed suit last year to force Cobb County schools to remove warning labels from science books that advised that evolution is a theory, not a fact. A U.S. District judge then ordered the county to pay the ACLU's attorney's fees.

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The Knee-Slapping Hilarity of Republican Satire

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 6:22 PM EDT

Those fun-loving pranksters over at the RNC have cooked up a satirical newspaper from the future to show what life will be like under the Democrats. In September 2007, the paper reports, the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate will be busy repealing tax cuts, dismantling the missile defense system, and cutting funding to faith-based programs.

And who will be cheering them on? "Regular Americans" like "Judy Smith-Walker, a New York graphic designer," "Stefan, a 28-year-old full time student in San Francisco," and "aspiring Hollywood screenwriter Rex Star." Note the oh-so-subtle stereotyping at work. Given the level of humor of the whole exercise (Ted Kennedy's proposed legislation is entitled, "Leave Education For Teachers" or LEFT ACT), I'm surprised the rapier wits of the RNC didn't just come out and call them Judy Feminazi and Foreign McFagfag.

9/11: What Changed Is What We've Done to Ourselves

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 6:08 PM EDT

There's a good piece by Jonathan Raban in the Independent on what really changed after 9/11.

"Since September 11..." we say, as if the attacks were what changed everything. The month is right but the day wrong, because the real metamorphosis has arisen not so much from what Mohamed Atta and his co-conspirators did to us on September 11 as what we've subsequently done to ourselves - and continue to do, today, tomorrow, and in the foreseeable future (incredibly foreshortened though that has become). On September 12, still in shock at the extraordinary injury inflicted on the US, we woke to essentially the same world we'd been living in before the phones began to ring. The death toll - then estimated at 10,000-plus - was horrifying, on the scale of a major earthquake or tsunami, but the globe continued to revolve on its accustomed axis, as it does after even the most devastating seismic killers. ...

Not 9/11, he argues, but 9/18 is "the real date to circle."

That day, Congress rushed through its Authorisation For Use of Military Force (AUMF), entitling the President, as the nation's commander in chief, to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against "those nations, organisations, or persons" that "he determines" were responsible for the September 11 atrocities, "...in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organisations, or persons." It's the "such" that's the key, the inclusion of nations, organisations, or persons "of that sort", which nicely covers, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, the arrest and detention of most of the prisoners now languishing in Guantanamo Bay, possible future military action against Iran, or Syria, or both, and heaven knows what else, since "such" is a term of potentially limitless capacity to make hitherto unguessed-at likenesses and connections.

The sloppily-worded AUMF endowed the administration with unique and wide-ranging powers. It has become the licence for the executive branch to wave at Congress and the judiciary whenever its actions are questioned or censured. On September 18 2001, the delicate balance between the three branches of government, as laid out in the American constitution, was thrown severely out of whack; since that day, one branch, the presidency, has enjoyed an unprecedented primacy over the others, and we've been living with the consequences of AUMF ever since.

Worth reading in full. Also worth a look is this interview with Raban about his book, My Holy War.

Transparency Bill Passes Senate

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 5:23 PM EDT

One chapter in the long, strange saga of the Federal Accountability and Transparency Act is over. Last night, the anti-pork legislation, which would create a "Google for government spending," was unanimously passed by the Senate and now moves on for consideration in the House. Up until now its fate has been uncertain, as at least two senators, Ted Stevens and Robert Byrd, had placed temporary holds on the bill, preventing it from a floor vote.

John Hart, a spokesman for Senator Tom Coburn, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told Mother Jones he expects only "minor modifications from the Senate bill" in the House. From here on, he believes, the legislation will pass quickly.

Building on the Transparency Act's momentum, Coburn, along with Senators Barack Obama and Frank Lautenberg, have expressed interest in drafting legislation that will bring greater transparency to the nation's very opaque tax code.
-- Carl Gutierrez

Death, Destruction, and Orderly Traffic in Iraq

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 3:14 PM EDT

US hands over control of Iraq's armed forces command to the country's government. (AP)

Roadside bombs have risen to record numbers as warning tips from Iraqis have dropped. (WP)

The body count in Baghdad nearly triples. (WP)

Iraqi traffic officers enforce a bit of order in a city full of chaos and corruption. ("The traffic law is the only thing nowadays that functions correctly," says one Iraqi.) (LAT)

Bolton Nomination Dead?

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 2:36 PM EDT

Steve Clemons reports:

Several well-placed sources close to the Bolton nomination process have reported to me that the Bolton confirmation process is now dead.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is "highly unlikely" to reconsider Bolton's confirmation again as things now stand.

One insider reported, as far as the Committee is concerned, "we consider the confirmation over. It's dead."

Good news for a change--and on a Friday at that!

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Senate Report on Iraq Intelligence: No Zarqawi/Qaeda-Saddam link

| Fri Sep. 8, 2006 1:47 PM EDT

A Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq finds no evidence that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Al Qaeda. Specifically, the CIA found in 2005 that Saddam "did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates."

This is the latest blow to the adminstration's (remarkably successful) 5-year effort to conflate Al Qaeda and Saddam in the public mind. Recall -- with the aid of our handy timeline of prewar intel -- the following:

  • The day after the 9/11 attacks, according to Richard Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies," Bush collared Clarke and and said, "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way." Clarke responds, "But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this." Bush tells him, "I know, I know, but -- see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred...."

  • On September 19, 2001, President Bush, according to Ron Suskind, told CIA chief George Tenet, "I want to know about links between Saddam and al Qaeda. The Vice President knows some things that might be helpful." Vice President Cheney tells Tenet about a report that one of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, met with senior Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague. Tenet promises to investigate. Two days later, Tenet reports back: CIA's Prague office thinks the Atta story "doesn't add up." Moreover, the intelligence community knows that Atta's credit card and phone were used in Virginia during the period in question. Cheney, however, will continue to cite the alleged meeting in public appearances.

  • On September 21, 2001, President Bush was informed in a highly classified briefing that the US intelligence community could not link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and that there is little evidence pointing to collaborative ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

  • On September 25, 2005, President Bush told journalists, "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."

  • On September 27, 2002, Donald Rumsfeld called the link between Iraq and al Qaeda "accurate and not debatable."

The report confirms (reconfirms, I'd say), in the words of the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, that "the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq was fundamentally misleading."

Full Senate report here. (PDF)

What if the Towers Hadn't Come Down on 9/11?

| Thu Sep. 7, 2006 7:09 PM EDT

Tom Engelhardt has the cover story in the new issue of The Nation, a reconsideration of the American response to the 9/11 attacks five years after the event. In it, he asks:

What if the two hijacked planes, American Flight 11 and United 175, had plunged into those north and south towers at 8:46 and 9:03, killing all aboard, causing extensive damage and significant death tolls, but neither tower had come down? What if, as a Tribune columnist called it, photogenic "scenes of apocalypse" had not been produced? What if, despite two gaping holes and the smoke and flames pouring out of the towers, the imagery had been closer to that of 1993? What if there had been no giant cloud of destruction capable of bringing to mind the look of "the day after," no images of crumbling towers worthy of Independence Day?

As he points out, "Americans were already imagining versions of September 11 soon after the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945." Hence, the instinctive recourse to World War II analogies. "No wonder the events seemed so strangely familiar," he writes. "We had been living with the possible return of our most powerful weaponry via TV and the movies, novels and our own dream-life" for 50-plus years.

But here's the catch: What came, when it came, on September 11, 2001, wasn't what we thought came. There was no Ground Zero, because there was nothing faintly atomic about the attacks. It wasn't the apocalypse at all. Except in its success, it hardly differed from the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the one that almost toppled one tower with a rented Ryder van and a homemade bomb.

OK, the truck of 1993 had sprouted wings and gained all the power in those almost full, transcontinental jet fuel tanks, but otherwise what "changed everything," as the phrase would soon go, was a bit of dystopian serendipity for Al Qaeda: Nineteen men of much conviction and middling skills, armed with exceedingly low-tech weaponry and two hijacked jets, managed to create an apocalyptic look that, in another context, would have made the special-effects masters of Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic proud. And from that -- and the Bush administration's reaction to it -- everything else would follow.

The tiny band of fanatics who planned September 11 essentially lucked out. If the testimony, under CIA interrogation techniques, of Al Qaeda's master planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is to be believed, what happened stunned even him. ("According to the [CIA] summary, he said he 'had no idea that the damage of the first attack would be as catastrophic as it was.'") Those two mighty towers came crumbling down in that vast, roiling, near-mushroom cloud of white smoke before the cameras in the fashion of the ultimate Hollywood action film (imagery multiplied in its traumatizing power by thousands of replays over a record-setting more than ninety straight hours of TV coverage). And that imagery fit perfectly the secret expectations of Americans -- just as it fit the needs of both Al Qaeda and the Bush administration.

Read the rest here.

ABC and "The Path to 9/11"

| Thu Sep. 7, 2006 6:06 PM EDT

abclogobig.jpg

If you haven't already, check out this activist site dedicated to the noble work of giving ABC/Disney hell over its dodgy docudrama "The Path to 9/11," which was written by a right-wing activist and by all accounts contradicts the 9/11 Commission Report, on which it's supposedly based.

In brief:

  • The film places the blame for failing to prevent the attacks on the Clinton administration while overlooking the Bush administration's failures
  • Preview copies of the film have not been sent to left-wing bloggers, but marketed aggressively through advance copies among right-wing bloggers, radio hosts, and pundits
  • ABC plans to distribute the film free through iTunes and ABC.com, and is pushing for it to be used as an educational resource
  • The folks who put this site together are demanding, via an open letter, that ABC either correct the film's errors or yank it; label it a work of fiction; reveal the marketers responsible for hiding this film from lefty opinion leaders; and nix the planned outreach to educators.

ThinkProgress is gathering and debunking the film's errors here.

UPDATE: Educational media giant Scholastic, Inc., which is providing classroom companion guides, is redoing the materials on the grounds that the originals "did not meet our high standards for dealing with controversial issues." (TPM Muckraker)

A Year After Katrina, Corps of Engineers Lacks a Flood Plan for New Orleans

| Thu Sep. 7, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

Last month, on the anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, George W. Bush told a New Orleans audience:

I take full responsibility for the federal government's response, and a year ago I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover. (Applause.) I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.

Since I spoke those words, members of the United States Congress from both political parties came together and committed more than $110 billion to help the Gulf Coast recover. I felt it was important that our government be generous to the people who suffered. I felt that step one of a process of recovery and renewal is money.

Today, the Washington Post adds a little nuance to that assessment:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacks a strategic plan to spend more than $7 billion approved by Congress for levee and flood-control projects in greater New Orleans, risking a repeat of the piecemeal approach that led to catastrophic systemic failures after Hurricane Katrina last year, congressional auditors reported yesterday.

While the Corps has spent more than $1 billion to repair southeastern Louisiana's broken levee system by this summer -- more than the $738 million it cost to build over 40 years -- billions more are coming for further work, such as adding pumps and canal gates, raising and reinforcing levees and storm-proofing pumping stations, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

The money comes before the Corps outlines a long-term strategy to protect the region from the most powerful hurricanes, due to Congress by December 2007, which early estimates said might cost $10 billion to $20 billion, or more.

"We are concerned that the Corps has embarked on a multi-billion repair and construction effort in response to the appropriations it has already received, without a guiding strategic plan," reported the GAO, Congress's audit arm. The Corps is "once again . . . taking an incremental approach that is based on funding."