Friday, July 20, 2007


Federal Election Commission nominee recants lies

Hans von Spakovsky is one of the many appointed bureaucrats that George Bush has slipped into a berth while Congress was in recess. But his temporary appointment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is up, and his nomination must now be confirmed by the Senate if he's to remain for a full six-year term.

As one of the Republican storm-troopers who oversaw the stealing of the Presidency in 2000, he was quickly elevated to the Justice Department where he took charge of the Voting Section. There he set to the task of disenfranchising minority voters. The Federal Election Commission, which nominally oversees campaign finance laws, was a natural berth after his fine performance at the Department of Justice.

During his confirmation hearings last month, von Spakovsky was consistent in his efforts to pass the buck whenever challenged over any actions he may have taken while at the Justice Department. Happily von Spakovsky was under oath.

Here is his testimony concerning a letter he wrote instructing the Secretary of State of Arizona that voters did not need to be given provisional ballots if they could not present state-approved identification. Senator Diane Feinstein is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration—

Chairman Feinstein: .... I would like to ask some questions on the last State, if I may, and that is Arizona. In May of 2005, outgoing Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sheldon Bradshaw on his last days at the Department issued a letter opinion to the State of Arizona. The letter wrongly informed Arizona that it could stop voters from receiving a provisional ballot if they did not have State identification.

In September of 2005, Brad Schlozman sent a letter to Arizona correcting the Department's opinion and stating that individuals can request and cast a provisional ballot for any reason.

In my [sic] Schlozman's sworn testimony last week, he says he had nothing to do with the drafting of the May 2005 letter, but it was probably done by "the voting counsel in the front office."

Was that not you?

Mr. von Spakovsky: I believe I drafted both letters, Senator, both the earlier letter and the corrected letter in September.

Chairman Feinstein: Okay. And you will not answer this, but for the record, because it is important, what did you say?

Mr. von Spakovsky: I drafted the letters, Senator, I was directed to draft on these issues with my recommendations of what they should be. What happened in between the two letters--

Chairman Feinstein: So you drafted a letter that, in essence, said it was possible to prevent a voter from receiving a provisional ballot if they did not have State identification. Is that correct?

Mr. von Spakovsky: I did draft that letter, yes, ma'am.

Chairman Feinstein: Okay. Thank you for being up front. If you would like to say something else, I appreciate it.

Mr. von Spakovsky: Well, I drafted that letter, Senator, but you need to understand. When the Help America Vote Act was passed, the system that was set up in the Division was we had a number of lawyers in the Voting Section who were dedicated to working on Help America Vote Act issues. And anytime a question came in ... that inquiry would get looked at by all the lawyers, including myself and the other career lawyers in the section. They would look at each of these inquiries and letters, whether they came in by e-mail or letter, and we would discuss what the response was that we thought should go out. So this was not me acting by myself. You know, I would have been consulting with the other attorneys there to do it.

Greg Gordon reports today that

Hans von Spakovsky ... revised his statement in a recent letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee after former senior department voting-rights lawyers challenged his veracity.

Joseph Rich, who was the Justice Department's voting rights chief when the letter was drafted, said von Spakovsky never consulted with him about it and that Bradshaw had had virtually no involvement in voting rights matters before signing it. Rich said he'd asked Alex Acosta, who was then the civil rights chief, about the letter and Acosta had replied, "What are you talking about? Send me the letter.''

Von Spakovsky also didn't consult with the Election Assistance Commission, a small agency that's tasked with implementing the Help America Vote law, before sending the letter. Two days after it was sent, Ray Martinez, an EAC commissioner, sent others on the panel an e-mail describing the letter as "a major (and unwelcome) surprise'' and complaining about the Justice Department's lack of coordination.

Chairman Feinstein has not yet scheduled a vote on von Spakovsky's nomination.



One more reason not to vote for Giuliani: He's gone Neocon

Jennifer Siegel writes

As the roster of Republican presidential hopefuls grapples with the seeming implosion of one-time front-runner John McCain’s candidacy, Rudolph Giuliani is taking steps to claim his place as the field’s leading hawk.

The former New York City mayor announced last week that he had assembled a team of foreign policy advisers featuring several prominent neoconservatives, including one of the movement’s founders, Norman Podhoretz. In addition to being an unwavering supporter of the war against Iraq, Podhoretz, a former editor of Commentary magazine, has grabbed headlines in recent months as one of most vocal proponents of American military action against Iran.

You'd have to dip a stick in doo-doo to find anyone as qualified.

The eight-member advisory panel also includes several figures with experience in Israeli affairs. Giuliani’s chief foreign policy adviser, Charles Hill, served as a top aide to Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan administration and once served as political counselor to the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The team also includes Martin Kramer, who is an expert on Islam at Harvard University and a fellow with both the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center.

These selections show Giuliani is “very serious about his approach to ensuring the security and safety of Israel,” said Ben Chouake, head of the pro-Israel political action committee Norpac.

No word yet on how Giuliani feels about the security of the United States, but he certainly has Israel covered.

.... Jason Epstein, a policy consultant backing Giuliani, said he viewed the selections as very consistent with Giuliani’s longstanding activism on foreign policy....

Even if you accept the premise that neoconservativism is not currently in vogue, many individual neoconservatives are still relevant,” Epstein said.

Relevant to what?

7/22/07 - 7:00 am — Today Israel Today has picked up the story I quoted above and converted its headline into the lede sentence—
Republican presidential frontrunner Rudy Giuliani has assembled a staff of foreign policy advisors described by some as a “who's who” of Middle East and pro-Israel hawks.

The writer concludes—

Giuliani's choice of advisors is also likely to play well to right-wing Jewish and Evangelical Christian voters, who are largely credited with putting George W. Bush in office.

Giuliani apparently intends to signal that, as regards Israel, he is the most rabid of the field of Republican Presidential candidates in hopes of appealing to a base that is even more rabid.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


Training the Iraqis: A contrary view

There was very little in the December 6, 2006 report of the Iraq Study Group (IRQ) that George Bush liked. Bush prefers to receive his recommendations directly from God (read "Cheney"), and God and the IRQ were mostly at odds.

Despite the advice from IRQ co-chair Lee Hamilton not to cherrypick the report (or treat it as a "fruit salad," as he put it), Bush did just that. The fruit he found most tasty was this—

The Iraqi government should accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades. While this process is under way, and to facilitate it, the United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units.

The report urged increased training for the Iraqi army and an increase in its size.

Integrating the militias Sunni tribes

Recommendation 39 was another favorite, even if it was slightly misconstrued—

The United States should provide financial and technical support and establish a single office in Iraq to coordinate assistance to the Iraqi government and its expert advisors to aid a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia members.1

It turns out that the "integration" recently reported is more with the insurgents rather than with the militias.

Lately we've been bombarded by news accounts of how Sunni tribes in Anbar and Diyala provinces have turned their sights on al-Qaeda insurgents while they entertain an uncomfortable alliance with U.S. forces. Although this news has been promoted by the military both this month and last as a positive development (as though it were a sign of the success of the "surge"), it is old news. The IRQ report noted it last December.2

Some tribesmen have even been cajoled into the Iraqi army. On June 29, Maj. Gen. Fil (Commanding General of Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Division) offered this upbeat assessment to the press—

You asked, though, about the work that we're doing as we are in reconciliation with many of the tribes both inside and outside of Baghdad, and it is not a matter of arming militias. In fact, these tribes are already well armed, and we are not arming any of them here in Baghdad. What we are doing, though, is we're embarking in a dialogue with them, and some of them who have previously been fighting us have come to us as we have spoken with them and they want to fight with us. They are tired of al Qaeda and the influence of al Qaeda in their tribes and in their neighborhoods, and they want them cleaned out. And they want to form an alliance in order to rid themselves of this blight. We think it's a very positive development, we're excited about it, but we are, frankly, being cautious.

How cautious are we, you wonder? To hear Gen. Fil tell it, these new recruits to the Iraqi Army might have had an easier time joining the National Guard—

First of all, they have to sign up with an oath of allegiance to the nation of Iraq. They have to renounce violence.... [F]or example, the Abu Ghraib area, ... we've got more than 1,500 of them who have signed up to serve in the security forces of Iraq, and we're signing up about 300 a day in the application process. We are taking fingerprints and all the biometric data. They are very carefully vetted with tribal leadership, and then they are brought before a panel of Iraqi positions and leadership out of the Ministry of Interior for the interview process.

In a concerted propaganda effort on that very same date, Bush cheered us with the news that the good citizens of Baghdad were organizing themselves into "neighborhood watch groups," whereupon Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks remarked that—

It is not clear what the difference is between those groups and armed militias, which U.S. officials have said in the past must be disbanded or incorporated into Iraqi security forces.

Some new acronyms for your Iraq lexicon: AQI and LRF

But integrating Sunni tribal insurgents into the Iraqi Army and forming "neighborhood watch groups" is not the only tack we're taking. Two days ago Sam Dagher reported

Dalli Abbas, Iraq - In the pursuit of an elusive enemy the US loosely labels AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq), US Green Berets and soldiers in this remote corner of Iraq have enlisted the help of a new ally that they have christened LRF, the "Legitimate Resistance Force."

It includes ex-insurgents, police dropouts with checkered backgrounds, and former Al Qaeda-linked fighters – all united by a desire to rid Diyala Province of the network's influence, say US officers.

"A lot of them are former Al Qaeda operatives ... but when they saw the stealing, murder, and terrorism, they realized it was not the way forward for Iraq," says Maj. John Woodward of San Antonio.

Al-Qaeda members have been overcome by their consciences, it seems.

Most of the LRFs are Sunni, though some are Shia. But the U.S. must turn to someone since the Iraqi military remains—at best—useless—

So far, however, it is too early to judge the effectiveness of this new group, but its creation clearly demonstrates a desire by the US to look for grass-roots solutions amid increasing frustration with the combat readiness – and even loyalty – of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is on record against the LRFs—

Maliki warned US forces last month against creating new militias in their fight against Al Qaeda-linked operatives. He insisted that all collaboration with local groups must be done through his government.

"What the Americans are doing is very risky and unwise. They are planting the seeds for future wars," warned Sami al-Askari, a parliamentarian close to Maliki, commenting on groups like the LRF.

Is this the right strategy?

The arming and training of the Iraqi military along with support for assorted "neighborhood watch groups" and LRFs appears to have won universal acceptance in the U.S. Ask yourself when, if ever, you have heard this strategy questioned in the news. Antiwar Democrats are as willing to spout this advice as are the most war-crazed Neocons. At last, something we can agree upon.

Well, maybe not. Retired Lt. General William Odom, who has been an advocate for total troop withdrawal, and Lawrence Korb,3 former Asst. Secretary of Defense under Reagan, wrote a piece yesterday for the Financial Times that would turn this strategy on its head—

Once again, as in previous times when the US has supported a battle against insurgencies, our political leaders are suffering from the illusion that success can be won by training local security forces.

All sides to the debate about Iraq agree that we should continue training and equipping Iraqi security forces. Both the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and President George W. Bush, through his surge strategy, support this policy because they believe that these forces will prevent the outbreak of a genocidal conflict as well as a regional conflict when we withdraw.

But continued training and equipping of the security forces will have the opposite effect. In effect we are arming different sides in a civil war. It is no accident that as the number of trained Iraqi security forces has grown, so have attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi security forces themselves.

Training or equipping these forces is not a solution. Many Iraqi soldiers have more training than some young American men and women who are being sent to Iraq right out of basic training so that our overstretched ground forces can support this ill-conceived surge. The fundamental problem with the Iraqi security forces is that they lack allegiance to the national government and the will to fight and die for a non-existent Iraqi nation.

The 350,000 security forces are not being asked to fight against a big foreign conventional military power but to deal with an insurgency that consists of a tiny section of the population totalling no more than 20,000. They are already equipped well enough for that task. Giving them more weapons and training will only increase the level of violence.

Odom and Korb compare our efforts to train local forces with our training of the Vietnamese and Salvadoran government forces—

In Vietnam, training the South Vietnamese forces failed, not because they were incompetent, but because the government lost the banner of nationalism to the Viet Cong. In El Salvador in the 1980s, elections and the training of government forces ended up putting back into power the very politicians who had provoked the insurgency with death squads. Soon afterwards, their death squads were back in action. The insurgency failed because all outside supplies were cut off, not because of US military assistance training.

And they conclude—

In Iraq, the same politically naive illusion of success through training the local security forces will yield the same or worse results. We must set a deadline to withdraw our troops and cease supplying weapons and training to all sides, or our forces will be in jeopardy as we leave and the violence among all sides in the civil wars will be greater after we depart.

I think they have a point.

Related posts
The denial of impotence (2/24/06)
While waiting for the civil war ... (3/6/06)
The media discover themselves discovering a civil war (11/28/06)
The Bush plan for Iraq: What you should expect (1/11/07)
Getting it wrong is usually right (1/17/07)
Neocons fear the pain of premature withdrawal (1/29/07)
Muqtada al-Sadr and a date to watch (2/9/07)



1As with almost all official American reaction to the Iraqi conflict, the IRQ report places more emphasis on the Shia militias than on the Sunni insurgency while acknowledging that "Most attacks on Americans still come from the Sunni Arab insurgency." [page 3]

What's the difference?

Militias are currently seen as legitimate vehicles of political action. Shia political leaders make distinctions between the Sunni insurgency (which seeks to overthrow the government) and Shia militias (which are used to fight Sunnis, secure neighborhoods, and maximize power within the government). [page 19]

You might think that the U.S. would set its sights more on groups committed to overthrowing the government and killing Americans. You would be wrong.

You see, militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr and others want the U.S. out of Iraq forthwith (see "Muqtada al-Sadr and a date to watch"). Their success would threaten the interests of Big Oil and is viewed as likely to consolidate the influence of Iran over Iraq. In the latter event the American invasion would be revealed for what it was—a coup to the benefit of the Iranian government. Hence we hear a great deal more about the "threat" of the militias than of the insurgents.


2From p. 20—

Too often, insurgents tolerate and cooperate with al Qaeda, as they share a mutual interest in attacking U.S. and Shia forces. However, Sunni Arab tribal leaders in Anbar province recently took the positive step of agreeing to pursue al Qaeda and foreign fighters in their midst, and have started to take action on those commitments.


3Lawrence Korb was sent to Iraq by the Defense Department in December 2003. We can now look back and see that his assessment of the situation was breathtakingly accurate.

When pundits are this honest, you may be sure that the press will ignore them. (See "Getting it wrong is usually right.") [back]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Prediction of the Day

US house prices will drop by 8 per cent between 2006 and 2008 ... exceeding the record peak-to-trough drop of 6.5 per cent between 1991 and 1992. —Standard & Poor's, as quoted in "Dollar plunges to fresh lows"

A further blow to the middle class.

Meanwhile on Friday the euro reached a record high against the dollar of $1.3813, and the British pound reached a 26-year high. That second home in Spain is looking more and more unaffordable.

Related posts
Something you should know about your dollars (9/24/04)
Buying a used Mercedes (2/8/05)
Happy days are here again (11/04/05)
"First" of the Day (4/11/07)
Headline of the Day (4/24/07)



Headline of the Day

Without the Holocaust, we could have had Jordan, too —Israeli President Shimon Peres as quoted by Israel Today

Full text:

Newly-installed Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday said that if six million Jews had not been wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust, Israel would today likely be in control of its biblical lands on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in what is today the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Peres made the remarks during an obligatory speech at the graveside of pre-state Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who during his lifetime advocated the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River, as envisioned by the Balfour Declaration and the original League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

Peres' address was surprising to many, who assumed that the left-wing, secular elder statesman did not accept Israel's biblical claims to the Land.

Zionism and jingoism make a lovely couple.

What about Iran?

Another recent Israel Today story assures us that—

Lieberman said on Tuesday that he received the tacit blessing of Europe and the United States for an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

That's Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman—not our own Joe Lieberman, who stands in for Israel in the U.S. Senate.

It's not all bad news—

Lieberman ... said that ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are “going to prevent the leaders of countries in Europe and America from deciding on the use of force to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities,” even if diplomacy ultimately fails.

The message Lieberman said the NATO and EU officials conveyed to him is that Israel should “prevent the threat herself.”


Monday, July 16, 2007


Headline of the Day

Micropenis excites U.S. publishing house
[Mikropenis erregt US-Verlag] —story in Spiegel Online [English version here]

For scientific work precise measurement is essential.

Though the headline concerned a children's book, the notion of the "micropenis" may have been on the headline writer's mind since Spiegel Online had published an article on penis size as recently as June.

In that article reporter Christian Stöcker exemplifies the German flair for precision when he notes that "Researchers only refer to a penis as a 'micropenis' if the fully extended flaccid member is no longer than 7 centimeters (2.75 inches)."

Related post
Half a millimeter penis too long for some (7/15/07)


Sunday, July 15, 2007


Half a millimeter penis too long for some

We all know that American children are among the world's purest and most innocent when it comes to genitals. Why, I must have been almost ten by the time I realized that other people had penises and vaginas. Of course I'd checked under the dresses of dolls—especially the ones that wet themselves. But what could I conclude? That I was deformed? You can imagine my relief when I saw another penis. I believe it has affected my life ever since.

Keeping our children pure is one of the Christian Right's missions in the world. Toward that goal they've worked as hard as the Taliban to keep our genitals from the light of day.1 And as with so many of their causes, they've had a measure of success.

Their campaign to keep us covered has reached the point where the public accedes to their demands without raising so much as a veil, even in the face of a burgeoning market for a glimpse of human flesh. Photos once popular at weddings—of the infant bride or groom spread-eagled on a bearskin rug—are a thing of the past. Just snapping such a photo risks 20 years in the pen if there's an alert clerk at the photo shop and an ambitious district attorney by the courthouse.

This effort by the Christian Right has paid off in some areas but backfired in others. Their prudery has ensured that we Americans enjoy one of the world's healthiest porn industries in an otherwise decaying economy. On the other hand they've inadvertently forced the removal of countless friendly Republican politicians, priests and preachers, who seem unable to keep their clothes on or their hands off the children.

Europeans, who tend to view clothing more as ornament than cover-up, cannot understand this. In parts of Europe you might as well be in Tahiti as on a public beach. They let their children run around nude as if there were no Hell where naked people go, and tits and ass are everywhere. Inevitably this unholy behavior has wormed its way into children's stories.

Preventing penetration

You'll be relieved to know that lascivious children's literature has been stopped at the border.

—Rotraut Susanne Berner

When Rotraut Susanne Berner, a leading German children's author, accepted a deal for her "Wimmel" series by American publisher Boyds Mill Press, she had no idea how much censorship would be involved—after all, her books were already published in 13 countries. The series purports to be "about the everyday lives of adults and children."

In her latest book there are adults who smoke and visit an art museum. And in the art museum there are, well, nudes!2

Tony Patterson describes the scene—

Berner said her US publisher, Boyds Mills Press, had objected in particular to one of her illustrations which showed adults and children in an art gallery where the portrait of a naked woman was on show together with a seven millimetre high sculpture of a naked man exhibiting a barely discernible penis.

She said Boyds Mills Press had informed her that she could either agree to have the offending images removed or the book would be withdrawn. "This was a joke," the author said yesterday. "The man's penis is about half a millimetre in length and the naked woman is clearly part of a work of art and not a real person," she added.

Half a millimeter indeed! If the penis had been the size of a microdot, an evangelical somewhere would have rooted it out. Evangelicals can sniff out a penis like dogs to a bone.3

The offending thingy is on the right.

Berner is unrepentant—

Berner said she had refused to agree to any self-censorship and had insisted that Boyds Mills should black out the offending images in the US edition. "I thought, if there is going to be censorship, then at least it should be recognisable as such," she said.

With Boyds Mills sticking to its guns yesterday and refusing to accept Berner's conditions, it appears almost certain that the book will not be published in America.

Berner doesn't understand that in a country where information is silently censored, it's as important to cover up the censorship as to hide the material itself.

Related posts
"Our secrets keep us sick" (6/6/05)
Spirit of Justice bares boob once again (6/27/05)
A bum wrap (4/24/06)
Another Republican lets it all hang out (2/14/07)
Literary Image of the Day (2/20/07)



1Who can forget Attorney General John Ashcroft's robing of the Spirit of Justice? [back]

2I hope she didn't go so far as to portray any artists. Artists seem to do little else than smoke and take off their clothes. [back]

3Or any other body part for that matter.

A true story: A pentecostal preacher of my acquaintance and his wife had come to dinner. As we talked over coffee I noticed him shifting uncomfortably in his chair—in fact, shifting the chair. I began to wonder what was wrong with him. He kept talking to his wife, who was seated between us, as if they'd met for the first time and he was trying to hold her attention.

Finally I figured it out. On an easel behind him, but in the line of sight of his wife, was a sketchpad upon which an artist friend had drawn a single gently curved line. You could interpret that line, I suppose, in a number of ways, but it had always impressed me as the outline of a human back. It suddenly dawned on me that our preacher didn't want his wife looking at "nudes." [back]

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