Thursday, March 22, 2007

How can something so wrong be so right?

Would that the House Democrats’ version of the Iraq supplemental funding bill was as tough as today’s New York Times editorial makes it sound.

The legislation does not settle for more empty promises — from Mr. Bush and the Iraqis. It would require the president to provide Congress, by July, with an initial detailed report on Iraq’s efforts to meet these benchmarks. By October, the Iraqi government would have to complete a specific set of legislative and constitutional steps. Failure to meet these deadlines would trigger the withdrawal of all American combat forces — but not those training Iraqis or fighting Al Qaeda — to be concluded in April 2008. If the benchmarks were met, American combat forces would remain until the fall of 2008.

The measure would also bar sending any unit to Iraq that cannot be certified as fully ready. It sets a reasonable 365-day limit on combat tours for the Army and a shorter 210-day combat tour limit for the Marines.

Perhaps I missed something, but the last time I checked, things in Pelosi-land were a little less ironclad. While this legislation lays out the—um, I dunno, let’s just go ahead and call them “benchmarks”—benchmarks as detailed above, the actual hard-and-fast enforcement language was stripped out of the bill last week. Again, maybe the Times knows something I don’t, but I feel pretty sure that the Democratic leadership knuckled to conservative Blue Dogs and gave Bush the ability to “waive” the requirements if he, well, let’s not spin this, if he feel like it.

Benchmarks benched—end of story. . . sort of.

That this bill is so fatally weakened disappoints me no end. However, the way the paper of record perceives the legislation tells me I am not wrong in advocating for its support.

You see, no matter how loose or strict the timetables, guidelines, or benchmarks are written by Democrats, I feel pretty secure in saying that President Bush and his royal loyals will oppose them. . . and it won’t be because they find the enforcement mechanisms to be too lax.

No, a line has been drawn in the beltway sandbox, and George Bush has drawn it: Congress is not to tell the president how to run the war (or the country, for that matter)—not even rhetorically. Any move that enhances perception that Congress is a coequal in governing is strictly verboten.

And this is where I say: Bring it on. As long as the New York Times (and all the other establishment media sources I have personally heard or read) wants to place the Democrats on the side of benchmarks that will bring an end to US involvement in the day-to-day carnage of Iraq’s civil war, and as long as the Republicans want to say that the Democrats’ position is unacceptable, I am feeling pretty good about the political landscape.

In other words, Bush will veto the bill, no matter how strict the strictures, so it is better to give him something to veto. With nearly three-quarters of this country completely fed up with the war in Iraq and Bush’s “leadership” of it, setting up the “Dems want out—Republicans want to stay” dialectic is acceptable to me from a political strategy point of view.

Of course, beyond the political strategy, the humanitarian in me wants more than a nice-sounding dialectic, and I hope that the Democratic leadership would use this victorious defeat (passage leading to veto) to build a stronger coalition and a stronger bill. But, after so many years of an imperial presidency and a fawning fourth estate, and so many months of hearing how Democrats “don’t have a plan” to end the war (to which I would usually reply: They don’t have a plan, they have at least three good plans), I find it encouraging to hear that Democrats are being closely tied to the more popular position—and that would be a rational redeployment of American troops.

So, sure, I think the New York Times has got it all wrong, but, today anyway, that might just be all right.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It ain’t the crime

Is it just me, or is anyone else baffled by the utter lack of historical awareness now being exhibited by the cabal in power and the kids that cover them?

Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I know I’m not as old as almost every one of the folks we would call senior White House staff; nor am I as “experienced” as many of the White House press corps. So, though it is still “early days,” as our Brit brethren would say, I am a little struck by the lack of analogies being drawn between the current “-gate” and the original.

Markos, a younger man than I, had the very same thought that I did the second I read about a “document gap” in the files that Justice sent to the House Judiciary Committee—a gap from mid-November to early December in the e-mails and memos concerning the purging and replacing of US attorneys. I’ll put it this way: When does three weeks seem like 18 1/2 minutes?

Back in the summer of 1973, when the special prosecutor (that would be Leon Jaworski, Archibald Cox having been fired during the Saturday Night Massacre), finally gained access to secret tapes that Nixon had made of conversations in the Oval Office, there was a conspicuous gap in the recording—an 18 1/2 minute portion of what might likely have been important evidence had been erased.

Back then, Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, claimed to have accidentally erased the audiotape. Now, however, we are talking about electronic files—e-mails and documents generated on computers and almost certainly archived (almost certainly with backup archives). It would take an army of extremely brain-dead Rose Mary Woods’s to make all of that go away.

It looks like arrogance more than idiocy (are they mutually exclusive?), but whatever the reason, I have to ask, why invite the scrutiny? I tend to believe, based on the lack of tenacity exhibited by the contemporary establishment media and the number of infinitely more telegenic outrages currently extant, that if the White House had offered up a cursory set of documents with the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales a couple of weeks back, this whole scandal—as scandalous as it is—would have died a relatively quiet death.

But now, with the stonewalling and the stubbornness, with the missing documents (not just from that three week period, but also absent are any of the internal, White House staff to White House staff communications) and the invocations of “executive privilege” (a phrase mighty reminiscent of the Nixon years all by itself), it seems increasingly clear even to the mere transcribers in the media that these guys (and gals) in the Bush Administration have something to hide.

The crime—crimes, really—are plenty bad enough, but they might have been a little complicated to explain (“inside the beltway” stuff, don’t you know). The cover-up however, is as plain as the pre-cancerous nose on Bush’s smirking face.

Like we all learned to say 34 years ago. “It ain’t the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

(cross-posted from guy2k)

Monday, March 19, 2007

What was the Mission, Again? And What was Accomplished?

As we look back on four years of war—four more years than we should ever have to commemorate—this pair of questions is meant as more than just a rhetorical joke at the Commander in Chief’s expense.

Why did we start this war? No, not to look for WMD’s—the government, and anyone else paying attention, knew there were none. No, not to attack al Qaeda—there was never a scintilla of even circumstantial evidence to link Saddam Hussein with the OBL gang (not to mention that such a link was completely counter intuitive). No, not to spread democracy—the administration scrapped the State Department plans for post-invasion nation building at the start of the war, and has since flailed chaotically (if not quixotically) in a variety of half-assed attempts to prop up a string of less than strong strongmen.

Was it to secure a forward base in the region to replace Saudi Arabia? Was it to gain greater control of the region’s oil? Was it to provide new markets for big money friends of Bush and Cheney? Was it to distract the country from the poor performance of the Bush administration in other matters, both foreign and domestic, or to galvanize political support and help build a permanent Republican majority? Was it simply to avenge a perceived insult to the Bush family or resolve some oedipal conflict?

I cannot write off any of those possibilities as easily as I did the “official” reasons.

And what has been accomplished?

Over 3,200 American’s have been killed, tens of thousands have been wounded, countless others have suffered life-changing emotional trauma. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead
or maimed as a result of this “liberation.” US troops are attacked, on average, 1,000 times every week—a number that seems to steadily increase each year.

Half of Iraqis think they are worse off now than they were before the invasion. Over 80% expect to die or have a family member die in the violence. A majority of Iraqis say attacks on foreign forces are justified.

And what of the money? What could have been done, here and all over the world, with the $1 Billion the government spends each week for this war? And what of the future? How long will it take to rebuild America’s image around the world? What could we have done with the money we must spend down the line to clean up the mess made by this war abroad—and what must be done, and how much must be spent, domestically, to clean up the mess that will befall our society when so many wounded and damaged servicemen and women return to civilian life (or whatever rude approximation of such our country can offer them)?

The size of the disaster that this folly has wrought redefines “disaster.”

I guess that’s some kind of accomplishment.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dem Bones

God, it seems like a year ago—but was only eleven months—when I blogged with a bit of dark glee that the Bush Administration scandal parade had finally managed to work a little sex in with their patronage jobs and no-bid contracts. I thought that when the San Diego Union Tribune and other sources started reporting on a DHS paid limo service ferrying hookers to a long-standing card game at the Watergate regularly attended by top lobbyists, government officials like Porter Goss and Dusty Foggo, and elected representatives such as “Duke” Cunningham—well, I thought that all the corruption and influence peddling that had been the stock and trade of Republican Dominated DC since the start of the right-wing reign would finally be deemed spicy and salacious enough to attract the attention of the “respectable” establishment media.

Well, Cunningham was already well on his way to jail, and Goss and Foggo both resigned soon after, but the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press just didn’t seem interested in pursuing the whole mess further. They took Goss at his word (he wanted to, yup, “spend more time with his family”), and wrote off Foggo’s status as too inside the beltway (or something) to be of mass interest, and quickly went back to averting their eyes and bowing with deference.

So, after nearly a year, I guess we should all be thankful for former US attorney Carol Lam and the corrupt ideologues of the Bush Administration who were stupid enough to fire her.

USA Lam had successfully prosecuted Cunningham, and was aggressively investigating Foggo when Attorney General Gonzales’s chief of staff (Kyle Sampson) and White House counsel (Harriet Miers) had a powwow about what to do:

In an e-mail dated May 11, 2006, Sampson urged the White House counsel's office to call him regarding "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," who then the U.S. attorney for southern California. Earlier that morning, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's corruption investigation of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., had expanded to include another California Republican, Rep Jerry Lewis.

TPM actually has a long list of uncomfortable revelations and unpleasant events that happened in the weeks before that 5/11 e-mail.

Throughout the summer, Sampson, Miers, Rove, and, as is now becoming increasingly clear, President Bush came to an understanding on a plan to remove troublesome US attorneys and replace then with cooperative, politicized cronies. By November the plan was in place, and on December 7, Carol Lam and seven other USAs were unceremoniously fired.

Stupidly fired, as I said above, and I say that because, can you imagine what would have happened in years past if another White House had fired an investigator that was getting too close? Actually, you don’t have to imagine that hard. It didn’t involve a US attorney (but, instead, a special prosecutor), but perhaps you can recall a little something called the Saturday Night Massacre.

Clearly, we don’t have the same level of interest among the dead tree set that we did back in those heady days of the Nixon cover-up, but, as everyone from Josh Marshall to, believe it or not, Arlen Specter has now come to realize, Lam’s dismissal is really the jewel in the crown of Purge-gate (not sure I’m loving that one, but it seems to be what we’re calling it). Any hearings and reportage regarding the firings, the AG’s office, and the White House that does not ask questions about all the nastiness that Lam was investigating are really missing one of the biggest—maybe the biggest—part of this story. We can only hope that elected representatives and reporters alike take the bone so stupidly tossed their way by this arrogant AG and start to dig where Lam was digging.

Who knows what other bones may have been buried—some might even be sexier (in a media way, of course) than Anna Nicole’s.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Martha Raddatz Has a Something to Share

Martha Raddatz, currently on tour hawking her book, The Long Road Home, made an appearance Monday on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC. Early in the in the segment, Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent with a dozen trips to Iraq under her belt, talks of a conversation she had with General John Abizaid (then head of the US Central Command) during her first flight into Baghdad in the fall of 2003. Said Abizaid to Raddatz:

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq.

Remember, this is 2003. A scant half-year (or one Friedman Unit, as it is now known) after the US invasion. A time when General Abizaid estimated the “insurgency” at about “5,000 opposition fighters.” A time before 90% of the now nearly 3,200 US war dead had been killed.

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq.

Those are General John Abizaid’s words. Not Martha Raddatz’s. Not mine. So, of course, it begs the question: Three-and-a-half years later, why are we still trying to impose a military solution to the problems in Iraq?

Yes, that’s a question that has boggled many a mind and provided endless inspiration for posts on this and many other blogs—so let me ask a different question: Why was this not news?

Sure, now, we find many generals, elected officials, and even establishment reporters echoing Abizaid’s 2003 revelation, but back then, not so much. And not so much for most of the next three years, either. So, why was this not news in late 2003? Or throughout the 2004 election cycle? Or every instance since when President Bush, or Vice President Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, or who ever was in charge of the war at any given moment smiled for the cameras and trumpeted the latest and greatest military initiative?

Why was this not front and center for Raddatz (who I actually think is one of the better US television journalists covering the White House and their war) every time she had a chance to question a general, a presidential press secretary, or a war supporter in Congress? Why did she not seize on her scoop, and hammer it home every chance she got?

Sure, General Abizaid could have been making one of his more generic statements about the need for Iraqis to participate in their own security (I find a couple such statements in an April 2004 briefing by Abizaid that was attended by Raddatz), but that is not what Raddatz now reports Abizaid said in 2003.

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq.

Raddatz directly compares Abizaid’s fall 2003 comments with what so many more are saying now. The implication is clear—what John Abizaid meant in the early days of the war is what so many more now understand:

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq.

And that’s what drives me so batty about the establishment media. I expect the guys in the White House, and their hand-picked generals and apologists, to spin and obfuscate, but I then expect the journalists to poke and prod and challenge and cajole and root out the truth behind the spin. And when a member of the media like Raddatz uncovers—or is just given—such a clear and unequivocal assessment of the situation at hand, then I expect her to share it with the rest of us. And when the president or other administration official directly contradicts the assessment of the top military guy in the field, then I expect Raddatz to say, But sir, General John Abizaid said,

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq.

Monday, March 12, 2007

NYT, Schumer (almost) get on board

Last Friday, I called on the Democratic leadership to get the ball rolling on rolling back the Bush agenda by moving toward impeachment of AG Alberto Gonzales. Well, it’s nice to see that the Gray Lady and New York’s senior Senator were paying attention.

In their lead Sunday editorial, the New York Times called Gonzales the
consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency,” and then lists more than a half-dozen instances where the Attorney General has failed in his duties or abused his power.

The editorial concludes, “Mr. Bush should dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution.”

Then, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Senator Chuck Schumer reiterated many of the points spelled out by the Times editorial, and added, “For the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down.”

With all respect to the Times editorial board and Senator Schumer, Gonzales is not likely close to stepping down, and President Bush is probably lacking the decency and/or foresight needed to dismiss him. If we want to begin to see the end of the abuses of our Constitution and the violations of our laws perpetrated by the Bush Justice Department, then it is the Congress that will have to act to remove Gonzales.

Calling for his resignation or dismissal is nice, but calling for, and moving toward, his impeachment is necessary.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A practice impeachment

I have been floating an idea with a few friends lately: how about we get America used to the idea of impeaching Bush and Cheney by first going after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?

It’s just an idea I had because I know that, in this country, we don’t actually impeach presidents because they broke the law, we impeach them because we don’t like them. That was clearly the case with the Republicans and Clinton (oh, by the way, hypocrite much?), and, believe it or not, it was the case with Richard Nixon, too (though, in that case, there were plenty of Republicans to join with the Democrats who didn’t like RN). You have to build a case for impeachment—and I don’t just mean a legal case. You have to sell it politically.

Many in the Democratic leadership are wary of the political fallout that might (might, mind you—not will) accrue if they were to press for the abdication of King George or his dark prince, and they might (again, might) be right to be cautious. With no Dick or Bush, we would be talking about President Pelosi, after all. And it has also been argued that dropping impeachment into the center ring would steal the spotlight from all the positive things that a Democratic Congress might (yeah) do for the country.

But what if we were to start small? And when I say small, I mean small of brain and short of stature—I mean Bush legal eagle Abu Gonzales.

Under Gonzales, the Department of Justice has been a scandal machine—blocking investigations of the executive, authorizing illegal wiretaps, pushing for politically motivated indictments, and now purging the ranks of US attorneys in order to replace them with administration cronies. Fat Albert himself has stonewalled when asked for information, dragged his heels on Congressional requests for evidence, and lied to Congress under oath—on more than one occasion. That last point alone is unimpeachable grounds for impeachment.

But, most importantly, no one is much liking Alberto these days. No one.

Senior Senate Republicans today delivered scathing criticism of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for his handling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, joining Democrats in charging that the prosecutors were dismissed without adequate explanation.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested that Gonzales's status as the nation's leading law enforcement officer might not last through the remainder of President Bush's term. . . .

Now, I will be the first to say that Arlen Specter’s words are about as vital as his prostate. The Senior Senator from PA has a nasty habit of talking loudly while carrying a tiny stick. Why, if I remember correctly (and I do) it was just 14 months back that he was threatening to impeach President Bush over the warrantless wiretaps Specter eventually wound up working overtime to legitimize. And I will also point out that, as head of the Judiciary Committee in the last Congress, it was Specter’s job to exercise oversight over DoJ and stop legislative skullduggery like the provision about the US attorneys that was inserted into last years PatAct extension.

All that said, however, what Specter said on Wednesday should not pass without any notice at all. His tough (tough? well. . .) talk—along with that of some if his Republican colleagues—is just the kind of bipartisan cover that a now Democratically controlled Congress can use to advance the impeachment idea.

Impeachment of Alberto Gonzales, that is. . .

. . . for now.

With Justice Committee hearings on the misdeeds and malfeasances of Bush’s best bud Gonzales, Democrats can build a very public, very newsworthy (or coverage-worthy) case for the benefits of investigation and oversight. And, if, after having his lawbreaking and distasteful petulance paraded before the cameras, the Attorney General refuses to gracefully step down, well, then Democrats have pretty much built the case for his forced removal.

All the while, the rest of the Democratic leadership can still press the case on Iraq (they can do that, right?), can still fight for the rights of working Americans, and can still point out and point at all the flaws of the current Republican administration.

And who knows where we’ll be by the end of the summer? Maybe Mr. 29% will be Mr. 22%. Maybe many more Republicans, feeling the hot wind of 2008 in their faces, will publicly break with Bush and Cheney over the war, or the tax cuts, or the trade deficit, or homeland security, or prescription drugs, or any other policy initiative the lame duck President wants to float in a vainglorious but doomed attempt to give historians something to say besides: “Worst. President. Ever.”

And, with the orderly impeachment of a criminal cabinet secretary under our belts, who knows where America will be vis-à-vis the impeachment of the big two? Rather than looking like a Machiavellian power grab, maybe it will look more like a mercy killing.

Maybe with Gonzales impeached, more rats will willingly leave the sinking ship—and then talk about that rusty vessel in order to save their own reputations. With more inside information and more scandals coming to light, maybe even his own party loyalists will have grown so sick of that lead anchor named Bush that they will grow to hate the sound of his faux southern drawl.

Or maybe they will just grow to dislike him enough to see him impeached.


But for now, let’s set our sites on Gonzo. It’s no small prize, and it could bait the hook for the really big fish.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Not Incompetence—Ideology

There was plenty of coverage Monday of the hearings before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (except, of course, on Nightline. They chose to tell a feel good story—I’m not kidding—about a day in March 2004 when US troops were ambushed in Sadr City. . . if you can imagine such a thing. . . to promote a new book by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz. . . and, no doubt, to counter the overwhelming bad press that the US military got today)—plenty of coverage of injured soldiers and their families telling harrowing tales of bad care and filthy conditions at the Army’s premiere medical facility. But as appropriate as it was to show what has happened to the people who were asked to sacrifice life and limb, by stopping the story there, the coverage really missed the point.

That point, as noticed by Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), and noted on Monday by Paul Krugman, is that the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed (and no doubt other military or veterans’ facilities) are not the result of snafus, fuck-ups, or oversights (other use of the word, of course)—the entire horrible mess is a direct result of the reckless policies of the Bush Administration. It is not a testament to their incompetence—it is a test case for their ideology.

As Krugman observes, comparisons with the failures at FEMA after Hurricane Katrina are apt. The administration pinched pennies and privatized with abandon. They replaced competence with cronyism, all in pursuit of some sham dogma and the lining of each other’s pockets—the lives of the people they so easily put in harm’s way be damned.

The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

The results of such “ideological” pursuits, predictable to the reality-based community, are made literally flesh by the testimony of veterans, just as they were by the pictures from New Orleans in 2005. This is not the failure of government, this is the failure of those who now govern.

I applaud most of the establishment media for finally coming around to the stories of neglect (though years, I’m afraid, after they were originally reported), but I am not content with the traditional Grand Guignol approach that they have taken. This is not just the heroic story of brave soldiers who have struggled against the system any more than it is the story of a few bad actors at the administrative level. Unfortunately (and unfortunately under-covered), this—like Katrina and Iraq as a whole—is the story of greedy, ideologically driven, and, at their core, craven leaders.

Do not let them off the hook by calling them incompetent.

(Cross-posted from my other blog, guy2k)