Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You Don’t Take the Punching Bag Out of the Gym

Many analysts and bloggers are all hopped up this week about the parade of rats leaving the perceived-as-sinking ship, SS Alberto Gonzales. Representative Adam Putnam, Chair of the House Republican Caucus, said the attorney general’s loss of credibility “diminishes the justice department.” Fox “News” anchor Chris Wallace announced on Sunday that no one would come on his show to defend AG AG. Senator Arlen “Mumbles” Specter has apparently given the White House a deadline of high noon today to clean up the barf that the attorney general left all over a Senate hearing room last week. (If they refuse? Senator Mumbles will no doubt threaten to be very displeased at some point in the future, after additional deliberation, but let’s not be too hasty.) Even a sanctimonious shill like Senator Orrin Hatch slipped up on Sunday and admitted that Fredo has a credibility problem.

But if we have learned nothing this year, we have learned that reports of Fat Albert’s imminent demise are about as valuable as Dick “Death Throes” Cheney’s assessments of the Iraqi insurgency.

Yes, in an average time, with an average presidency, dealing with an average number of failures, scandals, and misdeeds, a high-ranking figurehead as fucked up as Fredo would be considered a drag on the administration. But these are not average times, and for a well below average president with a well above average number of failures and scandals, his lil’ friend, Alberto Gonzales, is the best thing that could happen.

Instead of focusing on a president’s blatant violations of the Constitution, instead of discussing the administration’s massive domestic spying program—warrantless eavesdropping, wholesale data mining, unsupervised surveillance of US citizens—we are debating whether the country’s chief law enforcement officer perjured himself, or just almost perjured himself.

Instead of screaming from the highest hills that the purge of US attorneys was, at its roots, part of a grand plan by the White House to corrupt the democratic process and steal elections, we instead wonder about how much various Gonzales underlings knew, and who they talked to, and whether the attorney general was directly involved, and who serves at the pleasure of the president, and whether we should hold various officials in contempt of Congress or just threaten to do so.

While Bush and Cheney continue to fail the American people, line the pockets of their friends, and systematically dismantle the Constitution, various members of Congress are threatening to call for a special prosecutor—to investigate Gonzales!

How about, instead of us all doing the Gonzo shuffle, we get a special prosecutor to look into some of the corrupt actions of the Attorney General’s bosses? From sleazy energy deals, to lying us into the Iraq war, to the money gone missing during the reconstruction of Iraq, to the no-bid contracts for cronies, to the failures before and after hurricane Katrina, to the domestic spying, to the politicization of public agencies, to the CIA leak case, to the secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, and torture, to the US attorneys scandal, and so many more, the number of dodgy, disingenuous, dishonest, and downright dastardly dealings that merit an investigation could keep attorneys and prosecutors busy for the next six or seven of the vice president’s defibrillator batteries.

While there is no doubt in my mind that Abu Gonzales deserves to be, no, needs to be impeached, I am no longer content to fiddle with Fredo while the Constitution burns. If our Representatives and Senators can walk and chew gum at the same time, if they can investigate and impeach Gonzales while going full bore after the real kingpins of the crime syndicate known as the Bush/Cheney Administration, then I wish them Godspeed. But, if we continue as we have this last week, and so many weeks this year, then my considered opinion at this point is: skip it.

Of course, if there suddenly were no Alberto Gonzales to kick around anymore, then Congress, the establishment and non-establishment media, and, indeed, the rest of America, would have to turn their attentions elsewhere. . . perhaps somewhere just up the org chart.

As Orrin Hatch repeated many times this weekend, “Gonzales is being used a punching bag by Democrats and, frankly, some Republicans.” Which is why you won’t be seeing anyone in White House accepting the Alberto Gonzales’ “resignation” anytime soon.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

While You Weren't Sleeping

Many pixels have been spilled on just how crappy a job the establishment media has done in covering the all-night debate and Republican filibuster of the Levin/Reed amendment (and Republican obstruction of Democratic initiatives, in general), not just because, as I observed last night, the debate was not carried by any broadcast outlet, but because the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate just can’t seem to be bothered to take the time to explain what was going on this week.

For instance, here’s a tiny little example I’ll mention because someone I know specifically asked me about it. Everyone—everyone—is reporting that Wednesday morning’s vote tally was 52-47 (52-47 for or against what is, alas, another story). . . and then an internet source might link to a roll-call so you can see which Senators voted which way. None, as best I can search*, have explained that the vote would really have been 53-46 if this had been a simple majority up-or-down vote on the amendment. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote from yea to nay in order to reserve the right to reconsider at a later date (only one who voted with the majority victorious side can move to reconsider).

It should also be pointed out here, because it has been pointed out in so few other places, that within that, in reality, seven-vote majority are several measures of progress, failure, and/or, at the very least, public accountability.

It is real news, for instance, that Republicans Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME) joined Chuck Hegel (R-NE) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) as voting for a timely and mandated redeployment out of Iraq. That is real movement—not monumental movement, but real.

It should also be news that several Republicans who have made a big show of late of “breaking” with President Bush and his Iraq policy turned out to be, essentially, full of it. Dick Lugar (R-IN), George Voinovich (R-OH), John Warner (R-VA), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Pete Domenici (R-NM), John Sununu (R-NH), and Judd Gregg (R-NH) have now duly earned their WINO status.

But all that sort of information seems secondary to—well, you know, I just don’t know what it is secondary to. I assume that reporters think that they have covered the event, but you can’t help but feel they see it as some sort of football match, at best, or a cat fight, at worst.

With that sort of attitude from the supposedly educated members of the establishment media, is it any wonder that so many in the general population whine about the partisan bitterness and game-playing in Washington, assuming nothing really important is happening past the politics?

And taking the bate and running with the metaphor for a moment, how are any of us who do care about the issues supposed to advance the ball if the “sports” reporters can’t even be bothered to explain the rules?

Assuming, of course, that they know the rules, themselves.

*Update: Paragraph ten of Thursday’s New York Times article on the vote does explain Senator Reid’s “no” vote.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deconstructing Harry

Well, not so much deconstructing as critically viewing the all-night debate organized by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in an attempt to make filibustering Republicans actually stand up and obstruct in public.

I have some random observations that I am posting over at guy2k—since I might be updating my comments, I will not cross-post here today. Please go over to my other blog to have a read about Reid and Levin/Reed.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Lazy reporting. Lazy legislating?

The problem is inherent in the opening paragraph. A front page article from Sunday’s New York Times reads this way:

MOSCOW, July 14 — President Vladimir V. Putin, angered by American plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe, formally notified NATO governments on Saturday that Russia will suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a key cold war-era arms limitation agreement.

Before we go further, yes, the move by Russia to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty is a problem with some far-reaching consequences—but we have gotten to this point, in part, at least, because of an assumption so flawed yet so ingrained at this point that esteemed Times reporters and editors let it go without so much as a footnote or clarifying paragraph.

What has angered Putin so much as to risk such a theoretically destabilizing move as suspending a treaty (one that actually has no formal mechanism for suspension, it turns out)? Why it’s “American plans to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe,” of course. Except, one problem: There is no such thing as a missile shield.

Besides the fact that such a statement is just inaccurate on its face—the Bush Administration has announced plans to put some sort of radar monitoring bases in one former Eastern Bloc nation, and some missile launchers in another—it is so conceptually vacant as to be meaningless.

The “missile shield,” called The Strategic Defense Initiative by supporters and “Star Wars” by skeptics until the Bush/Rove/Luntz spin machine gave it a new, marketing-savvy name, has existed only in the minds and computer simulations of unhinged science geeks and greedy defense contractors for something like three or four decades. But, to be nothing if not painfully straight, here in the real world, there is no such thing as a “missile shield.” After all these years and billions upon billions of dollars, no real world test of any of the proposed systems has even come close to justifying further development, let alone a test case deployment.

And that part of the equations doesn’t even begin to answer nor even ask the question: What is the threat?

The Russians? Administration mouthpieces say absolutely not—they remain our friends. Rather, the Bush bunch would have us believe this “system,” nestled against Russia’s border, has been designed to protect Europe against some Mideastern missile threat, presumably Iran.

Do a little simple research—the kind that the Times, perhaps, couldn’t be bothered to do—and you will find countless articles debunking both the program and the threat. For the purposes of my point, here, I will just say that this “missile shield” is a nonworking solution to a nonexistent problem.

That point, it seems, is now lost on the New York Times—but it should not be lost on our congressional leaders. This Bush boondoggle, though completely fantastic, has factual consequences. To allow the administration to continue down a path of faux deployment in some cynical attempt to further provoke a stand off (or two) while further lining the pockets of defense contractor friends would be dangerous and, frankly, unforgivable.

Unforgivable, especially, when it can so easily be stopped. Unlike so many of the problems crafted by this administration that seem intractable while Bush and Cheney continue to occupy the White House, Star Wars, um, the “missile shield” can be stopped cold in its tracks with one vote—or even with one failure to vote.

Congress could decide today to defund this program. Kill the research. Cancel the contracts. Refuse to fund the construction of the European bases. It’s actually that simple.


Like, real world really.

Do so, and the threat Putin perceives and acts upon goes away. Treaties can remain intact, and this manufactured crisis can be disassembled.

It is incumbent upon the Democratic leadership in the House—those that control the power of the purse—to avoid the lazy “logic” of the Times and those that such thinking enables. This moment provides an accessible opportunity to show leadership on an issue that has far-reaching consequences—foreign and domestic. Failure to seize that opportunity would be, well, lazy, yes, but also almost as unforgivable as the folly itself.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Friday, July 13, 2007

That Old Black Magic

In a Kafkaesque, rambling press conference Thursday, President Bush invoked the name of al Qaeda so many times (over 30) it made even the semi-attached heads of the White House press corps spin. Initially doing that thing that, of course, he has never done (just ask Tony Snow)—linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks—even the assembled reporters had to groan (audibly, apparently).

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” [Bush] said, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”

In a move that I don’t think you would have seen even a few weeks ago, reporters challenged this assertion, explaining to the president that there was a difference between the “al Qaeda” and what has come to be known as “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” (sometimes called “al Qaeda in Iraq” or AQY—don’t ask me why Y), and even going so far as to point out that AQY didn’t even exist before the 2003 US invasion. Or, to quote a front-page article from today’s New York Times:

[Bush’s] references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.

. . . .

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Which is what many in the blogosphere have been saying for god knows how long now. . . but never mind. . . onward and upward!

Bush’s response to this challenge was to claim that, well, um, y’know, al Qaeda in Iraq had “sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.” (Oh yeah, him. . . .)

Well, that settles it, right?

Wrong on so many counts.

First, as the Times points out:

But while American intelligence agencies have pointed to links between leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the top leadership of the broader Qaeda group, the militant group is in many respects an Iraqi phenomenon. They believe the membership of the group is overwhelmingly Iraqi. Its financing is derived largely indigenously from kidnappings and other criminal activities. And many of its most ardent foes are close at home, namely the Shiite militias and the Iranians who are deemed to support them.

“The president wants to play on Al Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat Al Qaeda poses,” said Bruce Riedel, an expert at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former C.I.A. official. “But I don’t think he demonstrates that fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq precludes Al Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.”

Which brings us to the second problem: on the same day that Bush was waving the bloody 9/11 flag and trumpeting his never-ending war on terror, his own administration released (leaked?) an intelligence assessment which posited that OBL’s group—from hereon in known as Famous Original al Qaeda™—had pretty much reconstituted and was again up to pre-9/11 strength. I don’t have the time to pick apart the way the administration tried to spin that news—it was truly through the looking glass, people—but, suffice it to say, while Bush and Cheney continue to waste blood and treasure in Iraq, something completely separate is going on in the hills of northwest Pakistan.

Which points to a third problem: if this troublesome, nefarious, expanding, and seemingly intractable group in Iraq is somehow motivated by or connected to Famous Original al Qaeda™, why not go after Famous Original al Qaeda™? Hell, if we are to believe the intelligence report, we probably have a better idea of where Osama bin Laden’s group is than how to snuff out the shadowy (and, to my mind, far less cohesive) Iraqi tribute band.

I mean, you’d think the millions we’ve funneled to military dictator and nuclear proliferator Pervez Musharraf would buy something—if not his own forces going into Waziristan, at least permission to send ours.

Not that I am advocating another Bush/Cheney-led military action—god, I shudder to think what these cock-ups would do with the chance—I’m just saying, if this is the threat, the threat that would “follow us home,” as the Bush boys like to claim, then what are we doing spending money, time, lives, and limbs chasing our tails around select Iraqi provinces?

Do they—Bush, Cheney, Gates, et al.—really like going ‘round and ‘round like that?

Maybe cold hard facts just aren’t as much fun as the magical thinking. Really, given the facts, why would they be? So, instead, we’re all left to just be lovin’ that spin. . . lovin’ that spin we’re in.

‘Round and ‘round we go. . . down and down we go.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Anybody see a conundrum?

I do, and I think Bush’s Cheney’s lawyers do, too.

Why else would the president’s office forbid former counsel Harriet Miers from even appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, just hours after former White House political director Sara Taylor was “allowed” to testify (if you can call it that) in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee?

Maybe it had something to do with the way Taylor exercised her executive privilege:

Ms. Taylor said she “did not attend any meetings with the president where the matter was discussed” and could not recall seeing any presidential directives about the firings. Asked whether Mr. Bush was involved in the firings, she replied, “I do not have any knowledge that he was.”

OK, so here’s the thing: If the matter of the attorney firings was not discussed—at least not in Taylor’s presence—and Ms. Taylor has no knowledge of Bush’s involvement in the firings, and the firings are all these hearings are investigating, then what exactly is privileged here?

Granted, even with the protection dubious claim of executive privilege, and her lawyer by her side, Sara Taylor still uttered more than her share of I-don’t-recalls and I-can’t-remembers, but if the chief executive was not involved with the matter at hand, then that executive’s claim to privilege doesn’t seem to be applicable.

Conversely, however, if the witness and the White House persist in arguing that conversations between Taylor and the president (or vice president?) are not to be discussed in the context of this hearing, then those conversations must have at least touched on the attorney firings.

By both saying that her conversations were devoid of this specific content, and still asserting Bush’s claim to privilege, Taylor has either committed perjury or abrogated the basis of the presidential order.

Which one is it, Ms. Taylor?

Now, if I can ask this question, you would think some Senator might be able to, as well. To their credit, Feinstein and Leahy came close, but they didn’t quite get there. Maybe I’m not the only guy who sees this coming; maybe somebody in close proximity to Harriet Miers thought that even if Senators didn’t quite make it, Representatives on the House Judiciary Committee would.

Given the shaky legal ground on which they already stand, maybe that’s a chance Miers’ patrons didn’t want to take. Or, to put it the way Senator Arlen Specter did when he addressed Sara Taylor (about her claim to executive privilege) at Wednesday’s hearings, “You might have been on safer legal ground if you'd said absolutely nothing.”

Update: A commenter at TPM believes that by ordering Miers not to appear before the House Committee—by ordering her to defy a subpoena rather than having her appear and assert executive privilege—President Bush has committed a felony.

(h/t DanK)

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What They Said, and What They Should Say

Well, surprise, surprise, President Bush has again defied Congress and again invoked a tenuous claim of executive privilege to do so:

President Bush directed former aides to defy congressional subpoenas, claiming executive privilege and prodding lawmakers closer to their first contempt citations against administration officials since Ronald Reagan was president.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Bush had cited executive privilege in resisting Congress' investigation into the firings of U.S. attorneys.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding insisted that Bush was acting in good faith in withholding documents and directing the two aides -- Fielding's predecessor, Harriet Miers, and Bush's former political director, Sara Taylor -- to defy subpoenas ordering them to explain their roles in the firings over the winter.

In the standoff between branches of government, Fielding renewed the White House offer to let Miers, Taylor and other administration officials meet with congressional investigators off the record and with no transcript. He declined to explain anew the legal underpinnings of the privilege claim as the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees had directed.

Both House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy have issued responses. Conyers was stern but polite:

We are extremely disappointed with the White House letter. While we remain willing to negotiate with the White House, they adhere to their unacceptable all-or-nothing position, and now will not even seek to properly justify their privilege claims. Contrary to what the White House may believe, it is the Congress and the Courts that will decide whether an invocation of Executive Privilege is valid, not the White House unilaterally.

While Leahy exhibited a bit more piss and vinegar:

I have to wonder if the White House’s refusal to provide a detailed basis for this executive privilege claim has more to do with its inability to craft an effective one.

But I have to wonder if Democrats are not missing the best and easiest argument to make in this and the other privilege cases. It seems to me that what needs to be said is something like this:

President Bush has again demonstrated his belief that he, and anyone else he designates, is above the law, but worse, he has asserted that his administration owes nothing to the American people. In this case, the president’s continued insistence that his aids will only meet with Congressional investigators in secret and without a transcript confirms such disrespect. Why is it OK for administration officials to talk to a select few in private, but not OK for them to talk in the open, in front of the people that elect the president and pay the salaries of his entire staff?

We think the American people deserve to hear what these Bush aids have to say. We believe that Americans are capable of understanding the facts of this case, and, more importantly, understanding right from wrong. Judging from the position taken by President Bush, either he believes that the people are incapable of understanding, or he is deeply afraid that they will understand all too well.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Time to Play Offense

If events of the last week or so have not convinced congressional Democrats that the ball is in their court, I really can’t fathom what will.

Perhaps, to some, at first blush, it doesn’t look so sanguine. The President nullified a jury decision in the Libby case. The Bush-packed Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit assumed the rubberstamping duties previously exercised by the last Republican congressional majority. The White House continues to discount and dismiss congressional inquiries and, now, subpoenas. The Pentagon continues to force-feed American troops into an Iraqi meat grinder while administration officials saber rattle in the direction of Iran. And it has become ever more clear that a vice president who considers himself above the law and outside the Constitution has unparalleled sway over an ignorant, incurious, and un-analytical president.

But look past the Beltway, and you might see something different. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I see it. . . or at least feel it.

Overwhelming numbers of Americans disapprove of the commutation of Libby’s sentence. Not just Democrats, but the much-coveted independent voters see the president’s move as wrong, if not downright cynical. Even Republicans are deeply split—some actually offended by the unequal administration of presidential clemency, others feeling betrayed because The Decider didn’t decide to pardon their “fallen comrade.”

In fact, several on the right have labeled the commutation as political and “Machiavellian,” while most on the left and many in the establishment have come to realize what I argued almost immediately after Bush’s move: The Scooter buyout wasn’t merely a profile in cowardice or an exercise in splitting the baby—it was a carefully crafted decision designed to most optimally guarantee Libby’s silence.

Decisions in the courts, be they SCOTUS or the Court of Appeals, stand as a shock to the conscience. From wage equity, to illegal surveillance, to habeas corpus and military commissions, an increasingly uneasy country has been further stirred and a sluggish Congress has been put on notice: Where the courts have been allowed to interpret bad laws badly, it is time for legislators to rewrite those laws for the better.

The House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas for information pertaining to the illegal domestic surveillance program; in both the House and Senate, many other subpoenas sit approved but un-issued. Sen. Leahy and Rep. Conyers, et al., need to send up those subpoenas, and when those legally binding demands for evidence or testimony are ignored or defied, then it is time for Congress to hold the President and his cohorts in contempt—at minimum.

On the war in Iraq, the Majority failed to hold its ground in the spring, and it saw its approval ratings plummet. Since then, the administration’s splurge has demonstrated its tactical ineffectiveness with buckets of American and Iraqi blood, while the strategy of providing time for the Iraqi government to stabilize has proved so tragically flawed that it will be a miracle to see Iraqi PM Malawi survive the summer.

And people—in the ivory towers and in the heartland—have noticed. Last week saw the staunchly pro-military paper The Olympian in Olympia, Washington advocate a troop withdrawal, and Sunday’s New York Times finally relented and admitted “it is time for the United States to leave Iraq.” Those papers are only playing catch-up to their readerships, whom for many, many months have been telling pollsters that Bush’s fiasco should never have been started, is not going in the right direction, and is overdue to end.

The Times has even checked itself on its recent parroting of some current White House rhetoric. Public Editor Clark Hoyt questioned recent reliance by Times’ reporters on the administration’s assertions that the lion’s share of violence in Iraq can be blamed on al Qaeda. His inquiries seem to have spurred news editors to exercise more care in explaining the difference between the al Qaeda that engineered the 9/11 attacks, and the vaguely affiliated, al Qaeda-inspired groups that might have a role in the ongoing Iraqi mayhem. This fix is still belated, but is indeed a much faster correction than was seen vis-à-vis the lies that led up to the initial invasion.

And while a recent ARG poll shows that roughly half of America believes President Bush should be impeached (a remarkable number, really, and more than enough of a sign that congressional hearings should at least begin), the same survey records overwhelming majorities in favor of Vice President Cheney’s removal. Bush’s overall approval rating, averaged across all major polls, has now dipped below 30% 28%; while Cheney can’t drag his numbers out of the teens. These men are not liked, trusted, nor respected, and Dick Cheney provokes disgust, as much in so-called independents as in Democrats, and increasingly in his own party.

So, again, I posit, the ball is in the Democrats’ court. In fact, it is a sporting goods mega-store worth of balls, each served up like a friendly toss in a game of slow-pitch softball.

And there are signs that congressional Democrats, if not yet ready to swing for the fences, at least know it's their ups.

Rep. Henry Waxman has been dogged all year, starting many balls rolling on many oversight investigations. House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers appeared on ABC’s This Week demanding President Bush waive executive privilege—as President Bill Clinton did when his pardons came under scrutiny—to allow a full and free investigation of the commutation of Libby’s sentence. Conyers also stated that if the White House refuses to comply with congressional subpoenas relating to the firing of US Attorneys, he could move to hold Bush and Cheney in contempt of Congress, and also acknowledged that Americans have now come to see impeachment as a favorable option.

On the Senate side, Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy is considering calling Libby prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify, not about what happened before the grand jury, which would not be proper, but about his interviews with Bush and Cheney, which, at the insistence of the White House, occurred outside the protective cover of the grand jury room.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently acknowledged that his party “hasn’t done enough” to oppose the president’s Iraq policy, and is now sounding like he wants to make up for this error. Seeing a mini-wave of half-hearted “defections” by respected Republicans, Reid wants to give them the chance to put their votes where their rhetoric is. The Nevada Senator is proposing a series of votes on troop drawdowns and spending restrictions in the next couple of weeks.

Reid even has the feckless former Secretary of State on his side. The opinion-shy Colin Powell has now decided it is safe to announce that he argued with the president for a whole “two-an-a-half hours” in an attempt to head off the US invasion.

The balls are indeed drifting, the tide is most certainly shifting, but, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, I show you shadows not of what will be, but only of what could be. The balls will not play themselves; the future is what Democrats will make of it. The opportunities are now there and manifold, but it is necessary to take advantage of them.

Now is the time. Time to fix the laws and require the executive branch to honor them. Time to demand accountability and transparency. Time to withdraw from Iraq. Time to enforce subpoenas and begin hearings on impeachment (for the vice president, at the very least). It is time for Democrats in Congress to realize that for their own fortunes, as well as for America’s as a whole, when it comes to upholding our laws and defending our Constitution, when it comes to defending our personal liberties and our national interests, when it comes to these times and this White House, the best defense is a good offense.

Update: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting a new congressional analysis on the costs of the Bush/Cheney war machine, has added her voice to the reawakening chorus on Iraq:

Think about what $10 billion a month would mean to protecting Americans from terrorism, improving security at our ports and airports, and increasing border security. Think about what $10 billion a month would mean for the 47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and for the education of our children. Think about what $10 billion a month would mean to lowering the deficit so that future generations are not burdened with debt.

The American people are outraged at the Bush Administration’s misplaced priorities -- that is why Congress will hold the Administration accountable with votes this month to end the war and redeploy the troops. This will include a vote on legislation to begin redeployment of our troops within 120 days and to conclude by April 1, 2008, with the exception of those remaining in Iraq to fight terrorists and protect our diplomats.

The date-certain legislation gives our Republican colleagues another opportunity to join Democrats in heeding the wishes of the American people, who want to wind down this war and bring our troops home.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

[What, you don’t take my word for it? I have links to back up all of the above, and I will try to insert them later if my time allows. Done.]

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday #231

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

[emphasis added]


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Obstructionist’s Obstructionist

There are many fine and forceful reactions to Monday’s announcement by President GW Bush, explaining how this decision violates sentencing law, flies in the face of precedent, and even ignores the recent opinion of the United States Supreme Court. While it has been clear for some time that the Bush cabal has little respect for the law, it also appears clear that few of their choices to flout the law are made randomly or impulsively. So, while men and women of conscience across the board express outrage at the presidential order to commute the 30-month sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, I am left with a nagging question: Why commutation—why not a pardon?

While the establishment media is content to settle on the notion that this commutation is some sort of grand compromise crafted by a White House seeking to mollify Bush’s hard-right base while blunting the bigger backlash that would be expected from a full pardon, this strikes me as a nuance that might be lost on both sides. Sure, there is now an additional talking point for the Libby lobby—this idea that he will still live with the shame (Scooter? Shame?) and pay a fine (though, in reality, his defense fund will likely pick up the tab)—but as Scooter’s lawyers continue to pursue their appeals, and Patrick Fitzgerald continues to defend the conviction, the “base” will continue to push for a pardon. And, though admittedly without the reaction to such a pardon by which to measure it, Monday’s blistering rebukes—including Representative John Conyers’ suggestion that hearings on the leak and commutation are imminent—hardly seem blunted.

So, what’s in a commute? I am not an expert on the law here, but from clicking around, this is how I understand it:

The heart of the matter lies in the crime. Scooter Libby was convicted on obstruction charges for interfering with a federal investigation into the leak of the name of a covert CIA operative as retaliation against her husband for exposing some of the lies that comprised the administration’s case for the invasion of Iraq. The annals of the Libby investigation make it pretty clear that Vice President Dick Cheney, likely with the knowledge of President Bush and his top aids, engineered the vengeful leak. Were Libby to stop obstructing and speak truthfully as to what he knows, he could likely complete the federal case against the Vice President (at the very least).

With the dreaded time in hoosegow looming, federal prosecutors could hold out the possibility of a reduced sentence in exchange for Libby’s cooperation. Such truthful testimony would clearly be unacceptable and, indeed, threatening to Cheney, Rove, and Bush.

So, why not a pardon, then? Well, to the best of my understanding, a full pardon would eliminate Scooter’s claim to Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

. . . but would leave intact possible jeopardy for contempt of court and/or new charges of perjury. The result is that Libby could be required to testify under oath -- and under penalty of perjury and contempt -- about what others in the administration knew and when they knew it.

I also think, by extension, Libby could not take the Fifth if called to testify under oath before a congressional committee investigating the original leak. (I am making an inference here, though. If someone has a clearer understanding of this part of the law, please chime in.)

Without Libby’s Fifth Amendment rights, a large chink in the armor of VP Fourthbranch could be left exposed. And a potential witness for the prosecution stewing with his incriminating thoughts in a federal prison would be more risk and stress than this administration likely deems acceptable. Thus, commutation of Scooter’s sentence looks less like the fence-sitting compromise of a weak president, and more like the conniving plan of his powerful veep.

Motives aside, the circumstances remain the same: I. Lewis Libby’s obstruction is deemed by this lawless administration as less worthy of punishment because he obstructed on behalf of his friend and boss, Dick Cheney. Where I might differ from establishment outlets, as well as from TPM’s Josh Marshall, is that Monday’s commutation was not “the minimum necessary to keep the man silent”—it was the exact amount needed to keep the nation in the dark.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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