Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It looks bad, but really, it’s worse

Much of the “success” that is often attributed to the surge escalation by administration mouthpieces and the rah-rah chorus in the establishment media can actually be traced to a truce called by Moqtada al Sadr, and a “strategy” that has US forces paying protection money to assorted Sunni militias.

But we knew that.

However, now that fighting in Basra is reaching pre-surgescalation levels and violence is heating up around Baghdad, here are a couple of things that we are just learning.

First, to Basra:

Since August 2007, Moqtada al Sadr has established a cease fire and held back his forces from attacks but he has never denied their right to self defense. This cease fire is the primary cause of decreased casualties in Iraq.

. . . .

With upcoming provincial elections likely to show serious losses for both Maliki’s Dahwa party and Hakim’s SIIC and growing support for Mahdi associated representatives, it’s not surprising that Cheney and our occupation allies were deep in talks last week – nor is it surprising that we now see a dramatic push by green zone forces on Basra where Sadrist forces had been gaining power where Hakim's SIIC used to have considerable power.

. . . .

[During his visit, Cheney] reported[ly] gained agreement from al Hakim for provincial elections, elections in which Hakim’s SIIC is expected to do poorly given popular support for al Sadr. As Badger writes today:

These are two of the famous Bush "benchmarks": Oil and Gas Law, and progress toward provincial elections. In the case of Barzani and the Oil law, the quid pro quo was obvious. But what was the quid pro quo for the Supreme Council? One possible--I would say obvious--answer now suggests itself: In exchange for the Supreme Council dropping its obstruction of the Provincial Powers law, the US would tolerate, and provide air-support for, a campaign against the Sadrists in the Basra region.

The gains for George and Dick are clear - weaken or distract those pesky nationalist forces, justify continued troop surge and presence, gain "approval" of US benchmarks (though not popular approval) and keep control of Iraqi oil in the hands of men like Hakim.

And, literally breaking as I write this, al Maliki has given the Mahdi militias 72 hours to lay down their weapons or face unspecified serious consequences.

As for the Sunni “awakening”/bribery:

. . . a strike by (formerly) pro-American members of an Awakening council in Diyala reveals a country-wide frustration with the US, even among its allies. The men of Diyala say they have not received pay they were promised, and feel that the US does not appreciate the sacrifices they have made for the surge. They have buried over 400 of their own, and now some feel they are just being manipulated to advance an American political agenda. Of 49 groups the Guardian spoke with across Iraq, most reported not being paid. In Hillah, discontented fighters spoke of organizing a nation-wide strike.

It is discouraging enough that these “truces” are now falling apart—for Iraqis and Americans alike—but it is disgusting to realize that, once again, what little good might have come of the recent “breathing space” will now be fouled by typical Bush-Cheney greed and cynical political gamesmanship.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

By any other name

When five US combat brigades depart Iraq in July—because their over-long, 15-month rotations are up, and not because of any actual strategic decision—it will represent the end and sum total of what George W. Bush not-too-long-ago called our “return on success.” As reported in today’s New York Times (via Think Progress), it “now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president.”

In other words, what the Bush Administration successfully branded as a “surge” proves to be exactly what I insisted it was over a year ago, an escalation.

Even though most of this escalation in forces will remain in Iraq through the end of Bush’s term, I will bet that most in the establishment media will continue to call it a “surge”—just as the same scribe corps continues to parrot and push the never true and constantly disproved myth that “the surge is working.”

Just to reiterate, because it seems that we all have to, the latest escalation has not worked. It certainly didn’t promote any kind of grand political reconciliation—its purported strategic goal—and even the claim that it decreased overall violence is extremely suspect.

After fourteen months of this tactic, the occasion of reaching 4,000 dead troops serves to underscore the escalation’s abject failure. Not only does that number promise to go ever higher for the rest of Bush’s reign, the last two weeks got us to this tragic milestone much faster than expected. The 25 killed in the last fortnight represents the highest death rate for a two-week period since September 2007 (which came at the end of the bloodiest summer of the war).

Iraqi deaths are also creeping back up, Sunni and Shiite militias appear to be growing restless, and the US still has no set plan for transitioning out of this occupation.

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both proposed more rapid US troop redeployments, but John W. McCain has a different idea. . . or, rather, he has the most un-different idea. To quote the Times: “The Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, has advocated following a policy close to that of President Bush’s.”

Four more years of an over-stretched military, mission drift, and continued escalation—overseen by a guy that doesn’t even seem to understand the conflict? Sounds like the Republicans are offering McMore of McSame.

. . . .

For a different—as in better—way to deescalate the occupation, please check out A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq (this is my review, or click below to read about the full plan and who is supporting it).

A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq - Click here to add your support

(cross-posted on guy2k and The Seminal)

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Timing is everything (maybe)

Fans of all things Spitzer, fasten your seatbelts. . . .

Three days after the Miami Herald posted a story about a letter sent to the FBI by Republican hit man Roger Stone regarding now former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s encounters with “high-priced call-girls” in Florida, the New York Times front pages a piece on Spitzer’s deeper-than-heretofore-revealed involvement with the something-less-than-scintillating scandal known to New Yorkers as “Troopergate.”

This all comes, of course, less than a fortnight after the “revelations” that linked Spitzer to a prostitution ring and forced him to resign the governorship.

I put “revelations” in quotes because, after all, what we are really talking about are leaks.

While the affidavit that triggered the arrests of four people involved with the operation of the prostitution ring did not provide the actual names of the johns, someone inside the investigation told the New York Times that the affidavit’s “Client 9” was Eliot Spitzer. That information came from a still anonymous source, and while Spitzer has not denied any of the allegations, no one affiliated with the government has confirmed the Spitzer-Client 9 link on the record.

The former governor has yet to be charged with any crime related to this incident, and likely won’t, since it now seems that the US Attorney’s office was simply using the information on Spitzer as leverage to force him to step down.

Further, the “revelation” that Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI last November comes from Stone’s attorney. No one at the FBI will confirm that they ever received this letter, and the specific party to whom this letter was supposedly sent is blacked out on the copy provided by Stone’s attorney to the Herald.

Stone—who has an “ick” dial that goes to eleven—claims that he met a prostitute at a Miami sex club who complained to him that she missed a chance to service Spitzer and had to pass him on to a friend. . . who then provided this prostitute with silly details (he keeps his socks on!) that she recounted to Stone. . . who in turn sent them on to the FBI. . . so that they could “confirm” the allegations.

Roger Stone, need I remind you, is the guy that had to resign his position as a consultant to the New York State Republican party last summer after he was accused of leaving a threatening, expletive-strewn message on the phone machine of Eliot Spitzer’s father. Stone denies this, but an investigation showed that the call came from Stone’s home, and most who’ve heard the message agree that it’s Stone’s voice.

Stone explained this by claiming that someone must have broken into his apartment and mimicked his voice while he was at a Broadway play. . . and if you aren’t laughing hard enough about that, I should add that it turns out that said play was dark on the night in question.

Now push that aside for a minute while we consider the “revelation” that Eliot Spitzer played a larger hand in “Troopergate,” which involves the use of New York State police to investigate whether State Senate Majority Leader, Republican Joe Bruno, illegally used state transportation for personal trips, and the leak of the information on Bruno’s misuse to the Albany Times Union by Spitzer aid Darren Dopp. Today’s story in the New York Times, which includes juicy—and I mean that literally—details about Spitzer’s level of anger (coffee shot from his mouth), is based completely on anonymous sources inside the office of Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

Yes, somebody leaked that Spitzer spits.

Confused? Yeah, well, I have some questions, too: Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, and why?

Why did the Feds target Eliot Spitzer, pursue the investigation through a warrant for a wiretap, and then take down that wiretap immediately after Client 9 was caught hiring a prostitute.

Why did someone in the US Attorney’s office leak Spitzer’s name to the Times?

Why did the leaker(s) decide to cash in this big chip now?

Why was Spitzer’s resignation part of the negotiations on whether he would be charged with a crime?

Why is Roger Stone suddenly going public with this letter that he allegedly sent to the FBI—especially when we already know that the investigation into the prostitution ring started at least a month before the date on this letter?

Why should we believe Stone’s story about how he got this information, or as to why he felt the need to tell the FBI a second hand story about something that is actually not illegal?

Why is someone inside the Troopergate probe leaking information from an ongoing investigation to the New York Times?

And, why was this source doing so less than two weeks after Spitzer’s resignation and/or three days after the Stone letter was published?

I have gone into some detail about the questionable motives of the federal agencies that went about digging up the dirt on Eliot Spitzer. As I have said, while I believe that Spitzer is guilty of stupidity, hubris, and hypocrisy (and had squandered his political capital while making few friends in State government), I feel fairly certain that he was targeted for takedown by a politicized justice system. But what to make of this weekend’s “revelations?”

Roger Stone (who—and I just can’t help but add this detail—has Richard Nixon’s head tattooed on his back) might have just spammed the Feds with dirt on Spitzer in order to ingratiate himself with GOP officials, or, he might have just faked a letter and released it for similar self-serving purposes. But one of the first things that occurred to me while I was reading the Miami Herald, and, later, New York Times stories, was that Stone’s tale of how he came by the information about Spitzer was a cover. I think it just as plausible that someone inside some part of the Spitzer investigation leaked the story to Stone knowing he’d have to tell someone—providing the Feds with a self-confirming feedback loop should other parts of the investigation come up short (remember that while the investigation of the prostitution link starts in October 2007, we only know of Spitzer being caught on tape in February 2008). (Lindsay Beyerstein also thinks Stone’s story is a bit hinky.)

As for the timing of Stone’s release, it is possible that it is just more self-aggrandizement, or maybe it reflects Stone’s annoyance that one of his bitter enemies, Spitzer, isn’t likely to be charged with any crime.

The timing of the Soares leak is more curious. This investigation is still weeks away from its completion. The news does partially exonerate Darren Dopp—who had previously taken full responsibility for the leak of the original Bruno information to the Albany Times Union—but the New York Times says that the leak comes from inside the investigation, and not from Dopp.

What good does this leak do now? Is there some advantage to be gained somewhere by pushing the Stone story off the top line? Does this leak reflect well or poorly on Soares (who had previously closed his investigation, only to reopen it when Dopp was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation)?

And where does State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo figure into all of this? Cuomo also had his eye on the governorship in 2006, and is considered by most state observers to have been on less than good terms with Spitzer. It was Cuomo’s initial probe into Troopergate that was supposed to put the issue to bed, but the casual method by which Cuomo conducted the investigation is part of the reason that Soares was compelled to open his inquiry.

I don’t have an answer for this last part, but the timing of the leak does bother me—as does the source.

And, while I’m on the subject of timing, I would be remiss if I did not mention a story brought to my attention by Alex Thurston. Alex sent me a link to this video, which points to an opinion piece penned by Eliot Spitzer and published in the Washington Post on February 14th of this year.

In the editorial, Spitzer accuses the Bush Administration of colluding with banks in the propagation of predatory sub-prime loans. As Spitzer concludes:

When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers.

The most visible part of the collapse of the sub-prime sector and the investigation of Spitzer’s personal banking and sexual predilections, of course, basically run parallel. . . which is interesting. The authorization of the wiretap that linked New York’s former governor to a prostitution ring—the one that confirmed Client 9’s encounter with a call-girl in Washington’s Mayflower Hotel the night before the publication of Spitzer’s op-ed—well, that timing might be just as interesting.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Heckuva job, Patty

News broke late Thursday that a city buildings inspector had been arrested and charged with lying to New York City authorities about an inspection he was supposed to have performed earlier this month on the crane that collapsed in Turtle Bay on Saturday, killing seven and injuring dozens more. Concerns about the stability of the crane were called in to the city’s 311 complaint line on March 3rd. The inspector, Edward J. Marquette, never visited the construction site, but filed falsified reports claiming that he had.

The head of the NYC Department of Buildings, Patricia J. Lancaster, who, amazingly, still has her job, suspended Mr. Marquette, and sought to have the last six months of his inspection reports reexamined. But, it should be noted, that discovery and investigation of the inspector’s alleged criminal activity was conducted by the City’s Department of Investigations, and not Lancaster’s DoB.

And what about the matter that has shown such a bright light on the 51st Street site? Not an issue here, says Patty:

With regard to the crane accident itself, it is highly unlikely that a March 4 inspection would have prevented the horrific accident that happened on March 15, which we are still looking at the probable cause being mechanical failure or human failure during the ‘jumping’ operations when the crane was raised.

The New York Times City Room reports that Lancaster said the lack of an inspection of the complaint about the stability of the crane, “Was probably not even ‘remotely associated’ with the collapse.”

Oh, well, then, it’s not your problem, is it? Heckuva job, Patty.

While the parts of the crane that are now believed to be the root cause of the collapse (and I will note that is only “believed” to be the cause—the investigation is not complete by a long stretch—and several local news channels have reported that there were numerous serious problems with the way this crane had been set up, beyond the failing straps and collar that may have started the fatal chain reaction on Saturday) might not have been the parts that a March 4th inspection would have targeted, Lancaster misses the bigger—and I would say, quite obvious—point.

If an inspector could so easily mislead the DoB about a routine investigation of a civilian complaint, how can Lancaster be sure that her department is doing the inspections that would be “associated”—remotely or otherwise—with such dangerous situations? In fact, how do we as city residents know that our calls to 311 are even investigated at all?

This inspector’s alleged fraud is a symptom of a bigger problem.

During the 1990s, the city gave up on the function of building inspection, without issuing an official declaration of surrender. Year after year, graft scandals would wipe out dozens of inspectors at a time. By the end of 2001, the number of inspectors had dwindled to 277 from about 800 in the early 1990s. Developers were left to operate on what amounted to an honor system. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the department had become “severely understaffed and deeply demoralized” by the time he took office in January 2002 — at the very moment that the city was beginning a surge in new building.

. . . .

In December, a nylon sling on a crane snapped, and seven tons of steel fell onto Murray Street in Lower Manhattan from the 25th floor of a construction site, severely injuring an architect, Robert Woo. A few weeks later, in January, Yuriy Vanchytskyy, a construction worker, fell 42 stories from a hotel on Spring Street being built by Donald Trump.

Awful as these accidents were, they hardly begin to describe the human price of growth in New York. The city’s construction business, particularly outside of Manhattan, is becoming the modern version of the 19th-century coal mine.

Between early 2006 and the middle of 2007, 44 people died on construction sites, 40 of them in nonunion jobs involving immigrants, said Louis Coletti, the president of an association of builders. Most of those deaths took place in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, records show. Miczyslaw Piatek, 52, was digging a foundation in Brooklyn when the cinder-block wall next door collapsed on him. The wall had not been shored up, a federal investigation found.

The number of inspectors has increased somewhat under Mayor Bloomberg (there are now 426. . . make that 425), but that growth does not begin to meet the needs of an industry that expects another $45 billion of construction this decade.

While the alleged behavior of Mr. Marquette is inexcusable, the inspector, who it is reported made an annual salary of $48,000, and, more importantly, his colleagues are no doubt over-extended. Perhaps it is shocking that an inspector just skipped doing his job and falsified records, but if Marquette had visited the site and done a hurried or insufficient inspection, would he have even been caught? Indeed, would he have even been guilty of a specific crime?

Jim Dwyer, who wrote the column that I quote above, reports that “colleagues say“ Lancaster is “capable and dedicated,” and that the DoB is just outgunned by the wealthy real estate and construction industries. That may be so, but some of the 45 billion bucks have to stop somewhere.

Patricia Lancaster has had six years to repair the damage to her department. If Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not given her the resources to do that job properly, then it is well past the time that she should have protested—publicly and loudly.

A system in which a building inspector can skip inspections and still cross them off his list is a system that is, like that Harlem building, past repair. It is broken. As Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement:

What more evidence do we need? It is clear we cannot trust the Buildings Department to keep construction sites safe. We need now a complete top-to-bottom independent review of this department, its procedures and its personnel.

And we need much bigger fines for violations and criminal penalties for serial violators. We also need a system that stops work more quickly on buildings with multiple violations—even if no single violation is considered serious enough in itself to merit a stoppage.

Because a series of small violations should be seen as I see the inspections scandal, as a symptom that something bigger is amiss. It could be viewed as the regulatory equivalent of “broken windows” policing.

But ultimately, we need someone to take responsibility for what is happening. The rampant development that has outstripped our ability to regulate it has been encouraged at the highest levels of city and state government. If the elected officials who depend so heavily on donations from real estate developers lack the political will to protect the citizens of New York, then it is up to the appointed bureaucrats—the supposed experts—to live up to their sworn duties. It might take perseverance and courage, but the office and the people—your friends, neighbors, and family—deserve no less.

Patricia J. Lancaster, it’s time to step up, or step down.

(h/t Gowanus Lounge and Lost City)

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five years + one day

In a discussion about five years of war, permanent bases, and impeachment appended to my cross-post over at The Seminal, I wound up adding a rather lengthy addendum. Since I don’t think that I have a lot of crossover readers, I am going to take the liberty of posting the comment here.

I was at a talk about impeachment that included, among others, Liz Holtzman and Bruce Fein, and Fein, a veteran of the Reagan administration, is, as you might know, apoplectic about this issue. He has a list of impeachable offenses a mile long, but chose at this event to cite the Bush/Cheney pursuit of permanent bases in Iraq, as outlined in a signing statement, in direct defiance of the law passed by Congress and signed by the president.

What’s amazing is that Congress passed this law, but it is a retired Reaganite that’s doing the screaming.

The Democratic leadership still doesn’t seem to understand that impeachment hearings—and it starts with hearings, not a vote—are a great teaching opportunity. America needs to hear about all the ways the Bush/Cheney Administration subverted the Constitution and broke US Criminal Code, or the very next president will feel free to do some of the same things (and we will have to hear for the rest of our lives about what a saint and hero GWB was as we name every airport after him and carve his face into Mount Rushmore).

Further, Congress needs to reassert its role in our tripartite system. No president is going to willingly give up power—not even a Democratic one; it is up to Congress to take back the authority granted it under the Constitution and affirmed in the courts from the earliest days of our history.

As Holtzman, an HJC member in 1974, noted, the Nixon impeachment hearings were completed in three months. This summer would be a perfect time for our Congress to start the process. Former presidents and vice presidents receive all kinds of perks and big federal pension that would go away with impeachment (one of the reasons that Nixon resigned before a Senate impeachment vote was to save his pension), so even after November/January, impeachment hearings would still be a practical exercise of Congressional power.

Congress must publicly dispel and destroy the myth of the “unitary executive.” If we are to form a more perfect union, to borrow a phrase, then we have no choice. If this administration is allowed to go gently, then we have likely cemented our transition from republic to empire.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five years—what have we got?

It was March 19th, 2003, when George W. Bush let slip the dogs of war on Iraq. I seem to remember something about “Shock and Awe,” something about WMDs, something about being “welcomed as liberators” with candy and flowers, and something about the war paying for itself.

Ohhhhh Kayyyyyyyyyy. . . .

Well, five years and over one-half trillion dollars (and counting) later, what do we really have? This is just a sample.

Nearly 4,000 US troops killed in combat; over 29,000 wounded.
At least 145 deaths by suicide (thousands more have attempted suicide).
Over 500 amputees (not counting fingers and toes).
Over 7,500 with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
An estimated 28% of troops that see combat return with PTSD.
Upwards of 300,000 Iraq veterans are expected to develop some sort of mental health problem requiring treatment.
Divorces, spousal abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse—all on the rise in the veteran population.

(sources here, here, here, and here)

Somewhere between 600,000 and 1.2 million Iraqi civilian dead.
One in five Iraqis are considered displaced.
Four-and-a-half million Iraqis are uprooted.
Two-and-a-half million are displaced inside Iraq.
Two million Iraqi refugees are in neighboring countries.
The number of Iraqis seeking asylum is at an all-time high.

(sources here, here, and here)

Over 70% of Iraqi women say they don’t have enough to feed their family.
Two-thirds say that violence against women has increased in the last five years.
Over three-quarters say that girls in their family are not allowed to attend school.
Only about a quarter of Iraqi women are optimistic about the future.


But things are getting better, right? Let’s take a look at some of the latest news:

The death toll from a suicide bombing near the Shrine of Imam Hussein has risen above 50.

An epidemiologist estimates that Iraq (which had roughly the same size population as the greater New York metropolitan area when the war began) has suffered the equivalent of six 9/11 attacks per month.

The Iraqi National Museum—the one looted after the fall of Baghdad—is still closed, and will remain closed after it is renovated because of continued security fears.

The latest in a long list of conferences designed to reconcile Iraq’s warring political factions has begun to unravel before it even begins.

Top US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Patreus, says that the Iraqis have not taken advantage of the “surge,” and are not making “sufficient progress” toward national reconciliation.

VP Dick Cheney is in Iraq crafting a deal to guarantee that the US military is committed in Iraq beyond the end of his administration. (Without Congressional approval, such a deal would of course be illegal, as in, impeachable.)

Cheney and Bush’s good friend, John W. McCain (Asshole-AZ), is also in Iraq, routinely confusing Sunni and Shiite factions in the region while trying to stoke the fires for war with Iran. . . and, of course, promote another 95 years of Iraqi occupation.

Something to look forward to. . . as if looking back on the last five years weren’t depressing enough.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ending this war, and preventing the next

If you were in Washington, DC, on Monday evening, perhaps you were lucky enough to attend the official release of A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq (h/t Jason).

I know what you’re thinking: another plan, another press event, another way to say nothing and do less. . . but in this case, you are quite possibly thinking wrong.

You might want to read the whole report (available as a pdf—see link on this page) and decide for yourself, but let me try to quickly explain why I think this plan might be different.

It understands that there is no “military solution” to the Iraq crisis. With this understanding, the plan does not tell us how to “win the war,” but instead lays out a path toward a rapid, responsible troop withdrawal coupled with a multilateral diplomatic effort that will end US military involvement in Iraq while attempting to rebuild US power of the non-lethal sort.

It puts humanitarian concerns front and center. By providing for humanitarian aid inside Iraq, as well as for the displaced Iraqis scattered worldwide, this plan makes it clear that it is not about washing our hands of the matter, or leaving the Iraqis to bloodily sort things out for themselves. It is a plan that respects the so-called “Pottery Barn rule” more than Colin Powell ever pretended to.

By acknowledging that the war was a mistake to begin with, it frees the people behind this plan to address a very important question: How can we prevent this type of fiasco from ever happening again?

It is in that last point that we find what makes this plan so refreshing—and so bold. For the authors of this plan understand that Bush’s Iraq War, at its inception, was not so much a geopolitical crisis as it was a US domestic crisis.

To that end, the Responsible Plan calls for measures that at first blush don’t necessarily seem to be about “Iraq.” Yes, it calls for a total renunciation of torture, but it also calls for the re-establishment of the constitutionally prescribed balance of power between the three branches of US government. It calls for the reinstatement of protections allotted under the Fourth Amendment, and for the restoration of Habeas rights. (That’s a lot of “re’s.”) The plan also specifically demands an end to presidential signing statements.

The Responsible Plan also deals with the fallout of Bush’s folly by addressing current recruiting shortfalls and the care of our military families—now, and long into the future—with a “GI Bill for Life.” Further, it exhibits an important degree of fiscal responsibility by advocating for the integration of Iraq expenditures into the normal budget process.

And there are a few additional proposals that I find truly remarkable, considering that this plan had to
not only meet with the approval of strategists, policy wonks, and retired military professionals, but had to gain the endorsement of current candidates for Congress, as well.

This plan calls for three things that seem to fly directly in the face of traditional campaign fundraising:

Contractor “reform”:

The need for contracting reform is substantial. Private militias have direct incentives to prolong the conflict rather than resolve it; their use needs to be phased out. Contractors must be legally accountable for their actions. War profiteering must be stopped, and those who have engaged in it need to answer for their actions.

Media independence:

The consolidation of our news media into the control of a relatively few corporate entities stifled a full and fair discussion and debate around Iraq. A more robust debate could be encouraged by expanding access to media.

And, last, but certainly not least, the plan acknowledges the link between the war in Iraq and our oil addiction, and calls for a domestic, non-oil solution:

[W]e are clearly tied to Iraq through our dependence on oil, which makes us vulnerable. Moving away from that dependence is necessary for strategic, economic, and environmental reasons.

Responsible—and comprehensive. Or, perhaps I should say, responsible because it’s comprehensive.

And I should also mention one more rather remarkable component to this proposal: A roadmap for implementation. Dive into the plan, and you will find a host of bills already pending in Congress—complete with lists of co-sponsors—bills that could be debated and maybe even passed this very summer if the Democratic leadership had the inclination, resolve, and, I will add, political savvy. (Sure, much of this legislation would get vetoed by Bush, or bottlenecked in the Senate by obstructionist Republicans and Liebercrats, but by putting it up there and out there, Democrats would show the voters that they are trying to do the people’s bidding, and it would further tie Republican candidates to an unpopular president and his failed and costly war.)

Should, however, our current crop of elected representatives fail to get the job done, the Responsible Plan has a plan for that, too. This proposal rolled out with the endorsement of multiple Democratic congressional candidates—and it is actively calling on more to jump on board. (Campaign fundraising is also being organized around support for the Responsible Plan.)

These Democratic candidates now have something to run on—which is a fabulous way to get out ahead of the competition and frame the debate. I challenge any Republican to present such a comprehensive and wide-ranging plan. But, even better, the Democrats as a party now have something to offer America. Should the bulk of the party—and, indeed, its presidential standard-bearer—endorse this proposal, Democrats could not only claim to be the party of ideas, they could be the party of solutions.

Comprehensive, responsible solutions.

A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq - Click here to add your support

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Monday, March 17, 2008


(Updated below - updated again)

The giant crane that fell Saturday in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan killed at least four, with three still missing. One of the missing is an employee of the bar called Fubar, which occupied the ground floor of the townhouse on 50th street that was reduced to rubble by the toppled crane.

Fubar, of course, comes from what is most commonly believed to be the WWII-era acronym for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition—and FUBAR is what New York is becoming under the building boom ushered in by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

These four (and possibly seven) deaths come on top of five other construction-related deaths this year (which, I remind you, is only 11 weeks old). Assuming that those lost are not found alive—as NYC Fire Commish Nick Scoppetta has pretty much already signaled—that would mean 2008 has already equaled last year’s construction death total. And we are well on our way toward surpassing the higher total of 18 from 2006. (Though if you measure from 9/30/05 to 9/30/06, as a city study did, the total is 29 dead—an increase of 61% over the previous 12 months.) And as I noted after another of these recent deaths—at the Trump SoHo—the number of construction injuries has skyrocketed under Mayor Mike.

And Bloomberg’s reaction to this most recent tragedy?

Sadly, construction is a dangerous thing. We don't know why this happened. We will do an investigation.

Will there be fines? Will anyone go to jail? Will licenses be revoked? Or building permits? Will development be slowed or stopped citywide until we get a handle on why construction sites have turned so deadly?

There might be a fine or two (though hikes in fines were proposed last year, I believe the maximum is still $2,500—a figure that must really scare an industry that expects to build $45 billion worth of properties in the next ten years), but as for the rest of the above list, don’t hold your breath.

But, more important than any of the above, perhaps: Will anyone in Mayor Bloomberg’s administration take responsibility for what they have wrought?

Again, my suggestion is to breathe.

Over the past six years, as Bloomberg and his cadre of developer-friendly deputies have rushed headlong to remake the city in Mayor Mike’s corporatist image, luxury high-rises and soul-crushing office towers have shot up like deadly amanitas after a summer rain, landmark-quality buildings (as well as a couple of designated NYC landmarks) have been razed, and neighborhoods have been damaged or destroyed. The under-funded infrastructure bridles under the strain.

And during this building boom, the number of homeless families has skyrocketed.

And, of course, there are the construction injuries and deaths. As Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer complained soon after the crane collapse, “This is becoming standard in my borough; I think we have a real issue here.”

We certainly do.

There are clearly not enough building inspectors, and the ones we have are sadly in need of re-training. The Department of Buildings is underfunded, and the sanctions for construction violations are pathetically light. People must be held responsible in real and certain ways—and I would start at the top.

Presiding over this building boom, the destruction, the injuries, the deaths, has been Patricia Lancaster, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Buildings. Her lack of accountability to date is a citywide running joke (local blog Gowanus Lounge has named an award after her in recognition of construction sites that show callous disregard for the rules); her coziness with high-powered developers is well documented. Her Department of Buildings issues the permits for construction, manages the inspection process, and theoretically responds to buildings violations. In an accountability-based society, Lancaster would resign. If there is to be any message of accountability sent, Patricia Lancaster should be fired—and fired posthaste.

(Commissioner Lancaster did, just two weeks ago, propose a series of reforms and laws designed to improve workplace safety and oversight, but after six years of decreasing safety and poor oversight, it seems too little, too late.)

Of course, her ultimate boss, Michael Bloomberg, is ultimately responsible. It is his technocratic “to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs” management style and his “the business of New York is business” vision that have created this wild west of the east coast. But he won’t fire himself, and the city has no recall process.

For now, Mike Bloomberg should attend the funerals of each and every construction worker that he has helped kill—starting with the four (that we know of) from Saturday—and he should get down on his knees and beg their families’ forgiveness. Then he should declare a citywide moratorium on new private construction permits that are not required to provide sub-market rate housing or repair unsafe structures until he can figure out just why he has failed so miserably to protect the workers and the neighborhoods. The city needs to better fund the DoB, retrain the existing inspectors, and likely hire more. Then the Mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn need to make buildings violations criminal infractions punishable by much larger fines and jail time.

Alas, all of that might only slow the bleeding. There is simply too much developer money in New York City’s electoral process to expect a responsible approach to growth, development, and construction safety. Developers’ relationships with the Mayor and many who want to succeed him are far too close to expect any of the electeds to actively and truthfully represent the needs of the longtime residents of New York’s neighborhoods.

Without some sort of comprehensive campaign finance reform, I can’t see how that changes. For, while the city might still be in transition to something unrecognizable, the electoral system is already FUBAR.

Update: The three missing in the crane disaster have now been confirmed dead. Lost City has a partial list of this year’s NYC construction disasters, and also calls for the end of the Patricia Lancaster era at the Department of Buildings—as does NY City Council Member Tony Avella. Gowanus Lounge proposes a smart list of reforms for DoB.

Update 2: The Fubar employee, Juan Perez, was rescued from the rubble of the collapsed 50th Street building. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where, as of Sunday, he was listed in serious condition.

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reporters reveal source in the Spitzer story: MySpace

With the official resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer now out of the way, it appears that the establishment media can get back to reporting on what by all accounts clearly matters most in this scandal: the sex.

Though most national and New York media outlets did lead with the actual resignation speech, delivered in Manhattan around midday, Wednesday, the fact that the embattled governor was now to be the less embattled ex-governor made Spitzer’s troubles, and how we all were made aware of them, essentially, old news.

So, what’s new—or more to the point, what’s news? Why it’s the identity of the 22-year-old woman known as “Kristen” in the affidavit that details her liaison with Client 9 (Spitzer) at a DC hotel just last month. The local NBC affiliate newscast gave her identity substantially more time than Spitzer’s speech. ABC’s “investigative reporter” Brian Ross gobbled up the first segment of Nightline with breathless accounts of the woman’s “history” and “career.” The Los Angeles Times and New York Times each feature the story prominently on the front page of their online editions. The NY Times even runs a picture—right under one of Spitzer and his wife.

It was apparently the New York Times—the first paper to reveal the governor’s involvement with the prostitution ring—that “broke” the story of “Kristen’s” real identity, and I suppose they deserve some sort of credit because they actually went to the trouble of calling this woman and conducting at least a cursory interview. But the NY Times, and the three other outlets that I mention, mostly base their reports on that up-to-the-minute, of the moment, always factual, and thoroughly unimpeachable source known as MySpace.

Yes, you read that right.

Thanks to her MySpace page, we all now “know” that “Kristen” left a “broken home” at 17, has been “homeless,” has done “drugs,” but is now “all about [her] music.” It is possible that this is true (and the NYT did speak with the woman, her lawyer, and her mother), but there is absolutely nothing in any of the reports that would lead one to believe that a page on MySpace doesn’t actually have to be completely factual. (“The page is candid, reciting the disturbing details of a hard life,” reports the LA Times, who did not speak with “Kristen,” herself.)

The television reports are the worst—simply reciting the text from the webpage, with only oblique references to its provenance, or equally oblique camera angles of highlighted text on a computer screen—but even the papers rely overwhelmingly on MySpace without a hint of irony or suspicion. Eleven of the 23 paragraphs in the NYT article mention, quote, or attribute information to the MySpace page.

And then there are remarkable revelations such as this (from the NY Times):

Music is her first love, and on the MySpace page, Ms. [Kristen] mentions Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Christina Aguilera and Lauryn Hill among a long list of influences, including her brother, Kyle. (She also lists Whitney Houston, Madonna, Mary J. Blige and Amy Winehouse as her top MySpace friends.)

Well, she did fuck a governor, so I suppose it is possible that Madonna and Mary J. Blige are her friends. I’ll admit, to again give them credit, that the NYT did at least call them “MySpace friends.” WNBC, by contrast, went to the trouble of finding a less famous area man also listed as one of “Kristen’s” MySpace friends to ask him what he thought of all the recent news.

To no one’s surprise—except maybe the team at WNBC—the guy didn’t know
Kristen and had never met her.

The LA Times had a similarly hot lead:

Nick Hanson of South Huntington was surprised to find out that someone on his MySpace friends list was involved in the Spitzer saga.

"I really never met her or talked to her," he said. "I just added her as a friend," after she sent him an invitation. "It seemed like she was very interested in music."

I hope you are laughing half as hard as I did.

Oh, and, “Kristen’s” music? Well, I will let some other netizen write that post.

The TV and newspaper reports all ran numerous pictures of “Kristen,” also taken directly from her MySpace page. Only the New York Times takes the time to explain the path from “Kristen’s” birth name, to her legal name, to the name on her MySpace page (all three are different—and none of them contain “Kristen”); WNBC gave her birth name, the other two just used the MySpace name as if it were her legal name.

I’m not sure that any of this naming names is a good thing, by the way. I have scrupulously avoided using any names other than her “hooker name” (though I understand that I link to the articles) because I don’t think she is really the story here (she might be a story, but well, not one that is going to keep me coming back for more). And, even though she seems a willing participant in her “outing,” I’m not entirely sure that this is the kind of PR she wanted (nor do I really feel like being part of it, even if she did).

But, to return to the heavy use of MySpace—I hope I am not the only one who is troubled by this. First, simply, because I fail to see how merely regurgitating large parts of someone’s self-generated profile from a social website is really news (I already am sure it isn’t “reporting”); second, and perhaps even more troubling, is that none of the stories give me much confidence that the reporters actually understand what MySpace is, or why it isn’t really a fantastic frame on which to hang the bulk of a news piece.

What it is, of course, is easy. I will resist the obvious joke, here, but some slightly different metaphors regarding pimps, prostitutes, and junkies might be of use.

I will, however, leave that to your imagination, because I actually want to finish on a high note—for journalism, that is—or a low note, if you think about the world we now live in.

As I mentioned in an update at the bottom of yesterday’s post, journalists (and I mean that sincerely) Jim Sleeper (of Talking Points Memo) and Wayne Barrett (of the Village Voice) discussed the Eliot Mess on WNYC with host Brian Lehrer, Albany specialist Andrea Bernstein, and NPR’s Adam Davidson. It was one of the more sober and serious discussions of the scandal itself, and, more important to me, the politics of the investigation, and the leak that revealed it.

Jim Sleeper posted something similar to his on-air comments later on TPM Café:

Eliot Spitzer’s resignation is a tragedy in the strictest classical sense: The legal substance of his offenses pales before his stupidity, hypocrisy, and, yes, immorality in committing them. . . .

But while Spitzer brought this on himself, that doesn’t let his Republican inquisitors entirely off the hook.

Their professional narrative is that the case simply fell into their laps and that they handled it with all due restraint: A routine bank review turned up “suspicious activity;” a routine follow-up by the IRS and then the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network showed that a public official was involved, thereby bumping the matter to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney, who obtained a wiretap of conversations which, of course, they had to listen to and parse. All they did after that was inform Spitzer, as the law also requires them to do.

And then they stepped back and watched him implode.

Not quite. Prosecutors were indeed required to tell Spitzer about the wiretap, but in no way were they required or indeed permitted to tell anyone else. Spitzer outed himself only after one or more of the dozen assistant U.S. Attorneys and scores of IRS, FBI, and other agents and managers in Washington and New York involved in this case committed the crime of leaking it to the New York Times.

Again, I am far from suggesting that that excuses him. I am asking a question or two about what else was going on, parallel to his own self-destruction.

Was the Justice Department as innocent and surprised by its findings as the official narrative insists? Will we now have the Justice Department moving heaven and earth to turn up its leakers? The legacy of George Bush’s disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and of too many Republican U.S. Attorneys casts a long shadow here.

Wayne Barrett perhaps went a step further. There is no written transcript of the show, but Barrett makes no bones about saying that the investigation “raises all kinds of questions,” and “smacks of a case that had a single target.”

Barrett notes that the Feds just renewed their warrant for the wiretap on February 21st, and brought down that wire only two weeks later. “Why would you rush the investigation?” asks Barrett, who says that he has never seen anything quite like this. “Very strange. . . . Contrary to ordinary practice.”

Barrett believes that the Republican prosecutor got the guy the Feds wanted, and took down the wire before they rolled up anymore “fat cats.” Citing the statistic that the Bush DoJ has gone after Democrats six times more often than Republicans, Barrett doubts that prosecutors would have “done the same thing” if they had caught a Republican.

Like Sleeper, I know that this doesn’t explain or excuse Spitzer’s hypocrisy, but like Sleeper and Barrett, I am pretty sure there is more to this story than the official, un-partisan narrative.

To come to this conclusion (or, if not quite a conclusion, an awareness), all I did was ask a few simple questions and apply a sense of historical context. Sleeper and Barrett clearly did the same. I have not surveyed the pages of every one of “Kristen’s” friends, but I am guessing that they don’t include that much context or history about the US Attorney scandal, warrantless surveillance, or the partisan machinations of the Bush Administration. I have digested the stories from four news outlets built on the MySpace “source,” and it seems that asking questions about, well, about much of anything, really, is more than we can ask of those “investigative journalists.”

Thank god we at least have the sex to keep us interested.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitzer probe: full of sound and fury; signifying nothing

Updated 2x

Below all the stories about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s imminent demise, the calls for his resignation, the indignation about his behavior, and the general air of schadenfreude about a guy whose overreach exceeded his ham-fisted grasp, there is an article in today’s New York Times that basically says this: When it comes to pursuing a prosecution of Spitzer, the Feds have nothin’.

To update some of yesterday’s details: it is now reported that the probe into Spitzer’s financial transactions began in July, under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, though the Times cannot confirm whether AG AG had any knowledge of the Spitzer case.

Maybe that was because Gonzales was too busy fending off accusations that he had politicized the Justice Department in order to pursue partisan investigations and prosecutions.

Just sayin’. . . .

The investigation was triggered, as I mentioned yesterday, by a series of sub-$10,000 transactions between Spitzer’s accounts and a then-unknown shell corporation, QAT. Most reports say that the Suspicious Activity Reports were filed by the banks with the Treasury Department and then referred to the IRS because it looked like Spitzer was trying to hide something. And because Spitzer was a public official, the belief was that it must have involved organized crime or graft of some sort.

What reports are fuzzy about—to say the least—is at what point it was realized that the money was being used to pay for prostitutes, and why, at that point, the case wasn’t transferred from the Public Integrity Section to the criminal division, or, as would have been more typical in a different age, referred to state or local law enforcement.

There are two possible answers to that question (well, at least two answers that you can offer without admitting criminal behavior, yourself): 1) the pattern of money transfers engaged a federal statute that prohibited “structuring”—an attempt to hide larger cash payments by making smaller ones—and, 2) Spitzer’s contracting to have a prostitute from New York meet him in DC violated the Mann Act. But, as is already glaringly obvious, neither of those two possibilities stands up to simple scrutiny.

A charge of structuring, as today’s Times story tells us, requires prosecutors prove intent—and that intent has to be of a sufficiently nefarious nature:

Dale P. Kelberman, a former federal prosecutor in Baltimore who has had experience with the financial reporting statutes, said the motivation in moving money around would be critical in any decision about whether the law was broken. If the governor was simply trying to conceal his activities from, say, his wife, it would be considered different from trying to deceive federal authorities.

“There are innocent reasons for structuring transactions that need to be considered,” Mr. Kelberman said.

The chance that Spitzer will be charged under the Mann Act is also small. First, again, as noted yesterday, the matter that caused a woman to cross state lines for “immoral sex” did not occur until February of this year—long after the investigation had realized exactly what was going on with the financial transactions, and months after the US Attorney, Michael Garcia, had already sought permission (likely from AG Michael Mukasey, even though his office denies his involvement) to indict a “public official.”

That raises the question of what charges exactly that indictment would be on, but assuming it was supposed to be a retrofit of the Mann Act, well, here’s what former federal prosecutor Charles Stillman thinks:

While in theory Mr. Spitzer could face charges of violating the Mann Act, a 1910 law, Mr. Stillman said it had almost never been used in modern times against customers, only those involved in managing a prostitution operation.

“The idea of prosecuting for it is just over the top,” he said. “I just don’t see that as a reality here.”

So what is left? There was talk yesterday afternoon of charging Spitzer with “money laundering”—but, whether that was a separate but unexplained charge or another way of reporting on structuring, that term is nowhere to be found in the Wednesday Times reports.

Which brings us back to things like the seven deadly sins—lust and hubris come to mind—and the hard-to-refute charge of rank hypocrisy. And it can also be said that Spitzer was an idiot for not realizing that the banking laws and the Bush-era surveillance state would leave his “sins” readily available for public exposure. All possibly deep flaws that might make Eliot Spitzer a less than ideal leader, but not, in themselves, crimes.

New York State politicians and pundits will no doubt spend today strutting and fretting about the “Eliot Mess,” and, by the end of the day, Governor Spitzer might find his brief but brightly burning political career snuffed out. But he will likely not find himself facing time in a dusty jail cell.

Update: WNYC is now reporting that two sources close to the Governor confirm that Eliot Spitzer will be resigning today. (It is now reported that Spitzer will announce at 11:30am EDT that he will resign effective Monday to give David Patterson time to arrange the transition.)

Update 2: Jim Sleeper and Wayne Barrett are both talking on WNYC (they might post a link to the audio later this afternoon) and both think that while Spitzer was “hoist with his own petard” (goody, more Shakespeare!), both also think that with regard to this investigation something is rotten in the State of Denmark (couldn’t resist). Much of the discussion is similar to what I have detailed over the last two days, but Barrett especially thinks that the way the wiretap was handled—it was put up and taken down very quickly—shows this to be a political “assassination” (yes, he used that word).

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Asking the question

From the nanosecond after the New York Times posted its story about Governor Eliot Spitzer’s use of high-priced prostitutes (the story has been repeatedly updated, and, to be honest, only details one interaction, though the implication seems to be that Spitzer was a regular client), tongues were wagging, keyboards were clacking, and thumbs were making whatever noise they do while texting. Everybody had the same outraged, indignant question: What in god’s name was Spitzer thinking?

Well, almost everybody. Well, at least, kind of. . . I’ll explain in a moment.

Here’s what we seem to know: On at least one occasion, New York Governor Elliot Spitzer paid to have sex with a woman who was not his wife. This woman worked for a rather expensive multinational booking service that saw four of its principle operators arrested at the end of last week. Spitzer is not named in the affidavit, but it is generally agreed that he is “Client 9”; there are nine other unnamed clients in the affidavit. The woman that met Spitzer was contracted in New York to travel to Washington DC, where she met Spitzer in a hotel room that Spitzer procured for the encounter under the name George Fox. (George Fox, it turns out, is a real person and a friend of Spitzer’s, but Fox says he had no knowledge of this transaction.)

As of this writing, Spitzer has made a public statement of apology, though he did not specify for what. Rumors are that there is a debate among his family and close advisors over whether he has to resign. If Spitzer resigns, NY Lieutenant Governor David Patterson, a Democrat, assumes the office of Governor for the remainder of the term. New York Senate Majority Leader and Spitzer nemesis Joe Bruno, a Republican, would assume the duties of Lieutenant Governor.

Here’s what else we seem to know: This case was not begun as an investigation of a prostitution ring that then just happened to turn up the name Eliot Spitzer. This scandal (I think we can call it that—it already has a name: The Eliot Mess) began as an investigation of Spitzer:

[IRS] investigators conducting a routine examination of suspicious financial transactions reported to them by banks found several unusual movements of cash involving the governor of New York, several officials said. …

The money ended up in the bank accounts of what appeared to be shell companies, corporations that essentially had no real business.

The transactions, officials said, suggested possible financial crimes — maybe bribery, political corruption, or something inappropriate involving campaign finance. Prostitution, they said, was the furthest thing from the minds of the investigators. …

Because the focus was a high-ranking government official, prosecutors were required to seek the approval of the United States attorney general to proceed. Once they secured that permission, the investigation moved forward.

At the outset, one official said, it seemed like a bread-and-butter inquiry into political corruption, the kind of case the F.B.I. squad, known internally by the designation C14, frequently pursues.

But before long, the investigators learned that the money was being moved to pay for sex and that the transactions were being manipulated to conceal Mr. Spitzer’s connection to payments for meetings with prostitutes, the official said.

What was that suspicious financial transaction exactly? It reportedly was something called “structuring,” which, I am told, is the movement of small amounts of money (under $10,000) that appear designed to obscure the movement of larger amounts (e.g. instead of just moving, say, $10,050, you move $4,000, $2,500, and then $3,550 in some short period of time). This structuring triggered an investigation that showed money moving into a shell company. . . which triggered an investigation of Spitzer for what was believed to be graft of some sort. . . that investigation pulled back the curtain on a “prostitution ring” known as the Emperor’s Club. . . .

That revelation led to a warrant for a wiretap—several wiretaps, actually—on those running the Emperor’s Club. Stories imply that this is a federal warrant.

Those wiretaps are apparently what provide us with the transcripts that include Spitzer’s arrangement to move a woman across state lines for “immoral sex” (that’s the Mann Act talking, not me) on February 13th of this year.

Which brings us to our first problem. Prostitution is usually not prosecuted as a federal crime. It becomes a federal crime when Spitzer contracts to have a New York sex worker meet him in DC. But that didn’t happen until after the warrants were issued—and the Feds presumably only know of this interstate commerce because it was picked up on a tap under those warrants.

The affidavit telling of the alleged crimes of the four prostitution ring leaders include many quotes from the calls surrounding that February tryst. One charge goes to great length to explain that Client 9 wanted to do something “unsafe” with the woman, but that woman had ways of telling her clients that if they wanted to have sex, unsafe wasn’t an option.

Problem number two: having unsafe sex, to the best of my knowledge, is not a crime—state or federal—at least not any more of a crime than having protected sex with a prostitute. (There are a few cases where persons who had AIDS and knowingly set out to infect others have been prosecuted, but that is in no way part of this story.) So, why are these details part of the indictment?

Let’s backtrack just a bit.

This investigation is managed by the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Integrity (I’ve also seen it called the Public Integrity Section of the DoJ). The OPI/PIS, as is noted by Harper’s Scott Horton, has been intimately involved with a scandal of its own concerning “politically directed prosecutions.”

During the Bush Administration, his Justice Department has opened 5.6 cases against Democrats for every one involving a Republican. Beyond this, a number of the cases seem to have been tied closely to election cycles. Indeed, a study of the cases out of Alabama shows clearly that even cases opened against Republicans are in fact only part of a broader pattern of going after Democrats. So here are the rather amazing facts that surface in the Spitzer case:

(1) The prosecutors handling the case came from the Public Integrity Section.

(2) The prosecution is opened under the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. You read that correctly. The statute itself is highly disreputable, and most of the high-profile cases brought under it were politically motivated and grossly abusive.

Yes, there’s that darn Mann Act again. (Horton and Digby both detail its long, antiquated, and sordid history.) The problem is, as mentioned, according to the affidavit (at least in Spitzer’s case), that the violation of the White-Slave Traffic Act doesn’t occur until months after the investigation was opened.

In fact, in a different New York Times story related to the Eliot Mess, we read that the call that links Spitzer to a violation of the Mann Act was swept up in a massive trawl:

The conversations, according to the affidavit, were among more than 5,000 telephone calls and text messages that the federal authorities intercepted during the course of the investigation into the prostitution ring, which began last October. Investigators also seized more than 6,000 e-mail messages, bank records, and travel and hotel records, and conducted physical surveillance.

This level of investigation would have to be approved all the way up the chain of command, through the appropriate United States Attorney, to the United States Attorney General.

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is Michael Garcia (more on him shortly), but over the course of the last year, we’ve actually had three US AGs—the October start date places approval in the lap of acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler, who served between the resignation of Alberto Gonzales and the swearing in of Michael Mukasey. Keisler, a cofounder of the Federalist Society, former clerk for Robert Bork and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, has been thrice nominated by George Bush to fill a spot on the DC Circuit.

Michael Garcia was an assistant to then US Attorney Mary Jo White during the prosecution of the 1993 Trade Center bombers. In 2003, Garcia, a registered Republican, was tapped to head the INS as it was brought inside the Department of Homeland Security and renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In 2005, Garcia—whom has been called a “Chertoff crony”—was named as the USA for the Southern District.

Garcia was apparently ready to roll with an indictment of “a public figure” a couple of months ago, but first needed authority granted to him by the Attorney General (now Mike Mukasey). Garcia kept investigating until he was granted that authority—which appears to be normal procedure—but the only references to Client 9 in the Emperor's Club affidavit are all from less than a month ago. I do not have an explanation for this apparent discrepancy.

Oh, but there’s more. . .

I am confused by this revelation in the ancillary NYT story:

Then, with the assistance of a confidential informant, a young woman who had worked previously as a prostitute for the Emperor’s Club V.I.P., the escort service that Mr. Spitzer was believed to be using, the investigators were able to get a judge to approve wiretaps on the cellphones of some of those suspected of involvement in the escort service.

The informant had previously worked for the escort service, but the investigation didn’t turn up the prostitution angle until after Spitzer was being investigated for structuring. . . which seems to indicate that the informant had left the Emperor’s Club before the period that concerns the part of the investigation that involves the governor. It could be that parts of the timeline have yet to be reported, but as I read it, there seems to be something circular about the logic that permits investigators to tie Spitzer to a specific sexual contract.

And, (almost) finally, with all of the talk of Spitzer’s political downfall, and the governor’s fights with Joe Bruno, I thought about the rather substantial—like half-a-million dollars substantial—donation made by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the state GOP. . . just last week. . . after Bloomberg put an end to rumors about a bid for US president. . . after the state Republicans lost a special election that shaved their Senate majority to one. . . after Bloomberg let slip the idea that he might be something other than president, like, you know, governor. (Jane Hamsher had similar thoughts, among several others.) With the relationship between Bloomberg and Mukasey known to be close, is it at all possible that Mayor Mike heard anything from US AG Mike about a soon to be weakened NY governor?

At this point I should hasten to add that Eliot Spitzer has yet to be charged with anything. None of the clients listed in the affidavit have been charged (and only Spitzer has been linked to a number). Further, if Spitzer is charged with a crime, the reports seem to indicate that it will be for the structuring—trying to conceal financial transactions—rather than anything to do with the actual sex.

Since Spitzer has prosecuted so-called “prostitution rings” in the past, and has made public pronouncements about the morality of such crimes, he is likely guilty of rank hypocrisy, what else he is guilty of remains an open question.

Which brings me back to the beginning: What in god’s name was Spitzer thinking?

When most of the myriad talkers and typers were asking that, they were no doubt thinking: What was Spitzer doing frequenting prostitutes? Is he nuts? He has a wife! He wants to be President! Prostitutes?!?

I suppose that’s a valid question, but, to me, it is not a particularly interesting one.

Here's the thing—I am not really that amazed that an aggressive and powerful politico thought that he could get away with paying for sex. Spitzer is hardly the first, and he will certainly not be the last. The morality of this behavior can be debated, but the originality of it cannot.

But here’s what I am amazed by: I am amazed that a Democrat—no, let’s make that any Democrat—thinks that he or she can do anything on the sly and keep it secret these days.

I actually have to wonder, as I've wondered before, if elected Democrats realize that issues like the US Attorney scandal and warrantless surveillance are not just inside baseball, not just about a debatable difference of opinion on the balance to strike between security and civil rights, but are rather about Republican attempts to lock in one party rule.

Does Spitzer or any of the Democratic Party leadership really believe that their calls and e-mails are not being monitored? Ten years ago, maybe I would have broken out the tinfoil hats, but now, after all we know? C'mon!

What in god’s name was Spitzer thinking?

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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