Think Progress Has Response to Bush
I hope to have a few things to say of my own in the next day or so.
Okay, I'm a member of the reality-based community, but where are we going?
IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.
After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.
Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.
Not unlike the Clinton "triangulation" strategy, the approach has been to attack an opponent's greatest perceived strength in order to diminish his overall credibility. To no one's surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks.
During the 2000 primary season, John McCain's life-defining experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam were diminished through whispers that he was too scarred by those years to handle the emotional burdens of the presidency. The wide admiration that Senator Max Cleland gained from building a career despite losing three limbs in Vietnam brought on the smug non sequitur from critics that he had been injured in an accident and not by enemy fire. John Kerry's voluntary combat duty was systematically diminished by the well-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in a highly successful effort to insulate a president who avoided having to go to war.Americans have a right to expect better from their politicians. Fortunately, there are still Republicans like Webb trying to take the long view.
And now comes Jack Murtha. The administration tried a number of times to derail the congressman's criticism of the Iraq war, including a largely ineffective effort to get senior military officials to publicly rebuke him (Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was the only one to do the administration's bidding there).
The NSA ended up giving its raw data to then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton on at least 10 different occasions since 9/11. Bolton, nominated by Bush to be US ambassador to the United Nations, let slip during his confirmation hearings in April that he asked the NSA to unmask the identities of the Americans blacked out in the agency's raw reports, to better understand the context of the intelligence.With the exception of Bolton, I'm not sure who in the State Department would be asking for all these identities. And, of course, there are people in other parts of the Bush Administration who probably would not miss an opportunity to snoop through NSA materials. And apparently there is evidence for such a supposition.
However, evidence suggests that Bolton used the information for personal reasons, in direct violation of rules governing the dissemination of classified intelligence. During one routine wiretap, the NSA obtained the name of a state department official whose name had been blacked out when the agency submitted its report to various federal agencies.
Bolton's chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA official, revealed during the confirmation hearings that Bolton had requested that the NSA unmask the unidentified official. Fleitz said that when Bolton found out his identity, he congratulated the official, and by doing so he had violated the NSA's rules by discussing classified information contained in the wiretap.
It turned out that Bolton was just one of many government officials who learned the identities of Americans caught in the NSA intercepts. The State Department has asked the NSA to unmask the identities of American citizens 500 times since May 2001.
Requesting that the NSA reveal the identity of Americans caught in wiretaps is legal as long as it serves the purpose of understanding the context of the intelligence information.The question hangs in the air. If the story is accurate, who were the other people the Vice President was interested in? Journalists perhaps? One can only speculate.
But the sources said that on dozens of occasions Cheney would, upon learning the identity of the individual, instruct the NSA to continue monitoring specific Americans caught in the wiretaps if he thought more information would be revealed, which crossed the line into illegal territory.
Cheney advised President Bush of what had turned up in the raw NSA reports, said one former White House official who worked on counterterrorism related issues.
"What's really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department," one former counterterrorism official said. "There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president's office and I don't think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can't say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don't know."
The New York Times reported this week that "in the anxious months after the September 11 attacks, the [NSA] began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names to the FBI, in search of terrorists." Some of that information led to Americans inside the United States. It appears that the NSA was handing over just about any information it could find that might be useful to investigators. The Times reported that the NSA eventually provided thousands of tips a month.
The agency conducted these activities without presidential authorization for at least three months following 9/11. In early 2002, Bush authorized the current program, which, he has said, targets only known members of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups, and people linked to them. But even before Bush's order -- which remains classified -- the NSA's work was evolving from targeted interceptions to broader sifting and sorting of huge volumes of communications data.
Notice the classic Bush Administration parsing of words: "targets only known members of Al Qaida and affiliated groups, and people linked to them." 'Affiliated groups' and 'people linked to them' can be very vague, particularly if one is tracing calls along a chain. And then we have the problem that the people defining the legal issues here are the same legal chameleons who defined Bush's torture policy.
The issue is and will remain from this point on a question of trust. In the 1970s, it took several investigations and years to restore trust in our government to a somewhat reasonable level. No amount of spin can avoid that issue.
American private contractors are preparing to leave Iraq as US money runs out and government ministries take charge of the reconstruction effort, according to the Washington Times.It is unlikely that the security situation in Iraq will improve as American contractors fire Iraqi employees in a country where jobs are already scarce.
Fluor Corp, the engineering and construction giant and one of the biggest private-sector employers in Iraq, at one time had 250 to 300 people from the United States in Iraq, and employed roughly 20,000 Iraqis. But now, as the US-funded part of the reconstruction effort comes to a close, Fluor has, perhaps, 100 Americans left in the country and is phasing out the Iraqi jobs.
The report reveals that US military officials also said that reconstruction effort would cost up to US$100 billion over the next several years, far more than the Bush administration has appropriated for the rebuilding effort.If I need an electrician or a doctor or an auto mechanic, I don't want the guy with the big spiel who talks tough and says, "Trust me." I just want the guy who knows what he's doing.
John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy defense secretary from 1997-1999, has read the report. Hamre described the document as a “gutsy” and “honest” assessment of an effort that “didn't go particularly well".
"The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that had conflicting guidance from the United States," Hamre said. "It had a very difficult environment and pressures by that environment to quickly move things."
He told the New York Times that that sort of situation "creates shortcuts that probably turn into short circuits".
Two explosions in Russia's North Ossetia province on Sunday knocked out the main pipeline that exports gas across the border to Georgia which is experiencing an unusually cold winter.I may be wrong and I hope I'm wrong, but these days I sense large areas of foreign policy being dangerously neglected by the Bush Administration. In any case, it seems long past time to return to the hard work of diplomacy rather than pr gestures useful only for domestic consumption and miderm elections but otherwise largely useless for long-term national security.
"This morning, partial supplies of gas to Tbilisi resumed," presidential chief of staff Georgy Arveladze said. "It will take several days to resume gas supplies nationwide."
The gas is coming from neighbouring Azerbaijan which takes its gas via a separate pipeline from Russia.
Georgia, whose relations with Moscow have been prickly since a pro-West government took power two years ago, stepped up its allegations that Russia had deliberately cut off the gas, though officials have not so far offered any evidence.
Russia blamed the explosions on pro-Chechen insurgents in North Ossetia on the Russian side of the Caucasus.
A source at Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said it was pumping an extra 3 million cubic metres a day to Azerbaijan to pipe on to Georgia to help deal with the crisis.
Moscow rejected Georgian accusations, warning the country's leadership that it was risking relations with Russia.
...it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder.
It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same.
OK, you might argue, blogging is aesthetically a different beast -- it’s instantaneous media. (Well, since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, pretty much all media has had to learn how to be instantaneous.) It’s unpolished. (The best blogs I read are as sophisticated as anything old-school media publishes.) It’s voice-y. (The best old-school media I read tends to be voice-y.) It’s about opinion, not reporting. (The best reporting to come out of MacWorld in San Francisco last week was published on blogs.) It’s, well, often sloppy and reckless (and Judy Miller wasn’t?).
OK, then, you might further argue, the Internet itself treats blogs as structurally distinct things. Well, sure, there are blog-specific search engines (Technorati, Icerocket, blogsearch.google.com, etc.), but the lines between blog and non-blog content are rapidly dissolving.
Men who are familiarized to danger, meet it without shrinking, whereas those who have never seen service often apprehend danger where no danger lies.
A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.
The New York Times, always happy to be supportive of the oilpatch/ OPEC mantra of impending shortage and disaster underpinning ever higher prices, pontificated in its "Energy Impasse" editorial the day before "Today's global market is so tight, there is little spare capacity left....There's no shock absorber left...That leaves us with zero options when it comes to leverage against these oil producers."
What the Times and the press generally overlooked telling us was as follows. Iran produces some 4 million barrels a day of which 2.6 million are exported. The Nigerian production loss is approximately 200,000 barrels a day, a shut down that in all likelihood will be shortlived. Assuming a worst case scenario, that Iran stops all exports for a year and Nigerian production is similarly impacted the loss of supply to the world market would be a billion barrels of oil.
At this very moment, according to the International Energy Agency (the I.E.A.) stock levels held by I.E.A. members alone are at 4.1 BILLION BARRELS OIL. Of these 1.4 billion are held in strategic government reserves and the balance are held commercially. The United States alone holds 700 million in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve whereas our commercial reserves today approach 318 million barrels, some 30 million barrels greater than a year ago.
As Microsoft stepped up its lobbying, last year it hired former U.S. Representative Vin Weber, a Minnesota Republican who is one of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's closest allies, to open doors for the company in Congress.It should be understood that Microsoft was paying for legally accepted services on both sides of the aisle and the article goes on to mention where Microsoft went for Democratic connections. But with the financial resources available to Microsoft, we can be reasonably certain they were buying the best services money could buy. It would be useful to hire lobbyists with the best access to people like Gingrich who was Speaker of the House at the time and other prominent Republicans like Tom DeLay. Notice that Weber and Norquist are tied in this article directly to Gingrich. The article points out that Microsoft's ties to Jack Abramoff went back at least to 1996. This is evidence that Abramoff was already a well-known lobbyist, thus contradicting many Republicans in Washington, including possibly Gingrich, who have developed amnesia.
For the past two years Microsoft has also retained another well-known Gingrich ally, Grover Norquist, and former Reagan campaign aide Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds.
Moreover, a May 1, 2005, New York Times Magazine profile of Abramoff by Michael Crowley detailed his extensive ties to the GOP, cultivated throughout his lobbying career. The article refers to Abramoff as "a kingpin of Republican Washington." Crowley writes: "His former personal assistant had gone to work for Karl Rove, the new president's top political adviser; he was close friends with the powerful Republican congressman from Texas, Tom DeLay, a relationship most of his competitors would kill to boast of," and referred to "countless fund-raisers he gave for Republican congressmen and senators." According to the article, Abramoff's first lobbying employer, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, hired him because of his ties to powerful Republicans like DeLay: "Upon his hire, the firm's news release boasted of Abramoff's ties to Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition, the Republican National Committee and top House Republican leaders."I've highlighted the most relevant part in bold type to make it clear where Abramoff's connections were. It was these connections he was selling for a living.
Abramoff's plea bargain is scary to Washington's power brokers because he was so entangled with so many of them.
His ties to Grover Norquist, a leading conservative strategist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who is now a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, date from his college days.
Two civil liberties groups filed separate lawsuits Tuesday to halt the Bush administration's domestic spying program, charging that the interception of Americans' communications without court warrants is illegal and unconstitutional.The plaintiffs will have difficulty showing that they have been harmed since we are, after all, talking about a secret program. But then again, maybe not. One of the plaintiffs is Larry Diamond, who was hired by the Bush Administration to help with democracy building in Iraq; in his book, Squandered Victory, he describes his time in Iraq in 2004. In the Knight-Ridder article quoted above, Mr. Diamond explains his involvement in the lawsuit:
The federal court lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in Detroit and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York are the latest and most prominent legal challenges to the spying program, which is run by the super-secret National Security Agency.
The groups argued that President Bush exceeded his power, violated the rights of American citizens and broke eavesdropping laws when he authorized the program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to track members and supporters of al-Qaida in the United States.
The program "seriously compromised the free speech and privacy rights of the plaintiffs and others," argued the ACLU lawsuit.
Larry Diamond, an ACLU plaintiff, said his ability to investigate human rights abuses and the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Islamic world has been severely hamstrung because people in countries with repressive regimes are no longer willing to communicate openly for fear they'll be overheard.In an article in the Palo Alto Online (which services the Stanford area), Mr. Diamond elaborates:
"The breadth and illegality and unconstitutionality of this program ... do very great damage to our standing in the world," said Diamond, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute. "I don't think we can promote freedom abroad if we don't practice it at home."
“Professionally, my work as a political scientist studying, teaching about, and working to advance democratic development around the world depends on my ability to communicate freely with people throughout the world who are working for democratic change or who have information and analysis that bears on the struggle.Now the United States has the right to protect itself and that requires gathering intelligence, albeit in a way consistent with our democracy and our constitution. But, besides the likelihood that warrantless spying is illegal, at least within the borders of the United States, the NSA program ultimately brings up another issue that can't be ignored. Trust. There are many questions around the NSA program for the simple reason that the secrecy, stonewalling, arrogance of power, and outright lying demonstrated by the White House increasingly violates the reasonable trust that Americans need to have in their elected officials. More obfuscations from the White House is not going to restore trust in this president.
“There is also the problem of being able to communicate with students of mine who are doing their own research, or conducting research for me, in countries that are being monitored through warrantless surveillance, and on subjects that are politically sensitive, such as the prospects for democratic regime change or the opposition movement in a particular country.”
I'd like to take a more careful look at exactly what kind of oil weapon President Ahmadinejad is packing. In particular, let's go over the seventies oil shocks and use them to fashion a rough guesstimate of the likely impact of a cutoff in Iranian oil supplies now.The full article is well worth reading and includes graphs.
To give you the punchline up front, I'm going to argue that, with large (50%) uncertainties, a complete loss of Iranian production for an extended period might be expected to roughly double oil prices and cause massive economic impacts, while a halving of oil production due to sanctions, or retaliation to sanctions, might be expected to produce a 30-40% increase in price and significant economic impacts. If Iran is left alone, prices are quite likely to drift up somewhat anyway, but not by this much.
PASADENA, Calif. - Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, whose 1968 conclusion that the Vietnam War was unwinnable keenly influenced public opinion then, said Sunday he'd say the same thing today about Iraq."The most trusted man in America." I can't think of anyone in Washington that has that stature these days.
"It's my belief that we should get out now," Cronkite said in a meeting with reporters.
Now 89, the television journalist once known as "the most trusted man in America" has been off the "CBS Evening News" for nearly a quarter-century. He's still a CBS News employee, although he does little for them.
Cronkite said one of his proudest moments came at the end of a 1968 documentary he made following a visit to Vietnam during the Tet offensive. Urged by his boss to briefly set aside his objectivity to give his view of the situation, Cronkite said the war was unwinnable and that the U.S. should exit.
Then-President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told a White House aide after that, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
REASON: You've described technologies capable of sifting through vast numbers of communications and pinpointing very specific information that intelligence analysts are looking for. What can you say about how that kind of technology is being used?First of all, what I'm hearing and reading about the NSA seems to involve several different programs going on inside the US and involving American citizens. We're far from understanding or knowing exactly what these programs are even in a general sense. Nor do we know what safeguards are in place to prevent political abuse.
Tice: I can't say how an intelligence agency uses it, because that would be classified. Then the FBI would have shackles and cuffs waiting on me real soon, so I have to be careful what I say. But we can talk about the technologies and we can use hypotheticals and we can use wiggle words.
If you wanted to, you could suck in an awful lot of information. The biggest constraint you're going to have is the computing power you need to do it. You need to have some huge computers to crunch that kind of stuff. More than likely you're talking about picking it up in a digital format and analyzing it depending on how the program is written depending on whether it's audio or digital recognition you're talking about, the computing power is phenomenal for that sort of thing. Especially if you're talking about mass volumes, if you're talking about hundreds of thousands of, say, telephone communications or something like that, calls of people just like you and me, like we're talking now.
REASON: There's always a problem looking for low-frequency events in a large population, even with a very good filter. How big a problem do you think false positives are?
Tice: It's going to be a huge problem. Huge. That's going to be your number one concern insofar as false positives are ultimately your error rate. The ultimate goal, more than likely in our hypothetical scenario, is to filter this thing down enough so that you can put it into human analysts' hands. The ultimate filter, the ultimate computer, is the human brain.
REASON: What aspect of that, within the parameters of what you're able to talk about, concerned you?
Tice: The lack of oversight, mainly—when a problem arose and I raised concerns, the total lack of concern that anyone could be held accountable for any illegality involved. And then these things are so deep black, the extremely sensitive programs that I was a specialist in, these things are so deep black that only a minute few people are cleared for these things. So even if you have a concern, it's things in many cases your own supervisor isn't cleared for. So you have literally nowhere to go.
Common sense dictates that submerging your high-end PC in cooking oil is not a good idea. But, of course, engineering feats and science breakthroughs were made possible by those who dared to explore the realms of the non-conventional. Members of the Munich-based THG lab are only too happy to confirm this fact. And not only did we find that our AMD Athlon FX-55 and GeForce 6800 Ultra equipped system didn't short out when we filled the sealed shut PC case with cooking oil - but the non-conductive properties of the liquid coupled created a totally cool and quiet high-end PC, devoid of the noise pollution of fans. The PC case - or should we say tank - also offered a new and novel way to display and show off your PC components.It's nice to see innovation is still alive and well.
China and India have agreed to share information on what they're paying for foreign oil and gas for their energy-hungry economies in an effort to tone down a multibillion-dollar rivalry that was driving up asset prices abroad, the Chinese government announced.The article also mentions that China and India have agreed to cooperate on the development of alterntive fuels. If the fastest growing economies in the world are taking the energy issue seriously, and that seriousness includes the development of alternative energy in addition to new oil acquisitions, perhaps the Bush Administration ought to develop a real energy plan that doesn't depend on ideas two or three generations out of date.
The agreement was among five energy cooperation deals signed Thursday during a visit to Beijing by Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, the government said.
Beijing and New Delhi promised to exchange information when bidding for oil resources abroad.
Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) planned to start circulating a petition as early as Wednesday night asking for broad elections. The move underscored many House Republicans' belief that their leaders needed to do more to respond to the unfolding corruption scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, if the party was going to keep its congressional majority in the November elections.Sweeney's proposal exempts House Speaker Dennis Hastert from the new elections. I'm not clear why the Republicans in the House want to exempt Hastert from possibly losing his position. After all, he was originally selected by Tom DeLay to be the Speaker. And there have been too many very odd last minute changes in legislation either happening under Hastert's nose or with his approval.
Only days ago, House Republicans appeared set to hold a single election to replace Tom DeLay, who had resigned as majority leader, the No. 2 leadership position in the House. DeLay has been indicted in Texas on campaign finance-related charges unrelated to the Abramoff case.
But under Sweeney's petition, House Republicans would hold elections for five leadership posts in addition to picking a successor to DeLay as majority leader.
"Most of this year, I have felt like our leadership needed new people at the table," said Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.), a conservative who normally is supportive of the leadership. "The fact is that they are tired."
She added: "I have not seen evidence of our leadership being able to stand up to special interests...."
Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the release of Kamal Sayid Qadir after the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq said his 30-year prison sentence was imposed in accordance with a law punishing “defamation of public institutions.”This is not a good sign of democracy in Iraq.
In a statement released yesterday, the Kurdish authorities said the law, identified as Law 21, was passed by the region’s national assembly and took effect in 2003. “The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) affirms that the principles of human rights and freedom of expression continue to be respected, promoted, and assured for all persons throughout the Kurdistan Region,” the statement added.
Reporters Without Borders said : “We find it hard to believe that Iraq’s Kurdish authorities can say this after just sentencing a lawyer to 30 years in prison for defamation. Only extremely repressive countries have recourse to such heavy sentences for so-called crimes of opinion.”
President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants.'Millions.' That would give a whole new meaning to the famous phrase, "Round up the usual suspects!" If true, we're talking data mining with no oversight to speak of. And the technology will only improve.
But Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used.
"That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum," Tice said.
The same day The New York Times broke the story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants, Tice surfaced as a whistleblower in the agency. He told ABC News that he was a source for the Times' reporters. But Tice maintains that his conscience is clear.
"As far as I'm concerned, as long as I don't say anything that's classified, I'm not worried," he said. "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed."
The NSA revoked Tice's security clearance in May of last year based on what it called psychological concerns and later dismissed him. Tice calls that bunk and says that's the way the NSA deals with troublemakers and whistleblowers. Today the NSA said it had "no information to provide."
The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold....
—William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, 1763
Government and the people do not in America constitute distinct bodies. They are one, and their interest is the same. Members of Congress, members of assembly or council, or by any other name they may be called, are only a selected part of the people. They are the representatives of majesty, but not majesty itself.
—Thomas Paine, 1782
If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
—George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
The talk of the day now in DC is 'lobbying reform', which Mark Schmitt aptly pillories over at TPMCafe. We may need new laws to curb the power moneyed interests now have over policy-making. In fact, I think we do.
But that's not the problem in Washington. The problem is a network of criminal activity stretching from the House of Representatives (and, to a lesser degree, the Senate) to K Street and then into the Executive Branch -- a network of bribery, money-laundering and fraud all aimed at selling public policy and official actions not in exchange for political contributions but money rewards to members of Congress, administration officials and their families.
It's not an abstract problem or a merely a few politicians lining their pockets or high-speed log-rolling. As Schmitt puts it, it's a betrayal-of-public-trust, a group of high-ranking politicians who've committed crimes against their constituents and a Republican establishment that wasn't against it then and can't bring itself to turn the folks in even now.
When DeLay announced his official resignation on Saturday, he also announced he was “reclaiming” his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee.When the fox is moved from one hen house to another, the fox's behavior is likely to be the same. Pardon me for stating something that is obvious to most of the world but it appears Washington has trouble these days understanding such things. The Republican-controlled Congress has the same problem as President Bush: a growing lack of credibility that public relations cannot massage.
Why is there a seat available? From the San Diego Union Tribune, 12/10/05:
"A vacancy on the panel occurred earlier this week when Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Rancho Santa Fe, formally resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to charges that he accepted bribes from defense contractors."
Should be a smooth transition.
Rep. Tom DeLay made the first good-government gesture of his long and checkered political career today by announcing he’ll not seek reinstatement as House majority leader.
There is political justice in the way this development came about. DeLay’s anything-to-win approach to politics earned him his leadership post. He helped craft the politics-as-all-out-war and politics-of-personal-destruction mentality that brought his fellow right-wing Republicans to control of the House. In the process, neoconservative Republicans made the institution a place where the words “comity” and “bipartisan” are mentioned only in bitter reminiscence.
No doubt as the midterm elections draw closer, Republicans will be making many fine speeches about the need for reform. But if the DeLay machine remains intact, even if DeLay is no longer its leader, all the rhetoric will mean little if the members of the machine are still in office in January of next year.
For the last five years, Bush has been restructuring the federal government and the results are not pretty. Hurricane Katrina perfectly illustrated the difference: the cronies, ideologues, loyalists and political hacks that Bush brought to Washington did not perform well. Only the professionals, like those in the Coast Guard, kept Hurricane Katrina from being worse than it was.
Bush has responded to the latest exposures of the existence of his new national security apparatus as assaults on the government. It is these revelations, he said, that are "shameful." The passion he currently exhibits was something he was unable to muster for the exposure by members of his administration of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But there is a consistency between his absence of fervor in discovering who was behind the outing of Plame and his furor over the reporting of warrantless NSA domestic spying. In the Plame case, the administration officials who spun her name to conservative columnist Robert Novak and others intended to punish and intimidate former ambassador Joseph Wilson for having revealed that a central element of the administration case for the Iraq war was bogus. In the NSA case, Bush is also attempting to crush whistle-blowers.
Bush's war on professionals has been fought in nearly every department and agency of the government, from intelligence to Interior, from the Justice Department to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in order to suppress contrary analysis on issues from weapons of mass destruction to global warming, from voting rights to the morning-after pill. Without whistle-blowers on the inside, there are no press reports on the outside. The story of Watergate, after all, is not of journalists operating in a vacuum, but is utterly dependent on sources internal to the Nixon administration. "Deep Throat," Mark Felt, the deputy FBI director, whatever his motives, was a quintessential whistle-blower.
Now Bush's Justice Department has launched a "leak" probe, complete with prosecutors and grand jury, to investigate the disclosure of the NSA story. It is similarly investigating the Washington Post's reportage of the administration's secret prison system for terrorist suspects. The intent is to send a signal to the reporters on this beat that they may be called before grand juries and forced to reveal their sources. (The disastrous failed legal strategy of the New York Times in defending Judy Miller as a Joan of Arc in the Plame case has crucially helped reinforce the precedent.) Within the bowels of government, potential whistle-blowers are being put on notice that they put their careers at risk for speaking to reporters in order to inform the public of what they consider wrongdoing.
"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.
Risen writes that the administration created a secret parallel chain of command to authorize the NSA surveillance program. While the professionals within the Justice Department were cut out, a "small, select group of like-minded conservative lawyers," such as John Yoo, were brought in to invent legal justifications. To the "small handful on national security law within the government" knowledgeable about the NSA program, the administration's debating points on the Patriot Act, which stipulates approval of eavesdropping by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, was a charade, a "mockery." Risen presents more witnesses and adds some episodes to familiar material - the twisting of intelligence and intimidation of professionals both before and after the Iraq war; a national security team commanded by Vice President Cheney in league with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld; and neoconservatives contriving "stovepipe" intelligence operations to funnel disinformation from Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who were their political favorites.
Risen quotes a former top CIA official on Condoleezza Rice: a "very, very weak national security advisor - I think Rice didn't really manage anything, and will go down as probably the worst national security advisor in history. I think the real national security advisor was Cheney, and so Cheney and Rumsfeld could do what they wanted."
There is a very big scandal brewing today in Washington. But it is only secondarily about specific acts of bribery and corruption. The great political scandal, maybe of our age, lies in the answer to this question:
When did citizens of the United States stop being represented by the men and women elected to Congress and when did their true representatives become hired-gun lobbyists like Abramoff?
The Abramoff scandal is certainly sleazy enough.
A megalomaniac wheeler-dealer with sterling Republican Party connections, Abramoff earlier this week cut a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that appears certain to enwrap a great many congressional power brokers. Reputations are going to be sullied. Lawmakers with campaign contributions tied to Abramoff can't seem to fling the money from their coffers far enough or fast enough.
Office-holders may end up stepping down. Some may even find themselves staring down the barrel of bribery indictments. It is going to get very ugly this year along the Potomac.
But the real scandal is hardly limited to one oily lobbyist and a handful of members of Congress with their hands out. Or even a score of congressional members, if it comes to that. What may become the true scandal of our day is the broad-scale evolution of power out of the hands of elected people and into the hands of countless lobbyists and behind-the-scenes power brokers.
Late last month, former Arizona Republic investigative reporter Jerry Kammer, now with Copley News Service, wrote about the astonishing new nexus between the practice of "earmarking" - designating congressional spending for specific projects, also known as "pork" - and the explosion of lobbyists seeking such earmarks.
Kammer's story is essential reading for anyone concerned about whether the congressional appropriations process has morphed into something very much like bribery.
In 1982, Congress included 12 "earmarked" projects in its appropriations. By 1998, there were 2,000 of them worth $10.6 billion, as reported by Kammer. In 2004, that number had tripled to 15,584 earmarks worth $32.7 billion.
The federal budget bloats with bridges to nowhere. Tiny colleges in California become superpowers of government-funded research - not because of the brilliance of their work but because they fortuitously hire a potent lobbyist with close ties to a powerful lawmaker.
And, most pernicious of all, lawmakers start forgetting whom it is they work for.
Cunningham received $630,000 from a military contractor named Brent Wilkes, who is referred to as “co-conspirator No. 1″ in Justice Department documents. Wilkes worked for Audre Inc., a job he took in 1992 when the company was near bankruptcy and desperate for federal contracts. That’s where Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, comes in.It is difficult to say where these investigations will go and whether more crimes have been committed but I notice some of the "reformers" in the Republican Party who are already scrambling to be heard may not be much better than those who are already under indictment. Newt Gingrich, who helped to bring in a whole new generation of Republicans, comes to mind. As I recall, he was famous for allowing industry representatives and lobbyists to write their own legislation.
But Hunter isn’t the only committee chairman with problems.
Wilkes employed a lobbyist named Bill Lowery who is unusually close with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis.
Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible.
—Anthony Hope (1894)
President Bush yesterday made a raft of controversial recess appointments, including Julie L. Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau at the Department of Homeland Security, in a maneuver circumventing the need for approval by the Senate.Etc., etc., etc. In other words, the usual cronies and hacks we have come to expect from our president. I notice some on the list are being appointed to positions in Homeland Security, State and Defense.
Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers and the wife of the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had been criticized by Republicans and Democrats who charged that she lacked experience in immigration matters.
Going through DeLay's reported travel, a few entries stand out, including this one: Why in the world did Fox News Sunday pay more than $13,000 for DeLay to go from Sugarland Texas to DC in October?I thought Congress passed some laws years ago that made this kind of stuff illegal. Ah, but a couple of years ago, Tom DeLay was overheard saying that he is the Congress. Well, that explains everything.
U.S. airmen are increasingly on the ground in Iraq, driving in convoys and even working with detainees — a shift in the Air Force's historic mission that military officials call necessary to bolster the strapped Army.I don't know if this is what some generals mean by the wheels coming off in Iraq or if this simply represents an efficient deployment of personnel. Feel free to offer comments below.
The main aerial hub for the war in Iraq has 1,500 airmen doing convoy operations in Iraq and 1,000 working with detainees, training Iraqis and performing other activities not usually associated with the Air Force, said Col. Tim Hale, commander of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing.
"Every one of us has learned that we are in a nontraditional state in our armed forces," he said, standing outside an auditorium at an air base in Kuwait.
Sixty years ago, Arnold Toynbee concluded, in his monumental "A Study of History," that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was "suicidal statecraft." Sadly for President George W. Bush's place in history but - much more important - ominously for America's future, it has lately seemed as if that adroit phrase might be applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11.Though Brzezinwki has criticized Bush in other forums, these are still strong words for someone who in other years couched his words in a more nuanced style. The whole article is worth reading but I want to point to one more paragraph:
Though there have been some hints lately that the administration may be beginning to reassess the goals, so far defined largely by slogans, of its unsuccessful military intervention in Iraq, Bush's speech of Oct. 6 was a throwback to the more demagogic formulations that he employed during the presidential campaign of 2004 to justify the war that he himself started.
That war, advocated by a narrow circle of decision makers for motives still not fully exposed, propagated publicly by demagogic rhetoric reliant on false assertions, has turned out to be much more costly in blood and money than anticipated.
It has precipitated worldwide criticism, while in the Middle East it has stamped the United States as the successor to British imperialism and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs. Fair or not, that perception has become widespread in the world of Islam as a whole.
It should be a source of special concern for thoughtful Americans that even nations known for their traditional affection for America have become openly critical of American policy. As a result, large swathes of the world - be it East Asia, or Europe, or Latin America - have been quietly exploring ways of shaping closer regional associations tied less to the notions of trans-Pacific, or trans-Atlantic, or hemispheric cooperation with the United States. Geopolitical alienation from America could become a lasting and menacing reality.Not only is the United States losing its leadership position in the world (which some conservatives dismiss as unimportant) but Bush's policies are increasingly putting the United States at risk and eroding relationships with other nations that only a few years ago we found valuable.
George W. Bush turns out to be a bold president, willing to take huge risks and make tough judgment calls -- but by most accounts, he is not an intelligent man and made decisions on gut more than serious analysis. This makes him the worst kind of president -- a kind of anti-FDR.I've been browsing the main blogs today and there seems to be a sense that 2006 will be a critical year and not just because of the midterm elections. There seems to be a shifting ground, though I couldn't even begin to predict where things will lead. But one thing clearly needs to happen: if our government is to make any sense as a functioning, rational institution, if it is to deal effectively with major issues at some minimal level, and there are a growing number of issues that need to be dealt with, it is time to hold Bush accountable on a broad range of issues. Part of that accountability is pressuring Bush to get rid of the cronies and ideological deadweights that are incapable of dealing realistically with these times.
As former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson recently stated, the framers of the National Security Act after World War II feared a future strong, dumb president -- and felt that much needed to be done to protect the country from someone like a George W. Bush.