Saturday, March 31, 2007

Myths of the Ronald Reagan Presidency

Given what we know about George W. Bush and his disastrous presidency, the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush look relatively benign by comparison. Of course, both former presidents made mistakes and both pursued policies that most Democrats disagree with and both were lax on some ethical issues. Reagan, though, has an advantage over the senior Bush when it comes to memory and public relations.

Ken Silverstein of Harper's Magazine reminds us of some of the mythologies of the Reagan era:
Some years ago, I was talking to an older conservative woman about the Reagan era and she told me that whatever problems there were during that time, the president had been absolutely correct about one thing: “Something had to be done about the budget deficit.” Given that Reagan created what were then the biggest budget deficits in history, it was hard to imagine how she could say something so self-evidently ludicrous. Then Time magazine came along with a lengthy story on the supposed crisis of conservatism, with Reagan, weeping a single crystal tear, on the cover, and it becomes clear how such myths are born and flourish.


... In addition to the Reagan deficits, which during his first two years in office alone soared from $80 billion to $200 billion (and which were even larger as a percentage of GDP than the Bush deficits), this supposed “Golden Age” of conservatism wasn’t known for law and order. As Sean Wilentz wrote in Rolling Stone last year, “The most scandal-ridden administration in the modern era, apart from Nixon's, was Ronald Reagan's, now widely remembered through a haze of nostalgia as a paragon of virtue. A total of twenty-nine Reagan officials . . . were convicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying, and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development,” and three Cabinet members “left their posts under clouds of scandal.” ...

The senior Bush didn't do the American people any favors by granting pardons to officials who had worked for Reagan and were caught breaking the law. Currently, Bush Administration officials sometimes act as if they take for granted that the day will come when they are pardoned if they get into any trouble. That's a dangerous trend and invites more authoritarian, unlawful behavior.

The other thing about Reagan that shouldn't be forgotten is that things got seemingly easier during the 1980s as a result of the collapse of oil prices. The world wasn't finding enough oil to justify the prices, it was just producing enough oil to keep the oil prices low. In the long run, that will be seen by history as Reagan's biggest policy failure: doing nothing about the future of our energy independence. But then, Reagan had company: George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have wasted a total of 18 years also ignoring the need to ensure energy for our future. The media has seen to it that we look at the last 26 years with a degree of nostalgia that frankly isn't justified. The United States has been coasting on its past successes for a long time now. Unless we start taking the future of our country more seriously, we may end up paying a heavy price for almost three decades of neglect. If it isn't already too late.

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Another Staffer Sours on Bush

A fair number of Bush officials and staffers have left over the past six years disillusioned with Bush and his governing style. Paul O'Neil, Richard Clark and David Kuo come to mind. It's important to note that professionals in the Pentagon, CIA and State Department have left in significant numbers because of their disillusionment with the erratic policies, ideology and incompetence coming out of the White House. In fact, the bleeding has been so bad, that Republican or Democrat, the next president may have to hold a recruiting drive to bring some of the professionals back into government.

Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times has an article on Matthew Dowd, Bush's 2004 campaign strategist, who is among the latest to become disillusioned with Bush:
Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”


Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.

It was a bitter illusion for anyone to think in 2000 that George W. Bush was a uniter. In reality, Bush modeled himself more after Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich and there are signs he has more in common with Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter than most of us would like. Our president is a profoundly flawed man who hid his flaws behind a charm too many people found appealing without bothering to know much about the man and his dark ideological view of the world. The media didn't do its job because there was much in his background that suggested what kind of president he would be: a failure.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Nimitz Heading for Persian Gulf

I wish Congress had made clear its objection to the possibility of Bush's third war, this one in Iran. Three aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf will make for a tense period even if the Eisenhower is heading home. Here's the story from the Navy Times:
More than 6,000 sailors are spending their last weekend at home before the aircraft carrier Nimitz leaves its San Diego pier Monday on a course for the Persian Gulf.

Nimitz, a nuclear-powered carrier based at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, Calif., will replace the Norfolk, Va.-based Eisenhower and its carrier strike group and join the John C. Stennis carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa regions.

The pairing of the carriers is part of a beefed-up presence of U.S. and coalition naval forces “demonstrating the United States’ ability to build regional stability and bring long-term stability to the region,” Naval Air Forces officials said in a statement Friday.

The strike group will join the broader force in maritime security operations, including the boarding of suspicious vessels.

That last sentence bothers me. In fact, I'm bothered by how the British allowed their sailors to be captured. If you're doing embargoes in this era and you're boarding ships, you better have the force to protect your sailors from intruders in relatively narrow waterways essentially shared by both Iran and Iraq. I'm not at all satisfied with the explanations for what happened.

For some time, Bush has been looking for an excuse to ratchet up the tensions with Iran. Ratcheting up tensions might be useful if he had a plan which of course would be unusual for the White House.

Bush has given us a strategic failure in Iraq. Going to war with Iran will do nothing to undo that strategic failure. Will it happen? Will we have a third war? Logic says we won't, but logic has not been known to operate effectively in Bush's foreign policy.

We have gained nothing by Bush's war in Iraq. And we will risk losing much if we decide to stretch our resources with a war with Iran (and Iran potentially could lose a great deal more than it realizes). War is not inevitable but the fools in the Bush Administration, unfortunately, are matched by a set of fools in Tehran. There are level-headed people on both sides but it's not clear that they will prevail. The clock is ticking. And the use of nuclear weapons is potentially at hand. If the American people do not wish to be saddled with another Bush Administration fiasco, a potentially bigger fiasco I might add, now would be a good time to speak up.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Karl Rove Entertains Press Corps Heavyweights

It's a strange era. I've long been a critic of a media industry that gives away six and seven figure salaries (are we up to eight yet?) to big name people who don't really deserve it. And it's always interesting to see the reactions of the tuxedo set at special functions. Last year, Colbert was brilliant when he roasted the president and yet many media types squirmed and withheld their applause. But Karl Rove? Well, here's the always observant Dan Froomkin of White House Watch:
It seems fitting that even as Karl Rove's politicization of the White House's policy apparatus draws greater scrutiny from Congressional investigators, Rove himself last night was prancing in front of members of the Washington press corps, who appeared to be delighted.

"I'm MC Rove," the political guru yelped as he flailed about in an improvised rap sketch at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner.

It has to be seen to be believed. Here are video excerpts via C-Span and the AP.) Mary Ann Akers blogs for with the details.

Rove is indeed the Bush era's master of ceremonies -- and its leading beat-the-rapper. He is also peculiarly able to charm journalists.

Froomkin goes on to say that Karl Rove may be headed for more troubled times, though it would surprise no one if he continues to weather yet another scandal.

But it's the media that troubles me as I write this. Maybe the media no longer thinks much about where we are in these times when they have the salaries they do these days. With a single year of Katie Couric's salary, most of us could retire quite comfortably. But Couric merely represents for many of us the nonserious side of journalism, even if she gets in an honest piece of journalism now and then. She was hired to be perky, not to shine a bright light on places like Washington.

It's the supposedly more serious side of journalism that worries me, from Christopher Matthews manic 'unanalysis' (okay, maybe that's not a word) to George Will's bouts of outright fictions to Tim Russert's overt affection for Republican buffoonery to Joe Klein's egotistical belief that he holds all the answers to everything.

There are good journalists out there but I'm puzzled by the number of good journalists who slowly turn into petrified examples of conventional wisdom or turn into establishment journalists still plying their trade but who barely seem aware of what it is they're saying after a while or what it is that's in front of their noses that they so easily ignore a moment later after an irrelevant distraction like Anna Nicole Smith. And there are big shocks out there sometimes.

Some years ago, one of my bigger shocks was realizing how bizarrely conservative David Brinkley was becoming near the end of his life. This was a guy who had nearly the same legendary status as Walter Cronkite and who covered many political campaigns over the years. In his last years, he hinted on several occassions that what we needed was not democracy but some sort of authoritarian rule. It was weird listening to him.

I can easily understand the cynicism of Washington journalists (and there's the added factor that Brinkley's position seemed to shift over the years) but to turn that cynicism towards something even worse? What was that about? And what was Brinkley's show about? Cokie Roberts. Sam Donaldson. George Will. Was that the new definition of fair and balanced?

The show goes on with George Stephanopoulos but at least over the years George Will was clearly identified as the conservative, but what have Donaldson and Roberts been all along? Conventional wisdom? The continuing voices of Brinkley's cynicism? Like neoconservatives touting the advantages of invading Iraq, I don't take Donaldson or Roberts very seriously except as symptoms of a breakdown in Washington, a breakdown largely driven by the money and power-grabbing of the far right and sometimes supported by weathervane politicians.

One of the ironies of the current era is that a great deal of what we know about Bush Administration scandals and incompetence is because there are still people who know how to do journalism who don't get paid much, and there are people who speak up who care about the law and care about how our government is supposed to function and these people are sometimes Democrats, sometimes independents, and, yes, sometimes Republicans.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Justice, Texas Style...Er, Rove Style

The United States is not perfect but one of the things that tends to make us different from other countries is that the powerful do not automatically get a free pass. Lately, of course, it seems powerful Republicans have been getting so many free passes that they take for granted that they can do anything. There's Tom Delay, for example, whose arrogance got so out of control that he started saying things to people like, "I am the government." People that arrogant tend to be genuinely astonished when they're caught.

The powerful in Texas have always had a reputation of getting away with more nonsense than the powerful elsewhere in the United States. Karl Rove was in his element when he was helping Governor George W. Bush in Texas. However, Rove perfected his gamemanship in Texas and has applied his lessons in six years at the White House. Rove has learned his craft so well it's not certain he will ever be brought to justice. The fact that he emerged from Leakgate without being indicted has astonished everyone who cares about the rule of law. That's not a slam against Fitzgerald, that's just acknowledgement that Rove is very slick.

In a number of scandals in Washington, Karl Rove has a knack of showing up one way or the other behind the scenes of the major players in each scandal. Just to name a few, Rove is linked to Leakgate (he was directly involved in the leaking), he's linked to Purgegate (he appears to have recommended that US attorneys be fired and one of his closest associates was called to replace a US attorney in Arkansas), he's linked to the lies that were told to sell the war in Iraq (he was a member of the White House Iraq Group whose job was to sell the war), he's linked to the swiftboating of John Kerry (some of the people involved had longtime associations with Rove) and he's linked to Jack Abramoff (actually a lot of Republicans are linked to Abramoff but Rove is linked in several ways, as is his former assistant Susan Ralston).

I was busy last Friday and missed a post by Steve Soto of The Left Coaster (hat tip to Firedoglake for keeping the information alive):
While the Democrats are focused elsewhere, the Bush Administration is trying today to close off any future damage from the Jack Abramoff mess by tanking the government's case against former industry lobbyist and Interior Department deputy J. Steven Griles. In a court filing this morning, the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department will now allow Griles to plead simply to one count of obstruction of justice by lying to Congress. But Justice will also ask the court for only the minimum sentence for Griles, and will not demand that Griles cooperate with the government’s pursuit of others, including possibly Abramoff, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, GOP representative John Doolittle ☼, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Grover Norquist. In essence, the Bush Justice Department is covering its tracks and eliminating any trail to the White House by scuttling this case and allowing Griles to walk away from cooperating with them on other investigations.

In fact, the Bush Administration is trying to bury the Abramoff case itself.

It was just this past January that Justice notified Griles that he was a target in the Abramoff case, and now the Bush Administration has moved to remove Griles as a possible problem for them in that case.


What is also true is that DOJ has run the Abramoff case not from a regional office under a United States Attorney, but rather from headquarters using a revolving door of prosecutors and section chiefs, allowing one constant person to maintain control of the case through this turnover: Criminal Division head Alice Fisher, who has already been accused by Democrats of being an under experienced partisan hack (hat tip to Jane Hamsher). Fisher is now in a position through this turmoil and turnover beneath her to sink the Abramoff case and shut off the Griles problem for the White House while the Democrats are focused on the misdeeds at the district office level.

If the Democrats knew what they were doing today, they would note this action by Justice and immediately demand the appointment of a special counsel due to the obvious conflict of interest here. Of course Alberto would reject such a request, but 1) Democrats want Gonzales to do exactly that as a further nail in his coffin; and 2) Democrats need to signal to the federal judge that she shouldn't accept the government's self-serving plea offer here.

I suppose Karl Rove isn't in everything that is crooked in the Bush Administration but I suspect he's the one at risk if the Abramoff investigation goes too far. R. Jeffrey Smith of The Washington Post notes some curious instances of the White House avoiding using official channels to do business from the White House, political business; in other words, games they don't want the public to know about (hat tip again to Jame Hamsher of Firedoglake):
A Democratic House committee chairman yesterday told the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign to retain copies of all e-mails sent or received by White House officials using e-mail accounts under their control, raising the political stakes in the congressional inquiry into U.S. attorneys' firings.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said his broadly written request was based on evidence that White House officials -- particularly aides to top political adviser Karl Rove -- have used their politically related e-mail accounts to hide the conduct of official business regarding the prosecutor firings and other matters being investigated by Congress.


Waxman noted for example that J. Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, used a "" e-mail account last August to discuss the replacement of the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, Bud Cummins, according to e-mails released to Congress by the White House.

Barry Jackson, a deputy to Rove, in 2003 used a "" e-mail account to consult with Neil G. Volz, then an aide to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, about nominating one of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients for a Medal of Freedom, according to a copy of an e-mail. Abramoff is now serving a prison sentence for bank fraud, and Volz plead guilty to conspiracy charges last year.

Susan B. Ralston, while she was executive assistant to Rove, similarly used "" and "" e-mail accounts to confer in 2001 and 2003 with Abramoff, her former boss, about matters of interest to Abramoff's clients.

In a related e-mail, an Abramoff aide said Ralston had warned that "it is better to not put this stuff in writing in [the White House] . . . email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc."

There's a stink coming from the White House that we can smell all the way out here in California. And there appears to be major damage control inside the White House and Justice Department of the kind that Congress needs to look at closely. Rove is involved. No one should have any doubt of that. I think we we're finally beginning to get some clues on how the no-bid contract system may have worked. That means Dick Cheney. There are signs that Cheney is also linked to the Cunningham scandal (take a peek over at Talking Points Memo). What a pair: Rove and Cheney. And an indulgent president.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Growing White House/Justice Dept. Scandal

The liaison between the White House and Justice Department is taking the fifth; here's the AP story by Laurie Kellman in the Houston Chronicle:
Monica Goodling, a senior Justice Department official involved in the firings of federal prosecutors, will refuse to answer questions at upcoming Senate hearings, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, her lawyer said Monday.


Goodling was Gonzales' senior counsel and White House liaison until she took a leave of absence earlier this month. She was subpoenaed last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee along with several of Gonzales' other top aides.

Note the sudden leave of absence as the scandal was deepening. So far, the huge document dumps by the Bush Administration (designed to waste time and slow down investigations) as their response to the political purge scandal has backfired. Too many curious e-mails are showing up, including e-mail accounts from White House officials using RNC e-mail accounts apparently to avoid accountability. This truly is a big deal. Steve Soto of The Left Coaster offers some perspective on the growing scandal (emphasis mine):
The White House’s use of nongovernmental email accounts and servers to mask their political activities done on government time is about to blow up in their faces. It has been noticed by the media and congressional investigators that Karl Rove’s political operation inside the White House has this habit of using RNC and Bush/Cheney campaign email accounts and servers for ostensibly official business conducted inside the White House. In several email releases over the last week tied to the fired federal prosecutors cover-up, it has been noticed that White House officials were using nongovernmental accounts and servers to communicate with the Justice Department.

Henry Waxman has caught up to them, and is now telling both the RNC and Bush/Cheney 2004 to save their emails from purging, as they are now the subject of his inquiry. Sure, the RNC and Bush/Cheney will now furiously delete all these emails if they haven’t done so already, but just the fact that there is a record of such communication means that: 1) it is essential to demand that Rove and others be put under oath to testify to Congress; and 2) claims of executive privilege go out the window if the White House was conducting the allegedly protected communications in a nonsecure, purely political manner through outside cut outs.

As CREW noted today and previously, the White House would use such means to avoid the provisions of the Presidential Records Act, which requires the administration to maintain a publicly accessible record of their actions.

Using e-mail accounts from political operations like the Republican National Committee simply destroys the executive privilege defense. This is a bipartisan issue. If Republicans in Congress still believe in the rule of law, they have to join the Democrats or the government is simply nothing more than the Mayberry Mafia.

Josh Marshall, whose TPM team did the investigation that broke the story open, has this to say today about the curious RNC e-mail accounts:
According to the National Journal, about 95% of Karl Rove's email traffic has been on these RNC email accounts.

Now, I don't know all the legal and constitutional ins and outs of this debate. But whatever claim the White House may have to protect everyone at the White House from congressional scrutiny by invoking executive privilege, this use of outside private email accounts may turn out to be too clever by half.

Can executive privilege even conceiveably cover emails from the Republican National Committee? ...

We already know that Harriet Miers was involved in the scandal. We already know that Karl Rove discussed firing the attorneys. We know the liaison between the White House and the Justice Department is taking the fifth. The story is now just as much in the White House as it is in the Justice Department. The American people deserve straight answers, under oath, and in the light of day.

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Gonzales Appears to Be Doing Bush's Bidding

I'm short on time for blogging these days and hope soon to get on a more blog-friendly schedule but, for now, here's as relevant a story as one can see on the firing of the US attorneys; Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has been in the thick of things:
For some, it is a matter of outrage that President Bush has renewed his support for Alberto Gonzales even after new evidence has emerged that the Attorney General has repeatedly lied about the US Attorney Purge. Myself, I see it more as a matter of confirmation and almost a welcome one in that it confirms the nature of the debate we're having.

This isn't a case where Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of the president's standards or bungled some process. This is the standard. The Attorney General has done and is doing precisely what is expected of him.

Consider this.

When Alberto Gonzales went up to the Hill earlier this year and answered questions about the US Attorney firings, he lied about why they'd been fired. When evidence revealed that what he had told the Senate was not true, he told the country in his televised press conference that he hadn't been directly involved in the process and thus had not knowingly misled the Senate. Friday's document dump showed that that too was a lie. These of course are only the most conspicuous examples and I leave aside the numerous instances of his aides lying on his behalf.

A growing number of Republicans are beginning to recognize that we have a serious problem in the White House. If our government is to have integrity, if our system of justice is to have credibility, if our constitution is to function properly, something has to give.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bill Moyers on Recovering Democracy

Most Americans still have little idea how much our democracy is under threat by right wing Republicans and a class of wealthy people who have little interest in the rest of us.

The current era began with Ronald Reagan. Now Reagan was not a deep man, though one can loosely argue that there was a decent core to him even if his policies were not particularly compassionate. He was at one time a Democrat but became a Republican later in life.

It seems Reagan's political perspective began to change during World War Two when taxes went sky high as our nation fought all out war on two fronts with two very aggressive and capable nations, Nazi Germany and a militarized, fascist Japan. It was a tall order and the consequences of failure were grim. Sacrifices were required of everyone, even those on the home front.

At the time, Ronald Reagan was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood for a series of largely forgettable pictures. His income put him in the highest income bracket and he didn't like the tax rate. Keep in mind that he was of military age and Americans older than him were dying in the Pacific, North Africa and Europe. But he didn't like the tax rate and was offended. There have been worse right wingers than Ronald Reagan but he shares with many of them the tendency they have of putting themselves at the center of the universe at the exclusion of others, except perhaps those who are like-minded. Reagan's tax rate was very high during the 1940s, but he was still living very comfortably. Apparently, not comfortably enough.

There are any number of images from recent years that carry the clear message that there is trouble in the Republican Party and that it has lost its way. But two stick in my mind. The first image is of Ronald Reagan trying to look like an aristocrat with his long black boots, tails, and riding crop while sitting on a horse like a 19th century gentleman. When I saw that image, I went uh-oh....we have a powerful man trying to resurrect the aristocracy. Keep in mind that Ronald Reagan is now something of a political moderate compared to some of the right wingers now in our government.

The second powerful image of what's wrong with the Republican Party is George W. Bush strutting on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in his flight suit; here I thought was a man who loves illusions, one-upmanship and the trappings of power. In other words, an authoritarian and a fraud. Our nation indeed has a problem.

Bill Moyers has been writing a series of brilliants speeches about the state of our nation and our democracy for some time now. Here's his latest by way of Truthout:
I've been spending time with Woodrow Wilson and others of his era because my colleagues and I are producing a documentary series on the momentous struggles that gripped America a century or so years ago at the birth of modern politics. Woodrow Wilson clearly understood the nature of power. In his now-forgotten political testament called The New Freedom, Wilson described his reformism in plain English no one could fail to understand: "The laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the week." He wrote: "Don't deceive yourselves for a moment as to the power of great interests which now dominate our development... There are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States. They are going to own it if they can." And he warned: "There is no salvation in the pitiful condescensions of industrial masters... prosperity guaranteed by trustees has no prospect of endurance."

Now Wilson took his stand at the center of power - the presidency itself - and from his stand came progressive income taxation, the federal estate tax, tariff reform, the challenge to great monopolies and trusts, and, most important, a resolute spirit "to deal with the new and subtle tyrannies according to their deserts."

How we need that spirit today! When Woodrow Wilson spoke of democracy releasing the energies of every human being, he was declaring that we cannot leave our destiny to politicians, elites, and experts; either we take democracy into our own hands, or others will take democracy from us.


In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether "We, the People" is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality - one nation, indivisible - or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.

We seem to be holding our breath today, trying to decide what kind of country we want to be. But in this state of suspension, powerful interests are making off with the booty. They remind me of the card shark in Texas who said to his competitor in the poker game: "Now play the cards fairly Reuben. I know what I dealt you."


"Things have reached such a state of affairs," the journalist George Orwell once wrote, "that the first duty of every intelligent person is to pay attention to the obvious." The editors of The Economist have done just that. The pro-business magazine considered by many to be the most influential defender of capitalism on the newsstand, produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American child can get to the top. A growing body of evidence - some of it I have already cited - led the editors to conclude that with "income inequality growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age and social mobility falling behind, the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society." The editors point to an "education system increasingly stratified by social class" in which poor children "attend schools with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries" and great universities that are "increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities." They conclude that America's great companies have made it harder than ever "for people to start at the bottom and rise up the company hierarchies by dint of hard work and self-improvement."


...let me say: I have been a journalist too long to look at the world through rose-colored glasses. I believe the only way to be in the world is to see it as it really is and then to take it on despite the frightening things you see. The Italian philosopher Gramschi spoke of the "the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will." With this philosophy your generation can bring about the Third American Revolution. The first won independence from the Crown. The second won equal rights for women and for the sons and daughters of slavery. This third - the revolution of the 21st Century - will bring about a democracy that leaves no one out....

It's a long speech and my excerpts hardly do it justice. Give it a read. I don't know if an age of reform is coming or not, but there is a powerful need for reform. The winds are shifting and we'll soon know whether Americans can take back their democracy....or not.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Uh Oh....

Here's the Associated Press story from Jim Krane:
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards captured 15 British sailors and marines at gunpoint Friday in the Persian Gulf - an audacious move coming during heightened tensions between the West and Iran.

U.S. and British officials said a boarding party from the frigate HMS Cornwall was seized about 10:30 a.m. during a routine inspection of a merchant ship inside Iraqi territorial waters near the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway.

Iran's Foreign Ministry insisted the Britons were operating in Iranian waters.

A U.S. Navy official in Bahrain, Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl, said Iran's Revolutionary Guard naval forces were responsible and had broadcast a brief radio message saying the British party was not harmed.

This is not something we need at this time. I'll reserve comment until we learn more.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

As Bush Loses Leverage in Middle East, Democracy Going Nowhere

Was the invasion in Iraq really about democracy? I don't know the answer. Democracy certainly was never the sole reason we went to Iraq. The cynical side of me concludes more and more that it was just public relations to distract Americans from the Bush Administration's many less than admirable reasons for the invasion. And then there's the fact that several of the administration's goals were in fact contradictory. Abu Ghraib and setting up Paul Bremer as a viceroy was about as contradictory as you can get if democracy was the goal.

One sign of Bush's failed foreign policy is simply the fact that democracy is not faring all that well in the broader Middle East. There have been several pessimistic stories about Egypt in the last couple of years when it comes to democracy. Here's a post by Kevin Drum of The Washinton Monthy on the subject:
DEMOCRACY DEMOTION IN EGYPT....The Egyptian ruling party has passed a raft of constitutional changes and has set a date for a referendum to approve them: March 26, five days from now. Why so fast? Because that gives the opposition no time to mobilize protests. Marc Lynch explains the proposed modifications:
The changes are blatantly, almost absurdly, authoritarian and antidemocratic. Judicial oversight of elections will be eliminated....Contested Presidential elections will be virtually impossible....Parties based on religion would be explicitly banned....the regime, under NDP control, will retain an iron grip on the licensing of political parties...."Counter-terrorism" provisions will render a whole range of highly controversial, intrusive security practices Constitutional, making the de facto security state into a de jure security state.

One thing to keep in mind is that as America's credibility has fallen around the world, and as Bush's negative numbers have shot up in nation after nation, there is little patience in the broader Middle East these days for Bush Administration figures who wag their fingers at lack of progress on democracy or human rights. This is a big deal. We're not talking about a political cycle that will change with a Democratic president or a different kind of Republican president coming to office. The damage that Bush has done will take time to repair.

There are also growing problems in Pakistan. It's not certain which way things will go in the next year or two or three. Musharraf is not exactly a great example of democracy and yet there is a real danger that Pakistani extremists may soon gain the upper hand. Ahmed Rashid of The Washington Post writes on the growing crisis in Pakistan:
In the rapidly unfolding crisis in Pakistan, no matter what happens to President Pervez Musharraf -- whether he survives politically or not -- he is a lame duck. He is unable to rein in Talibanization in Pakistan or guide the country toward a more democratic future.

Since March 9, when Musharraf suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, public protests have escalated every day -- as has a violent crackdown by the police and intelligence agencies on the media and the nation's legal fraternity.


Musharraf is now too weak to pursue policies that could keep his back-stabbers in check, restore his credibility at home and abroad, and pursue his agenda of remaining in power for the next five years.

It is far better that he revert to the promise he made when he seized power in 1999: to return the country to democracy. ...

It is in the interest of the United States to support such an exit strategy. The military can no longer counter the phenomenal growth of Islamic extremism in Pakistan through offensives alone. What the country needs is greater political consensus and a popularly elected government, and to replace the extortions of the mullahs with the return of day-to-day parliamentary politics. ...

I can't emphasize often enough the blunder that Bush and Cheney made by taking their eyes off of Afghanistan and putting Pakistan on the same back burner. Iraq was contained; it was Afghanistan and Pakistan that needed the attention of the Bush Administration. Now it's uncertain what's going to happen in Pakistan and what kind of government and policies will follow.

By going to Iraq, the United States has lost enormous leverage in foreign affairs.

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Jane Hamsher on John and Elizabeth Edwards

The bad news is that Elizabeth Edwards has had a recurrence of her cancer, though it's treatable. The good news is that Elizabeth Edwards is still the remarkable person she has been all along. No one believes in John Edwards more than Elizabeth, so the campaign goes on.

In January, Jane Hamsher had an operation for cancer but insisted on being part of the team of bloggers watching the Scooter Libby trial in Washington. Republicans ready to exploit the Edwards situation and thick-headed conventional wisdom types who are ethically and socially challenged these days should keep in mind that they face a considerable force in Jane Hamsher; she's ready to take on all nonsense. Here's Jane's post from Firedoglake:
I was discussing the prospects for the Edwards campaign this morning with some friends after hearing the rumor that following the press conference, Edwards still had a full schedule booked. Someone mentioned that if in fact Elizabeth's cancer had returned, it didn't mean that Edwards would necessarily drop out — he might elect to stay in the race anyway. She might want him to.

"That's what I'd do," I said.

... All I can say was that it was really important to me to stay in the game following my surgery, to know that this "thing" hadn't beaten me and I had a life that it was not going to derail. Even though Christy, Marcy, Pach, Swopa, Jeralyn and Arianna practically had to prop me up and my brainpower was marginal when I was in DC, I was at the Libby trial. Every. Single. Day. I needed to know, for myself, that even though accomodations had to be made, I was still living my life on my terms. I fully understand why Elizabeth made the decision she did. I can't know what it's like to be in her shoes — her cancer is now incurable, but treatable, which must be really, really scary – but I like to think I would've had the courage to do the same thing. It's awfully brave.

Elizabeth has always been really supportive. She called me the day before my surgery in January to wish me luck. It meant a lot. I wish her the best of luck as well. ...

John Edwards is very high on my list of presidential candidates though I haven't committed yet. But I do know this. There is a shifting wind in this country. I don't know if a Democrat will win the presidency in 2008 and whether that would be followed by a few years of serious reform, but change is coming. The last fifteen years have exposed a level of rot in Washington that the American people can no longer ignore. That rot is not limited to right wing Republicans. Even a small percentage of Democrats seem far behind the times and ignorant of the issues facing our country. And then, there's the lobbyists and the campaign contributors with deep pockets and the right wing media machines and even supposedly neutral media types who haven't got a clue how out of touch they are. Most of the Democratic presidential runners currently in the race would make fine presidents and would be a vast improvement over the current occupant in the White House, but there are only two Democrats, in my mind, who truly get it; John Edwards is one of them.

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Faux News Exposed

Fox News really is the Republican propaganda network. Daily Kos posts the definitive news on the 'fair and balanced' news channel:
... this nugget from Kerry pollster Mark Mellman...
Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent. ...

We have a president who hears only what he wants to hear. Apparently, a significant number of Republicans have caught the same virus.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bush's Arrogance Continues

There is no humility in George W. Bush. He can feign humility for the cameras but the politics of closed door, behind-the-scenes arrogance is his natural milieu. It makes perfect sense that he wants some of his top aides to testify to Congress behind closed doors, without transcripts and without taking an oath to tell the truth. Bush's comments about fishing expeditions against 'honorable public servants' rings rather hollow if one of the people he is referring to is Karl Rove.

The media shouldn't forget that part of the issue here was a backdoor attempt by the White House to avoid scrutiny by changing the way US Attorneys are appointed. Bush wanted to bypass the Senate so he could fire people who were not political enough for his taste while at the same time making it possible to get administration cronies into US Attorney without being vetted by Congress, a co-equal branch of government if the president would care to remember. Today, the Senate changed that rule back to its original form by a vote of 94-2.

Dan Froomkin of White House Watch had a post this morning well before Bush's defensive press conference and explains why the president is, after all, so defensive:
Last night's 3,000-page Justice Department document dump, still dribbling out into the public domain, appears to be a much more carefully screened release than the smaller but newsier one last week.

In barely acknowledging the White House role in the highly controversial, possibly politically-motivated firing of eight U.S. attorneys, these new documents may best be described as a lot of chaff, intended to deflect attention from evidence in the previous dump that the purge originated at the White House, was executed by the White House, and was extensively discussed with White House aides.

Froomkin is probably right that Monday night's document dump was much more screened than the first one. And yet, more issues keep getting raised. Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly points out two problems:
...DOJ hasn't released any documents from prior to the purge showing how they judged the performance of the folks they were firing. All we have is a summary document from after the purge, where DOJ apparatchiks are tripping over themselves trying to figure out just what those reasons were. But of course, that doesn't make sense. If they had really had firm, irreproachable reasons for firing the "USA-8," they would have just dug up the old memos that spelled out those reasons and transferred them to the summary sheet. Or maybe just released the original memos themselves. Instead they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.


...the five firings with the weakest official explanations are the same five prosecutors who have been suspected of being either too tough on Republican corruption cases or too weak on Democratic ones. You can't very well put that on your summary sheet, though, which probably explains why the DOJies had trouble coming up with good reasons for firing them. The dots are practically begging to be connected here.

So where are the original memos explaining beforehand why the eight were fired, including the five with the weakest case for firing? I'm sure we can expect some classic stonewalling by an administration that didn't count on being caught redhanded.

Finally, Truthout has an article by Robert L. Borosage that bluntly lays out the case against the Bush Administration and their conservatives friends:
...conservatives are acutely aware that they represent a minority, not a majority, position in America. From Nixon to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove, they play politics and exploit America's divides with back-alley brass knuckles-from Reagan's welfare queen to Bush's impugning the patriotism of Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War hero who literally sacrificed his limbs in the service of his country. They excel in the politics of personal destruction, as Democratic presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and John Kerry discovered. And in the grand tradition of the establishment in American politics, they are relentless in seeking to suppress the vote, particularly of the poor and minorities who would vote against them in large numbers.

Gonzales' imbroglio is a direct expression of this. At its core is the run-up to the 2006 elections with the Republicans under siege for the most corrupt Congress ever. The White House and Republican politicians grew exercised at Republican prosecutors who they considered too lax in exposing potential Democratic corruption, too avid in pursuing Republican crimes or too slow in prosecuting reports of "voter fraud," the GOP code for using investigations to disrupt minority registration and get out the vote programs, and to intimidate wary black and Latino voters. Justice was ranking U.S. attorneys based on whether they were "loyal Bushies."

The axing of David C. Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, is the archetype. With New Mexico up for grabs, Iglesias was being pressured directly and shamelessly by Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and Mickey Barnett, the attorney representing the Bush campaign in New Mexico to hustle up indictments on alleged incidents of voter fraud. (Iglesias found no evidence of any program designed to influence an election.) Vulnerable Rep. Heather Wilson lobbied him to bring indictments against state Democratic officials before the election to help make the point that when it comes to corruption, everyone does it. When Iglesias refused to respond, he was targeted despite glowing performance reviews. The firings took place as an object lesson for U.S .attorneys headed into the donnybrook that will be the 2008 election. As Iglesias put it , "main Justice was up to its eyeballs in partisan political maneuvers."

Everyone does it. That was Nixon's excuse but, as John Dean has pointed out, the current abuses emanating from the White House are worse than Watergate. Perhaps Borosage puts things more bluntly than some people would prefer. Nevertheless, we have never seen anything quite like the Bush Administration.

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Latest White House Scandal Growing

First things first. Get over to Talking Points Memo or TPMMuckraker to get the latest on what's happening with the US Attorney scandal; these guys broke the story and are the point men for the story. The major newspapers and networks are finally on to it and adding some juicy bits to the unfolding scandal.

One word is sufficient to describe this latest scandal: arrogance. The leading figures of the Bush Administration have convinced themselves that they're above the law; and they thought if they were clever enough they could get away with playing political dynamite with our system of US Attorneys. And now they're squirming and dodging and avoiding testimony before Congress; Think Progress notes the following story:
MSNBC’s Mike Viquiera: “Fred Fielding, he’s the White House counsel, he was just here meeting with the House Judiciary Committee. He made the following offer to the Congress, both House and Senate. He said Rove and Harriet Miers would be offered to the committees for their testimony in the Alberto Gonzales prosecutors scandal. However, it would be unsworn testimony, not under oath, behind closed doors, and no transcript would be permitted. Now, that is not what Congress is looking for.”

This offer is similar to the deal that was made to Bush and Cheney by the rubber stamp Congress when the Republicans were in control. During the investigation of the White House leak of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame's identity to the press, Bush and Cheney were allowed to testify behind closed doors in an informal setting about their role in the affair; to this day the American people have no idea what the president and vice president said. Since their testimony, significant evidence has come to light that Dick Cheney played a key role in the smearing of Joe Wilson. In addition, Bush supposedly gave Cheney the authority to declassify some crucial information, but that too had the smell of political convenience. There is also evidence to suggest that President Bush considered it important to protect Karl Rove from the fallout over the CIA leak. Karl Rove has no official role in national security. He is strictly a political adviser. Protecting a political adviser makes it very clear that the CIA leak was about politics at its worst; it was also about abusing national security procedure for the sake of politics.

In the last six years, Republican leaders in Congress may have felt comfortable giving Bush a free pass despite abundant evidence of his incompetence and recklessness and despite a growing number of serious ethical breaches within his administration and outright abuses of power, but the American people are increasingly restless; there have been a number of disturbing revelations and Americans want answers. It looks like, with the Democrats in control, that Congress is finally ready to demand some accountability.

US Attorneys are indeed political appointments but they have a special role in safeguarding the integrity of our government. They must be above the taint of politics. When there are those in an administration who try to rig what US Attorneys can prosecute or not, our government and our democracy is damaged. We have a problem, and once again, it is not clear that President Bush understands that he has an obligation to fix it. What we do not need is another public relations massage from the White House. We need to restore the integrity of our government. And that may be difficult given the number of lies that have been coming out of the White House.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Henry Waxman and the Valerie Plame Hearing

Someday, the Republican Party will rebuild itself and they'll start electing officials to Washington again who are interested in governing and enforcing the law in a reasonable manner. One of the bizarre qualities of the Republican Party these days are the numbers in Congress and the White House who are more interested in a right wing game of winning 'technical' points in some sort one-upmanship with rational conservatives, moderates and liberals while ripping off the American people for pure personal gain and some distorted sense of prestige. I've never seen so much outright lying, corruption and delusional thinking. Those are words many of us were reluctant to use five years ago but how else to describe what we're seeing with our own eyes?

Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby outed a CIA covert operative for a petty game of payback because they didn't like having their lies about a supposed Niger/Iraq connection exposed. That's the bottom line. Well, actually, the bottom line is worse. Even if we manage to stabilize Iraq before we leave, the war was a waste of money, time, lives and national credibility. We now know that you never put right wingers in charge of a government. Even conservatives, moderates and liberals require oversight, checks and balances and accountability if we're to get anything good out of our government. I prefer liberals and moderates since they often have been the source of real reform in our country and we're clearly in need of reform at the moment.

If we're to have reform, we're going to need more people like Rep. Henry Waxman who has always been an effective watchdog in Congress. Emptywheel of Firedoglake has a casual though excellent summary of the Waxman hearings on Valerie Plame and the irresponsible disclosure of classified information by the White House:
I was skeptical, at first, about a Friday hearing. Democrats have ended the Republican practice of 2.5 day work weeks. But Congressmen do need to be home in their districts on weekends for constituent services. Which means if you’re going to hold a 4 hour hearing on a Friday, you’re really asking your members to jump through hoops to attend the meeting. And Waxman got that commitment from enough of his members to make it an effective hearing. Whereas Davis couldn’t persuade enough Republicans to attend even to give him a chance to launch his bid at closing the hearing.

The result reminded me of the rump hearing the Democrats had on the intelligence leading to the Iraq War—for most of the hearing, Tom Davis was the only Republican present. With cameos, of course, from Congressman Westmoreland so he could leer at Valerie. In truth, the Republicans were most consistently represented by a never-named attorney, a tall guy who sat right next to Davis in Congressman Dan Burton's seat. The lawyer had a look of “oh shit” on his face for the better part of the hearing and he kept swallowing his lips when he thought. For much of the hearing, Davis and GOP Counsel were sitting there, huddled with two aides, which really added to the look of desperation. And by the end, for most of Victoria Toensing’s appearance, the only one (aside from a few aides) sitting on the Republican side was GOP Counsel. That’s what they’ve come to—sending their lawyer in their stead, to protect them from the oversight they’re supposed to be exercising.


The truly great part of the hearing was the pairing of Bill Leonard and James Knodell. Because Waxman and Hodes and the rest of the committee grilled Knodell, but they did so using the standards Leonard established. Leonard's one of those stiff law and order types, so it framed Knodell as breaking Leonard's laws, not Knodell's. It was like a game of tennis which the Administration lost, badly. Mr. Leonard, what should happen when there is an unauthorized leak of classified information? Mr. Knodell, did that happen? Mr. Leonard? Mr. Knodell?

And, as we now know, between July 24, when the CIA first voices its concerns about the leak, and September 16, when DOJ finally decided to launch a criminal investigation, the White House did not conduct the Administrative investigation that is required by law in cases of unauthorized leaks of classified information.


Which leaves us, two days later, to reflect on what the Hearing accomplished. Importantly, Waxman gave Valerie Wilson an opportunity to correct, under oath, many of the fictions the right has propagated about her in the last four years. Just as importantly, the Hearing served to remind us (as Patrick Fitzgerald did in his closing statements) that Valerie Wilson is a person, not an argument. Not only does she have kids and a husband. But she used to have an important role in protecting our country from the proliferation of nuclear weapons. She served our country, and the gratitude our country showed her was to expose her, her family, her colleagues, and the assets she recruited to a great deal of danger.

Actually, our entire nation has become endangered by right wing partisans more interested in winning bizarre 'technical' points than in the truth, the facts or responsible behavior. We can only hope the American people will continue to catch up to the complete failure and uselessness of today's right wing philosophy, even as the most partisan of Republicans continue to write fictions for Fox News or other right wing outlets. The only reason right wingers continue to write and speak their fictions is that they got away with it for the better part of fifteen years. It's time to turn the page on America's future.

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Bush Administration Has No Credibility Left

I should qualify the title of this post somewhat. Unless members of the Bush Administration face subpoena power or the risk of perjury charges or other legal ramifications, they have no credibility. When they are caught in their contradictions, it is amazing how fast they begin to backtrack, or rather, give the appearance of backtracking. It takes an enormous dose of arrogance, for example, for a president to promise an investigation into the outing of a covert CIA operative and then discover four years later that no such internal investigation ever took place.

The arrogance just rolls on, without apology and without respect for our constitution or the important checks and balances built into our system of government. Every presidency since the founding of our republic has been subject to accountability. That is how our system of government was set up. But no president, Nixon included, has ever fought harder to avoid accountability nor given so much reason to call for accountability than George W. Bush. The firing of the US Attorneys for political reasons was an act of bad faith, effectively an abuse of power and an undermining the integrity of our government. The Washington Post has the story on US Attorney Carol Lam (a Bush appointee in his first term and respected Republican) and the sudden anxiety months ago within the Bush Administration that Lam was apparently doing her job with too much competence:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam "sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants" in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA's top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel's office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.

"Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following," Sampson wrote, referring to "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

The FBI raided Foggo's home and former CIA office on May 12. He was indicted along with Wilkes on fraud and money-laundering charges on Feb. 13 -- two days before Lam left as U.S. attorney.

Whether it's Republicans in Congress like Duke Cunningham or Tom DeLay, whether it's people who support the Republican Party like Jack Abramoff or Ralph Reed or Grover Norquist or Ann Coulter, or whether it's people in the Bush Administration like Scooter Libby or Alberto Gonzales or Karl Rove, it's becoming difficult to keep track of the scandals being perpetrated by this generation of right wing Republicans. There are still honest and competent Republicans around but they're obviously not in control of the GOP at the moment. The problem begins at the top where there is a complete lack of leadership. From now on, until there is serious accountability within the Bush Administration, everything these folks touch is going to have an odor to it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Talking Points Memo in the News

It's been weird hearing Talking Points Memo or "TPMMuckraker"mentioned in the news the last few days as the guys who noticed the US Attorney story early on, stuck with it, and largely blew it open. But part of the reason they stuck with it is because they were familiar with some of the US Attorneys from earlier stories, particularly Carol Lam who had pursued the Duke Cunningham case. It's good old fashioned journalism that employs the modern tools of blogs, reader tips and the internet.

Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo are featured in a Los Angeles Times story by Terry McDermott:
IN a third-floor Flower District walkup with bare wooden floors, plain white walls and an excitable toy poodle named Simon, six guys dressed mainly in T-shirts and jeans sit all day in front of computer screens at desks arranged around the oblong room's perimeter, pecking away at their keyboards and, bit by bit, at the media establishment.

The world headquarters of TPM Media is pretty much like any small newsroom, anywhere, except for the shirts. And the dog. And the quiet. Most newsrooms are notably noisy places, full of shrill phones and quacking reporters. Here there is mainly quiet, except for the clacking keyboards.

It's 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the Midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country — the Bush administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys — was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

Read the whole story. You can begin to understand why some powerful Republicans dislike blogs. A good blog like Talking Points Memo can restore journalism's ability to shine a bright shining light on government shennigans (though keep in mind that Josh Marshall and his team are often doing real journalism, such as making phone calls and chasing down information, etc.).

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The White House Scandals Just Keep Rolling On

I can't keep track anymore. If we include Congressional scandals on the Republican side with the growing number of White House scandals, it's hard to keep track of what's happening. It's all the media's fault, of course. If the media had been doing it's job from 2001 on, we could have dealt very easily with one scandal after another. Say one about every three months. That would be about twenty-five scandals by now. That's assuming the bums hadn't been voted out of office in 2002, or 2004 or 2006. Dealing with all these scandals at once is just plain hard work.

George W. Bush knows a lot about hard work. He tells us, after all, that being president is hard work. So hard that sometimes there just isn't time to do those pesky investigations that Bush keeps promising, such as determining who outed Valerie Plame Wilson and thereby ruined a CIA operation that dealt with the investigation of weapons of mass destruction, which happened to be what Mrs. Wilson was doing. Apparently it was too hard for Bush to do a proper internal investigation and see to it that those responsible were fired, if not prosecuted, or, at the very least, that people's security clearance was revoked. Think Progress has the story:
Dr. James Knodell, director of the Office of Security at the White House, revealed today that to his knowledge the White House has never ordered a probe, report, or sanctions as a result of the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. “I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office,” he said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said he was “shocked” by Knodell’s testimony, adding that the White House’s lack of action was a “breach on top of a breach.”

Knodell claimed the White House did not investigate because there was an outside investigation taking place. But Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted that the investigation “didn’t start until months and months later, and [only] had the purpose of narrowly looking to see whether there was a criminal law violated.” Waxman asked, “But there was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn’t there?” Knodell answered, “If that was the case, yes.”

Hang on to your hats folks. After six years of looking the other way, there's a change in Washington. Now it takes time to gather the facts, but things are beginning to happen. With the Democrats in charge, Congress is no longer obliged to listen to Karl Rove's threats. We're going to hear a lot of temper tantrums from the White House but the days of rubber stamping whatever President Bush wants is over. We're going to learn a lot in the next few months.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The White House Hazy Memory Defense Being Used Again

It's becoming obvious that facts, those pesky things that the rich and powerful dislike, are not well received at the White House these days. Suddenly, a virus is loose in the White House: the cconvenient hazy memory virus that appears every time White House officials get in trouble.

In the wake of the firing of US Attorneys for political purposes, The Huffington Post has the latest on the White House Hazy Memory Syndrome:
The White House dropped its contention Friday that former Counsel Harriet Miers first raised the idea of firing U.S. attorneys, blaming "hazy memories" as e-mails shed new light on Karl Rove's role. Support eroded further for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Presidential press secretary Tony Snow previously had asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea, but he said Friday, "I don't want to try to vouch for origination." He said, "At this juncture, people have hazy memories."

Scooter Libby has hazy memory. Karl Rove has hazy memory. Alberto Gonzales has hazy memory. Tony Snow appears to be the press person for a whole White House of hazy memory. It's amazing any of these guys can find their way to the front door of the White House each morning.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

E-Mails Show President and Republicans Avoiding Accountability

We should remember that the firing of the US Attorneys is not just a White House scandal. After all, there were Republican members of Congress putting pressure on these attorneys. No one should ever doubt that politicizing law enforcement has always been viewed as a quick route to a corrupt government. The media has all too frequently done a poor job of covering all the Republican nonsense in the White House and Congress over the last six years; in addition, too many members of the media have been providing sympathy for characters like Scooter Libby, who, even if he was a fall guy, was a knowing fall guy who lied and obstructed justice. The biggest mystery, question, scandal, whatever you want to call it, is why Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales still have jobs.

If you know how political wheeler dealer types avoid accountability, then it's important to pay attention to all the different revelations coming out about e-mails. One of the revelations is that these guys have multiple e-mail accounts whose sole purpose appears to be obscuring what kind of deals are going down in the White House, particularly political deals. Dan Froomkin of White House Watch posted this today: spite of the embarrassing revelations contained in the e-mails turned over by the Justice Department to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the general rule at the White House is that if it's really sensitive, don't put it in writing -- certainly not in an e-mail.

That stuff gets archived.

The president himself, for instance, never uses e-mail at all.

And it now turns out that some of his aides sometimes avoid using their official White House e-mail accounts -- the ones that get automatically archived.

As I wrote in yesterday's column, Tuesday's document dump -- which initiated from the Justice Department, not the White House -- includes e-mails from J. Scott Jennings, Karl Rove's deputy at the White House, coming from an e-mail address at That's a domain owned by the Republican National Committee.

This raises all sorts of questions. I put four of them to a White House spokesman yesterday, but haven't gotten a response.

The questions:

1) Does White House policy allow White House staffers to use non-White House e-mail addresses for official White House business? Does it prohibit it? What is the policy?

2) Would these e-mails be treated any differently from official White House e-mails when it comes to archiving or subpoena purposes?

3) Does it create either impropriety or the appearance of impropriety that is a domain owned by the Republican National Committee?

4) Do other White House staffers regularly use non-White House e-mail accounts for White House business, and if so, why?

Since then, several readers have e-mailed me with their own questions and comments. So I've added four more, passed those along as well, and still no response:

5) Does non-White House e-mail fulfill security requirements for White House communications?

6) If other non-White House e-mail accounts are used, who are the providers for all of the other accounts? (Any others besides the RNC?)

7) Does White House policy allow White House staffers to use non-White House e-mail addresses from their computers, even for non-official business? I'm told that during the Clinton administration, access to external e-mail, including Web mail, was shut off from White House ( computers. Was there a conscious change of policy by the Bush administration? ...

What's all this official business doing on a Republican National Committee e-mail account? And why are there so many e-mail accounts associated with White House staffers? It's hard not think of other questions if this is evidence of avoiding the law, such as: just how many 'extra' cell phones are going in and out of the White House? And how many cell phones are being 'borrowed' by staffers from visitors who come to the White House? The President and his staff are conducting the people's business. We have a right to transparency and we have a right to answers.

Here's another story from ABC News:
New unreleased emails from top administration officials show the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than previously acknowledged by the White House. The e-mails also show Alberto Gonzales discussed the idea of firing the attorneys en masse while he was still White House counsel—weeks before he was confirmed as attorney general.

The e-mails directly contradict White House assertions that the notion originated with recently departed White House counsel Harriet Miers and was her idea alone.
...the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by Karl Rove. 'Arrogant' no longer is a sufficient word to describe the Bush Administration.

The American people have once again been lied to by the White House. We are not surprised. It is time for Congress to take off the kid gloves, return to normal practice and have these characters testify under oath.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Telling It Like It Is

Bush's failing presidency is in full meltdown. The only remaining embarrassment is how long the Republicans in Congress will keep trying to prop up our incompetent and corrupt president and vice president. Bush and Cheney are dangerous and are in serious need of adult supervision. It's time to stop pretending that we can ignore the problem.

Truthout has an article by Robert Scheer that simply tells it like it is when it comes to Dick Cheney:
While he is still as dangerous as any cornered animal, Cheney stands brightly revealed as the main culprit in cherry-picking the evidence to make the case for a stupid, failed war. He has been exposed as a vindictive, inflexible ideologue, who attempts to destroy all who publicly disagree with him, such as former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Wilson's CIA agent wife, Valerie Plame Wilson. His extensive ties and loyal political service to energy and defense companies such as Halliburton (which now, in a burst of honesty, is moving its headquarters to Dubai), reveal him to be a man of deep corruption.

Like Nixon during Watergate, Cheney is now shrilly on the defensive. "National security made me do it!" he insists, clinging to pseudo-patriotism, that last refuge of scoundrels. But it is an argument that no longer flies with a public that has caught on to the rhythm of his screechy lies. After all, this is the leader, dominating a weak president, who pushed so hard for a complete occupation of a Muslim country not linked to 9/11. A man who hung his arguments for adventuristic war on known falsehoods, such as the attempted purchase of yellowcake uranium in Niger.

In fact, the recent terrorist bombing in Afghanistan that came too close to ending the vice president's life aptly underscored just how reckless the decision was to direct our policy away from the religious fanatics of al-Qaida, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and instead pour our resources into overthrowing Osama bin Laden's sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein.

For six years, Bush and Cheney have piled mistake upon mistake, lie upon lie, reckless gambles upon reckless gambles. Most people can't even follow all the scandals emanating from these two very rigid right wing ideologues who have no business running a government, let alone taking on the growing problems of the 21st century. And there are other scandals Republicans have given us.

Think of the lies and scandals surrounding Republicans that can be summarized in a word or short phrase. Leakgate. Abu Ghraib. Rendition. Bora Bora. Cakewalk. Mushroom cloud. Aluminum tubes. Yellowcake. Mobile weapons labs. Duke Cunningham. Hookergate. Jack Abramoff. Phone jamming. Katrina. Enron. Iraq reconstruction. Looting in Baghdad. Fallujah. Dubai ports deal. Walter Reed. Foleygate. Terri Schiavo. 'Pay to Play.' K Street project. Domestic spying. No bid contracts. Halliburton. Privatization. And now our latest scandal which doesn't quite have a name yet: the firing of eight U.S. attorneys purely for political purposes (feel free to add more in comments; I'm sure I've missed a few).

The media has not been helpful. The utter nonsense coming out of the mouths of pundits and some Washington reporters about Scooter Libby simply flies in the face of the facts. Americans are finally paying attention; Editor & Publisher has the numbers on Bush's possible pardon of Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former right hand man:
You might get a different impression from the tone of the media coverage, but a new CNN poll finds that less than 1 in 5 Americans back a pardon for former top White House and vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Nearly 70 % of Americans oppose a presidential pardon for Libby after his conviction on perjury and other charges related to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Just 18% percent said they would support a pardon for Libby. "Meanwhile," CNN reports, "a narrow majority said they believe Cheney was part of a cover-up in the case."

The only Americans standing in the way of holding George W. Bush and Dick Cheney accountable are roughly about two dozen Republicans senators and perhaps sixty Republican representatives. But the walls are crumbling and the Republicans know it. Each day the scandals surrounding Bush and Cheney are growing—and one by one Republicans are throwing in the towel on those two reckless and incompetent men.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Ending Cheney's Cold War Brinkmanship with Iran

After giving us a $2 trillion war, a foreign policy that doesn't make any sense and the lowest credibility the United States has experienced since the 19th, it's time for Congress to put restrictions on Cheney's recklessness.

Here's an article in Foreign Affairs, of all places, by Ray Takeyh that argues detente with Iran and more realistic foreign policy goals:
Over five years after the Bush administration vowed to transform the Middle East, the region is indeed profoundly different. Washington's misadventures in Iraq, the humbling of Israeli power in Lebanon, the rise of the once-marginalized Shiites, and the ascendance of Islamist parties have pushed the Middle East to the brink of chaos.

In the midst of the mess stands the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its regime has not only survived the U.S. onslaught but also managed to enhance Iran's influence in the region. Iran now lies at the center of the Middle East's major problems -- from the civil wars unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon to the security challenge of the Persian Gulf -- and it is hard to imagine any of them being resolved without Tehran's cooperation. Meanwhile, Tehran's power is being steadily enhanced by its nuclear program, which progresses unhindered despite regular protests from the international community.

This last development has put Washington in a bind. Ever since the revolution that toppled the shah in 1979, the United States has pursued a series of incoherent policies toward Tehran. At various points, it has tried to topple the regime -- even, on occasion, threatening military action. At others, it has sought to hold talks on a limited set of issues. Throughout, it has worked to box in Iran and to limit its influence in the region. But none of these approaches has worked, especially not containment, which is still the strategy of choice in the Iran policy debate.

If it hopes to tame Iran, the United States must rethink its strategy from the ground up. The Islamic Republic is not going away anytime soon, and its growing regional influence cannot be limited. Washington must eschew superficially appealing military options, the prospect of conditional talks, and its policy of containing Iran in favor of a new policy of détente. In particular, it should offer pragmatists in Tehran a chance to resume diplomatic and economic relations. Thus armed with the prospect of a new relationship with the United States, the pragmatists would be in a position to sideline the radicals in Tehran and try to tip the balance of power in their own favor. The sooner Washington recognizes these truths and finally normalizes relations with its most enduring Middle Eastern foe, the better.

I take the article with a grain of salt and I'm not sure that containment is out of the question if we talk about a broader definition of what containment might mean. But I take the article far more seriously than anything Dick Cheney has to offer these days. In a way, it's a major slap at the vice president.

I can remember in the 60s and early 70s relatives and friends of my parents who were in the defense industry reading Foreign Policy (I know because I was back in their dens browsing through their magazines). Things have a way of coming full circle when dealing with reckless incompetents like those in the Bush Administration. It's ironic that the most aggressive American foreign policy since the early 20th century is crippling American power and America's options for the 21st century.

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Attempt to Whitewash Libby Continues

Let's see. George W. Bush now has a large ranch down in Paraguay. The CEO of Halliburton is conveniently moving to Dubai. The Justice Department has been firing US Attorneys who happen to be Republican but who take their jobs seriously. Bush and Cheney seem to be taking an awful lot of trips overseas as if being home is becoming uncomfortable. And an awful lot of people in the Bush Administration as well as friends of Bush and Cheney are ducking for cover or creating backup plans in case they're indicted for something. Now why would that be the case?

The other diversion in Washington is to pretend that Republicans who are convicted of felonies didn't really do anything wrong; the worst part of that diversion is that there have been a number of people in the media playing along. Ready to take them all to task, Frank Rich has an article in The New York Times on convicted felon Scooter Libby (I made one minor change below to stay focused on the WHIG story which is probably the most overlooked story of the last four years):
A president who tries to void laws he doesn't like by encumbering them with "signing statements" and who regards the Geneva Conventions as a nonbinding technicality isn't going to start playing by the rules now. His assertion last week that he is "pretty much going to stay out of" the Libby case is as credible as his pre-election vote of confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. The only real question about the pardon is whether Mr. Bush cares enough about his fellow Republicans' political fortunes to delay it until after Election Day 2008.

Either way, the pardon is a must for Mr. Bush. He needs Mr. Libby to keep his mouth shut. ... August 2002, [Libby] and a small cadre of administration officials including Karl Rove formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a secret task force to sell the Iraq war to the American people. ...

...WHIG had been tasked, as The Washington Post would later uncover, to portray Iraq's supposedly imminent threat to America with "gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence." In other words, WHIG was to cook up the sexiest recipe for promoting the war, facts be damned. So it did, by hyping the scariest possible scenario: nuclear apocalypse. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn report in "Hubris," it was WHIG (equipped with the slick phrase-making of the White House speechwriter Michael Gerson) that gave the administration its Orwellian bumper sticker, the constantly reiterated warning that Saddam's "smoking gun" could be "a mushroom cloud."

Ever since all the W.M.D. claims proved false, the administration has pleaded that it was duped by the same bad intelligence everyone else saw. But the nuclear card, the most persistent and gripping weapon in the prewar propaganda arsenal, was this White House's own special contrivance. Mr. Libby was present at its creation. He knows what Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney knew about the manufacture of this fiction and when they knew it.


Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who served with Mr. Libby on WHIG and is now on the board of his legal defense fund (its full list of donors is unknown), has been especially vocal. "Scooter didn't do anything," she said. "And his personal record and service are impeccable." What Mr. Libby did - fabricating nuclear threats at WHIG and then lying under oath when he feared that sordid Pandora's box might be pried open by the Wilson case - was despicable. Had there been no WHIG or other White House operation for drumming up fictional rationales for war, there would have been no bogus uranium from Africa in a presidential speech, no leak to commit perjury about, no amputees to shut away in filthy rooms at Walter Reed.

Is it too much to ask the most powerful country in the world to hire people who are competent rather than hire people who break laws because they're too incompetent to know how to get the job done? Is it too much to go to war only as a last resort? Is it too much to ask to finish the necessary wars first? Did we really need to privatize so much of two wars so that Bush's friends could take part? Is it really too hard to ask politicians to keep their hands out of the public till? Is it too much to ask Congress and the media to hold a reckless and arrogant executive branch accountable?

More and more Americans are not satisfied with the answers they're hearing from Washington.
Daily Kos has the numbers from CNN via Atrios:
Just on CNN, 69% say there shouldn't be a pardon, 18% say there should be. 52% say Cheney was part of a cover-up, 29% say no.

Now how is it that the American people can catch on to the nonsense coming out of the White House but the media and conventional wisdom are so far behind the times.... and the facts? I've been reading Mark Twain this week. He would have had a lot of fun picking apart this crowd.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

More Than Five Years Later: Afghanistan

The other war goes on. I've mentioned before that it was reading about Afghanistan that more than anything convinced me that we had no business going to war in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was never finished and there were plenty of early signs that Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush Administration didn't know what they were doing and some early blunders in Afghanistan were the proof. Actually the failure of the senior Bush to address Afghanistan in during his own term in office seems to be the one case where junior copied his father and failed to finish the job he started—before rushing off to a war we did not need.

Here's a story by Guy Kuvnor of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about Afghanistan and local memories in the US:
Hanifa Anwarzai, a former elementary school teacher in Kabul, remembers Afghanistan at peace.

"The kids would draw pictures of flowers, of beautiful women. Good stuff," said Anwarzai, 57, a Santa Rosa resident and a grandmother.

Soviet forces swept into Afghanistan in 1979, ushering in a nearly 30-year period of war that drove 5 million Afghans - including Anwarzai's family - into exile.

Children saw their fathers slain and the once beautiful schoolroom drawings now depicted "the guns, the tanks, people being killed," Anwarzai said.

She and her husband, Kabir Anwarzai, 65, have never lost their concern for an Afghanistan that quickly dropped from the American consciousness after Sept. 11 and Round 1 of the war on terrorism. With violence and the headlines it generates ratcheting up, the conflict some call a "forgotten war" is coming back into focus.

The U.S. mission, it turns out, was not completely accomplished, and local members of Congress and others are re-engaging their attention on Afghanistan...

(snip) America shifted its forces and fortune to Iraq in 2003, the Taliban and al-Qaida, never eradicated, regrouped in the mountainous tribal area of neighboring Pakistan. Fueled by profits from the world's largest opium trade, discontent among impoverished Afghans and a weak central government in Kabul, the insurgents renewed their aggression.

With the snowbound mountain passes along the border due to clear in a month or two, Afghanistan is bracing for an assault by fundamentalist Muslim insurgents that may be the bloodiest since 2001.

And the war goes on. I give Bush an F in Afghanistan for not finishing the job. I give him an F in Iraq for lying about the war and not having a plan. I give him an F for Iran for not sitting down to talk. I give him a D- for spending five years on North Korea only to end up where Clinton had left things in reasonable shape, though Bush could have improved things if he knew what he was doing. I give him a big F for the strategic damage he has done to our foreign policy worldwide.

But I don't know which is the biggest failure: Bush's foreign policy or the failure of voters to send him home in 2004. If the media had been doing its job back then, our country might already be turning around Bush's failed foreign policy.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sam Gardiner with More on Iran

My trust of the Bush Administration is very low and yet it's important to watch closely what they react to and actually set in motion. For example, there are people who believe that if Bush sends a third carrier group to the Persian Gulf, we may see action against Iran. That has not happened yet. There are signs that Tony Blair does not want to make Iran his top priority and that he wants at least to finish the job in Afghanistan (after five long years). Bush is also showing increasing signs of responding to domestic pressure. And Bush can no longer ignore the growing discontent of Republicans with his incompetent foreign policy. But it's important to recognize that it wouldn't take much for events to spin out of control as long as the gang that can't shoot straight is still in charge of our foreign policy; Bush and his inner circle have shown enormous recklessness and incompetence in the past and, despite some mild checks on the administration's powers recently, it is still possible for Bush's Iran policy to lead to ugly developments.

Sam Gardiner of The Left Coaster has some observations on where we currently stand:
We are repeatedly told the Administration has no plans for a strike on Iran. The forces, the message and the justification are being put in place. These moves point to an attack, but it is more like a game of strategic chicken.

The USS Stennis carrier group arrived in the region on February 15th. By my count, this is the fifth time the United States has sent multiple carriers the past fifteen years. All the earlier surges ended up with strikes on Iraq.

On January 20th another new ship arrived in the Gulf, U.S. a mine counter measures ship. The UK has sent two mine counter measures ships. These ships find and destroy naval mines. The actions are clearly aimed at Iran.


The messaging is being done. The White House has established a media working group whose mission is to create international outrage against Iran. Both in quantity and theme, we are seeing the kind of messaging campaign we say prior to the attack on Iraq.

The U.S. messaging strategy against Iran is obvious in a volume analysis. It began in a major way last summer when the Administration implemented what the Secretary of State called the “Frog Strategy.” Gradually turning up the heat on Iran. There have been two lulls since then. A six weeks lull came before the U.S. congressional elections that resulted in lower oil prices. There was then a lull when the President was considering the Iraq surge. The pressure is back.

Short ads have appeared on television stations in the Washington area. These ads say things like, “Iran sent thousands of children marching to their deaths to clear minefields, armed with only plastic keys to unlock the gates of heaven.” As in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, some group is supporting the White House effort to generate outrage.

I would like to know a great deal more about those ads and whose paying for them and whether the administration or its neocon allies approve of them; this is where Congress and the media needs to ask some hard questions. We saw similar behavior before the war with Iraq but more in the way of organized articles justifying Bush's war.

In some ways, the many scandals of the Bush Administration, most of them self-inflicted, have been weakening the authority of the president and I feel the risk of war with Iran may actually be somewhat less than it was six weeks ago. But Bush and his friends are masters of public relations manipulations and it's possible that Bush is sandbagging for the moment and distracting everyone from his true intentions. Col. Gardiner knows what he's talking about considerably more than I do and I defer to him on Iran largely because of his major concern that the Iranians may not understand Bush's foreign policy and they could easily, perhaps with some manipulation on the part of Cheney, blunder into a war against the US; here's more of what Sam Gardiner has to say:
I remember talking to an Iranian ambassador in Berlin about that imaginary table where policy options seem to be placed and taken off. He said the United States should take the regime change option off that table. That was a profound comment.

The Iranian leadership believes the worst of the United States intentions. Because of that, the current strategy is absolutely wrong. The military pressuring confirms their fears. They have no choice but to push back. The tensions will grow. The chances of a greater Middle East war by miscalculation will grow, and the Iranians are not likely to give up enrichment.


The strategy to isolate Iran failed. It does not take much analysis to see the strategy to make the leadership feel vulnerable is gong to fail. Strategic chicken will fail. That failure would be disastrous. We need a new strategy now.

We do not need a war with Iran and $7/gallon at the gas pump (and that might be nothing more than the best case scenario if one starts to consider the effect on the economy, the possible vulnerabillity of our soldiers in Iraq and the prospect of a wider regional war with very broad borders to control). If we attack Iran, I predict nuclear proliferation will be worse afterward because we will find it very difficult to get international cooperation and we will have succeeded in providing sympathy for the Iranians throughout the world, and not just the Muslim world; the latter has apparently been the deliberate goal of some very foolish neoconservatives who refuse to recognize the growing hole they're digging. If we attack, the chance of nuclear weapons slipping unobserved out of Pakistan or Russia into the hands of the Iranians or others will be greater.

Until Bush became president, our foreign policy for sixty years was useful most of the time to Americans and useful most of the time to the world. But things have changed and with the reelection of Bush in 2004, the world can no longer be certain how much of these changes are an aberration and how much right wing policies will continue in place. Even now, new alliances around the world are beginning to form for no other purpose but to check America's power, a power that to many nations appears to be overreaching and overbearing and extremely dangerous. It's being dangerous that may be the most concern; we attacked Iraq with a very flawed case to justify the war and a very flawed plan for after major combat operations. It is correct to fear a president who makes such dangerous miscalculations.

Until a new administration, Republican or Democratic, can repair our foreign policy, it is why so many people in Washington are working to box in Bush, to limit any further damage he can do, particularly when it comes to Iran and the ongoing failure to have two wars under control. No one with a successful record in foreign policy has any faith in George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

To be honest, a lot of what happens next depends on the Iranians and whether they're smart enough to talk to some of the better foreign policy people in Europe, Russia and China by way of lowering the tensions from their own side. I've seen some signs that such a development is already going on, but Iranians need to be careful that they don't stall until after the next American elections. A great deal can happen between now and then; and they could easily stumble into some unpleasant surprises on their own.

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