Thursday, June 26, 2008

Most Failed President in American History Wants a Successor

It must be small solace to James Buchanan: he is no longer the worst president in American history. A poll by the Los Angeles Times has Bush down to an approval rating of 23%. That's close to the 25% of Americans that expert Bob Altemeyer says are authoritarian followers (see John Dean's Conservatives without Conscience). Such followers respond to the kind of fear-mongering used by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and Karl Rove. John McCain, who is receiving considerable help from the White House, shows clear signs of following in Bush's footsteps.

Authoritarian followers like their politics expressed in black and white terms and they get annoyed if everyone else doesn't follow the party line by wearing a flag pin. It's embarrassing that the media still jumps when frauds like Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol and Ann Coulter try to spin their nonsense on the American people. No, Mr. Limbaugh, torture is not a fraternity hazing. No, Ms. Coulture, liberals are not the enemy —not unless a free press, social security, medicare and democracy are now considered unAmerican. No, Mr. Kristol, we do not need a third war in Iran after the blunders and incompetence of Iraq, and the failure to finish the war in Afghanistan (29 Americans have died in Iraq this month and about 20 Americans have died in Afghanistan in the last 30 days where the toll per year has been climbing since the invasion in Iraq).

Bush's foreign policy is sufficient reason for his presidency to be listed among the worst. Now we have the economy to worry about. Here's the latest economic news from CNN:
U.S. stocks fell sharply Thursday with the blue-chip index enduring its worst June so far since 1930, and plunging to its lowest finish since Sept. 11, 2006, after getting slammed hard as crude soared to new highs and Goldman Sachs disparaged U.S. brokers and advised selling General Motors Corp.

The Dow Jones fell over 358 points on Thursday. The stock markets in the US would be lower than they are except for three factors. First, the hijinks of Bush and Alan Greenspan a few years back have unleashed inflation making the quarterly reports a little harder to read after the price increases of the last year. Second, the dollar has been devalued making it easier for foreigners to buy stocks (buying American companies seems preferable to buying American goods). Third, after getting burned by the credit crisis, foreign stock exchanges have been having their own problems thus making US markets relatively attractive, at least by comparison. We are of course in a global economic crisis that is reflected by the price of oil which rose to $140/barrel today.

And still there are Republicans touting that the economy is doing fine. After all, the economy grew by 1% in the first quarter this year. If the growth was real, which I doubt, it is likely the profits went straight into the pockets of America's billionaires while the hordes of Bush cronies got their share of the plunder. One thing for sure is that most Americans did not benefit from that "growth." Nor did the cities, counties and states who are having trouble meeting their budgets. What is also clear is that Bush and the leadership of the Republican Party have absolutely no plan for putting America's future on a more sound basis except to continue the stupidity of the corporate bottom line which is really nothing more than a scam to take money from our future and line the pockets of the usual suspects. And John McCain admits he doesn't know much about the economy.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court is doing it's best to destroy any notion that the American people run the country. No, according to the Supreme Court, the wealthy not only run our country but they have special privileges and a special status that must be protected by the courts. If corporations incur enormous damage on the American people, the Supreme Court will kindly limit the damages. Here's a story from the San Jose Mercury that appeared in the Los Angeles Times:
The court ruled that Exxon Mobil must pay $507 million - about one-tenth of the original jury award - to punish it for recklessly putting a known alcoholic in charge of a supertanker traveling a treacherous channel.

The justices described Exxon's conduct as "worse than negligent, but less than malicious."

Capt. Joseph Hazelwood had been drinking and was not on the bridge when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in March 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound.


But some lawmakers and environmentalists faulted the court for giving a big-money reprieve to one of the world's richest companies. Exxon Mobil earned more than $10 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2008.

"This ruling is another in a line of cases where this Supreme Court has misconstrued congressional intent to benefit large corporations," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Warner Chabot of the environmental group Ocean Conservancy was stunned by the lesser amount that Exxon would have to pay.

"That's pocket change. They can turn over one cushion on their leather couch and find that," said Chabot, whose group has offices in San Francisco. He worried the amount would not motivate companies to adopt the strictest environmental protocols. [Apologies for the extensive quote but the decision was truly an obscenity and a clear violation of American values.]

I'm no expert but I know a thing or two about oil spills. My wife and I were volunteers for over ten years for an organization that watches for oil spills and documents the damage when a spill happens. The first thing you learn is that oil spills are always more damaging than what is reported by the media. That's understandable since the media conglomerates are easily intimidated by other corporations and sometimes by their own corporate heads.

America cannot continue with business as usual. The brutal fact is that the world cannot continue with business as usual. We need leadership. Not the top down leadership we've been getting for the last 28 years that is usually bought and paid for by the wealthy. We need a bottom up leadership that restores America's future and democracy. Is Barack Obama that leader? I honestly don't know. But I have no doubt whatsoever that he will be a vast improvement over a Bush third term. Will we continue to have problems? Yes. We have a conservative Supreme Court that will continue to thwart the will of the American people to restore a more just and fair society. We have a Congress with too many members on the take and too many members who have forgotten that they serve the American people. The reality is that it will take a generation to repair the damage that has been done in Washington. Many of us will be gone by them. It will be up to younger people to continue on. Their future is in peril.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Failures of Bush and the Republican Leadership

The revelations just keep on coming. We are in an election season to see if our nation will change course and recover the principles our nation was founded on or whether Bush will have a de facto third term through Senator John McCain. The situation is grim. In their final year in office, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have still not come clean with the American people. They lied their way into a war our nation did not need. They have committed crimes or encouraged the committing of crimes by others that have damaged the reputation of the United States and that have violated the U.S. Constitution. They have engaged in a level of cronyism not seen since the 1920s.

The character of the president and the vice president are well enough known in their eighth year in office that we know they are incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions and incapable of telling the American people the truth. Most of the leadership of the Republican Party has also turned away from principles that have often guided our nation for over two hundred years. In fact, some Republicans who have been in leadership positions at some point in the last few years are now more concerned about lobbying for major corporations or foreign governments and soaking the American people for every penny they can get (the bigger the favor they do for their client, the bigger the fee).

Even if Barack Obama gets elected, our nation will have a chance if, and only if, a large number of progressive Democrats win this fall. The Democratic Party is not without its problems. The same crooked business interests that have been recruiting and cultivating the members of the new Republican Party over the last thirty years have also been doing their best to find friendly Democrats in states and districts where Republicans are not likely to win. We can see a small number of these 'friendly' Democrats in the House and Senate. The real question is whether Americans understand what is at stake.

The new Scott McClellan, who doesn't squirm, twist and equivocate like he did when he was Bush's press secretary, has said the Bush Administration used propaganda to get us into the war in Iraq and the American press did not do nearly enough to question the premises for war. Think back a couple of weeks. Here's the response the Bush Administration had to McClellan's revelations (from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):

White House aides seemed stunned by the scathing tone of [McClellan's] book, and Bush press secretary Dana Perino issued a statement that was highly critical of their former colleague.

"Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House," she said. "For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad - this is not the Scott we knew."

Perino said the reports on the book had been described to Bush, and that she did not expect him to comment. "He has more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers," she said.

The president has more pressing matters than telling the American people the truth. Sad indeed. For those Americans paying attention, we got a dose of the truth this week in Congressional testimony by Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell (his testimony can be found at The Gavel and through Think Progress); he spoke about Abu Ghraib, torture and the particular failures of Cheney and Rumsfeld:

Mr. Chairman, let me back up for a moment and tell you why this was a particularly important effort for me and I believe for Secretary Powell as well. Clearly, we were—we are—both soldiers. Moreover, we are both veterans of the war in Vietnam and we are both students of military history. We both know how soldiers go astray in the heat of battle, with buddies being killed and wounded all around—particularly in wars that seem to have no end, no light at the end of the tunnel.

In Vietnam, as a first lieutenant and a captain of Infantry, on several occasions I had to restrain my soldiers, even one or two of my officers. When higher authorities took such actions as declaring free fire zones—meaning that anything that moved in that zone could be killed—and you came upon a 12-year old girl on a jungle path in that zone, it was clear you were not going to follow orders. But some situations were not so black and white and you had to be always on guard against your soldiers slipping over the edge. As their leader, it was incumbent upon me to set the example—and that meant sometimes reprimanding or punishing a soldier who broke the rules. In all cases, it meant that I personally followed the rules and not just by "breaking" the so-called rules of engagement, as in the designated free fire zone, but by following the rules that had been ingrained in me by my parents, by my schools, by my church, and by the U.S. Army in classes about the Geneva Conventions and what we called the law of land warfare. I had been taught and I firmly believed when I took the oath of an officer and swore to support and defend the Constitution, that American soldiers were different and that much of their fighting strength and spirit came from that difference and that much of that difference was wrapped up in our humaneness and our respect for the rights of all.

So, Mr. Chairman, when I saw the first photographs from the prison at Abu Ghraib, I had two immediate reactions. First, I knew such things could happen. Second, I knew such things were wrong and I knew that leadership had failed. What I did not know, was on what level that leadership had failed. So I set out to find the answer.


...echoing the President and the Vice President's own words, the word went out that the gloves were off, and we were going to have to work "sort of the dark side". That same day at Camp David, September 16, 2001, when the Vice President referred to the dark side, he also told Tim Russert: "'s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

These words reminded me of what Undersecretary of Defense Robert Lovett had argued as the Cold War was heating up, after the Soviets had developed and tested a nuclear weapon in 1949. Lovett argued in 1950 that the nation was "in a war worse than any we have ever experienced" and that this meant doing away with the "sharp line between democratic principles and immoral actions...." Lovett considered such distinctions as a "dangerous and unnecessary handicap" in the struggle with communism. He said he wanted to fight the Soviets “with no holds barred....". In my view, it was fortunate for the nation that Truman did not follow Lovett's advice.

But many in the Pentagon, and eventually the armed forces, did seem to follow the advice, however implicit, of Lovett's reincarnation in 2001, Vice President Cheney. In short, the Pentagon needed intelligence; people should go out and get it. And the usual rules were not going to apply; new rules would be forthcoming. Even as a result of my early investigations at the State Department, this overriding reality was clear. But somewhere in that early part of 2002, some of the principals also began to worry about legalities. It was likely earlier even but I could find nothing in late 2001. Perhaps someday others will.


It's my strong view that the legal proceedings were led by David Addington, who turned to Jay Bybee and John Yoo at the Department of Justice, and Alberto Gonzales in the White House, then counselor to the President.

These were the lawyers who set the legal background against which other-than-standard interrogation methods would be explained away as "in accord with the Geneva Conventions", "not constituting torture", "fully within the Article II powers of the Commander-in Chief", and so forth. At Defense, Jim Haynes and Douglas Feith would adapt these views to their needs at the Pentagon. Indeed, in the recent book Torture Team by English barrister Philippe Sands, in extended interviews Mr. Feith appears to express no small degree of pride in having helped make the Geneva Conventions adaptable to the needs of the new interrogation regime. In my view, this was done largely through artifice not unlike the angels sitting on the pinhead. Such artifice may appeal to certain lawyers but I assure you soldiers have no use for it for they know how dangerous such arguments are when put to the hard act of execution in the field.

Meanwhile, the operational end of this affair was orchestrated by the Secretary of Defense and his subordinates, Haynes, Feith, Stephen Cambone and I'm quite certain others. Certain of these individuals, including Addington, even visited the prison at Guantánamo Bay in September 2002 to get a better grip on what was happening to acquire actionable intelligence and to inform their own views about what was possible.

There has been an argument that U.S. Southern Command queried the Defense Department with respect to interrogation procedures for GITMO, and thus the impetus for the new procedures came from the field. There is a paper trail that seems to have been laid down to support that. What I found, however, was that Southern Command's query was expected (set up perhaps?) and that OSD General Counsel, in league with the others in the legal group, had already worked up what the legal position was going to be. In short, there were people in DOD at the highest level who knew what they wanted: actionable intelligence. They also knew, or thought they knew, that the only way they were going to get it from battle-hardened al Qa'ida operatives was to use harsh interrogation methods. And that's the bottom line.

Depressingly to me, these men also seemed to have the cavalier disregard for any innocents who might be caught up in this process that one often finds in men safely to the rear of the real action. Soldiers call such men "REMFs". I won’t elaborate on that acronym.


Moreover, this was a man—and these were men—who could not bring the challenge he thought he was confronting to the legislative branch and ask for relief. To come to the people's representatives, and through them to the people, was beneath this group. They would not deign to ask the legislature to change the rules for the Armed Forces—a legislature vested by our Constitution with the power to "make Rules concerning Captures on land and water" and "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces." Instead, they made the rules all by themselves in secret.

This is damning testimony. And yet, if anything, I believe Wilkerson lets Bush off too easily. And he could have been harder on Cheney and Rumsfeld. But Wilkerson is restricting himself to documentation that he has been able to accumulate. It is certainly more documentation than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld ever hoped that anyone would acquire.

Major General Antonio Taguba was the lead investigator for the army into the Abu Ghraib scandal. He is an honest man who paid for his honesty with his career when he failed to participate in a coverup. Last year, Sy Hersh interviewed Taguba for the New Yorker; here are some excerpts:
In a series of interviews early this year, the first he has given, Taguba told me that he understood when he began the inquiry that it could damage his career; early on, a senior general in Iraq had pointed out to him that the abused detainees were “only Iraqis.” Even so, he was not prepared for the greeting he received when he was finally ushered in.

“Here . . . comes . . . that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!” Rumsfeld declared, in a mocking voice. The meeting was attended by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J.C.S.); and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, along with Craddock and other officials.


[Major General Mike] Myatt followed Taguba’s involvement in the Abu Ghraib inquiry, and said, “I was so proud of him. I told him, ‘Tony, you’ve maintained yourself, and your integrity.’ ”

Taguba got a different message, however, from other officers, among them General John Abizaid, then the head of Central Command. A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. Abizaid’s driver and his interpreter, who also served as a bodyguard, were in front. Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I wasn’t angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me,” Taguba said. “I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”


Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003—when much of the abuse took place—Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, “Sanchez knew exactly what was going on.”

Recently Sanchez offered a choice quotation from the president (quote highlighted by Michael Abramowitz of The Washington Post):

Among the anecdotes in "Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story" is an arresting portrait of Bush after four contractors were killed in Fallujah in 2004, triggering a fierce U.S. response that was reportedly egged on by the president.

During a videoconference with his national security team and generals, Sanchez writes, Bush launched into what he described as a "confused" pep talk:

"Kick ass!" he quotes the president as saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal."

"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

A White House spokesman had no comment.

But Sanzchez knew what was going on. As did many others. No doubt Abu Ghraib was toxic and endangered more careers than just that of the lead investigator.

In a preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives, a report by Physicians for Human Rights that details torture by the U.S., Taguba writes about the torture that took place in Iraq and elsewhere:
In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Lt. Col Larry Wilkerson speaks eloquently about what is right and what is wrong. Major General Antonio Taguba understood his duty to the constitution and the law. The John McCain of 2000 seemed to understand. I do not know where John McCain stands in this important election year. But the signs are not good. A Commander-in-Chief who doesn't know the difference between Shiites or Sunnis is worrisome. And McCain talks of staying in Iraq for a hundred years. He totally backs Bush on the war. He is unable to acknowledge the lies that got us into this war.

In short, John McCain is incapable of holding George W. Bush accountable and that in itself suggests it is time for change in Washington.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Democrats Realizing They Must Unite As National Crisis Deepens

Let's see. The stock market on Friday went down almost 400 points. At one point, the price of oil jumped 11 dollars a barrel before settling down at a little over 138 dollars a barrel. An incompetent president with a flawed ideology will continue to run the country into the ditch for a few more months. Jobs are still being outsourced overseas. Joblessness and debt are growing. City, county and state budgets are suffering a serious shortfall this year thus endangering education, safe roads and public services. The credit markets are in a mess despite some successful attempts to mitigate some of the damage (the corrections in Washington were slow in coming, however, which only deepened the crisis last summer). We are still at war in Iraq and the evidence only grows stronger that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice lied to the country about the need for war in Iraq.

Scott McClellan whose new book confirms that indeed Bush, Rove and Cheney have been lying to the American people, particularly about the outing of Valerie Plame, is being villified by a Republican leadership that has lost its moral compass. And the media is still playing games. For example, CNN carries a first person article by a former Bush official who wastes no time calling McClellan a liar. I'm not even bothering to post an excerpt. You can check the link yourself. There was a time when journalism automatically carried both sides of the story. They would check the background of people participating in a smear job. They would check all sides of the story and if there were truth to either side of the story they weren't shy about making sure the truth didn't wind up rolling under the bed somewhere. CNN has stacked the cards. McClellan, who was there, is telling his side. And CNN matches several administration figures against him along with Bob Dole who like several others is in no position to understand what happened. The people at CNN are not stupid. They know there is a concerted, organized effort to undermine McClellan's credibility.

I wish some blogger with more time and resources than I have at the moment would hunt up video footage of some of McClellan's vintage press briefings and compare those briefings with how the man is now talking. The difference is striking and telling. Of all the spokespeople for the Bush Administration, McClellan always squirmed the most. He never looked comfortable though he clearly deceived the American people at times. But his deceptions were largely misdirections, changing the subject and playing rope-a-dope. Go back and watch the footage. It was rare that he told an outright lie and the ones he told he claims were what was said to him.

Look at him today. My wife noticed it first: McClellan is at peace with himself. Sometimes he's tentative as if he's making sure he's got it right but he's consistent, relaxed and frankly telling us what millions of Americans figured out a long time ago. That's why CNN's reporting has been so shabby at times. We know the president and his top advisers lied about Iraq. We know the president and his top advisers lied about Valerie Plame.

The lies, incompetence and failures continue. Now John McCain is coming out and saying it's okay for the president to break the law and spy on Americans without getting a warrant. Too many Americans have forgotten what that means. The Germans haven't forgotten. Laura Rozen of War and Piece notes this story in Reuters:
A spate of chilling snooping scandals involving some of their country's biggest corporations has unsettled Germans who have not forgotten the dark days of the Cold War.

Revelations by Deutsche Telekom, Europe's biggest telecommunications firm, that it illegally monitored phone records in 2005 have reawakened memories of communist East Germany's Stasi secret police and even Hitler's Gestapo.


"The German fear, the deep-seated mistrust of people towards those in power and institutions is all too understandable given the scale of Telekomgate," wrote Der Spiegel weekly, which broke the story last week and splashed "Big Brother" on its cover.

The Germans remember and people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have forgotten, or don't care. Dick and George don't care about a lot of things. It's hard to keep track of all the things they don't care about. But the supporters of Hillary Clinton care deeply about the issues and what is happening in the country. The supporters of Barack Obama also care deeply about the issues and what is happening in the country. When passions are strong, and mistakes are made, there are going to be hard feelings but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama care about things that Dick and George never understood. The party is already beginning the healing. There may be missteps but the Democratic party will heal. Barack Obama now has the majority of the delegates and he now leads the Democratic party. Hillary Clinton has a role to play this fall whether she is selected as vice president or not. I hope Bill Clinton is out there as well. He also has a role to play.

We can't be certain who will win in the fall. And we can't count on help from network talking heads who are more interested in games and silliness and their seven and sometimes eight figure salaries. But we can be certain of this: the American crisis is deepening and will deepen seriously if John McCain fulfills a de facto third term for President Bush. McCain is no longer a maverick, assuming he ever was. In the spring of 2004, McCain made his devil's pact with Bush and Rove. That has not changed. The only thing that has changed rather frequently is the packaging. George W. Bush sold us a bill of goods in 2000. He lied about who he was. We knew who he was in 2004 and he still sold us a bill of goods by running on fear.

I fully support Barack Obama. I have seen him grow and become a better candidate. He has a terrific team. If he wins, the streets will not be paved with gold. No one should have any illusions. There is still hope for our country but it's going to take work. As many Democrats, independents and even a few Republicans have been saying, it's time to take our country back.

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