Archive for March, 2007

How Bad Is It?

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

It’s hard to find things to laugh about with the Iraq war, but this article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal the other day managed to do so: These U.S. Raids In Iraq Look Real, But They Aren’t.

It seems that we’re so badly losing the “hearts and minds” battle that even those who want to accept US reconstruction aid can no longer do so openly. So in order to inspect ongoing aid projects, some US troops have hit upon a clever idea: Stage a raid of the facility in question, rounding up the employees and going through the place ostensibly looking for things like insurgent weapons caches.

In another case mentioned in the article, they arrested an Iraqi man working as a translator and jailed him for several days — because he’d been receiving death threats from the insurgency.

“A lot of people there now think he’s a bad guy,” Capt. Cederman says. “It bought him a lot of street cred.”

There’s a single word that describes the current US effort in Iraq: doomed. Stories like this make that more obvious than ever.

Anonymous: My National Security Letter Gag Order

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

From the Washington Post: My National Security Letter Gag Order.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case — including the mere fact that I received an NSL — from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The Bush administration is profoundly anti-democratic. It sounds like hyperbole, but when reading an article like this one, I find myself sincerely believing that Bush’s presidency represents a greater existential threat to our nation and our way of life than a hundred al Qaedas.

Debugging the Bush Administration

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

A famous truism from the world of open source software development is that “with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” In other words, if you get a large enough pool of people examining a malfunctioning piece of code, there’s going to be someone for whom the solution is obvious.

A nice example of that was provided by Monday’s document dump from the Department of Justice. They released about 3,000 memos, ostensibly to show how the firings of eight US attorneys on December 7, 2007, were not improperly political in nature.

In the good old days, dumping 3,000 memos in the laps of your political opponents might have been a good way to buy some time. Your opponents would have had to read through the memos and figure out what they showed, and what was missing, and by the time they’d done all that the immediate crisis would have passed. You would have had a week or more during which you could have been out there in the media, talking to reporters and appearing on the Sunday chat shows, crowing about how you’d been so open and transparent, and the other guys would only have been able to sputter.

But these days, with folks like the good little muckrakers at Talking Points Memo on the case, it works a little differently. The documents were released late in the day on Monday. By 2:19 a.m. Tuesday, a commenter at TPM had pointed out something very interesting about the document dump: Of the 3,000 memos included, there are none from the 18 days between November 15 and December 4. In other words, during the period when we would have expected some of the most-intense discussion of the December 7 firings, there’s an 18-day gap in the memos.

D’oh!

More about this from Joshua Marshall at TPM: Shades of Rose Mary Woods? An 18 day gap?

Getting into the meat of what was released, some of the most interesting stuff concerns the brainstorming between various high-ranking Bush appointees at Justice over the reasons for the firings. Kevin Drum summarizes two key points about what the memos show:

  • The discussion all seems to be taking place after the fact. If you really did fire these people for performance reasons, shouldn’t there be some documentation of your discussing those reasons before you fired them?

  • There were eight US attorneys who were fired. In the case of Bogden, Iglesias, and Lam (and to a lesser extent Charlton and McKay), there seems to be very little substantive criticism of their performance in the after-the-fact discussion. The best they can come up with is vague stuff like “lack of energy” and “underperforming generally” (which contrasts pretty sharply with the glowing reviews these same US attorneys were getting before the firings). So why were these folks on the list? What were the actual reasons for their firing? Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but these are the same US attorneys who had been the strongest in pursuing political corruption cases — including against Republican lawmakers.

More at washingtonmonthly.com: Why were they fired?

In the face of all this, Bush tried to make a deal yesterday with Congress. He’d allow Gonzales, Rove, and others involved in the firings to talk to them. In return, Congress would have to agree to the following:

  • The talks would take place out of site of the public, and off the record. There would be no reporters, no cameras, no transcripts.
  • The officials would not testify under oath.
  • They would only talk about internal communications at the Justice Department, or between Justice and the White House, or between Justice (or the White House) and Congress. They would not talk about internal communications at the White House.
  • Congress would promise not to issue any subsequent subpoenas in the matter.

So, summing up, the deal was: No one else gets to know what we say, and we get to lie, and we don’t have to talk about the most important stuff, and you have to promise to leave us alone afterwards.

Allow me to propose the following response:

Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger… and you give me my phone call.

Or, more specifically, “I give you these subpoenas, and you give me your testimony.”

In a way, this US attorney firing story is small potatoes. I can understand the Bush people not giving it much of their attention until recently; it’s penny ante wrongdoing compared to some of the really bad stuff they’ve done.

I was listening to Elvis Mitchell interviewing Rory Kennedy yesterday. (Kennedy is the documentary filmmaker who made Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which is currently showing on HBO.) And then I was listening to the This American Life episode By Proxy, in which Iraqi translator Basim talked about the impact that Abu Ghraib had on Iraqi attitudes toward Americans.

It brought home to me that we are going to need something like a truth commission to undue the damage of the Bush years. Leaving aside the practical matter of cleaning up all the messes that Bush’s policies have created, we’re going to have to deal with significant collective psychological damage as a result of all the lying that’s been done. I don’t want to go over the top in the comparison, but I honestly think we’re going to need something like what South Africa did after apartheid, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, just to try to heal some of the damage that this man’s horrible, horrible policies have done to our collective sense of what America is, and what it stands for.

The Bush administration is very badly broken code, and it’s going to take a lot of eyeballs to get the bugs out. Congress has started that job, but there’s a lot more work to do before we’re finished.

Update: Following up on the 18-day-gap thing, I found this weblog posting from Shakespeare’s Sister interesting: The hidden scandal within the prosecutor purge. It seems there’s a deliberate avoidance of using email at the highest levels of the White House, presumably to make oversight of the sort Congress is trying to do now harder to accomplish.

Later update: Joshua Marshall & Co. have now found two emails that actually appeared during the 18-day “gap”. So it’s not a complete gap, but rather just a very, very dry spell. My own sense at this point is that it might not be as sinister as their having actually held back emails from that time, but instead could simply be a reflection of the fact that, as noted above, the highest-ranking players routinely avoid the use of email, or at least of email sent through servers subject to presidential records retention policies. So things got really quiet then, at least according to the historical record, because the action had shifted to people who specifically avoid allowing their words to fall into the historical record.

Drum on Kinsley on Bush’s ‘Volleys of Lies’

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I’d be remiss if I let this one go without linking to it. Kevin Drum (A purgegate primer) doesn’t think much of Michael Kinsley’s (Been Bloggin’ So Long…Lordy, Lordy) comments on the US attorney firings and their aftermath. But say what you will about Kinsley, the guy can seriously turn a phrase:

We’re all in agreement — you, me, the Washington Post, even the Wall Street Journal — that the administration’s response to this controversy has been comically mendacious. Volleys of lies come in wave after wave, like the trench soldiers of World War One. They get mowed down and the administration just sends in more.

There’s actually a larger argument taking place, with Kinsley saying that the Bush people are so reflexively dishonest that we shouldn’t take their lies as an indication that something worse is going on, and Drum saying no, you idiot, that’s exactly what we should take their lies to mean. Either way, though, it’s a cool metaphor.

McManus on DiGenova on Bush’s ‘Stepford Husbands’

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Check out Doyle McManus’s article in the LA Times today about the risk Bush faces over the continued Congressional investigation into the US attorney firings: Gonzales’ plight puts Bush at risk. It’s fun mainly because of the large number of memorable quotes it contains.

“I want you to be clear here: Don’t go dropping it at the president’s door,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday when asked about Bush’s involvement.

I believe that’s what’s known in the trade as a “non-denial denial.” It musters the sense of outrage required to allow the faithful to sympathize with the unfairly maligned Bush (there are still Bush faithful, presumably), while not actually saying anything specific along the lines of “no, the president was not involved in discussions about whether to fire US attorneys for being unwilling to pervert the criminal justice system to benefit the Republican party.”

See, the problem for Tony Snow specifically, and for defenders of Bush generally, is that there are two separate stories they are trying to advance simultaneously, and the stories are mutually exclusive. On the one hand, they want to maintain that there was nothing wrong with Bush firing the eight US attorneys, because they “serve at the pleasure of the president,” so Bush has the authority to fire them at any time. While Gonzales and Bush have acknowledged that “mistakes were made,” they’ve tried to limit the applicability of those remarks to the misleading statements made by Gonzales in his sworn testimony before Congress. It wasn’t a mistake to fire the attorneys, this storyline goes; it was only a mistake for Gonzales to lie to Congress about the motivations for the firings afterward.

But the president’s supporters also want to make it seem like Bush wasn’t directly involved in the firings. They want to halt the spread of the scandal’s damage, so there’s an effort underway to build a cofferdam around the misdeeds, making them out to be all [former Gonzales Chief of Staff] Kyle Sampson’s fault. Or maybe, if they absolutely have to go that far, Alberto Gonzales’ and Harriet Miers’ fault. Or even, God forbid, Karl Rove’s fault. But absolutely not George Bush’s fault.

But that storyline conflicts with the first. If Bush wasn’t involved in the firings, then they don’t fall under the “serve at the pleasure of the president” language.

It’s all very vexing, I’m sure, for the people in the White House who want to make this story go away. And because those damn Democrats in Congress keep holding hearings, the darned reporters get to keep writing stories about it. Stories with fun quotes like these:

Gonzales and his aides initially told Congress that the prosecutors were fired because their performance was unsatisfactory. But documents released last week showed that officials also discussed whether the U.S. attorneys had been “loyal Bushies,” in the words of one Justice Department e-mail.

Loyalty over competence in the staffing decisions of the Bush administration — where have we heard about that before?

Early reports had indicated that the idea of the firings originated with Miers, but on Friday, Snow said that may not be the case. “At this juncture, people have hazy memories,” he said.

Oh, I’ll bet.

“This is one more chapter in the defense of Karl Rove,” said one leading GOP figure who insisted on anonymity because he was speaking ill of the president’s most powerful aide. “This isn’t accountability, it’s damage control, and it’s protection for Karl.”

But check out this fun quote:

“There’s no suggestion of illegality in anything [Rove] has done,” [former Reagan US attorney Joseph E.] DiGenova said. “He wasn’t the one making inaccurate representations on Capitol Hill. I would think that would trump any demand [from Congress] for testimony.”

Well, right. Karl wasn’t the one making inaccurate representations to Congress. Because Karl wasn’t the one talking to Congress. Now Congress is asking him for his version of events. If he goes before them and comes clean, and there’s no there there, great. Until he does that, though, claims that he’s above reproach because no one’s shown that he’s lied to Congress are kind of silly.

“The incompetence has been amazing,” DiGenova charged. “Managing crises, beginning with preventing crises, is what life in Washington is about…. But these guys didn’t have a plan ready to answer questions once the problem became public. They still don’t have their stories straight.

“There are too many Stepford husbands in this administration: young men who are perfectly coiffed and have great clothes, but very few of them have ever been in a courtroom,” he added.

Haha. “Stepford husbands.” It isn’t explicitly tied to Gonzales, but if there was ever an apt characterization of the guy, with his helmet hair and smarmy smile, and (especially) his slavish pursuit of the personal and political interests of George W. Bush, as distinct from the interests of the nation and the law that one would hope an attorney general would be giving his attention to, that’s it.

Bugatti Veyron at Top Speed

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Ridiculous. But kind of cool: Video Bugatti Veyron at top speed.

Dyer on ‘Loose Change’

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Gwynne Dyer is awesome. The part I like the best is the way he’s perfectly willing to accept for the sake of argument that either the “small” or “large” version of the 9/11 conspiracy theory is correct — and then proceeds to logically consider the facts of the matter in order to come to his conclusions. Conspiracy theories are not true or false based on the inherent outlandishness of the claim. They’re true or false based on whether they’re true or false, and like Sherlock Holmes, you need to take a scientific approach if you want a chance to arrive at the truth.

Anyway: Film gives life to brain-rotting 9/11 conspiracy theories.

In normal times you wouldn’t waste breath arguing with people who fall for this kind of rubbish, but the makers of “Loose Change” claim that their film has already been seen by over 100 million people, and looking at my e-mail in-tray I believe them. It is a real problem because by linking their fantasies about 9/11 to the Bush administration’s deliberate deception of the American people in order to gain support for the invasion of Iraq they bring discredit on the truth and the nonsense alike.

You almost wonder if they are secretly working for the Bush administration.

Sullivan on Coulter

Friday, March 9th, 2007

I’m not much of an Andrew Sullivan fan, but he can certainly wipe the floor with Ann Coulter in a battle of words: Faggot.

A Quick Libbygate Followup

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

I’ve noticed several commentators on the Libby verdicts making the same point I made back in July of 2005: Corn, Marshall on Rove/Plame. And I See an Elephant:

Rovebush (Bushrove?) operate in a realm where truth has no meaning, no power. They are the masters of that realm, the gods of that realm, and they have steadily amassed an army of fellow conspirators who will say whatever they tell them to say, as often as they need them to say it. I’m sure they believe they can convince pretty much anyone of anything.

But Fitzgerald doesn’t operate in that realm. He operates in the legal realm, which is all about truth. If this gets to court, the Rovebush side will spin, sure, but it won’t be the asymmetrical warfare they normally practice. There will be rules, and the other side will get equal time, and the truth, if sufficiently clear, will trump their spin.

It’s a little like a whiff of smelling salts, this Libby verdict. There’s a collective coming to our senses, a realization that whoa, that’s right; there’s such a thing as objective truth, and courtrooms are designed specifically as a crucible to burn away all the bullshit and spin and leave only truth behind.

So, there you go: The White House can shift instantly (and predictably) from “there’s a trial under way, and our country is founded on the presumption of innocence, so we’re not going to comment on the matter” to “there’s an ongoing legal procedure (the appeal) under way, so even though we’d really love to talk about it (and despite the fact that we’ve felt free to talk about any number of other ongoing legal matters when it suited our political purposes), our lawyers advise us that we really shouldn’t say anything at this time,” but the reality is, the vice president’s former chief of staff has been found guilty of multiple felonies for obstructing an investigation into a national security breach. And if you followed the trial at all closely, it’s fairly clear that Libby’s lies were specifically intended to obscure Dick Cheney’s role in foisting known-to-be-inaccurate information about Saddam’s nuclear ambitions on the public.

Which trumps lying about a presidential blowjob in the Oval Office by about a zillion percent.

Way to restore ethical conduct to the White House, guys.

A Very Minor Point about the Libby Trial Verdict

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Was I the only person to suffer severe cognitive dissonance today when I heard an item about the guilty verdict of Lewis Libby being reported by NPR’s Libby Lewis?

I’m just asking.

Marshall: Bush DOJ “At War with the Obvious”

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Some excellent commentary from Josh Marshall about today’s hearings into the firing of US Attorneys by the Bush people at the Department of Justice:

Let’s be clear. The DOJ needn’t establish a lengthy or any paper trail to justify firing a US Attorney. Maybe they didn’t like the way she prosecuted gun crimes. Or maybe her bosses at Main Justice just didn’t like how she went about her job. Maybe they just plain didn’t like her. That’s fine. And while it would be irregular to fire a US Attorney in the middle of a president’s term for no evident wrongdoing, it would not in itself be improper. None of the USAs, as they’re called, are irreplaceable. And they do serve at the president’s pleasure.

The issue here is different. There is a clear and growing body of evidence that at least three of these firees were canned for not allowing politics to dictate their prosecution of political corruption cases. Or, to put it more bluntly, for not indicting enough Democrats or indicting too many Republicans. Which is to say they were fired for not perverting justice.

In the face of that evidence the administration has come up with a series of changing and often contradicatory alternative explanations, which range from the frivolous to the ridiculous.

The administration isn’t at war with the fired attorneys or Congress. They’re at war with the obvious.

What Would Have Justified Invasion?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

A lengthy and mostly unrelated debate in the “Dick Cheney’s Honor” comments has led to a good question posed by shcb. So rather than continue to abuse that thread, I thought I’d make a post of it. That question is:

“Now I have a question for you; I’ve already said many times I think we were justified to invade Iraq, and I know you disagree. I also think we are at war with a large portion of the Muslim population, and you don’t. What I would like to know is what event, events, evidence etc would it take to convince you we should have invaded Iraq and/or at war with the Muslims at large.”

A valid question indeed. Discuss.