Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges...

The Bush administration's disregard for international law, domestic law and laws pertaining to the President has recently been exposed to public scrutiny.

Legal scholars have spent many a day arguing over whether the President is right or not but they are, with a few exceptions, opposed and appalled by the administration's contempt for any law that restricts their ability to act. Much of the administration's legal arguments have been formulated by a conservative lawyer who, until recently, remained unknown by those outside the legal sphere; John Yoo.

Yoo's work for the administration has received much publicity in light of the President's recent assertion that the Iraq Resolution signed by Congress gave him power to ignore the Fourth Amendment and turn the U.S.'s powerful intelligence apparatus inward.

An interesting history and analysis of the President's role and responsibility regarding international law and the strictures of war powers is up on the New York Review of Books. Georgetown law professor David Cole presents an interesting synopsis of the pertinent law and gives his analysis of the situation.

Cole has publicly come out against the administration's legal positions, but his recount of the history and where the President stands in relation to the framers of the Constitution and established law is important.

- Murphy

Monday, December 19, 2005

Heading down the Eastern seaboard

One of the great resources for thoughtful analysis of subjects ranging from history to literature, to politics and people is weighing anchor and heading South (Via Romanesko).

The Atlantic magazine has called Boston, MA its home for 148 years. Its next edition, however, will be postmarked Washington, D.C.

The sometimes eclectic and always enlightening magazine has been a favorite of mine for many years. It's the one subscription I actually keep up with.

It is not a news magazine, but a intelligent and incisive journal of America; its stories and its history. Storytelling is preferred over speed.

Its inception set a high standard to which it has striven to maintain. A publication initially conceived of by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes has quite the birthright to aspire to.

This past week, the Boston Phoenix reported on a farewell affair held last week at the Harvard Club. Members of the publication, both present and past, gathered to express reservations and remembrances on the eve of the publications relocation.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, changes. Many of the current employees including its current managing editor, Cullen Murphy, will not be joining The Atlantic in its new home.

- Murphy

Did I mention 9/11?

The most-oft repeated comment about the President's recent PR pushback was that he has departed from type by taking responsibility for the intelligence failures, admitting planning mistakes and even taking a question or two (though they went, effectively unanswered).

The President's recent efforts, culminating in Sunday's Oval office address (his first since announcing the beginning of the Iraq War 2-1/2 years ago), have been designed to give the impression that the war in Iraq and the anti-terrorist efforts has been subject to continuous review; that problems have been dealt with behind closed doors, but policy changes must remain secret.

Yet despite changing his public attitude from petulantly dismissive to begrudgingly contrite, there is little in the Bush Administration's policy to support the view that anything has changed. In fact, in the face of public criticism, the administration has withdrawn behind the cloak of the imperial executive.

The administration's propensity for lashing out at its opponents, combined with an increasingly bold disregard for the Constitutional separation of powers, presents an even more disconcerting challenge. Our law enforcement can track down and arrest domestic threats, our military can flatten military opponents around the globe. Yet the very freedoms and principles those two examples of U.S. power are designed to protect may be under threat from within.

An administration that believes it must have unfettered use of force and unrestricted intelligence investigations (domestic and foreign) is one that threatens the U.S. role in the world. The
U.S. is the gold standard for freedom and power in the world. It stems form an absolute dedication to the protection of our basic rights as citizens. That freedom expresses itself in political action, commerce and even military strength.

The Constitution not only confers on us the freedoms we enjoy, but it also charges us with their protection. To tolerate violations of our rights for short-term, tactical gains, sets us on the ultimate slippery slope.

- Murphy

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fine line

In '06 and '08, immigration will be linked closely to national defense and law and order, two areas where Republicans poll very well. Yet they will have to keep the ranks in line because too often the darker, nationalist and somewhat racist sides of the immigration debate come to light.

From Hotline: " the immigration debate, many GOP pollsters and strategists and big thinkers believe that independent voters, especially women, and nearly all Latino voters, interpret "preserving national identity" as a code word for "keeping America white and Christian."

- Murphy

Norquist: I didn't hear any boom

Charlie Rose allowed Grover "Drown it in the bathtub" Norquist to get away with the claim that the record surpluses created during the Clinton presidency was the result of the Republican-controlled House passing a cut on the capital gains tax.

I guess he didn't notice the enormouse boom in the tech sector. A boom which created an entirely new market and in turn created jobs and taxable income. A boom driven not by tax cuts, but a leap forward in technology and a concentration of intellectual capital.

Government subsidies in the research in universities and in tech companies combined with a policies that drew foreign students to study in the U.S. played a major role in positioning the U.S. to take advantage of the leap.

Using Norquist's assertion, you could just as easily say that the tax cuts encouraged reckless investment leading to the tech bubble.

Norquist's anti-tax crusade is little more than a political crowbar to beat Republicans into line. Overtaxation does occur, but a greater problem is misuse of funds. Cutting back on multi-million dollar pork projects for Republican House members would free up more money for effective programs thus make room for some tax reductions.

- Murphy

Roy Blunt to Republicans: I'll stay here if you don't mind

Hotline reports that Rep. Roy Blunt doesn't think the Republican's should distract themselves with a vote to replace Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) as the leader of the House Republican Leader, a seat Blunt is currently keeping war for Mr. Delay.

If the list of Republicans looking to move up the ladder is any indication, Blunt may have to abdicate the leadership position and run like everyone else.

- Murphy

Monday, November 21, 2005

Republicans Dis the Boss

No, not Bush, Bruce Springsteen. Senate Republicans blocked an attempt to pass a symbolic resolution to honor the iconic and famously pro-America rocker.

Apparently the Republicans are still angry that Springsteen stumped for Kerry last year.

Via. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly who also reports that, more and more, these sort of honorary resolutions are becoming subject to partisan fights.

- Murphy

Saturday, November 19, 2005

In Debt Forever

Congress is moving to eliminate the cap on student loan interest rates.

Someone once commented that the Republicans won control of Congress and they ought to do something with their power.

Given the decline of manufacturing, a college education is often the only way to get ahead in the "new economy". It strikes me that it would help if Republicans didn't saddle the millions trying to get a piece of the growing economy President Bush loves to rave about.

Compound interest is wonderful for investment, but it is a killer for debt. Perhaps the Republican leadership would see fit not to saddle the American people with debt for the rest of their lives. Education is an investment, not a luxury.

If the Republicans can cut their well-heeled supporters a tax break, perhaps they could see their way to providing a way for the rest of us to reach that point.

- Murphy

Racist Much?

The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter identification law told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the new law, it is only because it would end such voting fraud.

The newly released Justice Department memo quoting state Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta) was prepared by department lawyers as the federal government considered whether to approve the new law. It also says that despite Republican assurances the law would not disenfranchise elderly, poor and black voters, Susan Laccetti Meyers, the staff adviser for the Georgia House of Representatives, told the Justice Department "the Legislature did not conduct any statistical analysis of the effect of the photo ID requirement on minority voters.
Via. The Washington MonthlyThis is one of those examples that always crop up that folks should remember before heading down the path of thinking there is no conscious disenfranchisement going on.

- Murphy

The Executive Brand We Have

This is one of the most important sentiments expressed about the true importance of electing responsible people to run our government.
That’s why I wish we could de-personalize elections. The American people need to understand more clearly just what a vote for Bush really represented.

A vote for Bush was also a vote for Rumsfeld running the Pentagon; it was a vote for Brownie running FEMA; it was a vote for the Federalist Society selecting our nation’s lower-court judges; it was a vote for an FDA that puts religion before science; it was a vote for David Safavian running procurement; it was a vote for Vladie Tomlinson running CPB (which runs PBS and NPR); it was a vote for oil executives writing energy policy; it was a vote for John Yoo writing torture memos; it was a vote for an EPA hostile to environmental law; it was a vote for a Department of Labor that warns Wal-Mart before an investigation; it was a vote for the Heritage Foundation staffing the CPA; and on and on.
Publius at Legal Fiction nailed it.

If more of the Democratic party and more of the anti-Bush groups focused on this rather than the variety of niche issues, there may be a chance to shift the wind.

- Murphy

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No "Rumsfeld Wars"

Defense Tech is reporting that Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is distancing himself from responsibility for the war in Iraq.

Given the enormous role played by Rumsfeld, Cheney and the neocons in not only the war in Iraq but the entire forein policy structure of the United States, their sudden interest in reminding people that the ultimate responsibility lies with the President when previously they were happy to stand front and center on this issue, does not bode well for the administration. This makes reports of Bush's increasing isolation seem even more understandable.

The President's entire legacy rests on how he handles Iraq and terrorism. Now the partners that got him in up to his neck are distancing themselves. Or, perhaps, the President has pushed them away as the realization slowly dawns that his policies are not likely to earn him a great place in history.

The Washington Post Magazine story that Defense Tech refers to is an illuminating portrait of Rumsfeld. Far from distancing Rumsfled, it lays the consequences of the war square on his shoulders.

An important point near the end of the article comes from Army Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, senior office in Central Command, who summed up the state of the U.S. defenses in the face of actors such as Al Queda. Abizaid concluded that the nation is still unprepared to confront such an enemy.

There may be no "Rumsfeld war" but there is a "Rumsfeld military" and that military has been unsuccessful in prosecuting the war in Iraq. It has only been with the reassertion of the senior military commanders on the ground that there has been any progress in combatting the insurgency.

- Murphy

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy B-Day, WWW

The world wide web will turn 15 years this month.

Over at the Financial Times, James Boyle explains how the web turned out so well, and why it won't happen like that again.

Someone previously said, if the attitude that corporations and media groups have towards the web were predominate earlier in our history, it's questionable that public libraries ever would have gotten off the ground. I think that is just about right.

- Murphy

Friday, November 04, 2005

Interesting Poll Numbers

There are some poll numbers out recently that will not sit well with the White House.

ABC News Poll
Bush Job Ratings
Overall job: Approve 39%, Disapprove 60%

Economy: Approve 36%, Disapprove 61%  

Iraq: Approve 36%, Disapprove 64%  

Health care: Approve 34%, Disapprove 61%

Gas prices: Approve 26%, Disapprove 68%
Bush Personal Ratings

Is a strong leader: Yes 47%, No 53%

Is honest and trustworthy: Yes 40%, No 58%

Shares your values: Yes 40%, No 58%

Understands problems of people like you: Yes 34%, No 66%.
Via Kevin Drum, CBS figures on the importance/unimportance of recent scandals.
Plamegate: 86% important 12% not important

Clinton-Lewinsky: 62% important, 37% not important

Whitewater: 49% important, 45% not important

Iran-Contra: 81% important, 19% not important

Watergate: 78% important, 22% not important
Via Crooks & Liars, the general public appears to view the advise part of the Senate's advise and consent job with more importance than the administration believes. The results of a Gallup poll evaluating Alityo in the shadow of Roe.
If it becomes clear Alito would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, Americans would not want the Senate to confirm him, by 53% to 37%....
This is not the view of America that the conservative christian wing of the Republican party would like to see put forth.

Bush is not alone in his trip to the bottom of the polls. Vice President Cheney just hit 19% in his approval rating.

The public may not be as amenable to the administration's reasons for their actions.

- Murphy

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

You say potato I say actavisto...

Two Yale Lawyers, one a professor, one a recent grad, decided to take a swing determining just what makes an "activist judge". It's a widely used phrase among right-wing commentators and politicians who want to take a shot at judges who issue rulings they disagree with.

Many of those paying attention recognize the rather meaningless phrase for what it is, but Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golde decided to evaluate the sitting supreme court for levels of "activism" using a single, neutral and consistent standard, "How often has each justice voted to strike down a law passed by Congress? "

The results certainly won't please the right-wing punditocracy but should not surprise those who see through the term for whiffle ball bat it is.
We found that justices vary widely in their inclination to strike down Congressional laws. Justice Clarence Thomas, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, was the most inclined, voting to invalidate 65.63 percent of those laws; Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, was the least, voting to invalidate 28.13 percent. The tally for all the justices appears below.

Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
O’Connor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

One conclusion our data suggests is that those justices often considered more "liberal" - Justices Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens - vote least frequently to overturn Congressional statutes, while those often labeled "conservative" vote more frequently to do so. At least by this measure (others are possible, of course), the latter group is the most activist.
The troubling aspect of this study is not that the truth is not on the side of the critics, but that the right's use of the phrase has so permeated the public that many individuals toss of the phrase, "activist judge" without any real knowledge of what they are talking about.

There are certainly more measures than the one used above, but in the context of how it is used by conservative commentators (it is often used neighboring the implication that the judges are overturning the "will of the people" by overturning legislation) this is perhaps the most accurate measure of who are the "activist judges" among us.

- Murphy

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Meet the new boss....

Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, David Addington, may succeed the recently indicted "Scooter" Libby as Cheney's Chief of Staff. His potential elevation may only serve to increase the difficult questions the V.P. is likely being bombarded with. Murray Waas and Paul Singer lay out Addington's role in several controversial administration actions in today's National Journal.
…Addington worked with Libby and Cheney in a broader effort to blunt congressional criticism that the administration selectively used intelligence information, and misrepresented other information, to make the case to go to war. In that instance, Addington played a key role in withholding information from Congress.

… a CIA representative, as well as one from at least one other agency, believed that Addington selectively released classified information to damage Wilson…it was believed that Addington was holding back other documents that would portray the administration in an unfavorable light.

National Journal reported last week that Vice President Cheney, Libby, and Addington, overruled advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers and decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence.

Addington shares with Cheney and Libby the view of increasing presidential power and authority and setting strict limits on the release of executive branch information to both Congress and the public.

As early as May 2001, Addington was the point person for the White House in deflecting requests by congressional Democrats and later the General Accounting Office (now named the Government Accountability Office) for information about the energy policy task force convened by Cheney's office.

…Addington helped draft the White House memo that concluded that the Geneva Convention against torture did not apply to prisoners captured in the war on terror. The memo declared that terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

- Murphy

Question on charges

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's decision to indict Lewis "Scooter" Libby on charges of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice rather than espionage or the identities act have left a the public with a few questions and provided administration supporters a chance to weave a defense, thin though it may be.

Kevin Drum provides a great explanation of the reasoning behind Fitzerald's decisions. Unfortunately for administration supporters, it has nothing to do with the state of the offense, but with technical limitations of the relevant laws.

The trial of "Scooter" Libby (if there is one, there is always the possibility of a plea bargain) is likely to expose a side of the Bush administration they would rather keep under wraps. It will be impossible for them to deny that Libby lied under oath, and the indictment itself undercuts arguments that Libby was some kind of "rogue" official. It's known that Libby consulted with Vice President Cheney and others early on about how to handle the press inquiries about Cheney's role in sending Wilson to Niger.

The prosecution will on fuel questions about intelligence in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. The Italian angle of the story is finally starting to break. Josh Marshall and Laura Rozen have been covering the role of Italian intelligence officials in creating and disseminating the forgeries as well as the false information that provided the administration with one of the most concrete points to hang their hat on.

Much of the story is bogged down in teasing out the countless twists and turns of how the operation worked, but as the story receives greater exposure, it will also begin clearing itself up. It is certain to be an interesting few months.

- Murphy

Monday, October 24, 2005

Locked and loaded

Michael Crowley of The New Republic lays out the ground rules for what is sure to be a lively sport this November:
Now, this is almost too easy. Nevertheless, in the event of PlameGate indictments, The Plank looks forward to reuniting apologist Republicans who persecuted Bill Clinton with their earlier views about perjury and obstruction of justice. Just because the fish are in a barrel doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot them![Italics mine]

- Murphy

Virtually Leakproof...

Frank Rich: Fitzgerald is, "The un-Ken Star."

- Murphy

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Scooter Story

James Wolcott adds to the story of "Libby the patsy" that is starting to shape up. It's not likely to be the chapter that Libby wanted to include in his memoir.
Imagine you're I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

I know, it's not easy.

It's not easy imagining yourself striding manfully down the corridors of power or plotting the overthrow of tyrants while answering to the name of "Scooter."

You're not even being treated as a honorable warrior whose crime (if it was a crime) and sin (if it was a sin) was standing up for your boss against that showboating prick Joe Wilson.

No, those you've been loyal to are now disloyally sliding the blade into your back and not even allowing you a dignified sacrifice. They've broken the code of silence are leaking like mad to the LA Times

See, I'm imaging that if I'm Scooter Libby, I might be thinking that Karl and his crew overplayed their hand making me the leper, and maybe I've got some things of my own to divulge, and if I go down, maybe I won't be going down alone.

They're not going to pin this all on me.
Fitzgerald has to wrap up by the end of this week unless he extends the grand jury which the folks with far better knowledge don't think he is going to do. I think the next few weeks are going to require a few batches of popcorn and perhaps a bottle of champagne for good measure (though I work in a brewery and a beer may be more appropriate. Perhaps a batch of indictment ale is in order).

- Murphy

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Man Overboard....

Josh Marshall suggests that this piece in the L.A. Times detailing "Scooter" Libby's breathless pursuit of Joseph Wilson has less to do with detailing his obsession than setting him up.

Josh's instinct is likely correct. Despite Republican talking points to the contrary, Fitzgerald is not going to merely close up shop and leave town. The lawyers must know this and they have spent the past two weeks getting ready. They might be uncoordinated and ill-prepared, but they know they have to make it about one man, not a coordinated White House operation. They have to build a story that doesn't imply the President condoned such activity, even though it is pretty clear he did.

Josh also notes that the White House Communications Director allegedly reigned in Libby in April of 2004:
Keep that in mind when considering possible coordination between the White House and the majority staff on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while it was finishing up the Iraq WMD report in the summer of 2004. We'll return to that subject later.
There has clearly been coordination between the chair of the Senate Select Intelligence, Pat Roberts, and Vice President Cheney on the Committee's investigation into the use or potential misuse of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. That second report has been long in coming and isn't likely to see the light of day soon. The role of Cheney's office in the first report, the investigation into Iraqi WMD's is unclear, but given his efforts to mold any and every aspect of this issue to support the administration's viewpoint and goals it would not be farfetched to suspect some form of prodding.

- Murphy

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Separation of what? Never heard of it...

If there is one positive outcome that we can hope will follow in the wake of the Bush administration and its potential meltdown, it is that the Constitutionally-mandated separation of powers, essential for the proper functioning of our government, will regain it's primacy. This is not "one nation, under party, indivisible, with license and power for us."

Laura Rozen dug up some troubling information in researching a piece on the missing Senate intelligence report.
So who did the Vice President's office reach to for assistance in its campaign to blame all of Iraq on the CIA? Apparently, Pat Roberts, the chair of the Senate Select Intelligence committee, the committee that had promised to investigate how the US government got Iraq intelligence so wrong. Off and on the past couple months, I have been talking to staff on the committee, Republicans and Democrats, trying to figure out what's really happened with the promised Phase II SSCI report, that was supposed to examine US government officials' use of the intelligence.…

Earlier this week…I was calling someone up for a quick question, and we got to talking about the latest Fitzgerald news from over the weekend. And I was told something that really stands out: that Roberts has literally been coordinating with Senate majority leader Frist and Cheney's office very closely on many aspects of the Senate Intelligence committee's supposed investigation of the intelligence, and in particular, working closely with Cheney's office on crafting the language defining the terms for the as-yet unfinished Phase II report.

…think about it. Here's the Congressional committee constitutionally mandated to provide oversight of all intelligence activities happening by the US government. And yet, here we have the Intelligence committee head coordinating to some degree with the Vice President's office, who we now know to be deeply involved in some of the most dubious of pre-war intelligence pronouncements, tasking, unconventional intel channels, and cherry picking, and at the forefront of a post-war campaign to slime Wilson and his CIA officer wife. When Congress is in cahoots with the administration in stifling oversight, who can investigate the investigators? Unfortunately, it's not in Fitzgerald's mandate.
Here's a link to her piece on the missing report.

When and if this whole saga is played out, many people are going to have a hard time believing some of what has been going on. It is going to come out of right field. It will allow the Republicans to play some defense, but people tend to give big-time, mob-busting prosecutors like Fitzgerald the benefit of the doubt.

There hasn't been any administration so completely corrupt and willfully anti-democratic since Nixon's. While Nixon's crimes were certainly despicable, the level of mendacity and deception that has been this administration's standard operating procedure since day one has brought them to a new level. One that Machiavelli would have been proud to have authored had he been as malevolent. Sanctioning a break in and cover-up is (to quote an earlier story) bush-league compared to leading the nation to war on a road paved with demonstrably false facts. The Fitzgerald investigation has only served as a crowbar, ripping off the facade to expose the rot beneath.

The underlying story is enormously important and it will take hard work on the part of the press to keep the story on the rails, something it hasn't been doing a great job with thanks to an inexplicable propensity for bringing on Republica spokespeople as "experts" in the ares of law and government policy. The former Republican National Committee chairman is not going to provide an insight into the Fitzgerald's potential strategies. Particularly if the subpoenas come out.

- Murphy

Keep fingers clear of spinning blades

Howard Fineman: Live by the spin, die by the spin.

- Murphy

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bush Knew....

No...not the old conspiracy theory. This is much more immediate, much more rooted in fact and much more frustrating.

The New York Daily News is reporting today that the President knew about Rove's involvement in the Plame scandal in 2003.
WASHINGTON - An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."

"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."

Other sources confirmed, however, that Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.
I haven't had the chance yet, but it would be interested to go through the President's public remarks and find out if he has said anything other than the now standard, "Can't comment on an investigation," line. Though the White House was initially quite talkative about the situation, once it looked like real trouble, they clammed up.

The question is, if the President really knew that Rove was involved in 2003, what happened to his pledge to fire anyone involved? Most observers took believed that as much as you believe a mechanic on the only road through the desert when he tells you it'll be cheap to fix your car. There will always be something that comes up.

Cynicism out of the way, what does it mean if the President's chief political advisor admitted, to the President, being involved in a potential felony and nothing came of it? Is Rove so completely and utterly essential that the President set aside ethical and potentially legal ramifications in order to win re-election?

Update: Josh Marshall adds some important details for gauging the accuracy of this breaking story.
Now, one other detail about this piece. It runs a few hundred words. But the most important two are probably these: Thomas DeFrank.

DeFrank's the byline ... DeFrank has a unique relationship to the Bush world, particularly to the older generation. He cowrote James Baker's diplomatic autobiography The Politics of Diplomacy, for instance. And back in the summer of 2001, The Weekly Standard suggested he'd actually been in the running to be chief Pentagon spokesman, before the job went to Tori Clarke.

… this article carries more weight than it would with another byline

- Murphy

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Who was at the meeting?

There was a big catch at the end of the Washington Post piece linked to earlier. Laura Rozen credits Erik Umansky for picking up on the significance passage:
Senior administration officials said there was a document circulated at the State Department -- before Libby talked to Miller -- that mentioned Plame. It was drafted in June as an administrative letter and addressed to then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who was acting secretary at the time since Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard L. Armitage were out of the country.

As a former State Department official involved in the process recalled it, Grossman wanted the letter as background for a meeting at the White House, where the discussion was focused on then growing criticism of Bush's inclusion in his January State of the Union speech of the allegation that Hussein had been seeking uranium from Niger.

The letter to Grossman discussed the reasons the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) did not believe the intelligence, which originated from foreign sources, was accurate. It had a paragraph near the beginning, marked "(S)," meaning it was classified secret, describing a meeting at the CIA in February 2002, attended by another INR analyst, where Plame introduced her husband as the person who was to go to Niger.
This is the same letter that ended up on Air Force One that so energized early speculation on who was responsible for the leak. It is likely that a number of people knew early on who Wilson's wife was before the leak. Perhaps even those who claimed only to have "heard" about it.

- Murphy

Department of Great quotes

This one's really gonna burn him. From Today's New York Times
Several administration officials said Mr. Card would be furious with any White House official who leaked information to the press. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak by the White House.

- Murphy

Shooting the messenger

Josh Marshall sees this piece from the New York Times as an indication that the, "Knives are out for Andy Card." Though the President's Chief of Staff does come in for some criticism, it doesn't seem that Card's work is the real focus. The followers were plenty happy with him back before Katrina, but now that the tide has turned for the President, his administration and the Republican Party at large...
His office oversaw the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, coordinating federal assistance that was broadly condemned as too slow. Mr. Card personally managed the selection of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court, a choice that has splintered the Republican Party and left the administration scrambling to rescue her nomination.

The confluence of crises, all running through Mr. Card's suite just steps from the Oval Office, has some critics asking whether he needs to clean house or assert himself more forcefully - or at least consider a course correction before Mr. Bush is downgraded permanently to lame duck status.

"He's always been - weaker is not quite fair, but he's always been a less powerful chief of staff than we're used to," Mr. Kristol said. "It worked well for a while. It seemed he was good at coordinating Karl and the vice president and Josh Bolten and Condi. And, again, to give him credit, in the first term things went pretty well, you have to say. So I don't really put the blame on Andy; he's doing what he's always done."
In fact, it would seem that the critics are taking out there anger at the President on Card. While the chief of staff has a duty to reign in the President if he is about to make bad decisions, he is, in the end, only the advisor. The President ultimately makes the decision.
"The lesson of both Katrina and Miers is that the system of decision making in the White House no longer meets the needs of the president," said David Frum, a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush who has been critical of the Miers choice.

Critics "could perhaps hold Andy accountable for not saying, 'Mr. President, this is going to be a mistake,' " said William Kristol, the conservative commentator and another vocal critic of the Miers nomination.
The anger that shook the Republican party following Katrina and the Miers nomination seems to have found a vent. Not at the President, but at his COS. Yet both the Katrina breakdown and the Miers debacle seem in keeping with the President's management style. Unsure steps in a time of crisis and the appointment of friends to positions of influence they are not qualified to handle.

I get the impression that the concept of, "Let Bush be Bush," doesn't go over well with the base. It would seem they only saw him as a figurehead after all

- Murphy

What did the Vice President know, and When?

On Hardball yesterday, Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio said that the real significance of the Plame investigation revolves around the information used to sell the Iraq war to the American people. A bill of good mostly created by Cheney and his people. The other reporter in the segment, whose name I forget at the moment (the transcript isn't up yet), seemed exasperated saying it wasn't about the war, it was about the leak.

Well, they are both right, but I think Goodman deserves recognition for pointing out the greater, overarching subject. WIlson was attacked because he threatened to disrupt Cheney's work-up for the war. The leak was tactical, the overall campaign was about willful deception fed to the American people. Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald might be thinking the same thing.
The special prosecutor has personally interviewed numerous officials from the CIA, White House and State Department. In the process, he and his investigative team have talked to a number of Cheney aides, including Mary Matalin, his former strategist; Catherine Martin, his former communications adviser; and Jennifer Millerwise, his former spokeswoman. In the case of Millerwise, she talked with the prosecutor more than two years ago but never appeared before the grand jury, according to a person familiar with her situation.

Starting in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the vice president was at the forefront of a White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that invading Iraq was central to defeating terrorists worldwide. Cheney, a longtime proponent of toppling Saddam Hussein, led the White House effort to build the case that Iraq was an imminent threat because it possessed a dangerous arsenal of weapons.

Before the war, he traveled to CIA headquarters for briefings, an unusual move that some critics interpreted as an effort to pressure intelligence officials into supporting his view of the evidence. After the war, when critics started questioning whether the White House relied on faulty information to justify war, Cheney and Libby were central to the effort to defend the intelligence and discredit the naysayers in Congress and elsewhere.
The Millerwise connection might prove interesting. Josh Marshall notes the attention given to Millerwise and seems to suggest that she might be the White House source everyone is speculating about.

- Murphy

Friday, October 14, 2005

How much?

How much will it cost to pursue all these criminal investigations? Republican assertions that the increasing number of investigations are a result of political retribution become more and more farcical as the investigations pile up. Sen. Lautenberg certainly helped keep up the attention, but the G.A.O. long ago exposed and condemned the illegal activity.

Josh Marshall notes an Associated Press story on the Armstrong Williams propaganda investigation:
Sheesh! It never rains but it pours.
A criminal referral in the Armstrong Williams goofball propaganda case?
The AP reports that the this may be about more than just propaganda
The action was disclosed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who has pressed for a criminal fraud investigation focused on questions about whether Williams actually performed the work cited in his monthly reports to the Education Department.

The Government Accountability Office has concluded that the Education Department engaged in illegal "covert propaganda" by hiring Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act without requiring him to disclose that he was being paid. The Education Department's inspector general has also reviewed the Williams deal, which was part of a broader contract that the education agency had with Ketchum, a public relations firm.

Now the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is investigating whether Williams accepted public money without performing his required duties, said Dan Katz, chief counsel for Lautenberg. The attorney's office has a range of potential remedies, from suing to recover the money to possible criminal charges, Katz said.
These are not the results of an active opposition party, this is the result of standard operating procedure under this administration.

- Murphy

Second Term Scandals, but First degree offenses

A story today by Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker of the Washington Post gives a good rundown of some of the various investigations involving the Bush administration and top Republican officials. They give special attention to the Abramoff investigation which is likely to lay bare the incredible amount of corruption in the Republican Congressional machine. Money is the key to winning races and Abramoff and DeLay created the perfect machine to control how that money moves.
Beyond the short-term problems, Republicans are particularly anxious about the sprawling investigations of conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose business and political dealings regularly brought him into contact with dozens of lawmakers and top White House officials. Among insiders, he was one of the most familiar faces among the generation of operatives and lobbyists who came of age when Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 elections.

"The one that people are most worried about is Abramoff because it seems to have such long tentacles," said former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a lobbyist with close ties to the White House. "This seems to be something that could spread almost anywhere . . . and that has a lot of people worried."
I think VandeHei and Baker stumble, however, in letting the Republicans try to reframe this issue.
The current atmosphere is not what Bush envisioned as a candidate in 2000. Coming off the Clinton years, which were dominated by seven independent counsel investigations and the impeachment of the president, Bush vowed to run a cleaner and more ethical Washington. "In my administration," Bush told voters in Pittsburgh in October 2000, "we will ask not only what is legal but what is right, not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves."

But scandal historically has ripened in second terms, including Watergate for Richard M. Nixon, the Iran-contra affair for Ronald Reagan, and the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation for Bill Clinton. "It always comes back," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia scholar who has written on Washington scandals. "There may be a couple of dry years occasionally, but it is a style of American politics -- always has been, always will be. And now it's back with a vengeance."

Some administration allies lament the return of the scandal culture. "There was essentially none of that for the first five years," said Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R), Bush's first budget director. "That doesn't make the current situation any easier to watch."

Other White House advisers see politics behind the recent spurt of investigations. "Some of it is cyclical politically," said Leonard A. Leo, who has taken leave as executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society to help promote the Miers nomination. "And some of it, I'll be honest, is when the left and the Democrats are losing the battle of ideas, they turn to manufacturing scandal."
When people, especially Republicans, talk about scandal, they are talking about the Clinton administration, not Reagan or Nixon. What they fail to acknowledge is that the Clinton investigations were led by a Republican Congress that was focused on "getting" Clinton. After years of investigation, little of anything came out. Clinton did commit perjury by lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski. Yet given the incredible depth and breadth of the investigations into the Clinton administration and their background, very little bubbled up.

In contrast, the investigations that have reached out and touched the President and top Republican officials have come from the government itself. The request to investigate the Plame leak came from the CIA. The Abramoff investigation had been underway for years in the Justice Department. The DeLay investigation is being led by a Democrat, but it comes after numerous examples of DeLay's own party rebuking his techniques (He was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee three times. After which he proceeded to change the House rules so he could retain his leadership position even if he came under indictment, a rule change they abandoned when the public saw through the ploy).

The problems faced by the White House and the Republican Party are of their own making. The Democrats have certainly been willing to help along the process, but they are essentially only holding open the door as the feds shove them through.

- Murphy

Worried about Bird Flu? Maybe we should be...

Laura Rozen picked up on a Knight Ridder story by Jonathan Landay that looked at preparedness in the face of a potential pandemic.
"People at the White House are now ... starting to recognize ... that this country is not prepared," said Jerry Hauer, who directed HHS emergency preparedness for two years until he quit in 2004, charging that his superiors were foot-dragging on the avian flu threat.

Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman, denied that the department had been slow. He said that its experts have been digesting "thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands" of public comments on the draft plan.

He declined, however, to confirm any details of the blueprint.

Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department and president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, said Washington should be treating preparedness "more like a Manhattan Project," the crash atomic-bomb development program of World War II.

A number of other countries are ahead of the United States in preparedness. Britain finalized its plan in March, has created a Cabinet-level coordinating office, ordered enough Tamiflu for 25 percent of its population and put in place a system for rapidly producing and distributing a vaccine once one is developed.

Critics complain that the Bush administration has ordered only enough Tamiflu to cover less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, despite a 2000 recommendation by the U.N. World Health Organization that governments cover at least 25 percent.

Swiss-based Hoffmann-LaRoche, the sole maker of Tamiflu, says that with 25 other countries ahead of it, the United States must wait until the end of 2007 to buy enough of the drug to cover 25 percent of its population.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America says even that isn't enough; it wants HHS to stockpile enough Tamiflu to treat 50 percent of the U.S. public.
As Rozen points out, this is not a case of confronting unknowns, its simply a case where the U.S. simply hasn't done the necessary work. Epidemiologists and health care experts have been warning the country for years about Bird Flu, and it appears nothing has really been done.

Given the relative state of unpreparedness, what does it say about the government's ability to deal with a biological attack?

Oh, remember the President's comment about the need for greater executive powers to help ease the establishment of military quarantine zones (read "martial law")?
Many experts dismissed Bush's suggestion that the military could be used to impose quarantines, saying it was inappropriate and probably useless to count on soldiers to use force against sick Americans going out for food or medicine.
This of course has been on the move since Katrina(scroll to the bottom):
Bush began discussing the possibility of changing the law banning the military from participating in police-type activity last month, in the aftermath of the government's sluggish response to civil unrest following Hurricane Katrina.

Last month, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "wants to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina," including the use of the military in "a severe, catastrophic-type event."

"The Department of Defense would assume the responsibility for the situation, and come in with an overwhelming amount of resources and assets, to help stabilize the situation," McClellan said.
Whatever happened to the billions that were poured into the Department of Homeland Security to deal with exactly these issues? Has nothing of substance been achieved since Sept 11? Or has the administration merely secured the safety of an expanded executive?

- Murphy

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Merely training a militia?

Kevin Drum highlights an article by Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder on the role of sectarian sentiment in the Iraqi army. It's a frightening portend for the future of Iraq.
American commanders often refer to the 1st Brigade as a template for the future of Iraq's military.... Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

.... Asked if he worried about possible fighting between his men and the Sunnis at Umm al Qura, the brigade's command sergeant major, Hassan Kadhum, smiled.

"Your country had to have a civil war," he said. "It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood."
As Kevin points out, this is only one example, but it is a worrisome one. If it is an indication of a larger problem, it should not be a complete surprise. Rumors and worries that we were merely training the Iraqis to fight one another have been bouncing around since before the war.

- Murphy

Conservative crackup

Howard Fineman has an article on the Newsweek website describing members of the Republican party unhooking their wagons from the President.
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush may have no military exit strategy for Iraq, but the “neocons” who convinced him to go to war there have developed one of their own — a political one: Blame the Administration.

Their neo-Wilsonian theory is correct, they insist, but the execution was botched by a Bush team that has turned out to be incompetent, crony-filled, corrupt, unimaginative and weak over a wide range of issues.

The flight of the neocons — just read a recent Weekly Standard to see what I am talking about — is one of only many indications that the long-predicted “conservative crackup” is at hand.
Fineman's prediction may be too soon, but his breakdown of the various factions that make up the Republican party is clear and concise.

- Murphy

"Careless people"

Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, wrote a review of George Packer's The Assasin's Gate: America in Iraq for the Washington Post. He generally praises Packer's reporting on Iraq and agrees with his decision to end the book without a incisive analysis, instead posing some larger questions about Iraq's future. This chapter in history is far from complete and perhaps the Iraqis can avoid the worst-case scenario and create a new nation based on authentic democratic, representative systems. No one can write the final page yet.

What Rose correctly and succinctly points out, however, is that while Iraq is still a work in progress, it is well past time to expose and address the bungled manner in which the administration prepared for and prosecuted the Iraq war:
It is not too soon, however, to return a judgment on those at the helm who took a difficult job and made it infinitely more so, dramatically undermining America's regional and global position in the process. They were "careless people," as Fitzgerald said of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." That, if nothing else, can stand as a lesson for future tender souls contemplating the possible benefits of liberal imperialism and mulling attempts to do the right thing with the wrong partners.
Rose may even be too kind in that assessment. The administration was not hampered by having the wrong partners, but by its own actors. It's partners, in fact, were attempting to prop up the administrations staggering policies.

The administration turned to democratic themes as a last resort; themes that are attractive to Rose and others who see a positive role for U.S. power in promoting democracy and human rights. The administration knew it would be able to soften up opposition by posing it as a major goal instead of an ancillary benefit, if that. It has allowed them to avoid some difficult questioning and has caused many liberals who see value in intervention, such as President Clinton's actions in the Balkans, to question whether they have the right to hold President Bush accountable.

Some argue that the neocons prominent role was evidence of an interest in exporting democracy to the middle-east. Yet for the neocons, democracy was a means to an end. Their vision of which was an Iraq led by a government installed by the U.S. quickly after toppling the Saddam regime. The exposure and collapse of Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress exile group as little more than modern-day carpetbaggers demonstrated the willful misunderstanding the neocons had of the situation.

With Saddam gone, all the elements of government in Iraq disassembled, U.S. companies taking over much of the infrastructure and a few empty-shirt, pro-U.S. leaders installed, the administration believed they could walk away. The necons believed not in democracy as much as pro-U.S. governments in the middle-east, regardless of their respect for democracy.

- Murphy

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rumor: Indictments in the Plame case.

The rumor mill is buzzing that there may be indictments handed down. Via Crooks and Liars,Radar magazine has the news:
The D.C. Rumor mill is thrumming with whispers that 22 indictments are about to be handed down on the outed-CIA agent Valerie Plame case. The last time the wires buzzed this loud — that Tom DeLay would be indicted and would step down from his leadership post in the House — the scuttlebutters got it right.

Can it be a coincidence that the White House appears to be distancing President Bush from embattled aide Karl Rove? “He’s been missing in action at more than one major presidential event,” a member of the White House press corps tells us.
AmericaBlog repeats Radar's notice.

- Murphy

BBC heading in Gore's direction already?

In Al Gore's speech he talked about trying to to move television into a more interactive direction. Via Romenesko, it appears the BBC may already heading in that direction, though it wasn't exactly what they intended.
Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC World Service and Global News Division, told a conference the broadcaster's prominent use of video and other material contributed by ordinary citizens signaled that the BBC was evolving from being a broadcaster to a facilitator of news.

"We don't own the news any more," Sambrook said. "This is a fundamental realignment of the relationship between large media companies and the public."
In September the BBC opened up some of their archives for free use.

Even considering that the BBC is a massive, state-run media company, they have taken some progressive steps in opening up the media and ensuring a public discourse. Check out BBC's international coverage and you will see a stark difference from major U.S. media outlets.

- Murphy

Al Gore Speech on Public Discourse

It is to bad that such important topics discussed by intelligent people like Gore are dismissed by many, especially those in the media. Gore and then Kerry were written off as cerebral bores. Not acknowledging the fact that we may want our leaders to be intelligent people who can quickly understand complex problems and deal with the enormous volume of information that flows through modern government. We expect our Supreme Court justices to be brilliant minds that excel in their field, shouldn't we expect as much from our leadership?

That said, Gore gave an excellent speech on the nature of modern public discourse and the critical role it played not only in the formation of our country, but in understanding out basic freedoms.

Gore is apparently trying to put his money where his mouth is and is part of a startup cable channel, Current TV. Current is trying to foster greater viewer/broadcaster interaction with live events and viewer-produced programming.

Here's a few excerpts from his speech:
How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?
On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?
In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders,  probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry.  But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed.   And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism,  and the Enlightenment  and enshrined  a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing  republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."
In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay.  It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people.   And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable.  That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1)    It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information  directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all;
2)    The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual  responsible  for them;
3)    The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
It ennobled the individual  and unleashed the creativity of the human spirit.  It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther frontiers of freedom - for African Americans,  for women, and eventually, we still dream, for all.

- Murphy

Spinning out of control

Kevin Drum comments on Abu Ardvarks analysis of Karen Hughes' "Listening Tour". Aardvark's take on the broadly panned tour:
The idea that Hughes could bond with Arabs around common humanity — "we all love children" — is deeply patronizing, infantalizing, and condescending. It also flies in the face of all available survey and focus group data, which overwhelmingly shows appreciation for American society and Americans as individuals, but hostility to American foreign policy.
What neither Aardvark nor Kevin talk much about is the fact that the rather style the Arab world reacted so badly to is merely a modified version of what the Bush administration foists daily upon the American people.

The rest of the world is not regularly subjected to the rhetoric and propaganda of the Bush administration and thus, unsurprisingly, reacted negatively.

Much of the the Bush-led Republican agenda has been papered over in "down-home" rhetoric and simplistic appeals to faith and family. The rhetoric itself is not unusual, but the fact that it conceals the actual policy so well is revolutionary. The administration has been able to redirect and deflect much of the attention and criticism as a result.

Supporters of Bush's plan aren't ignorant of the game plan, but they let the administration keep up the facade because, in general, it is in their interest. Those who oppose the administrations policies, however, have to hack through an incredibly densely-layered propaganda campaign. The administration has also had the good fortune of a press that tends to give deferential treatment to those in power; until they stumble enough to give them a good story (President Clinton's history of sexual peccadilloes ensured a continuing narrative for the press to write easy-sell news).

The main controversy regarding the Bush administration at home, as it is in the middle-east, is their flawed policies. With few exceptions, no one hates Bush or his people on spec, their policies, however, do infuriate.

Now that the administration's self-centered policy objective has pushed their base off the edge, the "aw-shucks, git 'er done" Bush style has worn thin, even for his supporters.

Many are now seeing the administration in the light his non-supporters, both domestic and international, have seen him since day one. It is not the enemies of the U.S. who hold many of these views, but those who support and care for the U.S. and its people. The enemies want to destroy the U.S., its supporters criticize because they want to see it do better.

- Murphy

George Will: Bush an ot e trusted with the Constitution.

A sub-par Supreme Court nominee would not normally be expected to raise the level of vitriol among the the party of the President. A full-throated opposition is usually reserved for the opposition party. Yet in this second Bush term, the tables have flipped and the President is facing an uncomfortable reality; the base is pissed.

When even mild-mannered conservative George Will calls on the Senate to reject the President's nominee - a move he would soundly denounce if proposed by the Democratic leadership - especially with such finality, the Mylanta and scotch deliveries to the West Wing are bound to increase.

Will calls for her rejection because he sees White House Counsel Harriet Miers as unqualified for the position of Supreme Court justice.
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.
Not only that, Will rejects the President's qualifications to chose a Supreme Court nominee:
It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.

He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections.


In addition, the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution. The forfeiture occurred March 27, 2002, when, in a private act betokening an uneasy conscience, he signed the McCain-Feingold law expanding government regulation of the timing, quantity and content of political speech. The day before the 2000 Iowa caucuses he was asked -- to ensure a considered response from him, he had been told in advance that he would be asked -- whether McCain-Feingold's core purposes are unconstitutional. He unhesitatingly said, "I agree." Asked if he thought presidents have a duty, pursuant to their oath to defend the Constitution, to make an independent judgment about the constitutionality of bills and to veto those he thinks unconstitutional, he briskly said, "I do."
These are all points that critics of the Bush administration has been making for years. Bush has most often chosen the path that is post politically profitable irrespective of its adherence to philosophy or concepts of good governance.

Despite Bush's elevation as the "CEO President", continued negative fallout from his management decisions - think Iraq, Katrina, corruption in the leadership of his party (the President is still the head of the party), the general economy - reveals the lies of the propaganda his protectors have thrown up to protect him. If Bush were to run his company in the way he manages the country, the stock would be in the tank and there would be several investigations going on. Come to think of it, that may not be far from the truth.

The President played to his base promising that he would deliver unto them a more conservative, more Christian nation. All he asked was a little patience. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the Supreme Court picks were supposed to be their payoff. They were promised the appointment of justices who would overturn Roe and would finally vanquish the false concept of a separation between Church and State.


Bush's base, the conservative christians, took some body blows when it came to small-government conservatism. The payoff would come, they told themselves. When Robert was appointed, the right was happy, not ecstatic, but he was generally "one of them". The next pick was supposed to be their pick. If Roberts was the consesus conservative, O'Connor's replacement was to be the christian conservative, the one they could shove in the face of liberals, modernists and Democrats. The pick that would help the U.S. shoulder its proper mantle of one nation under, of and for God.

Instead they got taken.

Bush is finished. Soon other conservative politicians will woo away the support of the base and try to consolidate it enough for a run in 2008. Yet after the decades of work bringing the christian right into the political system, might this send them back into the wilderness? They held Bush up as the embodiment of their values and he, time and again, took their support and went the other way. If they couldn't achieve their dreams with a two-term President that made Reagan look like a moderate, what is left for them?

Perhaps more importantly, now that Bush has revealed his true colors, can we get back to the business of responsible governance?

- Murphy

Monday, October 03, 2005

Justice who? Or, Can I be a nominee too?

Crony seems to be a word in frequent use since the announcement this morning of White House Counsel Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court.

While crony is certainly a mean-spirited term, the implication that she has worked very closely with President Bush is spot on.

She has gone from his choice of Texas Lottery Commission Chairman in the mid-'90s to the White House Counsel in 2004. Along the way she has rarely been too far from the President's side.

She served as a personal lawyer for Bush and did exploratory opposition research on his record to dig up any embarrassing details before the 1994 Governor's race and again in 1998. The 1998 research was in part a prep for his potential 2000 Presidential run; Bush was seen as the front-runner after his 1998 reelection.

After President Bush's 2000 victory, Miers came on as Staff Secretary in 2001. As White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said,
"There is not a piece of paper that goes into the Oval Office or that comes out of the Oval Office that doesn't go through Harriet's hands." - Dallas Morning News March 22, 2001.
She later moved on to Deputy Chief of Staff for policy and then replaced Alberto Gonzales as White House Counsel after he was appointed Attorney General, a position her name was floated for back in 1998 (Washingtonian Magazine, July 1998) when he was seen as a potential front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

It was from her post as White House Counsel that Miers led the search for the next Supreme Court nominee and spearheaded Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts' nomination process. She will now follow in the path she laid out for Roberts.

Miers' most commented upon quality seems to be her ability to "fly under the radar". While that would seem to help deflect criticism from the Democrats (it's hard to criticize a record that doesn't exist) her unobtrusive record might also be seen as undistinguished by conservatives who have, so far, been the most vocal criticizing her. From distinguished conservative journal the National Review Online's The Corner:
THE GOOD NEWS ON MIERS [Rick Brookhiser]
It's not as bad as Caligula putting his horse in the Senate.
And from the NR's editorial board, a more measured evaluation.
These things are either not present, or are present to a smaller degree, in Miers’s case. Being a Bush loyalist and friend is not a qualification for the Supreme Court. She may have been the best pick from within Bush’s inner circle. It seems impossible to maintain that she was the best pick from any larger field. It seems highly unlikely that she will be the kind of justice who, in combination with Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas, will attract additional votes by the sheer force of her arguments. This nomination was a missed opportunity.
If this is the reception Bush's nominee is receiving on the first day, it is likely that the next few weeks will be tumultuous for her.

In general Democrats on the left have said little. One exception that stands out, however, is Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) who, inexplicably, had this to say:
"It appears the President has made a sound choice in Harriet Miers. From every indication it seems that she has the qualifications and experience to serve on the Supreme Court. Based on her background and experience, if confirmed, she would undoubtedly bring a new perspective and balance to the Court."
Despite Miers' nearly blank visage if there is one thing she is not bringing to the table is is qualifications to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

She has argued no major cases, never served on a bench and spent most of her recent professional life as as advisor to President Bush. She is a loyalty pick, plain and simple.

I am not the first to point this out but if I were a part of the "party of values" that delivered for President Bush in 2004, I would ask for my money back.

- Murphy

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rouge intelligence operations?

Laura Rozen points out a story in today's Washington Post detailing concerns that the Department of Defense may not be following the rules.
Republican members of Congress say there are signs that the Defense Department may be carrying out new intelligence activities through programs intended to escape oversight from Congress and the new director of national intelligence.

The warnings are an unusually public signal of some Republican lawmakers' concern about overreaching by the Pentagon, where top officials have been jockeying with the new intelligence chief, John D. Negroponte, for primacy in intelligence operations
The creation of a National Intelligence Director did not go over well with many in the intelligence community. It doesn't appear these activities were well concealed and so were likely a symptom of bureaucratic infighting and not evidence of activities that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld would like to keep from the Congress. Rumsfeld's publicly announced ideas are problematic enough; we probably don't want to know about the ones he feels he must keep to himself. That said, the activities need to come to a halt until proper oversight is restored.
As part of the intelligence overhaul that Congress ordered last year, Mr. Negroponte, as director of national intelligence, is supposed to oversee 15 intelligence agencies whose activities fall under a budget category known as the National Intelligence Program. Mr. Negroponte has less authority over programs that fall under another category, the Military Intelligence Program, which are intended to provide tactical and strategic support to military commanders.

But the concern expressed by [Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee] and others is focused on a third category of programs involving intelligence activity but not labeled as such, and included within the budgets of the individual military services.

In the interview, Mr. Hoekstra said the committee had been told that the Pentagon was creating parallel structures "so they don't have to deal with the D.N.I.," the abbreviation for the new intelligence chief.
The two massive changes President Bush has made, the Department of Homeland Security and the creation of a Director of Intelligence have both expanded the government and contributed to confusion and resentment. While some form of streamlined coordination organization or board could have helped the federal government do its work better in both areas, the DHS and the NID have merely added additional levels of bureaucracy. In addition, at least in the case of DHS, it created new patronage positions that should have been filled by experienced professionals.

- Murphy

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Delay Indicted on Conspiracy Charges

House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) has been indicted today by a texas grand jury on criminal conspiracy charges related to illegal campaign funds. The charges stem from an investigation into a political group DeLay founded, Texans for a Republican Majority. The group is believed to have channelled corporate donations to local races; illegal under Texas law.

Besides the enormously important point that DeLay's carefully-balanced Republican graft and pay-for-play operations may spin out of control thanks to this investigation and an investigation into DeLay's close associate, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, this conspiracy investigation may involve the Republican National Committee.
In late September 2002, Colyandro, the executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, sent a blank check to Ellis, who is DeLay's primary fundraiser in Washington.

According to the money-laundering indictment returned against those two last year, Ellis was accused of having the Republican National Committee launder $190,000 of corporate donations into noncorporate money that was sent to to seven Texas House candidates, including Austinites Jack Stick and Todd Baxter.
There is an enormously complicated web of dependence that links together the current slate of Republican power-brokers and DeLay sits at the center of it all.

With a continuing investigation into Abramoff as well as the ongoing Rove-Plame investigation the DeLay indictment has the potential to finally crack open the door into the unethical and potentially illegal manner in which DeLay and Rove use enormous sums of money controlled by Abramoff and his associates to ensure the GOP marches in lock-step to their orders.

It's a disciplined machine that awes many in politics, but at its core it is based on illegal, corrupt and unethical actions.

- Murphy

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Death of Pat Tillman

Robert Collier details the compelling and tragic story of Pat Tillman's death and his family's strugle to uncover the truth. Tillman abandoned his life as a professional athlete to become a soldier. A dramatic change in life that ultimately resulted in Tillman's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

The story describes an individual who surpasses the one-dimensional image of the football player and the soldier, as well as a family that is struggling to uncover why the Army attempted to cover-up the nature of Tillman's death.

The Army initially announced that Tillman's death came at the hands of the enemy as he heroically fought to save his fellow soldiers. The Army eventually came clean with the truth that Tillman was killed in combat but by friendly-fire.

Tillman was a hero to his family and a brave friend to those he served with. His death, accidental though it was, occurred while he was doing what he believed in. The Army did not need to try and cover-up the circumstances of his death or attempt to assuage what could have been negative PR. In fact their efforts, once the truth came out, had the opposite effect.

Tillman's service was by all accounts honorable and remarkable he should be remembered for that and the particular circumstances of his death should not be the focus.

- Murphy

Monday, September 26, 2005

Whose values are they following?

The National Review Online reposted an article written in January 1989 on the then potential collapse of the Soviet Union. The article was written by Radek Sidorski who was just elected to the Polish Senate. The article itself details the extensive rot that riddled the Soviet empire and would lead to its collapse. Sidorski didn't pick '89 as the year of the fall, but he knew knew it was soon, and that it would fall with a sigh, not with a bang.

He posed a question to his conservative audience, how should the west manage the decline of the Soviet empire? A question there were no clean answers for but a situation the United States handled reasonably well during the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. It has been a far from perfect dismantling, but it proceeded far more peacefully than many expected.

In considering the question, however, Sidorski raised a point that conservatives who support the current administration would have been wise to spend more time on, and should perhaps be debated anew today:
We must not fall into the conservative trap of believing that if only the Soviet Union would transform itself into traditional "Russia" everything would be well-Russia being a long-established entity capable of abiding by the international rules. By the milder standards of its time czarist Russia was also a tyranny and a prison of nations. We would be forsaking our values if we betrayed the subject nations of Eastern Europe simply because the idiom of domination changed. The attempts to suppress Eastern Europeans' national aspirations have already caused two world wars. Their future is on the agenda again now.
Then, the focus was on conservative concepts of freedom and governance. While there may be disagreements over tactics and philosophies, conservatives and everyone else agreed that ending the tyranny of the USSR was a noble goal and would obviously be undercut if they simply supplanted an imperial dictatorship with a home-grown one. [The role of the U.S. in fighting socialist and marxist movements in South and Central America were linked to this struggle by bellicose conservatives, but the origins of the U.S. proxy fights there go back as far as the origins of the U.S. itself.]

This is a perspective that could use some dusting-off in the conservative circles of today. The potential for despotic rule is great in Iraq and growing every week.

Much of the post-invasion rationalization of the war consisted of some version of, "We got rid of Saddam, didn't we?" If the final outcome is not some form of modern civil society that reasoning will seem like small compensation.

- Murphy

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Who's got the loot?

The venerable Getty Museum has allegedly been collecting looted art pieces for years. The evidence is pretty damning despite their claims they, "didn't know it was looted.":
•  A 1985 memo shows that Getty officials learned from dealer Giacomo Medici that three objects the museum was acquiring had been taken from ruins near Naples decades after Italian law made it illegal. The Getty completed the $10.2-million acquisition anyway.

•  An acting curator accused the Getty in a 1986 resignation letter of turning a blind eye to problems in the antiquities department. With eerie prescience, he said the museum's "curatorial avarice" would someday lead to an external investigation and demands from a foreign government for the return of looted artifacts.
This is one of the dirty secrets of the art community. Art theft and trade in looted objects is nothing new, much of it is driven by private collectors who secret their stashes and presumably gaze upon them behind closed doors while fiendishly twirling a mustache. Art museums have for decades held themselves as above such trade, but the reality is, as the Italian law first states, "all ancient objects uncovered from Italian soil after 1902 were state property and could not be sold or exported without government permission," much of the older collections in some of the great museums fall into this questionable category. There is an ongoing legal fight between Egypt and Germany over the famous bust of Nephertitti.

Much of the artifacts that were looted from Iraq following the invasion are already on the market though there is an ongoing effort to return as much as possible. In that case, much of the documentation on the objects was destroyed during the looting.

It is hard to know what to do about the objects that were collected during the years when documenting an objects' origin was only thought of in terms of determining an objects authenticity and thus its worth. The Indiana Jones, "That belongs in a museum," mentality was a quaint idea then. Private collections were the destination for most of the world's priceless objects, in fact most of the public museums' collections are made up of privately held objects either donated or on loan to the museum.

The public good argument can be used to justify questionable actions, such as the Getty's. Yet it is also a public good to ensure that a nations treasures and their ownership of such objects are respected.

- Murphy

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hand up not a hand out; any hand at all?

A piece in today's L.A. Times (via Josh Marshall) describes the shifting plans to assist those displaced by hurricane Katrina. The article sub-head says that President Bush prefers not to boost existing programs, but in looking at what appears to be the White House's idea of a solution, there seems to be some disconnect. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is publicly questioning the White House's efforts
WASHINGTON — Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to issue emergency vouchers aimed at helping poor storm victims find new housing quickly by covering as much as $10,000 of their rent.

But the department suddenly backed away from the idea after White House aides met with senior HUD officials. Although emergency vouchers had been successfully used after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the administration focused instead on a plan for government-built trailer parks, an approach that even many Republicans say would concentrate poverty in the very fashion the government has long sought to avoid.

Instead of depending on long-running programs for such services as housing and healthcare, the president has generally tried to create new, one-shot efforts that the administration apparently hopes will more easily disappear after the crisis passes. That has meant relying on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has run virtually all of the recovery effort.

"FEMA can help fill some immediate needs after a disaster, like giving grants to help people repair their roofs or pay for temporary housing," said John P. Sucich, a former senior FEMA official who oversaw the recovery from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "But it is not the agency to turn to to ensure the kinds of continuing help that families need to begin putting their lives back together.

At least in the case of housing, critics say that the president's unwillingness to rely on existing programs could raise costs. Instead of offering $10,000 vouchers, FEMA is paying an average of $16,000 for each trailer in the new parks it is contemplating. Even many Republicans wonder why the government would want to build trailer parks when many evacuees are now living in communities with plenty of vacant, privately owned apartments.

"The idea that — in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society — we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.
Gingrich is not known for his fondness for government programs, but he has tended to be a pragmatist and has been increasingly vocal about the way in which the current administration runs its operations.

Philosophies aside, good governance and rational, helpfull public policy is in everyone's best interest.

- Murphy

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Great Bus Question

Will we finally find an answer to the question implied by the famous photo of a lot full of buses sitting in water up to their seats? Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly picks up on a piece by Michelle Millhollon in the Baton Rouge Advocate that gets Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's side.

It does raise the question, will anyone care?

- Murphy

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Royale's new Website

The hippest spot on Kingshighway now has a hip new website, check out The Royale.

- Murphy

Government? We don't need no stinkin' government

Columnist Tom Friedman does not often pen a column that I agree with. It is not so much that I think he is wrong so much as I question his reasoning, even when he does advocate positions or ideas I agree with.

Today's column, however, is an exception.

Friedman sees Hurricane Katrina as stripping away the veneer of the Bush administration's and modern Republican claims of good governance and responsible leadership. It is representative of the abandoning of the basic principles of governance. The often critical question posed by administration critics. "Where are the adults?" comes to mind as more and more evidence of complete administrative collapse comes to light.

One of the most recent examples is that despite the heaped criticism upon the hapless former head of FEMA, Michael Brown, it turns out that the ultimate call had to be made by the Department of Homeland Security Chief, Secretary Michael Chertoff.
WASHINGTON - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.
DHS is a Bush administration creation, one that occurred over the resistance of the administration. Their first appointment as Secretary of DHS, Bernie Kerik, was perhaps a sign of the administration's opinion of the importance of qualified leadership in an agency they seemingly had little interest in. Kerik withdrew his name after numerous questions arose over his past including a New Jersey warrant, possible criminal ties, and the employment of an illegal immigrant as a nanny. There was also the general perception that what Kerik has done best in his time in government service was to promote Kerik.

Friedman ends his column quoting a Singapore columnist:
Janadas Devan, a Straits Times columnist, tried to explain to his Asian readers how the U.S. is changing. "Today's conservatives," he wrote, "differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday's conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

"The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have. ... [But] it is not only government that doesn't show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, 'we're all in this together' doesn't show up."

- Murphy

Monday, September 12, 2005

White House plays the Blame Game Best

Via Josh Marshall, Time Magazine takes a close look at the reality of the Bush White House.
The White House has sent delegates to meetings in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans to blame the Democrats and state and local officials. In the meantime, it has no plans to push for a full-scale inquiry like the 9/11 commission, which Bush bitterly opposed until the pressure from Congress and surviving families made resistance futile.
From Mike Allen's Time article.

- Murphy