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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Turning the Corner

I have no idea whether or not 2006 will be the year the power of the despots in this country will be checked, but if it happens it will be due to people like James Comey who after only three weeks on the job as the number two man in the Justice Department went to John Ashcroft in December of 2003 and told him he had to recuse himself from the CIA leak investigation.

It was also James Comey who appointed his good friend, the godfather to his son, Patrick Fitzgerald as Special Counsel and gave him the power to do the job without interference.

According to the New York Times, it now appears that when John Ashcroft was hospitalized for a gall bladder operation in March of 2004, Andy Card and Abu Gonzales had to go his hospital bed and ask for approval of key parts of the warrantless wiretapping program because his acting deputy refused to certify it.

The deputy's name? James Comey.
With Mr. Ashcroft recuperating from gall bladder surgery in March 2004, his deputy, James B. Comey, who was then acting as attorney general, was unwilling to give his certification to crucial aspects of the classified program, as required under the procedures set up by the White House, said the officials, who asked for anonymity because the program is classified and they are not authorized to discuss it publicly.

That prompted two of President Bush's top aides - Andrew H. Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and now the attorney general - to make an emergency visit to George Washington University Hospital to review the program with Mr. Ashcroft during what aides have described as a difficult recovery, the officials said.

The White House and Mr. Ashcroft, through spokesmen, declined to comment Saturday on the emergency meeting. "As the president has stated, the intelligence activities that have been under way to prevent future terrorist attacks have been approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department," said Jeannie Mamo, a White House spokeswoman.

Accounts from other officials differed as to exactly what was said at the meeting at the hospital. Some officials indicated that Mr. Ashcroft, like his deputy, was also reluctant to give his signoff to continuing with aspects of the program in light of concerns among some senior government officials about the program's legality and its operational controls.

It was unclear whether the White House ultimately persuaded Mr. Ashcroft to approve the program or whether the White House moved ahead without his concurrence. What is known is that in early 2004, about the time of the hospital meeting, the White House suspended parts of the surveillance program for several months and moved ahead with more stringent requirements on the National Security Agency on how the program was used, in part to guard against possible abuses.

The Justice Department's concerns appear to have led, at least in part, to the suspension, and it was the Justice Department that oversaw an audit conducted on the program.
Comey announced his resignation from the Justice Department in March 2005. And when BushCo. tried to appoint a Skull & Bones crony to oversee Fitzgerald, Comey did an end run around them and appointed the extremely ethical David Margolis to the task as his parting shot out the door.

Was Comey one of the whistleblowers? I have no idea. But on that high note of integrity we finish our last 2005 post on firedoglake. Thanks to everyone for an amazing first year.

(thanks to Wilson46201)


Year End Navel Gazing

Sidney Blumenthal:
Bush hoped to erase the year's infamies with the election in Iraq on December 15, his ultimate turning point. He delivered five major speeches crafted by his new adviser on the National Security Council, Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and co-author of Choosing Your Battles, based on his public opinion research showing that "the public is defeat phobic, not casualty phobic". In one speech, Bush mentioned "victory" 15 times, against a background embossed with the slogan "Plan for Victory," and the White House issued a document entitled National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

Since the election of the Shia slate that will hold power for four years, dedicated to an Islamic state allied with Iran, the president and his advisers have fallen eerily silent. As his annus horribilis draws to a close, Bush appears to have expended the turning points. Welcome to victory.
It's not that I don't enjoy it when people make predictions for the new year, it's just that for myself I haven't got a clue what will happen. BushCo. have managed to shrug off the torture scandal, the Iraq fiasco and the complete distortion of the ensuing public discourse in a way that I find utterly appalling, and the perspective of this commenter over at the HuffPo obviously represents a far larger segment of the population than I like to believe:
To all the Bush haters, Your life is not so bad under Bush and you have remained safe. Could any of you point to specific incident in your life that worsened under the Bush administration caused by a Bush Policy. As a conservative I would like to know.
I guess this is the year we will see if there are enough checks and balances in place in the system to steer things back to some course of sanity despite public apathy in the face of so many events that should have been challenged by outrage long ago.

I don't have predictions, but I do have hope. That Karl Rove will be taken down, that Jack Abramoff will sing like a canary, that the sacks o'cash that fuel the GOP machine will dry up and that DINO Democrats will "get religion" after witnessing the cautionary tale that will be Joe Lieberman.

Anyone willing to go out on a limb and look into their crystal ball for the new year?


Tom DeLay's Missionary Work

Tom DeLay's spokesman Kevin Madden has been tireless in his devotion to brewing a big batch of indignation over yesterday's Washington Post story.

I don't know about you, but I sure do find comfort when I hear that Hot Tub Tom was busy spreading the twin beacons of Christianity and capitalism to those godless communists of Moscow.

I can well imagine it was probably Madden himself who leaked the secret Russian diaries documenting the Hammer's visit to Sin City, a testament to the earnest piety of the one they call the Bug Man:
Day 4

I don't wake up until nightfall. We have a fine dinner at a restaurant called "Mario's." Local embassy rep joins us. I'm at the table with IMF reps, World Bank rep, someone from Exxon, says he knows me from Houston. ...

We leave Mario's and head to an American-style bar in the center of town. It's called the "Hungry Duck." I like that name. The club is full of promising pro-American youths who are resisting old Communist ways. Several freedom-loving young Russian girls are dancing on the bar top. The IMF rep and World Bank rep hoist me up. Turns out these girls are guides. O sweet Jesus! They strip their tops off and strip my top off. Great music, song called "Alice" which I love. Just as they're undoing their short skirts, IMF rep says to me, "You know Tom, Russia really needs to keep the aid money flowing. Otherwise democracy and Christian values are in danger."

I tell him to get the fuck away from my guides or I'll strangle him with his own shoelaces. "And I won't make it a slow death either, you sleazy fucking prick," I tell him.

Vodka, whiskey, liquor...One guide falls off the bar top and cuts her lip. We go into a booth near the back, where awful things happened. Left club at 7am.

Day 5

I wake up around midnight. I don't want to move from my bed. Order a burger and fries from room service. Yell at the room service kid. Then I feel awful, give him a Hershey's bar.

"Sopeezda," I say to him. He blushes. "Sopeezda!" I say. He blushes and runs out. I follow after him. Bastard is stonewalling me. I head down to the lobby bar. "Sopeezda! Sopeezda!" The guards comfort me. I scream "Sopeezda!" and create a scene. They tell me they understand, and lead me up to my room. About thirty minutes later, after praying, there's a knock on my door. Two guides are there waiting for me. They enter my room, and we discuss golf and charitable contributions.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking -- DeLay Family Values Tour 2006?

He can skip Uzbekistan though. They're already quite good at manifesting everything the GOP stands for.

(thanks to SteinL)


The War on...Underbrush

The Preznit has now spent around 365 days on vacation at his ranch. That's right -- The Shrub has been on the job for five years, and has spent about a year of that time clearing...well...shrubs and underbrush and cedar trees. The WaPo has a feature on the favorite Bushie hobby, including this gem from Dan Bartlett:
"It's therapeutic for him, I guess. There's very few things he gets to do hands on."
Because being President of the freaking United States of America is such a hands off experience for Georgie Boy, he has to get that hands on time with cedar trees? I don't even know what to say, except that even the smarmiest of political operatives can speak the truth sometimes, I suppose, even if it is just a slip of the tongue.


Hey, We're Only Thinkin' About Mr. Padilla

According to the NYTimes, lawyers for Jose Padilla have responded to the DoJ's attempt to end run Supreme Court review of his case. And they have called out the Bush Administration:
The lawyers acknowledged that Mr. Padilla would prefer to be in civilian custody eventually. But they said it appeared that the only reason for the government's rush to move him was to bolster the administration's efforts to discourage the Supreme Court from reviewing the crucial underlying issue of whether President Bush had the authority to detain Mr. Padilla, an American citizen, as an enemy combatant for more than three years.

"The government had the power to transfer Padilla from physical military custody for more than three years, yet only now does it deem swift transfer imperative," Mr. Padilla's lawyers argued in their brief filed Friday.
I know I have said this over and over, but it needs to be repeated until these idiots start paying attention: we are a nation of laws, not of the shifting whims of a President who would be King.

That an American citizen could be grabbed, taken out of the lawful criminal process, transferred to military supervision with little to no access to counsel for years is bad enough. But to then have the US Department of Justice try to pull a fast one on the judicial branch to cover the ass of the Preznit is beyond the pale, and such an incredible slap in the face of the separation of powers that I can't even put my disgust into words.

Fortunately, the Fourth Circuit didn't have that problem:
"These impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today. While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be."
For a conservative circuit like the Fourth to be so disgusted with the Bush Administration is quite an accomplishment for the Administration hucksters involved in this case. Here's hoping the Supreme Court is just as disgusted.

Scotusblog has more.


To Plead or Not to Plead...

Jack Abramoff has been given a come to Jesus last ditch ultimatum from the trial judge -- plead or go to trial, and give an answer by Tuesday. If no agreement is reached on a plea deal, then Abramoff stands trial in Miami beginning on January 9th, 2006.

The judge has ordered that a hearing be set for 3:30 pm ET on Tuesday, regardless of whether the deal is reached or not, presumably to go over with Mr. Abramoff what the ramifications of his decision are whichever way he goes, and to take care of any scheduling matters for trial or otherwise.

It's crunch time for Jackie -- how far up the chain is he willing to spill the beans to save his own sorry hide from a substantial chunk of time in the federal prison system? How much is he going to pay back in restitution to all those tribal intersts that he bilked for his crony pals in Congress and in the Republican money chain?

That it is a holiday weekend, and he can spend time looking at the faces of friends and family...well, that's a whole lot of incentive to cut a deal, in my experience with criminal clients that had any soul left to feel the family anguish.

It's incredibly stressful for a defendant at this point -- all the more so with the judge himself issuing a court deadline. This is not, however, uncommon: judges do this all the time when they consult with the attorneys in the case and see that the parties are very close to a deal.

For judges, the dithering and posturing on both sides in the negotiating process is just irritating, because most cases (both civil and criminal) settle on a deal the day of trial, after a jury has been dragged in to be sworn and all the court personnel have gone through all the hassle of setting up media procedures and security measures. It is a big waste of resources and energy that could be put to better use elsewhere when the parties could have just come to agreement a few days earlier.

This nudge can be just what both sides need to close the deal -- and clear a big chunk off the court docket for other matters. Trials take a lot of time, energy and resources, especially high profile, media bonanzas like this one. My guess is that nothing will be in place until late Monday night, if at all, because lawyers tend to negotiate up until the last minute to try and push their advantage at the table by stressing out the other side as much as possible.

By Monday evening, though, there ought to be a whole lotta leaking. And for all of Jackie's pals on the Hill: enjoy the football, the brewskis, and the cocktail weenies this weekend, because you may be in a world of hurt come Tuesday. Abramoff doesn't strike me as a "loyalty to the end and damn the consequences to me" kind of guy. Fitting, considering the company he's been keeping.

Note to Jack: cut a deal, you know DeLay would sell you out in a heatbeat to cut two months off his sentence. Maybe he already has...just think about it, okay?

(Graphics love to Ward Harkavy of the Village Voice's Bush Beat blog.)

UPDATE: I missed this somehow this morning, but the WaPo has a handy compendium of Abramoff articles regarding Abramoff and his pals. In case you are new to the party, this might be a good place to start. Although, as always, Josh Marshall is a great resource on this as well.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Raging Bullshit



PRODUCER: Okay, go with me on this one. It's great. An updated version of Elmer Gantry. Only the guy's not a preacher, he's a politician, see, we'll call him "the Bugman." No, he's not Burt Lancaster handsome, more wall-eyed crazy like he's been huffing insecticide fumes for about a week. I see Hoffman or Pacino, doing one of those over-the-top character things...

So anyway, you with me here? Good. So this guy, he goes to Russia and he says he's there pimping Christianity, but really he's putting the squeeze on a bunch of rich Russians oil barons who don't want to pay taxes and want the IMF to bail out the government to the tune of $15 billion. So the Bugman says, for a cool million I can fix it for you.

So the Russians funnel a million dollars into -- get this -- a company called "The US Family Network" right? Cos ol' Buggy, he's got nothing if not a sense of humor. And it's run by this preacher, see...yeah, I know, it's just too rich, huh...but really all it does is pay out money to some lobbying firm run by the Bugman's former chief of staff, who writes checks to the tune of $3200 every month to the Bugman's wife for some fucking useless list of Congressional members' favorite, no, she doesn't do shit....

And they buy this townhouse, see, where they run all their business out of...and they've got all kinds of hucksters and shell games going on there, taking money from the Republicans...oh, did I not mention that? Yes, they're Republicans...and laundering it into the coffers of GOP candidates. They're living like kings. Ripping off Indians, hauling in bags of cash...And when anybody calls him on his shit, the Bugman just utters this outrageous crap like "We pray for God's wisdom..." And the marks eat it up!

It's gonna be great, Oscars all around, we'll all be buying each other BMWs this time next year....Yes, I know it's a bit over the top....Hero? Well, there really isn't one yet...

Okay, go with me on this one. There's this dog, see, and it talks....


The Golden Crony Is Here

Well, it's been a heckuva year, hasn't it? Jane and I were talking on the phone this evening, and debating who ought to win a Golden Crony this year -- but there are so many options. And with an award this important to the Administration...well, you can see our dilemma.

So we've decided to take it to the public. Who will it be?

Should it go to "Heckuva Job" Brownie? Or Harriet "You are such a smart man." Miers? Or Karl "I didn't tell any reporter her name, Mrs. Flame Plame Wilson" Rove? Or Karen "Bigfoot her way around the White House" Hughes? Or Scotty "I never met a dodge I couldn't weave" McClellan?

Or is there some unsung crony out there that cries out in the crony wilderness for your support? Who will you champion to win? Who will be crowned the Crony King or Queen?

(Stop laughing. This is important, dammit.)

We'll take nominations, and arguments for or against, in this thread, and will announce the winner of the Golden Crony some time this weekend.

It's our New Year's treat for all the FDL-ers out there. We can all sit back and re-live the Administration crap and unbelievable incompetence foisted on us by these back-patting morons *cough* good times as we discuss who among all the stellar leaders in the Bushie universe -- who among them has earned the Golden Crony for 2005.

Let the nominations begin. May the best crony win.


Fair Play

Krauthamer just said that he needs to see a case of abuse before he is convinced that the leakers in the illegal NSA spying case are whistle blowers. That's interesting. It shouldn't be required to show harm in a criminal case like this, but perhaps on a public relations level this is really what needs to happen.

I believe there is only a one percent chance that this extra-constitutional power grab did not result in abuse. The FISA court and the justice department both pulled in the reins in 2004 for a reason. The president kept this program secret long past the time he could have developed some reasonable legislation to accomplish what he needed to accomplish. There is something very wrong with this program or they wouldn't have handled it the way they did.
Everyone who thinks Dubya would never play dirty and use this kind of power against his opponents raise their hand.

(photo via Dependable Renegade)

Update: I'll be on Sean-Paul Kelly's radio show on station KTSA in San Antonio, TX from 7:00 - 7:30 PM PST, and I'm following Amato who will be on from 6:30 - 7:00 PM PST. You can stream it here.


Only Serious Journalists Need Apply

Oh bully for Judy Miller. What a bravura performance last night on Nightline. All that was missing was an atomizer of throat spray and a few strands of tightly clutched pearls.

First she can't remember who originally told her of "Valerie Flame," then she can't remember if she gave Maureen Dowd the boot from her White House press room seat but says if Maureen says so it probably happened (we read: witnesses). But she sure as hell remembers telling NYT editor Jill Abramson she wanted to write about Joe Wilson.

With a memory like that no wonder she generally has to make it all up.

On the Jill Abramson front we might actually believe her; if Scooter spoke with her three times on the topic he obviously wanted Judy to write about it and coming from the school of "legs in the air" journalism, Judy usually does what she's told. It's everything else that sounds like a pack of self-serving lies. But the curious part comes when Judy says that Libby never told her that Joe Wilson's wife had any part in sending him on the Niger trip.

She's said this before but I guess I've never seized on it, since it is quite an odd assertion that does little to enhance her already sullied reputation.

According to the indictment Libby was most certainly aware as early as June 11, 2003 that people in both the State Department and the CIA were saying Wilson's wife was involved in the planning of the trip, and Libby himself had been poking around trying to find out what paperwork would back this up.

In Judy's own private La Traviata she says:
Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether I ever pursued an article about Mr. Wilson and his wife. I told him I had not, though I considered her connection to the C.I.A. potentially newsworthy. I testified that I recalled recommending to editors that we pursue a story.
So, Ms. Solid Journalist, seeking to "reclaim" your reputation. If Wilson's wife had no role in his trip to the best of your knowledge, what exactly made this story newsworthy? If you weren't simply acting as a smear merchant for those who butter your toast, what possible bearing would the fact that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA have? Judy says:
I said I felt that since The Times had run Mr. Wilson's original essay, it had an obligation to explore any allegation that undercut his credibility.
What allegation was that exactly? The Jill Abramson thing is starting to make sense. If Judy ran back to the Times dithering about Wilson's wife's part in some secret liberal CIA cabal to take down the President well it just isn't surprising that Abramson paid no attention and hoped Judy's shrink would eventually get around to adjusting her meds.

Judy goes on to attribute her own personal trials at the Times to sexist fucks who didn't want women to succeed. Although it would be difficult in this lifetime to make the personal acquaintance of all those who loathed her during her 28 year stint there, my long-term encounters with those amongst them who wanted the head buried no closer than a thousand yards from the body and the mouth stuffed with garlic to assure she never returned attest to their own commitment to women's rights that renders Judy's latest pile of excuses a heap of vicious, self-serving spew.

If Judy wants to be taken seriously as a journalist she can stop with the purple dramaturgy, the Edina Monsoon desert ensembles, the awkward schoolgirl tittering at inappropriate moments during her interviews and the outrageous denial for any culpability in anything, ever. Judy's colleagues hated her because she never met a problem she couldn't lay off on someone else. Her journalistic "triumphs" now look like a steaming pile of shit since her quote-unquote "access" was gained in the thrall of powerful men she never bothered to question.

Her kiss-up, kick-down journalism make her John Bolton with a pen, and her reputation -- such as it is -- will probably be best served by keeping future TV appearances to a minimum.

Crooks and Liars has the video of the Nightline TV clip, and ABC News has excerpts not broadcast on television that include her Plame references.


Can You Raise My Allowance Again?

Treasury Secretary John Snow has asked that Congress raise the statutorily mandated debt ceiling. Again.
The last time Congress agreed to boost the debt limit was in November 2004 -- from $7.38 trillion to the current $8.18 trillion. The government's statutory borrowing authority was also pushed up in 2002 and 2003.

Snow's letter did not say how much of a boost to the current debt limit the department would like to see this time.

Instead, Snow implored, "I am writing to request that Congress raise the statutory debt limit as soon as possible."
Remind me again -- who holds both the Congress and the Executive branch? Oh, wait. It's the Republicans.

Next time someone says the Democrats are the "tax and spend" party, I'm going to smack them silly. Fiscal responsibility runs both ways, and the Republicans in their the hell with the consequences frenzy have now earned themselves the moniker of the "just spend it" party.

UPDATE: Reader Samurai Sam comes up with "borrow and spend" as the new motto for the Republican party. I think I like that better than "just spend it." Anyone else have any good suggestions on this? I think they deserve a nickname befitting their profligate spending habits, and I'm open to more suggestions.

UPDATE #2: We have "borrow and squander Republicans" from readers Minnesotachuck and Scott. That just makes me chuckle. I'm going to use that on a couple of people I know.


Guess Who?

Guess who has been put in charge of the Iraqi Oil Ministry, only days after he was soundly trounced in the latest round of Iraqi elections? Hint: It's not the US First Lady. Look over her right shoulder to see the newly-appointed fox in the Iraqi Oil Ministry henhouse.

Let's see: the Iraqi people so mistrust our dear Ahmed that only his friends and family vote for him, yet he's put in charge of the Oil Ministry? Hmmmm...wonder how that happened? (snark intended)

(Hat tip to reader Wilson for the link. Photo from the 2004 State of the Union Address. Guess it is all who you know when they pass out the good seats.)

UPDATE: More breaking news -- the DoJ will be investigating the NSA leak to the NYTimes. Strange how they are only starting the investigation now, a year after the Administration knew NYTimes was working the story. Can you say retaliation for this going public and making Bushie look bad? I mean, honestly, if they had been serious about getting to the bottom of the leak, wouldn't they have started looking into it a year ago when the WH started pressuring the NYTimes to keep the story under wraps? The closer to the leak you start the investigation, the better in terms of tracking down the leak. I'm just sayin'.

UPDATE #2: More on the "kicked into high gear now that the Preznit's knickers are in a twist, after knowing for more than a year they needed to get going" DoJ investigation into the NSA leak from MSNBC and the AP (via the NYTimes). (Hat tip to the many readers who sent me links on the updates.)


Of Cookies and Cable...And Wannabe Kings

According to Business Week (via Crooks and Liars), the NSA has been inserting cookies on computers visiting its website.
In a 2003 memo, the White House's Office of Management and Budget prohibits federal agencies from using persistent cookies -- those that aren't automatically deleted right away -- unless there is a "compelling need."...

Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who had drafted an earlier version of the cookie guidelines, said clear notice is a must, and `vague assertions of national security, such as exist in the NSA policy, are not sufficient."

Daniel Brandt, a privacy activist who discovered the NSA cookies, said mistakes happen, "but in any case, it's illegal. The (guideline) doesn't say anything about doing it accidentally."
So, let me get this straight: privacy and legal concerns weren't high enough to check the software before it was added to the NSA website. It was only after they got caught that they were sorry and fixed the software.


And how does the whole of the Administration fit into all of this? Is this just some anomaly? Not quite.
One indication that business's patience is wearing thin is resistance to the Justice Department's push to expand the act to cover Internet phones and broadband services. Federal law-enforcement officials are concerned about terrorists switching to the new systems to bypass traditional phone networks that have wiretapping-friendly technology. In August the FCC agreed and said companies that provide Internet calling that looks and feels like traditional phone service must comply with the 1994 law in 18 months. Universities, libraries and municipalities that offer Internet service would also fall under the law, the FCC said. That decision prompted telecom companies and Internet-software companies to protest the rule and civil-liberties groups to file a challenge in federal court.
But here's the kicker: even for universities and corporate legal counsel, the big question up to now hasn't been whether this violates constitutional and legal rights -- nope, the pushback has been about how much it was going to cost and who was going to pay for any needed upgrades.

According to the WSJ article, communications companies and academic institutions have been given until 2007 to make changes and upgrades to conform to new FCC and DoJ mandates on reconfiguring systems to comply with monitoring requirements in new regulations. Again, the bulk of the complaints appear to be on cost and irritation at what is required for compliance.

I fully understand that surveillance methods had to be modified to be more effective after intelligence failures prior to 9/11 -- and that integration of various investigative agency efforts had to be accomplished. But we do not win anything if we sacrifice the very freedoms on which this nation was founded.

Up 'til now, there has been little to no Congressional oversight on this -- only a big, fat Republican party rubber stamp with the occasional lone Democratic voice in the wilderness calling for more consideration of rights issues. With the latest NSA domestic spying disclosures, perhaps we have entered a period where there will be some debate about the merits of these proposals and how many rights it is appropriate to sacrifice on the altar of temporary security.

But one thing that has to be discussed is how far is too far? How long does the Preznit and his merry band of cronies get to grab the Constitution by the throat? Is it endless -- or just until the end of this Presidency, and then they'll re-evaluate depending on who wins election in 2008? And if that is the case, doesn't that answer the question as to whether this is a political as opposed to a true philosophical shift?

Saving the President and the party's political ass because you got caught with your hand in the Constitutional cookie jar is an understandable reaction -- after all the 2006 elections are fast approaching. But for Republicans and Democrats, this is a moment of truth: are you elected to represent the interests of your constituency for the long-term, and do you take your oath to protect and defend the Constitution seriously? Or is it truly all about holding onto power and covering each other's asses? You choose.

But know that we will be watching your choices. Now is the time for true patriots to stand up and be counted, regardless of party.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin
Do what the Founders did. Think about the threats to their personal and family safety during the time of the American Revolution. The men and women who fought for this nation's freedom, who sacrificed personal comforts and safety in order to bring forth a nation born in liberty, they set up a government by and for the people so that we would no longer have to endure the whim of a King. Do not throw all of that back in their faces simply for political expediency.

Put your nation first.

UPDATE: Looks like the White House website is passing out cookies, too. (Hat tip to Lis Riba for the link.)


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dubya's Glorious New Year

Shorter WaPo: Shhhh!! Don't mention the wiretaps!

VandeHei is quick to attribute the blip in Bush's Washington Post poll numbers to real smart politickin', but others have noted that it could just as easily be tied to falling gas prices. Meanwhile a new CNN poll puts Bush's favorability rating at an all-time low (53% unfavorable).

Well that was a rather brief dead cat bounce, heh?

Also: Judy Miller is going to be interviewed in Nightline tonight, and evidently Terry Moran asks her if she really made Maureen Dowd get out of "her" chair in the White House press room. You can watch an advance 6 min. clip here. Thanks to Steve at Tiger Beat for the tip.

Update: Judy's Plame stuff was not in the Nightline TV segment but can be seen online.


Cockpunchers of Thermopylae

I have resisted addressing Jeffrey Hart's article that is obsessing Wingnutiztan on the anatomy of a conservative mind because a) I knew it would be just so much wankery and b) already graced with an opinion on the topic I would nonetheless be obliged to read it.

It shouldn't really be a shock to anyone that the modern conservative movement which devotes itself to the endless generation and repetition of preposterous talking points that seek to befuddle the public and obscure the true motives of its proponents should not in fact attract the nation's "best and brightest" but rather its erstwhile used car salesmen (see: DeLay, Tom). But I was somewhat surprised to see Hart acknowledge that "[b]eauty has been clamorously present in the American Conservative Mind through its almost total absence." If he'd taken it a step further and included the American Conservative TV Presence the article might actually have stumbled upon some relevance.

There were perhaps historical eras in which conservative thought had its shining moments (just don't ask me to name any). I could go on and speculate as to the reasons for its current limitations, but I think my esteemed colleague TBogg said everything I have to say and more about the state of modern wingnuttery in this particular dramatization which is my sole nomination for the Koufax awards this year.

Mostly I just wanted an excuse to say Cockpunchers of Thermopylae.


Circle Jerks

Actual result of Rasmussen poll: ""[s]ixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States."

Headline from wignut blog Ace of Spades: 64% Say Warrantless Eavesdropping OK

And when the firebrands in the comments section noted the inherent mendacity of the warrentless insertion, how did the blog's auteur defend his decision to retain the headline?
Because I'm pretty sure that everyone in America knows we were conducting warrantless searches.

You bring up a sort of decent point about wording, but, come on, everyone knows what was being asked of them.

A question about "noncontroversial eavesdropping with full approval of a FISA court" would get nearly 100% approval, don't you think, Chief?

So what could possibly account for the missing 36%?
I can't include the full question in the fucking title, moron.
No, no he can't. That would be too long. He needs that space for violating Atrios's copyright.

I swear, between the slavish, Stalin-esque love for totalitarianism and their contempt for private property, free enterprise and market capitalism these people are all just fucking communists.

In the end, principle meant nothing and he bowed to the slavish demands of the crowd and changed the headline.

Let's amend that. Communist pussies.

Update: Sadly, the remedial Ace has no better education than his counterparts on the Russian collectivist farms and seems to be unfamiliar with the copyright laws that prevail in the free market. I realize that the concept of Intellectual Property is a bit sophisticated for someone grappling with the rudiments of capitalism, but as most liberals know you cannot copy someone's entire post and still fall under "Fair Use" provisions of the Copyright Act.

I'm sure he would just sulk before the judge, claim he was undeprivileged and should be excused because he "just didn't know." Tragic, really, how they all just can't take responsibility for their own culture of criminality.

I blame it on the welfare state.

(via Stephen Kaus)


Crashing the Gates

Good article on Markos up at Newsweek online, infinitely more savvy than the hopelessly muddled Washington Monthly one that appeared recently. I was really happy to hear Markos, always a good distiller of netroots acumen, talking about positive long-term Democratic vision and branding that didn't rely on Bush-hating for its vertebral column:
I think Democrats will make gains, but it'’s 2008 we need to think about. I'’m hoping that as we build our machine and repair the Democratic brand, people will start voting for Democrats because they want to vote for Democrats and not just because they want to vote against Republicans.
He also fires another salvo in the War on Lieberman, which we in blogtopia all take for granted but I haven't really seen accepted as an article of faith in the main stream press. Listen up ye stenographers, it's a-comin'.

You can also pre-order Crashing the Gates, the book by Markos and Jerome Armstrong here.


Don't Mind the Sharks

Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter slipped away from US government minders for a walkabout in the Kurdish controlled regions of Iraq. And what he found wasn't exactly Lincoln Group approved information.
Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.
To say this article is an eye-opener is a serious understatement. But it shouldn't exactly be a shock, considering the deep-rooted ethnic and tribal divisions in Iraq that have existed for longer than it has been a nation-state. (You know, one of those things we should have been contemplating before we went into Iraq in the first place.)

Additionally, Sunnis are refusing to take part in any government coalition talks until a full review of allegations of voting fraud is undertaken. The UN has certified the elections as valid, before all the votes have even been counted -- and the Sunnis are far from happy with this.

Swopa and Juan Cole have much more on these issues.

Sure, the US troop reductions and allies leaving the country are due to the Iraqis stepping up and doing really well, and have nothing to do with the continued instability there and the upcoming 2006 elections and substantial nervousness on the part of Republicans in Congress over election prospects.

Things are clearly going swimmingly in Iraq. So long as you don't mind the sharks.

(Photo from the NC Aquarium website.)

UPDATE: Congratulations to Dan Froomkin and his wife on the birth of their son, Max.


Crony Watch: The DoD Edition

According to the LATimes, the Preznit issued an executive order last week that got very little notice -- but it shifted the balance of power in the Pentagon from military to civilian leadership in the event of a "Doomsday scenario." This is the second change in the succession orders in six months.
A little-noticed holiday week executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy behind Rumsfeld. The second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position currently is vacant. The Army secretary, which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth....

But in its current incarnation, the doomsday plan moves to near the top three undersecretaries who are Rumsfeld loyalists and who previously worked for Vice President Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.
Nothing like rewarding your cronies for telling you just what you want to hear, rather than rewarding military leadership who tell you the hard truths about things, now is there?

Nothing like devaluing the opinions and advice of the people with the real world, military experience when you are making decisions about life and death situations for our troops.

Who needs the voice of experience when you can listen instead to the voice of speculation -- remember the whole "flowers and candy" greeting? I mean, that turned out well for us. Erm...well, not so much. Okay, how about the whole "there won't be any rioting, we don't need to plan for that." Well, no. Um...we don't really need to up-armor our humvees because we'll be closely guarding all the RPG and other weapons facilities in Iraq after the invasion? Um...

Okay, so maybe the voice of experience has its uses. Too bad the Preznit only wants to hear good news -- actually doing your job can be such a drag.

(Hat tip to reader ExcuseMeExcuseMe for the link.)

(photo by Mark Hoback)


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sing, Jackie, Sing!

As Hot Tub Tom scrambles to clear himself in time to regain his House leadership position, he also has his staff at the Washington Post (in the form of Ken Starr leak ho Steno Sue Schmidt) trying to distance him from Jack Abramoff. A new profile of toxic Jack contains this knee slapper:
DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men.
But Jack seems to be peddling a different story. According to Michael Isikoff earlier this year:
"Everybody is lying," Abramoff told a former colleague. There are e-mails and records that will implicate others, he said. He was noticeably caustic about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. For years, nobody on Washington's K Street corridor was closer to DeLay than Abramoff. They were an unlikely duo. DeLay, a conservative Christian, and Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, traveled the world together and golfed the finest courses. Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for DeLay's political causes and hired DeLay's aides, or kicked them business, when they left his employ. But now DeLay, too, has problems—in part because of overseas trips allegedly paid for by Abramoff's clients. In response, DeLay and his aides have said repeatedly they were unaware of Abramoff's behind-the-scenes financing role. "Those S.O.B.s," Abramoff said last week about DeLay and his staffers, according to his luncheon companion. "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details."

It is a Washington melodrama that has played out many times before. When political figures get into trouble and their worlds collapse, they look to save themselves by fingering others higher in the food chain. Will Abramoff attempt to bargain with federal prosecutors by offering up DeLay—and does he really have the goods to do so? Abramoff has at times hinted he wanted to bargain—possibly by naming members who sought campaign cash for legislative favors, says a source familiar with the probe. But Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says, "There have been no negotiations with the Justice Department." Lowell cryptically acknowledges that Abramoff has been "disappointed" and "hurt" by the public statements of some former friends, but insists his client is currently "not upset or angry with Tom DeLay." Still, if Abramoff's lunch-table claims are true, he could hand DeLay his worst troubles yet.
Don't get mad, Jack. Get even.

Update: I should point out we are lovin' this, from the WaPo story:
Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down."
And excellent visual aids here.

(hat tip netro and John Casper)

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)


And the Winner Is...

Yes, it's that time again. The Poorman hands out the Golden Winger awards, and winner of the Palme d'Hair is...well I really don't want to spoil it, except to say that I was pulling for Assrocket, I thought he clenched it with that "Bush is a genius" thing. So sad.

It was mostly domestic affair this year, but Matt over at lets us know that there is serious competition springing up from across the seas. He nominates GWB's good buddy Pervez Musharraf for "worst person of the year" for this quote:
You must understand the environment in Pakistan. (Rape) has become a money-making concern (for the victims). A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.
In a recorded interview. With the Washington Post. As Matt says, "that didn’t stop Musharraf from later trying to deny having said it."

He's a comer, that one.


Gettin' Ugly In Here

Bob Barr
First, we get a president bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali. He knows he can't really tell the truth and he knows he can't rely only on lies. The resulting dilemma leads him to veer from unintelligible muttering to attempts to distract, and then to chest-beating bravado and attacks on his accusers.

Soon, he begins taking trips abroad and appearing at the White House podium with foreign leaders with minimal command of English, allowing him to duck for cover whenever scandal questions arise.


A critical component of White House Scandal Defense 101 is rallying the partisan base. This keeps approval ratings in territory where the wheels don't start falling off. The way to achieve this goal is you go negative and you don't let up. If you're always attacking your accusers, the debate becomes one of Democrat vs. Republican, rather than right vs. wrong. Anyone who questions the legality of the decision to wiretap thousands of Americans unlawfully is attacked, as either an enabler of terrorists or a bitter partisan trying to distract a president at war.
John Dean:
I think it's dangerous for some Republicans, and I think some Republicans have realized that....They know the politics of this. They know the American people do not like to lose their civil liberties. It's still a story that is just starting to catch on and be broadly embraced and understood. It's a complex story. But people do get wiretapping. That's one of those issues they understand. Richard Nixon was impeached for it. He claimed national security. The Congress said, No national security. I think we got a parallel situation. (my emphasis)
I guess we can look forward to a lot more of this shit in our immediate future.


Around the Blogoverse

In case you missed it, Digby had a great post on the whole NSA mess and a smackdown of William Kristol at the same time. Bonus!

Via Laura Rozen at War and Piece, the story of how a young man, obsessed with making his first million, got it through a contract to pay people to write positive stories for the US military. If you wondered how the Lincoln Group got its start...

Glenn Greenwald has some great analysis on lawbreaking and the Presidency, including his read-through of the Federalist Society debate on the NSA issue.

And for the comedy starved among us, Attaturk has posted a Year's Best at Rising Hegemon. Mwahahaha.

In case you missed it, John Amato has his appearance on the Ed Schultz show up on Crooks and Liars. Go have a listen! (Plus, some amusing footage from Faux news here.)

Steve Soto has a great piece on Chalabi's fall from the Preznit of the Bushie Fan Club grace in the Iraqi elections.

Scott Lemieux at LG&M has a great round-up of libertarianism, torture and kicking people out of the club. (If that doesn't pique your interest, nothing will.)

As if you need another reason to worship his mastery of the English language, just go read Wolcott.

(One of the many gorgeous shots taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.)


Crooked E Plea

According to a report from the WaPo, Richard Causey, Enron's former chief accountant, is scheduled to appear in a Houston courtroom today at 3:00 to plead guilty. No specific word as to what the plea will be to or the deal struck. But this comes as an eleventh-hour deal prior to trial -- and has to hurt for Kenny Boy Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who still faces charges at trial, which is scheduled to begin January 17th.

Most likely lawyers for Lay and Skilling will seek a trial delay as they attempt to sort out what cooperation Causey offered in exchange for the plea. This pretty much drives a stake through the heart of their "the other rogue employees did it, not us" wall of defense.


Yet More Investigations

The CIA's inspector general is investigating up to 10 erroneous rendition cases, according to the AP (via MSNBC).
Some 100 to 150 people have been snatched up since 9/11. Government officials say the action is reserved for those considered by the CIA to be the most serious terrorist suspects....

For instance, someone may be grabbed wrongly or, after further investigation, may not be as directly linked to terrorism as initially believed.
It is good that the CIA is directly investigating these potential errors. But how do you put the genie back into the bottle once you've opened the stopper to allowing other nations to do your dirty work, in contravention of US laws and ethics? How do we walk ourselves back from the edge?


Not Enough Tears in the Whole World

The WaPo has an exceptional piece in today's paper regarding the challenges facing New Orleans in the rebuilding, and the daunting issues facing those residents who are considering whether or not to return.
"I think these people in exile will hold out, hoping to return, longer than residents of any other city might," said Frey, adding, though, that there are limits. "Once they get a year down the road, and they still can't come back, I would say the chances of return fall sharply."
There are so many considerations and factors tied into all of these decisions: political, economic, power, and personal. For these families, the decisions are not easy ones. And they will not be made quickly, because the levees, the mold, and the destruction still pose substantial problems.

As the rest of the nation has moved forward from the haunting images of Katrina's immediate aftermath, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have had to wake up to the destruction day after day. Don't let them think that the rest of us have forgotten them.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Meet the Fan

In a NYTimes article that should come as no surprise to the legal minds in the audience, defense counsel for a number of charged and convicted terrorism suspects are planning to challenge cases based on the latest revelations on the NSA spying domestically. To do less would be malpractice, because many of these defendants were American citizens, so this ought to be no shock to anyone who has spent time as defense counsel in criminal matters.

But as someone who has also been a prosecutor, I can tell you that this scenario is your worst nightmare in those shoes. No matter how solid your case, no matter how dirty the defendent might be, no matter how clean you thought your case was, the US Attorney is going to have to combat the perception by defense counsel that the defendant found his way into the government crosshairs through a dirty wiretap -- which hamstrings the government's case at the start.

And even though most of the USAttys probably had no idea that the NSA program existed (because it would be way above most of their clearance levels), let alone how it was being handled, they are imputed with that knowledge because the government is supposed to act in an above-board manner.

They are required to turn over the evidence used in the investigation of a defendant as discovery -- if crucial evidence was withheld, say that an illegal wiretap was used to target a specific defendant or that during that illegal wiretap, conversations were recorded which would show that the defendant might not be so guilty after all -- well, that is a big no no. And that is true whether or not the prosecutor ever knew the wiretap existed, because the law requires that the government conduct itself fairly in these matters, and that they follow the law. Especially when it comes to exculpatory matters for discovery.

Which leads to all sorts of questions:

-- Are these cases going to have to be re-tried, wasting loads of taxpayer dollars if parts of the evidence is found to have been withheld -- especially exculpatory evidence -- because national security concerns were felt at the time to trump civil rights issues?

-- Are judges going to find a way to uphold the convictions (especially where you did have overwhelming evidence of a bad actor, which is highly possible, given the fact that this is al quaeda we are talking about), while at the same time smacking down the government through the spectre of prosecutorial misconduct and some dressing down in that regard?

-- Or will there be a case where the evidence that may have been withheld was so egrigious that the court will throw out a conviction altogether, whether or not the defendant involved was a terrorist or linked to some sleeper cell in the US?

-- Are these defendants even going to get past square one in determining whether or not they were targets of the NSA? This is highly classified stuff, and the Administration is not going to surrender the information easily, no matter the court order (especially if it makes them look bad). Just how much wrangling will it take to get from A to B on this -- or will they ever get there?

-- How many of these cases are there out there? Will this include immigration deportations? All of those "person of interest" detentions without access to counsel that occurred in the months/years following 9/11?

-- The FISA law allowed for wiretaps without any warrant whatsoever for 15 days following a catastrophic event. If any of these defendants were identified in that period following 9/11, presumably the information would be admissible in court under the law. But did the wiretap or other surveillance continue without a warrant after that period? If so, why, considering any information obtained within that 15 day grace period would surely have served as substantial probable cause for a FISA warrant? (And what kind of idiot would risk not getting a warrant if they could lawfully do so? I mean, please, paperwork is no excuse.)

-- Why in the hell would you be so careless as to risk all of these legal prosecutions -- and future ones -- by thumbing your nose at FISA, the 4th Amendment, Article II, and the other criminal warrant requirements under the law?

All questions that are going to have to be answered. And this isn't just a couple of cases -- this is going to come up in every single terrorism case that has hit the court system. Every detention. Every conviction. Every plea. Every trial. Every case currently charged. Every single one. Because to not raise this issue in defense of your client would be legal malpractice, and no attorney is going to risk that.

But what about the US Attorneys whose jobs just got exponentially harder? How does the Administration reconcile their illegal tapdance around the FISA laws now that their being caught puts the entire legal front in the war on terror in jeopardy?

And how do you explain that to a US Attorney whose job it is to enforce the laws as they are written, regardless of who the defendant might be -- that because you are the President, you get some sort of pass? Nope. Not buying it.

This is what happens when you play fast and loose with the rules. It comes back to smack you right in the ass. And all of us will be paying the price for it: in court costs, in energy that will now have to be expended on this issue rather than on further needed prosecutions (because manpower only stretches so far), on the possibility that a bad actor will be set free because the President of the United States authorized a segment of our government to cheat the law because to follow it was too much work for him.
"It seems to me that it would be relevant to a person's case," Professor Tobias said. "I would expect the government to say that it is highly sensitive material, but we have legal mechanisms to balance the national security needs with the rights of defendants. I think judges are very conscientious about trying to sort out these issues and balance civil liberties and national security."
The government is required to prove its case -- but it must do so without cheating. That the President went on national television and admitted to these wiretaps and said he'd continue doing them the same way -- without the FISA approval required by the laws of this nation for this sort of domestic spying -- has now called every, single terrorism case into question.

This is what happens when you fail to think things through. This is why we have the rules and laws in the first place. Someone should have explained that to King George and his merry band of cronies.

Consequences are a bitch. And they are about the hit the fan.

UPDATE: Susan Hu has more at Booman discussing the legal implications of "fruit of the poisonous tree" for these cases. Jeralyn has more as well at TalkLeft -- good stuff.


More Fun With Wiretaps

Michelle Malkin, still aglow from her recent capital punishment endorphins-and-Aste Spumante moment, is now one of many in the up with savagery crowd calling for the NYT's James Risen and Eric Lichtblau to be waterboarded until they cough up their NSA wiretap sources.

She quotes:
Those who have demanded severe punishment for whoever it was who told reporters that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA have been remarkably forgiving about who leaked the existence of the NSA intercept program, which - like the earlier leak of secret CIA prisons for al-Qaeda bigwigs and unlike the Plame kerfuffle - has done serious harm to our national security.

But fortunately, by clapping New York Times reporter Judith Miller in irons until she talked, overzealous special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has set a valuable precedent.
That is just one astonishing bit of misinformation. We realize that doing any actual reading that doesn't involve porn of the Islamofascist barbarism variety can be bothersome and far be it from us to get in the way of a good philippic, but fill up column inches we must so let us dust off crusty old Judge Tatel once again.

In his concurrence to the decision to deny Miller and Cooper's motion to quash the Fitzgerald's subpoena, Judge Tatel was quite clear about the standards that must be met in order to force a journalist to reveal their sources. Basically the court looked to balance the value or "news worthiness" of the information released to the public with the damage potentially done to national security. He writes (PDF):
The leak of Plame's apparent employment, moreover, had marginal news value. To be sure, insofar as Plame's CIA relationship may have helped explain her husband's selection for the Niger trip, that information could bear on her husband's credibility, and thus contribute to public debate over the president's "sixteen words." Compared to the damage of undermining covert intelligence-gathering, however, this slight news value cannot, in my view, justify privileging the leaker's identity.
"Slight news value" -- his words, not mine. Compare this to the "news value" of the President engaging in illegal activity to spy on American citizens in violation of the Constitution. And I hate to be spiny but I really must wonder at how exactly this damaged national security. Were the jihadists somehow a bit less fiendishly clever than we take them for and quite aghast to learn the NSA was spying on them?

We picture a cave somewhere in Pakistan. Osama picks rat meat off a stick when countless number twos rush in screaming "Good God man, no warrants! Shut it all down!"

More critically, Tatel goes on to differentiate between a journalistic source that deserves protection under the law and one that does not based on the benefit derived by the public in protecting them. In his view, Cooper's "source" did not meet the criteria for protection:
[Cooper's] story revealed a suspicious confluence of leaks, contributing to the outcry that led to this investigation. Yet the article had that effect precisely because the leaked information -- Plame's covert status -- lacked significant news value. In essence, seeking protection for sources whose nefariousness he himself exposed, Cooper asks us to protect criminal leaks so that he can write about the crime. The greater public interest lies in preventing the leak to begin with. Had Cooper based his report on leaks about the leaks -- say, from a whistleblower who revealed the plot against Wilson -- the situation would be different. Because in that case the source would not have revealed the name of a covert agent, but instead revealed the fact that others had done so, the balance of news value and harm would shift in favor of protecting the whistleblower. Yet it appears Cooper relied on the Plame leaks themselves, drawing the inference of sinister motive on his own. Accordingly, his story itself makes the case for punishing the leakers. While requiring Cooper to testify may discourage future leaks, discouraging leaks of this kind is precisely what the public interest requires. (my emphasis)
So had the leaker been someone who worked for Rove who was jeopardizing their employment by exposing criminal activity, Judge Tatel says they would have been viewed as a whistleblower whose actions the public has an interest in protecting. Instead it was the very people who were doing the leaking who were committing the crime and as such they did not merit it.

In placing themselves at risk to expose government misdeeds, whoever leaked the NSA wiretap information qualifies as a "whistleblower" under this definition in a way that Rove, Libby et. al. explicitly do not.

I have no doubt if George Bush wants an investigation into this matter he will get one, but his failure to satisfy Michelle Malkin's blood lust so far probably has less to do with a tendency to coddle the "liberal media elite" and more to do with the fact that it would only extend this drama into the courts in a way that would not play well for the Administration.



A few tidbits from the news and around the blogosphere that should not go unnoticed:

Juan Cole has a summary of the top ten myths about Iraq. It's a great review of the facts on the ground, and a lot of the complex issues at play in our continued presence in that country. Great insight, as always.

Regarding the NSA spy-a-thon, Reuters has more reporting on the FISA court and its upsurge of problems with Bush Administration warrant requests. Hmmmm...until around 2003, the FISA court was essentially a rubber stamp. What changed? (A) Was it a change in the law, tightening what the court would or would not allow? Or (B) was the Bush Administration pushing the envelope of probable cause so far that even judges who wanted to help them out couldn't stomach what they were being asked to rubber stamp? I'm going with B. Especially given that the court likely wouldn't accept probable cause based on information gleaned from, say, torture or rendition.

Sydney Schanberg has more on the NSA issues in the Village Voice. For some FISA background, check out this website from EPIC.

And a fantastic op-ed on the whole issue of Presidential power grabs and the Constitution that I somehow missed. But it is so good, I knew you'd want to read it, so here you go.

Sure, the Republicans support veterans. Well, except for helping to pay for their mental health needs coming back from fighting in our wars. In that case, it's all about cutting costs.

Anna Nicole Smith and the White House are, apparently, in bed together. Get yer minds out of the gutter. I mean in the figurative sense -- the WH will be filing a brief on behalf of and arguing for (if allowed) Smith's position in her appeal before the Supreme Court. Strange times...

YellowDogBlog calls for a Separation of Church and Food. After seeing the "nun bun," I have to say, Amen.

(Photo credit to Eric Clay. There is a portfolio available at the click through link, all of which are fun and well done.)


Ankle Biters of the Internet

Coming on the heels of MoveOn's announcement that they're willing to back a serious challenge to Joe Lieberman, William Grieder speculates about a larger organized rebellion within the Democratic Party:
With persistence and strong convictions, insurgents can change a political party. Witness the right's slow-motion crusade to conquer and transform the Republican Party. Thirty years ago right-wing activists regularly mounted hopeless challenges to the GOP establishment -- including Richard Nixon -- and usually lost. They were called "ankle biters" in those days. Today, they are running the party. The right continues to use this tactic to threaten and punish wayward incumbents. The Wall Street-financed Club for Growth ran a right-wing primary opponent against Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in 2004, and it is doing the same thing to Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island in 2006. New York Times columnist David Brooks astutely observed: "When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it's a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs."

The Democratic Party is never going to change substantively and again become a reform party with a serious agenda until some of its blood is spilled in the same fashion. For years, incumbent Dems have distanced themselves from fundamental convictions, confident the party's "base" wouldn't do anything about it beyond whimpering. Until now, the cynicism was well founded. Galvanized by the war, disgusted with weak-spined party leaders, the rank-and-file may at last be ready to bite back.


Democratic leaders in Washington naturally discourage the talk of insurgency, warning it could endanger the party's chance of regaining a majority in the House or Senate. Some progressives doubtless agree. But this is the same logic -- follow the leaders and keep your mouth shut -- that has produced a long string of lame candidates with empty agendas, most recently John Kerry in 2004. The strategy of unity and weak substance led Democrats further to the right, further from their most loyal constituents. And they lost power across the board.
We regularly watch the Slow Joes on the Sunday Morning chit-chat and bemoan their prominence as we shrug our shoulders and say "what are you going to do?" A serious threat to Lieberman coming from the grassroots would reverberate far outside of Connecticut. As Grieder notes, Nancy Pelosi "got religion" and endorsed Murtha's Iraq withdrawal plans after an anti-war challenger was lined up for her.

Just let me know where to send the check, people. I'm so there.

(hat tip to John S.)


They're Hurting America

What are your favorite video clips of 2005? Crooks and Liars is taking a poll. Stop by and show your love for all the wingy wack jobs who do so much throughout the year to keep us amused.

John Amato will also be on the Ed Schultz show today (sometime after 2PM PT) with Tony Trupiano substituting, likewise Judd Legum from Think Progess. You can listen to them document the atrocities here.


Not His for the Taking

Eugene Robinson comes to a lot of the same conclusions we've all been having lately on the NSA Presidential power grab, but his op-ed piece in today's WaPo is a very clear walk-through of the issues. It's a good read, and something that the not-too-kool-aid tainted might even be willing to contemplate.
The reason we don't do these absurd things, of course, is that we see a line between the acceptable and the unacceptable. That bright line is the law, drawn by Congress and regularly surveyed by the judiciary. It can be shifted, but the president has no right to shift it on his own authority. His constitutional war powers give him wide latitude, but those powers are not unlimited.

If you go along with my experiment and assume that the president has the best of motives, then the problem is that he wants to protect the American people but doesn't trust us.
When you consider that there have been a number of reports and articles over the last few days: from James Bamford, William Arkin, and from the Seattle Post-Intelligentcer -- all detailing ways in which the NSA is said to have been deployed far beyond what its mission has traditionally been, and all without any third party oversight because the Bush Administration deliberately chose to move forward without it.

The President has made an extraordinary power grab with all of this, using war powers arguments as justification for stepping well outside the standards of legal precedent in national security matters built up over years and years. This Presidential Activism (hat tip to Jeralyn for the term)is something that must be either reconciled or condemned by members of Congress over the course of oversight hearings -- but members of Congress should know that we will be watching what they do, or don't do, as will the ghosts of the patriots who fought so hard to make this nation free in the first place.

The President has seized power through legal machinations, but it was not his for the taking -- and his breach of his oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States should not go unpunished. No matter what his intentions, breaking the law is a serious matter -- for the ordinary citizen and for the President. The law makes no distinction, and neither should any of the rest of us.

(Hat tip to the many readers who sent me links to the Seattle and UPI articles.)

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has more (via Atrios).


Oh Yeah. Completely Logical.

What do you call a political party that thinks postage for a Presidential cat's fan club requires a full-on Congressional investigation, but a President who admits on national television to breaking Federal law, repeatedly, only merits some committee "oversight," and spotty oversight at that?


I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten Dan Burton's foray into "Socks-gate." And by the way, there was absolutely no substance to the fan club postage investigation, and Barbara Bush's dog Millie had a fan club, too. Maybe Burton's pet was jealous or something, or Dan Burton just had too much free time back then.

But it does create a vivid contrast in reaction from Republicans these days, doesn't it? Hmmmm...let's see: misrepresent intelligence to Congress and the American public to get us into the Iraq war; out a CIA NOC for political payback; misrepresent war costs once we are there, so that Congress has to continually appropriate millions billions; spy on the American public without warrants, violating the Fourth Amendment and the Presidential requirements of Article II of the Constitution requiring the President to faithfully follow all laws and the FISA laws as established by Congress; and...well, there's more, but we all know that.

Clearly that cat fanclub thing was way more important than actual, publicly admitted lawbreaking.

(Huge hat tip to the Pensito Review for this story. A huge thank you to Pam's House Blend for the heads up on this.)


Monday, December 26, 2005

What's He Up To?

Things sure have been quiet on the Plame front of late. Someone was asking today what I thought it all meant so based on absolutely nothing but intuition and baseless gossip here goes:

1. Luskin either got the boot or has been neutered. He's clearly not talking to the press any more, which is so un-Luskin like that either Karl has fired him or his participation as a witness now necessitates silence.

2. The nomination of Viveca Novak's husband to the FEC is nothing if not a giant "fuck you" to Fitz, and if it happened in say the Gotti organization it would definitely raise the eyebrows of a prosecutor. It's also a big "who's your daddy" moment for Viveca Novak, as she is probably out of a job and now the key defense witness for a man who is now going to be her husband's boss. Those who want to argue they nominated him purely on his merits with no notion of any larger implication? Please. This is Karl Rove we're talking about here.

3. The fact that they felt free to do (2) above means that they know Rove is going to soon to be indicted. With the exception of Victoria Toensig and her squirrelly husband running around calling Fitzgerald an out-of-control prosecutor, Rove has really gone out of his way up until now to refrain from his usual smear tactics and keep on Fitz's good side. That they are no longer troubling to do this means they know the party's over.

4. Fitzgerald has been before the new grand jury several times recently without presenting any new witnesses. I have no clue what he's talking to them about but it would suggest he is presenting information that was previously given to the other grand jury and it's not a new matter. We've been told over and over again that Rover barely escaped the hangman's noose during Round One, so it's not outside the realm of the imaginable to assume his turn is up once again.

5. Timetable: Not even a guess.

A special plea to Mr. Fitzgerald: The natives are getting restless. You of all people know how important it is to keep the public on the right side of all of this, and since Luskin went silent it's been deathly quiet in here. Can you please release the Scooter part of the pages redacted from Judge Tatel's concurrence to give us something to chew on? Think of it as cocktail weenies for the masses to tide us over so you can take the time you need to do this right. We know you don't get any do-overs.


The Horror

WaPo's Deborah Howell hears the word "liberal," her eyes bug out and her head starts spinning around until she can get the Heritage Foundation and the Rand Corporation on speed dial for some "balance."

At issue? A controversial statement from a Nov. 4 Post story that says "newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war."

I am going to need a highball or two to recover from the shock of that one.

Howell quickly locates the bogeyman:
The story, which was largely based on Pentagon data, included some analysis done by the National Priorities Project (NPP), a liberal-leaning think tank that questions the war in Iraq. The NPP also used Pentagon, census and Zip code data. A different analysis, released by the conservative Heritage Foundation a few days later, was reported by other media outlets.
Because as we all know, unless we give the wingnuts equal time to air their phantasmagorical pep squad rah-rah "war good" spin, they might complain to one's editors.

Which they obviously did.

Concludes Howell:
My bottom line on polls and surveys, no matter what kind: Look for the widest context. Ask as many experts as possible what the numbers mean. Numbers can be right but not tell the full story, and that's the case with the article on recruiting.
Her final word: the wingnut interpretation is the right one, the common sense version is highly overrated and that Jerome Corsi is one sexy muthafucka, ain't he though?

We know Ms. Howell has only has only been on the job as public editor a brief time but we look forward to the day when she actually represents the public.

(hat tip to reader Teddy)

Update: The NPP refuted the Heritage Foundation analysis and says "NPP stands by its conclusion that youth from low and middle income areas are being heavily recruited." Obviously this context was a little too "wide" for Deborah's inclusion.

The WaPo really had to scrape the bottom of the intellectual abilities barrel to find someone who thinks the military isn't using poor people for cannon fodder, didn't they? (thanks to tryggth in the comments)


Wingnut Welfare

One of the big stories of 2005 has to be the extent to which the media turns out to have been bought and paid for, bullied and manipulated by an elaborate right wing money machine. Each new week brings some shocking revelation about how the White House kept its illegal activities out of the pages of the major papers by its bullshit claims about national security, spiked the stories it found unflattering by denying "access" to journalists and then just plain bought off those who were otherwise too lazy to cooperate.

I have to say the last few weeks have amazed even me.

On one hand it has lead to a burst of blog traffic as people realize they can't trust media outlets who are so busy dry humping a corrupt administration that reporting the news isn't even an afterthought. But on the other it has lead to an incursion of GOP money to prop up the right-wing blogosphere in an attempt to skew the dialog in the same way they have the MSM.

People have wondered why we're bitching about Pajamas Media and the so-called "liberals" who have chosen to hitch their wagons to them so let me explain why this isn't just some bloggy infighting. When liberal bloggers join the "advertising liberally" network we do one thing -- sell ads. Our finances are incredibly transparent, just look up and see our rates and the number of paid ads and you'll get a pretty good idea of what we make. The rate we charge is based on traffic we manage to generate, subject to the much-vaunted "free market" that the wingnuts are always applauding. If we churn out shit and nobody wants to show up and read it, we don't make anything.

And most liberal bloggers make just that -- nothing. People like TBogg, Roy and Roger Ailes, amongst the very best voices in the blogosphere, all manage other paying gigs and then snatch what time they can away from their families to blog. There is nothing on the right -- and I mean nothing -- that compares with their quality, their insight, their wit and their panache.

When the wingnuts chant their talking points like a bunch of tambourine-beaters at the airport, they want to be paid for their efforts. And Pajamas Media was set up to do just that. They received by some accounts $7 million dollars to subsidize 70 right wing bloggers, and if you look at their sites there are no ads, many don't even identify their affiliation with a logo. Look at some full-on loon like the Confederate Yankee who earns his/her 800 hits a day by having seizures over Google's attempts to mock Christmas with Jesus butt plugs. The General will easily draw twenty times the traffic with his rapier-witted takedown, but the Confederate Yankee probably earns a lot more money than the General. These illiterate zeros are being paid out of principal, not out of any ad revenues. They are all Armstrong Williams.

The Pajamas Media folk ridicule the liberals they have bought for the purpose of rendering them neuter and biting their heads off like chickens in some geek show. Let's just be clear, they didn't offer this gig to James Wolcott who could tear them to shreds and blow the pig up from the inside, and they didn't want anything to do with Crooks and Liars who draw more traffic in a day than all these fools combined simply by putting their cretinous droolings on video clip display. They are not there to make a profit. There is no "business model" involved. And every criticism they all laid at the feet of every East German factory worker after the toppling of the Berlin wall -- they have no ability to work in a competitive environment, they know they will never be fired -- comes into play. They're fools, but they're subsidized fools. They never have to worry about traffic, they never have to be even a little bit clever or creative or think or even spell right.

All they have to do is continue to repeat what they're told.

In the past year alone many fine voices on the left have stopped blogging because they could no longer spare the time, had to go tend to their lives and finances. You won't have to worry about that with the Pajamas Media crowd. Even the most dilatory, the most insultingly stupid amongst them will continue to be subsidized and probably make more than Digby. More than Billmon. All that noise about the free market, natural selection and survival of the fittest is just so much racket.

So the next time you hear us bitching about Pajamas Media, the incursion of right wing money into the blogosphere or the compromised voices of the "liberals" they've bought, remember that it's just another attempt to control the message. They're not our "counterparts on the right," they're paid operatives. I'll leave you with this little paean to the free market by Neal Boortz, talking about one of the African-American victims of Hurricane Katrina that earned him one of Media Matters' most outrageous statements of the year:
"I dare say she could walk out of that hotel and walk 100 yards in either direction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard here in Atlanta and have a job. What's that? Well, no, no, no. ... Well, you know what? [laughing] Now that you mention it ... [i]f that's the only way she can take care of herself, it sure beats the hell out of sucking off the taxpayers."
If they'd care to explain how the jizz of right wing robber barons trying to preserve their privilege of feeding at the taxpayer trough is oh so much more righteous and anything more than illiterate wingnut welfare then let's fucking hear it.