Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reality Based?

I was thinking further on some of the ideas I talked about at the top of last night's post, and I came upon a very disturbing thought. The subject was the weird place we find ourselves in, when against all rational thought, the Prez and his administration aren't in complete disgrace. We were lied into an unnecessary war of choice, and the Prez won't even consider pulling out or even pulling back in any meaningful way (despite what the mainstream press keeps telling us). The attorney general is running the Justice Department like a banana republic, and not only does he have the confidence of the Prez (and keep Dick Cheney as a "big fan"), but Congress is doing very little in response, just warning him to get his story straight. The Congressional reaction is not much more robust against White House staffers (and former staffers) who have completely ignored congressional subpoenas. How can all this be? Surely in a world of reason, we should expect a more reasonable situation.

And then I remembered a notorious quote a couple of years ago from a Bush aide. Ron Suskind wrote about a conversation he's had with the aide in a story in The New York Times Magazine.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

The left (and particularly lefty blogs) leapt on the statement, which seemed ridiculous. Many people identified themselves as "proud members of the reality-based community." After all, we live in the real world, so who doesn't want to live with an awareness of that reality.

But now, here we are, coming up on almost three years since that term was first published. And where do we stand? Pretty much in the same unreal situation we were then. What if the aide was right? In the light of some of the lowest presidential poll numbers ever recorded, it sure seems like the Prez is creating his own reality. That power doesn't extend far away from the nation's capital, which is why the situation on the ground in Iraq is so dismal no matter what the mainstream media insists on telling us, but inside the Beltway, it's starting to look like it's the only game in town.

In making the observation, unfortunately, I've got absolutely no suggestions as to how this situation can be addressed. If our national leaders and the press that's covering them refuse to acknowledge what's sitting right in front of their noses, we certainly can't force them to. Does anybody have any bright ideas?

Monday, July 30, 2007

More of the Same

Are you getting tired of reading about the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration day in and day out? I know I'm sure getting tired of writing about it. But as we seem to be going further and further off the rails, I'm not sure there's anything else worth writing about (although I do try to spice it up with something nonpolitical every now and again). The Prez has poll numbers starting to rival pre-resignation Nixon, yet his party stands (somewhat uncomfortably, perhaps) in lockstep behind him. Although the Democrats are starting to make a bit of noise, they still hesitate to take him head on (which, in my estimation, is a major factor in their own declining poll numbers).

So what else is there to do, except to list the new outrages? They may seem to have no more affect than a gnat's bite, but I guess if you get enough gnats making enough bites, somebody somewhere will do something.

And since this is Sunday night, I'll fall back on my usual Sunday-night strategy and take a look at what Frank Rich had to say today. Titled, "Who Really Took Over During That Colonoscopy," it provides a quick overview of the career of General David Petraeus.

It was The Washington Post that first quantified General Petraeus's remarkable ascension. President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander's name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone.

As always with this White House's propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush's relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the "main man." He is the man who gives "candid advice." Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must "wait to see what David has to say," Mr. Bush says.

Actually, we don't have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September "is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy." In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) - full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy. As Michael Gordon reported in The New York Times last week, General Petraeus has collaborated on a classified strategy document that will keep American troops in Iraq well into 2009 as we wait for the miracles that will somehow bring that country security and a functioning government.

Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam," he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline "Can This Man Save Iraq?" The magazine noted that the general's pacification of Mosul was "a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way." Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon's own June report.

That seems to some up our situation. Extravagant promises from the administration followed by the cold hard reality of what's actually going on on the ground. Here's more:

Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for "candid" views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. "The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus," he said, in National Review's account.

To be the "most credible" person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for "kicking some butt" in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon's pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to "our own debates at the birth of our nation," as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his "main man" to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a "merger" between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and what he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that "Cingular is now the new AT&T." He doesn't seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda's name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

Get used to it, folks. We're there for the long haul, at least until January 2009. We'll never get an honest assessment from these guys, and it doesn't appear that we'll get anybody with enough wherewithal to stand up to them. But we will get more gnat bites.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Another Baby Step Forward

We've apparently made another very small step in figuring out some of what this administration has been up to. We knew that there was some dissension within the Justice Department over some aspect of the National Security Agency's top-secret surveillance program in 2004. When James Comey, acting attorney general while John Ashcroft was in the hospital, refused to approve the program, Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card invaded Ashcroft's hospital room to convince Ashcroft to overrule. He refused to, and many top Justice Department officials threatened to resign if the White House went along with it anyway. Some compromise was reached, and the Justice Department approved the program as it exists today. In talking about all this before the Senate, Alberto insists that there was no dissension over the elements of the program that were ultimately approved. No, I guess not, seeing that what we've got now was a compromised that everyone signed off on. But it's never been clear exactly what Alberto and Andy Card intended to have approved at the hospital and what was so bad that John Ashcroft and several other Justice officials were willing to resign over.

Today's New York Times adds a little bit to the puzzle, reporting that whatever it was, it involved data mining. That's something that moves the investigation on, certainly, but it doesn't give us much to chew on. Even the Times says so:

A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.

Nor would they explain what modifications to the surveillance program President Bush authorized to head off the threatened resignations by Justice Department officials.

So there's not much there, but it's a start. Nothing yet justifies the kind of desperate secrecy Alberto and the rest of the administration has been insisting on, so it goes much deeper than this. Josh Marshall has further analysis:

To put this into perspective, remember that the White House has been willing to go to the public and make a positive argument for certain surveillance procedures (notably evasion of the FISA Court strictures) which appear to be illegal on their face. This must be much more serious and apparently something all but the most ravenous Bush authoritarians would never accept. It is supposedly no longer even happening and hasn't been for a few years. So disclosing it could not jeopardize a program. The only reason that suggests itself is that the political and legal consequences of disclosure are too grave to allow.

Is it too obvious to end with "more to come"?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cribbing from Digby

There are a couple of good posts over at Hullaballoo today. I've had a long week and I'm tired, so instead of making my brain hurt by trying to come up with a thoughtful post myself, I'm just going to recommend you read over there.

First off, in a post on Republican machismo and whatever "Daddy" appeal they see in Fred Thompson, she quotes fairly extensively from a New Republic cover story on the former Tennessee senator and faux New York district attorney. But in setting all that up, she also passes along this little tidbit from The Wimp Factor by Stephen J. Ducat:

By far the most compelling confirmation of the phallic meaning of the president's aircraft-carrier cakewalk was found on the hot-selling "George W. Bush Top Gun action figure" manufactured by Talking Presidents. I originally ordered one to use as part of the cover design for this book. The studly twelve-inch flyboy not only comes with a helmet and visor, goggles and oxygen mask, but underneath his flight suit is a full "basket" --- a genuine fake penis, apparently constructed with lifelike silicone.

Wow, I had no idea. I'm surprised the toy company didn't advertise that feature (or maybe it did--this is from its Website [italics mine: "The flight outfit comes with pouches, pockets, straps, buckles and all the accessories of an original"). The company also has an Ann Coulter doll. I wonder, does that one have a "basket," too?

If you're already over at Hullaballoo, you might also take a look at tristero's examination of the John Birch Society. For a number of years, the group has been the epitome of extreme fringe politics, but earlier this week, a John Birch spokesman showed up on Headline News to chat up Glenn Beck about illegal immigration. That got people's attention, to say the least, so tristero decided to take a look back. Keep in mind that Birch members are so far to the right that even conservative Republicans usually consider them beyond the pale. Here are a few of their positions from the late '60s:

1. The abolition of the graduated income tax.

2. The repeal of social security legislation.

3. The impeachment of various high government officials,

4..The end to busing for the purpose of school integration.

5. The end to U.S. membership in the United Nations.

Read the whole post for tristero's discussion of why those positions seem so oddly familiar.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Senate's Gonzales Afterglow

Maybe it's because they're going on vacation soon and want to get some things done, but Congress has actually been accomplishing things. Sort of. Well, I guess more like setting things up for later.

Another full day to stew over the whole Alberto Gonzales thing has left the Democrats, at least, more upset than ever. Senate Democrats called for an independent counsel to investigate the attorney general for perjury. Of course, the Prez has given Gonzales special dispensation so that he doesn't have to investigate himself if he doesn't want to, so this just takes us a step closer to a constitutional showdown. The White House has been spoiling for a fight for a while now, and it's starting to look like Congress is, too. Calling for a special counsel is not the only action the Dems took today. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman issued subpoenas for Karl Rove and his deputy to appear for testimony next week. This administration can still pull a surprise from time to time, but we all know how we expect the subpoena drama to play out. They won't show, and they'll join Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton in line for contempt of Congress citations. Clearly the White House is not concerned about such things, so Congress will have to back up their actions and prove that they deserve to be an equal branch of government. A constitutional showdown is by no means a sure thing, and I suspect that a fear of failure is behind a lot of Democratic reluctance to engage. But if we have become a country in which the legislative branch is subordinate to the executive branch, we're better becoming aware of that sooner rather than later.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Speaking of contempt of Congress, I was also planning to talk about the attorney general's visit to the Senate on Tuesday. You're probably not going to see a better example of a contemptuous performance in front of the Senate than Alberto Gonzales's recent appearance (and you can take your pick of segments over at TPMmuckraker [scroll down to find them]). Unfortunately, I'm too exhausted to give this the proper examination and depth that it deserves. I hope I can get to this sometime tomorrow, but in the meantime, give a read to Josh Marshall, who sums up the situation that we're facing. Marshall is not a booster for impeachment, but he just may be getting pushed into it. This is truly beginning to get very, very serious.

The Next Slow, Unsteady Step

A couple of weeks ago, when a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee voted to pursue contempt of Congress against Harriet Meirs, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers asked, "Are congressional subpoenas to be honored, or are they optional?" I replied that it looked like we'd soon find out. Well, perhaps "soon" was a bit overoptimistic. The full Judiciary Committee didn't hold its vote until today, and it was another party-line affair 22-17. Apparently the Republicans don't mind if their subpoenas are ignored. If the Prez wants to indulge Congress, they're all for that, I suppose, but if he tells his people that they've got more important things to do than go and condescend to Congress, Republican members of Congress are full on board. After all, they're only an equal branch of government, after all (but, as in all things, some branches are more equal than others). Conyers again summed up the situation:

If we countenance a process where our subpoenas can be readily ignored, where a witness under a duly authorized subpoena doesn't even have to bother to show up . . . then we have already lost. We won't be able to get anybody in front of this committee or any other.

Oddly enough, former Judiciary chairman and current ranking minority member James Sensenbrenner had a very strange reaction. "I believe this is an unnecessary provocation," he said. "Absent showing that a crime was committed . . . I think the White House is going to win an argument in court." Maybe I'm oversimplifying things a bit, but it's my understanding that contempt of Congress is in and of itself a crime. If it's not, with a potential cost of a $100,000 fine and a year of jail time, it's got the harshest punishment for a legal act that I've ever seen.

There's more waiting before we get to the next step. The House is very unlikely to vote on the matter before its summer recess next week, so it will be quite some time before the entire House considers the question. It sure looks like Nancy Pelosi is giving the White House time to compromise, but it looks pretty clear that the White House has no interest in compromising. They want to go to the mat. The Democrats have allowed them to pack the courts with right-wing judges, and I'm betting the Prez feels pretty confident that his people will back his position regardless. He may be right, but the Dems need to challenge him, anyway. Conyers is right: The precedents that are being set here are dangerous regardless of who is president. Moving back into optimistic mode, I wonder if Pelosi's giving the Republicans time to go back to their districts to talk to the people and find out the strength of opposition to the Prez's policies so that they'll be willing to stand up to him when they come back into session. At least, that's what I hope she's thinking. If she's instead giving the Prez the opportunity to do the right thing and give Congress their due, she's in for a long wait.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New Management

The Chicago Reader is under new ownership as of Tuesday. Along with Washington City Paper, it has been absorbed by Creative Loafing of Tampa, which runs alternative papers in Atlanta; Tampa; Charlotte, NC; and Sarasota, FL. Reader media critic Michael Miner passes on his understanding that the new owner "doesn't meddle particularly in the local operations of its papers, which publish the kind of serious journalism the Reader is known for." Crain's Chicago Business, on the other hand, reports that Ben Eason, CEO of Creative Loafing, is weighing the possibility of staff cuts. "I think what we are talking about is spending a couple weeks trying to get an idea of what everybody does." That sounds a bit ominous, doesn't it?

I'm curious to see how this all balances out. Craigslist has taken a big bite out of classified advertising in all newspapers, but it hits particularly close to home for free alternative weeklies, which pretty much derive all their income from local advertising. Will Creative Loafing be able to turn a profit with the Reader? On the other hand, they're the one who's expanding, so maybe they know something we don't. In a Creative Loafing press release announcing the buy, Eason is quoted. "Our expansion into Chicago and Washington reflects our confidence in the future of alternative publishing – in print, on the web and in other media as they emerge. While others may be looking at publishing companies through the lens of old print media, we are pioneering the opportunities offered by convergent print, web, and new media applications."

I'm also eager to see whether there will be any sort of culture shock in a Southern company breaking into this Northern industrial town. Will they try to treat Chicago as if it were Atlanta, or are they savvy enough to know where the differences are? We may already be able to get a sense of the feeling inside the Reader. In the comments to Miner's post, Reader staffers (a few of whom are posting while on vacation) seem to be wishing each other farewell.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Keeping Grabby Hands at Bay

The New York Times editorial page on Sunday noticed that the Prez is in the midst of an unprecedented power grab, and The Times doesn't seem to like it. The editorial correctly recognizes the threat inherent in the White House's recent snubbing of Congressional subpoenas.

The White House's extreme position could lead to a constitutional crisis. If the executive branch refused to follow the law, Congress could use its own inherent contempt powers, in which it would level the charges itself and hold a trial. The much more reasonable route for everyone would be to proceed through the courts.

But then the writer makes a statement that is eminently reasonable but is, unfortunately, entirely beside the point.

This showdown between a Democratic Congress and a Republican president may look partisan, but it should not. In a year and a half, there could be a Democratic president, and such extreme claims of executive power would be just as disturbing if that chief executive made them.

There's no disputing that logic, but the situation would never arise. Republicans have proven themselves to be completely two-faced in this issue. They raised these same points when Clinton was president, but without missing a beat they're now completely oblivious to them. In case you need a reminder, Bob Geiger dug up a few choice quotes circa 1999 from currently seated senators who voted to impeach Clinton but so far haven't noticed any improprieties under Bush (Geiger was moved to post by the senators' silence on Scooter's commutation.) If a Democrat is inaugurated into the White House in eighteen months and then tries to build on Bush's precedents, there can be no doubt that these same senators won't lose a wink of sleep in jumping back on the bandwagon to use the "rule of law" as a club against the new administration.

So that leaves us with the Democrats. We have moved ahead in attempting to keep the Bushies in check, but the Democratic leadership isn't willing to play hardball, and the administration has taken full advantage of that fact. Harry Reid has certainly taken some bold steps in fighting back, but they've too often taken the form of one-off events. It was a dramatic move to force the Senate into a closed-door session to discuss intelligence surrounding the Iraq War, and last week's overnight session caught everybody's attention, as well. But then they go away. This week, Senator Russ Feingold announced that he planned to introduce a measure to censure the president. When asked about the idea by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, Reid replied:

I'm sure Russ Feingold will try to find a way to offer that amendment. The Republicans won't let us vote on it. They'll block it.

SCHIEFFER: So would you go along with it if they let you vote on it?

REID: Bob, frankly, we have so many other things to do. The president already has the mark of the American people that he's the worst president we've ever had, and I don't think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that. We have to do…

SCHIEFFER: So you're not going along with it?

REID: Well, at this stage, Russ is going to have to make his case as to why we should do that rather than do our appropriation bills, finish the defense authorization bill, Homeland Security appropriation bill.

So, as far as Harry Reid is concerned, any kind of censure of the Prez is hard to reach. The Prez can play his brinksmanship, because he knows that the Dems are ultimately going to cave and avoid the issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee is making a lot of noise about their subpoenas being ignored, but in terms of actual action? Nothin'. We may have some sort of Constitutional crisis, incipient or otherwise, but so far the Dems aren't showing a lot of drive to defend that Constitution. They're going to have to actively fight back before they can have any hope of keeping the Prez in check.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sex and the GOP Presidential Field

We're much too far from the fall 2008 elections to be in the midst of a presidential campaign, but as you may have noticed by now, we've got one anyway. Frank Rich takes the David Vitter situation as a starting point to examine the party that didn't quite live up to its promise to bring respectability back to the White House. After some discussion of Vitter and White House failures on that front, Rich focuses in on those presidential candidates. As a title, he paraphrases a popular White House phrase of the past: "I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman."

Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible - or more fun to watch - than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it's a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain's campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which "Obama Girl" taunts her rival: "Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin'/ At least Obama didn't marry his cousin."

. . .

Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani's campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.'s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a "highly personal" matter.

The religious right's own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul. The party's faith-based oligarchs are getting frantic. Disregarding a warning from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said in March that he didn't consider Fred Thompson a Christian, they desperately started fixating on the former Tennessee senator as their savior. When it was reported this month that Mr. Thompson had worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights organization in the 1990s, they credulously bought his denials and his spokesman's reassurance that "there's no documents to prove it, no billing records." Last week The New York Times found the billing records.

No one is stepping more boldly into this values vacuum than Mitt Romney. In contrast to Mr. Giuliani, the former Massachusetts governor has not only disowned his past as a social liberal but is also running as a paragon of moral rectitude. He is even embracing one of the more costly failed Bush sex initiatives, abstinence education, just as states are abandoning it for being ineffective. He never stops reminding voters that he is the only top-tier candidate still married to his first wife.

. . .

There are those who argue Mr. Romney's campaign is doomed because he is a Mormon, a religion some voters regard almost as suspiciously as Scientology, but two other problems may prove more threatening to his candidacy. The first is that in American public life piety always goeth before a fall. There had better not be any skeletons in his closet. Already Senator Brownback has accused Mr. Romney of pushing hard-core pornography because of his close association with (and large campaign contributions from) the Marriott family, whose hotel chain has prospered mightily from its X-rated video menu.

The other problem is more profound: Mr. Romney is swimming against a swift tide of history in both culture and politics. Just as the neocons had their moment in power in the Bush era and squandered it in Iraq, so the values crowd was handed its moment of ascendancy and imploded in debacles ranging from Terri Schiavo to Ted Haggard to David Vitter. By this point it's safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party's preacher politicians that they'd consider hitting a cigar bar or two with Judith Giuliani.

I don't run in circles that would tend to support the GOP candidate, but from what I can see on the outside, there seems to be a notable lack of enthusiasm for anyone in their slate. Whichever of the various factions jockeying for control of the Republican party comes out on top, it's starting to look like they may be taking over a party that's largely been hollowed out.

Thanks today to ratboy's anvil for access to Frank Rich's column.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Utter Confusion on the Editorial Page

I haven't had much time to sit at the computer today, as Don from Article 19 is in town, and we just finished up a little bar hopping.

Speaking of bar hopping, I can only guess that that's what the editors of The Washington Post had been doing right before writing Saturday's editorial. Everybody's already been talking about this, (Atrios has a full linkfest), but this is too ripe a target to pass up. It turns out that the only thing standing between Congress, the Prez, and a compromise to start getting the troops out of Iraq is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The Senate Democratic leadership spent the past week trying to prove that Congress is deeply divided over Iraq, with Democrats pressing and Republicans resisting a change of course. In fact that's far from the truth. A large majority of senators from both parties favor a shift in the U.S. mission that would involve substantially reducing the number of American forces over the next year or so and rededicating those remaining to training the Iraqi army, protecting Iraq's borders and fighting al-Qaeda. President Bush and his senior aides and generals also support this broad strategy, which was formulated by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission. Mr. Bush recently said that "it's a position I'd like to see us in."

If only we had a Republican majority in the Senate. If that were the case, we might not even be in Iraq in the first place. . . . Wait a minute, didn't we already try that? The truth is that for whatever reason some Republican senators are willing to give lip service to getting out of Iraq, most of them have yet to back it up with an actual vote to get out of Iraq. They had a chance to do so this week, but instead they chose to support the Republican filibuster, preventing the measure to start withdrawing troops from getting a chance at an up-or-down vote. All Reid did was to end consideration of alternate proposals that would have allowed the Republicans to appear concerned without ultimately changing the situation for the troops on the ground (Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe takes apart one such proposal).

I'm not sure what kind of stupor the writer of this editorial was in, but after listing a variety of unresolved issues on Iraq that must be ironed out before any sort of troop drawdown can take place, the Post editorialist continues, "There's no guarantee that Mr. Bush can agree with Congress on those points or that he will make the effort to do so," as if he hadn't stated just a few lines above that the Prez had already in agreement with everybody but Reid. If we're not even sure the Prez is going to bother to try to reach a compromise, how can we label Harry Reid as being the only thing standing in the way of a current deal? All I can hope is that after taking six or seven minutes to pen this nonsensical piece of opinion writing, the author was able to get back to his pub crawl.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pushed Around

Things keep getting more and more tense in Congress. The New York Times reported on Friday that Senator Arlen Specter is getting snippy with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He feels that Reid cut him off at the end of the marathon overnight session earlier this week. "The leadership is setting a dictatorial tone," Specter is reported to have said. "Senators didn't get here to be pushed around." Senators didn't get there to whine, either, but that's another story. I'd be tempted to say that the spat between Specter and Reid might paralyze the Senate if the Senate weren't already effectively paralyzed--at least when the subject is Iraq--by Specter and his filibustering Republican colleagues who won't allow an up-or-down vote on bringing the troops home.

But what if Specter's wrong? What if he's got an inflated sense of himself and his position? What if senators and representatives weren't there to be pushed around by party leadership but by the president? You'd end up with a chief executive who believes he can control Congress and tell legislators who or what they could or could not investigate. And you can bet that he'd quickly place himself and his administration off limits. Perhaps we'll soon get to see whether Specter votes to assert himself or get pushed around when it comes to executive privilege.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Summer Reads

Before you run off to the beach, you might want to take a look at this week's Time magazine for some suggestions of what to read. They poll sixteen writers to find out what their guilty pleasures are. Never mind that a few of these authors might be classified guilty pleasures themselves. Jane Smiley (first up at the link above) has an intriguing choice that might not quite be beach ready: Justine by the Marquis de Sade. Smiley said that, although the book "fully lived up to its reputation for cruelty and wholesale sexual perversion," she appreciated it for the power of the main character, "who always summons the strength to get away, always summons the resilience to question her fate and argue with the men when they justify tormenting her. Summing up, Smiley writes:

It may be that for De Sade, Justine's journey was primarily an excuse to catalog ways of enjoying doing harm, but for me, it turned into a wholesale exposure of how women and girls were exploited then and are exploited now—and exposure is the first step to redress.

Another interesting guilty pleasure is Janet Evanovich's choice of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 comics, about which she refuses to feel guilty. "Joss Whedon, the man, the myth, the legend, writes the comic with the same genius as he did the show," she writes. She also admits, "I've read all four installments of The Long Way Home, and I'm cracking my knuckles and pacing in my office waiting for more." Well, that's what you sign up for when you start reading serial fiction.

The most unexpected item on the list comes from an author who is in no danger of being labeled a guilty pleasure: Joyce Carol Oates. Her pick is Mad magazine, and she refuses to feel guilty, too. "But why 'guilty'? No one who admires Mad magazine really feels the need to apologize or defend himself." Calling the magazine over the years "wonderfully inventive, irresistibly irreverent and intermittently ingenious," she also mentions some of the things she knows about the magazine, including "that the fatuously grinning Alfred E. Neuman with his perennial query ('What, me worry?') prefigured the improbable presidential cartoon character George W. Bush many years later." The fifteen other authors have an ID line that does nothing more than announce their most recent or upcoming book. Not Oates; in the spirit of Mad, her bio includes a challenge:

Oates' most recent book is The Gravedigger's Daughter. Anyone who can find the merest trace of Mad in this novel will receive a gift from the author.

I expect a rush on bookstores tomorrow as everybody starts competing to find out what that gift might be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

So What Did We Learn Last Night?

The Democrats ended their marathon Senate adventure without enough votes to allow an up-or-down vote on the Reed-Levin amendment to set a date for starting the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq, so the immediate goal was not achieved. In response, Majority Leader Reid pulled the defense authorization bill from Senate consideration, effectively cutting off all debate and possible votes on the issue. This avoids the possible adoption of weaker Iraq war amendments that might've given the illusion that Republicans wanted to end the war without taking any actual steps to do just that. The Repubs are angry because this takes away possible cover for them to hide behind, and anything that makes Republicans angry has to have something going for it. For a good summation of the marathon session, take a look at Bob Geiger. (And once you're over there, see what he's got to say about Reid's latest maneuver. Over at Election Central at the TPM Cafe, Spencer Ackerman provides an even-more-detailed guide to the bigger picture. In response to the question of who won this little dust up, he writes:

The GOP won -- today, at least. Sen. Mitch McConnell prevented the crucial ten Republican defections. Much of the media is portraying the Democrats as either obstructionists -- which must rankle them, since they weren't the ones filibustering the defense bill -- or as losers. And since the Dems didn't break the filibuster, that last part is true enough.

Looking beyond the day's vote, however, reveals a more complicated picture.

. . .

By raising the Iraq debate in the summer, the Democrats have created something of a public expectation that September is the beginning of the end for the war. Even Fred Barnes's summation piece for the Weekly Standard is titled "McConnell Holds The Line; At Least Until September." The benefit for the Democrats of the July push, even the unsuccessful one, has been to redefine the debate over the war.

By forcing the discussion now, Dems forced Republicans into the fall-back position of saying, "The war should begin to end not now, but in September." That means it will be tougher for Republicans to continue to back the war come September -- Petraeus report or no.

Although he's right that much of the media has painted the Democrats as obstructionist for leading the marathon session, John Aravosis found a couple of headlines that don't toe that line. The head on an AP piece was, "GOP Torpedoes Iraq Troop Pullout Plan," and Reuters was reporting, "Republicans Block Vote on Troop Pullout." Is the sand shifting?

Someone Left the Band Out in the Rain

I'd thought about going out to see the Decemberists tonight playing with the Chicago Symphony in Millennium Park, but I ultimately decided that I've still been pushing myself too hard, so I came home, instead. It turned down that we had huge rains this evening, so I have to wonder how the show went. Was anybody here in attendance?

A few years ago, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I took in Elvis Costello at a different bandshell in a different park a couple of blocks away from tonight's show, and it also poured down rain and cut short the opening act. There'd been no warning of rain, so we had no umbrellas or any other kind of protection, and we got soaked. But the rain didn't last too long, the roadies set up EC and his Imposters, and the show continued. Soon enough, we dried off, and all in all we had a great time. Maybe the Decemberists show ended up OK, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Up All Night

I'm far too exhausted to try to follow any of the Senate hijinks tonight as the Dems try to put a spotlight on obstructionist Republicans. Earlier today, there was some concern about whether the Democrats could even pull it off at all, but since it's still going, I'm guessing that wasn't an issue. Greg Sargent did some checking and discovered why that was.

I'm afraid that I'm off to bed, and I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how effective it was, but if you don't want to be that patient, you can find live blogging of the event from Bob Geiger or Think Progress. Pleasant dreams.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fear Itself

I've always understood that the point of terrorism is to establish an undercurrent or a haze of fear in its target. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a strategy that's worked pretty effectively for the Bushies, as well? There's a new National Intelligence Estimate out there, and here's lead-off sentence: "We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years." That's pretty scary. But wait, there's more:

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

We assess that al-Qa'ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups.

. . .

We assess that al-Qa'ida’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population.

So no matter whether we're afraid as a result of the terrorists themselves or of fear-mongering about the terrorists, doesn't the fact that we're afraid mean the terrorists have won?

And along those same lines, last night I linked to Think Progress's compilation of various mission statements about the Iraq invasion. One of those was to fight terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here. But the NIE claims that an attack is a possibility. If that comes to pass, does that mean that the Iraq conflict is a failure, too?

But in case you're not intending to take the NIE seriously, Kevin Drum links to a statement from counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke in an ABC News blog post:

"It's more about what it doesn't say than what it does say," says Richard Clarke, the former White House official who is now an ABC News consultant.

"What is left out of the version released publicly is the explicit statement that al Qaeda is back and has operations underway," Clarke says.

The 2006 version of the National Intelligence Estimate claimed U.S. efforts had "seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qa'ida and disrupted its operations."

"That's no longer the case in 2007, and you have to read between the lines to understand how we have lost ground," Clarke says.

So it seems like perhaps there is something to fear. Too bad we've got an administration that is more comfortable fomenting that fear than addressing and attacking it.

Sorry, I Lied

It's even later than I was expecting, so I'm going to punt tonight rather than provide very much content. I could've talked about Think Progress, caught up in the whirlwind of the ever-changing definition of the Iraqi mission. There's also the incipient drama of Harry Reid's challenge to Republicans to put up or shut up. If they keep threatening to filibuster, then let's let them do it. Who doesn't want to be Jimmy Stewart, after all. But if I don't have much to say, I should leave you with a link that's more substantial. Take a look at Friday's Bill Moyers Journal, which featured "Tough Talk on Impeachment." Moyers discusses the topic with conservative Bruce Fein (who wrote the first article of impeachment against Clinton) and liberal Bill Nichols (author of The Nation's blog, The Online Beat). The Moyers link above will allow you to watch the discussion on video or read the transcript. And once you're there, don't miss the Moyers commentary on the subject, too.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Delaying Tactic

Why does everything always have to be so busy? There's a bunch of things to talk about, but I won't get a chance for a Quick Hits for another hour or two (which will make it very late in the evening). That makes it far too late to be writing, but what can you do?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fighting Who Where?

I'd meant to follow up on a couple of posts about Michael Chertoff and his gut feeling last week but never got a chance to follow through. Although Chertoff didn't provide any firm reason for his sense that the U.S. was in grave danger for another al Qaeda attack, it turns out there is actual evidence to back him up. The National Counterterrorism Center had devised a report entitled "Al-Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West."

As I said, I never got back to that subject, but in his Sunday column, Frank Rich covers it admitably. "Don't Laugh at Michael Chertoff," he warns in his title. While the rest of the Bush administration is trying to define al Qaeda as that group using the name in Iraq, Chertoff follows his gut to where the focus truly deserves.

So give Mr. Chertoff credit for keeping his eye on the enemy while everyone else in the capital is debating never-to-be-realized benchmarks for an Iraqi government that exists in name only. Just as President Bush ignored that August 2001 brief "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," so Washington, some of its press corps included, is poised to shrug off the August 2007 update "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West." The capital has been sucker-punched by the administration's latest P.R. offensive to prop up the fiasco in Iraq.

It's amazing that, given the example of just six years ago, very few are willing to follow the evidence where it leads.

So what if the Qaeda that's operating with impunity out of Pakistan, North Africa and other non-Iraq havens actually is the most pressing threat to America? This president is never one to let facts get in the way of a political agenda. That agenda is to avoid taking responsibility for losing a war, no matter how many more Americans are tossed into its carnage. From here on in, you can be sure that whomever we're fighting in Iraq on any given day will be no more than one degree of separation from bin Laden.

Nor do the latest fictionalizations end there. To further prop up the war, Mr. Bush had to find some way to forestall verdicts on the "surge," which commanders had predicted could be judged by late summer. He also had to neutralize last week's downbeat Congress-mandated report card on the Iraqi government's progress toward its 18 benchmarks.

The latter task was easy. The report card grades on a steep curve (and even then must settle for a C-minus average and a couple of incompletes). Deflecting gloom about the "surge" is trickier. It's hard to argue that we're on our way to securing Baghdad, the stated goal, when attacks on our own safe haven, the Green Zone, are rising rapidly, more than doubling from March to May, according to the United Nations.

But you can never underestimate this White House's ingenuity. It turns out that the "surge," which most Americans thought began shortly after the president announced it in January, is brand-new! We're just "at the starting line," Tony Snow told the network morning news shows last week, as he pounded in the message that "we have a new course in Iraq, and it's two weeks old."

Mr. Snow's television hosts were not so rude as to point out that the Pentagon had previously designated Feb. 14 as the starting line of the surge's first operation, and had also said that its March report on Iraq should be used as the "baseline from which to measure future progress." That was then, and this is now. The Baghdad clock has been reset. July is the new February. As we slouch toward the sixth anniversary of 9/11, the war against Al Qaeda has only just begun.

Swamped with such fiction, Washington is unable to cope. Network newscasts are still failing to distinguish the Qaeda Mr. Bush talks about from the 9/11 terrorists. The Iraq dead-enders in Congress and the neocon punditocracy have now defined victory down to defeating Mr. Bush's mini-Qaeda in a single Iraqi province, Anbar. Meanwhile, our ally Pervez Musharraf's shaky regime in Pakistan lets Al Qaeda plot its next mass murder.

The capital's entire political debate over Iraq - stay-the-surge versus "precipitous withdrawal" - is itself pure hot air. Even though felons and the obese are now being signed up to meet Army recruitment shortfalls, we still can't extend the surge past next April, when troops for Iraq run out unless Mr. Bush extends their tours yet again. "Precipitous withdrawal" (which no withdrawal bill in Congress calls for) is a non sequitur, since any withdrawal would take at least 10 months. Rather than have the real debate about how to manage the exit, politically panicked Republicans hope to cast symbolic votes that will allow them to tell voters they were for ending the war before they prolonged it.

That leaves Mr. Chertoff, whose department has vacancies in a quarter of its top leadership positions, as the de facto general in charge of defending us from the enemy he had that "gut feeling" about, the Qaeda not in Iraq.

May God help us all.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together?

In the high-stakes world of mixing disparate art forms, we've finally got a front-runner for most unexpected juxtaposition of the year. Chicago Tap Theater is performing The Hourglass in the Stop-Time Chronicles, which it's billing as a "Superhero Tap Dance Opera." (I've linked to Chicago Tap's main page because you can see a larger image of the Marvel-Comics-style cover/poster than if you go to the production's own page. If they change the front page, though, click on that second link.) I know, I didn't realize this is just what I was waiting for, either.

They're working with comics artist Andrew Pepoy, who's mainly known in superhero circles as an inker. He created the poster and helped plot and design the show with CTT artistic director Mark Yonally. The Hourglass is the title superheroine who, as you might've guessed from the title, has powers to stop time. I haven't had a chance to see this yet, but I did hear a report on Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty-Eight that gives some more information. It's playing on weekends through the end of the month at Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre, and I'm going to try to see it before the end of the run. If anybody's taken this in, give us your opinion.

Who's Next?

I've been talking a lot tonight with an old friend about music. As is usually the case with such things, we're remembering old faves and reminiscing about past songs and albums. But many of our college hits remain popular today. The Police are having a tremendous comeback this summer with their thirtieth anniversary tour. Thirtieth anniversary! Why are they still packing in the young kids? If I go back to thirty years before I was in college, I find Dinah Shore, Frankie Laine, The Mills Brothers, and the Harmonicats. If any of them were doing a thirtieth anniversary tour, I didn't know it, and I wouldn't have been interested if I did (although I do remember David Bowie and Iggy Pop on Dinah Shore's afternoon talk show a couple of years earlier). I wonder why this stuff from the '60s and '70s continues to hold on. A while back, I found a Siouxsie and the Banshees interview on YouTube from '76. Steve Severin said that just as the Stones and the Who had destroyed what had come before them, punk was now wiping away them. The Stones and others obviously weren't wiped, but nobody's even coming along to attempt to wipe that next generation.

What does it mean to be in a new rock band these days? Rock always used to mean rebellion, but nowadays, who's rebelling against what? (And no replies of "What've you got," please.) The Internet is allowing musicians and groups to connect with listeners (and, dare I say, consumers) outside of the recording industry, but what are these underground bands giving us? Interesting more of the same, perhaps, but more of the same, nevertheless. Does rock as a form of music have anything new to say to us today? Or should we just keep listening to the Police, the Stones, and what remains of the Who?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Crisis on Only One Congress

So is it a full-fledged Constitutional crisis yet? I'd say, yes it is. In response to Harriet Miers's refusal to appear before the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers had the only question that mattered: "Are congressional subpoenas to be honored, or are they optional?" It looks like we'll soon find out.

In a 7-5 vote by party lines, the subcommittee decided to pursue contempt charges against Harriet. That presumably means that all the Republicans on the subcommittee believe it's OK for private citizens to pick and choose when they'll appear before Congress. It must just be my faulty memory, but I don't recall the Republicans feeling the same way when Clinton was in office. Was it fine for Clinton to ignore Congress when and where he chose? Oh, wait--no it wasn't. He got impeached for far less than the questionable firings of U.S. attorneys. It amuses me to think about the precedent the Repubs are setting for themselves later. What happens if Hillary wins the next election? Will they be satisfied then with the decisions they're making now?

The next step for contempt is for the question to be sent to the full Judiciary Committee. If we keep going along party line votes, the Dems have the majority of the House, so is it safe to assume that they can carry the day? Will Harriet be facing jail time (though if she will, I have no doubt she'll step onto the Scooter express pretty quickly and never see the inside of a cell). Still, it's fun to dream.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Harriet's Blowing Off Congressional Oversight

It looks like the Prez is trying to expand his power of executive privilege to go beyond legal proceedings to actually cover travel, as well. His former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, is due to appear before the House Judiciary Committee today, but her lawyer announced that she wasn't even going to bother to show. Traditionally, witnesses who evoke executive privilege to avoid giving specific testimony over whatever issues come up actually make an appearance to do so, but Bush told Harriet that her executive privilege is so total that she doesn't even need to make that much of an effort. I guess she's just got some sort of assumed executive privilege: No matter what the Judiciary Committee can think to ask her, we should all just assume that she would've evoked privilege if she'd been in attendance.

You've got to assume that the Judiciary Committee isn't too enamored of this strategy. Committee chair John Conyers and Linda T. Sánchez, chair of the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, responded to Miers's lawyer.

A congressional subpoena, such as the one issued to Ms. Miers, carries with it two obligations: the obligation to appear, and the obligation to testify and/or produce documents. Even if a witness intends to assert privilege in response to a subpoena, that intention to assert privilege does not obviate the obligation to appear.

We are aware of absolutely no court decision that supports the notion that a former White House official has the option of refusing to even appear in response to a Congressional subpoena. To the contrary, the courts have made clear that no present or former government official – even the President – is above the law and may completely disregard a legal directive such as the Committee's subpoena.

. . .

A refusal to appear before the Subcommittee tomorrow could subject Ms. Miers to contempt proceedings, including but not limited to proceedings under 2 U.S.C. § 194 and under the inherent contempt authority of the House of Representatives.

Over at the newly revamped Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall passes on an e-mail he received that argues the Prez himself committed a felony by encouraging Harriet to blow off the hearing. Check it out--he's got citations and everything!

Congress needs to act on this. Bush and his administration are demonstrating that they do have contempt for Congress, and any waffling back and forth among members of Congress over whether to address it or not just proves Bush is right. There's no point in waiting for the Bushies to come around to do the right thing because we know from experience that's not going to happen. If they ever want any kind of response from this White House, Congress needs to prove that they mean business.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What Color Is Your Gut Feeling?

It's good to have a Democratic Congress. Although we all enjoy criticizing the Bush administration, it's reassuring when someone with a bit more standing joins the parade. Last night, I mentioned Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's warning that he had a "gut feeling" that the country was at a greater risk for terror attacks than we'd been recently. I was hardly the only blogger to pick up on that, of course, but somebody else was paying attention, too. Representative Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote Chertoff a letter.

What color code in the Homeland Security Advisory System is associated with a "gut feeling?" What sectors should be on alert as a result of your "gut feeling?" What cities should be asking their law enforcement to work double shifts because of your "gut feeling?" Are the American people supposed to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting because of your "gut feeling?"

The Committee on Homeland Security has repeatedly emphasized the importance of getting specific, actionable information to our first preventers in law enforcement and other emergency response providers. I urge you to follow up on your "gut feeling" and share whatever information our nation's first preventers need to be on alert and prepared.

. . .

Mr. Secretary, I urge you to clarify your comments by providing concrete direction to the State, local and tribal stakeholders and if necessary make the required changes to the Nation's threat level to ensure that the American public can take the necessary steps to protect their families, businesses and communities.

You can read the whole letter on the blog of the Speaker of the House (I swear, it's faster these days to count all the people who don't have a blog than those who do). If you click over, take a look at the whole blog, which has a lot of interesting material.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Something About the Way You Taste Makes Me Want to Clear My Throat

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff was in town today, and he spent some time with the Chicago Tribune editorial board. As is the wont of some journalists (although it seems to be fewer and fewer, these days), they quickly turned around and reported on what he told them.

Chertoff, it seems, feels that there's a lot to be worried about. The Trib says he provided "an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America's terror threat level." As the top guy at Homeland Security, Chertoff must be privy to all kinds of intelligence and analysis about terror--who's planning what, when and where things could possibly happen--so if he's unusually blunt about a threat, you want to pay attention. And even with the sensitive material he has at his disposal, he was happy to reveal what brought him to this expectation. He's got a "gut feeling" (got a gut feeling, feeling).

I suppose that we should feel glad that he's open enough to share his innermost intuition with us, but shouldn't we expect a bit more? A little something firmer than "Summertime seems to be appealing to" al Qaeda?

One thing he seems to have plenty of, though, is premature blame.

Chertoff said . . . that the recent failure of Congress to pass an immigration bill has negative repercussions for homeland security. . . .

Resistance has built as well, he said, from business and travel interests blocking his proposals to tighten security at the borders - especially at the crossings with Canada.

In the end, Chertoff argued, Americans must soon decide between enduring greater inconvenience and costs or allowing terrorists easier access to the borders. He warned against increasing resistence [sic] to security measures based on comfort and self-centered motives.

That's right, according to the Trib, Chertoff is implying that concern over the infringement of constitutional right is "based on comfort and self-centered motives."

The big question for now, however, is whether Chertoff's gut is reason enough for the Prez to back away from his traditional August sojourn in the brush-infested wilds of central Texas. We'll be keeping an eye on that.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Via Think Progress, The Sunday Times gives us the latest from Colin Powell:

The former American secretary of state Colin Powell has revealed that he spent 2 1/2 hours vainly trying to persuade President George W Bush not to invade Iraq and believes today's conflict cannot be resolved by US forces.

"I tried to avoid this war," Powell said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. "I took him through the consequences of going into an Arab country and becoming the occupiers."

Powell has become increasingly outspoken about the level of violence in Iraq, which he believes is in a state of civil war. "The civil war will ultimately be resolved by a test of arms," he said. "It's not going to be pretty to watch, but I don't know any way to avoid it. It is happening now."

He added: "It is not a civil war that can be put down or solved by the armed forces of the United States." All the military could do, Powell suggested, was put "a heavier lid on this pot of boiling sectarian stew."

Even if we take this at face value, is the correct follow-up for the secretary of state in such a situation really to wait four years and then say, "I told you so"?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Coward's Way Out

It can't be much of a surprise what Frank Rich takes as his subject this week. Like just about everybody else, he's talking about Scooter Libby. And although he starts out providing the same background we've all seen, he soon brings his column around to demonstrate how this is just one more element in the Prez's "Profile in Cowardice." This week I'm going to start quoting about halfway through the piece and let Rich set up his argument.

Asked last week to explain the president's poll numbers, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center told NBC News that "when we ask people to summon up one word that comes to mind" to describe Mr. Bush, it's "incompetence." But cowardice, the character trait so evident in his furtive handling of the Libby commutation, is as important to understanding Mr. Bush's cratered presidency as incompetence, cronyism and hubris.

Even The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, a consistent Bush and Libby defender, had to take notice. Furious that the president had not given Mr. Libby a full pardon (at least not yet), The Journal called the Bush commutation statement a "profile in non-courage."

What it did not recognize, or chose not to recognize, is that this non-courage, to use The Journal's euphemism, has been this president's stock in trade, far exceeding the "wimp factor" that Newsweek once attributed to his father. The younger Mr. Bush's cowardice is arguably more responsible for the calamities of his leadership than anything else.

People don't change. Mr. Bush's failure to have the courage of his own convictions was apparent early in his history, when he professed support for the Vietnam War yet kept himself out of harm's way when he had the chance to serve in it. In the White House, he has often repeated the feckless pattern that he set back then and reaffirmed last week in his hide-and-seek bestowing of the Libby commutation.

The first fight he conspicuously ran away from as president was in August 2001. Aspiring to halt federal underwriting of embryonic stem-cell research, he didn't stand up and say so but instead unveiled a bogus "compromise" that promised continued federal research on 60 existing stem-cell lines. Only later would we learn that all but 11 of them did not exist. When Mr. Bush wanted to endorse a constitutional amendment to "protect" marriage, he again cowered. A planned 2006 Rose Garden announcement to a crowd of religious-right supporters was abruptly moved from the sunlight into a shadowy auditorium away from the White House.

Nowhere is this president's non-courage more evident than in the "signing statements" The Boston Globe exposed last year. As Charlie Savage reported, Mr. Bush "quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office." Rather than veto them in public view, he signed them, waited until after the press and lawmakers left the White House, and then filed statements in the Federal Register asserting that he would ignore laws he (not the courts) judged unconstitutional. This was the extralegal trick Mr. Bush used to bypass the ban on torture. It allowed him to make a coward's escape from the moral (and legal) responsibility of arguing for so radical a break with American practice.

In the end, it was also this president's profile in non-courage that greased the skids for the Iraq fiasco. If Mr. Bush had had the guts to put America on a true wartime footing by appealing to his fellow citizens for sacrifice, possibly even a draft if required, then he might have had at least a chance of amassing the resources needed to secure Iraq after we invaded it.

But he never backed up the rhetoric of war with the stand-up action needed to prosecute the war. Instead he relied on fomenting fear, as typified by the false uranium claims whose genesis has been covered up by Mr. Libby's obstructions of justice. Mr. Bush's cowardly abdication of the tough responsibilities of wartime leadership ratified Donald Rumsfeld's decision to go into Iraq with the army he had, ensuring our defeat.

Never underestimate the power of the unconscious. Not the least of the revelatory aspects of Mr. Bush's commutation is that he picked the fourth anniversary of "Bring 'em on" to hand it down. It was on July 2, 2003, that the president responded to the continued violence in Iraq, two months after "Mission Accomplished," by taunting those who want "to harm American troops." Mr. Bush assured the world that "we've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation." The "surge" notwithstanding, we still don't have the force necessary four years later, because the president never did summon the courage, even as disaster loomed, to back up his own convictions by going to the mat to secure that force.

It's been a predictable pattern so far, as long as the Prez feels that he's fooling the rest of us, regardless of whether we're in agreement or opposition to his policies. I'm concerned about what happens now that more and more people--in government and outside of it--are on to his methods. We've seen him when he thinks he's holding all the cards. I'm a bit concerned about how he reacts when he's cornered.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth

I guess we're right in the middle of Al Gore's concert event of the summer. You certainly can't second-guess the sweep of it--covering nine cities (Washington was a late add-on) on six continents, with even an Antarctica gig by a band made up of five members of a UK science team (but no Snow Patrol, as I'd originally hoped--they're playing Wembley).

I know I've been busy lately, and perhaps I haven't been looking in the right places, but I've heard very little about this event. Is the info out there and I just missed it? Does anybody else feel inundated by hype? That doesn't sound too promising, given that the stated intention of Live Earth was to promote information about and action on global warming. We'll have to see what's been accomplished after it's all over.

As for me, I was trying to get some coverage on the radio, but XRT, which claims exclusive coverage for Chicago, is being very selective in what they share. When I first tuned in, I heard the end of a Genesis song from Wembley, and then the DJ followed it with studio tracks of "Dream Police" by Cheap Trick and "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry. I was interrupted for a few minutes while writing this and came back to hear a Live Earth track from the aforementioned Snow Patrol, followed up by the non-Live Earth "Sweet Jane." I guess there'll be no global warming information for me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Insert Your Favorite Simpsons Catch Phrase Here

A field trip may soon be in order. In a reverse-out of product placement, 7-Eleven is refitting 11 of its stores in a somewhat ambitious cross-promotion with The Simpsons Movie. They're making them into Kwik-E-Marts. Now, 11 isn't very many, and they're not really scattered equally around the country (or continent, as the case may be). But fortunately for me (and those readers who live somewhat near me), there is one in Chicago. It's on the other side of town, though, so you can't have everything.

I have to admit that I'm uncomfortably eager to like this idea. I feel like a sucker, reeled in by the advertisers, playing right into their hands. And yet . . . I want a box of KrustyO's. I'd like to have a can of Buzz Cola. (Actually, I'd like a can of Duff Beer, but they didn't make any of that in keeping with the PG-13 rating of the movie. I don't actually want to drink a Duff Beer--if they were true to the show, I bet it would taste like Coors Light or something, but the can would look nice on a bookshelf.) I'm not sure from the Website whether these products will be available at all 7-Elevens or just the Kwik-E-Mart ones, so I may go to a closer 7-Eleven just to see, but regardless, I'll be heading out to the local Kwik-E-Mart before too long.

The more I think about it, though, the more I can convince myself that I'm not just being duped by the clever ad agencies. I'll go into 7-Eleven to look for the various Simpsons products, and I'll drive across town to see the actual Kwik-E-Mart, but I can't imagine that after this is all over I'll have any more occasion to shop at 7-Eleven than I do right now. Take that consumer culture!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Isn't That Interesting?

Everybody's talking about an intriguing article from yesterday's Boston Globe. Fred Thompson first came to national prominence as minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee. You remember the Senate Watergate Committee. They investigated Richard Nixon, uncovered much of the wrongdoing that went on in the Oval Office during his administration, and ultimately forced the situation that brought him to resign. It's legendary for the Republicans who followed the facts no matter where they led, putting duty to country ahead of the interests of their party and president.

Of course, things are rarely as simple as they seem. It could easily be argued that committee Republicans actually were acting in self-interest because Nixon had become so toxic that it had become clear he'd pull the party down if he weren't pushed aside. But that wasn't obvious at first, so not unexpectedly, many Republicans started out trying to defend the President. Thompson was the lawyer who publicly asked the question that revealed Nixon's White House taping system. Because no good lawyers ask questions to which they don't already know the answers, Thompson and the committee had already been aware of the taping system before it became public. No dummy, he realized that this is the kind of bombshell that can do real damage if it hit the White House unexpectedly, so he did what any good party loyalist would do. He tipped off the White House and leaked the testimony.

Wow, that substantially undermines Thompson's credibility as Mr. Law & Order. How did intrepid reporter Michael Kranish get such a story? Did he dig into thirty-year-old transcripts? Did some ancient source divulge the secret after all these years? No, Thompson wrote about it in a book he wrote shortly after the Watergate scandal. "Even though I had no authority to act for the committee, I decided to call [Nixon's lawyer] Fred Buzhardt at home," Thompson wrote in his memoir. "I wanted to be sure that the White House was fully aware of what was to be disclosed so that it could take appropriate action." Well, sure--if you're going after a criminal enterprise, you want to make sure they're not caught with their pants down.

While I'm not a lawyer and can't say for sure, that sounds highly unethical to me. And apparently it didn't seem to kosher to other lawyers working with the Committee. Scott Armstrong, an investigator for committee Democrats, told the Globe, "Thompson was a mole for the White House." Instead of working for the committee, "Fred was working hammer and tong to defeat the investigation of finding out what happened to authorize Watergate and find out what the role of the president was." Thompson's position caused dissension in the ranks, as others on the team believed he'd been leaking to the Nixon and his lawyers all along and should have been fired as a result. "Any prosecutor would be upset if another member of the prosecution team was orchestrating a defense for Nixon," Armstrong told the Globe.

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who's watched Thompson's recent cheerleading for Scooter Libby. As a key player on Scooter's defense fund, he's been at the forefront of those seeking to make sure Scooter avoids punishment and responsibility for his crime of exposing CIA agent Valerie Plame. It's obvious in hindsight that he'd seek to do the same for Nixon. What's most surprising to me in all this, though, is Thompson's original reaction upon learning about Nixon's White House tapes. He supported the investigation of them because he believed they would exonerate the President. Nixon's was a smart guy, Thompson believed. He wouldn't allow anything incriminating to exist in such a way. Now that's the kind if judgment you want in a president.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Have a Happy Fourth of July!

I should've had this up this morning, but I've been wrestling with my image function and I finally got it back into line. So not only is there a post, but there's a picture involved, too. Celebrate the holiday in style--go catch an eagle on your arm!

Olbermann Channels the Zeitgeist

I'd heard that Keith Olbermann did an excellent commentary on the whole Scooter Libby commutation thing, but I didn't get a chance to see it or read the transcript until this evening. Crooks and Liars has the video and transcript, so give it a look. In one segment, he compares Bush's action here to Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre.

When President Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre" on October 20th, 1973, Mr. Cox initially responded tersely, and ominously:

"Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men, is now for Congress, and ultimately, the American people."

President Nixon did not understand how he had crystallized the issue of Watergate for the American people.

It had been about the obscure meaning behind an attempt to break in to a rival party's headquarters; and the labyrinthine effort to cover-up that break-in and the related crimes.

But in one night, Nixon transformed it.

Watergate — instantaneously — became a simpler issue: a President overruling the inexorable march of the law. Of insisting — in a way that resonated viscerally with millions who had not previously understood — that he was the law.

Not the Constitution.

Not the Congress.

Not the Courts.

Just him.

Just - Mr. Bush - as you did, yesterday.

The twists and turns of Plame-Gate, your precise and intricate lies that sent us into this bottomless pit of Iraq; your lies upon the lies to discredit Joe Wilson; your lies upon the lies upon the lies to throw the sand at the "referee" of Prosecutor Fitzgerald's analogy… these are complex and often painful to follow, and too much, perhaps, for the average citizen.

But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush — and then you spit in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal — the average citizen understands that, sir.

It's the fixed ballgame and the rigged casino and the pre-arranged lottery all rolled into one — and it stinks. And they know it.

Nixon's mistake, the last and most fatal of them, the firing of Archibald Cox, was enough to cost him the presidency.

It remains to be seen whether the Libby commutation will be a turning point in the survival of the Bush administration. Editor & Publisher has a run down of newspaper responses, virtually all of them negative toward the President (though The Wall Street Journal's problem is that the commutation wasn't a full pardon). It's worth noting that Nixon didn't resign until nine-and-a-half months after the Saturday Night Massacre. To get any kind of a similar result here will require quite a bit of effort and time. (And even then it might not be possible--Nixon was also pushed into a corner by a Supreme Court that wouldn't let him get away with hiding behind executive privilege. I'm not sure the same factors exist today.) Back to Olbermann:

t is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them — or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them — we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time — and our leaders in Congress, of both parties — must now live up to those standards which echo through our history:

Pressure, negotiate, impeach — get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

And for you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task.

You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed.

Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


We've crept into the wee hours of the Fourth of July. I guess any kind of unrealistic idealism isn't out of place today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Still Guilty

I suppose that I could argue I was correct in my prediction that the Prez would probably not pardon Scooter. Even now, Scooter remains unpardoned. Instead, Bush commuted his sentence. That's an odd decision. Scooter remains a convicted felon. He's still guilty as charged. The Prez is saying, "Yes, he lied to a jury. Yes, he obstructed justice. But those aren't crimes that deserve prison time."

This is an interesting turn. There's no obstruction of justice if there was no crime to be covered up. By respecting the jury's guilty verdict, Bush tacitly acknowledges that Scooter lied to keep a crime from being uncovered. We can speculate as to what that crime was, but Bush effectively admits that, yes, Scooter was dirty.

The Washington Post can't pin down exactly what part Cheney had in the decision. Somehow I get the feeling that he was doing more than just sitting in the corner keeping his fingers crossed. According to the Post, the Prez kept this one pretty close to the vest. He didn't consult the Justice Department, and he certainly didn't check with Patrick Fitzgerald to get his opinion.

Will Bush have some sort of price to pay for all this? That same Post story says he doesn't think he will. The Dems will be mad anyway, and at least this way, he was able to make some of his base happy. It's not clear if he'll get off scott free, though. Joe Wilson accused the Prez of actively joining the obstruction of justice. Back in March when Scooter received his guilty verdict, CNN found that 69 percent of Americans opposed a pardon, while only 18 percent supported one. Will the public respond to Scooter getting off with less time than he deserves in a manner similar to how they took on Paris Hilton? Somehow, I doubt it, but I can dream, can't I?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cheney Has a Few More Wrinkles

I only quickly alluded to the story of Dick Cheney staking out his own branch of government, but it appears that the claim was too incredible for even Cheney himself. His office started distancing itself from the idea, so I guess that's off the table. But in this whole extra branch brouhaha, Frank Rich noticed a couple of points that seem to be getting overlooked. He paraphrases Richard Nixon for his title: "When the Vice President Does It, That Means It's Not Illegal."

That retreat might allow us to mark the end of this installment of the Bush-Cheney Follies but for one nagging problem: Not for the first time in the history of this administration - or the hundredth - has the real story been lost amid the Washington kerfuffle. Once the laughter subsides and you look deeper into the narrative leading up to the punch line, you can unearth a buried White House plot that is more damning than the official scandal. This plot once again snakes back to the sinister origins of the Iraq war, to the Valerie Wilson leak case and to the press failures that enabled the administration to abuse truth and the law for too long.

One journalist who hasn't failed is Mark Silva of The Chicago Tribune. He first reported more than a year ago, in May 2006, the essentials of the "news" at the heart of the recent Cheney ruckus. Mr. Silva found that the vice president was not filing required reports on his office's use of classified documents because he asserted that his role in the legislative branch, as president of the Senate, gave him an exemption.

This scoop went unnoticed by nearly everybody. It would still be forgotten today had not Henry Waxman, the dogged House inquisitor, called out Mr. Cheney 10 days ago, detailing still more egregious examples of the vice president's flouting of the law, including his effort to shut down an oversight agency in charge of policing him. The congressman's brief set off the firestorm that launched a thousand late-night gags.

That's all to the public good, but hiding in plain sight was the little-noted content of the Bush executive order that Mr. Cheney is accused of violating. On close examination, this obscure 2003 document, thrust into the light only because the vice president so blatantly defied it, turns out to be yet another piece of self-incriminating evidence illuminating the White House's guilt in ginning up its false case for war.

The tale of the document begins in August 2001, when the Bush administration initiated a review of the previous executive order on classified materials signed by Bill Clinton in 1995. The Clinton order had been acclaimed in its day as a victory for transparency because it mandated the automatic declassification of most government files after 25 years.

It was predictable that the obsessively secretive Bush team would undermine the Clinton order. What was once a measure to make government more open would be redrawn to do the opposite. And sure enough, when the White House finally released its revised version, the scant news coverage focused on how the new rules postponed the Clinton deadline for automatic declassification and tightened secrecy so much that previously declassified documents could be reclassified.

But few noticed another change inserted five times in the revised text: every provision that gave powers to the president over classified documents was amended to give the identical powers to the vice president. This unprecedented increase in vice-presidential clout, though spelled out in black and white, went virtually unremarked in contemporary news accounts.

Given all the other unprecedented prerogatives that President Bush has handed his vice president, this one might seem to be just more of the same. But both the timing of the executive order and the subsequent use Mr. Cheney would make of it reveal its special importance in the games that the White House played with prewar intelligence.

On the timing, the Prez didn't issue his executive order in response to 9/11. He waited until right before the Iraq War, a time when such powers in the hands of the vice president might come in handy. And, oh look! They did.

The new executive order that Mr. Bush signed on March 25 was ingenious. By giving Mr. Cheney the same classification powers he had, Mr. Bush gave his vice president a free hand to wield a clandestine weapon: he could use leaks to punish administration critics.

That weapon would be employed less than four months later. Under Mr. Bush's direction, Mr. Cheney deputized Scooter Libby to leak highly selective and misleading portions of a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to pet reporters as he tried to discredit Mr. Wilson. By then, Mr. Wilson had emerged as the most vocal former government official accusing the White House of not telling the truth before the war.

Because of the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, we would learn three years later about the offensive conducted by Mr. Libby on behalf of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush. That revelation prompted the vice president to acknowledge his enhanced powers in an unguarded moment in a February 2006 interview with Brit Hume of Fox News. Asked by Mr. Hume with some incredulity if "a vice president has the authority to declassify information," Mr. Cheney replied, "There is an executive order to that effect." He was referring to the order of March 2003.

Even now, few have made the connection between this month's Cheney flap and the larger scandal. That larger scandal is to be found in what the vice president did legally under the executive order early on rather than in his more recent rejection of its oversight rules.

Timing really is everything. By March 2003, this White House knew its hype of Saddam's nonexistent nuclear arsenal was in grave danger of being exposed. The order allowed Mr. Bush to keep his own fingerprints off the nitty-gritty of any jihad against whistle-blowers by giving Mr. Cheney the authority to pick his own shots and handle the specifics. The president could have plausible deniability and was free to deliver non-denial denials like "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." Mr. Cheney in turn could delegate the actual dirty work to Mr. Libby, who obstructed justice to help throw a smoke screen over the vice president's own role in the effort to destroy Mr. Wilson.

Much (but not all, by any means) of the rest is history. It appears that Scooter was completely successful in his attempt to obstruct justice. We've got a pretty good idea, but we don't have enough details to hold Cheney responsible for whatever he might've done to protect his false justification for going to war. I don't know how long Patrick Fitzgerald will have his charge to investigate and prosecute in the Valerie Plame situation, but it doesn't look probably at this point that he's going to come up with much more. Henry Waxman is still revving up his Congressional investigation, so there could be some more revelations there, but we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, and for at least another year and a half, we've got a rogue vice president running roughshod over more than two centuries of Constitutional tradition.