Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The USA Eight: Odds and Ends

Organization Charts

I've never been good at organization charts. Usually, the only things I'm really interested in when I'm part of an organization is whom I'm working for, who, if anyone, is working for me, and who's running the show. Beyond that, it's all pretty academic to me. That's what bosses have to know.

So, it came as something as a shock when I finally realized something I'd stumbled onto the other day with the story about Tasia Scolinos' efforts to put some lipstick on the pig that was the USA Eight scandal. It was this: Tasia Scolinos, a somewhat important person in the Justice Department, found out that the US Attorneys were going to be fired from Catherine Martin, a White House official. See the third e-mail in the article. Martin apparently learned about it from William Kelley, who is according to Zimbio, the Deputy White House Counsel and Deputy Assistant to the President. According to this chart, put together by Dan Froomkin, he was Deputy Counsel in 2005. (See the second e-mail). Now, this wouldn't be the first time that someone found out something about what was going on in his, or her, organization from someone outside of it, but the fact remains that Martin found out about it before Scolinos, and she found out about it from a deputy counsel. What this implies, but certainly doesn't prove, is that the White House was out in front on this issue. It's certainly not proof, but if I were on a Senate or House panel investigating things, I'd have a few questions for Ms. Martin and Mr. Kelley.

Gonzopedia Backs Up Cohen

Yesterday, I mentioned an article Andrew Cohen wrote saying that Attorney General Gonzalez attended a meeting where they discussed the impending firing of the USA Eight. In particular, he wrote this:

On Friday night, however, after the network news broadcasts had been completed and the cable lineups already set, the Justice Department disclosed that on November 27, 2006, just 10 days or so before seven of the eight federal prosecutors were fired, Gonzales and his deputies held a formal meeting to discuss the matter. There is an email record that indicates preparations for this meeting and all of the key players, including the Attorney General’s now-departed chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson and Gonzales’ likely-soon-to-be-departed deputy, Paul J. McNulty.

On Gonzales: Defining "Discussion"

Over at the Gonzopedia, we've located some of the emails that show this. On Document 3-23-07 (9), page 2, there's an appointment reminder e-mail saying that several DoJ people, including Paul McNulty, the Deputy AG, and Kyle Sampson, the DoJ Chief of Staff, William Moschella, and Michael Elston. On Document 3-23-07 (8), page 1 is an e-mail written by Kyle Sampson explaining that those people were meeting the AG to discuss the U.S. Attorney appointments. Document 3-23-07 (8), page 2 shows that Michael Elston had to back out of the meeting due to his wife's medical appointment. Document 3-23-07 (8), page 3 shows an e-mail Sampson sent with a subject "Pls add AG to 9AM" from his blackberry. This shows why Cohen asserted that Gonzalez was at the meeting. It's all there in the documents as long as you know where to look.

Incidently, if you want to confirm that what we write in the Gonzopedia is accurate, check the source documents, which are linked at the top of every page.

Still Working

We're still enterring documents over at the Gonzopedia. Thanks to the folks who have been reading and entering data. We sure can use the help. There are still lots of documents to be recorded. No doubt there are still at least a few undiscovered treasures in there.

UPDATE: If you haven't already, check out Larry Johnson's article about John McCain's latest pronouncements on Iraq:

We already have one President barely in touch with reality. The last thing we need is another ideological nut job incapable of recognizing reality while it is kicking him in the balls.

John McCain, Crazy Bastard


UPDATE 2: James Wolcott has some thoughts on the folks I've called the idiots in the hall:

Imus and Williams, joshing each other the way multimillionaire media guys do, had just wrapped up a speculative tete a tete about whether Nascar drivers wear diapers or some other urine-retention device during those long races. Having wrung as much mirth from that as they could, they switched to politics, where Williams cited a comment from John Harwood about how the Democrats were more interested in investigating than legislating, and that they were running the danger of having some of the mud they dig up spatter on them.

Such solicitude. No doubt the tribunes at NBC News are flashing caution lights in the best interests of Democrats, for fear they might injure themselves lrunning around on the playground. But you have to wonder if there's a prescribed amount of political corruption--muck--that's allowed to be unearthed before it lands in the gone-too-far/boomerang effect/overplayed-their-hand category. Beltway pundits never seem to want to get to the bottom of anything. A little surface scraping suffices for them.

Rhyme Schemes (updated)

People are trying to reclaim our country from the thieves who hijacked it and all these people can do is joke about diapers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

This And That On The USA Eight

A couple of themes have been popping up today regarding the eight U.S. Attorneys fired by the Justice Department last December. First, it's that there clearly is no mention in these e-mails and letters of the folks who actually had the authority to fire these people. I mentioned that on Saturday. Andrew Cohen discussed it today:

On March 13th, as the temperature rose and the critics circled, Alberto R. Gonzales went on live television and said this: “But again, with respect to this whole process, like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department. But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the Attorney General.” (Emphasis added).

He continued (and again I have added the emphasis): “I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood. What I knew was that there was ongoing effort that was led by Mr. Sampson, vetted through the Department of Justice, to ascertain where we could make improvements in U.S. attorney performances around the country.” As incredulous as some observers (like me) were to hear him say these things—what kind of leader wouldn’t know the details about such a delicate matter?—it is fair to say that the nation collectively agreed at the time to believe the Attorney General’s story, to give him the benefit of the doubt.

On Friday night, however, after the network news broadcasts had been completed and the cable lineups already set, the Justice Department disclosed that on November 27, 2006, just 10 days or so before seven of the eight federal prosecutors were fired, Gonzales and his deputies held a formal meeting to discuss the matter. There is an email record that indicates preparations for this meeting and all of the key players, including the Attorney General’s now-departed chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson and Gonzales’ likely-soon-to-be-departed deputy, Paul J. McNulty.

On Gonzales: Defining "Discussion"

So either Abu slept through the meeting, or he actually did know what was going on. If he didn't understand why it was happening he's more obtuse than most ten year-olds, but that's a presumption. Dan Froomkin, apparently, is guilty of that presumption as well:

Did that meeting not make an impression? Did he choose to lie about it? Was he secretly drawing a distinction between giving his approval and knowing anything about what he had given his approval for?

Who's Scripting Gonzales?

Here's shoephone's comment from Saturday's article:

Clearly the emails we see are keeping Abu out of the discussions, but I wonder about all the blackberry communications, going through a different server. And Rove is known to use a blackberry for almost all his communications...

Abu is expendable. The WH knows he won't ever betray the godfather, and anyway, his fingerprints are all over the torture and wiretapping operations. All roads lead to Rove. Just the fact that Rove's assistant, Glynda Becker, was the one fielding complaints from the WA State GOP about McKay and then Rove relayed those complaints directly to Abu and Miers. (And then -- not documented yet -- who did Miers talk to about it? POTUS.) And then POTUS talked about it with Abu. The phony voter fraud games are in Rove's blood. It goes way back.

Comment fron: Who Fired The USA Eight?

To say it's been a noticeable thing is an understatement. Yet, to read most editorialists in the national newspapers, you'd think this was all some kind of unfortunate misunderstanding. Scarecrow fills us in on the details.

Scarecrow's article also brings us to our second theme of the firings. It seems to have a whole lot more to do with a Republican desire to control the election process than it does with immigration.

The Justice Department/White House scandal is not about offending Republican Senators, though the Senator from New Mexico may well have flirted with obstruction of justice. And the scandal has little if anything to do with whether the dismissed attorneys were sufficiently focused on immigration, as Brooks hopes. This scandal is a thousand times more serious.

This scandal is about the White House effort to transform a portion of the Department of Justice into a criminal enterprise, a weapon to be wielded by Karl Rove, the White House’ senior political operative, to secure and maintain a Republican regime and ruling majority. Its tactics can’t be described as either “good” or “bad” political interference; they were criminal, because they included undermining the nation’s voting laws to selectively discourage Democratic voters, abusing prosecutorial discretion to intimidate or destroy Democratic officials and shielding Republican officials and Republican lobbyists and contributors from exposure for their corruption, all of which was linked via Abramoff/Cunningham type scandals to funding the Republican party.

The People’s Business

Last Friday (March 24), Lynn Allen wrote an article about the relationship between vote fraud and the purge:

Perry Hooper "won" that election eleven months later with the help of a tremendously sophisticated PR campaign, many appeals to different courts, including the federal courts, and heaven knows how much outright fraud.

If these tactics sound wildly familiar, there is a reason. Fast forward to 2004 and our Washington State gubernatorial election. The same tactics were used, undoubtedly by folks that Rove had either trained or was talking to every day or both. Except in Washington State, a Republican judge in Chelan country ran a fair trial and stated that the Republicans did not have a case. Then John McKay, the well-respected Republican-appointed federal prosecutor, who had conducted a thorough investigation of voter fraud in that election, refused to convene a federal grand jury because, as he said, "we never found any evidence of criminal conduct."

For his troubles, McKay was listed as insubordinate by the DoJ political handlers and placed on the list of federal prosecutors to be fired.

McKay in Context

My guess is that there's plenty more out there, but for now I have to stop and go do something else for a while. Hopefully, we'll be picking this up again tomorrow.

UPDATE: Mash, who is providing the host for the Gonzopedia, has an excellent article on the relationship between the Dusty Foggo/Duke Cunningham scandals and Carol Lam's firing. I mentioned this in passing in an earlier article, but Mash has laid out quite a detailed timeline of suspicious contract awards. Taylor Marsh pointed out an AP story about how Monica Goodling, Abu Gonzo's White House liason, intends to take the Fifth at the upcoming Senate Judiciary hearings.

"I have decided to follow my lawyer's advice and respectfully invoke my constitutional right," Monica Goodling, Gonzales' counsel and White House liaison, said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gonzales aide to invoke Fifth Amendment

Maybe we can get Robert Gates to declare her a terrorist?

UPDATE 2 (March 27): Corrected the link to the Gonzopedia.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Mark Twain of Our Generation

image credit: screenshot by Cujo359. Real Time With Bill Maher copyright HBO

If anyone ever considers the question, "Who was the Mark Twain of the early twenty-first century?", the answer will probably be "Bill Maher". There are other comics, like George Carlin for instance, who make observations as pithy and sometimes as pointed, but for sheer crusty, barbed, and relentlessly cynical observations about where America is nowadays, you can't get much more Twainian (Twainish?) than Maher.

Of course, for someone brave enough to make the jokes, there's plenty of comic material right now. Irony is the one national resource we don't seem to be running out of. And we certainly need to laugh. When I watch what's happening to this country lately, I sometimes feel as though I'm watching the slow, agonizing death of a friend or family member while thoughtless idiots are yelling and playing games out in the hall. The last couple of weeks, it looks like Maher gets that. Here's what he said last week about the Bush Administration's way of fighting terrorism:

And finally, new rule: liberals must stop saying President Bush hasn't asked Americans to sacrifice for the War on Terror. On the contrary, he's asked us to sacrifice something enormous: Our civil rights.

Now, when I heard George Bush was reading my e-mails, I probably had the same reaction you did–George Bush can read?! Yes he can, and this administration has read your phone records, credit card statements, mail, internet logs… I can't tell if their fighting the War on Terror or producing the next season of Cheater. I mail myself a copy of the Constitution every morning, just on the hope they'll open it and see what it says!

So when it comes to sacrifice, don't kid yourself–you *have* given up a lot! You've given up faith in your government's honesty, the good will of people overseas, and 6/10 of the Bill of Rights. Here's what you've sacrificed: search and seizure, warrants, self incrimination, trial by jury, cruel and unusual punishment. Here's what you have left: handguns, religion, and they can't make you quarter a British soldier. If Prince Harry invades the inland empire, he has to bring a tent.


Conservatives always say the great thing Reagan did was make us feel good about America again. Well, do you feel good about America now?

I'll give you my answer. And to get it out of me, you don't even need to hold my head under water and have a snarling guard dog rip my nuts off. (Laughter). No, I don't feel very good about that. They say evil happens when good men do nothing. Well, the Democrats proved it also happens when mediocre people do nothing.

Bill Maher on Sacrifice

How many times have I and like-minded people observed how little the Democrats have been doing to stop Bush's rampage through our Constitution? How many times have we ridiculed their half-assed attempts to register a complaint about how the war in Iraq is going? Now that the House has finally passed a meaningful, if insufficient, bill to cut off funding, it will probably die a slow death in the Senate even before Bush gets a chance to veto it.

When the Washington Post and the New York Times editorialists only want to divert attention from their own complicity in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, Maher gets that one, too:

And how despicable that Bush's lackies attempted to diminish this crime by belittling her service, like she was just some chick who hung around the CIA - an intern really, or groupie if you want to be mean about it. No! Big lie! Valerie Plame was the CIA's operational officer in charge of counter-proliferation, which means she tracks loose nukes.

So when Bush says, as he once did, that his absolute, number one priority was preventing terrorists from getting loose nukes, that's what she worked on. That's what she devoted her life to, staying undercover for twenty years - maintaining two identities every goddamned day. This is extraordinary service to your country. Valerie Plame was the kind of real life secret agent George Bush dreams of being when he's not too busy pretending to be a cowboy or a fighter pilot.

The CIA are troops. This was a military assassination, done through the press and ordered by Karl Rove. He said of Valerie Plame "she's fair game", [pause] and then Cheney shot her.

Bill Maher: “Traitors don’t get to question my patriotism!”

Note the title - that's the "new rule" Maher opened that rant with. Has anyone openly called Bush and Cheney traitors on TV? I sure hadn't heard of it before. I've written before that I don't watch much TV these days, but I think if someone had said this before I'd be hearing about it. This is something of a watershed in Bush's presidency. Serious people are starting to think of him as a criminal and someone whose behavior betrays the country he's supposed to be running. Yes, Maher qualifies as "serious". He's better informed about what's going on in this country than some news anchors seem to be.

It's possible that this humor won't stand the test of time, as much of Twain's does. There are enough contemporary references that the meaning of some jokes will be lost in a generation or two. I think, though, that much of it will endure. Even if it doesn't, it's certainly helping us get through this time, and for that alone he deserves notoriety. And unlike Lenny Bruce, he never forgets to insert a punchline when things start sounding grim.

UPDATE: If you wonder whom I was referring to when I wrote "thoughtless idiots are yelling and playing games out in the hall", Glenn Greenwald wrote about some of them today.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Who Fired The USA Eight?

We've been gradually transcribing and summarizing the Justice Department's document dump over at the Gonzopedia. One document I transcribed today, Document 3-23-07 (10), has been interesting in that sort of way that all train wrecks are interesting. If it didn't happen to you, in other words, it's interesting. If it's happening to you it's devastating and maddening.

The first item in this document, chronologically speaking, is on page two. It's an e-mail from Kyle Sampson, the erstwhile chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto "Abu" Gonzalez, to Harriet Miers, who was the White House Counsel at the time:

From: Kyle Sampson
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2006 11:02 AM
To: Miers, Harriet; Kelley, William K.
CC: Paul J. McNulty
Subject: USA replacement plan
Importance: High

Harriet/Bill, please see the attached. Please note (1) the plan, by its terms, would commence this week; (2) I have consulted with the DAG, but not yet informed others who would need to be brought into the loop, including Acting Associate AG Bill Mercer, EOUSA Director Mike Battle, and AGAC Chair Johnny Sutton (nor have I informed anyone in Karl's shop, another pre-execution necessity I would recommend); and (3) I am concerned that to execute this plan properly we must all be on the same page and be steeled to withstand any political upheaval that might result (see Step 3); if we start caving to complaining U.S. Attorneys or Senators then we shouldn't do it -- it'll be more trouble than it is worth.

We'll stand by for a green light from you. Upon the green light, we'll (1) circulate the below plan to the list of folks in Step 3 (and ask that you circulate it to Karl's shop), (2) confirm that Kelley is making the Senator/Bush political lead calls, and (3) get Battle making the calls to the USAs. Let us know.

<<USA replacement plan.doc>>

Kyle Sampson
Chief of Staff
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 2

The content of this e-mail has been discussed already in the Internet, but I think one thing should be clear from it that you just don't get from most accounts in the mainstream news. Sampson is addressing this to the White House Counsel's office, not to the WH chief of staff, or some other person who has authority over White House operations. Yet, the document says "We'll stand by for a green light from you." Are we supposed to think that the White House Counsel has the authority to fire U.S. Attorneys? I don't think so. This isn't proof that Bush is behind the firings, but someone in the Administration besides Harriet Miers pulled the trigger. Who is it? We'll need the White House's communications records to know that.

So far, I haven't found that USA replacement plan document. Must be something to do with an upcoming investigation, right?

And you wondered why executive privilege was suddenly so important among the folks who wouldn't hear of it during President Clinton's term in office.

The next e-mail in this set of documents, chronologically, is this one from William Kelley to Catherine Martin, Jeff Jennings, and Debbie Fiddelke. Catherine Martin is identified by Sourcewatch as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director for Policy and Planning. You might remember her from this chart as someone to whom the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson was leaked and who passed some of that information on to VP Dick Cheney, but I digress. The e-mail says:

From: Kelley, William K.
To:Fiddelke, Debbie S.; Jennings, Jeffery S.; Martin, Catherine
Sent: Fri Nov 17 12:32:06 2006
Subject: FW: USA replacement plan

<<USA replacement plan.doc>>

The email below, and the attached document, reflect a plan by DOJ to replace several US Attorneys. By statute, US Attorneys serve for four year terms, which are commonly (but not always) extended by inaction -- in practice, they serve until replaced. They serve at the pleasure of the President, but often have very strong home-state political juice, including with their Senators.

Before executing this plan, we wanted to give your offices a heads up and seek input on changes that might reduce the profile or political fallout. Thanks.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

I'll leave the bit about how long U.S. Attorneys serve and why to others to discuss, but there does seem to be a bit of defensiveness about that language, don't you think? The only real concern expressed here is political fallout, although as we know, there was actually no real cause for firing at least seven of the USA Eight.

My inference about that attitude is bolstered by the remaining documents.

Next, we have this e-mail from Catherine Martin to Tasia Scolinos:

From: Catherine Martin
Sent: Friday, November 17, 2006 1:29 PM
To: Scolinos, Tasia
Subject: Fw: USA replacement plan
Importance: High

Are you looped in on this? What is your comms plan?

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

Apparently, Tasia Scolinos hasn't accomplished enough skullduggery yet to rate her own Sourcewatch page, but according to DoJ, she was named the Director of Public Affairs in early January, 2005. Her position makes it somewhat imperative that she come up with a comms plan, apparently. The plan she came up with was apparently in two parts. Here's what she came up with:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Friday, November 17,2006 2:00 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Thanks for flagging - we are not looped in - first I have heard of it. Let me call up there and figure out what is happening here and get back to you.

Also, neither Brian nor I can be on the 3:30 call by the way - conflicting meetings - let me know if that is a problem.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 1

and here's the second phase, which was hatched about three hours later:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Friday, November 17,2006 5:40 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

Its only six US attorneys (there are 94) and I think most of them will resign quietly - they don't get anything out of making it public they were asked to leave in terms of future job prospects. I don't see it as being a national story - especially if it phases in over a few months. Any concerns on your end?

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 3

From this, we can infer two things. One is that on November 17 of last year, less than a month before the Pearl Harbor Day firings of the USA Eight, only six were on the block. We'll name them in a moment. The second thing we can infer is that poor Tasia is in way over her head here. It's pretty clear she's never worked with attorneys, particularly the successful, type A sorts who tend to be U.S. Attorneys. Expecting them to keep quiet after being summarily fired for no good reason is about as sensible as expecting Iraqis to throw flowers in our paths after we invaded their country. Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Anyway, even Barry Bonds fails two-thirds of the times he comes to the plate. It's easy to criticize when you're not the one who has to see the ball and hit it.

So, who were the six attorneys at the time? That mystery is cleared up in Ms. Scolinos' last e-mail of this group:

From: Scolinos, Tasia
Sent: Tuesday, November 21,2006 1:20 PM
To: Catherine Martin
Subject: RE: USA replacement plan

* Paul Charlton (D. Ariz.)
* Carol Lam (S.D. Cal.)
* Margaret Chiara (W.D. Mich.)
* Dan Bogden (D. Nev.)
* John McKay (W.D. Wash.)
* David Iglesias (D.N.M.)

The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts.

Documents released 3-23-07 (10), Page 5

There were, of course, three USAs in that list whose districts were not on the Mexican border, and two USAs whose districts actually border Canada. So not only was Ms. Solinos' geographical knowledge at typical Bush Administration levels, but I think that story would have been a hard sell in any case. Unfortunately, to continue our baseball metaphor, making up a story that's going to cover this one was a bit like hitting a major league fastball when you're blind.

There's an old joke about how there are jobs that are tough to fill because you have to find someone smart enough to do the job but dumb enough to take it. I think being the Bush Administration Justice Department's chief apologist must be one of those jobs.

Anyhow, the two USAs who weren't on that list yet are Kevin Ryan and Bud Cummins. Ryan, according to reports such as this, is the only one that may have deserved to be fired. Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker put it this way:

Just let that sink in. In the only case where there was a strong case for firing, the DoJ had to be extorted to do it.

Today's Must Read

From the documents, it's clear they weren't considering it in mid-November. I'm not sure why Cummins wasn't on this list, but documents from earlier in the year had already mentioned him by name as being on the block. Perhaps by November his firing was a fait accompli.

So, the question remains, who really authorized the firings? Clearly, it wasn't Catherine Martin or Harriet Miers. They might have had the authority to fire someone in their own departments, but that's about it. The "juice", to coin a term, needed to fire someone in another department lies elsewhere in the White House.

UPDATE (March 25): Christy Hardin Smith riffs on the subject of Cathie Martin at FDL.

UPDATE2 (March 25): Speaking of who fired the USA Eight, shoephone has an interesting question or two at Evergreen Politics this morning. While this is centered on the fate of John McKay, the US Attorney for Western Washington, you can bet this question can be asked of all seven of the US Attorneys not named Kevin Ryan. Here's why:

In a Decemeber 4, 2006 email, Sampson tells then-White House counsel Harriet Miers of the protocol DOJ came up with for notifying home-state Republicans of the impending firings of their USAs. This was the protocol:

-AG calls Kyl
In a Decemeber 4, 2006 email, [DoJ Chief of Staff Kyle] Sampson tells then-White House counsel Harriet Miers of the protocol DOJ came up with for notifying home-state Republicans of the impending firings of their USAs. This was the protocol:

-AG calls Kyl

-Harriet/Bill call Ensign and Domenici

-White House OPA calls California, Michigan, Washington "leads"
-Harriet/Bill call Ensign and Domenici

-White House OPA [Karl Rove's Office of Political Affairs] calls California, Michigan, Washington "leads"

There's a pattern to these stories, no?

UPDATE3 (March 25): Finally corrected the links to the Gonzopedia, the Sourcewatch page on Catherine Martin, and the Evergreen Politics article on John McKay.

Galloway: Iraq, George Bush's Albatross

image credit: U.S. Army

Caption: Sgt. Auralie Suarez and Pvt. Brett Mansink take cover during a firefight with anti-Iraqi forces in the Al Doura section of Baghdad, March 7. The Soldiers are from Company C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Iraqi security forces nearby are also engaged in the fighting.

I just read this column of Joe Galloway's, and if I were a Christian I'd have probably concluded that experience with a loud "Amen". In my case, I can do this:

The president can still swagger and smirk on occasion, but all he can promise now - with 150,000 American troops operating in the middle of a bloody civil war that our actions unleashed - is more of the same. More billions. More dead and wounded Americans. More slaughtered Iraqis. That, and as he told the nation: "There will be good days and bad days."

I can promise the president from Texas that this ill-begotten, poorly planned and mismanaged war will be his lasting legacy when, in 22 months, he packs his bags and heads home to the ranch in Crawford.

Iraq will hang around his neck - and those of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Douglas Feith - like a rotting albatross for all the days of their lives.

No doubt the contractors who are bloated like ticks on the billions they've sucked out of the public trough will write the checks to build George W. Bush a really fine presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

All of it will be a lie, just like the lies his administration told to beat the war drums five years ago.

How will the curators portray the broken military, the broken Constitution, the broken laws, the forever broken troops who came home missing limbs or eyes or pieces of their brains, the broken promises to cherish and care for the families of those who were killed and those very wounded veterans?

How and why did so many Americans, including so many in Congress and in the media, sit idly by while so much that was precious to us was bent and twisted and broken by men who had the power and the money to do the right things but chose to do the wrong things?

Galloway: A broken military, broken laws and broken troops

Read the rest. It's worth it.

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh has been live blogging the Health Care Presidential Forum today. The forum is sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Service Employees International Union. She also wrote an introductory article.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In The News

Taylor Marsh has an update on Elizabeth Edwards' condition. I think the short version is "not good, but not dire".

Over at TPM Muckraker, Paul Kiel has an article he titles Today's Must Read. He's referring to an article in the Los Angeles Times about Kevin Ryan, one of the eight U.S. Attorneys fired last December. He writes:

It's almost too perfect. The only U.S. attorney fired by the administration in December who undeniably had performance issues was begrudingly added to the list at the last minute -- and only then because of a federal judge's threat that he would go to Congress with complaints about the prosecutor's performance.

Today's Must Read

From what we've entered into the Gonzopedia thus far about Kevin Ryan, it's pretty clear that he had a tin ear for politics, given that he was a Bush Loyalist:

The Los Angeles Times tells the story of San Francisco's Kevin Ryan today, who, as the scandal over the firings began to simmer early this year, telephoned the Justice Department to assure them that he's still a "company man."

Today's Must Read

Kiel also cites a USA Today article from last week's USA Today, in which Ryan was mentioned as being the only one of the eight prosecutors David Comey, who was the Deputy Attorney General through 2005, was also ready to fire for incompetence. This seems to be a sharp contrast with Kyle Sampson, who was the AG's chief of staff last year.

In principle, the former Justice official says, Comey was not opposed to removing incompetent people.

However, Comey's definition of incompetence turned out to be quite different from Sampson's and had nothing to do with politics, says the former official. And the only one of the fired group Comey had identified as weak was Kevin Ryan, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco. But Sampson put Ryan on his list of top prosecutors.

Ashcroft Aide Sought to ID Weak U.S. Attorneys

Lynn Allen at Evergreen Politics has written an article on the coming Constitutional crisis. Another must read, I'd say. For my part, I was sure this was coming, but I figured it should have been over Iraq. But, as we said in the Nixon years, whatever works.

UPDATE: Corrected Kyle Sampson's role in the DoJ. I'd erroneously identified him as the Deputy AG.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Got Some Gaps For Ya...

There's been much discussion today of an 18-day gap in the document dump from the Department of Justice (DoJ) to the House Judiciary Committee. I'm not going to analyze this, other than to say that I'm not too surprised. One thing I've been noticing about these documents is how disorganized they are. It almost looks like they just went through Michael Elston's desk drawers and photocopied every piece of paper they found.

I'll also note that both a TPM reader and Think Progress have found e-mails within that time period. Like I said, these documents are disorganized.

One type of gap I haven't heard much mention of, though, is the redactions we've been finding in these documents. Some might be reasonably assumed to be protecting someone's privacy, but others can't be dismissed so lightly. Here's an example, the analysis and summarizing we did on one PDF, 3-19-2007 DOJ-Released Documents 1-3. Here's what the Gonzopedia says about page 25 of that PDF:

Paragraph II is a list of US Attorneys who were or would be "Nominated for Other Things". This list is redacted.

Paragraph III USAs Who, Rumor Has It, Will Be Leaving in Coming Months. This list is redacted.

Paragraph IV USA in the Process of Being Pushed Out. Names Eastern District of Arkansas USA Bud Cummins.

Paragraph V USAs We Now Should Consider Pushing Out . There appear to be three redacted names in the list. The ones that can be read are: District of Arizona Paul Charlton Southern District of California Carol Lam Western District of Michigan Margaret Chiara Western District of Washington John McKay

Gonzopedia: 3-19-2007 DOJ-Released Documents 1-3 Page 25

The redactions in Paragraph III (by the way, those Roman numerals were in the original) I would normally think was the sort of office gossip you wouldn't want to be spreading all over the Internet. Unfortunately, in this case I don't think we can assume that. What if that were some sort of hint that those folks were the next ones to be "pushed out"? Seems to me that's a relevant question. I have similar reservations about Paragraph II.

What's more, you can't use that explanation for the names in Paragraph V. Those were folks who were clearly on the hit list. Why were three names (or more?) redacted.

Now, let's go to the summary for page 30, which I'll just quote in its entirety:

There are 4 redacted Senators, related in some manner to the 3 redacted USAs who had also been considered for forced resignations. Working on the theory that understanding what spared the others (and who they were) may yield understanding or reveal influence, I've done some text analysis.

Senators 4 and 6 have been sufficiently redacted as to prevent identification.

Senator 2 begins with M or N. Qualifying Republican Senators are: Mel Martinez (Florida) Mike Crapo (Idaho) Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) Mike Enzi (Wyoming) Norm Coleman (Minnesota)

Senator 3 almost certainly begins with C (or, less likely, O). Qualifying Republican Senators are: Chuck Grassley (Iowa) Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) Craig Thomas (Wyoming) Orin Hatch (Utah) Olympia Snowe (Maine)

One possibility is that the two redacted names are Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas, and that one of the redacted (and spared) attorneys was from Wyoming. This would explain why there are 4 Senators for only 3 attorneys. This is not, however, the only viable explanation.

Gonzopedia: 3-19-2007 DOJ-Released Documents 1-3 Page 30

Someone has to make guesses about United States Senators or Representatives who are involved in selecting a replacement for a U.S. Attorney who was forced out in questionable circumstances. That strikes me as counterproductive, to say the least.

For further examples, go over to TPM Muckraker's call for help page and search for the string "redact" in the comments. You'll find many more examples.

I must admit that the thought had crossed my mind before, but it sure does look like the DoJ's true purpose in releasing these documents is to make it as difficult as possible to find anything important. Unfortunately, as the Gonzopedia and TPM Muckraker efforts are demonstrating, they're about ten years late with this strategy.

I suspect that's why, according to The Gavel, the House Judiciary Committee is likely to subpoena several White House officials:

“We have worked toward voluntary cooperation, but we have to prepare for the possibilty that the White House will continue to hide the truth,” said CAL Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda S├ínchez. “This Congress respects White House prerogatives as a safeguard for the internal deliberations on the legitimate creation of policy, but they are not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. There must be accountability.”

The motion authorizes the Chairman to issue subpoenas at his discretion for the officials to appear before the Committee relating to the ongoing investigation. It also authorizes Conyers to subpoena additional documents relating to the issue - specifically, unredacted documents that have not previously been provided.

Judiciary Committee to Issue Subpoenas for Rove, Miers, Sampson and Others

[bold emphasis mine]

By the way, the TPM U.S. Attorneys Scandal Timeline looks to be another valuable resource for enterprising journalists.

UPDATE: According to the Justice Dept., that 18-day gap of e-mails is a "lull":

Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, “The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress’s requests over the time period in question.” He added, “To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Democrats See a ‘Document Gap’ in Dismissals

In fact, this usually is a slow time of year for work to get done in most government offices. I don't know if that would apply to the DoJ, though. As I noted above, there were at least a couple of e-mails that surfaced during that period. (h/t TPM)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Image credit: GWU National Security Archive

The document dump from the House Judiciary Committee inquiry into the U.S. Attorney firing scandal has begun in earnest. Supposedly, there will be at least 2000 pages of stuff to look at. Unfortunately, it's all just PDF files of scanned paper documents. It's not searchable, it's often obtuse, and it's frequently pretty boring to most folks. Even so, considering the predilictions of this Administration, there's probably gold in there somewhere.

To help make sense of it all Mash has launched the Gonzopedia, a Wiki dedicated to putting information about these documents into a searchable collaborative form. The basic idea is that we, the citizens of this country, can look at these documents and make notes about what was said or decided in them by whom to whom. If we each do a little maybe we won't go blind or die of boredom. I've started a few pages just to give folks the idea. If you have a better idea, then go ahead and try it out.

If you want to help out, just head on over and dig in.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall sums up President Bush's speech on the U.S. Attorneys thing today:

Bush: My aides may speak to Congress, as long as they don't have to tell the truth.


Bush: Nothing wrong with US Attorney firings. I'm in charge.


For those with firm control of their gag reflex, Taylor Marsh has video of the speech at her site.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Breaking: U.S. Attorney Purge May Be Illegal

Apparently, there may be more than just red faces as a result of the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys last December. Think Progress reports that Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) suspects that one of the firings, of Carol Lam of San Diego, may have been illegal. Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft reports that Adam Cohen has written in a NY Times editorial that as many as four laws may have been broken. They're generating quite a list of potential indictments. You have to wonder how long the Congress can ignore all of them.

Now that Congress has changed hands, they're not getting any more "get out of jail free" cards like they got with the Military Commissions Act last year. Abu Gonzalez may have to fall on his sword. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

UPDATE: On a somewhat related issue, looseheadprop at FDL wrote a great Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi today on the subject of impeachment.

UPDATE 2: shoephone passed this link on in the comments, and it's interesting, to say the least. Karl Rove's assertions in speeches of March 8 and 15 are directly contradicted both by Carol Lam's testimony under oath before Congress and a letter the Justice Dept. wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Sept., 2006. See Paul Kiel's story for the details.

UPDATE 3: Think Progress is now reporting that the White House has begun searching for a replacement for Gonzalez. Choice quote:

Fox News’ Major Garrett reports: “Several GOP [congressional] sources told Fox tonight: Gonzales is the President’s friend and his problem, and that they will waste no political capital defending him.”

Apparently, there's no honor amongst torturers.

Loved this comment from that Think Progress article:

“The Top 10 Reasons Gonzales Must Go”…
1. Lying Under Oath
2. Purging Prosecutors
3. Misusing the Patriot Act’s National Security Letters
4. Authorizing Illegal NSA Domestic Surveillance
5. Enabling John Yoo and Unchecked Presidential War Powers
6. Rendering the Geneva Conventions “Quaint”
7. Supporting Military Commissions and the End of Habeas Corpus
8. Blessing Unprecedented Expansion of Presidential Signing Statements
9. Facilitating a CIA Leak Cover-Up
10. Gutting Minority Voting Rights

For the latest news, hearings, legal filings and other essential documents on the Bush DOJ prosecutor firings, see:
The U.S. Attorney Scandal Documents.”

Comment by Angry One — March 19, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

That's our little Abu.

UPDATE 4: I'd say you can take it to the bank. Abu's gone. Here are reports from (h/t Perrspectives and Taylor Marsh) and CBS News.

Among the names floated Monday by administration officials are Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and White House anti-terrorism coordinator Frances Townsend. Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson is a White House prospect. So is former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, but sources were unsure whether he would want the job.

White House Seeking Gonzales Replacements

Chertoff? Yuck. The Bush Administration of finding someone even worse than his predecessor to fill cabinet posts continues. Of course, what person with a fully functioning mind and a spinal column to call his own would want the job at this point?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Was Cheney Leaker Zero?

image credit: House Oversight Committee; converted from PDF by Cujo359

To me, this has been one of the big mysteries of Plamegate: Who is Leaker Zero? That's the person right in the big black box in the center of this chart, which I've reproduced as a plain graphic image (just click on the small image to see the full image, which is rather large). This is the person who told Dick Cheney that Valerie Plame Wilson was an employee of the CIA. While I'm sure there are folks to whom this is no mystery, a logical suspect for Leaker Zero is Dick Cheney.

Rather than try to rewrite the basis for this conclusion, I'll just quote grammamarge, a commenter at No Quarter:

I don't believe Ms. Wilson was collateral damage. I believe she was the target. The tell was during the [Kucinich] questioning. Dennis asked her whether having Cheney looking over the shoulder of a CIA officer would be considered intimidating and would that agent feel undue pressure. Valerie smiled and said yes it was. While the question did not refer to her as the officer she answered it as if it did. Cheney knew who she was and knew that she was pushing back, not confirming WMD in Iraq. He outed her and destroyed her entire operation.

Undercover, Covert, and Classified (Also Hush Hush): grammamarge's comment
[I corrected the spelling of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's name for clarity.]

OK, so maybe I'm just late to the party again, but part of this makes sense. Dick Cheney is known to have visited the CIA many times trying to scare up some evidence that Saddam Hussein had WMDs:

Two congressional panels are opening new rounds of investigations into the Administration's prewar claims about WMD. One of their immediate inquiries, sources tell Time, involves Vice President Dick Cheney's role in reviewing the intelligence before the bombing started. Cheney made repeated visits to the CIA in the prelude to the war, going over intelligence assessments with the analysts who produced them. Some Democrats say Cheney's visits may have amounted to pressure on the normally cautious agency.

Who Lost the WMD?

Valerie Plame Wilson was working on finding WMDs in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Iran. It makes perfect sense that he could have been introduced to her or heard of her while he was doing that, although her covert status at the time makes it less likely. He apparently was interested in the analysis and raw evidence. Anything even remotely like evidence of WMDs would almost certainly have been sent to the Office of Special Plans, Cheney's own little intelligence agency at the Pentagon. The OSP, you may remember, was run by the man fellow neocon Gen. Tommy Franks honored with the title "Stupidest Fucking Guy On the Planet", Doug Feith. (I never get tired of that one). Valerie Wilson was helping to collect that raw evidence.

That doesn't prove that he was trying to destroy Valerie Wilson rather than Joe, of course. It lends credence to the idea, but it's by no means proof. My guess is that he was probably pleased that the collateral damage included her. But he certainly could have been aware of her identity, and so had no need for someone to leak that information to him.

Anyone have any other suspects?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Libby Trial Redux - The Plame Wilson Hearing

image credit: IASL
This is a view of the north coast of New Zealand. It's looking better all the time.

I don't have much to say about this that hasn't already been said by others. Valerie Plame Wilson testified this morning to the House Oversight Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman. It was a day full of revelations, mostly of the sordid kind:

  • Valerie Wilson testified that she was, indeed, a covert agent of the CIA. Much of what she did is still classified, but one of the areas she was working on was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

  • The White House conducted no investigation into how this leak occured, in contrast to their public statements.

  • Valerie didn't send Joe Wilson to Niger (thanks Colorado Bob). She just passed along the request from the CIA, as this article explains.

  • Most employees of the U.S. government or its contractors would have been disciplined or fired for doing what Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House did. Even Victoria Toensing admits that this is "sometimes" the case.

  • Victoria Toensing is a barking lunatic.

Taylor Marsh has videos of Mrs. Wilson's testimony. I'll look at it later. Meanwhile, there's lots of color commentary at No Quarter and Firedoglake. The latter, along with Daily Kos, have live blogging of the hearings.

Listening to these hearings, particularly the insane nonsense of Ms. Toensing, is enough to give one a very sour view of human nature. There's only so much rationalization and falsehood one can watch from one's government before one is forced to consider just how people like this could have been allowed anywhere near real power. But then, there were positives as well:

  • There are representatives like Henry Waxman, who really gets that it's our country, and they're just running it for us.

  • There are people like Valerie Wilson out there, who do dangerous work to the best of their ability, and it makes us better informed and safer. They often do that work in spite of whatever machinations might be going on above their pay grade.

  • There are honest people in the strangest places. Mark Zaid, the other lawyer who was testifying alongside Toensing, answered questions from both sides honestly. The facts he spoke of made points for both sides, but in the end it was pretty clear that the Republicans trying to defend the White House's conduct really didn't have a leg to stand on. Zaid's profile at Sourcewatch should make it clear why I found this unexpected.

I think Rep. Elijah Cummings summed up the whole Plamegate saga nicely today. I'm paraphrasing, but the substance of what he said was:

I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that someone who risked her life for her country has lost her job - the thing she loved to do.

That's his emphasis, by the way. She risked her life to do something she apparently loved, and that made us and the rest of the world safer. Then those clowns who run the White House took it away from her, and us, because they were eager to discredit or punish her husband for calling them out on their lies.

That those people seem to be unashamed of what they've done is something I don't want to think about right now. I was just starting to feel optimistic again about my species.

UPDATE: I should add that Larry Johnson did another wonderful job of dismantling right wing talking points disseminated by Investors Business Daily and the inaptly named American Thinker yesterday at No Quarter.

UPDATE2: I fixed a bunch of links. They should work now.

UPDATE3: New bullet point.

UPDATE4: SusanUnPC writes tonight at No Quarter:

While it was an honor to hear her testimony today, I wish I had never heard of Valerie Plame Wilson. And I wish she were still doing her job. It sickens me that Bush administration officials, for the most base political reasons, destroyed the career of this woman who was doing the work I, and all of you, were counting on.

The Hearing's Revelations -- Why They Matter

Read the rest. It's good.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Day In Shame

image credit: Chmouel Boudjnah

I really wonder sometimes if it isn't the Bush Administration's true policy to make me ashamed to live in this country. If it is, I'd say it's become the Democrats' goal as well.

First off, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, one of many former "number three" Al Qaeda guys we've picked up or killed over the years, confessed to a bizarre assortment of crimes yesterday. Colorado Bob wrote:

Imus was right on target this morning, [on this][Ed.:March 15, 2007]. He claimed to be the father of Anna Nicole's baby too .... Was the real killer of Nicole Simpson, and Ron Goldman. etc. etc.

Comments to Taylor Marsh's "Extra! Extra! KSM Confesses"

One wonders why KSM didn't confess to being on the Grassy Knoll that day, or kidnapping the Lindberg baby. He's been in prison without trial and tortured for years. He'd confess to anything by now. Do the news organizations here pick up on that idea? Well, sort of:

Known as KSM, he also formally admitted responsibility for the 9/ll attacks, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.

KSM, captured in 2003 in Pakistan, was subjected by the CIA to waterboarding and other "extreme interrogation" techniques, according to current and former CIA officials.

Legal experts say his case will test whether confessions made as the result of such techniques will be admissible under the rules of the special Combatant Tribunals established by the Bush administration.

Confessions of a Terrorist: I'm Guilty of 3,000+ Murders

[emphasis in bold is mine].

Nothing says "I live in a free country" quite like knowing that your government tortures people to gain confessions, then puts them on trial in a kangaroo court, now does it? Are the Democrats ready to repeal the Military Commissions Act, which made much of this legal? Not really. Sen. Chris Dodd introduced legislation last November to repeal it, but nothing's been done. Thirteen Democratic Senators and several Democratic Congressmen, most of whom are still in office, voted for the thing in the first place.

Meanwhile Torturer In Chief Alberto Gonzalez has been busy firing U.S. Attorneys who either failed to protect Republican politicians or refused to prosecute Democratic ones. Over at Evergreen Politics, shoephone asks Did Bush Tell Gonzales to Fire McKay?. John McKay was the U.S. Attorney in Seattle, who apparently was fired because he wasn't willing to find a crime where none existed in the last Washington governor's race.

They also sent a letter to former White House counsel Harriet Miers, subtly referencing the interview that she and her deputy, William Kelley, conducted with John McKay, where McKay was asked why he "mishandled" Washington's 2004 gubernatorial election.

House Judiciary Committee Wants Answers From the White House on the U.S. Attorney Firings

She also has an article up today about one of the proposed replacements for McKay, a political hack and former congressman Rick White. Anyone familiar with the case of Bud Cummins, who used to be the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas before he was fired in favor of one of Karl Rove's political cronies, this is a familiar story.

There's more, and by that I don't just mean six other U.S. Attorneys who were clearly fired without cause. From the NY Times this morning:

WASHINGTON, March 15 — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to authorize subpoenas to bring five top Justice Department officials before the panel as it investigates the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors in recent months.

Senate Panel May Question Justice Officials

Karl Rove may be on deck. At least there's some government abuse of power the Democrats are willing to fight against. My guess is that you can probably thank Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) for that. Even John Sununu appears to be getting into the act:

WASHINGTON— Sen. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire yesterday became the first Republican in Congress to call for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’ dismissal, hours after President Bush expressed confidence in his embattled Cabinet officer.

Sununu says fire Gonzales

One of the ironies of this scandal is that these are exactly the sort of people the Founders imagined might be running things when they created the protections in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that we now seem to be willing to throw away.

To counterbalance an actual acheivement by a colleague, Sen. Hillary Clinton announced today that she wouldn't be removing troops from Iraq if she were President. Well, she might remove a few...

Speaking of the Iraq War, it looks like everything will be alright after all. Iraq's going to turn their oil fields over to U.S. oil companies so that Bush doesn't fire Maliki. Just remember, boys and girls, it was never about the oil, and Iraqis are deciding their own destiny. Professor Smartass has more to say, much more. Congress apparently is set to approve this deal. If Dennis Kucinich is leading the fight against it, my guess is that the Democrats aren't too interested. I'm sure the Iraqis will be glad to make a few Americans even richer than they already are in exchange for us having made their country an even worse place to live than it already was.

As I've pointed out before, we're also on a collision course with Iran. To Patrick Lang, it's increasingly clear that Democrats aren't going to stop Bush from attacking Iran. While I don't agree with his notion that Democrats and Republicans are the same, there's not much to choose from between them on this issue.

So, all in all, another day when you have to wonder if there are any English-speaking countries with pleasant climates, sane leaders, and a committment to human rights. The one that used to be here is clearly gone.

CORRECTION: I'd earlier referred to the former U.S. Attorney for eastern Arkansas as "Robert" Cummins. None of the articles I've read today refer to him as anything other than "Bud". Apparently, that's his name.

UPDATE: Can it get worse? Sure, it can. Just ran across this article by Jeralyn at Talk Left. Apparently, we're kidnapping children now:

"His sons are important to him. The promise of their release and their return to Pakistan may be the psychological lever we need to break him."

We have your sons: CIA

UPDATE2: I need to read years. The above happened in 2003. Disgusting, maybe, but not new or terribly relevant to KSM's confession.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Not Plane Nor Bird, Nor Even Frog ...

image credit: screenshot by Cujo359. Underdog is copyright Classic Media, Inc.

I got a wonderful birthday present the other day. My sister sent me a set of DVDs of the old cartoon series Underdog. She recalls my fondness for the series as a boy. I seem to remember that we all liked the show, but that might be a convenient memory lapse on my part.

For those who aren't familiar, Underdog was a hero who had a humble day job ("Thanks, Shoeshine Boy, you're humble and lovable") and wore a red, white, and blue uniform with a cape. He had an unrequited love interest, reporter Polly Purebred. Sound familiar? Of course, it was a parody of Superman, and a clever one at times. Character actor Wally Cox was the voice of Underdog, and Norma McMillan was Polly Purebred, the Lois Lane to Cox's Clark Kent. The series ended abruptly with Cox's death in 1973.

Like Superman and most comic book heroes, Underdog never used his powers for personal gain. He lived in a small apartment, and couldn't get to first base with Polly. He took famous paintings home at night for safe keeping, and always brought them back to their owners in the morning. Like most cartoon and comic heroes, he did what was right and respected others because that's what you were supposed to do.

Babylon 5 and Jeremiah executive producer J. Michael Straczynski once described his view of comic book heroes:

"Which also leads to the point of comics, for me. As profoundly stupid as this may sound, I learned my sense of right and wrong, my sense of morality, from comics. When I was at Chicago ComicCon, and helped tackle a shoplifter in the dealer's room and bring him to the ground, somebody asked why I did it, since I could've been hurt. I pointed to the booth where I was standing when it happened, and a six-foot cutout of Superman. 'How could I stand here, in front of The Guy, and do nothing?' Comics have the potential not just to entertain, but also to ennoble, and enlighten, and elevate; to ask questions in need of asking. That has not changed post-9/11. It has only made that function more necessary than ever. Because comics are about heroes, and they remind us that it is important that we be heroes, not just in the shadow of tragedy, but every day.

"The man or woman coming hungry to the neighborhood homeless shelter or food bank trembles no less than someone who survived the Twin Towers. It is easy to give to the latter, but we must remember the former as well. I donated my entire salary from issue 36 to the Twin Towers Fund, but I also tithe a portion of my salary to a number of charities, local and national. Because that's what I learned in comics: that we are stewards of one another. That we must be heroes to one another.

"That function has not changed post-9/11. It has only become more vital."

One Year Later: JMS, Jemas On Comics Post-9/11

Science fiction taught me a great deal about morality, and so did comics and cartoons. In all those forms of entertainment "using your powers for good", while it's certainly a cliche, was still something to admire. From Superman to the X-Men, comic heroes have always believed that with great power comes great responsibility. Even though in the backs of our minds most of us knew it was an ideal we'd be lucky to emulate, it was still something to strive for. Kicking someone when he was down, or stealing from the less fortunate was a shameful act that only pathetic losers engaged in. Heroes helped the powerless; they didn't take advantage of them.

Now contrast that with the people we see lionized in the press and on TV. Karl Rove is considered a genius, yet has succeeded mainly because he's comfortable with assassinating the characters of others without taking responsibility. Ann Coulter, the venomous woman who accused the 9/11 widows of "enjoying" their widowhood, is invited on talk shows to this day. She recently called John Edwards a "faggot". Edwards is a former U.S. Senator who made his reputation as a lawyer fighting against large corporations for the good of poor and middle class victims, and who announced his bid for the Presidency from a poor section of New Orleans that he was helping to rebuild. This is the sort of man who merits the term "faggot" in the eyes of Coulter and her all-too-numerous admirers. The newspapers that have gone on record with their reasons for dropping her after that particular outburst mostly objected to the word, not the mean-spirited, small minded insults that emanate from her mouth and keyboard on a regular basis. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, can go to one of the child prostitution capitals of the world with a prescription for Viagra that wasn't even prescribed for him, and he's apparently a model of masculinity. Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity can't seem to keep a thought in their heads that doesn't involve themselves. All of these people are looked up to by a substantial portion of the population for reasons I cannot explain, nor would I want to try.

Remember "Kenny Boy" Lay and Jeffrey "My Way or the Highway - Hey What Did My Employees Do To My Company?" Skilling? They, too, were praised as "geniuses" and "innovators" by the press, yet they succeeded mostly because they were willing to lie to, steal from, and intimidate people who didn't have the resources to fight back. If New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the U.S. Attorneys hadn't been willing to investigate them for the massive frauds they perpetrated, I'm sure much of the press would still be singing their praises.

Yet people like Edwards, President Jimmy Carter, and any one of thousands of celebrities and ordinary people who just try to make the world a better place however they can are regularly trashed by these folks, and TV and the press seem to just lap it up. You have to wonder just how pathetic they think we are out here, and how pathetic some of us really must be.

Some days I really miss Underdog.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I Wondered How That Would Work ...

image credit: U.S. Army
Here's the caption that went with it:

Soldiers scramble for better positions during a rooftop gunbattle with insurgents in the Al Doura section of Baghdad, March 5. The Soldiers are from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

A couple of years ago, before the "surge", someone observed that every major combat unit the U.S. Army and Marines had was either in Iraq and Afghanistan or training to go there. Now that we're adding another 20,000-30,000 troops in Iraq, without the force increase necessary to cover that many more soldiers overseas, you probably wondered where those additional bodies would come from, didn't you? Mark Benjamin tells us where at least some of them are coming, which is from the ranks of those who really should be medically discharged:

On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.

The 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade is now leaving for Iraq for a third time in a steady stream. In fact, some of the troops with medical conditions interviewed by Salon last week are already gone. Others are slated to fly out within a week, but are fighting against their chain of command, holding out hope that because of their ills they will ultimately not be forced to go. Jenkins, who is still in Georgia, thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he said flatly.


And while [Col. Wayne W.] Grigsby, the brigade commander, says he is under no pressure to find troops, it is hard to imagine there is not some desperation behind the decision to deploy some of the sick soldiers. Master Sgt. [Ronald] Jenkins, 42, has a degenerative spine problem and a long scar down the back of his neck where three of his vertebrae were fused during surgery. He takes a cornucopia of potent pain pills. His medical records say he is "at significantly increased risk of re-injury during deployment where he will be wearing Kevlar, body armor and traveling through rough terrain." Late last year, those medical records show, a doctor recommended that Jenkins be referred to an Army board that handles retirements when injuries are permanent and severe.

The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq

[Bold emphasis mine. Of course, as with all articles at Salon, you must either have a subscription or sit through an advertisement. I've subscribed for years and don't regret it one bit.]

These soldiers are being ordered to a war zone even though their injuries prevent them from wearing helmets or body armor. Imagine the guy on the bottom of that picture has a bad back. Pass this tale along to your kids when they say they want to join the Army and serve their country.

What do you expect from a country that won't teach basic mathematics skills to its children, and thinks that cavemen rode dinosaurs?

UPDATE: Isn't this precious? Right wing slime artist Ann Coulter will be publishing a new book soon. The title is If Democrats Had No Scruples, They'd Be Republicans, or something like that. In the past, I've resisted the urge to join those accusing Coulter of being a transexual sociopath, feeling that labeling her a sociopath was both sufficient and more fitting. However, in view of her recent comments about John Edwards, I may have to reconsider that policy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

To The Kingdom of Idiots, And Step On It!

image credit

So, three wars. Too many, too few, or just enough? Discuss.

I've never read Von Clausewitz, and while I've read or heard many quotations, I've never read Sun Tzu, either. Somewhere in amongst all the advice about tactics, training, and so forth, did one of them say that if you're losing a war the best thing to do is start another? I have read Patton's memoirs, and Bradley's. They never wrote any such thing. I think even Patton would have thought it was a bad idea. Babylon 5's Londo Mollari certainly did. He uttered what may be the best diagnosis of our current foreign policy:

Only an idiot would fight a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Idiots would fight a war on twelve fronts. Tell me, ... is there anyone with whom we are not at war?

We are well on our way, it appears, to the Kingdom of Idiots. We aren't even stopping to use the restroom. Most days, there is some new bit of Administration propoganda, breathlessly relayed to us by the Washington Post or the New York Times, decrying the evil ways of Iran. Here is today's:

A former Iranian deputy defense minister who once commanded the Revolutionary Guard has left his country and is cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, providing information on Hezbollah and Iran's ties to the organization, according to a senior U.S. official.

Former Iranian Defense Official Talks to Western Intelligence

The evil Iranians, we are reminded, are associated with Hezbollah, whom we don't like very much. Thanks WaPo, you earned your biscuit today.

Yes, we don't like Hezbollah very much. I don't like Iran's government, either, to tell you the truth. I have something against theocracies as a rule, no matter who is running them. That latter clause is what seems to differentiate me from many folks on the right these days when it comes to that subject. Nevertheless, Iran isn't a threat to us. It isn't a threat now, and isn't likely to be in the future. We are, I think, in more wars than we can handle already. Why then do the President, through his actions, and Congress, through their inaction, seem to be hell-bent on taking us into a war with them?

Detailed war plans have been drawn up by the Pentagon, with wide-ranging target lists. There are at least two carrier battle groups in the vicinity of Iran right now. That's more air force than Iran, or most of the nations on this planet for that matter, can stand against. Aircraft carriers are costly to deploy and are an extremely valuable resource. No one sends them places without a reason. What's worse, they're vulnerable to attack from relatively low-tech weapons. To quote Seymour Hersh:
Two carrier strike groups—the Eisenhower and the Stennis—are now in the Arabian Sea. One plan is for them to be relieved early in the spring, but there is worry within the military that they may be ordered to stay in the area after the new carriers arrive, according to several sources. (Among other concerns, war games have shown that the carriers could be vulnerable to swarming tactics involving large numbers of small boats, a technique that the Iranians have practiced in the past; carriers have limited maneuverability in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s southern coast.)

The Redirection

Perhaps even more distressing is that this situation, in which we are arming and financing Saudi-backed extremists in a religious war against an adversary of ours, is reminiscent of the reason we're confronted with Islamic terrorism in the first place. Hersh writes:

[(senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) Vali] Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

The Redirection

Our army is near the breaking point. General officers have privately threatened to quit if an order is given to attack Iran, at least if that order involves the use of nuclear weapons.

Sen. James Webb introduced a resolution in the Senate this week that makes clear that Congress wants no part of war with Iran. It appears, given Majority Leader Harry Reid's priorities, that the bill will remain in committee until the cows come home. Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.) and have teamed up to support the passage of such a resolution. They've launched a new site called

I don't know how to stop this, except to ask people to write their Congressmen, their newspapers, and visit the StopIranWar site and others like it. Unless we get involved as citizens, we are going to reap a whirlwind followed by a shitrain of biblical proportions. It doesn't seem fair, when there are so many pressing issues that need to be debated and addressed, like health care, climate change, poverty, and our own security, that we must make our government aware that they shouldn't do something so criminally stupid as to get involved in an unnecessary war. Nevertheless, that's where we are today. If we allow this to happen we'll be perfectly placed in our new kingdom.

UPDATE: Speaking of idiocy, Pres. Bush seems to think that things are going swimmingly in Iraq thanks to the "surge". Juan Cole thinks otherwise:

The neo-Baathists, Iraqi nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists who make up the insurgency have responded in several ways to the U.S. decision to put extra troops into Anbar Province and Baghdad. First, they have stood their ground, refusing to cede these two pieces of territory to the Americans or the Iraqi government, and they have changed their military tactics.

The Sunni Arab fighters appear to have made a tactical decision to target U.S. helicopters, and perhaps they have recently gotten hold, in the shadowy global arms market, of more sophisticated shoulder-held missile launchers. They have shot down eight U.S. helicopters in the past two months, several of them after the new security plan began. This tactic has made it more difficult for the U.S. to give American and Iraqi troops close air support, and has forced the U.S. to deploy bombers from greater altitudes against suspected guerrilla safe houses. In turn, bombing from a distance increases the likelihood that the U.S. will make a mistake and hit a house full of civilians, providing Iraqi, Arab and European media with heartbreaking footage of children being dug out of the rubble.

Is the Bush surge already failing?

In the end, all we'll accomplish is to kill more innocents and more of our own soldiers. You don't have to be Sun Tzu to know this was bound to happen.

UPDATE (Sept. 26, 2007): In the time since this article was written, the number of carrier groups in the Persian Gulf grew to three, then declined to one, led by Enterprise. According to this article, that number will soon climb to three again.

As I predicted, Senator Webb's proposed legislation has gone nowhere. To coin a phrase,sometimes I just hate it when I'm right.