Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Gonzales mess, Newsweek

Bush’s Monica Problem: The Gonzales Mess
Gonzales, the president's lawyer and Texas buddy, is twisting slowly in the wind, facing a vote of no confidence from the Senate.
By Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas

June 4, 2007 issue - The United States Department of Justice has not always been above politics. John F. Kennedy, after all, appointed his brother and consigliere Robert to be attorney general. But the Justice Department is supposed to stand for the rule of law—to be the enforcer of the laws of the United States, not the place presidents go to get around the law. Independence is an important tradition in the columned limestone building on Constitution Avenue. It is worth remembering that before Richard Nixon could find someone at the Justice Department willing to fire the Watergate special prosecutor in 1973, he had to accept the resignations of the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, and the deputy attorney general, William Ruckelshaus. (Solicitor General Robert Bork finally did the deed.)

So consider these scenes from March 2004, described by two former top Justice officials who, like other ex-officials interviewed by NEWSWEEK, did not wish to be identified discussing sensitive internal matters. Attorney General John Ashcroft is really sick. About to give a press conference in Virginia, he is stricken with pain so severe he has to lie down on the floor. Taken to the hospital for an emergency gallbladder operation, he hallucinates under medication as he lies, near death, in intensive care. On the night after his operation, he has two visitors: White House chief of staff Andrew Card and presidential counsel Alberto Gonzales. As described in public testimony, they want Ashcroft to sign a document authorizing the government's top-secret eavesdropping program to go on. The attorney general, who thinks the program is illegal, refuses.

Back at the Justice Department, there is an equally extraordinary scene. Appalled by the White House's heavy-handed attempt to coerce the gravely ill attorney general, virtually the entire top leadership of the Justice Department is threatening to resign. The group includes the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum and the chief of the Criminal Division, Chris Wray. Some of them gather in the conference room of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who describes Ashcroft's bravely turning away the president's men from his hospital bed. The mood that night in the conference room was tense—and sober. "This was a showdown," says a former senior Justice Department official who was there. "Everybody understood the choice they were making and the gravity of the situation. Everybody knew what the stakes were." A different source estimated that as many as 30 top DOJ officials would have resigned.

The next day Comey is summoned to the White House to meet with President Bush. The details remain murky. But it takes two weeks before a compromise is reached—averting the spectacle of mass resignation by putting more legal controls on the eavesdropping program.

Gonzales, the president's lawyer and Texas buddy, went on to replace Ashcroft as attorney general. Today he is twisting slowly in the wind—a phrase from Watergate—facing a vote of no confidence from the U.S. Senate. Only the president's still unflagging support has kept him in office. Gonzales has been accused of politicizing the Justice Department by presiding over the firing of U.S. attorneys—apparently so they could be replaced by more dependably loyal partisans. While late-night comics have ridiculed Gonzales as clueless, congressional investigators and reporters have looked for more-sinister plots. For weeks, Washington awaited the testimony of Monica Goodling, who was described as the administration's enforcer of political purity inside the Justice Department.

Goodling's testimony last week was a soft sell. She did not seem like a cold-blooded commissar. On her Regent Law School Web site (class of '99), she comes across as sweetly naive, hoping to make the world "a better place" and urging everyone to "smile." Under oath (and given immunity from prosecution), she seemed shy and a little overwhelmed, more Rosemary Woods than Madame Defarge, although she never got rattled or resorted to histrionics. Wringing her hands beneath the witness table, she acknowledged that she may have improperly used political considerations to choose career prosecutors. "I crossed the line," she said, taking a deep breath, a Christian girl who succumbed to temptation. Carefully prepared by a shrewd lawyer, John Dowd, she suggested, almost in passing, that Gonzales may have crossed another line by discussing with her his account of how the U.S. attorneys were fired. The implication was that Gonzales had been subtly trying to coach her testimony. "I just thought maybe we shouldn't have that conversation," she said.

If Goodling's testimony helps to bring down Gonzales, a distinct possibility, President Bush will be exposed to more questions and dragged into a messy confirmation battle over Gonzales's successor. And so Goodling, like Nixon's unfortunate secretary Rosemary Woods, may be destined to be a footnote in history—but an important one.

Goodling admitted checking the political donations of some job applicants before hiring them for jobs that are supposed to be apolitical. While crass, her actions did not threaten to bring down the republic. Still, they are part of a broader and more troubling picture—a slow and stealthy erosion of the independence of the Justice Department. President Bush's personal involvement remains uncertain, as does the precise role of his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Nonetheless, the clearest evidence of legal subversion comes not from congressional Democrats, but from once loyal Bush conservatives who worked at the Justice Department.

The trouble began shortly after 9/11, when the administration began looking for tough measures to head off another terrorist attack. The Justice Department has a relatively obscure department known as the Office of Legal Counsel. Typically staffed by brilliant young lawyers, the OLC opines on the legality and constitutionality of administration policies. One of the stars of OLC was a cocky young lawyer named John Yoo. After 9/11, Yoo began writing opinions giving the administration exceptional latitude to fight terrorism. Yoo's memos were used to justify both the secret eavesdropping program, which for the first time allowed the government to listen in on American citizens without obtaining a court warrant, and aggressive interrogation methods, like water boarding.

While easygoing and congenial on the surface, Yoo was a fierce bureaucratic infighter with a penchant for circumventing his superiors. Though all the top officials at Justice were conservative Republicans, Yoo seemed to regard them as political dolts. "He had this calm, unruffled, almost 'devil may care' attitude when he talked about issues that were extraordinarily sensitive," recalled a former Justice Department official. "He would sort of come flying by your office and say things like, 'We've done a little analysis, it's no big deal'." Only later, the official said, would he discover that Yoo had sent the White House an opinion authorizing some sweeping new—and constitutionally dubious—program.

Yoo was increasingly seen as a rogue operator inside the Justice Department. Officials were suspicious of his ties to David Addington, counsel to Vice President Cheney. The vice president's office took a hard-line view that the executive branch should not be trammeled in the war on terror by legislators and bureaucrats. Yoo was "out of control," recalled a former Ashcroft aide. Almost without exception, this conflict stayed behind closed doors. (Yoo declined to respond on the record, but he has told others that Ashcroft was fully briefed by him and approved his memos, and that his critics are now engaged in creative "Monday-morning quarterbacking.")

The bad feelings seemed to come to a head in 2003, when there was a vacancy to head OLC. At the White House, Gonzales wanted Yoo, and was so insistent that he took the matter to Bush. According to the former Ashcroft aide who did not want to openly discuss matters involving the president, Bush was surprised to learn that Ashcroft opposed Yoo as a renegade. A compromise was reached: a conservative lawyer named Jack Goldsmith was put in charge of OLC.

But the fight was really just beginning. Carefully reviewing Yoo's carte blanche memos, Goldsmith became convinced that the Justice Department had been signing off on memos approving initiatives, like wiretapping and water boarding, that were not legally supportable. Goldsmith took the matter to Ashcroft's deputy, Comey, and to Patrick Philbin, Comey's No. 2. Philbin's sterling conservative legal résumé tracked Yoo's—they had both clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas at the U.S. Supreme Court. But Philbin and Goldsmith were adamant. The Justice Department could no longer sign off on the wiretapping program, which had been expanded to wiretap more U.S. residents. "This was not ideological," recalled a former Ashcroft aide. "This was about the difference between pushing the limits to the edge of the line and crossing the line."

Bush's role has remained shadowy throughout the controversy over the eavesdropping program. But there are strong suggestions that he was an active presence. On the night after Ashcroft's operation, as Ashcroft lay groggy in his bed, his wife, Janet, took a phone call. It was Andy Card, asking if he could come over with Gonzales to speak to the attorney general. Mrs. Ashcroft said no, her husband was too sick for visitors. The phone rang again, and this time Mrs. Ashcroft acquiesced to a visit from the White House officials. Who was the second caller, one with enough power to persuade Mrs. Ashcroft to relent? The former Ashcroft aide who described this scene would not say, but senior DOJ officials had little doubt who it was—the president. (The White House would not comment on the president's role.) Ashcroft's chief of staff, David Ayres, then called Comey, Ashcroft's deputy, to warn him that the White House duo was on the way. With an FBI escort, Comey raced to the hospital to try to stop them, but Ashcroft himself was strong enough to turn down his White House visitors' request.

The morning after the scene at Ashcroft's hospital bed, the president met with Comey. "We had a full and frank discussion, very informed. He was very focused," Comey later testified, choosing his words carefully. But it wasn't until Bush had met with Mueller that the president agreed to take steps (still unspecified, but probably involving more oversight) to bring the eavesdropping program back inside the boundaries of the law. Mueller has never said what he told the president, but it is a good bet that he said he would resign if the changes were not made. Bush could not afford to see Mueller go, nor could he risk losing the rest of the Justice Department leadership over a matter of principle in an election year.

The confrontation over the eavesdropping program "seared" the relationship between the White House and Ashcroft's team at Justice, according to a former senior Justice official. Within months, many of the top officials had resigned or started making plans to do so. Solicitor General Ted Olson was the first to go that summer. On Election Day 2004, Ashcroft—sensing that he would not be asked to stay for a second term—personally wrote his letter of resignation, and Bush promptly tapped Gonzales to replace him. Comey announced his resignation the next summer.

In some ways, the squabbling over political appointments to the Justice Department seems small time, at least in comparison with the dramatic constitutional confrontations over wiretapping and torture. In her job as White House liaison to the Justice Department, Monica Goodling behaved more like a Chicago alderman than the usual Harvard- or Yale-trained legal scholars who fill those types of prestigious jobs for young lawyers. The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating whether Goodling broke civil-service laws, which require nonpartisan appointments for career prosecutors and immigration judges. Goodling is one of many recent graduates of conservative Christian schools like Regent Law School (founded by evangelist Pat Robertson) to come to Washington to work in the Bush administration. But she denied ever using a religious litmus test.

Goodling's only crime was her lack of subtlety, said Mark Corallo, the Justice Department's chief of public affairs under Ashcroft, and Goodling's onetime boss. "She probably was a little too overt about it," Corallo told NEWSWEEK. "But let's face it—the Democrats do this, too, they all do it. The idea that career employees are above politics is total crap. The so-called career employees are mostly liberal Democrats." He noted that in the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco, career employees refused for months to hang portraits of Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft.

Still, there were some former Justice officials who took a loftier view. One of them was Comey. Every day, he told the House Judiciary Committee, prosecutors must argue cases before juries of all political stripes; if they are seen as little more than political apparatchiks, it will be the death knell for many legitimate cases. To him, the charge that prosecutors were being picked for their politics was the "worst" allegation he had heard yet about the Justice Department. "If that's what was going on," he said, "that strikes at the core of what the Department of Justice is." Or was.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Democrats selling secrets: private free trade deals behind closed doors. ..

Trading Secrets

by Amy Goodman

The Democratic Party leadership is stabbing its base in the back with secret “free trade” deals made behind closed doors with the White House. Now congressional Democrats may be on the verge of a significant split. While Democratic leaders and President Bush do the hard sell on bipartisan immigration reform, they are now pushing secret, anti-worker, anti-environment trade agreements that will only exacerbate U.S. immigration problems.

The contentious agreements are bilateral trade deals between the U.S. and Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. The deals were announced in a bipartisan press conference May 10, with principal credit going to Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee (long dubbed by some as the “Ways to be Mean” Committee). According to Inside U.S. Trade, as noted by blogger David Sirota, House Democrats admit that the White House is drafting the legal language of the trade deals.

Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine and author of the book “The Selling of ‘Free Trade’: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy,” calls these agreements “a fundraising gambit by the House leadership.”

He told me: “Rangel and [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi are saying, ‘Well, we’re gearing up for the 2008 election. We’ve got to raise a lot of money.’ They’re closer to the Clinton wing of the party, which is the pro-so-called-free-trade wing of the party, the pro-NAFTA, pro-permanent-normal-trade-relations-with-China part of the party. And this is a way of saying to the corporate community—Wall Street, Wal-Mart—that we’re open for business, we want to raise money from you.” In order to compete for campaign money, the logic goes, the Democrats have to cater to big corporate donors.

MacArthur points out that the agreements with the four small countries are not key. The big money, he says, lies with China. This is where Hillary Clinton comes in. She served on the Wal-Mart board of directors for six years when her husband was the governor of Arkansas (where Wal-Mart is based). Wal-Mart, MacArthur says, “depends on dedicated factories in China, where you cannot form a labor union. Wildcat strikes are met with violence. You get your head busted or you get thrown in jail.”

The corporate Democrats and their Republican allies are promising labor and environmental protections. But 13 years after NAFTA passed, with President Clinton orchestrating pork-barrel payouts to buy the vote, promised safeguards have proved unenforceable: Workers, especially in Mexico, earn low wages with little or no security, while companies crush union-organizing efforts and pollute with impunity. As jobs move to Mexico, China and other low-wage havens, the U.S. is the loser. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, knows it all too well: “We see that kind of job loss in the thousands … devastates communities. It hurts the local business owner, the drugstore, the grocery store, the neighborhood restaurant. It hurts communities. It hurts schools. It hurts police forces. It hurts fire departments.”

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., also slammed the trade deals, saying it was as if “the foxes and wolves had reached a deal on guarding the henhouse.” He went on: “I wish I could lay the blame at the feet of our colleagues in the other party. But members of both parties have aided and abetted these flawed policies.”

Feingold pointed out that the trade deals have not been endorsed by any union or environment groups, but they have been endorsed by three of the most powerful organizations representing corporate interests: the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

If the Washington power brokers are betting on Americans not understanding or caring about arcane trade policy, they should recall the Battle of Seattle. In late 1999, when the World Trade Organization tried to meet in Seattle to impose global corporate trade policies, it was met by tens of thousands of protesters, from Teamsters to environmentalists, healthcare workers to students to farmworkers. The meetings were shut down. Compound this potential backlash with the millions of hardworking immigrants now staring down the barrel of another bipartisan agreement. These are the people who took to the streets in the millions last year.

When the rules are rigged to allow money to move freely across borders, then people will follow. Falling wages south of the border, caused by “free trade,” drive people north—no matter how high the wall or how many detention facilities are built to contain them. Make no mistake about it—trade and immigration are linked.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

© 2007 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why Bush has not been impeached.

Why Bush Hasn’t Been Impeached
Congress, The Media and Most of The American People Have Yet To Turn Decisively Against Bush because To Do So Would Be To Turn Against Some Part of Themselves.

by Gary Kamiya

The Bush presidency is a lot of things. It’s a secretive cabal, a cavalcade of incompetence, a blood-stained Church Militant, a bad rerun of “The Godfather” in which scary men in suits pay ominous visits to hospital rooms. But seen from the point of view of the American people, what it increasingly resembles is a bad marriage. America finds itself married to a guy who has turned out to be a complete dud. Divorce — which in our nonparliamentary system means impeachment — is the logical solution. But even though Bush cheated on us, lied, besmirched our family’s name and spent all our money, we the people, not to mention our elected representatives and the media, seem content to stick it out to the bitter end.

There is a strange disconnect in the way Americans think about George W. Bush. He is extraordinarily unpopular. His approval ratings, which have been abysmal for about 18 months, have now sunk to their lowest ever, making him the most unpopular president in a generation. His 28 percent approval rating in a May 5 Newsweek poll ties that of Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the failed Iran rescue mission. Bush’s unpopularity has emboldened congressional Democrats, who now have no qualms about attacking him directly and flatly asserting that his Iraq war is lost.

Some of them have also been willing to invoke the I-word — joining a large number of Americans. Several polls taken in the last two years have shown that large numbers of Americans support impeachment. An Angus Reid poll taken in May 2007 found that a remarkable 39 percent of Americans favored the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. An earlier poll, framed in a more hypothetical way, found that 50 percent of Americans supported impeaching Bush if he lied about the war — which most of that 50 percent presumably now believe he did. Vermont has gone on record in calling for his impeachment, and a number of cities, including Detroit and San Francisco, have passed impeachment resolutions. Reps. John Murtha and John Conyers and a few other politicians have floated the idea. And there is a significant grassroots movement to impeach Bush, spearheaded by organizations like After Downing Street. Even some Republicans, outraged by Bush’s failure to uphold right-wing positions (his immigration policy, in particular), have begun muttering about impeachment.

Bush’s unpopularity is mostly a result of Iraq, which most Americans now believe was a colossal mistake and a war we cannot win. But his problems go far beyond Iraq. His administration has been dogged by one massive scandal after the other, from the Katrina debacle, to Bush’s approval of illegal wiretapping and torture, to his unparalleled use of “signing statements” to disobey laws he disagrees with, to the outrageous Gonzales and U.S. attorneys affair.

In response to these outrages, a growing literature of pro-impeachment books, from “The Case for Impeachment” by Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky to “U.S. v. Bush” by Elizabeth Holtzman to “The Impeachment of George W. Bush” by Elizabeth de la Vega, argue not only that Bush’s misdeeds are clearly impeachable, but also that a failure to impeach a rogue president bent on amassing unprecedented power will threaten our most cherished traditions. As Lindorff and Olshansky conclude, “If we fail to stand up for the Constitution now, it may be only a piece of paper by the end of President Bush’s second term. Then it will be time to be afraid.”

Yet the public’s dislike of Bush has not translated into any real move to get rid of him. The impeach-Bush movement has not really taken off yet, and barring some unforeseen dramatic development, it seems unlikely that it will. Even if there were a mass popular movement to impeach Bush, it’s far from clear that Congress, which alone has the power to initiate impeachment proceedings, would do anything. The Democratic congressional majority has been at best lukewarm to the idea. In any case, their constituents have not demanded it forcefully or in such numbers that politicians feel they must respond. Democrats, and for that matter Americans of all political persuasions, seem content to watch Bush slowly bleed to death.

Why? Why was Clinton, who was never as unpopular as Bush, impeached for lying about sex, while Bush faces no sanction for the far more serious offense of lying about war?

The main reason is obvious: The Democrats think it’s bad politics. Bush is dying politically and taking the GOP down with him, and impeachment is risky. It could, so the cautious Beltway wisdom has it, provoke a backlash, especially while the war is still going on. Why should the Democrats gamble on hitting the political jackpot when they’re likely to walk away from the table big winners anyway?

These realpolitik considerations might be sufficient by themselves to prevent Congress from impeaching Bush. Impeachment is a strange phenomenon — a murky combination of the legal, the political and the emotional. The Constitution offers no explicit guidance on what constitutes an impeachable offense, stating only that a president can be impeached and, if convicted, removed from office for treason, bribery “or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As a result, politicians contemplating impeachment take their cues from a number of disparate factors — not just a president’s misdeeds, but a cost-benefit analysis. And Congress tends to follow the cost-benefit analysis. If you’re going to kill the king, you have to make sure you succeed — and there’s just enough doubt in Democrats’ minds to keep their swords sheathed.

But there’s a deeper reason why the popular impeachment movement has never taken off — and it has to do not with Bush but with the American people. Bush’s warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America’s support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It’s a national myth. It’s John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness — come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we’re not ready to do that.

The truth is that Bush’s high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves. This doesn’t mean we support Bush, simply that at some dim, half-conscious level we’re too confused — not least by our own complicity — to work up the cold, final anger we’d need to go through impeachment. We haven’t done the necessary work to separate ourselves from our abusive spouse. We need therapy — not to save this disastrous marriage, but to end it.

At first glance it seems odd that Bush’s fraudulent case for war has saved him. War is the most serious action a nation can undertake, and lying to Congress and the American people about the need for war is arguably the most serious offense a public official can commit, short of treason. But the unique gravity of war surrounds it with a kind of patriotic force field. There is an ancient human deference to The Strong Man Who Will Defend Us, an atavistic surrender to authority that goes back through Milosevic, to Henry V, to Beowulf and the ring givers, and ultimately to Cro-Magnon tribesmen huddled around the campfire at the feet of the biggest, strongest warrior. Even when it is unequivocally shown that a leader lied about war, as is the case with Bush, he or she is still protected by this aura. Going to war is the best thing a rogue president can do. It’s like taking refuge in a church: No one can come and get you there. There’s a reason Bush kept repeating, “I’m a war president. I’m a war president.” It worked, literally, like a charm.

And many of the American people shared Bush’s views. A large percentage of the American people, and their elected representatives, accepted Bush’s unlimited authority to do whatever he wanted in the name of “national security.” And they reaffirmed this acceptance when, long after his fraudulent case for war had been exposed as such, they reelected him. Lindorff and Olshansky quote former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker, who justifies his opposition to impeachment by saying, “Bush obviously lied to the country and the Congress about the war, but we have a system of elections in this country. Everyone knew about the lying before the 2004 elections, and they didn’t do anything about it … Bush got elected. The horse is out of the barn now.”

To be sure, the war card works better under some circumstances than others. It is arguable that if there had been no 9/11, Bush’s fraudulent case for war really would have resulted in his impeachment — though this is far from certain. But 9/11 did happen, and as a result, large numbers of Americans did not just give Bush carte blanche but actively wanted him to attack someone. They were driven not by policy concerns but by primordial retribution, reflexive and self-righteous rage. And it wasn’t just the masses who were calling for the United States to reach out and smash someone. Pundits like Henry Kissinger and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman also called for America to attack the Arab world. Kissinger, according to Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” said that “we need to humiliate them”; Friedman said we needed to “go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something.” As Friedman’s statement indicates, who we smashed was basically unimportant. Friedman and Kissinger argued that attacking the Arab would serve as a deterrent, but that was a detail. For many Americans, who Bush attacked or the reasons he gave, didn’t matter — what mattered was that we were fighting back.

To this day, the primitive feeling that in response to 9/11 we had to hit hard at “the enemy,” whoever that might be, is a sacred cow. America’s deference to the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach is profound: It’s the gut belief that still drives Bush supporters and leads them to regard war critics as contemptible appeasers. This is why Bush endlessly repeats his mantra “We’re staying on the attack.”

The unpleasant truth is that Bush did what a lot of Americans wanted him to. And when it became clear after the fact that Bush had lied about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, it made no sense for those Americans to turn on him. Truth was never their major concern anyway — revenge was. And if we took revenge on the wrong person, well, better a misplaced revenge than none at all.

For those who did not completely succumb to the desire for primitive vengeance but were convinced by Bush’s fraudulent arguments about the threat posed by Saddam, the situation is more ambiguous. Now that his arguments have been exposed and the war has become a disaster, they feel let down, even betrayed — but not enough to motivate them to call for Bush’s impeachment. This is because they cannot exorcise the still-mainstream view that Bush’s lies were justifiable and even noble, Straussian untruths told in support of what Bush believed to be a good cause. According to this line of thinking, since Bush and his neocon brain trust really believed that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous tyrant, the lies they told in whipping up support for war were, while reprehensible, somewhat forgivable.

In Elizabeth de la Vega’s book on impeachment, framed as a fictitious indictment of Bush for conspiring to defraud the United States, she argues that from a legal standpoint it doesn’t matter that Bush may have believed his lies were in the service of a higher good — he’s still guilty of fraud. In a brilliant stroke, de la Vega compares the Bush administration’s lies to those told by Enron executives — who were, of course, rightfully convicted.

The problem is that the American people are not judging Bush by the standards of law. The Bush years have further weakened America’s once-proud status as a nation of laws, not of men. The law, for Bush, is like language for Humpty Dumpty: it means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. This attitude has become disturbingly widespread — which may explain why Bush’s illegal wiretapping, his approval of torture, and his administration’s partisan purge of U.S. district attorneys have not resulted in wider outrage.

This society-wide diminution of respect for law has helped Bush immeasurably. It is not just the law that America has turned away from, but what the law stands for — accountability, memory, history and logic itself. That anonymous senior Bush advisor who spoke with surreal condescension of “the reality-based community” may have summed up our cultural moment more acutely than anyone else in years. A society without memory, driven by ephemeral emotions, which demands no consistency from its leaders but only gusty patriotism, is a society that is not about to engage in the painful self-examination that impeachment would mean.

A corollary to the decline of logic is our acceptance of the universality of spin. It no longer seems odd to us that a president should lie to get what he wants. In this regard, Bush, the most sanctimonious of presidents, must be seen as having degraded traditional American values more than the most relativist, Nietzsche-spouting postmodernist.

All of these factors — the sacrosanct status of war, the public’s complicity in an irrational demonstration of raw power, the loss of respect for law, logic and memory, the bland acceptance of spin and lies, the public unconcern about the fraudulence of Bush’s actions — have created a situation in which it is widely accepted that Bush’s lies about Iraq were not impeachable or even that scandalous, but merely a matter of policy. Just as conservatives lamely charged that the Scooter Libby case represented the “criminalization of politics,” so the conventional wisdom holds that distorting evidence to justify a war may be slightly reprehensible, but is not worth making much of a fuss about, and is certainly not impeachable.

The establishment media, which has tended to treat impeachment talk as if it were the unseemly rantings of half-crazed hordes, has clearly bought this paradigm. In this view, those who want to impeach Bush, or who are simply vehemently critical of him, are partisan extremists outside the mainstream of American discourse. This decorous approach has begun to weaken. A recent U.S. News and World Report cover read, “Bush’s last stand: He’s plagued by a hostile Congress, sinking polls, and an unending war. Is he resolute or delusional?” When centrist newsweeklies begin using words drawn from psychiatric manuals, it may be time for Karl Rove to get worried. But it takes time to turn the Titanic. The years of deference to the War Leader cannot be overcome that quickly.

For all these reasons, impeachment, however justified or salutary it would be — and I believe it would be both justified and salutary — remains a long shot. Bush will probably escape the fate of Andrew Johnson and the disgrace of Richard Nixon. But he’s not home free yet. The culture of spin is also the culture of spectacle, and a sudden, theatrical event — a lurid accusation made by a former official, a colorful revelation of a very specific and memorable Bush lie — could start the scandal machine going full speed. Even the war card cannot be played indefinitely. If Bush were to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and the full dimensions of America’s defeat were to become apparent, all of his war-president potency would backfire and he would be in much greater danger of being impeached. Congress and the media both gain courage as the polls sink, and if Bush’s numbers continue to hit historic lows, they will turn on him with increasing savagery. If everything happens just so, the downfall of the House of Bush could be shocking in its swiftness.

© 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007


Why This Scandal Matters
The New York Times | Editorial

Monday 21 May 2007

As Monica Goodling, a key player in the United States attorney scandal, prepares to testify before Congress on Wednesday, the administration's strategy is clear. It has offered up implausible excuses, hidden the most damaging evidence and feigned memory lapses, while hoping that the public's attention moves on. But this scandal is too important for the public or Congress to move on. This story should not end until Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is gone, and the serious damage that has been done to the Justice Department is repaired.

The Justice Department is no ordinary agency. Its 93 United States attorney offices, scattered across the country, prosecute federal crimes ranging from public corruption to terrorism. These prosecutors have enormous power: they can wiretap people's homes, seize property and put people in jail for life. They can destroy businesses, and affect the outcomes of elections. It has always been understood that although they are appointed by a president, usually from his own party, once in office they must operate in a nonpartisan way, and be insulated from outside pressures.

This understanding has badly broken down. It is now clear that United States attorneys were pressured to act in the interests of the Republican Party, and lost their job if they failed to do so. The firing offenses of the nine prosecutors who were purged last year were that they would not indict Democrats, they investigated important Republicans, or they would not try to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups with baseless election fraud cases.

The degree of partisanship in the department is shocking. A study by two professors, Donald Shields of the University of Missouri at St. Louis and John Cragan of Illinois State University, found that the Bush Justice Department has investigated Democratic officeholders and office seekers about four times as often as Republican ones.

It is hard not to see the fingerprints of Karl Rove. A disproportionate number of the prosecutors pushed out, or considered for dismissal, were in swing states. The main reason for the purge - apart from hobbling a California investigation that has already put one Republican congressman in jail - appears to have been an attempt to tip states like Missouri and Washington to Republican candidates for House, Senate, governor and president.

Justice Department headquarters has become deeply partisan. Young operatives like Ms. Goodling were apparently allowed to hire and promote based on party membership. Political appointees cleared the way for laws designed to disenfranchise minority voters, and brought litigation to remove Democratic-leaning voters from the rolls.

The department's integrity lies in tatters. As a result of the purge, Tim Griffin, a Republican operative and Karl Rove protégé, was installed as the top federal prosecutor in eastern Arkansas. Rachel Paulose, a 33-year-old Republican activist with thin prosecutorial experience, was assigned to Minnesota. If either indicted a prominent Democrat tomorrow, everyone would believe it was a political hit.

Congress has to save the Justice Department, something President Bush shows no interest in doing. It should pass a resolution of "no confidence" in Mr. Gonzales, and push for his removal. But it also needs to insist on new leadership that will restore the department's traditions of professionalism and impartiality, and re-establish that in the United States, the legal system does not work to advance the interests of a political party.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

THIS FAILED PRESIDENCY (Wake up, America. You are on a Pullman, half asleep or partying on a train headed into Chaos.

May 19, 2007

This Failed Presidency

By F. Vyan Walton

Sometimes I'm completely dumbstruck at what this President has so nonchalantly wrought, how he has destroyed American credibility, broken our military and destroyed Iraq while time and time again letting those who attacked us off Scott Free and criminally neglecting the needs of nation at home.

The full depth of Bush's bullshit is truly staggering if you even try to recount it all, or even the half of it that we know about.

It's a bit like the old adage about the frog and the boiling water. Put him directly in a hot pot and he'll simply leap out, but place him in while the water is still cold then slowly raise the temperate and he'll sit there quietly until his skin peels off and he cooks alive.

That's what has happened to America.

This week we learned that Bush's former White House Counsel, Alberto Gonzales and his Chief of Staff Andrew Card with the direct support and intervention of President Bush ambushed Attorney General John Ashcroft on his sickbed, in order to override his deputy James Comey into implementing an illegal domestic spying program that would shatter the privacy of millions of Americans and that when they refused - Bush and the White House went ahead and did it without them anyway!

What's even more staggering is that ABC and CBS haven't even bothered to report this story.

Imagine if we'd learned of such a thing in the year 2000? Think back to how the press howled at the allegations that the Clinton's had prematurely removed members of the White House Travel Office merely because - they were about to be indicted, and strove to replace them with "someone they could trust."

Y'know, like people who weren't potential felons.

All the White House Press Office does is arrange for the travel by the White House Press Corp to accompany the President and his staff - period. They - unlike the fracking Justice Department - don't have any real power to influence or implement policy.

We also had the "scandal" of some people in the Clinton White House having access to the FBI records of members of the previous administration due to an outdated access list provided by the Secret Service.

"They must have wanted those records for political dirty tricks."

Yeah, sure - the Secret Service does that all the time.

Flip that scenario on it's head in terms of relative political targets and multiply by about 1.2 Million and you have the Bush's Domestic Spying program in a nutshell, albiet a rather l.a.r.g.e nutshell.

Now we have Senate Confirmed U.S. Attorney's being fired for no reason, some reason, mutiple-reasons - all smoke screens to hide the real reason - none of which new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was aware of or can seem to remember. At one point Gonzales wished that his deputy Paul McNaulty knew more and was more involved, and then he later claimed that McNulty knew everything all along.

Uh huh. And somehow Gonzales still retains the "full confidence" of this President.

This President, who claims to "Support the Troops", yet never fails to use them as props and shields while letting our wounded languish in rat infested squalor, has opposed legislation to have our flags lowered to half-mast in honor of fallen soldiers in the same way that we honored those slaughtered at Virginia Tech. He has oppossed and threatened to Veto raising their pay and death benefits while the price tag for his failed war sky-rockets above $500 Billion.

Despite all the blood and treasure we've spent, not to mention the millions of Iraqis impacted by our sad misguided attempt at "regime change" - Iraq is still on the verge of become a failed state.

The Iraqi's didn't want the Surge, but we surged anyway.

So far, that Surge - like so many Bush initiatives - has failed. And doesn't look like thing will get any better "when September comes", so we can certainly expect Bush's response to be to call for a Super-Surge even though recruitment has become so dismal the Army has been coaching new recruits on how to beat the drug tests.

Addicts with heavy firepower. Great.

That's likely to just hand us more and more Haditha's.

The U.S. Army private accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old Iraq girl "was a high school dropout with three misdemeanors and was accepted into the Army just as the military, desperate for recruits, began issuing more ‘moral waivers.’"

It's gotten so bad even Republicans are starting to say "if the Iraqi government wants to leave - we should"

Here's a newsflash, 83 members of the Iraqi Parliament (about 1/3rd) asked for a timetable for our troops to withdraw - almost two years ago. And just this month, that 1/3 has grown to a Majority of the members of Iraqi Parliament who've now signed a petition ASKING US TO LEAVE.

You think we're gonna leave? Not with this President.

This President, who went golfing and campaiging while an American City Drowned in a toxic stew of piss, raw sewage, gasoline and decaying bodies.

This President and White House, who when Governor Sebelius correctly pointed out that the equipment Kansas needed after a devastating tornado attack has been sent to Iraq, much like the lack of response to Katrina, Blatantly LIED and claims she never asked for any equipment.

What? Did she forget to say "Simon Says?"

This President, who despite all his tough He-man talk about "fighting them over there" (so our soldiers can die much more conveniently) Completely. Totally. Dropped. The. Ball. On. 9-11 when it Counted.

MR. RUSSERT (Speaking to George Tenet): Then in June, a briefer of the CIA named Rich B gave a conclusion saying, based on all the reporting we've seen, that "bin Laden is going to launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S." Israeli "interest in the coming weeks." July 10 you got another briefing so alarming that you picked up the phone, said to Condoleezza Rice, "I want to come see you now," jumped in the car with some of your key advisers, went to see her. Rich B, he gave her a briefing package. Opening line, "There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!" And then you--and later July, Rich B sitting at the CIA, said, "They're coming here."

This President failed to recognize that Iraq was already disarmed despite being told exactly that by Foreign Minister Sabri, the UN mandated Full Declaration by Saddam and the Weapons Inspectors on the ground.

This President, who shoved a revokation of The Great Writ through a compliant supine Republican Congress simply to cover his own ass and hide his own not entirely secret campaign of terror and torture - to the delight of his ghoulish supporters and the horror of his commanding generals.

This President, who through his VP aided and abetted Treason by allowing the identity of a Covert CIA Operative to be revealed simply to support a lie and a forgery that would have undermined his justifications for an unneccesary war.

This President, who has established a shiny new set of American Concentration Camps for muslim immigrants and their children.

This President, has a VP who busted a cap in some old dudes face and is still hanging around.

This President's "No Child Left Behind" Initiative - has failed.

This President's "Abstinence Only" Initiative - has failed.

This President's "Faith-Based Initiatives" - have failed.

At every level, and in almost every way imaginable the policies and practices of this president have failed the American People.

We - the proverbial frog - have already been well and truly deep fry fucked. It's long past time we hopped out of the pot and began far more than just talk about, and drafting of resolutions for the Impeachments of Rice, Gonzales, Cheney and yes, even Bush himself. It's time to start implementing the tools of oversight of this goverment. Frankly, just impeaching Bush or one of the others is NO LONGER ENOUGH. All of them have to go because at this point I'm afraid that the damage already done just might be nearly permanent.

Iraq and it's people will never be the same again.

How do we get back the trust of the world's nations when we say we need to defend ourselves from this threat, or that threat after we FUBAR'd Iraq this badly?

The Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, and the survivors of Katrina will never be the same.

How do we as American people begin to trust our own government when it alternately spies on us, then neglects us when our local resources are overtaxed by flood, fire, hurricanes and tornados? Not after New Orleans and Kansas we can't. How do we trust that they'll ever be able to handle another attempted 9-11 attack?

How do we prevent future Presidents from amasing the same near unlimited power onto themselves via the fiat of quasi-constitutional signing statements, and then completely mismanaging that power as badly as Bush has?

This Presidency has Failed.

We can not afford to let this legacy stand. We can not afford to let this President or his criminal cronies escape their crimes quietly in 2009, they must be held accountable - or else we will see another future President commit them again. If possible, it might even be worse next time.

We have to get out of the pot. It may not be right now, but it has to be soon. The timer is almost about to go off.

And still, even if we do get out, American will never be the same.


Authors Website:

Authors Bio:
Born and Bred in South Central LA. I spent 12 years working in the IT Dept. for federal contractor Northrop-Grumman on classified and high security projects such as the B2 Bomber. After Northrop I became an IT consultant with the state of California in Sacramento and worked on projects with the Dept of Consumer Affairs and CalTrans, as well as projects for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. Now living in Los Angeles on my own independant web design company.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lawlessness of the White House

Comey's testimony raises new and vital questions about the NSA scandal

The testimony yesterday, while dramatic, underscores how severe a threat to the rule of law this administration poses.

Glenn Greenwald

May. 16, 2007 | (updated below - updated again - Update III)

The testimony yesterday from James Comey re-focuses attention on one of the long unresolved mysteries of the NSA scandal. And the new information Comey revealed, though not answering that question decisively, suggests some deeply troubling answers. Most of all, yesterday's hearing underscores how unresolved the entire NSA matter is -- how little we know (but ought to know) about what actually happened and how little accountability there has been for some of the most severe and blatant acts of presidential lawbreaking in the country's history.

The vital issue highlighted by Comey's testimony

President Bush ordered the NSA to engage in warrantless eavesdropping back in October 2001. The incidents which Comey described yesterday -- whereby the DOJ refused to certify the program's legality -- occurred in March, 2004, two-and-a-half years later. Since the NSA was spying on Americans outside of FISA the entire time, what prompted the DOJ suddenly to "reexamine" the legality of the program after all that time?

Comey did not say specifically what prompted that re-evaluation. This is all he said on that topic:

In the early part of 2004, the Department of Justice was engaged -- the Office of Legal Counsel, under my supervision -- in a reevaluation both factually and legally of a particular classified program. And it was a program that was renewed on a regular basis, and required signature by the attorney general certifying to its legality.

And the -- and I remember the precise date. The program had to be renewed by March the 11th, which was a Thursday, of 2004. And we were engaged in a very intensive reevaluation of the matter.

Comey then made clear that he and Ashcroft met, determined that the NSA program lacked legal authority, and agreed "on a course of action," one whereby the DOJ would refuse to certify the legality of the NSA program. Yet even once Ashcroft and Comey made clear that the program had no legal basis (i.e., was against the law), the President ordered it to continue anyway. As Comey said: "The program was reauthorized without us and without a signature from the Department of Justice attesting as to its legality."

Amazingly, the President's own political appointees -- the two top Justice Department officials, including one (Ashcroft) who was known for his "aggressive" use of law enforcement powers in the name of fighting terrorism and at the expense of civil liberties -- were so convinced of its illegality that they refused to certify it and were preparing, along with numerous other top DOJ officials, to resign en masse once they learned that the program would continue notwithstanding the President's knowledge that it was illegal.

The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Recall that the only federal court to rule on this matter has concluded that the NSA program violated both federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and although that decision is being appealed by the Bush administration, they are relying largely on technical arguments to have it reversed (i.e., standing and "state secrets" arguments) and -- as has been true for the entire case -- are devoting very little efforts to arguing that the program was actually legal or constitutional.

Yet even once Bush knew that both Aschcroft and Comey believed the eavesdropping was illegal, he ordered it to continue anyway. As Anonymous Liberal wrote yesterday:

That's a rather stunning fact, and one that I wish at least a few mainstream journalists would attempt to grasp the significance of. The White House authorized a program that everyone of significance in the Justice Department had determined to be lacking any legal basis. They willfully violated the law.
Even The Washington Post Editorial Board -- long tepid, at best, concerning the NSA scandal -- recognizes that Comey has offered "an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source." And as I documented yesterday, these "shocking" revelations were long concealed due to Alberto Gonzales' patently false assurances that the testimony of Comey and Ashcroft -- which Democrats on the Senate Judiicary Committee sought last year -- would not "add to the discussion."

What more glaring and clear evidence do we need that the President of the United States deliberately committed felonies, knowing that his conduct lacked any legal authority? And what justifies simply walking away from these serial acts of deliberate criminality? At this point, how can anyone justify the lack of criminal investigations or the appointment of a Special Counsel? The President engaged in extremely serious conduct that the law expressly criminalizes and which his own DOJ made clear was illegal.

The new unresolved issue highlighted by Comey's testimony

Beyond the indisputable crimes that were committed here -- and violating the law and engaging in eavesdropping that the Congress has prohibited are "crimes" in every sense of the word, in this case punishable with five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense -- there is still the completely unanswered question of how the President used these illegal eavesdropping powers. And Comey's testimony raises some very troubling questions about that matter. Here is why:

In January of 2006, the DOJ released its 42-page position paper purporting to set forth the "legal justifications" for the President's warrantless eavesdropping program. It advanced two arguments -- (i) that the President had "inherent authority" under Article II of the Constitution to engage in warrantless eavesdropping regardless of what Congress said, and independently, (ii) that Congress "implicitly" authorized the Bush administration to eavesdrop in violation of FISA when it enacted the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, which implicitly authorized them to use warrantless eavesdropping as part of that "war."

It has long been clear that when the NSA program began in 2001, the only legal basis cited was the Article II claim (which amounts to a declaration that the President can eavesdrop however he wants, including in violation of Congressional law). The AUMF "justification" was one that was only added some time later as an afterthought -- quite likely once Ashcroft and Comey advised the White House in 2004 that the program had no legal authority (the definitive background on that development is here, in a February 2006 post by A.L, who first suggested the late apperance of the AUMF theory).

In other words, Ashcroft, Comey and other DOJ officials did not accept the Article II theory that the President could simply ignore the laws passed by Congress in how he eavesdropped on Americans, and therefore wanted to create an alternative legal basis for the program -- one which claimed that Congress did authorize warrantless eavesdropping when it enacted the AUMF.

Comey testified yesterday that after the dramatic hospital scene, once it became clear that there would be mass DOJ resignations over the illegal NSA program, the President met privately with Comey, and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller. Comey testified that Bush instructed them to make whatever changes to the program they thought needed to be made in order to convince them that the program was legal:

We had the president's direction to do what we believed, what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality.

And so we then set out to do that. And we did that.

In fact, given that FISA makes it a felony to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants, no changes could render a warrantless eavesdropping program legal. And whatever changes were made did not make it legal, as the federal court ruled last August. But the question still remains: what changes were made that convinced Comey and Ashcroft that the program was legal?

As indicated, it has been assumed for some time that what changed at that point was that the AUMF legal "justification" was concocted, and it was the addition of that argument -- one which at least had the appearance of being grounded in Congressional authorization -- that is what convinced the DOJ to certify the program's legality. In other words, what changed in 2004 was not the eavesdropping program itself, but merely the DOJ's theories about why the program was legal.

But Law Professor Orin Kerr offers some speculation on that question which strikes me not only as persuasive, but also as the only logically possible answer. He suggests that there were changes to the program itself -- i.e. changes in the operational rules of the NSA's eavesdropping -- not merely changes to the DOJ legal theories (emphasis added):

It sounds like the President personally either gave in or reached a compromise with Comey (it's not clear to me which) that refashioned the program in a way that DOJ was willing to approve.
The only real possibility for how the program could be "refashioned" in order to convince the DOJ of its legality would be tighten the nexus between the warrantless eavesdropping and the AUMF.

Since the AUMF authorized, in essence, the instruments of war to be used against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, that would mean that -- in order to make the program appear more legal in the eyes of these DOJ officials -- the warrantless eavesdropping would need, presumably, to be tied to terrorist groups encompassed by the AUMF. That's the only conceivable way that the program could have been "refashioned" in order to make it seem as though it had legal authority.

But if that's the case -- if it was only in 2004 that a requirement was created that the eavesdropping be tied closely to terrorists encompassed by the AUMF -- then that would mean that prior to that time, there was no nexus between the eavesdropping and those terrorist groups. It would mean that prior to this 2004 DOJ rebellion, the scope of the NSA eavesdropping -- the list of those who were subject to warrantless eavesdropping -- was far broader than the Islamic terrorist groups against whom the President was authorized by the AUMF to use military force.

That would necessarily mean that -- contrary to what the administration has repeatedly insisted was true -- it was not merely Al Qaeda and similar groups who were the targets of the eavesdropping conducted in secret, but targets beyond that category. Obviously, this is speculation, though I would suggest for the reasons indicated that it is approaching the realm of logically necessary speculation. What other changes besides tying the eavesdropping to Al Qaeda-type groups could have been made that would have enabled Ashcroft, Comey & Co. to conclude that there was a plausible legal basis for warrantless eavesdropping?

The key questions still demanding investigation and answers

But the more important issue here, by far, is that we should not have to speculate in this way about how the illegal eavesdropping powers were used. We enacted a law 30 years ago making it a felony for the government to eavesdrop on us without warrants, precisely because that power had been so severely and continuously abused. The President deliberately violated that law by eavesdropping in secret. Why don't we know -- a-year-a-half after this lawbreaking was revealed -- whether these eavesdropping powers were abused for improper purposes? Is anyone in Congress investigating that question? Why don't we know the answers to that?

Back in September, the then-ranking member (and current Chairman) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, made clear how little even he knew about the answers to any of these questions in a letter he released:

For the past six months, I have been requesting without success specific details about the program, including: how many terrorists have been identified; how many arrested; how many convicted; and how many terrorists have been deported or killed as a direct result of information obtained through the warrantless wiretapping program.

I can assure you, not one person in Congress has the answers to these and many other fundamental questions.

The NSA scandal has always presented two equally critical but completely distinct issues: (1) the eavesdropping was against the law; and (2) precisely because it was conducted in secret, we do not know whether the administration engaged in the eavesdropping abuses which the law (by requiring judicial oversight) was designed to prevent.

Proposition (1) has long been established, and ought to result in serious consequences by itself. But we still do not know the answer to (2) -- were these eavesdropping powers used for improper purposes? -- and whether anyone in Congress yet knows is still a mystery. But Comey's testimony yesterday adds some obviously significant information that ought to heighten the concern about whether there was such abuse.

There is one other aspect of Comey's testimony worth highlighting. This is part of what he said when describing the scene in Ashcroft's hospital room:

I tried to see if I could help him get oriented. As I said, it wasn't clear that I had succeeded. I went out in the hallway.

Spoke to Director Mueller by phone. He was on his way. I handed the phone to the head of the security detail and Director Mueller instructed the FBI agents present not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances.

Comey repeatedly stated that it appeared that Ashcroft was not even oriented to his surroundings. Compare that to Tony Snow's disgustingly dismissive defense yesterday of the behavior of Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales: "Trying to take advantage of a sick man -- because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?"

But more revealingly, just consider what it says about this administration. Not only did Comey think that he had to rush to the hospital room to protect Ashcroft from having a conniving Card and Gonzales manipulate his severe illness and confusion by coercing his signature on a document -- behavior that is seen only in the worst cases of deceitful, conniving relatives coercing a sick and confused person to sign a new will -- but the administration's own FBI Director thought it was necessary to instruct his FBI agents not to allow Comey to be removed from the room.

Comey and Mueller were clearly both operating on the premise that Card and Gonzales were basically thugs. Indeed, Comey said that when Card ordred him to the White House, Comey refused to meet with Card without a witness being present, and that Card refused to allow Comey's summoned witness (Solicitor General Ted Olson) even to enter Card's office. These are the most trusted intimates of the White House -- the ones who are politically sympathetic to them and know them best -- and they prepared for, defended themselves against, the most extreme acts of corruption and thuggery from the President's Chief of Staff and his then-legal counsel (and current Attorney General of the United States).

Does this sound in any way like the behavior of a government operating under the rule of law, which believes that it had legal authority to spy on Americans without the warrants required for three decades by law? How can we possibly permit our government to engage in this behavior, to spy on us in deliberate violation of the laws which we enacted democratically precisely in order to limit how they can spy on us, and to literally commit felonies at will, knowing that they are breaking the law?

How is this not a major scandal on the level of the greatest presidential corruption and lawbreaking scandals in our country's history? Why is this only a one-day story that will focus on the hospital drama but not on what it reveals about the bulging and unparalleled corruption of this administration and the complete erosion of the rule of law in our country? And, as I've asked many times before, if we passively allow the President to simply break the law with impunity in how the government spies on our conversations, what don't we allow?

If we had a functioning political press, these are the questions that would be dominating our political discourse and which would have been resolved long ago.

UPDATE: It is not merely Bush followers and our establishment journalists who insisted that President Bush did nothing terribly wrong here, but also -- perhaps most destructively -- the "liberal" punditocracy, which spent all of 2006 shrieking that Democrats must do nothing about the NSA lawbreaking because the President was justified in his Protective conduct and Democrats would thus suffer politically unless they acquiesced like good little Patriots.

Hence, in January, 2006, the truly odious Joe Klein -- in a Time column entitled "How to Stay out of Power" that should be a featured exhibit at a Museum for what went wrong with our country during the Bush presidency (h/t Atrios & rootless) -- attacked Nancy Pelosi for daring to challenge the Leader's NSA lawbreaking. Klein openly defended lawbreaking and actually said: "these concerns [i.e., that Bush's eavesdropping is illegal] pale before the importance of the program. It would have been a scandal if the NSA had not been using these tools to track down the bad guys."

Klein then obediently repeated this administration-dispensed idiocy: "There is also evidence, according to U.S. intelligence officials, that since the New York Times broke the story, the terrorists have modified their behavior, hampering our efforts to keep track of them." He then oh-so-presciently pronounced: "until the Democrats make clear that they will err on the side of aggressiveness in the war against al-Qaeda, they will probably not regain the majority in Congress or the country." In September of 2006, the Democrats blocked enactment of a bill legalizing NSA warrantless eavesdropping and then proceeded to crush the Republicans in the election.

Identically, "liberal" pundits like Eleanor Clift and The New Republic's Ryan Lizza chided Russ Feingold for criticizing the Leader's lawbreaking and wanting to censure him for it because, they insisted, such criticism would harm the Democrats politically and/or was without merit. This is why the administration has, with impunity, been able to behave with such transparent lawlessness. It is because the Beltway class is as corrupt and barren of integrity and judgment as they are.

UPDATE II: One of the blogosphere's most knowledgeable experts on the NSA/FISA matter, Just an Observer, makes this superb point in Comments which perhaps an intrepid reporter may want to consider:

Note that nowhere in Comey's story are NSA officials mentioned. But FBI Director Robert Mueller was a central player in the drama -- he even met personally with President Bush -- and also was one who threatened resignation. This indicates that, whatever was going on before the program was modified, those activities were being conducted by the FBI, not just the NSA. That could mean purely domestic unwarranted wiretaps, unwarranted black-bag jobs, or similar misconduct.
It is indeed quite notable how prominent a role the FBI Director played in the Comey episode, and how absent are NSA officials. It might be worthwhile asking why the FBI Director was so intimately involved in eavesdropping which allegedly did not include purely domestic communications. Whether there was warrantless eavesdropping on purely domestic communications is, of course, yet another still-unanswered question.

UPDATE III: As Peter Swire over at Think Progress notes, Gonzales testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that "there has not been any serious disagreement about the program" and "to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we are talking about today."

Gonzales was emphasizing there that the objections from Ashcroft, Comey and others were directed toward an eavesdropping program different than the one in place in 2006, which strongly suggests that the program itself was changed operationally to satisfy the DOJ, not merely that its legal justifications expanded. Prior to the 2004 changes made to satisfy Ashcroft and Comey, in what types of eavesdropping was the administration engaged for the prior 2 1/2 years? Purely domestic eavesdropping? Non-terrorist-related eavesdropping? Why do we not know the answers to those questions?

On a different note, via Jane Hamsher, Comey's testimony can be viewed on YouTube here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

After Wolkowitz (who did not come from either a banking or development backiground, but was simply a favored crony of Bush)

After Wolfowitz
Le Monde | Editorial

Saturday 12 May 2007

Accused of nepotism, Paul Wolfowitz logically ought to vacate his functions very soon. The World Bank president had put good governance and the fight against corruption at the center of his action in poor countries. But by intervening in such a way that his companion be detached to the State Department and her salary greatly increased in contempt of internal regulations, he lost all credibility. The European countries are convinced of it. The American president, on the other hand, is not. Now, according to the old role-sharing understanding, the American president is the one who names the new World Bank president, while the Europeans chose the International Monetary Fund boss.

The present crisis ought to be the opportunity to modify the governance of these two institutions. In a world in which Asia is becoming the planet's premier creditor, this transatlantic monopoly is not only obsolete, but also harmful. It suggests that Westerners want, despite all opposition, to remain "masters of the globe." Above all, there is no reason for the presidents of the World Bank and the IMF to be named purely on the basis of political criteria.

Yet, at present, that is the case. Mr. Wolfowitz would never have obtained this position had his candidacy been put in competition with others. He is neither a banker nor a development specialist, the two competencies that one has a right to expect from the World Bank boss. A specialist in strategic and defense questions, he was one of George W. Bush's principal advisers after 9/11. The president wanted to reward a faithful follower, and he hesitates to drop him today so as not to suffer yet another reversal.

However, there is no lack of competent candidates. Some, like Nobel Prize-winning economist and former World Bank President Joseph Stiglitz, mention Brazilian central banker Antonio Fraga or former Turkish Finance Minister Kermal Dervis. Others suggest the names of South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, or even Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.

Up until now, the Europeans have been hiding behind the White House. This is wrong. At the bank's board of directors, together the Europeans have 28.9% of the votes (including 4.3% for France) versus 16.4% for the United States. Nothing prohibits the Europeans from putting the American shareholder into the minority. That would provoke a crisis, but it could be a salutary one.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who deems that his closeness to the United States allows him to deliver messages to Washington that are not always pleasant to hear, could find an opportunity in this situation to make a brilliant entrance onto the international scene by making himself simultaneously the messenger for Europe and for the oppressed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Of Monks and Madness, John Garvey

Of Monks & Madmen


John Garvey

There has been a lot written about Into Great Silence, a film which shows the life of monks in the Carthusian monastery of Le Grande Chartreuse. I saw it not long ago, and so should you if you get the chance-which you may not; so far its distribution has been limited, and it is easy to see why: there is very little talking, no background music, and nothing like a plot. The film lasts for nearly three very quiet hours. But here in New York, it packed them in at Film Forum and was held over for weeks.

Philip Gröning, the director, said during one interview that he found looking at the paintings of Mark Rothko helpful when he was editing the film, and I can see the connection. There is a similarity between the esthetic stillness in Rothko’s paintings and the contemplative stillness the monks seek in prayer. This sensibility shows up in Gröning’s camera work, in the images of flame and snow that begin the film, in the passage of time in slow seasonal change captured by time-lapse photography, in the rhythm of the communal liturgical hours and the solitude of the monks in their hermitages, in the scenes we are offered of their solitary prayer and study.

The film has been a huge hit, not only in New York but also in allegedly secular Europe. Its success reminds me of the rave reviews given to Marilynne Robinson’s wonderful, quiet, and unabashedly Christian novel Gilead. There is a spiritual hunger that goes deep. Some of its expressions can be shallow, but the need is heartfelt and real. Many churches may not meet it, but some places and ways of life (monasteries and monasticism, for example) attract people because they offer the hope that there is an answer to an eternal, deeply felt need.

It wasn’t long after my wife and I saw Into Great Silence that the murders at Virginia Tech happened. Two comments that came up in the news reports have stayed with me. A survivor said that she would never forget the laughter of the gunman; and one of Seung-hui Cho’s teachers said that when he came to her for tutoring, he always wore dark glasses, behind which he seemed to be weeping.

We are called into being from nothing, and the monks face this as a vocation. They have tried in the life they have chosen to eliminate the distractions that keep us from being what we are called to be. Not all of us are called to this way, but it does illuminate a central truth about life: Ultimately we are alone before God. The paradox is that this solitude is shared with all of humanity, and we are obliged to take up what it means to share it, through charity, through family, through community, and above all through prayer-which means a moment-to-moment acknowledgment of our absolute contingency, our dependence on the will of God who calls us to be.

A lot of what followed the Virginia Tech massacre was predictable: editorials about gun control and the treatment of mental illness, interviews with people about the need for reaching out. Some students expressed their concern that they may not have done enough to help Cho, though it is not at all clear that they could have. All I can think about are the human extremes here: monks who spend their time in solitary silence before God, listening deeply; and someone weeping in his own howling, desperate isolation, one that turns to evil rage and the destruction of other lives. This is the range of human possibility: you can be a person who moves through silence toward the light, or you can be destroyed by darkness. There is nothing here about morality or moral choices. This is about what we are called to be, and about those things that assist or prevent us from getting there.

I do not know what might have been done differently to prevent the Virginia disaster. It is impossible to determine what led Seung-hui Cho to his final terrible moments or if he was capable of making any clear choices at that point in his life. But it is the source of some hope to know that in a world where such horrors can happen, within any human heart, people still make the sign of the Cross and sit in silence before God, whose love has called both the monk and Seung-hui Cho into existence.


John Garvey

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Death and the Rest of Our Life (Eerdman’s).