Saturday, May 13, 2006

Big Brother: More Fallout

Well the big story of the week is already starting the slow drop off the radar of media coverage (mainstream media attention span is slightly less than that of the average four year old), but that doesn't mean there haven't been some new revelations and analyses.

[UPDATE: President Bush repeats his Thursday remarks in his radio address; Newsweek poll shows concern.]

First up, the NY Time has a timeline of this scandal. Click the thumbnail for the full graphic-

USA Today follow up on their revelations with a new story exploring the legality- or lack thereof- of this type of activity. It states, "The U.S. government's secret collection of Americans' phone records may not breach the Fourth Amendment's privacy guarantee, legal analysts said Thursday, but it could violate federal surveillance and telecommunication laws." That this activity is illegal should be no surprise to anyone who has followed this administration. Think Progress has a more detailed look at the specific laws violated here. Marty Lederman does the same.

Meanwhile, the telecommunication companies involved in the story are also making headlines. Verizon is being sued for turning over customer records to the NSA. The lawsuit could cost them $5 billion. Elsewhere, Qwest- who refused to participate in the program- said they were "deeply troubled" by the program's implications. In addition, the former CEO said he made his decision because "he learned that no such authority had been granted and that there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process". My guess is that Qwest has been getting a lot of new customers this week.

Digby looks at how a similar program of collecting records was tried during the Ford administration and also met with congressional resistance. Two men in the administration in particular tried to fight that resistance. Those two men? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, natch.

Not surprisingly, we now learn Cheney unsuccessfully pushed for wider surveillance on domestic calls and emails.

I also wanted to highlight this- Matthew Yglesias has a look at the legal ramifications of prosecuting terrorists in the wake of this program-
Perhaps this is obvious, but the thing about the big NSA phone records dragnet is that this gives us the previously missing explanation as to why the administration thought it was so important to illegally wiretap people without warrants. That used to be a bit mysterious -- if the idea was to spy on people with al-Qaeda connections, getting a warrant should have been easy. The problem is that the evidentiary basis for believing the people in question had al-Qaeda connections now turns out to have been illegally obtained evidence from the broader NSA program. And then the problem reiterates itself -- if the listening-in stage of the program reveals anything interesting, you can't use that in a court either. You can't use it to get further warrants, you can't use it as the basis of a prosecution, basically you can't use it at all. So if you want to act, you're going to need to do one of these detention-without-trials deals or maybe a "rendition" or a military tribunal or what have you. And then, once the guy's in custody, if he tells you anything you can't use that either. So the whole process starts again and soon enough there's an entire parallel justice system operating entirely in secret without any oversight or real rules.

And that's the optimistic scenario in which all of the relevant people are maximally honest, honorable, and competent. Leaving aside the reality that nobody with a single shred of honesty or basic human dignity would be working for George W. Bush at this point, that's simply not a realistic picture of any large-scale enterprise. Things are bound to go wrong -- badly wrong -- when you have all these people operating outside the law without any checks or scrutiny.

He's right. There are already numerous stories of how the administration's illegal behavior has hampered their ability to prosecute many of the high-profile terrorists they have caught. In their rush to embrace inherent powers and do things the easy way- instead of the right way- they failed to see how their actions would backfire.

Finally, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice says this all just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned.

Rep. Pelosi: 'Impeachment Is Off The Table'

Behold the power of Tim Russert.

Last Monday, I discussed how a popular GOP scare tactic this campaign season has been spreading the idea that the Democrats only want to gain control of Congress in order to impeach President Bush. Tim Russert adopted that narrative (and how!) for his interview with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi on last Sunday's 'Meet The Press'. Even though Rep. Pelosi has long been on the record as not supporting the Conyers impeachment resolution (and has openly dismissed calls from the party base in doing so), Russert went out of his way to nail the issue to her and the party leadership as a whole. Nothing Pelosi said could dissuade Russert from his preconceived conclusion that a Democratic "takeover" of Congress only means "payback time" for the Bush White House. She tried to explain the Democrats' planned agenda for Congress (healthcare reform, some oversight hearings, etc), but Russert seemed entirely uninterested in what she had to say, as is usual when he's interviewing a Democrat.

Well apparently this strawman controversy has Rep. Pelosi worried. From the Washington Post-
Seeking to choke off a Republican rallying cry, the House's top Democrat has told colleagues that the party will not seek to impeach President Bush even if it gains control of the House in November's elections, her office said last night.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told her caucus members during their weekly closed meeting Wednesday "that impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it," spokesman Brendan Daly said...

This gesture is such a waste. The Republicans will still continue to use the specter of impeachment to rally whatever small percentage of their base that actually is concerned about that. The facts of majority Democratic disinterest in that path didn't bother them before and won't bother them now.

Another point- do you think if some partisan Democratic operatives (and a complicit media) had said during the '98 midterm elections "Don't vote for the Republicans, all they wanna do is impeach President Clinton!!", that the overzealous GOP Congress would've taken it down a few notches and removed the option from the table in the name of political civility? Of course they wouldn't have. After all, obstructing justice in a civil case made President Clinton too dangerous to be allowed to remain in office and the Republicans had the rule of law (very important to them, ya know) on their side. Of course the example I gave didn't happen. The Democrats barely stood up for the President in 1998 and the media definitely did not. Despite the lack of polling support for impeachment, they just decided to go along for the ride (and what a sexy ride it was!)... But in 2006, where we have a President who mislead his country into a disastrous war and has abused his constitutional authority in other ways too (and where polling has indicated that a slight majority might favor impeachment and/or don't even consider it a factor in the midterms at all), all Karl Rove and the beltway conventional wisdom punditry had to say was "Boo!" and Pelosi and the Dems folded like Superman on laundry day.

I understand the Democrats want their priorities to be policy and legislative-based (and don't want voters to make incorrect assumptions about other agendas), but they really need to start standing up for themselves, if only as a sign of strength. The main reason that Sen. Feingold is so popular isn't necessarily that all his supporters agree with him 100%, but it's because he has a spine. He defends what he believes in, he shows a public face of strength in the name of cheap political intimidation. As I noted in my entry on Monday, the Republicans created this impeachment 'conspiracy' talking point when no such thing existed in the Democratic party leadership. And the Democrats flinched anyway. If they are serious about unseating the Republicans this November (and God help us all, they better be), then it's time for them to stand their ground.

Note to Democrats- You are ahead in all of the polls. Start acting like it.

[PS- Digby looks at how the Republicans are relying on the same old, same old for their campaigns.]

Saturday Morning Funnies

Okay, so that's not really funny, but there you go.

[Related- Eric Alterman: Signing the Constitution Away]

Links of the Day: Early Edition

President Bush wants the National Guard to watch the border. Gov. Schwarzenegger thinks that's just a tad overboard.

While we're securing our borders acting hysterical, here's some links of interest...

-Question- Can Karl Rove micromanage the '06 elections from a grand jury room?:
Rove Informs White House He Will Be Indicted

-'Dusty' Foggo- recently resigned CIA official- gets a visit from the FBI in the 'hookergate' scandal:
Feds Raid Home Of Top CIA Official

-Tony Snow's stint as White House press secretary doesn't get off to a great start:
Tony Snow on His First Press Gaggle: "This is Just a Mess"

Bush The Uniter

The NY Times and the NY Post- One is accused of being a liberal propaganda rag, the other is proudly a conservative propaganda rag. In general, its readers probably differ politically on many major issues. So it's refreshing to see something bring the readers of the two paper togethers... disapproval of President Bush. At last he's uniting us, as promised.

From yesterday's NY Times letters section:

To the Editor:

Re "Poll Gives Bush Worst Marks Yet on Major Issues" (front page, 10):

As President Bush's approval rating sinks ever lower, I imagine that more and more voters who sought to vote him out of office in 2004 have the following question:

Which of Mr. Bush's failures this term could not have been predicted by his incompetence and arrogance in the first term?

I propose that the answer is none and wonder at the millions who apparently voted for him hoping for what his record all but proved would not happen.

We all knew Mr. Bush well enough from his first term to know that his response to tragedy and adversity would be to promote and flatter the incompetent and ignore the advice of cooler heads.

Those who disapprove now but who voted to re-elect Mr. Bush have gotten what they voted for and should be apologizing to those who knew better when it mattered most, a year and a half ago.

As for those who continue to support the president, at least they are consistent.

David Kagle
Bronx, May 10, 2006

To the Editor:

It doesn't take elaborate polls to gauge the performance of the Bush administration and President Bush's ratings; just take a stroll around the corner on Main Street and see for yourself how the poll ratings work.

Common folks sweating it out to make ends meet; unaffordable gasoline prices; unaffordable health care; concerns about open-ended war in Iraq; the rising cost of living; the evaporating promise of Social Security; and inequity in the income tax structure — all this adds up to a pathetic mark sheet for the Bush administration's overall job performance.

Atul M. Karnik
Woodside, Queens

From yesterday's NY Post letters page:

John Podhoretz is wondering why Dubya's polls are sinking now ("Dubya's Dilemma," PostOpinion, May 9)?
Here are the simple truths:

The war in Iraq is a major blunder that most Americans cannot comprehend.

We should have captured and killed Osama bin Laden by now - it's been four years.

Hurricane Katrina was eye-opening, and all Americans should be furious at the handling of this tragedy.

Our standing in the world has greatly and disgracefully diminished under this presidency.

Add the Dubai port debacle, Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame and immigration and homeland-security issues.

I can't imagine anyone being shocked at Dubya's sinking polls.

Podhoretz is right about one thing, though: Most people are deeply disheartened with this administration.

We've had more than enough.

Pamela Rackiewicz
Shelton, Conn.

Nice spin, Podhoretz.

Americans have woken up from their "guns, gays and God" coma.

They've realized that these issues do nothing to help them afford the price of gas and the costs of health insurance or to recover from the loss of their brave sons and daughters, whose lives have been wasted for a bogus war.

Mission accomplished? Yeah, right.

Kathleen Fontaine
Plainville, Mass.

Semi-related, Digby has a new write-up on the 'uniter v. divider' theme-
He had an historical moment that could have brought the country and the entire world together --- which he decided instead to use as an opportunity to aggressively assert arrogant partisan and American power. Rather than being a "uniter not a divider" as he promised in the campaign, he roared into office with his one vote majority and treated the Democrats like lackeys, behaving as if he had a mandate to enact the most extreme items on the GOP agenda. He used patriotism as a bludgeon to intimidate all dissent against his inexplicable war with Iraq. At every turn he behaved with insolence and hubris and his failure has been manifest. Now he lives in a bubble, wandering around dazed and confused about what is happening to him --- which is not the result of Democratic partisanship, I might add, but rather the assessment of the American people. (The Democrats were paralyzed during most of his term.) Perhaps that's why his fall has been so steady --- the slow realization among the people that being a leader takes more than a manly swagger and a down home accent.


Finally, in what comes as no shocker to me, a new poll shows that Americans strongly preferred President Clinton over Bush. It states "Respondents favored Clinton by greater than 2-to-1 margins when asked who did a better job at handling the economy (63 percent Clinton, 26 percent Bush) and solving the problems of ordinary Americans (62 percent Clinton, 25 percent Bush)." The poll also shows that Clinton is favored on every other issue as well- foreign affairs, uniting the country, handling natural disasters, honesty, taxes, and national security. The latter two are supposedly Bush's strong areas too.

Bottom line- competence counts.

Friday, May 12, 2006

President Plans Immigration Address For Monday

Immigration-Mania '06 continues this Monday with a televised address from the President...

AP: Bush to Speak About Immigration on Monday
President Bush plans to address the nation Monday night on the immigration debate, trying to build momentum for legislation that could provide millions of illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens.

The White House said it was seeking time from television networks for the president's remarks...

Fox, if you preempt 'Prison Break' or '24' for this, you will meet my wrath!!

The article implies that the President will continue to push for the same plan he's been sticking with- ie. less rigid than the draconian House bill, with more focus on guest workers and earned citizenship- but I get the feeling he's going to backtrack on that, at least a little. Why hold a live, televised address to reiterate a policy position that is satisfactory to no one? The left thinks (and I'm including me there) that a guest worker plan amounts to legalized slave labor, while the right thinks his plan amounts to amnesty and a betrayal of his presidential duties. Given that he's at 29% approval, he needs his base now more than anything else, and so my instincts tell this address will be a partial reversal of course- a chance for him to stake out a tough, hardline stance on immigration that will be pleasing to the Lou Dobbs of the world. Of course, whatever he would propose will likely not be seen as satisfactory enough by the far-right (who are merely playing the border security card to hide a larger xenophobia), nor will it stop the Republicans in Congress from tearing themselves apart over this 'debate', but this is all speculation. We'll find out on Monday.

As long as it takes enough people's attention away from the war, NSA spying, congressional corruption, and other failures, it will probably be a success by the President's definitions.

[By the way, look at the photo the AP used. Is Dick Cheney sleeping again?]

I Spy With My Eye...

...A major scandal that isn't going away anytime soon.

The AOL poll still shows 76% bothered by this. Washington Post says differently, though.

All in all, the President's assurances that privacy is "fiercely protected" is convincing few.

I've already given my detailed thoughts on this here and here. Now the fallout.

First, this is understandably complicating the Gen. Hayden's nomination to the CIA.

Also, one issue for the Bush defenders- and I can't wait to read the NY Post editoral page tomorrow- to ponder (as they rush around to insist any critics of the program simply don't understand the war on terror) [UPDATE- The NY Post editorial has arrived: 'This Week's Treason'!! Yikes guys, stop letting Malkin write your editorials, ok?] ... Why does the Republican Congress apparently hate America?-
Congressional Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a government spy agency secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country...

...The Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired.

"We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to approach the Fourth Amendment and the constitutional issues involving privacy," Specter said of domestic surveillance in general...

Many people have immediately praised this. Me? I think it's an important step, but I'm skeptical. Sen. Specter is notoriously all bark and little bite. Every week, when the latest constitutional crisis emerges from the White House, Specter vows he will investigate and put a stop to it. We're still waiting for most of those investigations. I believe he is sincere about calling in the phone company execs for hearings, but will he allow them to testify without being sworn in, as he did for Attorney General Gonzales in February? Bottom line, if Arlen Specter is the best check we have on the White House's power, don't hold your breath for any change.

And here's more concern from GOP terrorist sympathizers.
"I don't know enough about the details except that I am willing to find out because I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Channel: "The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?"

Crooks and Liars also reports that Newt Gingrich called it "indefensible" on Fox tonight and Joe Scarborough also was critical on MSNBC. This is bad news for the White House, who likely wanted to paint opponents of the datamining activities as soft on terror. That's just getting harder to sell. The bottom line is that we all want an aggressive war on terror, and we all understand that we have to be thorough in our surveillance, but there are laws to be followed which only in Dick Cheney's mind make it harder for us to do those things. Ignoring the issue of whether or not this is all even helping, I doubt most Americans trust President Bush and the NSA to go all Big Brother on us... but do it the 'right' way. Combined with other news of their extra-constitutional behavior, trust is hardly an option.

I'm obviously less than convinced that the NSA having secret access to millions of phone records is the key to us defeating the Al Qaeda terror network.

Meanwhile, Digby reminds us that, immediately after 9/11, the Justice Department had a controversial devotion to privacy rights over terrorism concerns when it came to the records of gun owners. Just a reminder for the "9/11 changed everything" folks that some things didn't change.

Democrats are, of course, united against this activity. Sen. Durbin stated "We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake." Elsewhere, Sen. Leahy asked, "Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with Al Qaeda?". Definitely a case where bipartisan outrage is needed.

Finally, 72 members of the House have filed court papers challenging the President's warrantless wiretapping program and seeking to end it. The participating Representatives were 71 Democrats and one Independent. This action was taken before the USA Today revelations on the domestic data collection and is likely to gain support now.

Atrios makes a a good point on why this story is resonating now specifically-
I think this story will resonate more than the earlier warrantless wiretapping story because on that latter one the administration was more able to convince people that of course THEY wouldn't be impacted, just that bad people would be. People were more bugged by that story than our media would generally let on, but they didn't rise in outrage...

...But big TelCo handing over all your phone records to George Bush? Everyone knows they're getting monitored too.

Still, the real issue is that the president believes he is bound by no law. Until people accept that truth, which they've been quite vocal about, this will largely just be a dance.

Given all of this, is it any wonder that President Bush is at 29% in the polls? Yes- 29%.

And I thought it was easy being the King.

"What, me spy?"
--President George W. Newman (May 11, 2006)

[PS- The first newspaper editorials are coming in:
-Washington Post: An Easy Call: Lying
-Chicago Tribune: The NSA has your number
-NY Time: Ever-Expanding Secret
-Boston Herald: What would Ma Bell do?]

Howard Dean: 'Did I Misstate Our Gay Platform? My Bad!'

To any gay people who may have taken offense to Howard Dean's obvious pandering to the religious right by misstating the Democratic platform on gay marriage in a 700 Club interview, he just wants you to know he's really sorry... he just made a mistake! Whew, glad that's settled then.

From the AP-
Democratic chairman Howard Dean mischaracterized his party's platform on gay rights in an interview courting evangelicals, then set the record straight Thursday when an advocacy group called him on it...

...After the gay rights group went public with its complaints about his remarks, Dean acknowledged: "I misstated the Democratic Party's platform, which does not say marriage should be limited to a man and a woman," and reasserted the party's commitment to equal protection for all.

[National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt] Foreman said Dean should be persuading Democrats to fight against ballot initiatives seeking to ban gay marriage, but instead has misrepresented the party's "important and affirming plank" several times...

You know, Howard, I want to feel your pain [*insert Clinton thumbs up here*], but I can't. I know the Democrats need to win these elections this year and I know that, apparently, some mysterious political guru has told both parties that these evangelicals are they key to victory, but seriously- you didn't 'misstate' the platform any more than George W. Bush 'misstated' the threat Saddam posed. You lied. You lied to give the most pleasing answer to the audience in front of you. And, frankly, you were wasting your time anyway. The evangelicals are a lost cause for the Democratic party. They hate you because Karl Rove's got 'em convinced that you want to steal all their Bibles, abort all their pregnant women, gay up the whole country, and have '7th Heaven' cancelled (oops scratch that last one, it's taken care of already). Believing those things is like their secondary faith. Going on the '700 Club' and trying to break through that is as pointless as John Kerry going on that hunting trip the week before the '04 election. Realize the evangelicals are a lost cause and accept the fact that the vast majority of Americans- tired of the of political shambles caused by years of GOP rule- genuinely want to vote for the Democrats; they just need the party to show them some vision and strength in order to seal the deal.

As Bill Maher beautifully said last November- "Democrats will never win another election if they keep trying to siphon off votes from the Republicans. They will only win by creating a lot more Democrats. And you don’t do that by trying to leach onto issues that you should be denouncing." Amen.

Finally, Dr. Dean, it's time for the Democrats to stop playing around and to do the right thing for the gay community. Don't give us that 'civil union' copout either. The official party platform should be equal marriage rights and benefits- no compromise. This should be encouraged in every state, particularly those with the bans on the ballot. Yes, it will be an unpopular stance to many, but it's also the right one. When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he knew he was also signing away the South, which up to that point had become a Democratic stronghold, but he didn't back down. He knew it would be his legacy. This current Democratic party can make gay rights their legacy. It's inevitable and should be a natural issue for the civil rights party. What's the worst that can happen? You don't have the South to lose again, and maybe if you do your job right, you can even win them back by explaining how their economic self-interests are better served by telling the Republicans to get lost.

Dr. Dean, if you want to follow the Republicans' lead... Take a stand. Defend it. And win.

[PS- Mary Cheney? Still an awful person.]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Links of the Day: Late-Night Edition

I decided to save the NSA time and have forwarded all my phone records to them.

You're welcome, guys!! Just glad to help! :-D

Here are some other stories that were obscured by all the Big Brother-y goodness today...

-The Senate will renew the frantic immigration debate. Lou Dobbs is likely to be displeased with the outcome:
Senators Agree to Revive Immigration Bill

-The Senate celebrates the budget surplus President Bush has created, the record job growth, and the end of the costly Iraq war with a new round of tax cuts to benefit "families with above-average incomes"... hey, wait a minute:
Senate Approves $70 Billion Tax-Cut Bill

-Pedophiles beware- Congress is working to keep MySpace safe:
Congress may clamp down on MySpace

-Rep. Murtha says that political realities will force an Iraq pullout next year:
Murtha Predicts U.S. Pullout From Iraq

President Bush (Briefly) Addresses Nation On Spying- Americans/Congress Concerned

No sooner did I add an update to my last entry noting that the President was planning to address the nation about the USA Today report on the NSA's massive domestic spying than the address began... and ended. It lasted about two minutes. I took notes during the press conference (if you can call it that, he left the room as soon as he finished speaking, not answering the questions being shouted by the reporters present) and here is basically what he said.

He started out, as expected, by referencing the September 11 attacks and the threat of terrorism. He said Al Qaeda is our enemy (as if we were unaware). He said we have to find out what the enemy is up to and we must our resources to do. He then quickly dismissed as rumor any reports that the NSA activity goes beyond Al Qaeda-targeted conversations. He said that the government "does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval". He reiterated his belief that his program(s) are legal. He said that the privacy of Americans is protected in all of this; he specifically stated there is no datamining going on. Finally, as also expected, he decided to kill the messenger- he said leaks of information such as this "hurts our ability to detect this enemy" without elaborating on how. The speech then ended, as it began, with the words "After September 11." He then immediately left the room without another word.

Transcript- here.

The abruptness, vagueness of information, and quick exit said a lot more than the President actually revealed in his words. So did the President's body language, which was rigid and angry (you'd think Stephen Colbert was there again). It showed that the White House knows this is a big scandal and that they are worried. The fact that the President made a short job of it and didn't take any questions also shows that he knows that his assurances (the same talking points they've been using since December, which have been ripped apart by experts over and over) simply won't hold under even the slightest scrutiny. For instance, the fact that the USA Today article- which validated previous reports elsewhere- debunks almost everything he said might have been a problem if he allowed any questions.

Anyone relying on the President's words today to be reassured on this matter is delusional.

The fact of the matter is that the drive-by spin we saw in this address is largely false. All of it- the program targets Al Qaeda only, they get warrants for domestic surveillance, it's legal, no datamining or privacy invasion, leaks have hurt our surveillance activities- have all been explored by numerous journalists (using government sources within the FBI, NSA, etc) and experts and, as I noted, have not held up under scrutiny. We know that they are engaging in domestic spying without warrants, we know they are datamining, we know that Americans' privacy has been invaded by the government and their own service providers, we know that the FISA has been all but discarded, and we know that their only backup to the assertion that the leaks have hurt surveillance is that terrorists sometimes 'forget' they are being monitored if not reminded.

I'm sure this story- and the brief address- will be poured over and dissected greatly in the coming days and weeks (I hope, anyway). But that's my immediate take on this. I know 31% still want to trust the President and believe 9/11 created a new era of justified executive lawlessness, but I also hope that this is the turning point. They want to portray any criticism of this program as an attack on the war on terror itself. That is the official narrative Rove has created for this and one all the Bush cultists have adopted seamlessly. One needs only read Michelle Malkin's take on this (ie. USA Today has damaged national security and should be jailed) or a new one on Powerline (stating Gwest- which has refused to hand customer records over to the government- has "now become the terrorists' telecom company of choice") to see how much far-right conservatives are willing to defend things they would've decried under a different President. Besides, Malkin's assertion that it's good to datamine doesn't mesh well with the President's lie that they don't datamine (because that would be wrong, natch). Likewise the Hannity-esque Powerline statement that Qwert is aiding terrorists by not betraying their customers' privacy is contradicted by the right-wing spin that any domestic data collected is not used for surveillance anyway. In the rush to defend Bush at all costs, basic facts and logic like this are usually brushed aside.

It also seems like much of the nation- while not openly defending it like the right- has just learned to accept all of this as a necessary part of post-9/11 life. I just cannot accept that. We have survived greater threats than this and we didn't have to grant unlimited, unquestionable authority to a President with a noted disregard for the constitutional balance of government in order to do so. That is not the America we were all taught about in school.

Another good question is how useful the program even is. I've had my doubts.

Finally, the USA Today article should erase all doubt as to the true scope of the NSA program. The President's response answered nothing and showed he has no intent of being answerable to the public and other branches of government about the NSA's activity in regards to domestic communication. It seems almost cliche to say, but we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis not seen since the days of Watergate. Someone needs to stop this President (even though he will use his 9-11/war on terror shield to scare them off) because if the American people willingly throw away their most basic freedoms in the face of temporary fear, then we're in trouble. Without strong public outcry, this scandal may go nowhere.

There needs to be a breaking point... God help us if this wasn't it.

[PS- No AP story on the address yet... hey AP, it didn't take me long to write about two minutes of nothing, did it? Yahoo does have a reprint up of the USA Today story, though.]

[UPDATE: Here's the AP article at last, courtesy of AOL News. The article is far more detailed than the President's actual address (it makes no mention of the briefness of it). Interesting enough, it features reactions from members of Congress most of whom, including Republicans like House Majority Leader John Boehner and Sen. Graham, are expressing concern. It also notes, correctly, that the President never denied the validity of the USA Today report. AOL also has polls up to gauge opinions... when I voted, it was a majority 76% stating they are bothered by the program.]

[PPS- Here's a quick collection of what other blogs are saying:
-Glenn Greenwald: No need for Congress, no need for courts
-AmericaBlog: Do you really trust George Bush to spy on you "the right way"?
-Peter Daou: We Are Frogs in Slow-Boiling Water, Watching Our Constitution Die]

Government Kills Domestic Spying Probe, Reports Show Spying Very Expansive

[UPDATE: President Bush to address nation. See Yahoo for live video of this.]

With the nomination of Gen. Hayden beginning to reignite discussions over the President's warrantless spying program, the government is pulling the plugs on probes and working to quiet away any debate of the program and issue that Karl Rove still tries to insist will be a winner for them politically...
The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program...

I love the smell of coverup in the morning.

Rep. Hinchey responded to this news with disappointment, stating "This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they've created a culture of fear to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand up to them."

And then there was this-
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the terrorist surveillance program "has been subject to extensive oversight both in the executive branch and in Congress from the time of its inception."

Would that be why almost every member of Congress didn't know about it until last December?

There is also this at the bottom of the article-
The administration has vehemently defended the eavesdropping, saying the NSA's activities were narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with suspected ties to the al-Qaida terror network.

Oh, really? This is just one of many lies the White House has told about the program.

Via AmericaBlog, here's what a new USA Today article reveals-
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Bold added by me for all the obvious reasons.

Read the full USA Today article above... it has lots of details on how the program works.

Here's another sad aspect of all of this- the telecommunication companies (AT&T, Verizon, etc) may be voluntarily handing over customer information to the NSA, even though they know there's no warrants involved and know the legal justification is still being debated by lawmakers. If you use any of the companies mentioned in the article, you may want to call them up and ask them about their complicity in the government's spying.

The USA Today article also correctly notes-
The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

This is a key point- that the White House has been misleading the public on the full extent of this program. By labeling it as the 'terrorist surveillance program' and dismissing any of its critics (including a former NSA chief and numerous government officials from both parties) as being soft on terror, they mean to frame it as they like to frame everything... as just another part of life in the post-9/11 world. But while most Americans are aware of the program at this point, they likely only know that spin version, and not the whole story. If they did, you better believe you'd have a mighty angry populace on your hands. Even now, with these larger facts not known by most Americans, polls have consistently shown a slight majority do not support the program or the President's actions in authorizing it. Finally, as I've noted before, we still haven't gotten answers from the White House to the most basic questions about the program.

So where's Congress on this? It's time they stopped being afraid and started asking more questions.

[Your Government- Working For You!]

Mary Cheney Is An Awful Person

She really, really is.

Mary Cheney, as many might know, is Vice President Cheney's daughter. She is a very open supporter of her father's administration and even worked on the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign in 2004. That would be the campaign whose use of homophobic morality-baiting all across the country to get conservatives to the polls was only trumped by another issue- the fear of terrorism. Mary Cheney is also, by the way, a lesbian. But don't you dare mention she's a lesbian!!! Unless, of course, you are doing so to plug her book in which she discusses how vile and politically manipulative the GOP is proud she is to be gay.

Given the way the Republican Party (following the lead of the Bush/Cheney campaign strategy) went after the gay community and fanned the flames of bigotry on the Christian right in 2004, and given the way the Kerry/Edwards team refused to cave to consultant pressure to denounce gay marriage as well, which of those do you think Ms. Cheney saves her harshest words for? If you guessed Kerry/Edwards, then congratulations, you know the selfish hypocrisy of the Republican party well.

Although Mary Cheney does note that the proposed constitutional amendment was a "gross affront'' to gay Americans, she refuses to place the blame for it on the White House- as if it were randomly created idea that President reluctantly endorsed, instead of a political tool of his own creation. Being interviewed by Larry King tonight, a caller asked her why she didn't speak out against the state-based anti-gay-marriage ballot measures intended to get out the conservative vote. Cheney replied that she didn't see any connection between the ballot measure and more voters turning out for Bush. Out of the closet, but still in denial. The numbers don't lie. She also praises the President, who she says is a "very good man" who simply "hasn't caught up."

No, who's she really angry at John Kerry and John Edwards, who memorably brought up Ms. Cheney during the '04 debates as a way to expose the hypocrisy behind the marriage ban efforts.

Apparently lacking any sense of irony, Mary Cheney has said that Sen. Kerry "was obviously trying to use me and my sexual orientation for his own political gain." Indeed, using homosexuals for political gain is pretty disgusting, no Mary? She refers to Kerry as a "son of a bitch" and Edwards as a "total slime" for mentioning her during the debates. She also said that when Sen. Edwards mentioned her during his debate with her father, she mouthed "go fuck yourself" to him from the audience. Like father, like sellout. But hey, she only mouthed the phrase, she's a good Christian after all.

Sen. Kerry isn't taking this criticism lightly and has responded. The Senator's spokesman said that it "Seems like a suspicious lecture from a political operative who flacked for the most anti-gay administration in history and allowed Karl Rove to divide America for political gain. She’d be more credible if she pushed dad’s administration to support hate crimes legislation and equal rights for gay Americans."

Good for the Kerry crew for firing back. If only Sen. Kerry had been this quick to defend himself against the Swift Boat guys (also totally not connected to the White House of course *cough*), we might not have to be sitting through Mary Cheney's self-loathing media blitz right now.

Thank you Mary Cheney for making Howard Dean's pandering look less awful in comparison.

Howard Dean = Douchebag? (Pt. II)

No sir, I don't care for this-
Howard Dean recently appeared on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. He told the audience “The Democratic Party platform from 2004 says that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's what it says.”

Ohh, Howard, don't go all McCain on us now, please.

The article above corrects Dean's assertion-
Here's what the 2004 Democratic Platform actually says:

"We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been definited at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush's divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a Federal Marriage Amendment. Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart."

As one commenter noted, what happened to the Howard Dean who was from "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party"? Did Hillary Clinton kill him? We already have the Republicans selling out (ok- attacking) the gay community, if the Democrats don't openly and unabashedly have our backs, then who does? I know that the Democratic party supports gay rights; why are they so afraid to admit it? C'mon, evangelical Christians aren't that scary.

John at Americablog is also less than pleased.

[See also previous entry- Howard Dean = Douchebag?]

The New 'Silent Majority'

In 1969, President Nixon famously referred to those who still supported the American effort in Vietnam as the "silent majority", a reference to the fact that the anti-war movement, very vocal and widespread, was overshadowing the majority across the country who felt differently.

In the past few years, with the conservative movement becoming ever more vocal and widespread, I've seen numerous references to the idea that liberals and moderates are the new 'silent majority'. I would definitely agree with that sentiment. America is described as being a center-right country, but I don't believe that is true (at least in relation to how far to the right the current 'center' has been moved anyway). Numerous issues supported by the majority of Americans- environmental protection, separation of church and state, civil liberty protections, cautious foreign policy, abortion rights, etc- are the ones the party in power are fighting against. Support for many of these issues is portrayed by the Republicans and the media pundits as being 'out of the mainstream', despite what all polling data indicates otherwise. Even in the case of President Bush, as his poll numbers continued to fall, pundits like Chris Matthews said things like "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs". For the past five years, many people have spoken out on the ways these issues have been handled, but they have been treated with little attention or respect, other than as some sort of novelty. That isn't to say that liberals or moderates' voices haven't been heard (they have been), but that they are dismissed as not being 'mainstream' when, in many cases, they are.

The Philadelphia Daily News' Will Bunch explores this new silent majority-
They are not the people posting multiple diaries on blogs like Daily Kos, or obsessing over the latest doings inside the Beltway -- as you probably do if you're reading this. They're too busy making a modest living.

They are, instead, the people that we see so often when TV or radio tries some rare "man on the street" reporting -- bashing the war in Iraq or asking the government to stay out of their bedroom, and occasionally getting funny looks from reporters who fail to realize just how "mainstream" these points of view actually are.

They are cab drivers and nurses, waitresses and insurance agents. They don't read blogs but most of them vote -- and so it's why the Democrats got the most ballots for president in 1992, 1996, and 2000, and came within an eyelash of ousting "a war president" in 2004.

The things that this "silent majority" believes may not boil down easily to a single word or a short soundbite, but they are common sense ideals, and truly American. And so they believe in family values and probably in a God as well, but not in the government intruding on their private lives, let along reading their emails. They believe in a strong defense, but not in wars that America starts first. They believe in free-market capitalism, as long as rich people pay their fair share and the environment is protected.


The truly sad part is how poorly the Democrats have done of reaching out to this majority- their natural base.

[PS- As Digby illustrates, the modern extremists aren't on the left. ]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Random GOP Nonsense

Not new scandals for the GOP, but more being uncovered on existing ones...

First, Republicans are likely to be hyping up this news- The Secret Service have released the records of Abramoff's visits to the White House... the records show only two visits (one in March 2001, the other in January 2004). See Dumbocrats, no scandal here, no sir! But wait a minute... Ignoring even that the records don't explain what Abramoff was doing during those visits, many quickly noticed how selective the records are. As Judicial Watch notes, "these documents seem incomplete when compared to other White House visitor logs obtained by Judicial Watch. We therefore have reason to believe there are additional details about Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House that have not been disclosed". TPM Muckraker gives an even further look at this, noting that we already know of three other visits that were previously confirmed- "Hannukah receptions in 2001 and 2002, as well as the infamous May 9, 2001, "$25,000 Meeting," of which we have a picture."

If the White House has gone out its way to scrub from the official records these visits that were already publicly known, then who in their right mind would believe they didn't also scrub numerous other visits of consequence? Seems like this story is far from over.

Moving on, new emails relating to former FEMA Michael Brown have been released. For instance, in one on the day Katrina hit, Brown noted he was preparing for an interview, "Sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair....". Another set of emails have Brown pondering how to help rescue stranded pets. These are in addition to other less-than-flattering emails that surfaced last Fall. Brown, of course, insists that these emails only tell a selective story. He's right, of course. The whole story is even more horrible and tragic.

In other news, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Alphonso Jackson is still under scrutiny for comments he made implying he cancelled a government contract because the recipient was not a supporter of President Bush. The HUD Inspector General has opened a review into his conduct.

Finally, popular Republican pundit She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may be in trouble.

[PS- I do apologize for not mentioning the Reps. McKinney and Kennedy scandals which are taking Fox News America by storm.]

Rumblings Of A Sleepy Blogger

Been a long day.

It wasn't a particular busy news day, but let's take a run through the stories creating the greatest buzz before I retire for the night... A new NY Times/CBS confirms the findings of the USA Today/Gallup poll- President Bush polling at an all-time low of 31% approval. Even lower percentage numbers were found in regards to his approval specifically on the separate issues of Iraq, the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and gas prices. And, as I noted yesterday, that's without any substantive hearings into these issues. The poll also features good news for Democrats. The article notes, "By a margin of better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans." And, as I'll note right now, that's without any substantive effort by Democrats to articulate those ideas. Most interesting to me was this sentence, "Fifty percent said Democrats come closer than Republicans in sharing their moral values." Republicans losing the moral values crowd? Time for another gay marriage ban.

Meanwhile, John Podhoretz insists that things are actually going great with the war and everything else, but conservatives are just too tired to defend Bush. A moron, as always.

And the liberal blogosphere helps flesh out a good progressive policy agenda.

Tim Russert's grilling of Rep. Pelosi this past weekend, in which he pushed the 'Democrats only want to impeach Bush' talking point, is creating a lot of chatter. How Pelosi came off is a highly debated question. Some journalists are arguing strongly that the Democrats should avoid making investigations part of their plan for when they gain control of the House or Senate. Many bloggers take offense to this argument, noting that it seems like an obvious ploy to get the Democrats to back down on that front, and also noting that many Americans likely do want some oversight to return. Sen. Feingold appears to agree with this sentiment, stating (specifically in regards to standing up against the Hayden-CIA nomination) that "The consultants and the pundits and others will tell you these positions are “losers” — I’ve heard that literal language for this — and that it is dangerous to let there be any real light between our position and the White House’s position, or else you’ll get called soft on terrorism.... [T]he pundits in this town will somehow suggest that this, too, just like my censure resolution, will cause the President’s numbers to shoot up. You remember that happening, right? It didn’t happen at all, but that’s what they’re gonna say, but it’s not right."

Speaking of standing up, a former NSA Director is speaking out against President Bush's spying program.

In other news, President Bush doesn't want Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a penpal.

Also, Bush's tax cuts are extended. The Deficit Party scores another win for wealthy voters.

Meanwhile, in a developing story, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson may have violated the law when he "publicly admitted that he canceled a government contract with a business because the CEO was critical of President Bush". Also of concern was his followup statement which seemed to imply that money such contracts can/should be used to fund political campaigns. Sen. Lautenberg has demanded his resignation as others call for an investigation. Jackson's spokesperson is now trying to insist that Jackson just made up that story for anecdotal purposes.

Yea right, and Porter Goss just suddenly resigned because he didn't like John Negroponte.

Speaking of that mess, new info on 'hookergate' continues to be uncovered.

Finally, Eric Alterman takes a look at the recent Boston Globe article exploring how "President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution." Alterman questions why this astounding revelation has gotten so little coverage in the mainstream media. To be fair, Mr. Alterman, Stephen Colbert did dedicate his 'The Word' segment to this topic on Monday's show (clip titled 'Not').

You see, when Colbert isn't emasculating the timid DC press corp, he's also doing their job.

Living With War

Neil Young's new album- 'Living With War'- is out today and I picked up a copy on my way home. I listened to the online stream last week before buying (kudos to Young's people for utilizing the power of the internet to promote this) and it's a great album. The songs are about, well, living with war. It's a really emotional ride, refreshing in its lack of polish. And, unlike Pearl Jam's new album, I can actually understand the lyrics that are being sung here (seriously Eddie, it's calling singing, not mumbling). You can read Rolling Stone's positive review- here. The themes discussed in the songs are pretty universal and will likely age well (as "Ohio" has), particularly "Flags of Freedom". The song that is getting the most attention- and the one least likely to age well- is "Let's Impeach The President". The song's title has been used to slam the album by Young's critics even before any lyrics were even released (see this video of an interview of Young last month for an example of the almost clueless way some are approaching the album- ie. not in a 'musically good or musically bad?' way, but in a 'is this hurting America?' way). The lyrics list all the big reasons for impeachment (lying us into war, spying, etc), but as with Rolling Stone this line was the one that most stood out to me when I first heard the song-
What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government’s protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Definitely the part of the song that makes the greatest impression.

Finally, of great amusement, as usual, is the expected reactionary disapproval from the backwash Bush supporters. The following was the most recent review on iTunes (only 1 star)-
"By Neil Young making this album and singing 'Let's impeach The President' is extremely unpatriotic, and an Un-American thing to do. It's perfectly ok for Neil Young to think this way, but for him to make an album such as this he is taking a very radical path; I think Neil Young should move to another country permanently. He is not a true American for bashing the president in this way; and must not like this country well enough for making this CD or such remarks. So, Neil, let's just have you live in a different country other than America with all your extreme left wing people who can't stop making fun of our President for keeping us safe from terrorists and keeping America Free. I don't care if he doesn't like President Bush, but as a citizen of this country, you need to at least respect him because we have elected him twice, as our leader and have put him in charge of running our country. I now have lost all respect for Neil Young as well as the Dixie Chicks for their comment a few years ago about the President."
Signed, Sean Hannity.

A truly excellent critique. Now let's just hope the NSA isn't spying on my iPod...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Quote of the Day II

"That's George Washington, the first President, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three -- three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?"
--President George W. Bush, while attempting to use Washington to discuss how history judges a President and how history will judge him (May 7, 2006)

Yes, Mr. President, it's very interesting. Who knew you read so many books?

This is interesting too-
President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections...

31%. Even I'm surprised at that one, although maybe I shouldn't be.

Jonathan Schwartz looks at how George W. Bush and Richard Nixon are in a race to the finish in terms of historic disapproval. As he notes, "What’s really remarkable is this is WITHOUT any congressional investigation of Bush’s misdeeds, plus an economy far better (as much as it sucks for many) than in summer 1974. So Bush really has nowhere to go but down." Indeed. If Congress ever gets around to asking those hard questions, we even get at or below 30% before Election Day.

Worst President Ever

Republican talk radio host Doug McIntyre (KABC- Los Angeles) did a segment on his show this past week he called "An Apology From a Bush Voter". It's creating the usual celebration on the left side and derision on the right side, respectively, of the blogosphere. McIntyre discussed how, after much deliberation on the subject, he can no longer support George W. Bush. He apologized for having voted for him and even stated that he might possibly be the worst President ever. He spoke in length about how he came to this decision.

You can listen to the segment here or read a transcript here.

I mostly agree with the overall argument (particularly the worst President ever assessment) and it's refreshing to see him apologize for voting for Bush rather than pretending Bush's problems are recent ones like many Republicans do.

There is some stuff I do not agree with, though... after all, McIntyre is a conservative and I'm sure he and I would disagree on many issues. His disapproval of President Bush doesn't come entirely from the same place mine does (I think he's a dangerous ideologue- religious and political- who shows no regard for our basic constitutional values or the general well-being of our nation)... His seems to come from the popular belief that Bush's problem is simply that he wasn't a good conservative, although that's less true for McIntyre than it is for say, Jonah Goldberg.

I would strongly disagree with the following of McIntyre's statements- his assertion that Al Gore would've been a bad President or wouldn't have gone into Afghanistan, that it's the Democrats and not the Republicans who allowed "demagogic cowards to snipe from the sidelines", that Harriet Miers and the Dubai deal rank among his absolute worst mistakes (they were bad, but nowhere near the worst), and that Bush's tax cuts were ever a good idea. However, with that said, he is right on Bush and he is right that our tired two-party is near a breaking point.

I also give him credit for stating, about those who never supported Bush, that "You were right, I was wrong." It's a bit of a welcome change from the Republicans who are trying to distance themselves from the President for nakedly political reasons, while still mocking liberals and thus ignoring the fact that, if everything the President has done has become a disaster, then we were right to have opposed those things from the beginning. I don't want to paint some sort of idea that it's politically black-and-white, right and wrong, but in the case of George W. Bush, we were clearly ahead of the curve. Perhaps in 2002 and early 2003, when we spoke out about the idea of invading Iraq because it would be misguided and dangerous, we actually weren't unamerican traitors, no?

Here are what I think are the best points made in his segment-
So, I’m saying today, I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush. In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case can be made that he’s the worst President, period...

...[I]n the months and years since shock and awe I have been shocked repeatedly by a consistent litany of excuses, alibis, double-talk, inaccuracies, bogus predictions, and flat out lies. I have watched as the President and his administration changed the goals, redefined the reasons for going into Iraq, and fumbled the good will of the world and the focus necessary to catch the real killers of September 11th...

...The President says we have to stay the course but what if it’s the wrong course?

It was the wrong course. All of it was wrong. We are not on the road to victory. We’re about to slink home with our tail between our legs, leaving civil war in Iraq and a nuclear armed Iran in our wake. Bali was bombed. Madrid was bombed. London was bombed. And Bin Laden is still making tapes. It’s unspeakable. The liberal media didn’t create this reality, bad policy did....

...Presidential failures. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Jimmy Carter, Warren Harding-— the competition is fierce for the worst of the worst. Still, the damage this President has done is enormous. It will take decades to undo, and that’s assuming we do everything right from now on. His mistakes have global implications, while the other failed Presidents mostly authored domestic embarrassments.

And speaking of domestic embarrassments, let’s talk for a minute about President Bush’s domestic record. Yes, he cut taxes. But tax cuts combined with reckless spending and borrowing is criminal mismanagement of the public’s money. We’re drunk at the mall with our great grandchildren’s credit cards. Whatever happened to the party of fiscal responsibility?...

...If you roll the dice on your gut and you’re right, history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.

Republicans seeing the light on George W. Bush- it's becoming a recurring theme. And it's good. I wish it had happened in mid-2004 when we could've been spared the disasters of this second term, but hey better late to the party than never showing up at all. The sooner this country is rid of this man's leadership (hopefully before 2009) , the sooner we can start repairing the monstrous damage he has caused.

President Bush's presidency is all but over and Republicans are worried, they know they will go down with him. They're spinning in overdrive to try and distract Americans and keep them from voting for the opposition (top strategy now- trying to scare- ?- their base with reports that all Democrats want to do is impeach ol' Bushie, a fate some Republicans believe is even worse than terrorism), but it would seem more and more Americans are waking from their slumber. They have seen how poorly this country has been run in the past few years and they know who's in charge. I know Rove will be indicted soon working overtime to try and repair the damage, but I don't think even he can work miracles this time around. This administration brags about their ability to 'create their own reality', but the actual reality is just too powerful to sweep under the rug.

As McIntyre notes, history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation of this administration.

Links of the Day: Early Edition

Another day, some more links...

-President Bush does good- asks for aid and support for Darfur:
Bush Says U.N. Should Take Over in Darfur

-The U.S. promises to clean its act up on torture.... again:
U.S. Bars Use of Torture in Interrogations

-Feingold to Democrats: Let's Have Some Balls Here, People:
Feingold to Democrats: Stand Up to Bush

Diplomacy: The Bush Administration Way

Step 1: Tell friendly nations that we have no better friend than them until it loses meaning.

Step 2: Refuse to talk directly with your enemies in any way.

Step 3: Fail.

Repeat as necessary.

Quote of the Day

"With the Democrats' now pledging to restore the pay-as-you-go principle in Congressional appropriations - i.e. every new spending increase has to be balanced by a tax increase - it's clear which party formally represents fiscal conservatism. Whether the Democrats deliver is another matter. But one thing we know: the GOP hasn't delivered. They have spent and borrowed at rates that fully merit the 'criminal' rhetoric now lobbed by their own side. They deserve to be punished. Kick them out."
--Andrew Sullivan, on his blog yesterday.

Shhhh, don't tell your fellow conservatives, Andrew. They still think they're the responsible party. I expect much in the way of the standard "Taxes! Socialism!! The Dems are gonna take our money behave like responsible adults!! God and Limbaugh save us!" hysteria in the coming months. I never understood the logic.

If you were running a family, and you were spending your family's money like there was no tomorrow (with little to show for it), while at the same giving more money back to your source of income than you were actually taking in, would that not be insanely reckless? Would you not not end up being divorced for your complete disregard for the financial well-being of your family? Yes would seem the logical answer. Yet this logic gets turned on its head by Republicans, who give out tax cuts like bribes (much of it going to those who don't need it anyway) while raking up the largest deficit in the world's history. And in wartime no less! Did President Kennedy not say, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country"? Conservatives used to like that sentiment. Somewhere during the Reagan Revolution it became "Gimmee gimmee, mine mine mine!". Now they dismiss the very idea of taxation on par with government spending as 'socialism' (and you thought red-baiting ended with the Cold War). They believe cops teachers soldiers etc the government doesn't deserve our money and to make it worse, they scoffed during events like Katrina when people suggested that, gosh, maybe the government had a responsibility to help take care of its most vulnerable citizens. And yet, for a group of people who show such disdain for the concept of government itself, they demand unquestioning loyalty to the political leaders of their party from all citizens. I guess I'll never end up being a Republican, because that just doesn't make any sense to me.

Sullivan's right. The modern Republican party is a failure. Kick them all out.

Miscellaneous Thoughts On Gen. Hayden, The CIA, Hookergate

I certainly don't profess to be an expert on the CIA, other than the obvious... they do necessary work (gathering, analyzing intel) and do some decidedly illegal stuff (secret torture prisons, coups in South America) in the name of protecting us. However, I have been following the current saga over there- Goss out, Hayden in (?), Foggo out, Negroponte looming over- pretty closely. It makes for good soap opera. There's multiple scandals intersecting here and very little of it comes off as good news for the White House as I see it. Let's start with Gen. Hayden.

President Bush nominated Air Force Gen. Hayden to be the new head of the CIA. Bush said about Hayden that "He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history." Say, what did Bush say about Porter Goss when he nominated him in late 2004? Ohh, it was "He's the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history." This time he means it!! Hat tip to John Stewart for that one.

This nomination is not likely to go smoothly. One issue is that, like Goss, Hayden has very close ties to the White House and would therefore be the latest in a long line of attempts by the White House to take control of previously independent agencies (Alberto Gonzales at the Justice Dept., etc). Agency independence is a concern.

Of primary concern, though, Hayden's connection to the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. Gen. Hayden was working at the NSA when the program was authorized and has been instrumental in defending it. His defense of the program- which the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to find legally sound- raises questions on its own. In one statement, he dismissed the idea of getting retroactive warrants through FISA because of the paperwork involved and in other statements he refused to answer when asked if the President was using it to target his political enemies. Hmmmm. In one noteable exchange this past January with a Knight-Ridder reporter, Hayden was revealed to have been incorrect in his interpretation of the fourth amendment. He also lied to Congress in 2002 about the administration's activities in regards to the use of FISA.

This NSA program is illegal and almost assuredly unconstitutional. Most distressing to me is that the most basic questions about the program- which I discussed in detail in March- have yet to be answered by any official. Placing a man to head the CIA who has helped the White House to casually dismiss our basic constitutional values is unacceptable. The Democrats would do well to oppose him and to use the nomination process to get answers on these issues.

Sadly, the Republicans have once again beaten to the Democrats to the punch with their opposition to Hayden's nomination. The Republican opposition is based on their belief that you shouldn't place a military man in charge of a civilian agency. Adding to this are concerns that the move would therefore increase Sec. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's control over the collection of intelligence. As the NY Sun notes, this "will pave the way for the agency's emasculation and for the Pentagon to assume full authority over paramilitary operations". This placement may even be illegal, at least until the Deputy Director (also a military man) is moved out of his position. That change is already underway. Some have speculated that the Republicans are merely using this issue to overshadow any complaints Democrats may raise based on the wiretapping issue. I'd say there's some definite truth to that, but no doubt the concerns about military influence on the CIA are legitimate and warranted as well.

In the end, I expect most Republicans will cave and Hayden will be confirmed by a close margin.

Moving onto Porter Goss, no official reason is still known his abrupt departure, though the official spin revolves around a power struggle with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. That's likely part of it, but the more immediate reason likely revolves around Goss' alleged involvement in the so-called 'hookergate' scandal... It's a scandal involving defense contractors, the Watergate hotel, former Rep. Duke Cunningham, parties, bribes, favors, poker, and quite possibly hookers. Standard Washington DC corruption with a sexy twist. As Andrew Sullivan notes, "Even if Goss is exonerated completely of any direct connections to the poker games, hookers, and corrupt deals that Randy Cunningham is now explaining to the authorities, his closeness to the people who are makes the scandal that much more visible and that much more damaging to the White House." Hence, the cover story about a power struggle, which the media has accepted without question.

Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo website helped break the 'hookergate' story, has an excellent analysis on the Goss resignation. Recommended read for a great overview of the scandal and its many connections. Further showing the legs this scandal has, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo- Goss' #3 man at the agency- resigned yesterday because he is under investigation for his role in all of this. The White House, of course, denies any connection between the two resignations, as if that will convince anyone. There are even new allegations that Gen. Hayden may have some connections to the scandal, althought not direct. Expect lots of news to come out on all of this (slowly) in the coming months.

All in all, probably not the way the White House expected to start off the week.

Monday, May 08, 2006

USDA Approved Grade-A Desperation

The war in Iraq must be turning the corner going less than fantastic. The White House is forcing people to incorporate good news about Iraq into their speeches, even if their Cabinet area doesn't specifically deal with foreign policy. I'm sure the members of Bush's cabinet are quite pleased they've been reduced to disseminating his war propaganda; morale must be fantastic over there at 1600 Pennsylvania.

From the Washington Post-
Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.

The e-mail, sent to about 60 undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and other political appointees, was also sent to "a few people to whom it should not have gone," said the department's communications director, Terri Teuber...

Let me see if I can give this a try. "As the Secretary of Education, I would like to educate you on the great progress we are making in Iraq..." Wow, that was easy! Great idea, George! With your continued focus on PR management rather than actual results, no doubt the public will soon regain their confidence in your visionary quagmire.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the good news keeps on coming! Go us! [*passes out*]

Links of the Day

Busy day... I found a quarter on the ground this morning, it was the greatest moment of my entire life. Truly I must be a man of great accomplishments worthy of high respect.

Here's some links of what's going on this crazy world of ours...

-Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Bush: 'Please do not nuke my country. Thanks.':
Iran Proposes 'Diplomatic Opening' to U.S.

-President Bush wants to respect the Constitution; he just wants the Supreme Court to force him first:
Bush says he would like to close Guantanamo

-Moussaoui admits he made up the 9/11 fifth plane plan that I hope no one believed to begin with. You don't say, Zach! He thinks that will get him a new trial. That will happen in about... never. Back to the Supermax with you:
Moussaoui Asks to Withdraw Guilty Plea

-Finally, Sen. Frist and Speaker Hastert send their love to the vaccine industry:
Frist and Hastert Let Vaccine Industry Write Its Own Multi-Billion Dollar Giveaway

GOP Scare Tactic: Dems Will Try To Impeach Bush!!

(Note: Updated below with more info on Rove's '06 strategy)

As the midterms approach, the Republicans will try a number of strategies to turn voters against the Democrats. I'm sure the old weak-on-terror card will be played heavily, but another narrative is taking shape too... the idea that if Democrats win, they will only use their power to launch investigations into President Bush and impeach him. We saw this narrative take shape during Feingold's censure movement and in Sen. Elizabeth Dole's email. This is a false narrative, as the Democratic party leadership as a whole has expressed little interest in censure or impeachment of the President. Some basic oversight, yes, but not impeachment. Calls for that action from the party base have been ignored or dismissed. The Democratic leaders have always been clear that, obviously, their agenda upon coming into a majority position will be policy-based.

Despite this, the Republicans insist on warning about impeachment. Perhaps the Republicans feel bad that they spent the entire Clinton administration going on a partisan witch-hunt of the President, trying to turn even the flimsiest of scandals (Whitewater, Travelgate) into the next Watergate, that they simply don't want the Democrats to behave equally overzealous. They're quite thoughtful like that.

Now this talking point is getting bigger.

Drudge had as his lead headline yesterday this- "DEMS PLOT HOUSE TAKEOVER; PROBES OF BUSH..." Yes, because in the world of hardcore Republican loyalists, Democrats running for election through the democratic process and organizing campaigns amounts to a major 'plot'. I've even seen these Democrats discuss it on television- my god, they're not even hiding their coup! As for probes of Bush being something shocking, apparently people don't remember, ya know, history. We had probes of Clinton (and how!), probes of Reagan, etc; it's quite common for Congress to exert its oversight authority to investigate the actions of the Executive branch. It is only because the current Congress has so completely abdicated their duties in this regard that the idea of it seems so radical.

Tim Russert also pushed this narrative in his interview yesterday with Rep. Pelosi, who did her best to brush off the notion. "Is it going to be payback time?", Russert asked Pelosi. That is a popular warping of this debate- the notion that any probes of Bush would be about 'revenge'. By framing the debate this way, White House advocates deflect any legitimacy hearings would have by painting the Democrats as having merely a partisan or emotional reason for them. The fact that such hearings might actually be justified is not a consideration for these advocates. Russert went even further to defend Bush, insisting to Pelosi that Democrats have done equally bad things and could be investigated too. He brought up Reps. Kennedy and McKinney, because apparently, in Russert world, a car accident and striking a capitol cop are the equivalent of what President Bush has done (disastrous preemptive wars based on faulty intel, record debt, torture, warrantless wiretapping, failure to respond to drowning of a major American city, campaign to out a CIA agent, etc). I don't want to defend the Kennedy/McKinney incidents (though they were both two isolated apolitical incidents from relatively unknown House members), but if those are the worst Democratic scandals of the past few years, I would say that's good news for them. It's not surprising that Russert would defend the White House's honor, they've been very good to him.

Russert also namechecked Rep. Conyers (who is leading an impeachment movement in the House), painting him as a boogeyman the right can use in their campaign. He noted that Conyers would be the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and asked Pelosi if Conyers "should take down his website" which calls for a bipartisan committee to investigate pre-war intel and other matters. Yikes, Tim, how about you ask Pelosi if the party should disband all together?

Rep. Conyers has responded to Russert, stating in a blog post that "Perhaps Mr. Russert has forgotten, but I have been a Chairman before. For five years, from 1989 to 1994, I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, now called the Government Reform Committee. I have a record of trying to expose government waste, fraud and abuse. That was back when Congress did something called 'oversight.' You know, in our tri-partite system of government, when Congress actually acted like a co-equal branch." Conyers 1, Russert 0.

Russert's fellow NBC traveler Chris Matthews has been on this for a while, stating on April 5th about Democrats that "They've got a bunch of crazy guys who are going to try to lynch the president." This, again, like Russert's 'revenge' talking point is meant to delegitamize any real need for investigation by painting the Democrats as "crazy" people who simply want to "lynch" the poor, embattled President.

I have yet to come across a pundit discussing the issue on its merits rather than an emotional appeal.

The next issue is whether or not this narrative will work- ie. will it 'rally' the Republican base and/or turn off swing voters? I'm going to say 'no'. The swing voters are a lost cause for the Republicans this year. As for the base? Well, most likely many of them will just be sitting out this election and I think it will take a lot more than the phantom threat of Bush impeachment to get them to the polls. Remember, this isn't 2004, most voters don't see Bush as the Hero War President whom we depend upon for our very survival anymore. Now he's just the lameduck who most people would prefer to ignore. Bob Cesca also explores this question is his analysis of Pelosi's 'Meet The Press' appearance (spoiler: she could've done better), stating that "ultimately it doesn't affect how Americans vote. Look no further than the Republican returns of 2000, 2002, and 2004 following years of a GOP-led investigation and impeachment against President Clinton". Agreed. In the end, I think this ends up being merely an inside-the-beltway fear. I doubt the average American cares either way.

To their credit, the Democrats are trying to deflect this narrative, insisting that when they take over Congress, they will actually have other priorities and that hearings would be based on that pesky 'oversight' Conyers spoke of, and not some witchhunt. For instance, Pelosi said to Russert yesterday that "I said we'd be having hearings on the war, we'd have hearings. But I don't see us going to a place of impeachment. Investigation does not equate to impeachment. Investigation is the requirement of Congress. It is about checks and balances." Checks and whatnow?

Finally- and most importantly- all of this debate assumes to begin with that Democrats will even try to impeach President Bush at all. As I noted in the beginning, it's a big assumption to make. I am not convinced they will. Ohh sure, some like Conyers do want to, but they have been marginalized within the party (Pelosi dismissed him on 'Meet the Press' as an "enthusiastic advocate"). When Conyers wanted to hold hearings on the very important Downing Street memo, he was relocated to the basement for the hearing and was even cut short in addition to add to the embarassment. When Sen. Feingold introduced his censure resolution, all but three other Democrats even wanted to comment on the issue. They were literally running away from it. When Specter did let him have a hearing (scheduled on a Friday, natch), no Democrat except for Sen. Leahy even bothered to attend. Many attempts at oversight like this by principled Democrats have not exactly been well-received by their party at large.

Given this, how can Republicans and pundits honestly believe there is an impeachment conspiracy?

Personally, I do fully support the impeachment movement. I am also, however, realistic that it must be approached with caution and that they must convince the public about it before it begins. Democrats have many priorities if/when they gain control of Congress. Resetting the legislative agenda (looking at energy needs, health care, tax cuts, etc) is the first priority. Voters won't tolerate otherwise. But, yes, they should also make up for the lack of oversight in the past few years. At this point, I would say that Carl Bernstein's proposal for a bipartisan investigative committee (ala the Watergate hearings) is the best route to go. This would be fact-finding mission rather than a political one. As Bernstein noted, "The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard." And, as with Watergate, there are many overlapping issues for such a Committee to explore. In the end, what the hearings would probably find (given what we know/assume already) would likely give them enough evidence to convince the public of the need for impeachment anyway. If the President has nothing to hide, the Democrats should note, then he won't mind cooperating with hearings (spoiler: he will mind). As with the 9/11 Commission, and other investigations, President Bush will surely fight any inquiry like it's life or death.

I say let the Republicans spin this narrative or any narrative they want. If this is all they have left, the Democrats should proudly note, then they are in dire straits indeed. The Republicans have failed on practically every level. If all they have left to rally their base are political boogeymen (impeachment, gay marriage, etc) rather than actual legislative/political successes, then they are definitely not deserving of reelection. Now let's see if the Democrats are smart enough to make that the prevailing narrative.

[PS- The idea of scaring Republicans with the 'threat' of Democratic control of Congress appears to be Karl Rove's top strategy to help Republicans win reelection. He is going around and asking Republicans to rally behind President Bush for only in a unified front can they win. Sounds like Bush's brain is running on fumes if he believes that Republicans will want to be associated with Bush right now (poor Karl may be distracted by that special prosecutor looking over his shoulder). Andrew Sullivan has a great analysis of this strategy, noting that "Rove's strategy will be to emphasize the horror of Speaker Pelosi as a reason for Republicans to show up in November. We'll get the usual gay-baiting, nicely timed to be rolled out in the Senate on 6/6/6.". He lists five subjects they will likely use- Mexicans, gays, religion, terrorist-loving Dems, and the evil of Hillary Clinton- to rally the base. Sullivan doesn't believe conservatives will be easily swayed this year. Let's hope he's right.]