Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why Libby’s Pardon Is a Slam Dunk

The New York Times
March 11, 2007

EVEN by Washington’s standards, few debates have been more fatuous or wasted more energy than the frenzied speculation over whether President Bush will or will not pardon Scooter Libby. Of course he will.

A president who tries to void laws he doesn’t like by encumbering them with “signing statements” and who regards the Geneva Conventions as a nonbinding technicality isn’t going to start playing by the rules now. His assertion last week that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the Libby case is as credible as his pre-election vote of confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. The only real question about the pardon is whether Mr. Bush cares enough about his fellow Republicans’ political fortunes to delay it until after Election Day 2008.

Either way, the pardon is a must for Mr. Bush. He needs Mr. Libby to keep his mouth shut. Cheney’s Cheney knows too much about covert administration schemes far darker than the smearing of Joseph Wilson. Though Mr. Libby wrote a novel that sank without a trace a decade ago, he now has the makings of an explosive Washington tell-all that could be stranger than most fiction and far more salable.

Mr. Libby’s novel was called “The Apprentice.” His memoir could be titled “The Accomplice.” Its first chapter would open in August 2002, when he and a small cadre of administration officials including Karl Rove formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a secret task force to sell the Iraq war to the American people. The climactic chapter of the Libby saga unfolded last week when the guilty verdict in his trial coincided, all too fittingly, with the Congressional appearance of two Iraq veterans, one without an ear and one without an eye, to recount their subhuman treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It was WHIG’s secret machinations more than four years ago that led directly to those shredded lives. WHIG had been tasked, as The Washington Post would later uncover, to portray Iraq’s supposedly imminent threat to America with “gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence.” In other words, WHIG was to cook up the sexiest recipe for promoting the war, facts be damned. So it did, by hyping the scariest possible scenario: nuclear apocalypse. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn report in “Hubris,” it was WHIG (equipped with the slick phrase-making of the White House speechwriter Michael Gerson) that gave the administration its Orwellian bumper sticker, the constantly reiterated warning that Saddam’s “smoking gun” could be “a mushroom cloud.”

Ever since all the W.M.D. claims proved false, the administration has pleaded that it was duped by the same bad intelligence everyone else saw. But the nuclear card, the most persistent and gripping weapon in the prewar propaganda arsenal, was this White House’s own special contrivance. Mr. Libby was present at its creation. He knows what Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney knew about the manufacture of this fiction and when they knew it.

Clearly they knew it early on. The administration’s guilt (or at least embarrassment) about its lies in fomenting the war quickly drove it to hide the human price being paid for those lies. (It also tried to hide the financial cost of the war by keeping it out of the regular defense budget, but that’s another, if related, story.) The steps the White House took to keep casualties out of view were extraordinary, even as it deployed troops to decorate every presidential victory rally and gave the Pentagon free rein to exploit the sacrifices of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman in mendacious P.R. stunts.

The administration’s enforcement of a prohibition on photographs of coffins returning from Iraq was the first policy manifestation of the hide-the-carnage strategy. It was complemented by the president’s decision to break with precedent, set by Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter among others, and refuse to attend military funerals, lest he lend them a media spotlight. But Mark Benjamin, who has chronicled the mistreatment of Iraq war veterans since 2003, discovered an equally concerted effort to keep injured troops off camera. Mr. Benjamin wrote in Salon in 2005 that “flights carrying the wounded arrive in the United States only at night” and that both Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda barred the press “from seeing or photographing incoming patients.”

A particularly vivid example of the extreme measures taken by the White House to cover up the war’s devastation turned up in The Washington Post’s Walter Reed exposé. Sgt. David Thomas, a Tennessee National Guard gunner with a Purple Heart and an amputated leg, found himself left off the guest list for a summer presidential ceremony honoring a fellow amputee after he said he would be wearing shorts, not pants, when occupying a front-row seat in camera range. Now we can fully appreciate that bizarre incident on C-Span in October 2003, when an anguished Cher, of all unlikely callers, phoned in to ask why administration officials, from the president down, were not being photographed with patients like those she had visited at Walter Reed. “I don’t understand why these guys are so hidden,” she said.

The answer is simple: Out of sight, out of mind was the game plan, and it has been enforced down to the tiniest instances. When HBO produced an acclaimed (and apolitical) documentary last year about military medics’ remarkable efforts to save lives in Iraq, “Baghdad ER,” Army brass at the last minute boycotted planned promotional screenings in Washington and at Fort Campbell, Ky. In a memo, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley warned that the film, though made with Army cooperation, could endanger veterans’ health by provoking symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The General Kiley who was so busy policing an HBO movie for its potential health hazards is the same one who did not correct the horrific real-life conditions on his watch at Walter Reed. After the Post exposé was published, he tried to spin it by boasting that most of the medical center’s rooms “were actually perfectly O.K.” and scapegoating “soldiers leaving food in their rooms” for the mice and cockroach infestations. That this guy is still surgeon general of the Army — or was as of Friday — makes you wonder what he, like Mr. Libby, has on his superiors.

Now that the country has seen the Congressional testimony of Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who has melted flesh where his ear once was, or watched the ABC newsman Bob Woodruff’s report on other neglected patients in military medical facilities far beyond Walter Reed, the White House cover-up of veterans’ care has collapsed, like so many other cover-ups necessitated by its conduct of this war. But the administration and its surrogates still won’t face up to their moral culpability.

Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who served with Mr. Libby on WHIG and is now on the board of his legal defense fund (its full list of donors is unknown), has been especially vocal. “Scooter didn’t do anything,” she said. “And his personal record and service are impeccable.” What Mr. Libby did — fabricating nuclear threats at WHIG and then lying under oath when he feared that sordid Pandora’s box might be pried open by the Wilson case — was despicable. Had there been no WHIG or other White House operation for drumming up fictional rationales for war, there would have been no bogus uranium from Africa in a presidential speech, no leak to commit perjury about, no amputees to shut away in filthy rooms at Walter Reed.

Listening to Ms. Matalin and her fellow apparatchiks emote publicly about the punishment being inflicted on poor Mr. Libby and his family, you wonder what world they live in. They seem clueless about how ugly their sympathy for a conniving courtier sounds against the testimony of those wounded troops and their families who bear the most searing burdens of the unnecessary war WHIG sped to market.

As is often noted, any parallels between Iraq and Vietnam do not extend to America’s treatment of its troops. No one spits at those serving in Iraq. But our “support” for the troops has often been as hypocritical as that of an administration that still fails to provide them with sufficient armor. Health care indignities, among other betrayals of returning veterans, have been reported by countless news organizations since the war began, not just this year. Many in Congress did nothing, and we as a people have often looked the other way, supporting the troops with car decals and donated phone cards while the same history repeats itself again and again.

Now the “surge” that was supposed to show results by summer is creeping inexorably into an open-ended escalation, even as Moktada al-Sadr’s militia ominously melts away, just as Iraq’s army did after the invasion in 2003, lying in wait to spring a Tet-like surprise. And still, despite Thursday’s breakthrough announcement of a credible Iraq exit blueprint by the House leadership, Congress threatens to dither. While Mr. Bush will no doubt pardon Scooter Libby without so much as a second thought, anyone else in Washington who continues to further this debacle may find it less easy to escape scot-free.

The Vanishing Neoliberal

The New York Times
March 11, 2007

On July 25, 1981, Michael Kinsley published an essay in The New Republic called “The Shame of the Democrats.” The Democratic Party, the young Kinsley wrote, is viewed “with growing indifference.” It is run “by lawyer-operators with no commitment to any particular political values.” It is filled “with politicians who will do or say anything for a word or a dollar of support.” It represents “a dwindling collection of special interest groups whose interests are less and less those of either the general populus or the tired and poor.” In short, Kinsley wrote, “the Democratic Party has collapsed not just politically but morally.”

And so began the era of neoliberalism, a movement which, at least temporarily, remade the Democratic Party, redefined American journalism and didn’t really die until now.

In the early days, the neoliberals coalesced around two small magazines, The New Republic and The Washington Monthly. They represented, first of all, a change in intellectual tone. While the old liberals could be earnest and self-righteous, the neoliberals were sprightly and lampooning. While the old liberals valued solidarity, the neoliberals loved to argue among themselves, showing off the rhetorical skills many had honed in Harvard dining halls.

On policy matters, the neoliberals were liberal but not too liberal. They rejected interest-group politics and were suspicious of brain-dead unions. They tended to be hawkish on foreign policy, positive about capitalism, reformist when it came to the welfare state, and urbane but not militant on feminism and other social issues.

The neoliberal movement begat politicians like Paul Tsongas, Al Gore (the 1980s and ’90s version) and Bill Clinton. It also set the tone for mainstream American journalism. Today, you can’t swing an ax in a major American newsroom without hitting six people who used to work at The New Republic or The Washington Monthly. Influenced by their sensibility, many major news organizations became neoliberal institutions, whether they knew it or not.

Neoliberals often have an air of perpetual youthfulness about them, but they are now in their 40s, 50s and even their 60s, and a younger generation of bloggers set off a backlash. If you surf the Web these days, for example, you find that a horde of thousands have declared war on the Time magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein’s mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but “like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late ’90s.” Drum says he’s reacting to Ken Starr, the Florida ballot fight, the Bush tax cuts, the K Street Project and the war in Iraq.

Drum and his cohort don’t want a neoliberal movement that moderates and reforms. They want a Democratic Party that fights. Their tone is much more confrontational. They want to read articles that affirm their anger. They are also further to the left, driven there by Iraq on foreign policy matters and by wage stagnation on economic matters.

For the past few years, The New Republic has tried to keep the neoliberal flame alive, under editors like Peter Beinart. But there is no longer a readership for that. The longtime owner, Marty Peretz, has sold his remaining interests and, starting this month, the magazine will go biweekly.

The new format is partly a response to the Web. The forthcoming issue has a lot of good, long, nonideological reports. (Ryan Lizza has a fascinating piece on Barack Obama’s Chicago years.) But it’s also a shift leftward. As the new editor, Frank Foer, says, there’s a generation gap within the magazine, with young interns further to the left. That’s where the future lies. Foer is hiring the Ph.D. neopopulist Thomas Frank to write essays on the presidential campaign. Recent editorials have called for tax increases to finance universal health care. The magazine now habitually calls on Democrats to take bold action on things like the war and global warming, but it’s still a little fuzzy on what that bold action should be.

Over all, what’s happening is this: The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform and coming to look more like its old, pre-neoliberal self. The right is growing more fractious. And many of those who were semiaffiliated with one party or another are drifting off to independent-land. (The Economist, their magazine, now has over 500,000 American readers — more than all the major liberal magazines combined.)

Neoliberalism had a good, interesting run — while it lasted.



Friday, March 09, 2007

Politics Lite: No Sacrifice, No Substance, No Success

The New York Times
March 10, 2007

The accepted wisdom in British political circles is that Tony Blair won three elections by giving the British voters charisma and energy unfettered by dull or controversial policies. The Tories have now taken the lesson to heart. They are fighting back with feel-good, idea-light campaigns of their own, and it seems to be working. They are now significantly ahead in the polls.

This is not just electoral strategy. Many of them believe that we live in a postideological age, that there are no great questions anymore and that there can be no new solutions for domestic poverty or problems with immigration, energy or the economy.

But why do people stand as politicians if they have no policies? Many politicians claim privately that they are simply concealing their policies until they are elected. It is more likely that when the winds of office change in their favor, they will find their faces frozen into an expression of affable inaction. The role of a modern politician is apparently to be likable, to tinker with existing institutions and to manage occasional crises.

Churchill has been replaced by Bertie Wooster.

In Iraq, hundreds of thousands have died over the last few years and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by the U.S.-led coalition. The international system is fractured; the Islamic world is angry. Yet both major British political parties still refuse to admit the problem and instead tweak the current mission: withdraw some troops from Iraq, put a few more in Afghanistan.

A million people took to London’s streets to stop the invasion. Thirty million now think we should withdraw from Iraq. Whatever the correct policy, there should be a fierce practical and ideological political debate. But it is not happening in Parliament.

Even though Britain is in a crisis, its other major policy issues seem to be approached with the same complacency. In many parts of the country, Asian Muslim and white communities live separate lives; people shun each other at school and in the streets and defend themselves in gangs.

This very wealthy country has pockets of shameful poverty. I have encountered a level of random hostility, aggression and bitterness in Scottish public housing that I have never seen in an Afghan village. British “civilization” is as tainted by this inequity as Rome by the Colosseum.

The Labor Party continues to invest in child poverty, but three weeks ago a U.N. agency ranked Britain 18th out of 18 rich countries in a study of children’s well-being. (The United States was 17th.) Islamist terror is answered with unprecedented levels of money and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and comparatively little investment in intelligence and security, community relations and politics at home.

In Kabul I work with a local government councilor called Aziz, who was a champion wrestler. For 40 years, he has dealt with war, pogroms and government. He is assessed by members of his community on whether he is generous to the poor, courageous even in the face of death, a powerful representative of their interests and able to keep his promises. He and they believe that leadership is an exercise in moral virtue and courage, that politics should be a noble profession and politicians virtuous. A British voter might think that is naïve. But I believe Aziz is right.

It is patronizing to assume that voters can’t handle demanding, imaginative and risky policies. More Britons voted for the contestants on the TV programs “Big Brother” and “Pop Idol” last year than in the national elections. But the way to persuade people to vote is to make politics less, not more, like “Big Brother.”

We are as reluctant to acknowledge the popularity of the Taliban as we are to acknowledge poverty in Glasgow. We are as reluctant to believe in the Iraqis’ ability to build a nation without us as we are to believe that our citizens will make sacrifices to prevent global warming. Courage, honesty about problems and faith in the population is as necessary domestically as it is abroad. Our failure in these areas explains our hubristic confidence internationally and our cynicism and lack of ambition at home.


Rory Stewart’s latest book is “The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.” He runs the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Kabul and is a guest columnist this month. Maureen Dowd is on leave.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Department of Injustice

The New York Times
March 9, 2007

For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.

The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.

Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.

In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate.

For now, the nation’s focus is on the eight federal prosecutors fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. In January, Mr. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that he “would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons.” But it’s already clear that he did indeed dismiss all eight prosecutors for political reasons — some because they wouldn’t use their offices to provide electoral help to the G.O.P., and the others probably because they refused to soft-pedal investigations of corrupt Republicans.

In the last few days we’ve also learned that Republican members of Congress called prosecutors to pressure them on politically charged cases, even though doing so seems unethical and possibly illegal.

The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.

Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.

How can this have been happening without a national uproar? The authors explain: “We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-statewide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest.”

And let’s not forget that Karl Rove’s candidates have a history of benefiting from conveniently timed federal investigations. Last year Molly Ivins reminded her readers of a curious pattern during Mr. Rove’s time in Texas: “In election years, there always seemed to be an F.B.I. investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. After the election was over, the allegations often vanished.”

Fortunately, Mr. Rove’s smear-and-fear tactics fell short last November. I say fortunately, because without Democrats in control of Congress, able to hold hearings and issue subpoenas, the prosecutor purge would probably have become yet another suppressed Bush-era scandal — a huge abuse of power that somehow never became front-page news.

Before the midterm election, I wrote that what the election was really about could be summed up in two words: subpoena power. Well, the Democrats now have that power, and the hearings on the prosecutor purge look like the shape of things to come.

In the months ahead, we’ll hear a lot about what’s really been going on these past six years. And I predict that we’ll learn about abuses of power that would have made Richard Nixon green with envy.

Lift the Curtain

The New York Times
March 8, 2007

Neglect, incompetence, indifference, lies.

Why in the world is anyone surprised that the Bush administration has not been taking good care of wounded and disabled American troops?

Real-life human needs have never been a priority of this administration. The evidence is everywhere — from the mind-bending encounter with the apocalypse in Baghdad, to the ruined residential neighborhoods in New Orleans, to the anxious families in homes across America who are offering tearful goodbyes to loved ones heading off to yet another pointless tour in Iraq.

The trial and conviction of Scooter Libby opened the window wide on the twisted values and priorities of the hawkish operation in the vice president’s office. No worry about the troops there.

And President Bush has always given the impression that he is more interested in riding his bicycle at the ranch in Texas than in taking care of his life and death responsibilities around the world.

That whistling sound you hear is the wind blowing across the emptiness of the administration’s moral landscape.

U.S. troops have been treated like trash since the beginning of Mr. Bush’s catastrophic adventure in Iraq. Have we already forgotten that soldier from the Tennessee National Guard who dared to ask Donald Rumsfeld why the troops had to go scrounging in landfills for “hillbilly armor” — scrap metal — to protect their vehicles from roadside bombs?

Fellow soldiers cheered when the question was raised, and others asked why they were being sent into combat with antiquated equipment. The defense secretary was not amused. “You go to war with the Army you have,” he callously replied, “not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Have we forgotten that while most Americans have sacrificed zilch for this war, the mostly uncomplaining soldiers and marines are being sent into the combat zones for two, three and four tours? Multiple combat tours are an unconscionable form of Russian roulette that heightens the chances of a warrior being killed or maimed.

In the old days, these troops would have been referred to as cannon fodder. However you want to characterize them now, their casually unfair treatment is an expression of the belief that they are expendable.

The Washington Post has performed an important public service by shining a spotlight on the contemptible treatment that some soldiers received as outpatients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The series has already prompted Congressional hearings, and the president climbed off his bicycle long enough to appoint the requisite commission. The question is whether Congress and the public can be roused to take action on behalf of the troops.

It’s not just the indifference and incompetence of the administration that are causing the troops so much unnecessary suffering. The simple truth is that the Bush crowd, busy trying to hide the costs of the president’s $2 trillion tragedy in Iraq, can’t find the money to pay for all the care that’s needed by the legions of wounded and mentally disabled troops who are coming home. The outpatient fiasco at Walter Reed is just one aspect of a vast superstructure of suffering.

The military is overextended and falling apart. Equipment worn out or destroyed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has to be replaced. The perennial, all-consuming appetite of the military-industrial complex has to be satisfied. And now, here comes that endless line of wounded men and women, some of them disabled for life.

How is all of this to be paid for?

The administration has tried its best to keep the reality of the war away from the public at large, to keep as much of the carnage as possible behind the scenes. No pictures of the coffins coming home. Limited media access to Walter Reed.

That protective curtain needs to be stripped away, exposing the enormity of this catastrophe for all to see.

I remember walking the quiet, manicured grounds of Walter Reed on an unauthorized visit and seeing the young men and women moving about in wheelchairs or on crutches. Some were missing two and three limbs. All had suffered grievously.

There is something profoundly evil about a country encouraging young men and women to go off and fight its wars and then shortchanging them on medical care and other forms of assistance when they come back with wounds that will haunt them forever.

That’s something most Americans never thought their country would do.



A Sao Paulo's military police agent clubs a demonstrator during a protest against the visit of George W. Bush, in the main avenue of the Brazil's economic capital. Bush was due in Brazil Thursday on the first leg of a Latin American tour to promote "dumbocrazy" and "killer crapitalism", amid protests around the region and a counter-trip by his arch foe--& Champion of the Workingclass--Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.(AFP/Antonio Scorza)


Police thugs attack demonstrators during a protest against the upcoming visit of war criminal & twice-illegitimately installed US President George W. Bush in Sao Paulo, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Bush will visit Brazil March 8-9. (AP Photo/Maurilio Cheli)


(& if you’re against them you won’t last long…)

Sao Paulo riot police agents arrest anti-Bush demonstrators. AFP/Evaristo Sa)

My Very Own Juror

The New York Times
March 8, 2007

When the Scooter Libby trial ended, the media was found guilty. By the media. Which likes to obsess on itself. In the media.

The press gave short shrift to poor Scooter, whose downfall came from doing Dick Cheney’s bidding with “canine loyalty,” as Chris Matthews told Don Imus yesterday morning. Scooter’s facing hard time, even though others in the administration also spread the word about Valerie Plame.

But let’s get back to the media decrying the media, and the incestuous Beltway relationship between journalists and sources. Listening to all the lamentations, I excitedly realized I had a potentially incestuous relationship with a source inside the Beltway.

I went to Nativity grade school in D.C. with Juror No. 9, Denis Collins. I had an unrequited crush on his brother when I was in seventh grade. His dad was my dad’s lawyer, and both were Irish immigrants. My brother Kevin coached his brother Kevin in touch football. Our moms were in the Sodality together. His mom once chastised me for chatting up a little boy in church. We started in journalism together, Denis at The Washington Post as a sportswriter and Metro reporter, and me at The Washington Star as a sportswriter and Metro reporter.

This was a sure thing. I could get him to come over to my house and spill all the secrets of the jury that had convicted the highest-ranking White House official to be found guilty on a felony since Iran-contra days.

Unfortunately, Denis spilled them on the way over. By the time he got to my house, he was already so overexposed he announced, “I’m sick of hearing myself talk.”

From the moment he stepped out of the courthouse and into the press mob in his green Eddie Bauer jacket, Denis became the unofficial jury spokesman, bouncing from Larry King to Anderson Cooper and “Good Morning America.” I thought there still might be enough jury dish for me until I heard him say “Huffington Post blog.”

“Blogs are the future, right?” he said, explaining that he’d already posted his diary of adventures in federal court — right down to our incestuous Catholic past, which came up in the voir dire, when he also mentioned living across the alley from Tim Russert and working at The Post for Bob Woodward, and his nonfiction book about spying and the C.I.A.

“I was the perfect storm,” he said. Instead of me milking him for information, he tried to milk me for information. He asked about the pitfalls of being in a media maelstrom.

“Somebody called me up today and said: ‘Turn on Rush Limbaugh. He’s saying terrible things about you.’ ”

I empathized. One of my brothers always used to call Mom and tell her: “Turn on Rush Limbaugh. He’s saying terrible things about Maureen.”

Also, Denis’s wife, Pam, told him gleefully that someone on TV was making fun of his jacket. “Somebody said, ‘What’s with the green coat? It looks like something he got in high school.’ ” I asked him if he’d used any lessons from the nuns. “Accountability,” he said. “Do the right thing or get whacked over your head with the bell by Sister Mary Karen.”

Was Scooter’s fall Shakespearean? “He’s too many steps away from the king,” he said. “One of the jurors said, ‘He was too busy looking out for No. 1; he should have been looking out for No. 2 and then he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.’ One of the witnesses told us that Libby spent more time with Cheney than he did with his own wife and kids.”

What did the jurors think of Scooter’s wife? “Well, the alleged wife,” Denis corrected me. This was a very skeptical jury, then?

“We didn’t know anything about her,” he said, adding: “I said, ‘So, that’s Scooter Libby’s wife?’ and another juror jokingly said, ‘Do you have any evidence?’ ” So the jurors began calling her “the alleged wife.”

Like a good Catholic boy, he noted that the people who put “the longest nails in Libby’s hands were not reporters — they were people who worked for the government.”

I asked him how he would feel if W. pardoned Scooter.

“I would really not care,” he replied. “I feel like the damage has been done in terms of his reputation and the administration’s reputation.”

And what about the calls for Dick Cheney to resign or get the boot?

“Here’s the thing: Libby followed Cheney’s instructions to go talk to reporters, but there’s no evidence at all that Cheney told him to lie about it. So the question is, was Libby just kind of inept at getting this story out?”

Denis had to leave. He said he felt as if he were “coming out of a tunnel.” I just felt happy to have a hot source — even if I had to share him with the whole Beltway.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Washington jury convicts top Cheney aide of four felonies

By Patrick Martin
7 March 2007

The conviction of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis Libby is the first case in which a top Bush administration has been found criminally culpable for lies related to the war in Iraq, but it should not be the last. A Washington jury handed down the guilty verdicts on four counts Tuesday, after ten days of deliberation.

Libby, once one of the most powerful figures in the Bush White House and a leading instigator of the war in Iraq, was found guilty of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and one count of making false statements to a grand jury. He was acquitted of a single count of making false statements to the FBI.

The four convictions could bring combined sentences of as long as 20 years, but federal sentencing guidelines suggest that Libby could receive as little as one or two years in prison on each charge, to be served concurrently, since he will be treated as a first-time offender. Sentencing has been set for June 5, but Libby’s attorneys said they would seek a retrial or appeal the verdict, a process that could delay any jail time until the end of 2008, when Bush presumably would issue a presidential pardon.

Far more important than Libby’s individual fate is what the case reveals about the methods of the Bush administration. Libby was convicted of obstructing justice—i.e., he lied in order to block the investigation by a federal grand jury into the leaking of the name of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. Her name was leaked to columnist Robert Novak, who made it public July 14, 2003, eight days after her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly attacked the Bush administration in an op-ed column in the New York Times. Wilson revealed that Bush had lied in his 2003 State of the Union speech, which included the claim, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

After CIA officials pressed for an investigation into the leak, citing the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes deliberate exposure of a covert agent a felony crime, the Justice Department appointed Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney in Chicago, as a special prosecutor. Fitzgerald was quickly informed by then deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage that he had told Novak that Plame worked at the CIA, and White House political adviser Karl Rove subsequently admitted being the second source for Novak’s column.

It had long been thought that Fitzgerald’s investigation was focused on making a case against Rove, and Wilson himself expressed the hope that he would one day see Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. What became clear in the course of the trial, however, is that the prosecutor’s focus was not only Rove—who ultimately was not indicted—but Vice President Cheney.

The trial testimony portrayed Cheney as the moving force in the White House campaign to vilify Wilson and expose his wife’s employment—both to cheapen Wilson’s credibility with the suggestion that his trip to Niger was a case of nepotism, as well as to punish him by putting an end to his wife’s career as a covert agent.

Libby’s defense attorneys argued that he had not been lying when he denied leaking Plame’s name to several reporters and claimed to have learned about her CIA status from NBC journalist Tim Russert. They insisted that he had merely forgotten the details of a relatively minor affair because he was preoccupied with much weightier matters of counterterrorism and the course of the war in Iraq.

Numerous witnesses testified, however, that Cheney and Libby were preoccupied with the political damage being done by Wilson. The two men repeatedly discussed how to combat public criticism of the war and hatched elaborate scenarios for political counterattacks, including selective leaks of classified information to journalists who could be relied on to put out the administration’s version of events.

Fitzgerald introduced notes hand-written by Cheney dictating how the anti-Wilson campaign was to be conducted, and then later, expressing concern that other White House officials were allowing Libby to take the blame for the leak.

In this context, it was highly doubtful that a jury would accept the “forgetfulness” argument, and at least one juror who spoke to the press after the verdict was issued said that, given the fact that Libby was told about Plame at least nine times by Cheney and CIA and State Department officials, “it seemed very unlikely that he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson.”

The juror, Denis Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, said that he and other jurors would have like to hear from Rove and Cheney, originally considered potential defense witnesses in the case, but not called by Libby’s lawyers, in a decision that surprised the judge and prosecutors.

“I will say there was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury,” Collins told the press afterwards. “It was said a number of times, ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?’” He continued, “I’m not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of. It seemed like he was . . . the fall guy.”

The verdict handed down by this jury, which was heavily vetted during the selection process to exclude virtually all minorities and anyone expressing serious opposition to the Iraq war, is a telling indication of the extreme political isolation of the Bush administration.

As the WSWS noted in a February 15 article, “Is there a Bush pardon in Lewis Libby’s future? Cheney aide abruptly ends defense in perjury trial”, the decision of the defense to rest its case without calling Cheney, Rove or Libby himself amounted to conceding conviction—with the expectation that so long as Libby protected Cheney and covered up his role in the campaign to destroy the Wilsons, he could look forward to a presidential pardon that would allow him to escape any legal consequences for his actions.

In his closing argument—although not reported in the press until after the guilty verdict—Fitzgerald specifically singled out Cheney’s role, declaring that “a shadow hangs over the vice president’s office.” But in comments to the press after the jury verdict, Fitzgerald downplayed the prospects of any additional charges. “We’re all going back to our day jobs,” he said, indicating that there will be no effort to use the conviction to “flip” Libby and induce him to testify against Cheney, or even Bush himself.

The White House maintained the response it has given to all questions on the Plame/Wilson affair since the Justice Department investigation first began. There would be no discussion of the matter because it was an ongoing criminal case. This stance has no legal justification and would, in a different political environment, be denounced as stonewalling. Deputy press secretary Dana Perino even claimed “I would not agree” with suggestions that four felony convictions for a top White House aide was politically embarrassing. She dismissed questions about a pardon for Libby as “wildly hypothetical.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the verdict and called on Bush to pledge not to pardon Libby. “It’s about time someone in the Bush Administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics,” he said. But the Democrats share responsibility for both the unprovoked aggression against Iraq and the campaign of propaganda lies used to justify the war. Any genuine investigation into the launching of this criminal war would find prominent Democrats like Reid and Hillary Clinton in the dock side-by-side with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

While the Fitzgerald investigation has been effectively ended, the legal conflict over the Plame/Wilson affair could still produce wider effects. Plame and Wilson filed a civil lawsuit last July against Libby, Cheney and Rove, charging them with violating their rights to free speech, privacy and equal protection under the law by conspiring to expose Plame’s CIA identity. This lawsuit has been delayed while the criminal case proceeded. Once it becomes an active case—assuming a Bush-friendly judge does not dismiss it arbitrarily—the plaintiffs will have discovery rights to subpoena testimony and documents about the decision-making process that led to the disclosure of Plame’s covert status.

See Also:

Is there a Bush pardon in Lewis Libby’s future? Cheney aide abruptly ends defense in perjury trial [15 February 2007]

The Libby perjury trial and the Washington media establishment [3 February 2007]

Libby perjury trial puts spotlight on US Vice President Cheney [31 January 2007]

Bush mouths support for “social justice” while asserting US interests in Latin America

By Bill Van Auken
7 March 2007

In a speech delivered on the eve of his trip to Latin America this week, US President George W. Bush cast his administration as a champion of “social justice” in the region. This hypocritical posturing is designed to conceal the real agenda of the American president’s tour, which is to reassert US imperialism’s power in its “own backyard” and to counter growing popular unrest that threatens its strategic interests.

The Wall Street Journal cited White House aides as saying that Bush’s rhetoric was part of an “effort to demonstrate his sensitivity to the region’s poverty as well as its potential.” The paper added bluntly, “Bush is trying to counter a rise in leftist sentiment symbolized by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.”

The paper was referring to the series of elections last year that brought candidates espousing various forms of left nationalism and populism to power in a series of countries, ranging from Chavez himself, elected to a third term in Venezuela, to Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. A year earlier, Evo Morales was elected in Bolivia.

While all of these figures—as well those identified by the US political establishment as the more “responsible left,” Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet—defend capitalism, they have also been forced to distance themselves, at least rhetorically, from the policies promoted by Washington. The election of such figures and the wholesale repudiation of traditional US allies on the Latin American right reflect growing radicalization among masses of working people throughout the continent.

Bush’s five-nation, six-day tour will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Demonstrations against the US president have already been organized in every one of these countries. In Mexico, talks between Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are being held in Merida, the capital of Yucatan, in a transparent attempt to avoid the massive popular protests that would inevitably confront the two in Mexico City.

The Bush administration has come under fire from both ruling circles in Latin America and from within the political establishment in the US itself for largely “neglecting” a region that had been considered a US sphere of influence for over a century. Critics have blamed this inattention on the administration’s overwhelming concentration on its increasingly crisis-ridden wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the meantime, America’s economic rivals in Asia and Europe have steadily increased their own interests and influence in the region. The European Union more than doubled its trade figures with Latin America as a whole between 1990 and 2005, and is today the largest trading partner with the Mercosur trade bloc—Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay—as well as with Chile. For its part, China’s trade with the region soared by 500 percent between 2000 and 2005, topping $50 billion. President Hu Jintao has toured of the region, signing $100 billion worth of investment deals, as burgeoning Chinese capitalism seeks to secure supplies of strategic raw materials ranging from Venezuelan oil to Chilean copper and Brazilian iron ore.

In his speech Monday to the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Bush signaled what the administration itself, echoed by the media, is promoting as a “new approach.”

Peppering his remarks with brief phrases in Spanish, Bush praised the countries of the region for making “great strides toward freedom and prosperity” and for adopting “fiscal policies that bring stability.”

“Yet, despite the advances,” he continued “tens of millions in our hemisphere remain stuck in poverty, and shut off from the promises of the new century. My message to those trabajadores y campesinos [workers and small farmers] is, you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight.”

In reality, of course, Bush is promoting the same economic and social agenda, labeled in the 1990s as the Washington Consensus, which landed hundreds of millions in this plight. This “free market” prescription entailed opening up national markets to unrestricted penetration by foreign capital combined with the wholesale privatization of state-owned enterprises and the drastic slashing of state spending on social welfare. The result of this global policy—not only in Latin America, but internationally, including in the US itself—has been the unprecedented growth of social inequality, as vast resources have been transferred directly into the coffers of a financial aristocracy.

Aside from his phony words of sympathy for the conditions facing Latin America’s working people, Bush has relatively little to offer. In his speech in Washington, he touted a hodge-podge of minor aid programs, ranging from English language classes to a goodwill tour by a US Navy medical ship. In sum, these initiatives amount to less than a drop in the bucket compared to the social devastation that has been wrought throughout the region as a result of US-backed economic policies.

In advance of the trip, Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, denied any “neglect” of Latin America on the administration’s part, boasting at a press briefing that Washington had doubled aid to the region since taking office. A closer examination of the $1.6 billion total aid figure, however, reveals that the lion’s share of this money is going to fund military assistance programs and the so-called war on drugs, with Colombia by far the biggest recipient.

Bush’s first top on the tour is Sao Paulo, the financial and industrial capital of Brazil, where he will meet with Lula. The two are supposed to sign a memorandum to promote the production of ethanol as a renewable alternative fuel. The US administration is also interested in securing Brazilian collaboration in suppressing popular upheavals in the region. Lula’s government has already provided the main military forces for the occupation of Haiti in the wake of the US-orchestrated ouster of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and subsequent invasion of the Caribbean nation.

Having failed in its attempt to impose its goal of a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, the administration is attempting to forge a series of bilateral sub-regional pacts, often with less success than the European Union. This is the purpose of his visit to Uruguay, the continent’s smallest Spanish-speaking country, with a population of little more than 3 million people.

Earlier this year, Uruguay signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the US. Washington sees expanding these ties as a potential wedge to weaken the Mercosur trading bloc, which the administration views as an impediment to its own aims of reasserting American capitalist hegemony in the region.

The next two stops of the trip will bring Bush to Colombia and Guatemala, two countries whose right-wing, pro-US governments have been rocked by recent scandals involving death squads and political repression.

Since 2000, Washington has poured some $5 billion into “Plan Colombia,” a combination of drug eradication and counterinsurgency operations that has led to a deepening of the country’s civil war and the internal displacement of some 3 million people. The current budget calls for the appropriation of another $600 million for the coming year, 80 percent of it destined for forces of repression.

A mounting scandal has implicated officials and allies of the right-wing government of President Alvaro Uribe—often touted by Washington as a champion of democracy—to paramilitary militias and death squads, which are responsible for the bulk of the bloodshed that the country has suffered in recent years. Paramilitary leaders who have turned themselves in have made detailed confessions of how they conducted torture, assassinations, kidnappings and massacres with full cooperation from the country’s military, police and political elite.

The so-called “para-politics” crisis has seen eight of Uribe’s supporters in the national legislature arrested for paramilitary ties. Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Consejo Áraújo was forced to resign after her brother, a Colombian senator, was named as a collaborator of the death squads, and implicated, together with her father, in the kidnapping of a political rival.

Wading through still more blood, Bush will fly on to Guatemala, where the government has been rocked by a string of savage killings involving death squads in the national security forces. Three weeks ago, policemen carried out the brutal murder of three Salvadoran lawmakers, who were participating in a Central American parliament, together with their driver. They burned them alive in their vehicle. The three lawmakers were all members of El Salvador’s right-wing ARENA party, and included the son of its founder, the death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson.

Four cops were arrested in connection with this brutal killing and placed in a maximum security prison, where they themselves were executed, reportedly by a group of heavily armed men who “stormed” the jail, passing without hindrance through multiple check points.

The events led UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Anders Kompass to describe Guatemala—a favored US ally—as a “failed and collapsed state” due to the total impunity enjoyed by violent and corrupt security forces. Trained and funded by the US, these forces were responsible during decades of Washington-backed dictatorships for the slaughter of over 200,000 impoverished peasants and workers. Now, they are fully integrated into drug trafficking and organized crime.

This is the legacy throughout Central America of the dirty wars fought by the CIA and the Pentagon with the aim of suppressing popular revolt in the region. With the recent appointment of former director of national intelligence John Negroponte as deputy secretary of state, the elaboration of US foreign policy in Latin America as a whole has been placed under the direct supervision of one of the key architects of the bloodbath that was carried out in Central America in the 1980s.

Bush’s final stop, on March 13 and 14, will be Mexico, where he is expected to talk with Calderon on the abortive attempts to legislate a US immigration “reform” as well as drug trafficking and trade issues.

Behind the rather far-fetched attempts by Bush and his administration to feign humanitarian concern for the social inequality and grim poverty that the Washington’s own policies have wrought in Latin America, US goals in the region are no different than they are in the Middle East and Central Asia—securing American hegemony over key strategic resources and markets.

In the end, the methods that they are prepared to use in pursuing these goals are also fundamentally the same. In a little noted “America’s Energy Conference” held in Florida last summer, this was spelled out by the chief of the military’s US Southern Command, Gen. John Craddock.

“Energy, production, exploration and transport is pivotal to the economic well-being of the region, and, as a military commander, I foresee that given the uneven global distribution and use patterns of energy, future conflicts will be increasingly motivated by this critical resource,” declared the general.

The significance of these remarks is unmistakable: despite the drastically weakened position of US imperialism in the region and the debacles it has suffered in the Middle East, planning for Iraq-style wars and occupations in Latin America is already well advanced.

See Also:

Hugo Chávez, Marx and the “Bolivarism” of the twenty-first century [12 February 2007]

The significance of Venezuela’s and Ecuador’s nationalizations [18 January 2007]

Rafael Correa declared new president of Ecuador [7 December 2006]

Abe Lincoln's Antiwar Record

By Eric Foner
The Nation
March 7, 2007

An old marketing adage states that no product exists whose sales cannot be improved by associating it with Abraham Lincoln. The same seems to be true in politics. As Congress debated resolutions condemning the escalation of the Iraq War, the remaining supporters of George W. Bush's Iraq policy invoked Lincoln to tar the war's opponents with the brush of treason. But this reflects a complete misunderstanding of Lincoln's record.

The latest example of the misuse of Lincoln came in a February 13 article in the Washington Times by conservative writer Frank Gaffney. Gaffney quoted Lincoln as declaring that wartime Congressmen who "damage morale and undermine the military" should be "exiled or hanged." Glenn Greenwald, on Salon, quickly pointed out that the "quote," which has circulated for the past few years in conservative circles, is a fabrication. (Conservative use of invented Lincoln statements is nothing new -- Ronald Reagan used a series of them in a speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention. But today, when Lincoln's entire works are online and easily searchable, there is no possible excuse for invoking fraudulent quotations.)

Greenwald did not point out that Lincoln's record as a member of Congress during the Mexican War utterly refutes the conservative effort to appropriate his legacy. Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives in 1846, shortly after President James Polk invaded Mexico when that country refused his demand to sell California to the United States. Polk falsely claimed that he was responding to a Mexican invasion.

Shortly before Lincoln's term in Congress began, he attended a speech in Lexington, Kentucky, by his political idol Senator Henry Clay. "This is no war of defense," Clay declared in a blistering attack on Polk, "but one of unnecessary and offensive aggression." A month later, Lincoln introduced a set of resolutions challenging Polk's contention that Mexico had shed American blood on American soil and voted for a statement, approved by the House, that declared the war "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President."

Clay and Lincoln objected as strenuously as any member of Congress today to a war launched by a President on fabricated grounds. When Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, defended the President's right to invade another country if he considered it threatening, Lincoln sent a devastating reply. Herndon, he claimed, would allow a President "to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect. ... If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him?" The Constitution, he went on, gave the "war-making power" to Congress precisely to prevent Presidents from starting wars while "pretending ... that the good of the people was the object."

Like Bush, Lincoln spoke of the United States as a beacon of liberty, an example to the world of the virtues of democracy. But he rejected the idea of American aggression in the name of freedom. He included in an 1859 speech a biting satire of "Young America," a group of writers and politicians who glorified territorial aggrandizement. Young America, he remarked, "owns a large part of the world, by right of possessing it; and all the rest by right of wanting it, and intending to have it. ... He is a great friend of humanity; and his desire for land is not selfish, but merely an impulse to extend the area of freedom. He is very anxious to fight for the liberation of enslaved nations and colonies, provided, always, they have land." Substitute "oil" for "land" and the statement seems eerily relevant in the early twenty-first century.

Conservatives should think twice before invoking Lincoln's words, real or invented, in the cause of the Iraq War and before equating condemnations of Bush's policies and usurpations with treason.

Think Naughty, Think Small, Think Not

The New York Times
March 7, 2007

Ann Coulter’s use of the epithet “faggot” to slur Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards last week took me back to the schoolyards of the 1970s, when Coulter and I were both young.

There were plenty of words like “faggot” being thrown around back then. There was “faggoty,” for example. “Retard.” And “spaz” — or “total spaz,” the rhythm of which rang through her words last year, when Coulter dismissed Al Gore on MSNBC as a “total fag.”

The world of playground insults hasn’t altered much since Coulter’s schooldays, but the larger world has changed a bit. She made her remarks during a major gathering of conservatives in Washington that drew most of the major Republican presidential candidates, and commentators of the left, right and center soundly denounced her.

Even Michelle Malkin, Coulter’s fellow pinup girl on the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute’s 2007 “Great American Conservative Women” calendar, blasted her words as “rhetorical fragging” and a “tired old schtick.”

We shouldn’t be content, though, to let it go at that.

Leaving the issue of not-so-latent homophobia aside — dwelling upon it, in this context, is a matter of shooting ducks in a barrel — what I found particularly shocking in Coulter’s comments was their studied juvenility, the sheer idiocy of their language. “Faggot” and “total fag,” like other political pearls of our time — such as “bring it on” and “girlie men” — are just epoch-making in their stupidity. In fact, they sound like lines out of Mike Judge’s 2006 film “Idiocracy,” a political satire that I rented a few months ago and can’t seem to get out of my mind.

In “Idiocracy,” a man the Pentagon has chosen for his perfectly average intelligence is sent into the future and finds the America of 500 years hence inhabited by people so grotesquely moronic that they can barely grunt utterances greater than “Man, whatever!”

Those future Americans have, however, held on to a full arsenal of obscenities and repeatedly tell the hero, who speaks in full sentences, “You talk like a fag.” As the film plays out, it’s the People vs. the Fag — the very dynamic that Coulter establishes when she connects to her audience via their inner 13-year-olds.

All this led me this week to think of Frank Luntz, the hot political consultant and wordsmith who wrote the lyrics for the 1994 Republican revolution. In his new book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” Luntz puts forth the argument that using the “uplifting, ennobling tone” of famed political scribes like Ted Sorenson and Peggy Noonan is not the best way to capture the attention of Americans today. Instead, to communicate with the people — the real people of “small town, middle America” — and to speak straight to their hearts, minds and entrails, you’ve got to put “yourself right into your listener’s shoes.”

In other words, think small. “Use Small Words” is Rule 1 of his strategy for successful communication. Rule 2: “Use Short Sentences.”

Luntz has a doctorate from Oxford; Coulter has degrees from Cornell and the University of Michigan Law School. Conservatives generally like to run with the idea that liberals are elitists, living “in a world of only Malibu and East Hampton,” as Coulter’s recent blog posting on the “crock” of global warming put it. But isn’t there something elitist, if not wrong, I wondered aloud to Luntz, about condescending to — or coddling or enabling — the imagined verbal limitations of the less-educated “other”?

Luntz did not much appreciate the question.

“It’s not condescending — it’s pandering,” he said of Coulter’s most recent performance. “Everything about the book says what she did was not just wrong but reprehensible. Those aren’t words that work. She broke every rule.”

“God, I really hate it every time she speaks,” he fumed. And, he added, if I were to even think of mentioning him in the same breath as her, “I will really, seriously raise hell.”

At a Conservative Women’s Network lunch at the Heritage Foundation last week, a question was raised, over dessert, about how conservative women should deal, “as women,” if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination for president. The guest speaker, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer in Washington, hemmed and hawed, shared some thoughts about Wellesley College and Barbara Bush, blushed, then concluded, “We’ll let the redneck guys who just aren’t ready to vote for a female commander in chief take care of the woman thing.”

Sounds like a plan. Sounds to me, too, like the Republican noise machine may just have a monkey wrench in its machinery.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Know, Don’t Help

The New York Times
March 7, 2007

I haven’t kept count, but it seems to me that the number of times I’ve seen President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney give speeches about the Iraq war using smiling soldiers as their backdrops have been, well, countless. You’d think that an administration that has been so quick to exploit soldiers as props — whether it was to declare “Mission Accomplished” on an naval vessel or to silence critics by saying their words might endanger soldiers in battle — would have been equally quick to spare no expense in caring for those injured in the fight.

The squalid living conditions and red tape that have been inflicted on some recovering Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed hospital and elsewhere — which have been spotlighted by The Washington Post — are shocking in their detail, but not surprising. They are one more manifestation — like insufficient troops, postwar planning and armor — of a war that was really important to get right but really hard, which the Bush team thought was really important and would be really easy.

Mr. Bush summoned the country to D-Day and prepared the Army, the military health system, military industries and the American people for the invasion of Grenada.

From the start, the Bush team has tried to keep the Iraq war “off the books” both financially and emotionally. As Larry Diamond of Stanford’s Hoover Institution said to me: “America is not at war. The U.S. Army is at war.” The rest of us are just watching, or just ignoring, while the whole fight is carried on by 150,000 soldiers and their families.

In an interview last Jan. 16, Jim Lehrer asked President Bush why, if the war on terrorism was so overwhelmingly important, he had never asked more Americans “to sacrifice something.” Mr. Bush gave the most unbelievable answer: “Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.”

Sacrifice peace of mind watching TV? What kind of crazy thing is that to say? Leadership is about enabling and inspiring people to contribute in time of war so the enemy has to fight all of us — not insulating the public so the enemy has to fight only a few of us.

If you want to compare President Bush in this regard with Presidents Roosevelt or Wilson, pick up a copy of Robert Hormats’s soon-to-be-published book: “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.”

“In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,” said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International). He quotes Roosevelt’s 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: “War costs money. ... That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an ‘all-out’ war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.”

Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way? After Pearl Harbor, Mr. Hormats noted, Roosevelt vowed to mobilize U.S. industry to produce enough weapons so we would have a “crushing superiority” in arms over our enemies. Four years after the start of the Iraq war, this administration has still not equipped all our soldiers with the armor they need.

As retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton pointed out, last year, because of spending in Iraq, the Army had a $530 million budget shortfall for posts, so facilities got squeezed. If Americans had been asked to pay a small tax to fill that gap, they would have overwhelmingly checked that box. They would have also paid a “Patriot Tax” of 50 cents a gallon to raise the money and diminish our dependence on oil. But no one asked them to do anything other than “sacrifice peace of mind.”

If you want to help and don’t want to wait for the White House bugle, here are some places to start: (1) Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes (, (2) the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (, (3) the Fisher Houses ( and (4) the Walter Reed Society ( And one I know personally from my hometown, Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund (

We can get just about everything wrong in Iraq, and pretty much have, but we’ve got to take first-class care of those who’ve carried the burden of this war. It’s that simple.

The Must-Do List

New York Times Editorial
March 4, 2007

The Bush administration’s assault on some of the founding principles of American democracy marches onward despite the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections. The new Democratic majorities in Congress can block the sort of noxious measures that the Republican majority rubber-stamped. But preventing new assaults on civil liberties is not nearly enough.

Five years of presidential overreaching and Congressional collaboration continue to exact a high toll in human lives, America’s global reputation and the architecture of democracy. Brutality toward prisoners, and the denial of their human rights, have been institutionalized; unlawful spying on Americans continues; and the courts are being closed to legal challenges of these practices.

It will require forceful steps by this Congress to undo the damage. A few lawmakers are offering bills intended to do just that, but they are only a start. Taking on this task is a moral imperative that will show the world the United States can be tough on terrorism without sacrificing its humanity and the rule of law.

Today we’re offering a list — which, sadly, is hardly exhaustive — of things that need to be done to reverse the unwise and lawless policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Many will require a rewrite of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, an atrocious measure pushed through Congress with the help of three Republican senators, Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham and John McCain; Senator McCain lent his moral authority to improving one part of the bill and thus obscured its many other problems.

Our list starts with three fundamental tasks:

Restore Habeas Corpus

One of the new act’s most indecent provisions denies anyone Mr. Bush labels an “illegal enemy combatant” the ancient right to challenge his imprisonment in court. The arguments for doing this were specious. Habeas corpus is nothing remotely like a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrorists, as supporters would have you believe. It is a way to sort out those justly detained from those unjustly detained. It will not “clog the courts,” as Senator Graham claims. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has a worthy bill that would restore habeas corpus. It is essential to bringing integrity to the detention system and reviving the United States’ credibility.

Stop Illegal Spying

Mr. Bush’s program of intercepting Americans’ international calls and e-mail messages without a warrant has not ceased. The agreement announced recently — under which a secret court supposedly gave its blessing to the program — did nothing to restore judicial process or ensure that Americans’ rights are preserved. Congress needs to pass a measure, like one proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, to force Mr. Bush to obey the law that requires warrants for electronic surveillance.

Ban Torture, Really

The provisions in the Military Commissions Act that Senator McCain trumpeted as a ban on torture are hardly that. It is still largely up to the president to decide what constitutes torture and abuse for the purpose of prosecuting anyone who breaks the rules. This amounts to rewriting the Geneva Conventions and puts every American soldier at far greater risk if captured. It allows the president to decide in secret what kinds of treatment he will permit at the Central Intelligence Agency’s prisons. The law absolves American intelligence agents and their bosses of any acts of torture and abuse they have already committed.

Many of the tasks facing Congress involve the way the United States takes prisoners, and how it treats them. There are two sets of prisons in the war on terror. The military runs one set in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. The other is even more shadowy, run by the C.I.A. at secret places.

Close the C.I.A. Prisons

When the Military Commissions Act passed, Mr. Bush triumphantly announced that he now had the power to keep the secret prisons open. He cast this as a great victory for national security. It was a defeat for America’s image around the world. The prisons should be closed.

Account for ‘Ghost Prisoners’

The United States has to come clean on all of the “ghost prisoners” it has in the secret camps. Holding prisoners without any accounting violates human rights norms. Human Rights Watch says it has identified nearly 40 men and women who have disappeared into secret American-run prisons.

Ban Extraordinary Rendition

This is the odious practice of abducting foreign citizens and secretly flying them to countries where everyone knows they will be tortured. It is already illegal to send a prisoner to a country if there is reason to believe he will be tortured. The administration’s claim that it got “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners would not be abused is laughable.

A bill by Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, would require the executive branch to list countries known to abuse and torture prisoners. No prisoner could be sent to any of them unless the secretary of state certified that the country’s government no longer abused its prisoners or offered a way to verify that a prisoner will not be mistreated. It says “diplomatic assurances” are not sufficient.

Congress needs to completely overhaul the military prisons for terrorist suspects, starting with the way prisoners are classified. Shortly after 9/11, Mr. Bush declared all members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to be “illegal enemy combatants” not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions or American justice. Over time, the designation was applied to anyone the administration chose, including some United States citizens and the entire detainee population of Gitmo.

To address this mess, the government must:

Tighten the Definition of Combatant

“Illegal enemy combatant” is assigned a dangerously broad definition in the Military Commissions Act. It allows Mr. Bush — or for that matter anyone he chooses to designate to do the job — to apply this label to virtually any foreigner anywhere, including those living legally in the United States.

Screen Prisoners Fairly and Effectively

When the administration began taking prisoners in Afghanistan, it did not much bother to screen them. Hundreds of innocent men were sent to Gitmo, where far too many remain to this day. The vast majority will never even be brought before tribunals and still face indefinite detention without charges.

Under legal pressure, Mr. Bush created “combatant status review tribunals,” but they are a mockery of any civilized legal proceeding. They take place thousands of miles from the point of capture, and often years later. Evidence obtained by coercion and torture is permitted. The inmates do not get to challenge this evidence. They usually do not see it.

The Bush administration uses the hoary “fog of war” dodge to justify the failure to screen prisoners, saying it is not practical to do that on the battlefield. That’s nonsense. It did not happen in Afghanistan, and often in Iraq, because Mr. Bush decided just to ship the prisoners off to Gitmo.

Prisoners designated as illegal combatants are subject to trial rules out of the Red Queen’s playbook. The administration refuses to allow lawyers access to 14 terrorism suspects transferred in September from C.I.A. prisons to Guantánamo. It says that if they had a lawyer, they might say that they were tortured or abused at the C.I.A. prisons, and anything that happened at those prisons is secret.

At first, Mr. Bush provided no system of trial at the Guantánamo camp. Then he invented his own military tribunals, which were rightly overturned by the Supreme Court. Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act, which did not fix the problem. Some tasks now for Congress:

Ban Tainted Evidence

The Military Commissions Act and the regulations drawn up by the Pentagon to put it into action, are far too permissive on evidence obtained through physical abuse or coercion. This evidence is unreliable. The method of obtaining it is an affront.

Ban Secret Evidence

Under the Pentagon’s new rules for military tribunals, judges are allowed to keep evidence secret from a prisoner’s lawyer if the government persuades the judge it is classified. The information that may be withheld can include interrogation methods, which would make it hard, if not impossible, to prove torture or abuse.

Better Define ‘Classified’ Evidence

The military commission rules define this sort of secret evidence as “any information or material that has been determined by the United States government pursuant to statute, executive order or regulation to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national security.” This is too broad, even if a president can be trusted to exercise the power fairly and carefully. Mr. Bush has shown he cannot be trusted to do that.

Respect the Right to Counsel

Soon after 9/11, the Bush administration allowed the government to listen to conversations and intercept mail between some prisoners and their lawyers. This had the effect of suspending their right to effective legal representation. Since then, the administration has been unceasingly hostile to any lawyers who defend detainees. The right to legal counsel does not exist to coddle serial terrorists or snarl legal proceedings. It exists to protect innocent people from illegal imprisonment.

Beyond all these huge tasks, Congress should halt the federal government’s race to classify documents to avoid public scrutiny — 15.6 million in 2005, nearly double the 2001 number. It should also reverse the grievous harm this administration has done to the Freedom of Information Act by encouraging agencies to reject requests for documents whenever possible. Congress should curtail F.B.I. spying on nonviolent antiwar groups and revisit parts of the Patriot Act that allow this practice.

The United States should apologize to a Canadian citizen and a German citizen, both innocent, who were kidnapped and tortured by American agents.

Oh yes, and it is time to close the Guantánamo camp. It is a despicable symbol of the abuses committed by this administration (with Congress’s complicity) in the name of fighting terrorism.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

[Click on images below to enlarge.]

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wall Street drools over prospect of capturing Iraq oil wealth

By Patrick Martin
6 March 2007

The Iraqi cabinet’s adoption last week of a law creating the legal framework for turning over the country’s oil wealth to American corporations has touched off a chorus of salutes from the Bush administration, congressional Democrats and the corporate-controlled American media.

Perhaps the crassest expression of money-grubbing glee came in the Wall Street Journal, which published an article March 4 celebrating the unlocking of untold riches, including “dozens of untouched oil fields loaded with proven reserves and scores of exploration blocks that may prove a magnet to international oil companies.”

The draft law lists 51 oil fields, 27 in production and the balance with proven reserves, as well as 65 exploration blocks. The fallow fields and exploration blocks are located in every region of the country, while the working fields are concentrated in the northern region around Kirkuk and in the southern region near the border with Kuwait. Citing a cabinet document, the Journal reported that “Iraqi officials must first agree to the framework of contracts to be used when negotiating with foreign oil companies by March 15 if the country’s draft hydrocarbons law is to be submitted to parliament for its approval.”

The draft law calls for reviewing and renegotiating contracts with Russian, French and Chinese oil producers, signed under Saddam Hussein. These countries, which initially opposed the US invasion, are expected to be cut out of any lucrative oil deals in favor of American and British companies.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsed the draft law February 26, after months of bitter conflicts among the representatives of rival bourgeois factions within Iraq—Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite—over the terms of the deal. Approval is likely in the Iraqi parliament, although not certain, as news of the agreement is sure to provoke widespread popular outrage over the sell-off of the country’s most valuable resource.

The cabinet conflict revolved around two related issues: Kurdish determination to hold onto Kirkuk, a city of mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkomen population that is the center of the northern branch of Iraq’s oil industry; and the Sunni demand for revenue-sharing at the national rather than regional level, since the proven oil reserves are largely in the Shiite and Kurdish populated areas, with relatively little in the central and western provinces where most Sunnis live.

Neither issue was completely settled, but the formula agreed upon under heavy pressure from outgoing US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who reportedly dictated the final terms, provides rather more concessions to the Sunnis, largely at the expense of the Kurds.

In public, the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties have cited the working out of inter-ethnic compromises as the main purpose of the oil legislation. In reality, however, the Bush administration sought an agreement on whatever terms it could impose, so that the Iraqi oil industry could be placed on legal foundations suitable for opening it up to foreign (and largely American) capital.

The most important aspect of the bill is that it revives a semi-colonial form of oil contract called a “production-sharing agreement,” which would give foreign companies first claim on any oil they help Iraq’s nationalized industry extract from the country’s enormous reserves, estimated at 115 billion barrels.

Production-sharing agreements were devised by the multinational (mainly US, British, French and Dutch) oil companies in response to the efforts of the bourgeoisie in the OPEC nations—Iran, the Gulf sheikdoms, Libya and Venezuela—to establish national oil companies and negotiate more favorable terms.

Under a PSA, the multinationals could continue operating the oil industries in these countries while the oil resources were nominally taken under national ownership. The oil companies were guaranteed first right to oil revenues. This structure became largely discredited as providing only the semblance of national control over oil resources, and only 12 percent of worldwide production is currently conducted under PSAs—with none at all in the Middle East.

The new Iraqi law would allow regional authorities to enter into PSAs in which oil companies would be guaranteed up to 70 percent of the revenues, as well as an unrestricted right to take their profits out of Iraq, rather than reinvesting them in the industry.

According to the oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, as many as 65 of Iraq’s 80 known oilfields would be put up for bid to foreign oil producers. Any region that can produce at least 150,000 barrels of oil a day can create its own operating company—with the result that dozens of relatively small companies could be formed, easy prey for the giant multinational corporations to manipulate, bribe or buy outright.

The law would reestablish the state-run Iraq National Oil Company, shut down by Saddam Hussein in 1987 in favor of an oil ministry. This legal change is a step towards actual sale of the entire industry, which could take the form of selling an interest in the new INOC to one or several big foreign producers, or entering into joint ventures.

One of the most glaring failures of the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq—from the standpoint of the American ruling elite—has been its inability to revive the oil industry. Under the impact of US and UN sanctions, Iraqi oil production had already fallen from 3.7 million barrels a day at its peak to 2.6 million barrels a day just before the US invasion. This figure has declined further to barely 2 million barrels a day, much of which is stolen and traded on the black market rather than exported.

The significance of the oil law was widely commented on in the American ruling elite. White House spokesman Tony Snow called it the “key linchpin” in Iraq’s rebuilding, and congressional Democrats and Republicans praised the agreement as a vital step forward.

Ambassador Khalilzad, in an op-ed column published March 3 in the Washington Post, declared the agreement “a significant achievement for Iraqis’ national reconciliation. It demonstrates that the leaders of Iraq’s principal communities can pull together to peacefully resolve difficult issues of national importance.”

Actually, the agreement signifies that no section of the Iraqi bourgeoisie—Sunni, Shiite or Kurdish—is capable of adopting an independent stand towards American imperialism. All are seeking to maneuver with Washington, and to a lesser extent the European imperialist powers, to secure their own share in the division of the spoils. Nothing will come of the oil deal for the Iraqi people, whose society continues its plunge into unchecked sectarian and ethnic strife.

Khalilzad declares that under the terms of the bill, “Iraq would adopt the best international practices for the development and management of its mineral wealth.” The meaning of these “best international practices,” of course, is that Iraq’s mineral wealth will be turned over to the multinational corporations. The maintenance of state ownership is purely nominal: as in other PSAs, the oil will be legally the property of the people of Iraq, but the vast bulk of the revenues and profits will go to ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Shell and BP.

Journalist and author Dilip Hiro, writing in the Guardian January 9, noted the stage-managed character of the “Iraqi” decision to hand over control of the country’s oil resources to US oil companies. He wrote, “The early draft of the proposed law, prepared with the assistance of BearingPoint, an American consultancy company hired by the Bush administration, was sent to the Bush White House and major western petroleum corporations in July, and then to the International Monetary Fund two months later, while most Iraqi legislators remained uninformed.”

The Los Angeles Times noted, in reporting the Iraqi cabinet action, “The United States has long wanted to capitalize on Iraq’s oil, especially as a means of paying for the country’s reconstruction. Oil’s importance was reiterated in the Iraq Study Group report released in December. The agreement would open the door to international investment in Iraq’s oil industry—a bonanza for foreign companies . . .”

The New York Times editorialized cautiously on the draft agreement, focusing on the purported goal of “equitably sharing the nation’s oil revenues among all Iraqis,” while remaining silent on the crass plundering of Iraq’s resources that the new law would rubber-stamp. The Times left no doubt about its approval for that goal, declaring, “An oil law should be one of the benchmarks Washington insists on as a condition of continued support” for the Maliki government. Cabinet approval was a step forward, the Times said, “but it isn’t nearly enough.”

More than a month ago, the Washington Post reported on a meeting of 80 oil company executives and consultants in London on exploration prospects in the Kurdish region of Iraq, noting, “Outside Saudi Arabia, no country has proven oil reserves as big as Iraq’s. And the oil there is high quality, easy and cheap to produce, and bottled up in reservoirs that many major oil companies were familiar with three decades ago before wars and sanctions drove them out.”

One oil analyst, Fadel Gheit of Oppenheimer & Co., told the Post, “Exxon Mobil has more seismic data on Iraq than on Houston real estate. If Exxon had security on the ground, the following day it would have crews there. And money would be no object.” Gheit estimated that a restored Iraqi oil industry could triple current production to 6 million barrels a day, worth $131 billion a year at current prices.

While the US media and the politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties publicly dismiss the claim that Bush invaded Iraq to seize its oil wealth, this political reality is increasingly understood by the American people. According to a UPI/Zogby International poll in January, 73.4 percent thought that Iraq’s oil resources were a “major factor” or a contributing factor in Bush’s decision to invade, while only 23.7 percent believed that oil was “not a factor” in the war.

The enactment of an Iraqi oil law will outrage millions of working people, in the United States and internationally, who oppose sacrificing the lives of thousands of Americans—and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—to give American companies control of Iraq’s vast oil resources.

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