As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, October 21, 2005

BREAKING: Oil-For-Food Shocker!

Right-wing bloggers and anti-UN triumphalists always seem to forget that US oil companies were as implicated in the oil-for-food scandal as anyone else:

A Virginia oil trading company pleaded guilty to scheming to pay more than $400,000 in kickbacks to Iraqi officials for oil it purchased under the U.N. oil-for-food program, the Manhattan district attorney said Thursday.

Midway Trading, a Reston-based firm, agreed to pay a $250,000 fine after admitting to first-degree grand larceny in a plea deal reached Wednesday, Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau said at a news conference.

Morgenthau said the kickbacks were paid in 2001 to Iraqi officials in Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein, who was then president of Iraq. Midway agreed to pay the kickbacks only after Iraq refused to load the oil unless the money was provided, the district attorney's office said.

You won't see any of this on Instapundit today. Guess it's not an "UNSCAM update!"

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is perfectly willing to back the UN when it produces a report that helps satisfy their goals. The UN report on Syria's involvement in the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri shows that the world body is vital and can bring to bear strong condemnation and consensus. Indeed, consensus is the world John Bolton was using:

"After an initial read, the results are clearly troubling," U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton said. "This will require further discussion among members of the international community."

Further discussion? Who kidnapped John Bolton and put this pussy in his place? I didn't know Ol' Moustache believed there was an international community! I guess when that community agrees with you, they're a trusted friend. When they don't, they cease to exist.


Waiting for Godot

That's certainly what it seems like waiting for the results of the CIA leak investigation to be made public. Patrick Fitzgerald did display his net savvy by starting a website, but there's precious little information to be found there. This NY Times article has more info:

As he weighs whether to bring criminal charges in the C.I.A. leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, is focusing on whether Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.

Among the charges that Mr. Fitzgerald is considering are perjury, obstruction of justice and false statement - counts that suggest the prosecutor may believe the evidence presented in a 22-month grand jury inquiry shows that the two White House aides sought to cover up their actions, the lawyers said.

Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have been advised that they may be in serious legal jeopardy, the lawyers said, but only this week has Mr. Fitzgerald begun to narrow the possible charges. The prosecutor has said he will not make up his mind about any charges until next week, government officials say.

That must make for a stellar weekend in the Rove and Libby households. Barbecue, anyone?

There was a lot of talk yesterday about this AP report that Rove and Libby did conspire to release information to reporters about Valerie Plame. Some have taken it as Rove stabbing Libby in the back, but since they're both implicated, I find that hard to understand. I think it's simply that there's no coordination on this. Nobody knows what one another has said to the grand jury, NOBODY, I mean NOBODY knows what Fitzgerald's thinking (his lack of leaking has been exemplary, especially giving that he's investigating a case of leaking), and it's nearly impossible for everybody to keep their stories straight. Especially when the net is cast so wide. The Times has a new piece of information in their story:

It is still not publicly known who first told the columnist Robert D. Novak the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson. Mr. Novak identified her in a column on July 14, 2003, using her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald knows the identity of this source, a person who is not believed to work at the White House, the lawyers said.

Does "not believed to work at the White House" mean their office is no longer there (Condi)? Does it mean they've retired (Fleischer)? Does it mean they've never worked at this White House (Mary Matalin)? That's such a blind item I'd expect it on Page Six. At least they give you a hint.

So we'll have to wait another weekend, at least, for Fitzmas. The grand jury is set to expire October 28, so next week really must be it, unless Fitzgerald is granted an extension, and I see no reason why he would need it. As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part.


How Convenient

Seems the United States government lost the map of ANWR.

It was natural for Republican Congressional aides, doing due diligence for what may be the last battle in the fight over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to ask for the legally binding 1978 map of the refuge and its coastal plain.

It was gone. No map, no copies, no digitized version.

The map had been stored behind a filing cabinet in a locked room in Arlington, Va. Late in 2002, it was there. In early 2003, it disappeared. There are just a few reflection-flecked photographs to remember it by.

All this may have real consequences. The United States Geological Survey drew up a new map. On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee passed a measure based on the new map that opened to drilling 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the refuge.

The missing map did not seem to include in the coastal plain tens of thousands of acres of Native Alaskans' lands. On the new map, those lands were included, arguably making it easier to open them to energy development.

The measure is scheduled to be in the budget reconciliation bill to be voted on next month.

Yeah, they lost it. Just like the 1919 White Sox lost the World Series.

And look at this "dog ate my homework" excuse:

Mr. Vandegraft said he had folded the map in half, cushioned within its foam-board backing, and put it behind the filing cabinet in the locked room for safekeeping.

He said he was distraught when he learned of the loss. In its place in the original nook, he said, he found a new, folded piece of foam board similar to the old one - but with no map attached.

Thank goodness for campaign finance reform, or major corporations would REALLY be running the country.

That was a joke.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Turn to the right!

Smilin' Tom looks just a little too happy in his mug shot, don't you think? The kind of happy that occurs just moments before you snap and have your Falling Down moment on the courthouse steps.

That movie is 12 years old already? God, I'm a fossil.


CA Special Election - No on 73

Last weekend I phone banked at the Campaign for Teen Safety for 3 hours to urge independents to vote down Proposition 73, a parental notification law for abortion services that is on the ballot on November 8. I really don't think this issue has very much to do with abortion so much as protecting troubled teens. Studies show that 90% of teenagers do tell their parents in the event of an unplanned pregnancy; it's the other 10%, victims of abuse, incest, kids who would be kicked out of their homes, kids who could be killed. This bill would force those kids to notify their parents, unless they received a judicial waiver (because we all know how comfortable troubled 16 year-olds are in courtrooms), if they want an abortion. This will achieve what I assume is the intended goal of stopping teenagers (at least this subset of teenagers) from getting an abortion; instead, they'll carry it to term without medical care, or go to a back alley somewhere and end the pregnancy themselves. The upshot of this for too many teenagers is injury, pain and death. It's not worth it.

A largely hidden aspect to this law is that the text of Prop. 73 defines "abortion" as:

the use of any means to terminate the pregnancy of an unemancipated minor female known to be pregnant with knowledge that the termination with those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the unborn child, a child conceived but not yet born. For purposes of this section, "abortion" shall not include the use of any contraceptive drug or device.

Putting this kind of language in the state Constitution could have all kinds of unintended consequences, like blocking in-vitro fertilization or stem cell research. While this would also please its backers, I assume, large majorities of the public would decry such an outcome, including myself. Yet I can tell you this is not at all in the messaging of the Campaign for Teen Safety, the main group opposing Prop. 73. It's important to make people aware of this side issue, even if it strays from the main message. It was hard for me to bite my tongue on the phone.

However, we did get 83 people to pledge "No" on this proposition. Not bad for a night's work.


No McDonald's for Brownie

The former FEMA director (who's still on the FEMA payroll. Yes, you're still paying his salary) is apparently a believer in the slow-food movement:

Wednesday, August 31, much of New Orleans is under water. A FEMA official inside the Superdome sends an urgent Blackberry message to his boss, director Michael Brown. Marty Bahamonde, said to be Brown's eyes and ears within the city, writes, "The situation is past critical. Hotels are kicking people out. Thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Estimates are many will die within hours."

Bahamonde tells Senate investigators he doesn't remember getting a response to that e-mail but later was forwarded this one. Brown's press secretary fretting about Brown's dining plans for that evening. "It is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner," she writes. "Given that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes."

In addition, it is very important that New Orleanians in the storm be given time to eat. Given that thousands of people are looking for food, FEMA needs much more than 4 or 5 days to get it to them.


The Endless War

Via DJ Adequate at Kos, a fascinating exchange in Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony from the Secretary of State:

CHAFEE: So would you agree that if anything were to occur on Syrian or Iranian soil, you would have to return to Congress to get that authorization?

RICE: Senator, I don't want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers. And I think you'll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war on Iraq. ...

CHAFEE: So that's a no.

RICE: Senator, I am not going to be in the position of circumscribing the president's powers.

These bastards still think they have a blank check to bloody the nose of anyone they see fit. We've already heard about infiltrations into Syria to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. Rice is suggesting something altogether different: that war with Syria could be embarked upon with no further action from the President consulting with Congress. She also said this to Christopher Dodd (D-CT):

RICE: Senator, our policy toward Syria is on the table. And that is, we want a change in Syrian behavior. We want a change in Syrian behavior on the Iraqi border…

This is very big and very quiet. The neocons are going on their merry way and expanding the combat zone to project American might with an even bigger footprint. Though this seems like a radical new strategy of endless war, those of us who remember our history classes know that we've seen this movie before:

On April 29, 1970, South Vietnamese and United States units unleashed a multi-pronged offensive into Cambodia to destroy the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), the headquarters for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong combat operations in South Vietnam. Extensive logistical installations and large amounts of supplies were found and destroyed, but as reporting from the United States MACV subsequently disclosed, still larger amounts of material already had been moved deeper into Cambodia.

The North Vietnamese army turned on the republican government forces, and by June 1970, three months after the coup, they and the CPNLAF had swept FANK from the entire northeastern third of the country. After defeating the government forces, they turned newly won territories over to the local insurgents. The Khmer Rouge also established "liberated areas" in the south and the southwestern parts of the country, where they operated independently of the Vietnamese. The KCP's debt to the North Vietnamese after March 1970 was one that Pol Pot was loath to acknowledge; however, it is clear that without North Vietnamese and Viet Cong assistance, the revolutionary struggle would have dragged on much longer than it did.

United States bombing of enemy troop dispositions in Cambodia - particularly in the summer of 1973, when intense aerial bombardment (known as Arclight) was used to halt a Khmer Rouge assault on Phnom Penh - bought time for the Lon Nol government, but did not stem the momentum of the communist forces. United States official documents give a figure of 79,959 sorties by B-52 and F-111 aircraft over the country, during which a total of 539,129 tons of ordnance were dropped, about 350 percent of the tonnage (153,000 tons) dropped on Japan during World War II. Many of the bombs that fell in Cambodia struck relatively uninhabited mountain or forest regions; however, as declassified United States Air Force maps show, others fell over some of the most densely inhabited areas of the country, such as Siemreab Province, Kampong Chhnang Province, and the countryside around Phnom Penh. Deaths from the bombing are extremely difficult to estimate, and figures range from a low of 30,000 to a high of 500,000. Whatever the real extent of the casualties, the Arclight missions over Cambodia, which were halted in August 15, 1973, by the United States Congress, delivered shattering blows to the structure of life in many of the country's villages, and, according to some critics, drove the Cambodian people into the arms of the Khmer Rouge.

And we all know how well that turned out. Hey Syria, rent "The Killing Fields."

Many believe that the armed forces are simply stretched too thin to take on another war anywhere in the world. But a neighbor to Iraq means that the bases can stay put, no infrastructure need be built or moved, and the war simply widens. I'm sure we'll start to hear "We're fighting them over there in Syria so we don't have to fight them in Iraq," too. At any rate, get used to learning about Bashar Assad, Damascus, and the Baath Party (all over again).


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Twas' The Night Before Fitzmas

(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore):

'Twas the night before Fitzmas,
And all through the (White) House,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even the mouse.

The target letters were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Pardon soon would be there.

The leakers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of frogmarches danced in their heads.

And Laura in her kerchief, and I with my mead,
Had just settled down to learn how to read.

When from the Rose Garden there arose such a clatter,
I hid under the bed and asked Rove what was the matter.

Away to the window, Karl manned his station,
While hiding was I in an undisclosed location.

The moonlight upon my Brain's newly-humble face
Gave a glint of desperation all over the place.

When what to his devious eyes should appear,
But a prosecutorial sleigh, and 12 grand jurists coming near!

And the middle-aged driver, subpeonae in his mitts,
I knew in a moment it must be ol' Fitz.

More rapid than eagles his grand jury came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called us by name:

"Now Hannah, now, Matalin! now Wilkinson, Libby!
On, Hughes, Rice and Rove! on, Cheney and Hadley!

You can't escape now, can't go over the wall!
Now to the jail, to the jail, to the jail all!"

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me a feeling of nothing but dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Filled the stockings with indictments; then turned with a jerk,

And finding me cowering under the bed,
He pulled at my arms 'til I poked out my head.

And laying his finger aside of my nose,
He gave me a nod, and I suddenly froze.

He sprang to his bag of once-brimming indictments,
And pulled one out for me, with some growing excitement.

And I heard him exclaim, ere I passed out of sight,
"Happy Fitzmas to all, and George Bush? Well, good-night!"


Buzzards Circling

Greg at The Talent Show and Josh Marshall join me in musing about this latest revelation about the President in the Plame case. Josh mentions that the President has been interviewed (though not under oath) in this case; did he say he knew Rove was involved, as it appears he knew almost from the beginning? With another White House aide reportedly flipping, and Bush not exactly being a paragon of subtlety, odds are that someone cooperating with the prosecutor knows what Bush actually said in October of 2003 behind closed doors. Since both of the alleged flippers are directly out of Dick Cheney's office, it's more plausible that they would give up Libby or Cheney himself.

Indeed, the NY Daily News, who seems to have the best sources in the media on this, seems to very definitely finger Cheney and his creation, the WHIGs.

It was called the White House Iraq Group and its job was to make the case that Saddam Hussein had nuclear and biochemical weapons.

So determined was the ring of top officials to win its argument that it morphed into a virtual hit squad that took aim at critics who questioned its claims, sources told the Daily News [...]

"There were a number of occasions when White House officials or Vice President [Cheney's] staffers, or others, wanted to push the envelope on things," an ex-intelligence official said. "The agency would say, 'We just don't have the intelligence to substantiate that.'" When Wilson was sent by his wife to Africa to research the claims, he showed the documents claiming Saddam tried to buy the uranium were forgeries.

"People in the Iraq group then got very frustrated. It was a side show," said a source familiar with WHIG.

Besides Rove and Libby, the group included senior White House aides Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Nicholas Calio, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley. WHIG also was doing more than just public relations, said a second former intel officer.

"They were funneling information to [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller. Judy was a charter member," the source said.

Miller's stories on Iraq prior to the war have already been discredited (despite her claim that she was "proved fucking right,"). It's clear she got much of her information from Ahmad Chalabi, whose ties to the neocons are manifold:

The (NY Times) editors conceded what intelligence sources had told me and numerous other reporters: that Chalabi was feeding bad information to journalists and the White House and had set up a situation with Iraqi exiles where all of the influential institutions were shouting into the same garbage can, hearing the same echo. "Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one."

The White House Iraq Group was not only a conduit for that bad information, but once the information was challenged, it was a conduit for slandering the challengers. Miller talked to Libby because she was part of the group. Even if she doesn't write a story, she's in newsrooms, backrooms and barrooms, spreading the info around to get other writers off the trail. It's becoming more and more disturbing to uncover more of Miller's background as a political operative rather than a journalist. She's sitting in on interrogations?

You may have seen an odd story making the rounds tonight, that Miller may be called as a witness in a federal case in Chicago against a Palestinian-born car dealer accused of funneling money to Hamas to finance terrorism. (In a weird twist, the case is being prosecuted by U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the same one who successfully sought her 85-day jailing in the Plame case.) That's because Muhammad Salah claims that Israel forcibly coerced a confession from him in 1993, and because Miller witnessed part of that interrogation.

It's bizarre and pretty much unheard of for a journalist to witness an interrogation -- just like it's equally odd and even more rare for a reporter to receive a security clearance from the Pentagon. But Miller has talked very openly about watching the questioning of Salah, who she says was not mistreated. She talked about it on "60 Minutes" with Steve Croft, she wrote about it in her book, "God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting From a Militant Middle East," and has answered questions from Chicago reporters about it.

But there was one place that Judith Miller did not talk about witnessing Salah's interrogation.

That would be in the New York Times -- even though she published a story about Salah's alleged ties to funding terrorism on Feb. 17, 1993, just six short days after watching the questioning of the prisoner.

Her employment at the New York Times appears to be little more than a non-official cover. That's about all I can gather.

With each passing day, the White House must be shitting enough bricks to build a Washington-area pyramid.


What Did The President Know and When Did He Know It?

We're getting pretty clsoe to having to ask that question:

An angry President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair, sources told the Daily News.

"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this." [...]

Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.

Bush has always known that Rove often talks with reporters anonymously and he generally approved of such contacts, one source said.

Bush has said repeatedly "If somebody in my Administration leaked information, I want to know who it is." He's said that for two years. This article seems to suggest he did know who it was, and he did know the severity of the situation. I always considered it bizarre that he would say that he was clueless about the whole thing. It would take 10 seconds for George Bush to walk up to Karl Rove and ask "Are you involved in this?" Indeed, in many of these briefings where the President bloviates about "I want to know if someone leaked classified information," Rove is IN THE ROOM. I'm willing to believe the President is in the dark, but not THAT MUCH in the dark.

I'm assuming this revelation is leaked to distance Rove from the President. Of course, here's the next paragraph:

As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald nears a decision, perhaps as early as today, on whether to issue indictments in his two-year probe, Bush has already circled the wagons around Rove, whose departure would be a grievous blow to an already shell-shocked White House staff and a President in deep political trouble.

"Karl is fighting for his life," the official added, "but anything he did was done to help George W. Bush. The President knows that and appreciates that."

So the President (1) approves generally of Karl Rove talking with reporters anonymously, (2) appreciates that Rove leaked a CIA agent's name in order to "help him," and (3) is "circling the wagons" around Rove to protect him from the political fallout.

That's conspiracy. That's "Do what you have to do, just keep me in the dark about it." I can now see the President as an unindicted co-conspirator in this case.


The Immigration Debate

Illegal immigration has become a renewed focus of this Administration, presumably because they wish to pick more fights with the hardcore base of their party. Yesterday Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he would end the "catch and release" policy regarding non-Mexican illegals, and vowed to ship them back to their country of origin.

I'm generally for enforcing the laws on the books, although the expense of sending every illegal alien back to their country of origin concerns me. I think the government should particularly focus on fining and arresting employers who hire illegals; that's the best way to stop the demand, by drying up the supply of low-income jobs. Enforcing the minimum wage and legitimate hiring practices would be a boon for American unemployment and the economy as a whole. In addition, we would save our country a lot of trouble by simply offering real aid to impoverished nations in our hemisphere, from which the bulk of illegals come, so that they can attain a better life in their homeland. The savings in border patrols and infrastructure costs would be well worth it.

Most anti-immigrant activists prefer to focus on the more populist theme of border security, with a lot of the rhetoric coming dangerously close to bigotry. It's all predicated on the notion that illegal aliens are getting a free ride while us 'Murcans are busting our humps for nothing. I don't know how working 12-14 hours picking grapes constitutes a "free ride," but it seems like a straw man argument to me. The LA Times ran a very interesting article over the weekend citing a study that shows that the whole "These Mexicans come over and burden our emergency rooms" talking point is unfounded:

Recent immigrants from Mexico are half as likely to use emergency rooms as U.S.-born whites and Mexican Americans, according to a study released Thursday by the University of California and the Mexican government.

Fewer than 10% of recent Mexican immigrants -- whether they came in legally or not -- reported using an emergency room in 2000, according to the study, based on an analysis of the U.S. National Health Interview Survey conducted in 2000 by a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In contrast, 20% of U.S.-born whites and Mexican Americans used an emergency room during the same time period.

"The study breaks a lot of the myths.... There are assumptions that immigrants are breaking the economy by using emergency rooms," said Xochitl Castaneda, director of the California-Mexico Health Initiative, an arm of the California Policy Research Center based at the UC Office of the President.

"Even though they are in the most risky occupations, they are not using the emergency rooms as other populations are."

The findings are supported by a previous study in the American Journal of Public Health.  Illegal immigrants are a convenient boogeyman, but they are not the drain on resources that many Americans believe they are. When we start treating them as fellow human beings, and take the public policy steps that act in their best interests (not making the arduous journey to the US, not living in fear) and ours (keeping our economy vibrant, enforcing fair labor laws), everyone will be better off.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Immediately the best show on television

Kudos to The Colbert Report. Everything about it was letter-perfect, from the self-aggrandizing set (the shot of Colbert in front of the picture of himself in front of the picture of himself cracked me up) to the bombastic "love-it-or-leave-it" rhetoric ("We got Chewbacca!") to the "I'm in love with myself" tone of its host ("Did you see my Emmy?") to the Stone Phillips v. Colbert "gravitas-off". Some think the incessant O'Reilly parody will wear out its welcome, but there's so much material there that's ready for satire. These talking head, celebrity-driven "opinion journalism" cable news shows have been around for a long long time without anyboy batting an eyelash. Colbert lays them to waste with hilarious results. Even though he stumbled a little, he's bound to only get better. And this monologue hits the nail on the f'in head:

Anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of dictionaries or reference books.  They're elitist for constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen...

I don't trust books.  They're all fact and no heart.  And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today.  Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation...  We are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.  

Consider Harriett Miers.  If you think about Harriett Miers, of course her nomination's absurd!  But the President didn't say he thought about this selection, he said this:

President Bush: "I know her heart."

Notice that he didn't say anything about her brain?  He didn't have to.  He feels the truth about Harriett Miers.  And what about Iraq?  If you think about it, maybe there are a few missing pieces to the rationale for war.  But doesn't taking Saddam out feel like the right thing...right here in the gut?  Because that's where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen...the gut.

Did you know that you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head?  Look it up.  Now, somebody's gonna say `I did look that up and its wrong'.  Well, Mister, that's because you looked it up in a book.  Next time, try looking it up in your gut.  I did.  And my gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.  

Now I know some of you may not trust your gut...yet.  But with my help you will.  The "truthiness" is, anyone can read the news to you.  I promise to feel the you.

Earlier in the year I had an outside chance on working on what would eventually become "The Showbiz Show with David Spade." At the time it was supposed to air right after The Daily Show. When I heard Colbert got the spot instead, essentially putting me out of a job I really wanted, I thought, "Oh well. I can live with Colbert after Stewart anyway." He reinforced it last night. I've never been so envious in all my life.


CA Special Election - No on 77

This is another in a series of posts about the California Special Election coming up on November 8.

I'm all for redistricting. Nationwide, nonpartisan, georgraphic models. Go for it. But not the way it's being attempted in Proposition 77. I can understand the views of people like Kos, a reform-minded Democrat who seeks to break the Incumbency Protection Racket that current law proscribes. Right now legislators draw their own Congressional districts based on Census data once a decade. That obviously opens the process up to gerrymandering. A nonpartisan solution by a retired panel of judges sounds like a good idea. It's the timing and the technicalities of this Proposition that worries me.

Under Prop. 77, which would take effect immediately, the districts will be redrawn and put into place for the June 2006 primary (and who knows if they can get all the complex issues surrounding redistricting resolved in time for that). The voters will not have a chance to approve or reject the new districts until November 2006. If they reject them, whoever was elected under those districts REMAINS elected. In addition, if they're rejected, the judges go back to the drawing board to redraw them again. But the people never get to vote on the districts until they're already in use. That's wrong. Voters in CA have the right to reject redistricting plans; under this they would conceivably NEVER have to approve one, and it wouldn't make any difference.

In addition, a possible court challenge would move this redistricting to 2008, 2 years before the new Census. So it could be in place for exactly one election cycle, at enormous cost to the taxpayers. This will be a sinkhole for the budget.

Also, under this plan, politicians continue to "select" (that's the word used in the proposition) the judges. Isn't this a convenient smokescreen for politicians to simultaneously achieve their incumbent status AND get to hide behind the judges they select to cement that incumbency? Perhaps, it's an open question.

The political ramifications to redistricting California are unclear. It may end up benefiting Democrats or Republicans. I'm all for a workable solution to stop gerrymandering nationwide. This plan isn't it. If the vote was in 2010, I'd almost be inclned to say that the benefits outweigh the costs. But not now. Vote NO on Prop. 77.



The Plame case is reaching the end of the beginning; indictments could come as early as today. We're getting a tantalizing series of speculative stories about who is targeted, what they've done and why it's important. Today's WaPo says Captain Pacemaker has reason to be nervous:

As the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name hurtles to an apparent conclusion, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney's office, according to lawyers familiar with the case and government officials. The prosecutor has assembled evidence that suggests Cheney's long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame.

In grand jury sessions, including with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Fitzgerald has pressed witnesses on what Cheney may have known about the effort to push back against ex-diplomat and Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, including the leak of his wife's position at the CIA, Miller and others said. But Fitzgerald has focused more on the role of Cheney's top aides, including Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, lawyers involved in the case said.

One former CIA official told prosecutors early in the probe about efforts by Cheney's office and his allies at the National Security Council to obtain information about Wilson's trip as long as two months before Plame was unmasked in July 2003, according to a person familiar with the account.

This was the key piece of evidence in Judith Miller's testimony to the grand jury, that she met with Libby well before Joseph Wilson went public in July 2003 about his trip to Niger. Miller's heavily lawyered story about her time in the grand jury room corroborates this:

In an interview with me on June 23, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, discussed Mr. Wilson's activities and placed blame for intelligence failures on the C.I.A. In later conversations with me, on July 8 and July 12, Mr. Libby, who is Mr. Cheney's top aide, played down the importance of Mr. Wilson's mission and questioned his performance.

My notes indicate that well before Mr. Wilson published his critique, Mr. Libby told me that Mr. Wilson's wife may have worked on unconventional weapons at the C.I.A.

Miller goes on to note that the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, asked extensively about whether Libby was acting on orders from Cheney, which she denies. But how credible can Miller possibly be to her readers? This is a woman who sat in jail for 85 days for what Libby describes as no good reason, waiting for a personal waiver that was already given. She was all too willing to shield Libby from view, promising to call him a "former Hill staffer" in any article she'd write about the Wilson controversy instead of a senior White House aide (which is technically true but clearly dissembling; Miller is basically asserting her willingness to lie for the VP's Chief of Staff here). Miller also claims that she "doesn't remember" how the name Valerie Flame (it was misspelled) got into her notebook, insisting that Libby never told it to her. She said "it came from another source, who I do not recall." You're a journalist, enmeshed in the biggest story of the decade, and you don't recall? Not credible.

But the most interesting piece of information from this account is Miller's claim that she had a security clearance while embedded with a group looking for WMD in Iraq. They don't just hand out security clearances to journalists, considering that those two things are in direct opposition to one another: someone with a security clearance must vow to keep classified information secret, while a journalist is duty-bound to report on items of interest to her readership. If she had a security clearance, she couldn't report on practically anything she saw over there.

In my grand jury testimony, Mr. Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to the subject of how Mr. Libby handled classified information with me. He asked, for example, whether I had discussed my security status with Mr. Libby. During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believed so, but could not be sure. He asked how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, Very carefully.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to examine a series of documents. Though I could not identify them with certainty, I said that some seemed familiar, and that they might be excerpts from the National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq's weapons. Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether Mr. Libby had shown any of the documents to me. I said no, I didn't think so. I thought I remembered him at one point reading from a piece of paper he pulled from his pocket.

I told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq. At the same time, I told the grand jury I thought that at our July 8 meeting I might have expressed frustration to Mr. Libby that I was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.

By the way, the Pentagon completely denies this. So it's probably true.

I think we can at the very least suspect that Judy Miller is CIA. Her security clearance allowed her access to the most sensitive of issues regardng WMD. Her cozy relationship with major players in the Middle East (including reports of her fucking her way right through the halls of power over there) is primed to extract secrets. Speaking with White House officials could be seen as a two-way exchange of information. Remember Scooter Libby's completely bizarre personal letter to Miller, which in addition to leading the witness ("No one else has mentioned that I spoke Valerie Plame's name") had this curious ending?

You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover--Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work--and life.

As emptywheel (who's been indispensable on this story) notes, there's a conference called the Forstmann Little Aspen Conference held every year, and this year (just a week or two after the letter was sent) many neocon players, including Karl Rove and Robert Novak, attended. The aspens are connected? Is Libby trying to tell her that everybody's in this together, so don't spill the beans? Here's emptywheel's conclusion:

I'm going to hazard a guess--that Judy Miller was involved in the conspiracy to cover-up the crime of outing Plame.

If I'm right, this is important enough. It means Fitz may have evidence against Judy not just of perjury, but also obstruction of justice. It means Judy's silence was part of the plan to cover up the crime. And if Fitz can prove this, it totally shreds whatever remaining claim to respecability and honor Judy had.

Which is where we get back to the Aspen reference. At least two of the cover-up conspirators were at Aspen together the weekend after Libby wrote his letter--at an event traditionally not covered by the press. Had Judy agreed to testify immediately upon receiving Libby's letter, she would have an opportunity to be there as well. To join her cluster of conspirators.

To dream up a new story.

Miller, of course, decided to testify, and implicate Libby to an extent, but go no further, and obstruct attempts to get to the real conclusion. It may all be a moot point if this tidbit from the Daily News is true, that there's a cooperating witness in the White House:

Cheney's name has come up amid indications Fitzgerald may be edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge - with help from a secret snitch.

"They have got a senior cooperating witness - someone who is giving them all of that," a source who has been questioned in the leak probe told the Daily News yesterday.

We're going to know where this all leads in a couple of days. Fitzgerald has already signaled that he'll make the news public in DC, and not Chicago, which basically lets the media know where they hav to be. That means we're at the zero hour. I don't think the general population has any sense what is going on here, and when they open their front pages to scores of indictments in the White House, including possibly the Vice President himself, it will be a shock. That's because the media, who is completely implicated in this case (they're the leak-ees), has been relatively silent about it. For all the sturm und drang of being lied to in the Clinton years, the Beltway Establishment has been mum about being used as pawns in a vicious game of payback here. "Reporters" like Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, reporters who have testified before the grand jury, speculate about the case on their shows but never once peep that they themselves are part of the story. This is an utter failure of the fourth estate to feed the public's right to know. This is the least-covered big story in Washington in years, because the Beltway Boys refuse to discern between a crime and politics as usual, and they don't want themselves to be muddied up in the aftermath. It's shameful and ridiculous.

All we can do, for now, is wait. But it won't be for long.

[UPDATE] According to The Raw Story, we have our flipper:

Individuals familiar with Fitzgerald’s case tell RAW STORY that John Hannah, a senior national security aide on loan to Vice President Dick Cheney from the offices of then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John Bolton, was named as a target of Fitzgerald’s probe. They say he was told in recent weeks that he could face imminent indictment for his role in leaking Plame-Wilson’s name to reporters unless he cooperated with the investigation.

Others close to the probe say that if Hannah is cooperating with the special prosecutor then he was likely going to be charged as a co-conspirator and may have cut a deal.

Hannah was mentioned in Joseph Wilson's memoir as the perfect patsy, a guy who could do the dirty work so the big boys could keep their hands clean. If he's flipped we're in for a wild ride.

Read this:

Fitzgerald may be looking at a broader conspiracy case of pre-war machinations by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) and by the Pentagon’s ultra-secret Office of Net Assessment, the former operating out of Dick Cheney’s office and tasked with “selling” the war in Iraq, and the latter operating out of Defense Under Secretary for Policy, Douglas Feith’s office and tasked with creating a war to “sell,” as some describe.

To spread its message that Saddam Hussein was a nuclear threat, the White House Iraq Group relied heavily on New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who, after meeting with several of the organization’s members in August 2002, wrote an explosive story that many critics of the war believe laid the groundwork for military action against Iraq.

On Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002, for example, Miller wrote a story for the Times quoting anonymous officials who said aluminum tubes found in Iraq were to be used as centrifuges. Her report turned out to be wrong.

Hannah is currently under investigation by U.S. authorities for his alleged activities in an intelligence program run by the controversial Iraqi National Congress (INC) and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi.

According to a Newsweek article, a memo written for the Iraq National Congress (INC) raised questions regarding Cheney’s role in the build up to the war in Iraq. During the lead up to the war, Newsweek asserts, the INC was providing intelligence on the now discredited Iraqi WMD program through Hannah and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff.

“A June 2002 memo written by INC lobbyist Entifadh Qunbar to a U.S. Senate committee lists John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, as one of two ‘U.S. governmental recipients’ for reports generated by an intelligence program being run by the INC and which was then being funded by the State Department. Under the program, ‘defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed’; the info was then reported to, among others, ‘appropriate governmental, non-governmental and international agencies.’ The memo not only describes Cheney aide Hannah as a “principal point of contact” for the program, it even provides his direct White House telephone number.”

Oh, this is ALL coming together. The roots are indeed clustered.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Mean Old Man

That out-of-control rogue district attorney, Ronnie Earle, trying to... plea bargain with Tom DeLay and save his job and everything:

A Texas prosecutor offered Rep. Tom DeLay a deal to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and save his job as majority leader, but DeLay chose to fight felony charges instead, the congressman's attorney said Monday.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lawyer, described the offer in a letter to the prosecutor as he filed motions in Austin to dismiss felony indictments and — barring dismissal of the case — to seek a speedy trial.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle had no immediate comment.

Clearly this shows just how much of a partisan witch hunt this is. Ronnie Earle obviously hates Republicans so much that he wanted to save Tom DeLay from a felony indictment, thereby keeping him as the House Majority Leader! Since he epitomizes the "culture of corruption" in GOP circles, by having him step down it innoculates the House rank-and-file from being poisoned by DeLay's ethical malpractice! But oh no, Ronnie Earle wanted to destroy the GOP majority! He wanted DeLay to STAY in the Leadership!

That's the kind of logic you'll be seeing on any number of right-wing sites over the next couple days.

By the way, the cherry on top of the article comes at the end:

DeLay will likely be booked in a Texas county jail this week despite attempts by his attorneys to bypass the fingerprinting and mug shot process.

Turn to the right!


Mortgage Deduction

The President's tax panel has intimated lowering the mortgage deduction, a tax break enjoyed by about 70% of the country. It's politically very unlikely that this "every removal of a tax cut is a tax INCREASE!" society will accept an across-the-board cut, and I don't think they should. Encouraging home ownership is good for the country, which is why the government seeks to subsidize it in the first place. But there are some kinks you can work out that would make good horse sense.

Currently people can take the mortgage deduction on second homes, speculative property, or any other mortgage that is not their primary residence. That not only doesn't seem like it encourages home ownership, it makes the possibility of home ownership more difficult to families who are thrown into an escalating market with higher demand. Speculative real-estate buying raises prices, pure and simple. There's no need to regulate the housing market, but at the same time the government shouldn't be giving back cash to speculators so prices can skyrocket.

In addition, interest accrued on home-equity loans can be deducted. How exactly does buying a car or a big-screen TV encourage home ownership? In recent years, when home-equity loans have become so fashionable, it doesn't seem in the interests of the country to offer a huge deduction for that.

So there are smart ways to raise government revenue, maintain the goal of encouraging home ownership, and in fact make it easier for prospective buyers to achieve that goal (presumably any change to the mortgage deduction will depress prices). But slashing the deduction across the board would be ludicrous, and unfortunately that's where this appears to be headed:

Taxpayers can currently deduct all the interest on mortgage loans up to $1 million.

But President Bush's tax-advisory commission is considering a new limit on the deduction: the maximum mortgage the Federal Housing Administration will insure -- $305,900 in Seattle. That amount varies around the country, with a maximum of $312,895 in areas with very high housing costs, such as San Francisco, and a national average of $244,000.

If the proposal is accepted, a Seattle couple that buys a $500,000 home and borrows 80 percent, or $400,000, could deduct interest on only $305,900 of that amount.

I live in Southern California (and I'm desirous of entering the housing market), where under this plan practically EVERY single home would feel the burden of this rise in their taxes. This would particularly hurt residents in any fast-growing housing market, especially New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and others. I don't have to tell you the political leanings of those areas.

I don't think it's wise to throw up a wall to any changes in the mortgage deduction. But any across-the-board proposal is simply ridiculous.


Welcome to Florida

Well, the Iraqis had their referendum. The Sunnis participated in large numbers, with a much greater percentage than the Shiites or Kurds, which stands to reason since they had more at stake. I've been on record as saying that the best thing for the country, in my opinion, would be to reject a referendum that would only encourage sectarian violence and civil war. In addition, democratic participation that yields a favorable result would actually help derail the insurgency. If change can be brought about peacefully, the Sunnis have no need to support violent overthrow.

The votes haven't been counted, but don't worry, says our Secretary of State, we'll take care of the counting:

As the ballots in Iraq's landmark referendum on a new constitution were dispatched yesterday to Baghdad for an official tally, disputes erupted over the likely result [...]

In London, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that early indications suggested that the constitution had "probably passed," provoking a storm of outrage from Sunni Arab leaders who seized on her words as evidence that the result had been fixed.

"We think that this statement by Condoleezza Rice is astonishing because it is trying to mask the big rejection that this draft has faced all over Iraq," said a statement by the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group that was leading a campaign for a "no" vote.

She might have some inside information. Juan Cole points us to some, shall we say, inconsistencies:

Al-Hayat reports that 643,000 votes were cast in Ninevah Province (capital: Mosul). At the time it filed, 419,000 had been preliminarily counted, and the vote was running 75 percent in favor. Ninevah Province was the most likely place that Sunni Arabs opposing the constitution might be able to get a 2/3s "no" vote.

Several of my knowledgeable readers are convinced that the Ninevah voting results as reported so far look like fraud. One suspected that the Iraqi government so feared a defeat there that they over-did the ballot stuffing and ended up with an implausible result.

One of my Iraqi-American correspondents compared the turnout statistics from Ninevah and Diyala provinces last Jan. 30 to those coming out now, and found the current numbers completely unbelievable. He pointed out that the Iraqi Islamic Party had not garnered many votes in Ninevah last January, and its support of the constitution could not hope to explain the hundreds of thousands of "yes" votes the constitution appeared to receive on Saturday.

There's more. The SF Chronicle is reporting that parts of Iraq looked eerily familiar to African-American areas of Pensacola, FL on Saturday:

Ishaki, Iraq -- Less than two hours after polling stations opened Saturday morning, potential voters in the Sunni town of Ishaki were convinced the Iraqi government had rigged the referendum in favor of Kurds, Shiites and Iran.

Dozens of locals, all planning to vote against the draft constitution, had been turned away from the single polling station in town. Lying 40 miles north of Baghdad and just south of Samarra, Ishaki is in the middle of Iraq's Sunni central region, Saddam Hussein's old heartland.

According to election officials here, all those rejected were registered at another polling station 3 miles away -- the only place they would be allowed to vote under the referendum's stringent rules. But a driving ban inside all urban areas, designed to stop suicide bomb attacks, meant these Sunnis, entering the democratic process for the first time, had effectively been disenfranchised.

Never mind that a significant portion of Iraqis voting had not read any of the Constitution they were voting upon, or even knew what the voting was about (hey, we ARE exporting American-style democracy!). The point is that everyone in ower needed this referendum to pass: the Iraqis in the government who want a burgeoning Islamic republic (as this Constitution mandates), the White House officials who want good news they can tout, the Kurds who want their own country, for all intents and purposes. I don't see how a vote with wide Sunni rejection, that nevertheless passes amid credible reports of voter fraud, will do anything to slow down the insurgency; if anything, I'd imagine it would heat it up. Sunnis can now say "We tried to save our country peacefully and it was stolen from us. We have no choice now."

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post has this to add:

For the Bush administration, the apparent approval of Iraq's constitution is less of a victory than yet another chance to possibly fashion a political solution that does not result in the bloody division of Iraq.

Publicly, administration officials hailed the result but privately some officials acknowledged that the road ahead is still very difficult, especially because Sunni Arab voters appeared to have rejected the constitution by wide margins. As one official put it, every time the administration appears on the edge of a precipice, it manages to cobble together a result that allows it to move on to the next precipice.

Indeed, there are more parliamentary elections in only 8 weeks, which will be especially crucial, since the last-minute deal on the Constitution (which allowed it to have some small manner of Sunni support in selected areas) allowed for amendments and rewrites. I still don't see how the Shiite majority, which will stil be a majority come December, would allow any amendments that would dilute the strong federalism and control over oil wealth they worked so long to achieve:

Martin S. Indyk, a former Clinton administration official who directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Martin S. Indyk, a former Clinton administration official who directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the administration's scenario of greater Sunni participation is plausible. But he said it is also plausible the Sunnis will conclude that because they failed to block the constitution, the political process is stacked against them [...] the Kurds and Shiites could continue to maneuver to use the political process to protect their interests, and thus the Sunnis will forever find themselves receiving the bad end of the bargain. "We could be fooling ourselves," he said. "If they [Shiites and Kurds] in fact engage in the process in order to destroy it, the administration theory could be very wrong."

It's time to acknowledge that the alleged joy of purple fingers and the political process could actually be firing the insurgency rather than stopping it. And vote fraud has the potential to turn the whole country into a fiery cauldron.