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

Friday, November 18, 2005

"The generals in the field tell me..."

" many troops we need." Well, looks like the generals are asking to withdraw:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq has submitted a plan to the Pentagon for withdrawing troops in Iraq, according to a senior defense official.

Gen. George Casey submitted the plan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It includes numerous options and recommends that brigades -- usually made up of about 2,000 soldiers each -- begin pulling out of Iraq early next year.

Amazing. After all that on the House floor today, after all the rhetoric about "we can't cut and run" and "you're a coward for wanting to leave the Iraqis" the ranking head of the armed forces in the field comes out and asks for the same thing.

If you read Gen. Casey's report, it's fairly similar to that which Senate Democrats like Feingold and Levin have been pushing lately; he asks for a phased withdrawal of a good number of troops throughout 2006, if certain factors are met (security, improved political process, reconstruction). Of course it allows for a lot of wiggle room. But it acknowledges that at some point, this is the Iraqi's fight and they have to go do it.

I wonder if the President will now come out and say "I respect the general, but we have a difference of opinion on this matter."

Part of me wonders if this is not all an elaborate set-up. Republicans fight bringing the troops home over and over again, and then poof! they start drawing down forces just in time for the 2006 elections, so that legislators can return to their districts having taken that arrow out of the Democrats' quiver. But the leaving=losing equation is so ingrained in the rank and file of the GOP (not to mention the oft-forgotten desire on the part of the Pentagon for permanent bases in the country), I don't know if they're that disciplined to have such a strategy right now.

But the real question is, when will Gen. Casey be Swift-Boated for daring to suggest withdrawal?


Well THAT Could Have Gone Better

Despite an attempt to con the public and the Democrats into submission, this House vote on withdrawal is definitely being seen as an unequivocal stunt. The outrage over Jean Schmidt calling a decorated war veteran a coward on the House floor completely overshadowed the vote. Before long Republican Congressmen were falling all over themselves to distance their remarks from Schmidt's. "John Murtha is a true patriot," said Rick Renzi of Arizona. "John Murtha is a giant in this House," said another. Is that really the kind of soundbites they were looking for when this thing started?

They also had to acknowledge that the resolution they pushed to the floor was NOT Murtha's proposal for what to do next in Iraq. They REALLY didn't want that to get out. The whole point was to cut Murtha off from his party and squeeze out a roll call vote. The Democratic caucus saw right through it and their words resonated. This is not the kind of news story the House leadership wanted written:

The shots fired back and forth across the aisle in the House Friday night were vicious as it debated a Republican resolution its sponsors knew and wanted to fail.

"I regret that I do not possess the eloquence the vocabulary to express the magnitude of contempt for this shabby, political maneuver," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland).

That proposal for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq was not what Democratic Congressman John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) had in mind when the 37-year Marine veteran triggered a debate that prompted attacks like the one from the floor tonight.

"Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," said Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio).

Recessing amidst chaos, the House came back to debate the failed measure and defend Murtha.

"Expose the fakery when we see it!" shouted Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

That's a random local news channel, and that's what its viewers, not ideologues but casual viewers of local news, will be hearing tonight.

Good thing they didn't do this on a Wednesday or it would've been a real bust.

p.s. And, AND, there were several hours of actual debate on Iraq for the first time in months on the House floor. Democrats like the head of the Black Congressional Caucus and Ike Skelton of Missouri got to actually put forth their plans for next steps in Iraq, on the floor, in full view, with the eyes of the nation watching. Or at least more eyes than usual.


Play Another Song

This brouhaha over in the US House today over the war in Iraq was really sad. It is nothing more than nonsense to take a member of Congress' resolution and stripping it of its language. This is what Jack Murtha submitted:

Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";

Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

This is what they'll be voting on in about an hour:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

I always thought politics were supposed to end at the water's edge. But not for the new GOP. This never went through committee, it was rushed to the floor, with debate suspended, and forced through to a vote with what is likely to be no supporters.

They hate us for our freedom and democracy!

As to Jean Schmidt (Maniac-OH), who actually called Jack Murtha a coward on the floor of the House today, it's even more sad. The only direct strategy for the GOP throughout this war on terror has been to question dissenter's patriotism. There literally hasn't been any move from that level of debate. It's like going to see the Beach Boys, and they come out and open with "Good Vibrations," and then they segue into "Good Vibrations," then they bring out a special guest to jam on "Good Vibrations," then they do an acoustic version of "Good Vibrations." At some point you want to get out of your seat and yell "Play another song!!!"

Stay the course is not a strategy. "Clap louder or shut up" is not a strategy. Playing the same song over and over and over is not a strategy. And it's certainly not a debate tactic. The American people deserve an honest, forthright debate on the war in Iraq. There's a very credible argument for a continued presence to be made, on humanitarian grounds, on the need for us to settle regional tensions that would be inflamed after a pullout, on the idea that we've busted up the infrastructure and the population over there and we're now obligated to fix it. The Republicans never engage in this argument, because they don't want a debate. To them, leaving equals losing, dissent equals treason, and silence is the only way Democrats should express themselves. And YET, they try to saddle Democrats with some of the blame for the war itself, with wildly inaccurate statements like "Congress saw the same intelligence we did" and the like. So, it's our war and we'll fight it as long as we want, but it's mostly your fault for getting us into it.

This was the aforementioned Jean Schmidt on her first day in the House:

"This House has much work to do. On that we can all agree. We will not always agree on the details of that work. Honorable people can certainly agree to disagree. However, here today I accept a second oath. I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price."

Act like it. All of you. Quit shutting down debate and changing resolutions in the middle of the game and launching ad hominem attacks. These are serious times, and serious policies you're debating. It shames this Republic to continue this dishonest governance.

I'd suggest that every Democrat worth his salt just walk out of the chamber, letting Rep. Murtha slam the door shut on the way out. Of course, that's exactly what the Republicans would want.


Miles to Go

Much more work to be done:

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said in court filings that the ongoing CIA leak investigation will involve proceedings before a new grand jury, a possible sign he could seek new charges in the case.

In filings obtained by Reuters on Friday, Fitzgerald said "the investigation is continuing" and that "the investigation will involve proceedings before a different grand jury than the grand jury which returned the indictment" against Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

This is going to drag on and on unless the White House comes clean and explains what happened. And there will be more cover-ups, and more indictments, and more obstruction. We'll be well into the next election cycle before this is over. Why don't Presidents ever learn? Get everything on the table early and you diffuse the issue.

Otherwise, Fitzmas is going to be the gift that keeps on giving all year long.


Do You Really Want To Do This?

Hotline says we may get a Murtha vote:

The Hotline has learned that the House GOP leadership might bring a symbolic, but politically charged, resolution to the floor today that would force Dems to register an up-or-down vote on Rep. John Murtha's call for U.S. troops to immediately withdraw from Iraq. The pre-Thanksgiving recess vote will force Dems to go on the record on one of the year's most sensitive issues and provide the NRCC a roll call vote on the so-called "cut and run" question going into '06.

It certainly sounds like something the House Leadership would do. It also sounds like the kind f vote you'd have in 2002 or 2003, when public support was at a high. I guess the GOP doesn't see the ground moving under their feet. This will put THEM on the record, not the Democrats.

P.S. Just so I'M on the record, I favor Russ Feingold's proposal for a timed phase-out by the end of 2006. If the Iraqis aren't ready to take over the security situation by then, we're in big trouble no matter if we stay or go.


Homey Don't Play That Game

It's been amusing to watch reporters interview John Murtha over the last couple days. He completely emasculates them by taking their favorite technique off the table.

Yesterday in The Situation Room, Wolfie Blitzer would do the familiar "Here's what the Speaker of the House had to say about your statement," and Murtha would cut him off. "Wolf, Wolf, I don't care what people are saying about me. Here are the facts. We're the target. The Iraqis don't want us there. The mission is complete. Let's come home." Murtha did the same exact thing with Kelly O'Donnell on MSNBC today.

Reporters in this age literally don't know what to ask you if they can't contrast your statement with a competing quote. That would require them to come up with a question on their own. This is a tactic all Democrats should learn. There's no need to respond to a talking point, as it only serves to get the point out there and give it creedence.

The "Here's what X had to say, how do you respond" is the laziest excuse for journalism there is. Politicians should reject it. When they do, the public appreciates it. At least this member of the public does.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Murtha, Johnstown, Thanksgiving, and the End of Iraq

As everybody in the online and on-air media has been reporting today, John Murtha, a conservative Pennsylvania Democrat, called for an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, saying that the mission has been completed and that further exposure does nothing but paint targets on the backs of our soldiers. Because of Murtha's position and standing, this is being hailed as significant news. And it is. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that there has been an "Out-of-Iraq" Congressional Caucus in the House that has been pushing for withdrawal since June. They are 41 members strong, fully 1/5 of the Democrats in the House. Heck, in 2004 a Democratic Presidential candidate (Dennis Kucinich) ran a whole campaign based on getting the troops out of Iraq. So this is not the first Democrat to come out and say this.

But it is important. I heard the news when my father called me and said "Well, the man who will get us out of Iraq is from Johnstown!" Johnstown, Pennsylvania is in John Murtha's home district. It's also where my mother's family is from. My grandmother knows John Murtha. My late grandfather knew John Murtha. John Murtha is every old-timer I would see eating breakfast at the local diner during my frequent visits to Johnstown as a child.

Johnstown is one of the bigger former steel towns that was suffocated by the loss of the industry in the 70s and 80s. It's such a poster child for the depressed Rust Belt that when Hollywood needs a depressed city in the Rust Belt, a hardscrabble forgotten town that seems inescapable to the youth and a scene of regret to the old, they go to Johnstown. Slapshot was filmed there. All the Right Moves was filmed there. You have to be tough coming from Johnstown, not only because of the economic situation, but because, having been built at the bottom of a flood plain, catastrophe is one major storm away. And a storm is never far. I'm not sure in all the years I've gone to Johnstown if I've ever seen the sun.

And for over 30 years, John Murtha has been Johnstown's representative on Capitol Hill. Here's his resume:

After serving in the Marines in the early 1950's, he re-enlisted in 1966, at the age of 34, and served in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry, according to The Almanac of American Politics. When he won his House seat in a special election in February 1974 he became the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress.

I put nothing past the folks in the White House, but on issues of war and peace, this guy is as close to unassailable as you can get. I don't think a Swift Boating will carry the day this time. Simply put, to lose Murtha, and to lose Johnstown, on this war is to lose the heartland of America. Johnstown is a very conservative place. The President campaigned there last year, and it was the first Presidential visit in decades (I believe since Truman). This is a patriotic, flag-on-the-front-stoop kind of town. If they're questioning the efficacy of the war, if they're looking at reports from the battlefield and wondering why we're still over there, if they're doubting, the whole country is. Recent opinion polls bear that out, but a guy like John Murtha isn't going to step in front of cameras and make an emotional plea for withdrawal if he didn't a) believe it in his heart, and b) know it was the prevailing opinion.

Some Republicans recognize this:

Don't know how many of you caught Rep. John Murtha's very angry, very moving speech just now in which he called on the White House to institute an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. CNN didn't air the entire thing, but as I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he's a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party. Murtha, a conservative Dem who voted for the war, talked in detail about the sacrifices being borne by our soldiers and their families, and about his visits out to Walter Reed to look after the maimed, and how we've had enough, it's time to come home. He was hell on the president too.

If tough, non-effete guys like Murtha are willing to go this far, and can make the case in ways that Red America can relate to -- and listening to him talk was like listening to my dad, who's about the same age, and his hunting buddies -- then the president is in big trouble. I'm sure there's going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.

This hasn't stopped the White House press secretary from firing the first shot:

Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.

Having to go to their favored pop-culture demon? How lame can you get? I guess we're all MIchael Moore then, since 65% of the American public agrees that we need to get out of Iraq. Murtha's a product of his environment. Johnstown is the toughest town I know. It's emblematic of this country. And in about a week, the whole country is going to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and engage in the time-honored tradition of talking things over. And the conclusions they're likely to reach on Iraq will not be positive ones.

This isn't anything new, but it's very significant.


So Much for the Push Back

Regardless of the manure that Scooter Libby's lawyers are shoveling, this Woodward revelation (that he received the leak about Plame) is horrible news for the White House. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, it does nothing for Libby's legal case (which is about lying to the grand jury); it doesn't even "catch Fitzgerald in a lie," as Keith Olbermann nicely explains:

(Scooter Libby’s attorney Ted) Wells issued a statement at midday, the key passage of which concludes that Woodward’s “disclosure shows that Mr. Fitzgerald’s statement at his press conference of October 28, 2005 that Mr. Libby was the first government official to tell a reporter about Mr. Wilson’s wife was totally inaccurate.”

But Fitzgerald didn’t say just that.

The transcript of Fitzgerald’s news conference is not disputed - nobody from his office has called up trying to get it altered after the fact. On October 28, in his opening statement Fitzgerald actually said: “Mr. Libby was the first government official known to have told a reporter” about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife.

That word “known” is a significant qualifier. And although much later, in the question-and-answer portion of his news conference, Fitzgerald described Libby as “at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter,” the second statement cannot simply be used in preference to the first. Either the qualifier - expressed virtually at the outset - is considered still in force, or both versions (“first official” and “first government official known”) have to be included.

This is no one-word parsing nonsense. Not only does that meaning of "known" change entirely the meaning of Fitzgerald's statement, but its related root words (know, knowing, knowingly etc) have been the keys to whether or not anybody was indicted for revealing Plame's covert status at the CIA.

Of course, this didn't stop practically every news outlet from blithely reporting that Woodward's disclosure contradicted Fitzgerald's statement. It didn't. And it doesn't matter anyway.

Of course, all this Woodward thing adds is another layer to the group of people in the White House dedicated to getting Plame's identity into the hands of journalists. It lends credibility to the notion of a conspiracy (see Steve Soto on this). And worst of all, this keeps the Plame story in the news cycle. That's really the last thing the White House needs. They're knee-deep in their "We Didn't Mislead, You Mis-Followed!" push-back tour, even re-animating Dick Cheney from the undead last night to deliver the message. Their attempts to re-focus the debate has gone up in smoke because of this.

Meanwhile, lost in a lot of this hue and cry is that Fitzgerald had Woodward testify to a new grand jury:

While the Woodward disclosure may muddy the Libby prosecution, the Wall Street Journal's Squeo and McKinnon report that the White House must now "brace itself" for the possibility that Fitzgerald's probe, "far from winding down, may have just gotten a second wind."

Prosecutors deposed Woodward in anticipation of presenting that evidence to a new grand jury, according to a person familiar with the situation. And that is exclusive new news, courtesy of Dow Jones.

He's continuing the investigation. No wonder Bush is so despondent.


"The jawbones would disintegrate over time."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta mentioned something I didn't know about white phosphorus today, something that intimates that this could not only be melting the skin off of "enemy combatants" (and they were all enemies. Just ask them), but have far-reaching effects to our own soldiers.

COOPER: Are there long-term effects?

GUPTA: It's hard to say. There haven't been a lot of studies on this sort of thing. They know a couple of things. One is that it can cause liver and kidney damage long term. It also might cause scarring again just from the burns. Also, you know, it used to be used in matchsticks. It was the white powder actually in matchsticks. So the factory workers who worked at those matchstick factories would actually get something known as "phossy jaw," that's what they called it. What would happen was the jawbones would actually disintegrate over time. Really dramatic for them. (understatement of the year -ed.) But again, that was from sustained long-term exposure.

Gupta went on to add that this wouldn't have any effect on troops unless there was some kind of unintentional explosion. But somebody has to be firing these shells. And nobody should assume that everything the military uses is air-tight and perfect.

Here's what phossy jaw looks like:

And Dick Cheney claims that WORDS are hurting the troops. How about this shit that may be disintegrating their jawbones?

p.s. Reading this Jamie McIntyre (Pentagon water-carrier at CNN) quote, what are you reminded of?

MCINTYRE (on camera): Any munition can inflict unintended civilian casualties, but the Pentagon argues it works hard to avoid the loss of innocent life. In Falluja, the military says civilians were urged for weeks to leave. And by the time the siege took place, most of the people left were either insurgents or their sympathizers.

Yes, they were urged for weeks to leave... why, they even delivered a mandatory evacuation... they asked civilians to line up at the Falluja Convention Center where buses would take them to safety... The point is that it's dubious to suggest that everyone who was still in the city were insurgents or sympathizers. We know the difficulties inherent in an evacuation. McIntyre should know better and cast a little more doubt.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Monkey See Monkey Do

So we found 150 or so prisoners in a cramped room in the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. They had clearly been beaten. All of them were Sunni, The whole Interior Ministry is Shia. Sunnis are furious.

Sunni Arab leaders on Wednesday demanded an international investigation into allegations of the torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq, in what may become a major test case of Iraqi leaders’ willingness to tackle persistent reports of human rights abuses at the hands of the country’s security forces.

The demands follow Tuesday’s pledge by Shia prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to open an internal investigation into the discovery by US troops of 173 prisoners, many starved and physically abused, in an interior ministry facility in the south Baghdad district of Jadriya.

I'm sure we'd have a lot more currency in settling this dispute between Sunni and Shia if we weren't, you know, torturing prisoners OURSELVES. Now we see how blowback works. By mainstreaming torture in Iraq, we've moved the country even closer to civil war, and damaged efforts for a nonviolent political solution. There's no doubt about it.

By the way we're allegedly now throwing people to lions:

Two former Iraqi detainees tell ABC News in an exclusive interview that they were repeatedly tortured by U.S. forces seeking information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

Thahee Sabbar and Sherzad Khalid are two of eight men who, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Human Rights First, are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The men claim they were tortured for months, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law.

Khalid -- a 34-year-old married father of four children -- says he worked in the grocery business until July 17, 2003, when U.S. soldiers interrupted a business meeting he was having with Thahee Sabbar, who sold sugar and bananas. U.S. soldiers, they say, interrupted their meeting and arrested them.

Khalid says U.S. soldiers tied his hands behind his back, put a hood over his head, and beat him to the point of breaking his tooth and bloodying his nose. Sabbar claims he suffered similar treatment, with soldiers dislocating his shoulder.

Khalid told ABC News that U.S. soldiers at one point threatened him with live lions.

"They took us to a cage -- an animal cage that had lions in it within the Republican Palace," he said. "And they threatened us that if we did not confess, they would put us inside the cage with the lions in it. It scared me a lot when they got me close to the cage, and they threatened me. And they opened the door and they threatened that if I did not confess, that they were going to throw me inside the cage. And as the lion was coming closer, they would pull me back out and shut the door, and tell me, 'We will give you one more chance to confess.' And I would say, 'Confess to what?'"

The twin themes of sexual humiliation and threatening people with animals keep cropping up in these abuse reports. There's a book called "The Arab Mind" from which many of these ideas spring. These ideas don't necessarily reflect what the book says, but the conclusions they reach are vile and racist and a window into how this government thinks about Arabs.

In one of his recent New Yorker articles about Abu Ghraib, Seymour Hersh quoted an unnamed academic on the Bush administration's view of Arab culture. In the White House discussions of the subject, the academic said, two themes emerged: "one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation." And, he explained, "the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior" was a book with what Hersh described as a "25-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression"—Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind.

However, either Hersh's source didn't read Patai closely, or the White House didn't. Patai never says that Arabs understand only force. His position is closer to the idea that Arabs would rather trash-talk than fight, but that once the fighting starts, then "psychological mechanisms come into play, making it practically impossible for either side to stop fighting, unless totally and hopelessly defeated, or unless mediation can bring about a settlement of the dispute." This insight, however, seems of limited value, since it applies to practically all societies.

I'm dubious of any notion that there's a pan-Arabism among such a diverse and widespread group of people, all with their own societies and concerns and cultures. But the notions that "they only understand force" and "you can make them ashamed of themselves through sex" are really sick. They do nothing but confirm the worst suspicions about human nature. They project ideas like "they only respond to force" as a pretext for using force. And I don't even what to get into the reflected repression of these beliefs about Arabs and sex.

The point is that... well, Digby says it better than I would:

The frightening thing is that presumably smart people actually believed that hard core terrorists would be so upset by masturbation and sexual humiliation that they'd crack like little bitty babies. The men and women in charge of our security are obviously puerile adolescents who think that "arabs" are so fundamentally different from us that they are a lesser species.



Woodward Slouches Towards Oblivion

Bob Woodward is completely self-deluded if he thinks that, just because the information about Valerie Plame he received seemed "off-hand" and casual, that it wasn't a crime. As early as the case was remanded to the Justice Department in September 2003, it was well-known that this information was classified.

In addition, if Woodward can mention it to Walter Pincus (not that Pincus remembers it), and if it's nothing more than gossip and off-hand casual remarks, why can't he mention who told it to him? Why is he barred from reporting the name in the Washington Post? "The source won't let us," shrieked Executive Editor Len Downie today in The Situation Room. I thought this wasn't a big deal. Since when does a newspaper willingly withhold this kind of relevant information?

This is a black mark on the storied career of Bob Woodward, whose gone from a dogged and intrepid reporter to a stenographer, and a guardian of the secrets of official Washington. Much like I think that Eric Clapton and Sting shouldn't be allowed to sing their older, better songs anymore, I think that Woodward should be barred from talking about Watergate now. He's not the same person now. He's irrelevant.

...and how does this affect the Scooter Libby case, as MSNBC's Dan Abrams (who I normally avoid like the plague) is shouting right now? Libby's case is about perjury. Whether or not Woodward heard it before Scooter leaked it has no bearing on Scooter lying to the FBI and to the grand jury. Libby's lawyers are trying to call this a bombshell by invoking the Chewbacca defense (it doesn't make sense!), but it won't fly. If anything, this just adds another perjury layer onto the case (whoever spoke to Woodward certainly wasn't forthcoming with that detail). This adds to the idea that a conspiracy was hatched to disclose Plame's identity.


What's the Penalty for Lying to Congress?

Well, it's five years in prison, even if you're not under oath. White-collar Club Feds had better make way for the oil execs:

A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.

The document, obtained this week by The Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.

Book 'em, Danno.

By the way, if this is no big deal, why did all of these executives refuse to testify to the Senate Committee under oath?


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How the Mighty Have Fallen

During Watergate, Bob Woodward was the intrepid reporter that helped expose the truth about what was going on in the White House. During Plamegate, he's part of the investigation:

The details still seem sketchy and I suspect we're going to find out a lot more in the next few days. But it now seems that Woodward -- who has long been publicly critical of the Fitzgerald investigation -- has been part of it from the beginning. Literally, the beginning.

From the Post account it appears that Woodward was told of Valerie Plame's identity before any other journalist by an as-yet-unnamed senior administration official who is not Karl Rove or Scooter Libby.

More problematically for Woodward, he didn't tell his own Post editors about any of this until last month and then only after the unnamed senior administration official came forward to Fitzgerald and told him about it. That apparently led Fitzgerald to subpoena Woodward.

By the way, in the days leading up to the Libby indictment, Woodward was all over television pooh-poohing this story, saying that the story about Plame's identity was nothing more than Washington gossip and chatter. Well, apparently it sure was--he was first man on the gossip train. And if it was so innocent, why did he then withhold the information for over two years? Was he saving it for his next book?

Then there's his ridiculous attempt to weasel his way out of it:

Woodward did not share the information with Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. until last month, and the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling in the summer of 2003 does not recall the conversation taking place.

Woodward's statement said he testified: "I told Walter Pincus, a reporter at The Post, without naming my source, that I understood Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst."

Pincus said he does not recall Woodward telling him that. In an interview, Pincus said he cannot imagine he would have forgotten such a conversation around the same time he was writing about Wilson.

"Are you kidding?" Pincus said. "I certainly would have remembered that."

Um, why would he tell Walter Pincus and not his own editor? By the end of 2003, this was one of the major stories in politics, and he doesn't come forward with the information that he received the same kind of information as anyone else? He doesn't think that was relevant, that it spoke to a coordinated smear campaign? Are his journalistic skills so ossified that he can't distinguish between casual conversation and a premeditated attack? Doesn't the content of the information suggest, nay, ensure a premeditated attack?

Bob Woodward is a sham. These Beltway establishment buffoons are the real losers in this whole escapade. To think that they can simply decide "this isn't an underlying crime" when they're implicated in the very crime themselves. They can't see the truth anymore because they're so deeply embedded in the system: the cocktail parties, the hobnobbing, the walking around on bended knee in exchange for access. This investigation should shame them all into retirement. But it, ah, won't.

UPDATE: Via Atrios, here's the transcript from Bob Woodward's appearance on Larry King the night before the indictment:

ISIKOFF: No, look, this is the biggest mystery in Washington, has been really for two years and now as we come down to the deadline of tomorrow the city is awash with rumors. There's a new one every 15 minutes and nobody really knows what's going to happen tomorrow. Nobody knows what Fitzgerald's got.

I talked to a source at the White House late this afternoon who told me that Bob is going to have a bombshell in tomorrow's paper identifying the Mr. X source who is behind the whole thing. So, I don't know, maybe this is Bob's opportunity.

KING: Come clean.

WOODWARD: I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry. In fact, I mean this tells you something about the atmosphere here. I got a call from somebody in the CIA saying he got a call from the best "New York Times" reporter on this saying exactly that I supposedly had a bombshell.

You did. You talked to the first leaker. And you're playing dumb. Freaking Isikoff knew you had something. Everyone in that studio probably knew you were involved. This whole thing has been like a game of kabuki theater, where what is unsaid is the real story, not what is said. Unfuckingbelievable.

UPDATE 2: Jane links to Steve Clemons regarding who Woodward's Mr. X might be. Before the indictments, the talk was that it was Fred Fleitz.

a short while ago -- one of America's top journalists called me to ask what I knew about Fleitz. He said rumors were swirling everywhere and that a "really wild rumor" was that Bob Woodward had a piece appearing in tomorrow's Washington Post focusing on Fleitz. Realize -- NOTHING substantiated here.

Who's Fred Fleitz?

John Bolton's right-hand man.


Targeted Bombing... Really Targeted

I've been blogging about the use of white phosphorus in Falluja for a while now. After repeated denials, the US Army is finally admitting it:

The Pentagon has confirmed that US troops used white phosphorus during last year's offensive in the northern Iraqi city of Falluja.

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.

The US earlier denied it had been used in Falluja at all.

There apparently are some technicalities over whether or not white phosphorus is a banned chemical weapon. There are international treaties restricting its use (for example, Protocol III of Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons), but the US is not a signatory to any of them. To which I say, who gives a shit. White phosphorus is a flammable chemical normally used to light up a battlefield. Its explosion causes a white cloud that melts the flesh. It will burn until it runs out of oxygen; water has no effect. And now, according to the US Army, it was used as a weapon. Chemical, weapon, I'm going to go ahead and say it's a chemical weapon.

(Col. Venable) said it had been used in Falluja, but it was "conventional munition", not a chemical weapon.

It is not "outlawed or illegal", Col Venable said.

"When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round or rounds into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he said.

Of course, we know that we were firing it solely at enemy forces. We just do. Just ask them... oh wait, you can't, they've been melted to the bone.

Another way the army accomplishes the determination of whether or not an Iraqi is an enemy combatant is by the time-honored technique once known as "ducking the witch." We submerge the enemy combatant in water. If he floats, then he is in fact an enemy combatant. If he drowns, well, then, he's innocent. And free to go.

The sick thing about that little bit of satire is that we actually are submerging suspected enemy combatants. Satire is dead.

The government (and that's who to blame here, the policymakers) can hide behind technicalities, but they're using chemical weapons on human beings in a war, one of the main objectives for which was to disarm a dictator of chemical weapons. THAT'S sure to go over well in the region.

Of course, this has barely been reported in the United States so far. It was broken in a television documentary in Italy, and this latest admission of guilt is from the BBC. Wonder when the Beltway chattering class will get around to discovering that we're melting the skin off of human beings in Iraq.


Depends on the Application

We all tailor our strengths, abilities, and beliefs to the subject we are trying to impress. That's why it should come as no surprise that Judge Alito is trying to pass himself off to Senators as a moderate with respect for precedent now, when in 1985, trying to get into Edwin Meese's Justice Department, he was singing a different tune:

“I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed, and that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”

This cannot be surprising. Nathan Newman notices something that is:

But what is most striking about Alito's statement is this line:

In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.


For the non-lawyers out there, Alito meant he was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee "one person, one vote", instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters.

So he believes that packing hundreds of thousands of voters into one urban district and giving it the same weight as an expansive rural district with a handful of voters is a great idea. That's the genius that went into all of those "See, the country is MOSTLY red" maps that came out last year, as if acres could vote instead of people. According to Alito acres should vote.

This adds on to the Vanguard conflict last week, where Alito ruled in a case from which he specifically said to Congress he would recuse himself. His answer to this was that he had been "unduly restrictive," which sounds like lawyer-speak for "I lied to the Senate and I don't care." I don't think the conflict of interest (what judge doesn't own some mutual funds?) is as important as the impunity with which Alito cast aside his own statements. Doesn't that mean he'd do the same with anything else he says in the confirmation hearings?

The more I hear about this guy, the more it concerns me. If we're not allowed to talk about specific cases in these hearings, then your integrity is of utmost importance. His finds me wanting.


Monday, November 14, 2005

We need another ethics class...

For years, decades actually, the Republican Party has continually claimed that the Democrats have no ideas. Never mind that all of the proposed repeals and reformatting of things like the middle-class tax cuts and Social Security and the Family Leave Act and Head Start and Medicaid and plenty of others are attempts to mess with Democratic IDEAS. But the rhetoric on this never seems to stop.

The example of the last two years is Iraq. For something like 88 Sundays in a row Prime Minister Russert has sat in the Meet The Press studio and asked Democrat after Democrat "But what is your plan for Iraq?" It's a fair point, although outside of the "stay the course!" slogan I haven't seen any evidence of a Republican plan for Iraq either (in fact, there was no Iraq plan from the Administration to begin with; that's why we're in the mess we're in), but it's apparently the Democrat's job to come along and fix what Republicans break with impunity. It's like if, as a kid, you and your brother are at home, and your brother breaks a bottle of milk on the floor, and your mother comes home and promptly says "OK, so what's your plan for cleaning up this milk your brother spilled?"

Tim Russert is your mother in that scenario.

But politically, it's important that Democrats do have an answer to this question. And they've been meandering around one for some time. Today Harry Reid codified it and put it in writing:

Democrats have developed a very clear path forward. There are three areas we believe need to be addressed:

* First, 2006 should be a significant year of transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqis taking more and more responsibility for their own security. It's time to take the training wheels off the Iraqi government. Iraqis must begin to run their own country. In 2006, the US and our allies must do everything we can to make that possible.

* Second, the Administration must advise the Iraqi people that U.S. military forces will not stay indefinitely in Iraq, and that it is their responsibility to achieve the broad-based and sustainable political environment essential for defeating the insurgency.

* Third, the President needs to submit -- on a quarterly basis - a plan for success to Congress and the American people. This plan must specify the challenges and progress being made in Iraq, timetables for achieving our goals and estimated dates for redeployment from Iraq as these goals are met.

Specific benchmarks, accountability, and the ultimate goal of bringing the troops home when the Iraqis can take over the fight. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, Senate Republicans seem to think so too:

In a sign of increasing unease among Congressional Republicans over the war in Iraq, the Senate is to consider on Tuesday a Republican proposal that calls for Iraqi forces to take the lead next year in securing the nation and for the Bush administration to lay out its strategy for ending the war.

The proposal on the Iraq war, from Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, and Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, would require the administration to provide extensive new quarterly reports to Congress on subjects like progress in bringing in other countries to help stabilize Iraq. The other appeals related to Iraq are nonbinding and express the position of the Senate.

Mr. Warner said he decided to take the Democratic proposal and edit it to his satisfaction in an effort to find common ground between the parties on the issue.

Did the Senate Republicans, the self-branded "party of ideas," just admit that they took the Democratic proposal on Iraq and presented it basically as their own?

To be honest, I don't care. If we do find some common ground in the Senate on this issue, I'm thrilled. America deserves this kind of oversight on a war that has spiraled alarmingly out of control without it. But what I don't want to hear from the chattering class of pundits in Washington, or the talking points regurgitators at the RNC, is how the Democrats have no ideas on Iraq (or anything else, for that matter). This lays that little fiction to rest permanently.


You All Listened!

There's been an apparent compromise on the habeas corpus suspension amendment.

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of senators reached a compromise Monday that would allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay to appeal the rulings of military tribunals to the federal courts.

Under the agreement, detainees who receive a punishment of 10 years in prison to death would receive an automatic appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Lesser sentences would not receive automatic review, but detainees still could petition the court to hear their cases.

In addition, the 500 or so detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba would be allowed to challenge in federal court the procedure under which they were labeled "enemy combatants."

The compromise proposal allows the federal court reviews in place of the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions - the right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal courts.

"Instead of unlimited lawsuits, the courts now will be looking at whether you're properly determined to be an enemy combatant and, if you're tried, whether or not your conviction followed the military commission procedures in place," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an interview. He said courts also will determine the constitutionality of the Bush administration's processes for prosecuting terror suspects and determining whether they should continue to be detained.

Graham apparently didn't want to see the process so drawn out. Either that our he feared Jeff Bingaman's vow to immediately go to court to get a ruling on the Constitutionality of the original amendment. In any case, this appears to me to be completely sensible and allows us to remain true to our ideals as a nation.

I'm almost positive it was the massive public pressure generated by my blog post this morning that led to the compromise.



I (Heart) Internet Cafes

It's allowed me to get back online as I wait for my hotel room during my mini-vacation. (apartment's being fumigated. Major annoyance)

So I want to urge you to contact your Senators and ask them to support Jeff Bingaman's amendment which would overturn the suspension of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantanamo). We simply cannot have a bunch of ghost prisoners without rights under our permanent care and control. This is especially true since the Supreme Court has already ruled last year that denying the right to trial to prisoners under US control is unconstitutional.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, a former Navy JAG lawyer who should know better, pushed through this amendment, and the fact that he would simultaneously do so while being one of the leaders of the anti-torture amendment shows a real contradiction. In Graham's view, the US should accede to federal and international laws prohibiting torture, but allow prisoners to languish at Guantanamo without legal rights. How would anyone know that they're being tortured then? It seems to me that these amendments cancel each other out. And McCain voted for the habeas corpus suspension as well. Puzzling.

This New York Times editorial spells out the danger of this amendment:

But what started as an admirable attempt by Senator John McCain to stop the torture and abuse of prisoners has become a tangle of amendments and back-room deals that pose a real danger of undermining the sacred rule that the government cannot just lock people up forever without saying why. On Thursday, the Senate passed a measure that would deny foreigners declared to be "unlawful enemy combatants" the right to a hearing under the principle known as habeas corpus, which dates to Magna Carta [...]

Fewer than 200 of the approximately 500 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have filed petitions for habeas corpus hearings. They are not seeking trials, merely asking why they are being held. And according to government and military officials, an overwhelming majority should not have been taken prisoner in the first place. These men have been in isolation for nearly four years, subject to months of interrogation. Do they really have anything left to say?

The habeas petitions are not an undue burden. And in any case, they are a responsibility that this nation has always assumed to ensure that no one is held prisoner unjustly.

The problem in creating one exemption to habeas corpus, no matter how narrow, is that it invites the creation of more exemptions. History shows that in the wrong hands, the power to jail people without showing cause is a tool of despotism. Just consider Natan Sharansky or Nelson Mandela. The administration hates that sort of comparison, so we wonder why it keeps inviting it. Just the other day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said with a sneer that the Guantánamo prisoners on hunger strikes had gone "on a diet where they don't eat" for publicity.

This all goes back to who we are as a country. Do we stick with the principles of constitutional democracy that have served us so well for centuries, or do we revert to the tools of tyrants and despots, the techniques of secret prisons and torture chambers and rights for some but not all?

Sen. Bingaman's Amendment (S. AMDT 2517), which you can find extensive information about here, would roll back the suspension of habeas corpus and solidify this bedrock American principle. Call your Senator and make sure we don't backslide into some very dangerous territory. Uphold American values. Support the amendment.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Light Posting

For the next couple days, as my apartment is being fumigated and I'll be holing up in a hotel. How we got the landlord to pay for the hotel (which is required by law) is a whole other blog post (collective action, yay!). I'll try to post during the evenings I'm at work.


My Day At Arlington West

I've spent the last two days very happy that I live where I live. I was able to see living history.

On Saturday I visited Arlington West. This is a sometimes-mobile exhibit that has taken up a semi-permanent residence on the beach in Santa Monica, just off the Pier. Over 2,000 miniature gravesites, complete with white crosses, Jewish stars or Muslim crescents, now dot the beachscape. Each one specifically represents a member of the Armed Forces killed thus far in the Iraq War. They also have a smaller plot for those who have died in Afghanistan.

Santa Monica, particularly on the weekends, very particularly by the beach and pier, is a tourist town. People from all over the country were down at the memorial site this weekend. It's very tastefully laid out. There is a banner marking the numbers of American war dead in every conflict since WWI. There's a sign marking the number killed in the current week. There is a detailed printout of every armed forces member who has died in Iraq, with their name, age, hometown, how and where they were killed. I thought if I saw one more "age 18" or "age 19" amongst the names I was going to be sick. There is a guestbook for people to sign, in addition to small pieces of paper that you can attach to particular gravesites with a personal message. There's also several stories of the war wounded, a forgotten group of brave men and women (well over 10,000 at last count).

And on Saturday, in honor of Veterans Day, Arlington West did something special. And it wasn't giving a political speech. They had a procession of 100 flag-draped coffins from the pier to the beach. The whole thing took around 15 minutes. The goal was to have 2,000 pallbearers in honor of each soldier laid to rest, but it didn't look to me like they reached that goal. They did read off every name of the fallen throughout the day, however. The oddity of the landscape struck me: you could look out toward Malibu and see 100 coffins just in front of the sweeping cliffs; turn the other way, and white crosses and stars and crescents peel out for several hundred yards, just underneath the ferris wheel and roller coaster and the sign that says "Playland."

A surreal scene, to be sure. But also an incredibly solemn one. I saw parents explaining the memorial to their children, writing their names in the guestbook. I saw Vietnam Vets out there, parents of the dead in Iraq, and the group of dedicated volunteers who have taken Arlington West all over the country, from Crawford to Washington to it's home base in Santa Monica. I saw the CNN reporter, who was doing live shots from there all day Saturday, step on one of the red plastic cups in front of the gravesite (they're there for candles) and put it back in the wrong place.

But most importantly, I saw Ron Kovic. He was out there talking to people, as he has for the last 40 years, since leaving 3/4 of his body on a battlefield in Vietnam, speaking truth to power, showing his respect for the men and women in uniform, siding with them and their well-being, and speaking out against the establishment, the ruling class, the decision-makers that have led to the memorial before me. was there, and they interviewed Kovic for the site (Here's a link to the film they made about Arlington West; Kovic's interview is not part of it). Kovic was eloquent, saying that we must question authority, that we welcome the growing numbers of Americans who have turned against this war, that we owe it to the troops to speak out and help bring them home. He was as sickened as the rest of us that the President would use Veteran's Day to launch a political attack. Yet he counseled patience, saying that "we should not disgrace ourselves by attacking our brothers and sisters who disagree with us. We all love America. We just need to continue to speak out, and the public will hear our call." It was an honor to shake his hand.

I felt like there could be no greater statement on this Veteran's Day weekend that what these folks have done at Arlington West. The awareness they raise, the memorial they've built, does everyone proud, regardless of your feeling on the war.