September 29, 2006

Systematically Destroying What It Means to be American

When you woke up today, you did so in a country that is profoundly different from the one in which you went to sleep.

Yesterday, the Senate passed S. 3930, a bill originally entitled the Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006, but enacted as the Military Commissions Act. To the vast majority of people in this country, that is an unremarkable - if not outright boring - event. As it happens however, S. 3930 represents nothing less than a successful frontal assault on the fundamental definition of what it means to be an American, and a forfeiture of basic rights enshrined in the Constitution.

S. 3930 was introduced to the Senate at the behest of the Bush Administration, where it immediately drew fire. On September 12th, a laundry list of distinguished armed forces veterans - including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and former Director of Central Intelligence (and Admiral) Stansfield Turner - wrote a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. In it, they expressed their alarm:
We believe that the language that would redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as equivalent to the standards contained in the Detainee Treatment Act [NOTE: The Detainee Treatment Act was an early version of the legislation that would become the Military Commissions Act] violates the core principles of the Geneva Conventions and poses a grave threat to American service-members, now and in future wars.

... Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions provides the minimum standards for humane treatment and fair justice that apply to anyone captured in armed conflict. These standards were specifically designed to ensure that those who fall outside the other, more extensive, protections of the Conventions are treated in accordance with the values of civilized nations. The framers of the Conventions, including the American representatives, in particular wanted to ensure that Common Article 3 would apply in situations where a state party to the treaty, like the United States, fights an adversary that is not a party, including irregular forces like al Qaeda. The United States military has abided by the basic requirements of Common Article 3 in every conflict since the Conventions were adopted. In each case, we applied the Geneva Conventions -- including, at a minimum, Common Article 3 -- even to enemies that systematically violated the Conventions themselves.

We have abided by this standard in our own conduct for a simple reason: the same standard serves to protect American servicemen and women when they engage in conflicts covered by Common Article 3. Preserving the integrity of this standard has become increasingly important in recent years when our adversaries often are not nation-states.
To the deep consternation of the White House, former Bush Secretary of State - and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - Colin Powell followed with a letter stating his opposition the next day. Then, Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Warner, all members of the president's own GOP, announced their own deep misgivings about the Military Commissions Act, which was followed by further public attention to other, troubling elements of the bill, and a full-on political showdown between the President and the Senate was in the offing.

By September 22nd however, a compromise was announced and trumpeted as a victory for the three "rebellious" Republicans that addressed the concerns expressed by Shalikashvili, Turner, Powell and the rest, as well as a host of Democrats, civil libertarians and other citizens of the nation. At first blush, it appeared that President Bush's latest attempt to treat the Constitution and ideals of the United States of America as no more than inconvenient impediments to his will had been derailed.

That wasn't the case.

The so-called "compromise" bill is nothing less than a complete sham - a near-total capitulation to George W. Bush - and today, after the House passed its version, the Senate approved its own. Unclaimed Territory has a deeper look, but the key provisions - the ones that indelibly stamp this as a mockery of everything America has ever supposedly stood for - are summarized as follows*:
  • Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill can subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president can bestow the power to apply this label on anyone he chooses to deputize, and even more troublingly, the label can potentially be applied to American citizens.
  • The Geneva Conventions: The bill repudiates a half-century of international precedent by allowing the president to decide - on his own - what abusive interrogation methods he considers permissible. His decision can remain secret, eliminating any possibility of policing what manners of prisoner abuse are being conducted in the name of the American people. Anyone who abused prisoners prior to the Hamdan decision, which found that illegal enemy combatants were subject to the Conventions (despite the position of the White House that they were not) is retroactively immune from prosecution, offering individuals who have committed war crimes legal protection from prosecution.
  • Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons lose the right to challenge their imprisonment, which means that they can effectively be "disappeared" with no legal recourse and no hope of release.
  • Judicial Review: The courts have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals, and there is no requirement that tribunals be held at all. The bill limits appeals and bars legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. Mr. Bush can now literally lock a person up forever; all the president needs to do is declare him an illegal combatant and refuse to hold a trial.
  • Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence will be permissible if a judge considers it reliable - already a contradiction in terms - and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act - again, retroactively protecting people who have violated international law - and anything else Mr. Bush chooses. In other words, the bill makes it legal to beat and torture confessions from prisoners.
  • Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. The Detainee Treatment Act permits prisoners to be charged using evidence they cannot see, and to which they cannot respond.
  • Offenses: The definition of torture is extensively narrowed, and excludes abusive treatment that most people would, in fact, consider to be torture. It reprises the deeply cynical memos John Yoo produced for the White House after 9/11, defining rape and sexual assault in a way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill effectivelys eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
What all of this means is that the following will be legal in the United States, as soon as President Bush signs this abomination into law: A foreigner living in his own country, a permanent legal resident of the U.S., or even potentially an American citizen, can be tagged as an enemy combatant by the president - or anybody else to whom he grants that power - locked up without a trial, and physically abused while imprisoned. That person may never have traveled outside his home country, visited a terrorist training camp, or even given money to a charity that is later shown to support terrorists. He is simply "designated."

While that person is imprisoned, he has no right to challenge his imprisonment, no court can review his case unless he is brought before a military tribunal, and the government is under no obligation to conduct such a tribunal. How is this person's voice heard? How does this person gain his release from detention, or prove himself innocent? How does he exercise the individual rights we so value as Americans? The answer to all of these questions is simple: He doesn't.

If you are saying to yourself, "That can't be right - that's not how we do things in America," you will only be correct in that assertion until the ink from Mr. Bush's pen dries at the bottom of this legislation and it becomes law. This is neither joke nor exaggeration. This is not shrill partisanship. We lost something fundamental today, and we are all worse for it.

In the supposed name of "protecting us," George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have instead driven us dramatically closer to the very totalitarianism we claim to oppose. We have sacrificed whatever remaining moral authority we had in the global arena at the altar of political expediency, so that the GOP, gasping for air in the polluted political atmosphere of failure it has rendered with unprecedented incompetence, can say it is "tough on terror" as it tries to stave off the rising tide of opposition to its abysmal policies in the upcoming elections.

Worse still, we haven't even gained the additional security the ruling party has touted as the reason behind this legislation. Torture doesn't work, as people familiar with regimes that have used it can tell you. The Geneva conventions, which we are now making every effort to circumvent, will no longer protect our soldiers or give us the standing to challenge regimes that do not follow them. People innocent of the crimes of which they are accused will have their lives ruined with no recourse.

And none of it will stop another terrorist attack.

The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have soiled their collective pants in the face of a threat infinitely smaller than the ones we faced during the Cold War or World War II. They have played to public ignorance while stoking the engines of fear. Crazed ideology - unsupported by either fact or competence - rules the day. We now live in an America unrecognizable to anyone who lived in it before George W. Bush first claimed the White House as his personal property, or who simply went to bed last night believing that this administration and this congress were worthy of even the smallest amount of respect or trust.

George W. Bush and the 109th Congress have betrayed America. Whether through willful ignorance, crass stupidity or venal partisanship - it matters not - they are traitors to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold. Supposedly honorable men like McCain, Graham and Warner - masquerading as "moderates" - have sold out not only themselves, but every citizen of the United States as well, pimping the lives and futures of each and every one of us to their own aggrandizement.

The Republican Party stands fully revealed; no longer the Party of Lincoln, but the party of torture, the abuse of basic human rights, and unrestrained executive power. If there is any justice left in the United States of America, the GOP will never recover from the base actions it took on September 28th.

*This summary is based on one in a recent The New York Times editorial. For a more detailed view, visit Human Rights First.

September 27, 2006

Dis-Enthralling Ourselves

For those of you who missed Chris Wallace's ambush interview of former President Bill Clinton on Fox News last weekend, here is the set-up:
Wallace sat down to speak with Mr. Clinton under the guidelines that 15 minutes would be devoted to the Clinton Global Initiative, and the remaining 15 minutes could be used to cover any other topic(s) that came to mind. After roughly one question on the Clinton Global Initiative, Wallace dove right into what, he claimed, his audience "had been eMailing him" to ask: Why didn't Bill Clinton do more to get Osama bin Laden?

What followed was one of the more interesting exchanges one is likely to see between a sitting or former U.S. President and the news media. Despite Fox News' efforts to label Mr. Clinton's response as "crazed," our 42nd president was anything but. He was, however, forceful and more than a little angry as he called out Fox News, Chris Wallace and the American right wing for attempting to rewrite history and foment a disinformation campaign. Repeatedly citing Richard Clarke, the chief anti-terrorism expert in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, he almost - but not quite - wiped the smugness off Wallace's face.
The entire interview is below, divided into three segments. Parts 1 and 2 cover the exchange referenced above, with part 3 back on the topic of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Backers of President Bush, lifting the words out of context, have fixated on Clinton's statement that he "failed to get bin Laden," despite the culpability of the Bush Administration in disregarding the Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," and ignoring transition briefings set up by outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to inform the incoming president of the plan for addressing Islamist terrorism that the Clinton Administration had developed. (Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice famously derided the last as nothing more than "a series of actionable steps." Draw your own conclusions as to the difference.)

In response to this - and at some risk of Sensen No Sen becoming an occasional hagiography of Keith Olbermann - below is the most recent special commentary from the host of Countdown. It is devoted to the Clinton interview and the manner in which the Bush Administration has undermined the Constitution and our way of life in the aftermath of 9/11, as it continues to assault civil liberties and advocate torture. While Olbermann's special commentaries are occasionally of lesser quality, this isn't one of those times, and he knocks it out of the park, declaring "an end to the free pass" George W. Bush has had to act in the most un-American of ways.
One can only hope that President Bush is, indeed, finally held accountable. For surely, somewhere, Osama bin Laden sits smiling to himself, watching us do the job of dismantling our nation from within, far more effectively than he could ever hope to do himself.

September 25, 2006

A Military Man Spells Out The Problem

Major General John R.S. Batiste, once a rising star in the United States Army, left the ranks of the armed forces late in 2005 to protest what he sees as dangerous ineptitude in the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in prosecuting the Iraq War. On Monday, he testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on the topic.

The transcript of his statement is below, and Alternet has video of the entirety. It isn't short, but it is tersely worded, direct and powerful. It is an excellent summation of not only what is wrong, but what must be done to make things right, and I urge you to take the time to read it, or view the video.

John R.S. Batiste

Major General, U.S. Army (Retired)

September 25, 2006

My name is John Batiste. I left the military on principle on November 1, 2005, after more than 31 years of service. I walked away from promotion and a promising future serving our country. I hung up my uniform because I came to the gut-wrenching realization that I could do more good for my soldiers and their families out of uniform. I am a West Point graduate, the son and son-in-law of veteran career soldiers, a two-time combat veteran with extensive service in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, and a life-long Republican.

Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense's leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare. Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty.

Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today. Our great military lost a critical window of opportunity to secure Iraq because of inadequate troop levels and capability required to impose security, crush a budding insurgency, and set the conditions for the rule of law in Iraq. We were undermanned from the beginning, lost an early opportunity to secure the country, and have yet to regain the initiative.

To compensate for the shortage of troops, commanders are routinely forced to manage shortages and shift coalition and Iraqi security forces from one contentious area to another in places like Baghdad, An Najaf, Tal Afar, Samarra, Ramadi, Fallujah, and many others. This shifting of forces is generally successful in the short term, but the minute a mission is complete and troops are redeployed back to the region where they came from, insurgents reoccupy the vacuum and the cycle repeats itself. Troops returning to familiar territory find themselves fighting to reoccupy ground which was once secure. We are all witnessing this in Baghdad and the Al Anbar Province today. I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus. This is no way to fight a counter-insurgency. Secretary Rumsfeld's plan did not set our military up for success.

Secretary Rumsfeld's dismal strategic decisions resulted in the unnecessary deaths of American servicemen and women, our allies, and the good people of Iraq. He was responsible for America and her allies going to war with the wrong plan and a strategy that did not address the realities of fighting an insurgency. He violated fundamental principles of war, dismissed deliberate military planning, ignored the hard work to build the peace after the fall of Saddam Hussein, set the conditions for Abu Ghraib and other atrocities that further ignited the insurgency, disbanded Iraqi security force institutions when we needed them most, constrained our commanders with an overly restrictive de-Ba'athification policy, and failed to seriously resource the training and equipping of the Iraqi security forces as our main effort.

He does not comprehend the human dimension of warfare. The mission in Iraq is all about breaking the cycle of violence and the hard work to change attitudes and give the Iraqi people alternatives to the insurgency. You cannot do this with precision bombs from 30,000 feet. This is tough, dangerous, and very personal work. Numbers of boots on the ground and hard-won relationships matter. What should have been a deliberate victory is now an uncertain and protracted challenge.

Secretary Rumsfeld built his team by systematically removing dissension. America went to war with "his plan" and to say that he listens to his generals is disingenuous. We are fighting with his strategy. He reduced force levels to unacceptable levels, micromanaged the war, and caused delays in the approval of troop requirements and the deployment process, which tied the hands of commanders while our troops were in contact with the enemy. At critical junctures, commanders were forced to focus on managing shortages rather than leading, planning, and anticipating opportunity. Through all of this, our Congressional oversight committees were all but silent and not asking the tough questions, as was done routinely during both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Our Congress shares responsibility for what is and is not happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our nation's treasure in blood and dollars continues to be squandered under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership. Losing one American life due to incompetent war planning and preparation is absolutely unacceptable. The work to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime was a challenge, but it pales in comparison to the hard work required to build the peace. The detailed deliberate planning to finish the job in Iraq was not considered as Secretary Rumsfeld forbade military planners from developing plans for securing a post-war Iraq. At one point, he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a post-war plan. Our country and incredible military were not set up for success.

Our country has yet to mobilize for a protracted, long war. I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld failed to address the full range of requirements for this effort, and the result is one percent of the population shouldering the burdens, continued hemorrhaging of our national treasure in terms of blood and dollars, an Army and Marine Corps that will require tens of billions of dollars to reset after we withdraw from Iraq, the majority of our National Guard brigades no longer combat-ready, a Veterans Administration which is underfunded by over $3 billion, and America arguably less safe now than it was on September 11, 2001. If we had seriously laid out and considered the full range of requirements for the war in Iraq, we would likely have taken a different course of action that would have maintained a clear focus on our main effort in Afghanistan, not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents.

What do we do now? We are where we are, plagued by the mistakes of the past. Thankfully, we are Americans and with the right leadership, we can do anything. First, the American people need to take charge through their elected officials. Secretary Rumsfeld and the Administration are fighting a war in secret that threatens our democratic values. This needs to stop right now, today. Second, we must replace Secretary Rumsfeld and his entire inner circle. We deserve leaders whose judgment and instinct we can all trust. Third, we must mobilize our country for a protracted challenge, which must include conveying the "what, why, and how long" to every American, rationing to finance the totality of what we are doing, and gearing up our industrial base in a serious manner. Mortgaging our future at the rate of $1.5 billion a week and financing our great Army and Marine Corps with supplemental legislation must stop. Americans will rally behind this important cause when the rationale is properly laid out. Fourth, we must rethink our Iraq strategy. "More of the same" is not a strategy, nor is it working. This new strategy must include serious consideration of federalizing the country, other forms of Iraqi national conscription and incentives to modify behavior, and a clear focus on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces as "America's main effort." Fifth, we must fix our inter-agency process to completely engage and synchronize all elements of America's national power. Unity of effort is fundamental and we need one person in charge in Iraq who pulls the levers with all U.S. Government agencies responding with 110 percent effort. Finally, we need to get serious about mending our relationships with allies and getting closer to our friends and enemies. America can not go this alone. All of this is possible, but we need leadership and responsible Congressional oversight to pull this off.

I challenge the American people to get informed and speak out. Remember that the Congress represents and works for the people. Congressional oversight committees have been strangely silent for too long, and our elected officials must step up to their responsibilities or be replaced. This is not about partisan politics, but rather what is good for our country. Our November elections are crucial. Every American needs to understand the issues and cast his or her vote. I believe that one needs to vote for the candidate who understands the issues and who has the moral courage to do the harder right rather than the easier wrong. I for one will continue to speak out until there is accountability, until the American people establish momentum, and until our Congressional oversight committees kick into action. Victory in Iraq is fundamental and we cannot move forward until accountability is achieved.

Thank you.

September 22, 2006

Iraq (And Everything Else) For Sale

Iraq for Sale - The War Profiteers

Back in his first term, Bill Clinton eliminated more than 425,000 government jobs as part of an effort to "reinvent government." His idea was that inefficiencies inherent to not-for-profit organizations - such as federal agencies and even the armed services - could be reduced by leveraging the market forces that drive performance and profitability in the private sector. Under George W. Bush, there has been a massive increase in the use of private contractors to fulfill government functions, from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but rather than resulting in savings, costs have ballooned.

There are a number of reasons for this failure.

  • First, contractors often simply escape oversight because government agencies are no longer staffed to effectively monitor them, an unforeseen consequence of staff cuts.
  • Second, there appears to be a certain amount of corruption involved, with companies such as Halliburton (and its subsidiaries) - which has close ties to the Bush Administration - gaining sweetheart contracts to the exclusion of nearly all others. The entrenchment of this corruption is abetted by the not-uncommon punishment of those who have attempted to bring any rigor to the government's relationship with such firms, or to call attention to misdeeds. To make matters worse, many of those chosen to provide government leadership - notably in Iraq and New Orleans - have been selected not for their ability, but their loyalty to President Bush, adding healthy doses of inexperience and incompetence to the mix.
  • Third, there is no real competition for many of the products and services that are provided to the government, and there is only one buyer - the United States - which greatly diminshes what were hoped to be efficiency-driving market forces. This circumstance is magnified by the fact that contracts related to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq - as well as the clean-up of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - are awarded on a no-bid basis, completely eliminating competition and leaving in its place only the profit motive, unrestrained by duty-to-country.

Given that there has not been a single hearing by any Congressional committee to examine the way that taxpayer money is being spent in Iraq, it is unlikely that much will be accomplished to reduce the waste associated with out-sourcing to private contractors. When the time comes to do so, it will be important to keep in mind the underlying issues. As Lee Drutman put it in a recent article at

Perhaps its time to stop blaming cronyism and instead take a good hard look at the underlying policies that make it possible for such cronyism and profiteering to run rampant in the first place.

One approach might be to establish an independent commission to study the overall effects of contracting out. Were we to seriously re-assess the whole policy of private contracting, we would probably learn that in many cases, it actually costs more to contract out. It’s hard to imagine that an expanded U.S. military force would have done a worse job in Iraq than Halliburton. In other cases, such as unexpected disasters that call for sudden expanded capacity, it may still make sense to contract out, but agencies that do contract out should be properly equipped to monitor the contractors and be empowered to hold them accountable.

But until we thoroughly study the issue, we won’t know. Instead we’ll keep wasting taxpayer money on a policy that has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to generate waste, fraud and abuse.

PODCAST: September 20, 2006 Interview wih Richard Greenwald on NPR (KWMU-Saint Louis) Until that time, we are left, ironically enough, with only private-sector efforts to bring notice to this matter. One such effort is director Robert Greenwald's new film, Iraq for Sale, which attempts to shed light on not only how deeply companies like Bechtel and Kellogg Brown & Root have drunk at the public trough, but the callousness with which they treat their employees, and their often poor performance, which has imperiled the health and lives of the very service people they ostensibly support.
[Click on radio tower icon for podcast of interview with Robert Greenwald.]

In the 1980's, headlines were made when it became known that lax oversight had put the Pentagon in the habit of spending $400 for a hammer and $600 for a toilet seat. The situation today however, is much worse. Where the Department of Defense is beholden to Congress and by extension, the American people, private firms are beholden to no one but their shareholders, and are routinely protected from investigation by the language in their government contracts.

60 Minutes has reported that billions of American dollars allocated for funding the reconstruction of Iraq are missing and untraceable, but despite this and similar stories, nothing is being done. There is outrage from neither the Oval Office nor the president's echo chamber, the GOP-controlled Congress, and the waste and cronyism that is occurring on an epic scale make up only one more in a long, long list of reasons to vote for change this November.

September 19, 2006

Misunderstanding America

While this is not Keith Olbermann's best, his most recent special commentary - this time on President Bush's September 15th Rose Garden press conference - is still interesting and worthy viewing. In it, he focuses on what, at first blush, is appears to be a relatively small element of the president's remarks, but which, on closer examiniation, is one that deserves attention as a window into the perspective of our current leadership.

As Sensen No Sen has also done, Olbermann highlights two of this administration's core problems: an inability to see the world from anything but its own limited viewpoint, coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the United States and its founding principles. Perhaps equally worrying however, is what appears to be a belief on the part of President Bush that there is such a thing as thoughtcrime...

September 18, 2006

Tough Love Among Republicans

The current issue of Washington Monthly has an extremely interesting piece entitled "Time For Us To Go" that collects articles by a number of prominent conservative Republicans - Christopher Buckley, Bruce Bartlett, Joe Scarborough, William A. Niskanen, Bruce Fein, Jeffrey Hart and Richard Viguerie - who are advocating Democratic victory in at least one house of Congress in the upcoming mid-term elections. While they are hardly claiming that Democrats are the nation's saving grace, a consistent theme among the authors is a desire for government divided along party lines.

Such a state of affairs has historically created tension that forces compromise and keeps the more extreme elements of either side from gaining traction. Former Congressman Scarborough, for instance, credits just such a divide with helping to build the $150 billion budget surplus that existed at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, and given the electoral purges that occur in Congress roughly every 20 years, the public has likewise shown itself to have a low tolerance for the excesses of single-party rule. The last such purge took place in 1994, but along with a strong likelihood that there will be another this year, there appears to be some sense - as with these conservatives - that the current incarnation of the Republican Party has moved beyond the pale of even the usual cyclical abuses of power.

Some of the writers, such as Bruce Fein, have voiced their belief for some time that the Bush Administration and the Republican-held Congress have forfeited their responsibilities to the nation and to conservative values. Others, like Scarborough, have become vocal only more recently. Some advocate a drastic change in leadership in order to reinvigorate the GOP, and others believe that the best thing for their party would be to have Nancy Pelosi and/or Harry Reid leading a majority Democratic party in full public view. Whatever their reasoning, their recognition that the massive failure of current policies, driven as they are by ideology rather than realism, is welcome in the extreme.

Some notable quotes from the Washington Monthly articles:

Despite the failures, one had the sense that the party at least knew in its heart of hearts that these were failures, either of principle or execution. Today one has no sense, aside from a slight lowering of the swagger-mometer, that the president or the Republican Congress is in the least bit chastened by their debacles.
-- Christopher Buckley

Let [Democrats] defund the war and implement an immediate pullout if that’s what they really think we should do. At least it would force the administration to explain itself better and face some oversight, for which the Republican Congress has essentially abrogated all responsibility.
-- Bruce Bartlett

I also seem to remember muttering something about preferring an assortment of Bourbon Street hookers running the Southern Baptist Convention to having this lot of Republicans controlling America’s checkbook for the next two years.
-- Joe Scarborough

Equally striking is that these spending increases have generally found the same recipient: the Pentagon. It’s not that unified governments love to purchase bombers, but, rather, that they tend to draw us into war. This may sound improbable at first, but consider this: In 200 years of U.S. history, every one of our conflicts involving more than a week of ground combat has been initiated by a unified government.
-- William A. Niskanen

The most conservative principle of the Founding Fathers was distrust of unchecked power... But a Republican Congress has done nothing to thwart President George W. Bush’s alarming usurpations of legislative prerogatives. Instead, it has largely functioned as an echo chamber of the White House.
-- Bruce Fein

Successful government by either Democrats or Republicans has always been, above all, realistic. FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan were all reelected by landslides and rank as great presidents who responded to the world as it is, not the world as they would have it. But ideological government deserves rejection, whatever its party affiliation. This November, the Republicans stand to face a tsunami of rejection. They’ve earned it.
-- Jeffrey Hart

If Big Government Republicans behave so irresponsibly and betray the people who elected them, while we blindly, slavishly continue backing them, we establish that there is no price to pay for violating conservative principles. If we give in, we are forgetting the lesson that mothers teach their daughters: Why buy a cow when the milk is free?
-- Richard Viguerie

Will a divided government actually serve to keep a Republican in the Oval Office? Will spending, or ideology or government growth be changed from their present courses under two-party leadership? Will Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid aquit themselves well as majority leaders if given the opportunity? All are interesting questions, but in the end, beside the point; they are no more than justifications by these authors, either to themselves or to their constituencies.

One may choose to agree or disagree with the arguments that these men use to support their positions. The important thing is that the central tenet of their articles is a realization that this country continues to be damaged by the Bush White House and the current Congress, and that change is desperately needed. A measure of that need's desperation is that these articles have been written at all.

September 17, 2006

The Worst Constitutional Law Professor in the Country

Former Deputy U.S. Attorney General John Yoo, who contributed to the PATRIOT Act, has advocated the legality of torture, and advised that enemy combatants can be denied protection under the Geneva Convention as a means of diminishing legal challenges regarding war crimes, wrote an op-ed piece in today's New York Times. From Glenn Greenwald's Sunday post at Unclaimed Territory:
Why is it even necessary to point out that the U.S. President does not have the power to violate laws which he thinks are "wrongheaded or obsolete," or that Presidents have no authority to disregard "wrongheaded or obsolete judicial decisions" (whatever that might mean)? And what permits a "law professor" to claim otherwise on the Op-Ed page of the NYT? Under this administration, there is no notion too radical or authoritarian to be off limits not only from being subject to debate, but from being implemented.

Just look at the things we're debating -- whether the U.S. Government can abduct and indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens without charges; whether we can use torture to interrogate people; whether our Government can eavesdrop on our private conversations without warrants; whether we can create secret prisons and keep people there out of sight and beyond the reach of any law or oversight; and whether the President can simply disregard long-standing constitutional limitations and duly enacted Congressional laws because he has deemed that doing so is necessary to "protect" us.

These haven't been open questions for decades if not centuries. They've been settled as intrinsic values that define our country. Yet nothing is settled or resolved any longer. Everything -- even the most extremist and authoritarian policies and things which were long considered taboo -- are now openly entertained, justifiable and routinely justified.
At no time in recent memory has our very system of government been under more direct assault from within; Watergate pales in comparison. The fact that we have allowed the types of policies championed by John Yoo into the public discourse at all - and as ostensibly reasonable options - only illustrates the damage that has already been done.

September 16, 2006

High-Handedness at the F.C.C.

The problem with media consolidation is that it places corporate profits ahead of local coverage, while concentrating too much information power in the hands of a few companies. This concentration in turn provides those corporations the ability to shape public awareness and opinion with little opposition, and some firms have seized on that opporunity with alarming results. Sinclair Broadcasting Group, for instance, which reaches roughly a quarter of all homes in the U.S., mandated that its television stations broadcast a strongly partisan anti-John Kerry film just days before the 2004 presidential election. Likewise, in the realm of radio, Clear Channel Communications went as far as organizing pro-war rallies in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq to support President Bush, with whom company leadership has close ties.

Despite episodes like these, former Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) Chairman Michael Powell successfully changed media ownership rules to allow greater consolidation - and did so with only a single public hearing on the matter - despite significant outcry. He faced a storm of criticism in the wake of that decision, however, leading to a Senate resolution rolling back the rules, and a civil lawsuit that saw the regulations thrown out by a federal district court in Philadelphia. Today, another opportunity to examine rule changes surrounding media consolidation - for which large media companies continue to push - is gaining momentum.

Now it has come to light that, back in 2004, the F.C.C. ordered the outright destruction and suppression of a report strongly indicating that locally-owned television stations provide more local news coverage than do network- and non-locally-owned broadcasters. While it is likely that many draft reports are routinely suspended during the course of setting policy, this is particularly troubling given Mr. Powell’s preference for allowing media company-backed consolidation of television ownership in the face of strong public opposition.

The report came to notice during Senate hearings on the renomination of Powell’s successor, F.C.C. Chairman Kevin Martin, when it was the topic of questioning by Senator Barbara Boxer. Mr. Powell and Mr. Martin have both denied knowing about either the report or its suppression, but Senator Boxer is pushing for an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The manner in which the F.C.C. makes decisions is never more important than when it directly effects the way in which the public gets the news of the day. An informed citizenry is crucial to representative democracy, and given the F.C.C.’s recent high-handedness, attention to the manner in which a countervailing report was quashed is a very good thing.

September 15, 2006

Will the Walk Be Walked?

Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory has become the go-to guy in the blogosphere on legal matters affecting the Constitution, and his July 24th piece on Senator Arlen Specter's proposed legislation to revise FISA Court oversight of President Bush's warrantless surveillance program gives an excellent overview of why this bill is horribly damaging to the nation. I realize that Constitutional law is not everybody's cup of tea, but this stuff really does matter, and if you pay attention to little else in politics, I urge you to pay attention to this.

The bad news is that Specter's bill made it out of committee on Wednesday - the first hurdle on its way to becoming law - passing on a party-line vote with intense pressure from the White House. Democratic efforts to amend the bill to rein in the president were rebuffed completely, and it is now headed to the full Senate, which is expected to take up the legislation soon. Specter's bill would do the following (hat tip to JustAnObserver, a commenter at Unclaimed Territory for the summary):
  1. Repeal the core requirement of FISA that its procedures and the criminal Wiretap Act (Title III) "shall be the exlusive means" for conducting electronic surveillance. The bill essentially makes FISA optional overall, by explicitly deferring to the President's "inherent" constitutional authority instead.
  2. Authorize (but not require) the President to submit the current NSA surveillance program to review and blessing by the FISA courts. This review effectively would be limited to Fourth Amendment issues. The separation-of-powers issues deriving from FISA itself would not be reviewed, because Congress already would have capitulated in Step 1 above.
  3. Refer all third-party court challenges to intelligence-surveillance programs to the FISA courts, instead of the ordinary District Courts such as those of Judge Taylor in Detroit, Judge Lynch in New York or Judge Walker in San Francisco, which now have several cases before them. There is some uncertainty about what effect this would have on Judge Taylor's case, since she already has ruled against the program and issued an injunction.
  4. Make some fundamental changes to the definitions within FISA, most importantly removing the current provision that makes FISA apply to any intelligence surveillance acquired within the United States, regardless of who the target is. This apparently would have the effect of authorizing warrantless surveillance beyond that now reported to take place under the NSA program.
In short, S 2453 grants George W. Bush - and any president that follows him - freedom from oversight and the legal authority to spy on whomever he will. The only restraint on this power is the government's good faith, and our belief that the people in charge won't make mistakes or carry out actions against personal or political enemies. With the Valerie Plame scandal and Watergate in this nation's recent history, the foolishness of that course should be self-evident.

The good news is twofold, but it is nascent. First, there is an alternative bill (S 3001) from Senator Diane Feinstein that will compete with Specter's legislation in the Senate. It would enact the following (again, hat tip to JustAnObserver for the summary):
  1. Reaffirm that FISA and Title III procedures "shall be the exclusive means" for conducting surveillance, eliminating the chance that the AUMF might be construed to authorize warrantless surveillance that FISA prohibits.
  2. Provide increased flexibility in FISA's current "emergency" provisions for beginning surveillance before warrants are issued, and increasing the emergency period from the current one-stage provision of three days to a two-phase provision of three days at first, with the final warrant application not due for seven days. The greater flexibility within the three days is offset by detailed oversight reports to Congress and the FISA courts.
  3. Increase the resources for processing these individual FISA warrants.
  4. Make the current provision allowing 15 days of warrantless surveillance immediately following a declaration of war also apply to 15 days following a national emergency or passage of an AUMF, as defined by the War Powers Act.
In other words, Feinstein's bill specifically addresses the complaints that were used by the White House to justify bypassing the FISA Court, reaffirms that the president must submit to oversight, and reforms the institution rather than chucking the baby out with the bath water and undermining the Constitution.

The second piece of good news comes by way of a conference call attended by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and a number of progressive bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald. From Unclaimed Territory:

... For the first question, I asked him about the Specter bill -- specifically, what the Democrats' strategy was for preventing its enactment (I wanted to wait until the second question but I couldn't contain myself).

Sen. Reid stated flatly and unequivocally -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the Specter bill was not going anywhere, that it would not be enacted. I then asked him how he could be so certain about that -- specifically, I asked where the 51 votes against the Specter bill would come from in light of the support it enjoys from both the White House and at least some of the ostensibly "independent" Republicans, exacerbated by the fact that all 10 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of it yesterday (at least they voted in favor of sending it to the Senate floor).

In response, Sen. Reid explained that our system does not allow every bill to be enacted simply because a majority supports it, that Senate rules allow minority rights to be protected, clearly alluding to a filibuster. Indeed, as part of that vow, Sen. Reid specifically referenced the fact that in the Senate, one does not need 50%, but only 40%, to block the enactment of a bill. He explained that rule existed to protect minority rights. When I asked him expressly whether the Democrats are committed to filibustering the Specter bill if doing so is necessary to defeat it, he said he thought that would not be necessary, but repeated that they would make sure the Specter bill did not become law. He was unequivocal about that a second time.

The Democratic Senate leadership is definitely talking the talk, and is, judging by Senator Reid's statements, prepared to filibuster. While poor approval ratings for the Bush Administration have begun to embolden the Democrats over the last few months, their track record on caving to the GOP is less than stellar. If you can, take the opportunity to contact Senator Reid and make sure that he walks the walk. The Minority Leader's contact information is as follows:

Reid, Harry- (D - NV)
528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3542
Web Form:

The Specter bill is a truly terrible piece of legislation that directly attacks the system of checks and balances that is the very foundation of government in the United States. It needs to be not only defeated, but soundly rejected.

September 12, 2006

Keith Olbermann's September 11th Special Commentary

On the anniversary of September 11th, Countdown's Keith Olbermann had a special commentary directed to President Bush, Vice President Cheney and all those who would rather exploit the tragedies of 9/11 rather than work to heal the wounds of that day. He speaks strongly about what the failure to rebuild at Ground Zero means and what it says about the priorities of our leadership, and more importantly he calls attention to the fact that by most reasonable definitions - and without question by the standards applied to President Clinton - George W. Bush has committed impeachable offenses.

Incendiary remarks? Perhaps.
Necessary comments? Without question.

September 11, 2006

Two Paths Forward

General Wesley ClarkDespite a lackluster performance in the 2004 presidential election cycle, Wesley Clark has proven to be a man of uncommon commitment, which is perhaps not surprising from someone who was first in his class at West Point, a Rhodes Scholar, and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. While General Clark appears to be positioning himself for another run at the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, he is doing so in a fashion that not only keeps his name relevant to political discourse, but in one that is marked by independent and reasoned thinking, as well as a true commitment to healing America from damage inflicted by the Bush Administration's fear-mongering jingoism.

General Clark's website, in addition to petitions and calls to grassroots activism, features a section devoted to "ClarkCasts," which are podcasts of short audio presentations by the former NATO commander. Clark is not always at his eloquent best in this format, but his passion shines through whenever he talks about which path he believes America needs to travel.

To mark the fifth anniversary of September 11th, General Clark spoke about not only where our nation has been, but where he believes it needs to be. The full 9/11 ClarkCast is available here, and an excerpt is below:
I think there are two clear paths ahead. This nation can listen to the dictates of fear and hubris as the administration alternately ignores Al Qaeda and then trumpets their success. Alternately brags about success in Iraq and then ignores it, and all the while beats the tom-toms for war with Iran.

Yes, our country could slide that way if we listen to the dictates of fear. But we have nothing to fear in this country. We're still the greatest power in the world. And we can be the greatest force of good in the world. And we can keep ourselves safe.

I'd like us to resolve on this 5th Anniversary of 9/11, that we as Americans no longer need live in fear. We should live in determination that we'll protect ourselves. Support our friends and allies around the world. Work together to solve the common problems that face mankind. And above all, we'll make sure that at home that we never sacrifice the liberties and rights that define our country. Even in an effort to protect ourselves.

We can have it all. We can do it all.

We just have to be courageous and face the facts as they are and work for the future as we want it to be.
What is so remarkable about this passage is that Wesley Clark covers all of the bases that the Bush Republican Party would have the public believe it needs the GOP in power to cover, and does so not with fear, but determination. It turns the customary messages of dread and anxiety to which we have grown accustomed from President Bush and Vice President Cheney to one of positive, forward movement grounded in America's heritage.

That is true leadership, and it makes the systematic exploitation of terror for political gain - of which we have seen far too much under this administration - look as small and grasping and futile and ugly as it really is.

Clark in '08, anyone?

September 10, 2006

An Argument Settled

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Even for many backers of the war in Iraq, the management of the United States occupation of that country has been troubling. Some war supporters – or at least those who aren’t merely blindly partisan – have gone so far as to term that management incompetent, but also used it as the basis for an argument that the invasion was a great idea whose follow-up has merely been poorly executed. Opponents of the war, meanwhile, have called the occupation not just incompetent, but criminally negligent in its failure.

This might seem like an exercise in semantics over a relatively small point, but it is in fact important. If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the war planners merely made good-faith errors in judgement, a significant amount of the criticism leveled at them disappears, and some of the questions about the Bush Administration’s mindset in planning and executing foreign policy become more cloudy. Certainly, there has been recognition of disagreement among Pentagon leadership, most notably between the Secretary of Defense and former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, but even that can be chalked up to divergent philosophies, with Shinseki representing an old guard mentality in conflict with Rumsfeld’s belief in a lighter, faster force. Even Rumsfeld's firing of Shinseki after the general testified before Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be required to properly secure Iraq - rather than the 150,000 or so that were actually commited - can be atttributed to cleaning house in an effort to get everybody on the same page at the Department of Defense.

Brigadier General Mark ScheidAs it turns out however, this argument has now been settled, and it has been settled, in of all places, the pages of the Hampton Roads Daily Press. In a September 8th article, Army Brigadier General Mark Scheid, the commander of the Army Transportation Corps and a logistics planner for American deployments in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, spoke candidly about the challenges associated with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In addressing post-invasion planning, General Scheid states flatly that Mr. Rumsfeld expressly forbade addressing a scenario in which U.S. forces were in-country for an extended period of time:
"The secretary of defense continued to push on us... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the Secretary of Defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."
What this says about Donald Rumsfeld is deeply disturbing. The fact that he was apparently more concerned with public perception of the invasion than with ensuring that all reasonable outcomes were adequately planned is bad enough, but his cavalier attitude toward the men and women for whom he is responsible is even more appalling. This is more than just criminal negligence, this is an utter contempt for the lives and well-being of American service people manifested in a willful blindness that is head-spinning in its arrogance.

In the wake of the failed occupation of Iraq and the scandal of Abu Ghraib the question"Why does Donald Rumsfeld still have a job?" was asked even by mainstream media outlets like The Economist, and a recent no-confidence vote on his tenure as Secretary of Defense was only avoided because the GOP controls the Senate. Based on the statements of General Sheid, the more proper question is "Why isn't Donald Rumsfeld being prosecuted?"

September 5, 2006

Back to the Well

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown, has become increasingly important as a voice of reason in the mainstream media. While his sometimes clownish feud with Bill O'Reilly is amusing theater, and his daily Worst Person in the World award is good fun with a bite, Olbermann's value to the country is evident when our leaders engage in fear-mongering demagoguery and political intimidation.

In a prime example of just such behavior last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delivered a speech to the national convention of the American Legion in Salt Lake City on the topic of the war in Iraq. In it, he decried the "moral (and) intellectual confusion" of war opponents - comparing them to those who favored appeasing Hitler rather than confronting him in the run-up to the second world war - and asked whether we can afford the view that "America... is the source of the world’s troubles."

The irony of that last question of course, is thick, given the video of Rumsfeld glad-handing with Saddam Hussein in 1983 (screen capture at right, image links to video), back when Iraq was a valuable ally against Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. In any case, condescension from Donald Rumsfeld is nothing new, but he clearly crossed a line with this speech. Olbermann agreed, and offered an extended commentary on Rumsfeld's remarks that is empassioned, eloquent, powerful and timely:

The Rumsfeld diatribe however, was not an isolated event. The first clue that it was not an aberration, but the initial salvo in the newest Bush White House communications barrage arrived Friday when he wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times "clarifying" his remarks to the Legion. Far from distancing himself from the Tuesday speech, Secretary Rumsfeld reinforced his key points, once again comparing opposition to the Iraq war to the appeasement of Hitler, and this time adding in an extra layer of fear by comparing the threat from al Qaeda to that from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Still, one might consider Donald Rumsfeld's comportment in recent years and conclude that he was merely continuing the long, public professional slide that has so damaged his - and the nation's - credibility. President Bush put to rest any notion that the Secretary of Defense was freelancing, however, when he clearly supported the beleagured Rumsfeld in a speech yesterday, again drawing comparisons between bin Laden and Hitler, as well as Lenin. What was perhaps worse however, was that Mr. Bush declared:

Secondly, along with this campaign of terror, the enemy has a propaganda strategy. Osama bin Laden laid out this strategy in a letter to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, that coalition forces uncovered in Afghanistan in 2002. In it, bin Laden says that al Qaeda intends to "[launch]," in his words, "a media campaign… to create a wedge between the American people and their government."

This media campaign, bin Laden says, will send the American people a number of messages, including "that their government [will] bring them more losses, in finances and casualties." And he goes on to say that "they are being sacrificed… to serve… the big investors, especially the Jews." Bin Laden says that by delivering these messages, al Qaeda "aims at creating pressure from the American people on the American government to stop their campaign against Afghanistan."

In other words, if the citizens of this country criticize the policies of this administration, they play right into the hands of Osama bin Laden. In other words, if you are not with the White House, you are with the enemy, wittingly or unwittingly. In other words, we have come full circle to the remarkable statement made by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2001 when he said:

... to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.

Olbermann again had a timely and strongly-worded response:

The Bush Administration, foundering in the wake of a failed war in Iraq, burgeoning insurgency in Afghanistan, and a host of domestic calamities lead by its response to Hurricane Katrina, has gone back to the well. Politically bankrupt, the President and the Secretary of Defense are now leading a charge to again demonize an opposition that they were once able to silence after September 11th through intimidation and fear-mongering. As Mr. Olbermann states, "Mr. Bush and his colleagues have led us before to such waters. We will not drink again."

Loyal opposition to failed policies is not treason; it is the duty of every American and the responsibility of every citizen. The threat from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as frightening as it is, in no way equals the threat posed by either Nazi Germany or the U.S.S.R. Millions were killed in World War II, while a nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would have resulted in the annihilation of much of human civilization.

In conflating his "war on terror" with these threats, President Bush endangers this nation, effectively crying "Wolf!" and generating complacency as his analogy crumbles under scutiny and the citizenry questions his judgement in using it. Terrorism is indeed a genuine threat, but it is a very different threat than either Adolph Hitler or the Soviet Union embodied. Most importantly, it is one the United States is in no way addressing by miring itself in Iraq.