May 31, 2007

Memory Loss and the Immaculate Termination

The scandal over the firings of U.S. Attorneys for what appear to have been political considerations is not the stuff to fire the imaginations of most people. It is however, what may be the straw that finally breaks the back of the Bush Administration and ends its endemic corruption. Whatever its sex appeal however, it must be remembered that warping the neutrality of U.S. Attorneys through political pressure represents an assault on what is perhaps the fundamental underpining of American government: the rule of law. Worse, there are strong indications that the rationale behind using political considerations to retain or fire U.S. Attorneys is closely linked to efforts by the Republican Party to suppress the votes of typically Democratic constituencies.

The particulars of this scandal are both arcane and complex, but what is neither arcane nor complex is that staffers from the upper ranks of the Department of Justice - from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales down to some of his closest aides - are clearly working dilligently to obscure the truth and avoid blame. Driving this point home are the two videos below. The first is Jon Stewart doing his customarily excellent job of speaking truth to power through humor on The Daily Show (courtesy of Crooks and Liars), and the second (hat tip to Blue Herald) takes a look at the utterly ridiculous level of memory loss the public is being asked to accept on the part of officials from the "party of personal responsibility."

For in-depth, chronological coverage of the U.S. Attorneys scandal, be sure to check out the the excellent archive of McClatchy Washington Bureau stories here.

May 28, 2007

Memorial Day 2007

United States dead (Iraq): 3,433
United States wounded (Iraq): 25,549
Civilian dead (Iraq): 64,405
United States dead (Afghanistan): 387
United States wounded (Afghanistan): 1,250
Civilian dead (Afghanistan): 5,000

May 24, 2007

A Wall Overflowing

Thursday night, the Democratic congressional leadership capitulated completely to President Bush's threatened veto of any Iraq War supplemental spending bill that contains time lines, or even benchmarks requiring certification. Mr. Bush got exactly what he wanted: unrestrained power and the financial wherewithal to further pursue his criminally negligent war of half-measures in Iraq. His unfettered abuse of our military continues, and the Democrats rolled over, permitting this president to continue chasing policies that endanger the very ability of the United States to protect itself.

To be sure, Democrats don't have the votes to overcome a presidential veto - that was proved when they sent their first time-table-inclusive bill to the White House and were turned back - and they are - or at least believe themselves to be - in some tricky political waters. Nonetheless, while echoes of the unpopular government shut-down orchestrated by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1995 more than likely served to weaken their resolve, there is little question that the 2006 election was a mandate for ending our disastrous adventure in Iraq, and fully two-thirds of the public disapproves of the president's handling of the war.

Terrified that they would be branded as "not supporting the troops" if they cut off funding for military operations, Democrats collapsed. Republicans of course, will still claim that Democrats do not support the troops, only now, they will also be (justifiably) tarred as weak and fractured. Despite Democratic claims that, when it is time for additional funding authorization in October, they won't take "no" for an answer with regard to time tables, there is something more important than two-handed political ass-covering on Capitol Hill; something much more important. The fact of the matter is that, with the passage of this new supplemental bill, more American lives will be lost in Iraq, and that country will be no closer to stability.

Unbeknownst to most of the public, Mr. Bush is already quietly engaged in a "second surge" that will boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to new heights. This, despite declarations that the current escalation would be enough to bring violence to a level tolerable enough for substantive progress toward pulling Iraq back from failed statehood, and wide-ranging evidence that said escalation has already failed. As reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
This "second surge" of troops in Iraq, which is being executed by extending tours for brigades already there and by deploying more units, could boost the number of combat troops to as many as 98,000 by the end of this year. When support troops are included, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 - the most ever - by the end of the year.

The efforts to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq are being carried out without the fanfare that accompanied President Bush's initial troop surge in January.

Retired Army Major General William Nash, the U.S. commander who led NATO troops into Bosnia in late 1995, when asked to comment on the analysis of deployment orders, said: "It doesn't surprise me that they're not talking about it. I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this."
It is no wonder that this president fights every effort to impose accountability; the legacy he has reportedly believed he would leave - that of a world changing historical figure - has come true, but only in the most twisted, negative and tragic fashion. He ignores the will of the people, the interests of the nation, and the plight of Iraqis, all while studiously denying the potentially irreversible damage he is doing to the armed forces and international standing of the United States. What is confounding however, is why Democrats act as if there is any doubt about what the vast majority of this country's people want: our troops home and the U.S. out of Iraq. As Keith Olbermann put it in his special commentary Tuesday night:
The Democratic leadership has agreed to finance the deaths of Americans in a war that has only served to reduce the security of America.
The irony of this capitulation, this weakness, this failure of the opposition to use the legislature's power of the purse to end the terrible farce that is the Iraq War, is that it comes just before Memorial Day weekend. Certainly, there is no more appropriate time to fully consider the cost of this war in human life, and to weigh it against the infinitely smaller mass of what has been "accomplished." And if such contemplation fails to move us, then we need only visit the Rayburn House Office Building to view the "Wall of the Fallen," a memorial listing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and note the grim fact that it is already full, with no end to the conflict in sight.

As Paul Krugman wrote this week in the International Herald Tribune, the nation is in "a hostage situation, in which a beleaguered President George W. Bush, barricaded in the White House, is threatening dire consequences for innocent bystanders - the troops - if his demands aren't met." The Democrats, the people elected to be our hostage negotiators, have failed.

May 18, 2007

My Wife Rocks

As those of you who occasionally stop by Sensen No Sen know, this blog is rarely devoted to anything of a personal nature. I try to focus on "big" things that are important to me and that I think (or hope) are important to a lot of other people, too, while leaving the so-called "little" things to actual interpersonal communication with the amazing and wonderful family and friends I am fortunate to have.

Earlier this week however, I was felled - and believe me, "felled" is the right word - by a kidney stone. While I can probably attribute some of the distress I experienced to not knowing what was happening to me - I have no personal or family history of kidney stones - the pain was, nonetheless, everything it was cracked up to be. (My urologist told me that, of the women with children he has treated for stones, a good portion of them prefer labor pain to kidney stone pain.) In a word, it was excruciating.

Happily, I am over the hump and on the mend, but one thing that became clear - in addition to my deep-seated desire to never have another kidney stone - is that my wife is awesome. We've been married for a bit more than a year and half, and while I have never doubted that I both chose well and was lucky in the extreme to have been chosen in return, the proof of such belief is only truly apparent when the chips are down.

Amy took complete and total care of me without an ounce of complaint, getting me to the emergency room (twice), taking me to the doctor's office, sitting by my side until well into the night, talking to the medical staff, and making it as easy on me as possible while I was at my most helpless. Sure, kidney stones aren't cancer, and sure, that's what your spouse is "supposed" to do, but I can say from personal experience that what's supposed to happen in that realm isn't always what does, and I am unbelievably grateful to have married the woman that I did.

So anyway, I thought I'd take a quick pause from the "big stuff" - to which I will duly return next week - and share a little bit about myself. While I have been in some of the worst discomfort I have ever experienced over the last couple of days, I have also never felt luckier.

My wife rocks.

May 15, 2007

Sometimes The Jokes Just Write Themselves

Young go-getters in today's G.O.P. are holding the First Annual Dick Cheney Paintball Tourney next month in Leesburg, VA. As the website explains (in grammar riddled with errors):
The Alexandria Young Republicans are please [sic] to be hosting its [sic] first annual paintball tourney, named in honor of our Vice President and second amendment [sic] enthusiast Dick Cheney.
Ah yes, Dick Cheney: Second Amendment enthusiast. I'm betting that, even if he happens to be in town, Harry Whittington won't attend...

[Hat tip to]

May 9, 2007

The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do Today

As I described in a post entitled Systematically Destroying What it Means to be American, the Military Commissions Act is a full, frontal assault on both the Constitution of the United States, and the very core of the values we hold as a nation.

What does this law do? Simply put, it eliminates the right of habeas corpus, allowing the President to imprison anyone he wants to, without trial, for as long as he wants, and without access to counsel. It allows the government to disappear people, just like the totalitarian regimes we have historically opposed.

If you are unfamiliar with this issue, I assure you that - hard as it may be to believe - this is in no way an exaggeration.

Now, Democrats, after spinelessly failing to oppose this legislation in the days before the 2006 mid-term elections, are contemplating efforts to restore habeas corpus, and are currently considering opening debate on a bill to do so. If you have never eMailed your congressman, there is no better time than now.

PLEASE take a moment to let your representatives know that you want Congress to restore this most fundamental of human rights; it is crucial that we begin to reclaim the rule of law through which the Bush Administration and its rubber stamp 109th Congress cut such a damaging swath.
True Majority Action provides an easy-to-use eMail form here.

May 8, 2007

Documenting the Failures of the Fourth Estate

On April 25th, renowned journalist Bill Moyers returned to the airwaves on PBS, premiering his new show, Bill Moyers' Journal, with a report entitled "Buying the War: How Did the Mainstream Press Get It So Wrong?" This 90-minute documentary focuses on the reputable news organizations who helped the Bush Administration sell its case for invading Iraq in 2003 by credulously parroting White House talking points. It features interviews with Bob Simon of and Dan Rather of CBS, and Tim Russert of NBC, as well as two Knight-Ridder reporters who saw that the emperor had no clothes, but who were largely ignored.

As Thomas Jefferson (may have) so skillfully observed, "An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy," and at no time has that been more faithfully proven than in the run-up to the Iraq War. Yet even as the public has come to more fully realize this fact, efforts by those who backed the war - and continue to do so - to consolidate their hold on public information have continued, as we were reminded last week when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation - parent company to Fox News - made an unsuccessful bid for the Wall Street Journal. Clearly, an understanding of the way that news is disseminated, as well as the increasingly too-close relationship between reporters for major news organizations and the politicians they are tasked with monitoring, is becoming crucial to fully understanding the world today.

With that in mind, I urge you to visit Bill Moyers' site and watch Buying the War. The entire program is archived and divided into chapters for easier viewing, and it's an eye-opener for anyone who has been laboring under the mistaken belief - like self-important and self-deluding Newsweek Senior White House Correspondent, Robert Wolfe - that the Fourth Estate has been doing a "fantastic job."

Sure, 90 minutes might seem like a long time to stare at your computer, but you can always do what I did - watch a chapter at a time at lunch! Check it out: Buying the War: How Did the Mainstream Press Get It So Wrong?

May 3, 2007

Another Investigation Worth Watching

Although appointed by President Bush, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Stuart Bowen has bucked the norms of cronyism and corruption that have been so emblematic of the current Administration. Indeed, Mr. Bowen appears to take his responsibilities seriously, and has not been shy about criticizing either mismanagement of the reconstruction effort or the overall state of affairs in Iraq (from SIGIR's April, 2007 quarterly report to Congress):
Violence continues to exact a deadly toll on reconstruction contractors, journalists, and Iraqi citizens.
  • Since Iraq reconstruction began, 916 death claims for civilian contractors working on U.S.-funded projects in Iraq have been filed. In the quarter ending March 31, 2007, the Department of Labor reported 146 new death claims.
  • DoS [Department of State] reports that 16 U.S. civilians died in Iraq this quarter. Since the beginning of the U.S. reconstruction effort, 224 U.S. civilians have died in Iraq.
This quarter, 9 journalists were killed in Iraq, bringing the total number to 100 since March 2003. Also, 37 media support workers have been killed in Iraq since hostilities began, including one this quarter, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists.

Violence continues to force thousands of Iraqis to leave their homes each month. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that during and after the Saddam Hussein regime, more than 4 million Iraqis have been displaced. According to UNHCR, “the international community is facing a much larger and more complex humanitarian crisis than the one aid agencies planned for during the run-up to the 2003 war."
Likewise, SIGIR's frank assessments of the realities plaguing the neoconservative fantasy of a democratic Iraq have pulled few punches. Testifying before Congress, Mr. Bowen has called attention to, among other issues:
In short, he has represented a welcome, if lonely, instance of public oversight from a Bush appointee. Predictably then, when the original mandate for SIGIR neared the end of its authorization, few on the GOP side of the aisle or at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue mourned what they believed would be its imminent passing. Democrats called attention to the office's imminent closure however, and largely forced the last vestiges of a dying Republican Congress to extend SIGIR operations in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections.

Despite the respite, security for SIGIR appears to have been short-lived. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Bowen was under investigation by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a board made of up of federal inspectors general. From the Post article:
Former employees filed complaints last year about Bowen not showing up for work for long periods of time in 2004, according to a former employee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Complaints were also made alleging that Bowen had employees work on a book that is to explain the lessons of Iraq reconstruction, which pulled them away from audits.
While it is unquestionably possible that these charges have merit, it is curious that complaints about behavior alleged to have taken place in 2004 were not lodged until 2006. In an environment that has seen what strongly appears to be the purging of U.S. Attorneys who would not use their positions to further the Republican political agenda, the investigation of Mr. Bowen clearly merits close attention.

If Mr. Bowen has violated the trust of his office, he should be sanctioned appropriately and/or removed, but given the vital role he has played in providing visibility and accountability for reconstruction efforts in Iraq - not to mention the political death spiral of the Bush White House - that his actions will be honestly evaluated by the Council cannot be taken for granted. Likewise, if Mr. Bowen is dismissed, expectations for the performance of his successor must remain high. While the number of scandals surrounding this president and the recently unseated Republican congressional majority continues to mushroom, this is an investigation that must not be lost in the shuffle.