July 30, 2007

The Vitter Scandal in a Nutshell

The controversy surrounding Senator David Vitter's apparent patronage of alleged DC madam Deborah Jeanne Palfrey's escort service has gradually waned from public view. Mr. Vitter has returned to Capitol Hill, and apparently has no intention to either resign or answer further questions about what strongly appears to be his repeated solicitation of prostitutes. In all likelihood, he will serve out his term, and perhaps run for re-election.

With all of the problems currently facing the nation, it is indeed difficult to make the case that the sins of David Vitter are of paramount importance. Nonetheless, there are important lessons to be taken from this scandal, no matter the ultimate outcome.

First, while the Vitter family has been subject to unwelcome attention, it is unquestionable that fault for this lies nowhere else but with the senator. It is legitimately news when someone who has not only made his career out of attacking the integrity of opponents and setting himself up as a paragon of "family values", but who is in a position to directly affect the lives of American citizens who do not share his definition of those values, looks to have a thing for high-priced call girls.

Second, the fact that Senator Vitter has apologized publicly for his "indiscretions" and asks that we, the public, respect his family's privacy is completely irrelevant. As Ross Douthat notes:
If a politician were caught with his name on the "call list" of a prominent drug dealer, he wouldn't be able to wriggle out of it by admitting to a "serious sin" and leaving it at that. And unless prominent Republicans are prepared to join ... in supporting the repeal of laws banning prostitution ... then they shouldn't be backing Vitter's "it's a private matter" line. It isn't. It's a crime.
Further, Mr. Vitter's claims to have made peace with his wife and with his god over his wrongdoing is utterly meaningless. David Vitter is a federal legislator - a lawmaker - and he works for neither his wife nor his diety. He works for the people of the United States, and if he has broken the law, he is unfit for office.

Tom the Dancing Bug's take on the "Vitter Method" of escaping culpability:

[Click on the cartoon to go to the original image, and click here to visit the Tom the Dancing Bug archive.]

July 25, 2007

Desperately Pointing Fingers

I'm traveling on both business and vacation this week, so posts will be short and sweet, and not necessarily full of original content. In that somewhat (weak) spirit, here's a special comment from last week by Keith Olbermann on the topic of George W. Bush's increasingly desperate attempts to deflect blame for his failures in Iraq.

July 21, 2007

More Than Enough Reasons to Impeach

[Click on the photograph to go to the original image.]
Although recent polling indicates that the majority of Americans do not believe there is sufficient justification to impeach President Bush, a more than reasonable case can be made that that's simply a problem of communication and education rather than substance. Between the president's law-breaking with regard to warrantless surveillance, the politicization of the Justice Department, violation of the Geneva Conventions, extraordinary rendition, denial of habeas corpus and a host of other reasons - not to mention the outright lying documented in the video below - there is, objectively, plenty of justification.

It's time to stanch the bleeding and begin working to mitigate the horrific damage the Bush Administration has done to this country. Impeachment should be back on the table; no president or vice president has been more deserving.

July 17, 2007

How the News Works

Sadly true.

[Click on the cartoon to go to the original image,
and click on the link to visit the archive for
This Modern World.]

July 13, 2007

Vanity and Opportunism on the Campaign Trail

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is touting his status as "America's Mayor" - a nickname given him in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks - as the centerpiece of his campaign for President of the United States. Unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani, a significant number of people whom one would expect to back him if his leadership had been as good as claimed - including the families of 9/11 victims and New York City fire fighters - are instead working diligently to make sure that the voting public is aware of his significant shortcomings.

While Americans living outside of New York City had had some exposure to Rudy Giuliani during his early tenure (he even appeared on Saturday Night Live), September 11, 2001 seemed to largely erase their memories about what, exactly, his time in office had been like up until that point. The same is not true of New Yorkers themselves however, and it is clearly worth considering the input of the only people who have lived under his executive leadership. So, while Mr. Giuliani can credibly claim some of the credit for a resurgence in tourism and a decline in crime in the Big Apple, we should examine the type of policies and behavior in which he engaged on an everyday basis.

Like George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani has habitually surrounded himself with cronies, a notable number of whom have gone beyond the merely embarrassing and proven themselves genuinely criminal. Bernard Kerik, whom the mayor had promoted repeatedly from his position as a driver and eventually recommended as a candidate to head the Department of Homeland Security, ended up pleading guilty to corruption charges and remains under further investigation to this day. Russell Harding was tapped to lead the New York City Housing Development Corporation despite the lack of both a college degree and experience relevant to the position, and was convicted on charges of corruption and possessing child pornography before being sentenced to 5 years in prison. Just last month, Thomas Ravenel, the state treasurer for the Giuliani campaign's South Carolina operations, was indicted on charges of dealing cocaine. Given the lack of transparency, corruption, incompetence and outright arrogance we've seen from the Bush White House, it is reasonable to ask if we need more of the same.

Likewise, Mr. Giuliani appears to share with our current president an unhealthy disregard for civil liberties and constitutional niceties like free speech. The Thomas Jefferson Center, an organization dedicated to preserving free expression, documented a host of offenses by the mayor, for which they named him the first-ever recipient of a Lifetime Muzzle Award. So dedicated was he to stifling speech and expression that he didn't like - or which he felt threatened his administration in some way - that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought no fewer than 12 First Amendment suits against Mr. Giuliani, and won eleven of them.

Worse, like many men who value what they perceive as "security" over liberty, Mayor Giuliani made little effort to restrain a police force to which he had imparted policies that resulted in a string of horrific abuses. In 1997, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was beaten severely and sodomized with a broomstick after being arrested by two police officers outside a Brooklyn nightclub. In 1999, an unarmed, 23-year-old Guinean transplant named Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times by officers of the NYPD - who fired at him 41 times - and died of his wounds. Only a year later, another Haitian immigrant named Patrick Dorismond was killed by undercover officers when they tried aggressively to get him to sell them cocaine. (Dorismond's last words were an angry remonstrance that he was not a drug dealer.) Where others might have looked inward to contemplate a policy change, Mr. Giuliani instead said this after the Diallo case:
Probably until the day I die, I will always give police officers the benefit of the doubt. We also have a vicious form of anti-police bias which leads to entertaining every doubt possible against the police, and you know, police officers are human beings also.
After the Dorismond killing, the mayor further complained that "The police can't get an even break here," but juries disagreed. The city paid $3 million to Mr. Diallo's widow, $2.25 million to Dorismond's family, and $8.75 million - the largest police brutality settlement in New York City history - to Mr. Louima.

Perhaps even more telling about the authoritarian tendencies of Rudolph Giuliani however, was his attempt to extend his term in office during the election for his successor. Forced to step down because of New York's 2-term limit, Mr. Giuliani claimed that his desire for additional, un-elected time in office was to "ease the transition" after the September 11th attacks and to "maintain the unity that exists in the city." Simply put, there is not now, nor has there ever been, any legal basis for such a move under American law. While Mr. Giuliani's overtures were rejected - despite his threat of a lawsuit, no less - the very fact that he would seek to undermine the ordered, peaceful transition of power that is the foundation of American democracy is profoundly disturbing.

As if all of this weren't bad enough, Mr. Giuliani's experience and leadership with regard to fighting and responding to terrorism - the very cornerstone of his public image - are highly suspect despite his claim that he will "keep America on offense in the terrorists' war on us." In June, it was reported that the mayor, who had agreed to serve on the Iraq Study Group (ISG) - the bi-partisan policy team tasked with evaluating American policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq specifically - failed to attend a single meeting or contribute in any way whatsoever. The reason for his absence? "Previous time commitments" in the form of speaking engagements that netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a fundraiser for the disgraced former leader of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed. Mr. Giuliani was asked to begin attending the ISG's working sessions or resign. He chose the latter.

Most recently - and potentially most tellingly - the non-partisan International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has very publicly come out against the former mayor of New York City for what they describe as utter disrespect for the sacrifices of the FDNY during and after 9/11. The union has released a video and launched a website called Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend describing the mayors' failure to properly equip firefighters with working communications gear, as well as his decision to establish a terrorism command post at the World Trade Center, a location known to be a target for attack after 1993. The IAFF further released a scathing letter detailing their position:
Mayor Giuliani’s actions meant that fire fighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like so much garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills Landfill.
What Giuliani showed is a disgraceful lack of respect for the fallen and those brothers still searching for them. He exposed our members and leaders to arrest. He valued the money and gold and wanted the site cleared before he left office at the end of 2001 more than he valued the lives and memories of those lost.
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger says "Rudy has used the horrible events of September 11 to create a persona that is an elaborate fabrication. He is nothing more than a shameless self-promoter."

Despite the accolades that were showered on him in the aftermath of September 11th, given his record, it is difficult to disagree with that assessment. Rudy Giuliani isn't a brave leader for difficult times. He's a vain and opportunistic bully cut from the same cloth as George W. Bush.

The Rudy Giuliani: Urban Legend video from the International Association of Fire Fighters:

July 9, 2007

The Inexplicable Charisma of Fred Thompson

Let's be honest: the field of Republican candidates for president is pretty pathetic.

Rudy Giuliani is a one-note wonder, doing his best to stoke the fires of paranoia by screaming "9/11" at the drop of a hat and under any circumstance, no matter how inappropriate. The media hasn't even really started to dig into his embarrassing personal life or the low opinion in which he is held by most New Yorkers, but his fear-mongering - of which the country has justifiably gotten sick under the Bush regime - is overpowering, and worse, dated.

The cognitive dissonance embodied in John McCain's spiraling campaign, meanwhile, is awful to behold. He squandered the straight-talking, maverick image he carefully cultivated after being tagged as one of the Keating Five, and hitched his wagon to the wrong horse, toadying for President Bush when W was at his zenith and irreversibly associating himself with both the Iraq War and the man who is likely to go down as the worst president in history. Worse, with the memories of what Bush did to him in the 2000 election in the back of his mind, he couldn't pull it off without looking like he was trying desperately to choke down a bucketful of foulness and evil. He knows he sold his soul at a tragic discount, but while it's possible to be sympathetic towards him on some level, that doesn't make him any less worthy of derision.

Mitt Romney, however, seems to have no such compunctions, but even if he somehow manages to get past the theocratic elements of the GOP base that can't stomach his Mormonism, he remains a pandering, serial flip-flopper apparently willing to do or say just about anything to be president, and people can tell that about him. He is lucky not to have dislocated something during all of the gymnastically-challenging policy reversals that have been his hallmark in recent months, and frankly, his posturing is nothing short of embarrassing.

Ron Paul, a former Libertarian, has sparked some interest because he has spoken truth to power during the early Republican debates, but the likelihood of his successful candidacy is slim to the point where people like George Stephanopoulos feel comfortable slapping him around in public.

The rest of the GOP field is a freakshow. Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee are jostling for the title of Best Man to Lead America into the 14th Century; Duncan Hunter - if he can remain unindicted - and Tom Tancredo are working hard to appeal to Pat Buchanan voters, and appear to be trying to out-bigot each other; and no one outside of Virginia has any idea who Jim Gilmore is, although that might actually end up working in his favor.

So it's not really all that surprising, when one considers the alternatives, that Republicans are yearning for a candidate who can take them back to the Golden Age of Ronald Reagan; a blunt, charismatic leader of unquestionable masculinity who can somehow turn the image of America that George Bush has reduced to rubble back into something shiny that will make them feel good, preferably without any painful self-examination. The question is, however, why they think that man is Fred Thompson, a member of the hated "Hollywood Elite," a womanizer, and apparently, a former lobbyist for abortion rights who worked to aid Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation, but whom Tricky Dick regarded as "friendly" and "cooperative," although "not very smart."

Not exactly a dream candidate, as Berke Breathed's Opus reminds us, but standards have obviously fallen...
[Click on the cartoon to go to the original image, and click here to visit the Opus archive.]

July 4, 2007

A Fourth of July Scooter Libby Primer

Much has already been written about the utter disgrace that was President Bush's commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice, and while I have plenty of thoughts on the matter, they largely echo some excellent writing that has already appeared on blogs like Glenn Greenwald's at Salon.com and Dan Froomkin's at The Washington Post, and I will not waste anyone's time by essentially repeating what has already been well expressed.

However, while much has been written, the Libby scandal remains one which can be difficult to explain or argue. With that in mind, my contribution to commentary on the Libby matter will (attempt to) be more functional in purpose; a - with apologies to Joshua Micah Marshall - talking points memo; a handy tool to use in addressing the preposterous arguments that have been floated by GOP partisan hacks to spin the unequal and favorable treatment before the law Mr. Libby has enjoyed into some kind of long-overdue exercise in True Justice®.

SECTION 1: A Brief History of the Scooter Libby Case

SECTION 2: Arguments Made in Favor of Pardoning Scooter Libby or Commuting His Sentence

  • Scooter Libby should be pardoned because he was not indicted for revealing Ms. Plame's NOC status, and therefore, "no underlying crime" was committed.

  • Richard Armitage was determined to also have revealed Valerie Plame's identity to the press, but was not indicted. Prosecuting Scooter Libby while Armitage remains unindicted is unfair.

  • The investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's name, and Mr. Libby's trial and conviction were politically motivated. He should be pardoned because it would be unjust to send him to prison for political reasons.

  • President Clinton issued 140 presidential pardons just before he left office, including a pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich. President Bush is wholly justified in granting a "partial pardon" to Scooter Libby.

  • The 30-month sentence given Mr. Libby for four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice was too harsh.

  • Lewis Libby was a "fallen soldier" who sacrificed himself for President Bush's Iraq policy, and did deserve to be sent to jail after exhibiting such loyalty.

SECTION 3: Responses to Arguments Made in Favor of Pardoning Scooter Libby or Commuting His Sentence

  • Prosecutor Fitzgerald never indicted anyone for revealing Valerie Plame's status as a covert agent because he was unable to establish exactly what events took place. Mr. Fitzgerald was unable to determine whether or not he could successfully pursue a prosecution of the CIA shield law precisely because Mr. Libby lied and obfuscated. Hindering an investigation like Mr. Fitzgerald's and lying to a grand jury are both crimes. Mr. Libby was charged with, and convicted of, both.

  • Richard Armitage freely admitted that he revealed Ms. Plame's identity. While he may still be open to indictment under the CIA shield law, he has not been indicted - just as Mr. Libby has not been. Scooter Libby was indicted and convicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges because he provided false testimony and attempted to obscure facts important to Fitzgerald's investigation. Mr. Armitage (at least in this matter) did not, and the comparison is invalid.

  • The Central Intelligence Agency asked that the revelation of Plame's identity be investigated by the FBI in September of 2003. That request was delivered to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Attorney General Ashcroft referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel, under the direction of Patrick Fitzgerald, who was another Bush appointee. Mr. Fitzgerald convened a grand jury and began the investigation. Mr. Libby was indicted by that grand jury and convicted in open court. The presiding judge in the trial was Reggie Walton, who was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush in 2004. A three-judge panel made up of one judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, one by President George H.W. Bush and one by President George W. Bush unanimously refused Libby's request to remain free pending appeal when they were asked to review it. In short, the idea that the trial and conviction of Lewis Libby was a political play is patently absurd; everyone involved in his prosecution was a Republican.

  • President Clinton's pardons were indeed a black mark on his legacy, and it is difficult to understand why President Bush would follow the same path. However, while Mr. Clinton's pardons reeked of patronage and family ties, none of them had any bearing on the potential involvement of Mr. Clinton or his subordinates in an illegal act, and many of the most significant pardons were issued after those pardoned had served their full sentences. Perhaps most importantly however, Mr. Clinton has not been in office since the first days of 2001, and this point is completely irrelevant.

  • A three-judge review panel concluded unanimously that the sentence was fully in line with crimes for which Mr. Libby was convicted, and Prosecutor Fitzgerald concurred.

  • Lewis Libby was indeed a significant player in the march to war in Iraq. However, as detailed above, there was ample justification for charging him with crimes and he was convicted through a due process that was notably - and clearly - free of political influence. More importantly however, comparing Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff to soldiers serving in Iraq is utterly inappropriate, absurd and insulting. (As amply illustrated in this video clip at Crooks and Liars.)
SECTION 4: The Ramifications of Commuting Scooter Libby's Sentence
  • As I wrote last year in Dishonoring Those Who Serve - and as Ms. Plame's husband, echoed in his response to the Libby commutation - the commutation of Libby's sentence shows an utter contempt for the men and women who serve in the American intelligence community. Simply put, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit agents for non-official cover and covert assignments now that a precedent exists under which it is either permissible to reveal an agent's identity for political purposes, or to lie about the circumstances under which such a revelation was made.

  • Mr. Bush - who had promised dire consequences for anyone found to have been involved in the Plame leak - not only failed to hold his rogue vice president accountable, discipline Karl Rove or punish Richard Armitage, but he intervened for what are clearly spurious legal reasons about which the Justice Department was never consulted. Even as they were spoken, Mr Bush's justifications sounded thin, and his actions unquestionably illustrate that their are two kinds of justice in the United States: one for ordinary people, and another for the Beltway elite.

  • Even worse for the institutions of American democracy, is that the commutation of Libby's sentence is the capstone on a temple of lawlessness built by a president and an administration who clearly believe that statutes do not apply to them. Mr. Bush's decision to keep Scooter Libby out of jail is only surprising to those who have ignored the White House's policies on "extraordinary rendition," torture, denial of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretaps, and the firing of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. Unless the people who have broken the law in pursuit of these policies are held accountable, our very system of government will be irretrievably damaged.
Congress must demand answers from the Bush Administration and refuse to back down until it gets them. If presidential aides won't testify, they must be subpoenaed. If subpoenas are ignored, then those who have been served must be held in contempt of Congress and arrested. If all of this fails - and more than likely if all of this succeeds - President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached. In the plainest possible terms: the Bush White House cannot be allowed to dismantle our Constitution. Keith Olbermann has more: