Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nothing but the truth

Now that the U.S. Army has punished several officers for the botched handling of the probe into the death of Pat Tillman, the professional football player who gave up a lucrative contract to enlist in the Armed Forces after the 9/11 attacks, it's time to ask the really hard questions. Congressional investigators are looking into the matter at the urging of members of Tillman's family, who were told that he was killed by enemy fire. Turns out Tillman was shot by friendly fire, by fellow soldiers, and the military already knew this when President Bush mentioned the tragedy in a 2004 speech. Of course, the Pentagon has concluded there was no coverup. But that seems highly unlikely. If the commander in chief knew about Tillman, a lot of other higher-ups in the administration knew about him too, yet continued to present a fictional story to the American people. What the heck is going on?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mere coincidence?

I'm sure many Americans were as gratified as I was to hear that President Bush and the new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, hit it off so well at their first get-together at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. Two things stand out, however, about their joint statement following the confab. One is how Brown and Bush said different things about the war on terrorism, even as they said they were in agreement. Brown said Afghanistan was the primary front in the terrorism battle, just days after Bush said it was Iraq. The other was that Brown portrayed the war as multi-generational, ostensibly meaning that it would go on for generations. I don't want to alarm anybody, but isn't that just a tad like the perpetual state of war assumed by the totalitarian state in Orwell's 1984? ... Just a thought.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hurricane Alberto

Today's San Francisco Chronicle had an article about how the morale of attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice has plummeted under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The story included portions of a letter from one of those staffers calling the administration's politicizing of the firing of the U.S. Attorneys "unethical" and "illegal." Well, what's improper about firing people you don't want and replacing them with people you do? Well, to a career civil servant, okay. They don't like that. But to everyone else, people who are political appointees are precisely that -- political appointees. When the president changes, they probably have got to go. The problem with what the administration did is that they lied about it, under oath, in testimony before Congress. All they had to do was say, 'Yeah, we fired people we didn't want and hired people we did.' But they didn't even have the nerve to own up to what they did. That's why they're being investigated. That's what perjury is about.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Contempt of Congress

So what is it with these guys? Contempt of Congress is a legal term, but the White House has lowered it to a more-pedestrial level. The executive branch really is contemptuous of Congress, and that's why they are acting as if they don't have to listen to the demands of the people. It's really outrageous, if you think about it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cry if you want to

What exactly does it mean that Wednesday's vote of the House Judiciary Committee to recommend contempt of Congress citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former legal counselor, Harriet Miers, was a straight party-line vote? It means that somebody doesn't get it. Can it be that Republicans care less about the Constitutional separation of powers than Democrats? How could it be that Republicans still are willing to back Bush even when their political futures are at stake? Do they really want to go down with this guy? And what's the deal with the dispute between Congress and the president anyway? Executive privilege is not in the Constitution, it's not going to prevail. The White House and the Congress usually settle these questions anyway, because you never know, but nobody really thinks the president has the right to prevent people who have been subpoenaed from testifying. How could that possibly be true?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Give us a break

Just when we were hoping for a break from the daily nastiness in Washington, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and got all the righteous legislators riled up again by denying under oath that he had asked a bedridden John Ashcroft to approve the warrantless wiretapping program. Now, some angry senators are calling for a special prosecutor. Won't that be fun?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cracks in the teflon

Today's New York Times features a story about an Army lawyer at Guantanamo Bay who the newspaper says is the first military insider to criticize the hearing process for determining which detainees are 'enemy combatants' and can be held indefinitely without charge. Turns out Lt. Col. Stephen E. Abraham feels the procedures, which don't guarantee legal representation for detainees and, he says, discourage any findings favorable to detainees, may violate his obligations as an attorney. You are not alone, Col. Abraham, although you sometimes may feel like it when you work for a government that has suspended the definition of "integrity."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bush's legacy

Of course, it would be more reassuring if we could count on the federal judiciary to undue some of the damage already done and yet to be inflicted on the U.S. Constitution by the Bush crowd. But, because he's the president, Bush gets to nominate the justices of the Supreme Court. Congress long ago abdicated its oversight role and only intervenes in very rare cases. Just wait until the high court gets to re-examine Roe v. Wade.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Half-day in court

So, a federal judge in D.C. has dismissed the lawsuit filed against members of the Bush administration by CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, over the government's public disclosure of her identity as an agent in apparent retaliation for Wilson's public criticism of the campaign leading up to the Iraq war. While the judge, a Bush appointee, acknowledged that Plame might have raised some legitimate questions about the government's conduct, he concluded that the officials who leaked the information to the press were acting in the regular roles as government employees and thus could not be sued. This is the case that got Scooter Libby in trouble, before Bush commuted his sentence, and aroused suspicion about the roles of Vice President Cheney and presidential advisor Karl Rove. Of course, a civil trial like the one filed by Plame and Wilson could have helped answer a lot of the questions everyone still has about the Bush administration's role in outing the agent, which is a federal crime, and in trying to silence its critics across the country. The judge copped out, so to speak, by dismissing the case on jurisdictional grounds and not agreeing to examine the merits of the case. The dismissal would have been a summary adjudication of the issue, possibly with a hearing but certainly without a trial. It seems to me that this is a matter of significant importance, with the possibility of traumatic consequences, and should be heard. Maybe it will. I heard today that Plame and Wilson plan to appeal the dismissal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bad news is bad news

The new National Intelligence Estimate assessing the likelihood of terrorist attacks against the United States is out and, according to our top spy agencies, is not good news. The war in Iraq has exacerbated the threat against our country from Islamic extremists and the war in Afghanistan has not severely damaged al-Qaida. It looks to me like the Iraq adventure has distracted just enough of America's attention and resources from the real war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan to imperil both of these efforts. Well, it's not over yet and things still could work out for the better for all of the countries involved. But something appears to have gone seriously amiss -- the cheerleading from the White House notwithstanding. Hopefully, somebody in the administration -- high up in the administration -- has some idea of what to do. Maybe we should stop coddling that military dictator in Pakistan -- you know, the one who always lets the bad guys get away at the last minute -- and help restore its duly elected government.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A subtle pattern

Today's newspaper included an article about Congress' pursuit of testimony from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and five generals about the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, the San Jose, Calif., guy who gave up a career in the National Football League to fight in Afghanistan. It seems that the military knew after a couple of days that Tillman was shot, by mistake of course, by soldiers in his own unit, yet told the public for weeks that Tillman had been killed by the Taliban. The military continues to obfuscate, refusing to release documents requested by Congress. It's not bad enough that his family had to endure the tragedy of his death, however it happened. But to be told one thing by the military, only to find out that was a lie -- I just don't know how extra-bad that feels. And to think that our own military commanders would lie about something that serious -- well, it's hard to put anything past this bunch. It's not the lying -- no, it is the lying -- but it's the lying about the lying that makes it so much worse. Gee, where have I heard this before. Doesn't it sound like the U.S. Attorney firings case? Jessica Lynch? Saddam's WMD? Hmm, perhaps a subtle pattern is beginning to emerge.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Uh oh

This just in on Monday night! President Bush is trying to convene a Mideast conference to reach se kind of deal on a Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. Oh, goody. The guy who can't tell a Sunni from a Kurd is going to convince people who have been fighting with eachother for 5,000 years to kiss and make up. Actually, it won't be him, it'll be Condi Rice. Oh yeah, that's a great idea. Actually, it is a great idea, but only if it works. Somehow, I get the feeling that everybody's expectations, including those of the Bush administration, will be unrealistic and the whole thing will blow up after some massive misunderstanding by the Americans. It's just a gut feeling, like the Homeland Security guy said about a terrorist attack in the United States.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

We can handle the truth

Today's news is that the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, appeared on Sunday network news talk shows to defend the administration's position on Iraq and reject calls from moderate Republicans to start planning for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. This illustrates just how impossible the situation has become for this country and its citizens. If the president absolutely believes he's right, and has the information to back it up, then the U.S. should continue its effort in Iraq. Remember the days when the U.S. tried to do the right thing? Sure, that was before the days of demeaning and torturing detainees, before Abu Graib, before Guantanamo Bay -- was there a time before all of that? -- but still, we want to do what's right. But if the government won't tell us the truth, we don't know what's right.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What's wrong with this picture

As a participant in the Democratic processes that govern this country, I'd like to know how much progress we're actually making in Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter. Do we control more of Iraq than 12 blocks in downtown Baghad and the city of Basra? Can anyone drive to the Baghdad airport? Remember when the drive to the airport was a no-person's zone? Is it any better? What about Afghanistan? Does our guy Karzai control more of his country than Kabul? I can't figure it out, can you? Where are those maps we used to see in previous conflicts showing how much of the country is under enemy control? I haven't seen one, not since the last Iraq war led by President Bush's father. What's the deal on that? Has that type of information been classified, and why?

Friday, July 13, 2007

More of the same

Even today, when the president held a news conference at the White House to urge Congress to stop trying to tell him what to do on the war, he said we were fighting the Sept. 11 terrorists. But we know the Al Qaida group in Iraq is not the same as the people who struck on 9-11. He must know the truth, so why does he keep perpetrating this falsehood? Is that how he plans to get the American people to believe him? And where does he get off thinking that Congress has no role in planning the war? It seems to me that under the U.S. Constitution, the president's role as "Commander in Chief" is just a figurehead role. That's why Congress has the power to appropriate money and why if they don't the troops must return home.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

If the Iraq war is a worthy endeavor, it's important to pursue it whether the U.S. presidential election is next year or not. The president certainly understands this. But if it isn't worthy, if all the pro-war rhetoric really was bull, then we've got to fix the mess we helped make regardless of when the vote is. We ousted the Iraq government and installed one of our own design, we pushed the new regime to execute the previous government's leaders, and now the country is convulsed with chaos. We have a responsibility to make this right. But the American people can't judge what's right or what's wrong to do because we are not getting believable information from the White House. Every general says the war is winnable, even in the face of little progress.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Welcome to the club

Did you see Robert Scheer's syndicated column today? Scheer refers to George W. Bush as "our idiot president" and accuses him of "extreme irrationality" and "utter moral depravity." Well, where's he been? Didn't he realize from the get-go that GWB's presidency was going to be like this? Of course, it was very hard to predict how bad it was going to get, what with the U.S. reputation (and dollar) in the toilet because of our poor conduct in Iraq. But appointing cretins (albeit highly educated and accomplished) to the Supreme Court, putting Cheney in charge of everything, fighting unnecessary wars -- that was easy to anticipate. After all, his dad's mentor, Ronald Reagan, is a hero to most of the country. How do you figure that?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Right and wrong

Today the newspapers screamed about how President Bush has decided to tell the American people that he is intending to redeploy and start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in the "post-surge" environment. But let's be honest. It's the approaching 2008 election environment he and the other Republicans are worried about. That is what we used to call dishonesty, before politics brought dishonesty to a new level.

Monday, July 9, 2007


So, the White House and Congress apparently are heading for a constitutional confrontation over Congressional subpoenas mandating testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and others about the firing of the U.S. attorneys. Well, it's about time. How much disrespect can either of these branches of government take from the other? Bush doesn't want his people spilling the beans on what happened with the stonewalling, and Congress doesn't want government employees thinking they can do whatever they want with no oversight. There really is no issue over whether Bush could fire the U.S. attorneys -- they serve at the pleasure of the president. Simple. The problem is that members of the White House staff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the president's longtime pal, apparently were less than truthful when they testified before Congress the past few months. There is a word for lying under oath -- perjury -- and any lawyer worth anything knows there are consequences for doing this (think Bill Clinton, if you have any questions). Maybe the White House and Congress will negotiate an end to their disagreement like they usually do when questions like this come up, because the White House cannot possibly win this fight. Congress pays the bills and Congress gets to decide what happens. The Constitution is very clear on this. There is no such thing as executive privilege, it's a creation of the courts and it works sometimes. But like with Nixon, what the president does is public and needs to remain public.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Bailing on the man

Today I read about another leading GOP senator coming out against the Bush policy in Iraq and calling for gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops. But why did it take until the 2008 election was looming to bring these people to their senses? Backing the U.S. troops is a no-brainer, we all back the troops whatever they're doing. The policymakers are quite another matter. We should be endeavoring to do what's right, not what's politically expedient.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Trying our patience

Did you see media accounts of the Jose Padilla trial? Padilla is the guy, a U.S. citizen, who has been held at Guantanamo for more than 3 years on suspicion of conspiring to detonate a radioactive bomb in the U.S., even though that's not what he's being tried for. Today's article was about how the prosecution's star witness was asked to stop appearing on television to discuss terrorism while the trial is going on. That doesn't seem to be a big deal. That kind of stuff happens all the time. Plus, the expert could have said no. But what's really weird is that the jurors in the trial, who expect to hear testimony until August, have obviously been communicating outside court because they have been showing up wearing coordinated clothing. One day they all show up in black; another day the men wear blue and the women pink; another day they wear red, white and blue according to rows. What's that about? The jurors are supposed to be deciding a case with implications for the future of our system, and they're talking outside of court and agreeing on what clothes to wear? Is it me?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pardon me

Of course, everybody knows it was Cheney's fault that Plame was compromised. This is a serious breach of duty and law by the vice president -- no wonder the guy now is claiming that he is not subject to the rules that govern the rest of us. Can you imagine? The vice president behind bars, the president on the brink -- brings back memories of a few Republican presidents ago. Remember that guy? He tried to cover up that Republican Party operatives burglarized the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex in D.C., and would have been impeached but resigned in disgrace instead. The only president ever to resign. Well, it's the same political party. Not even the name has changed. Maybe we'll get another winner.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Is it me? Today's big Bush news is that our president has commuted the sentence, but not pardoned, his boy Scooter Libby for leaking the identify of Secret Agent Woman Valerie Plame. He still has to pay the $250,000 fine and get a blemish on his criminal record. Of course, that's only today. Bush is almost certain to pardon him before he leaves office. Remember how the Bushies ranted about treason and punishment when the leak was first exposed? It just goes to show, this crowd doesn't understand the meaning of principle.