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2007 Archives

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March 9, 2007, 7:00 A.M.

The conviction of "Scooter” Libby on 4 of 5 felony counts should be the beginning of the story in the Plame leak case, but I’m afraid that it will be the end. Libby tried to protect Cheney, Rover and perhaps even Bush, but it doesn’t look like anyone else will be touched in this scandal. It’s a real shame.

Equally scandalous, however, are the recent firings of 8 U.S. Attorneys for various political reasons including not acting fast enough to investigate, or charge, Democrats in possible corruption cases before the midterm elections. Both of these situations stem from the same arrogance, the same hubris, that this administration is marinated in. Politics uber alles is their mantra.

The outing of Valerie Plame caused damage to our intelligence services and to our nation’s capability to gather information, to recruit foreigners to help in that necessary endeavor, and ultimately to our national security. The message sent was that we will protect our intelligence personnel unless it is politically beneficial for our government to destroy them. “Scooter” Libby lied to the FBI and to a grand jury when he said he didn’t tell Tim Russert about Valerie Plame’s identity, and he stonewalled the investigation into the involvement of the White House in those leaks. For this, Cheney calls him a great public servant. What else can Cheney say, Libby is all that stands between Cheney and his own jail cell.

I don’t know if Libby will actually go to jail for this, but he certainly should. A pardon would be the ultimate slap in the face to the intelligence community and to the rest of us. It would be the height of arrogance. I don’t put it past the corrupt, immoral criminal cadre currently running our country.

A lot will be said in the coming weeks about Republican senators, congressmen and White House officials who put extreme political pressure on U.S. Attorneys in hopes that they would do the party’s bidding. Thank goodness these attorneys chose to refuse, and to stand up for the constitution, rather than do the bidding of partisan hacks. These people don’t care whose lives they ruin or what havoc they wreak with this country’s reputation and indeed its fundamental principles of law. It seems that they are so convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs that any means justify their ends. If this arrogance does not undo them, it will surely undo all of us.

March 6, 2007, 8:15 P.M.

Today the 2006 U.S. Department of State's 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released and submitted to Congress by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This report is prepared and given to Congress on an annual basis and is intended as a report on the human rights practices or abuses of countries that receive aid from the U.S. This year’s report contains, for the first time, comments on the human rights situation in the United States.

In light of the detention of captives at Guantanamo Bay, the administration's refusal to renounce torture as an interrogation technique, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and numerous other post 9/11 abuses by our government this report has raised the ire of the international community and has made diplomatic relations with many of the “listed nations” difficult. Of course, aid buys friendship and allies, so it is difficult to ignore the criticisms leveled through diplomatic circles, although the nations complaining about this country’s human rights record continue taking our money despite their concerns.

Human rights abuses by the U.S. in the name of anti-terrorism can’t be denied or justified and this year’s State Department report acknowledged this fact. This paragraph, as extraordinary as it is, goes no further than an acknowledgement that the record of the U.S. has been questioned by others, but that is as far as one of these reports has ever gone. The following language comes from the introduction to the report:

“The United States takes its human rights commitments seriously. We recognize that we are writing this report at a time when our own record, and actions we have taken to respond to the terrorist attacks against us, have been questioned. The United States will continue to respond forthrightly to the good faith concerns of others, including by means of the reports we submit periodically in accordance with our obligations under various human rights treaties to which we are a party. We are also committed to continual improvement. U.S. laws, policies, and practices governing the detention, treatment, and trial of terrorist suspects have evolved considerably over the last five years. Our democratic system of government is not infallible, but it is accountable--our robust civil society, our vibrant free media, our independent branches of government, and a well established rule of law work as correctives.”

Of course, this report does nothing to admit wrongdoing or to pledge to end the offensive practices which bring justified criticism. Our government has placed itself above the concepts of fundamental human rights, while still claiming preeminence in the protection of those same rights. Until this country admits its sins in this regard, and pledges to end policies of illegal detention and torture we have no standing to criticize others. We have lost the moral high ground on human rights because of the arrogance and criminal behavior of our own government, and it will take much more than an acknowledgement that others feel this way to improve our credibility and standing in the human rights community.

March 5, 2007, 9:15 P.M.

Semper Paratus: On today’s “Exchange,” Laura Knoy interviewed newly elected state GOP chair Fergus Cullen. Cullen has been at his post for about 5 weeks and indicated that he is in the process of expanding his staff, looking for new space and modernizing the party’s website. He also wasted no time in drawing targets on Democrats holding the offices that his party covets.

To Cullen, Governor Lynch’s recent request for an increase in the cigarette tax “sends a clear message that Lynch is not opposed to new taxes.” Cullen’s not-so-subtle message is of course that Democrats, especially Lynch, are just lying in the weeds waiting to spring an income tax or a sales tax on unsuspecting Republicans. Of course there is no basis for the suggestion that Lynch is doing anything other than raising the cigarette tax. His proposal, by the way, does not have much opposition in any camp. In fact, there is a lot of bipartisan support for the idea but that doesn’t matter. This is just the first salvo in what promises to be an amped up and relentless effort by state Republicans to get their political mojo back.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I’m not faulting Cullen. By all accounts, this guy is good at the political game. That’s why he needs to be watched carefully by Democrats. I’m impressed that he is looking for issues at this point in the game. I’m even more impressed that he has painted his target on John Lynch who won the last election by the highest margin of victory in New Hampshire history (74%). I think Cullens focus on a bipartisan effort to keep New Hampshires First in the Nation Primary will lull some Democrats into a false sense of security. Democrats, be afraid, this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My first impression is that he will do a very good job spinning issues for his party. It’s up to the press, the bloggers and the Democrats to keep him honest.

For starters, Cullen attacked Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter for their efforts to send a message to the President condemning the administration’s Iraq policy. Cullen said he was ashamed. Apparently Cullen still has a “with us or against us” philosophy on Iraq, and his attack on Hodes and Shea-Porter will be based on their efforts to end the Iraq war. Of course this makes no sense since the popular sentiment in this country is strongly against the war.

Cullen also attacked Carol Shea-Porter by saying that Shea-Porter told military families that they were not her constituents. Not true. That one got corrected on the spot by Laura Knoy, but from Fergus’ lips to the ears of the faithful, misstatements like that will begin to become the glue that puts his party together again.

As I have frequently said, politics is a rough game and I admire those who play it well. My initial impression is that Cullen does. I’m also happy that he seems to be a nice guy. I’ve met him at high school cross country meets on several occasions. It’s good that people can be in the game of politics and still be decent people. But it doesn’t change the game. Semper Paratus.

March 5, 2007, 8:30 P.M.

My last post regarding offensive statements really doesn’t say anything new. My June 25, 2005 post expressed a similar vein of thought. None of this is intended to imply that people, or public figures, should get away with saying anything they want. They should not. To demand an apology or to seek rehab as a solution in these political or public circumstances is to add insult to injury. A sincere apology is certainly possible and rehab can be effective, but not when used as a justification rather than a soul searching exercise. The former is deplorable, the latter commendable.

Politics is a rough and tumble business. We make a huge mistake when we expect our candidates to be perfect moral specimens devoid of human failures and frailties. To never fail is to never have tried, and you can’t learn from mistakes if you haven’t made them. Pointing out trivial failures, missteps and minor screw-ups detracts from the real issues.

March 5, 2007, 8:20 P.M.

I like John Edwards and, as in 2004, I like him for President. I think Ann Coulter knows how strong a candidate he will be. However, that realization has nothing to do with her recent reference to him as a “faggot.” Her remarks have more to do with her particular brand of self-promotion. The more outrageous her behavior, the more attention she draw to herself, and the more money she makes.

Coulter’s self-promotion knows no limit. What I am really interested in, however, is how much the media will do to give her what she wants, and why Coulter keeps getting invited back to events like CPAC. You will recall that last year Coulter used the term “rag heads” to describe Arab Americans. Despite the furor over those remarks, Coulter was invited back to speak at the conservative conference, and her book sales are booming.

Coulter’s comments this year also alluded to the recent spate of celebrities entering into rehab for their indiscretions. Coulter said that she wanted to comment on John Edwards, but that she couldn’t call Edwards a “faggot” without ending up in rehab. Coulter needs rehab alright, but not for what she said about Edwards.

Suggesting that rehab is an appropriate response to an expression of racism, homophobia or anti-social behavior trivializes the process. I propose that, instead of being hurt, shocked and offended by what people say about people, we ought to bring back the time honored answer to direct insults – the good, old punch in the nose. For what Coulter said, Edwards ought to be given a free one.

Public outrage does nothing to change the behavior or the opinions of fools like Ann Coulter or Michael Richards. Rehab does nothing to change deep seated prejudice or bigotry. Only society keeps these vile traits in check. Richards lost his composure and slipped the societal restraints that kept him from saying what he really thought for so many years. Coulter slips in and out of those constraints to serve her own self promotion and pecuniary interest. Both are despicable and beyond the reach of rehab.

March 5, 2007, 7:40 P.M.

I have not yet read Imperial Hubris, but I intend to, especially after listening to Michael Scheuer on NPR last week, and after reading an excerpt from his book on the NPR website which was posted in June 2004. What really impressed me about the excerpt was the similarity in tone and content to Dianne’s October 14, 2001 letter to President Bush. The premise of that letter was, as I think Scheuer was also saying in 2004, that we want to think that our national leaders know what they are doing or that they are even to some degree smarter than us. Unfortunately, the handling of the Afghan war and the invasion of Iraq leave me believing that this is either not the case, or that the Bush administration is driven by a maniacal desire to impose its model of a new world order on an entire part of the world that simply does not view humanity through the same lens.

Instead of focusing on Afghanistan, the true home of the anti-American hatred that fueled the 9/11 attacks, we have invaded a country that really posed no threat to us or our allies and in so doing we have lost international power and prestige and we have lost not one but two wars. The most significant loss, however, will not be in Iraq, it will be the failure to contain and defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban. This loss will leave us embroiled in an unending, amorphous religious war.

What is truly frustrating is that this situation has not changed since 2002, except that it has become worse. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping, they are rearming, and they are more dangerous than ever. Our actions, and our failure to effectively deal with the true threat groups like al Qaeda pose to our national interest, have caused a resurgence of radical Islamist anti-U.S. sentiment. It is pure fantasy to suggest that time and continued involvement will lead to a democratic Iraq or Afghanistan. More importantly, it is ludicrous to base a national security policy or national defense policy on the fantasy of democratizing and secularizing a place and a people what want neither.

The past five years have convinced me that there are people in our government that are not that bright. They can’t be, because, despite the evidence and the obvious failure of the policy, they continue to spend money and kill and maim the troops they profess to care so much for, just so that they don’t have to deal with ending this mess on their watch. This policy is inhuman and it is, I think, criminal.

I don’t want any more debate or discussion. It is time for Congress, the same Congress which now claims a mandate because of the November elections, to end this thing or pack their bags. Someone needs to take charge, to stop the madness, and to start moving this country in the direction of true national security and self interest, rather than oil-fed gluttony and hubris that can only be our undoing.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have referred to the lives lost in Iraq as “wasted” and both have been criticized for their choice of words. Well, I can’t think of a more powerful or accurate statement against the war. The day we toppled Saddam, we should have left because there was nothing else we could do. We should have left there and redoubled our efforts in Afghanistan where we could have done something positive. We could have killed (yes, killed, not captured and tried, just killed) bin Laden and his deputies and dismantled their support network.

In his book A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent Into Viet Nam, Robert Mann describes the paranoid and pathetic political machinations which led the U.S. deeper into rather than out of Viet Nam in the 1960s. The parallels are striking, and the reasons for getting out now are no less compelling than they were for getting out in 1963. The politics however, are much the same. Bush simply does not want history to identify him as the President who “lost” Iraq and Afghanistan. Sorry, George, but by not understanding the mess you were creating by failing to fight a proper war, and by invading a nation that posed no threat to us, you lost before you started. History will remember that.

March 4, 2007, 6:30 P.M.

I listened to a discussion on NPR earliest this week involving Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, and former CIA agent assigned to the agency’s bin Laden group. I found the interview particularly interesting in light of the lack of good news coverage of the war in Afghanistan, and in light of Dick Cheney’s recent comments regarding Pakistan.

Apparently, Cheney expressed an opinion that Pakistan could do more to help the U.S. in its “War on Terror.” Given the fact that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has often against his best interests assisted in the capture of more al Qaeda and Taliban than any of our other “allies,” his army has been sent into the hills on several occasions to flush supposed terrorists out of the mountains (unsuccessfully), and he has allowed his country to be used for flyovers and limited military basing, all for a cause that does not help his standing at home. Cheney’s comments are counterproductive and a slap in the face to a Muslim country, whose current government might be literally sticking its neck out to support the U.S.

Scheuer describes the “mission” of converting Afghanistan into a secular democracy as ridiculous. I couldn’t agree more. Afghanistan is the place where we should have fought following 9/11, but not for the purpose of creating a democracy in our image and likeness, but rather for the pure, simple purpose of punishing the bad guys. We had some success in the cities early on, but failed to seal the borders, capture bin Laden, or eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda as a legitimate threat. By not killing them, we have made them stronger.

As we have said here all along, this government’s focus was on Iraq all along. Here again it is pure fantasy to expect that Iraq can or will ever become a secular democracy. The diversion of troops and assets from Afghanistan before bin Laden was killed, or before the Taliban and the rest of al Qaeda was neutralized was a mix of arrogance and folly. To now stick Pervez Musharraf, our most effective ally, with cleaning up the mess that we left in Afghanistan is stupid. The failure in Afghanistan lies in our government’s inability to define and implement a realistic strategy for getting in and getting out of Afghanistan without imposing our ideas about governmental restructuring on a country of tribal alliances and religious fundamentalists. By overstaying our welcome (having nogt come close to eliminating the threat of al Qaeda and the Taliban to our security) we have begun to alienate our allies in Afghanistan and Cheney has now chosen to piss of Pakistan. Somehow this strategy is not confidence-inspiring.

By leaving al Qaeda intact as an organization (that is, by not completely eliminating them as a threat), we have encouraged and emboldened them. Where they were not a threat in Iraq, they now are. Furthermore, their success against the U.S. only serves to enhance their statute and to help their recruiting efforts. I expect to see bin Laden outside a cave in Tora Bora standing before a “Mission Accomplished” banner soon. On second thought, he’s probably too smart for that.

Let me be clear on this. It’s not the fact that U.S. troops must soon leave Iraq that gives our enemies a victory. Truly, we must leave. In fact, we should have left as soon as Saddam fell because that was the most we ever could have expected to accomplish militarily in Iraq. In Afghanistan we left too soon. We failed to focus on a definable, winnable mission there and as a result we have covered ourselves in honey and stirred up a bee’s nest. Unfortunately, staying longer only leaves the mess for the next administration to clean up. It’s time to declare victory and go home.

February 28, 2007, 9:55 A.M.

Tilting at Oil Rigs: Congratulations to our friends Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, both of whom unseated incumbent Republican congressmen to win seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. As y ou know, we carried Paul’s banner here on our site througout the election.

We were also thrilled with local elections where Jim Carroll was elected by an overwhelming majority in his second run and several long time state representatives were unseated by Beth Arsenault, her mother, Judy Reever, and by former state representative Jane Wood. Kathy Sgambati defeated former state representative Jim Fitzgerald in his attempt at a state senate seat. All in all, a good showing on the local scene to match the good news nationally. We are looking forward to the 2008 elections to complete the sweep.

Despite these electoral victories, we have yet to gain traction on a few important issues. Moves to condemn the Bush plan for raising troop levels in Iraq amount to nothing more than spitting in the wind. On the local scene, we are still not moving toward a reasonable education funding plan. While it has only been a few months since people elected in November were sworn into their offices, I’m afraid that the clear message in support of action and change against inaction and failed policy will be diluted as time goes on.

My impatience certainly stems from intense frustration with the actions of our government and the loss of respect and international support for our government and its policies brought on by the arrogant, isolated and incompetent actions of our national government. The “support our troops” mantra which sustained American involvement in Viet Nam for more than a decade has worn thin, so thin in fact that active duty soldiers are beginning to take the extraordinary step of speaking out against the war while still serving. They recently filed an appeal for redress with Congress asking that the war be ended.

Regardless of what Bush and his few remaining supporters want to call it, Iraq is in the throes of a civil war. American involvement is so ineffective that Iran is emboldened enough to take an increasingly active and more direct role in the conflict. In the fact of this development a bloodied and beaten U.S. administration rattles its saber in the direction of Tehran. Sounds more like Don Quixote than the U.S. of old.

The terror of 9/11 has devolved into the anger and frustration of four years of failed policy. Bin Laden remains at large, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan and 3,161 U.S. soldiers have died and another 23,417 have been wounded in Iraq with no end in sight. I have called Iraq a quagmire from the beginning. I have also compared it in a political, military and historic sense to Viet Nam. Somehow being right doesn’t feel so good, because in the face of the inevitable failure of U.S. post-invasion policy and involvement in Iraq, our government, the newly elected congress included, continues to argue and debate. The soldiers who filed the appeal for redress show the most courage of all of us. The appeal says simply “As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.” This matter-of-fact, straightforward statement should become the policy of our nation. We need to stop tilting at oil rigs and bring them home without further discussion or debate. Save the debate for alternative energy and the environment, funding the restoration of our crumbling infrastructure, education funding and reform and a true, honest and globally responsible national defense policy. Right now, our talent and treasure is being squandered on a war we can’t win.

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Copyright 2006 Edward Philpot

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