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2007 Archives


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March 16, 2007, 11:15 A.M.

Kudos to New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, the first Republican to denounce Attorney General Gonzales and call for this ouster. Sununu said that Gonzales has lost he confidence of “the Congress, Senate and the American people.” Sununu was upset over two things, the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and the misuse of national security letters, especially after Gonzales specifically told Congress that the letters were being used properly. That statement, it turns out, was untrue.

Let’s remember, however, that while Gonzales is guilty of allowing his office to be run like an extension of the White House political machine, the puppet masters should not get off scott free. That is not to say that they did anything illegal (this time), but they have strayed so far from any acceptable standard of political behavior that they can’t be left in power.

What we have in this situation is a blatant, unvarnished abuse of power by the executive branch. These fired U.S. Attorneys lost their jobs because they either wouldn’t do the bidding of the White House in pursuing politically motivated prosecutions against Democrats or because they wouldn’t do it fast enough.

The New York Times reported today that Karl Rove was sending e-mails to the Justice Department in January of 2005 asking about firing U.S. Attorneys. According to the Times report, an aide responded by saying that the not yet confirmed Alberto R. Gonzales favored replacing a group of “underperforming” USAs. Gonzales clearly never respected or understood the independence of the Attorney General’s office from the White House and the White House wanted it that way.

Josh Marshall at TPM has a lot of information and a time line relative to this issue that is worth checking out.

March 16, 2007, 11:10 A.M.

A report released by the Pentagon yesterday gave a sobering assessment of the “Civil War” in Iraq, citing a deteriorating situation. This is the first time the Pentagon has used the term Civil War in its Iraq assessments.

March 14, 2007, 9:20 P.M.

Alberto Gonzales has never really adjusted to his role as Attorney General of the United States. There has always been a concern that as a strong supporter of and former counsel to the President, Gonzales would not respect and defend the traditional independence of the Attorney General’s office. Of course, Gonzales was approved by a then-Republican dominated Quisling Senate.

What we are seeing in the recent controversy over the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department is evidence of the Bush administration’s attempt at politicizing all aspects of government. It is just another graphic example of their politics-uber-alles philosophy, and their complete disregard for the rules and traditions of government. The office of the Attorney General, the highest law enforcement official in the land, is supposed to be independent of the White House in all respects. The Attorney General’s office is not simply a political extension of the West Wing.

The reason for independence is simple. Because the Attorney General, and the 93 U.S. Attorneys who work for him, wield tremendous power. They enforce federal law, and they are expected to do so in a fair, impartial and yes, non-political way. In order for citizens to have faith in our system of laws, indeed in the rule of law, there must be an independent and politically constrained justice department.

That is not to say that there is no politics in the appointment of USAs. There is, and there always has been. These are very important and powerful positions and they are traditionally given to supporters of an incoming administration. What happened here is very different than the politics of appointment. What happened here is direct interference with the operation and independence of the US Attorneys. The White House wanted these people replaced because they were not pursuing a political agenda. This is a very different story than the White House wants us to believe. It is one thing to appoint a government official as a plum for his loyalty and service, it is quite another to then attempt to manipulate the performance of his job for further political gain. The former is expected, the latter is political corruption and nothing less.

The handling of this situation has been typical of Rove/Bush. The first incident related to the firing of H.E. "Bud" Cummins of Arkansas to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a longtime Rove supporter and crony. The White House Counsel, former Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, in conjunction with D. Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ deputy, created a list of US Attorneys and rated them based on, among other things, their support for White House policy. Despite the numerous reasons given for the firings, they were purely political: the White House wanted more Democrats and less Republicans prosecuted in the runup to the 2006 election in order to try to maintain dominance of a supposedly independent branch of government. These USAs were fired because they didn’t play ball. All of the other attempts at justification or explanation simply insult our intelligence.

In his press conference yesterday, Alberto Gonzales attempted to play out Phase II of the Rove plan: the coverup. By annointing a scapegoat (Kyle Sampson) and accepting responsibility for the actions of those under him, Gonzales hopes to make this "overblown personnel matter" go away. Very telling e-mails released by the House Judiciary Committee document the direct involvement of the White House in conceiving and orchestrating the purge.

As early as 2005, the White House was considering firing all 93 US Attorneys. This was apparently rejected as being "too disruptive" to the Justice Department, so the White House and Sampson began working on "the list." Of course, the over-helpful Karl Rove relayed (political) complaints he had apparently picked up on the party circuit about particular US Attorneys who were not being aggressive enough in pursuing Democrats (or in the case of Carol Lam, for prosecuting the likes of "Duke Cunningham.")

Obviously, the White House and the Justice Department want to designate Sampson as the fall guy in this mess. Miers has already left the White House, so it will be interesting to see if one of her "aides" falls as well as a sacrificial offering designed to placate that pesky (somewhat independent) Congress.

Lest we forget, there is a further, deeper manipulation at work here. There was a concerted effort by the White House and the Justice Department to use the ill-conceived USA Patriot Act to circumvent Congressional approval of the USAs replacing those fired. This is as blatant an expression of arrogance and contempt for our system of government as there ever was. Apparently, the act contains a provision, enacted last year, which allows the administration to appoint temporary replacements for the fired USAs who do not have to undergo Congressional approval, paving the way for the appointment of political shills and unqualified hacks in an unprecedented abuse of power. This provision is expected to be the subject of a move by Congress in the coming weeks to repeal some provisions of the Act. I expect Bush to threaten a veto.

This story has come to a head after months of denial and deceit. We were first told that the firings were for "managerial reasons." Others were fired for "performance reasons." The release of Justice Department records, performance evaluations and the Sampson/Miers e-mails does not support this explanation, so the new mantra is "they serve at the will of the President." Well, yes, they do, but the fact is that they don’t serve the President, they serve as the people’s representatives of the U.S. government, not as pawns of a corrupt executive.

While I agree that it is time for Gonzales to be removed from his office, I also think that it is time to fully and completely explore the corruption that is eating our government like a cancer, and to carve it out before it kills us all, or at least, any more of our children.

While Rome burned, Nero fiddled
While Watergate raged, Nixon travelled
Where’s George?

March 11, 2007, 9:10 A.M.

From the mailbag:

Dear Ed,

I am delighted that you have given your website the Lazarus treatment. Welcome back.

To follow up on your March 5 posting, I’d like to say that I’ve had the good fortune to read Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris. I highly recommend it both to you and your readers.

It’s quite interesting that Scheuer describes himself as a conservative Republican, one out of the Reagan mold. It’s interesting because it suggests the degree of divergence between reality and the pabulum regularly spoon-fed to us by incumbent national politicians and their sycophantic minions in the national media. Without a doubt, Scheuer’s and my political views have very little in common. But with regard to his analysis of sentiment within the Islamic world, I think he’s exactly correct.

Scheuer has recently made clear that it’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘whether’ Islamic zealots aggrieved of American foreign policy will detonate nuclear weapons on our soil. That someone as well-placed as Scheuer should be sounding such an urgent alarm while the political and media establishment largely ignore him is indicative of our political malaise.

But the reality deficit exhibited by the establishment carries much farther beyond such extreme circumstances. It extends into its portrayal of everyday American life. For example, within our memory a family of two parents and five kids could prosper on one income. For such a family little more than a high school diploma was necessary to maintain a standard of living whereby a house, a car, paid vacations, worry-free healthcare, and a college education for the kids were available without having to go into hock, let alone into bankruptcy.

Presently, that standard of living is unattainable for households even with two incomes and two college degrees.

Thus across the span of a generation we have experienced a decline in living standards of proportions probably not seen since the Great Depression, while the clarion call from the political and media establishment is that everything is just wonderful.

Which brings me to the point of the upcoming presidential beauty pageant. I see a whole lot of form and hardly a lick of substance, particularly as the contest pertains to Sens. Clinton and Obama. I’ve seen and heard hundreds of news reports about these two, but not once have I heard a peep about policy.

And perhaps this is for good reason. Because if matters of policy were to be discussed openly, it would become painfully clear that both mainstream political parties have acted as simply the left and right wings of a larger Corporatist Party, where the summum bonum is the concentration of wealth, capital and power into the hands of an ever-smaller elite, where such notions as “free trade” and “globalization” have attained the mantle of religious doctrine, and those who would be so unwise as to call those concepts into question are easily dismissed as heretics.

To me, the meaningful debate is not about which candidate should be chosen, as those who have any chance at being elected are essentially the same: each must subscribe to the status quo or stand aside in favor of someone who will. Each must tacitly agree that there is to be no substantial debate about economic policy, trade policy, military policy, or foreign policy, except at the margins – where that debate will, of course, have no substantial effect on underlying policy.

I truly doubt that the engineers of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party could have wished for better: power concentrated in the hands of a small elite where all it needed to do to keep the populace placated was to give the rascals plenty of lottery tickets, reality programs, and to perpetuate the Big Lie that everything is just dandy.

My view is that a truly meaningful debate for our time would be along the lines of a post-mortem critique of democratic structures in our country. That way, we could identify what happened, and map out a path toward renewed hope.

Brian

March 11, 2007, 9:00 A.M.

Eye on Newt: I don’t have any particular belief that the personal foibles of a government official ought to necessarily disqualify them from service, and I certainly don’t agree that infidelity, multiple marriages, estrangements from children or even dalliances with hookers should automatically disqualify otherwise qualified candidates from serving in office. In fact, unless these behaviors affect the performance, compromise the integrity or threaten the performance of the particular public servant, their private lives should not have to be any of my business.

Hypocrisy and duplicitous behavior are character traits which should give pause. This is true whether it relates to ones personal life or their political life but my point is that we can’t expect that every elected official is morally incorruptible. Not that we should condone these behaviors, but they should not disqualify anyone from public office simply because they happen.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich hounded Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair while at the same time enjoying a little on the side himself. He had an extramarital affair of his own which he now differentiates from Clinton's tet a tet by saying it was really the perjury that made Gingrich chase Clinton, not the behavior. That’s not really the way I remember it, but after all Newt is running for president.

According to an article in today’s Slate magazine by John Dickerson, Gingrich, In an on air interview with conservative talk show host James Dobson (I refuse to call him Doctor Dobson), apparently “argued that he wasn't a hypocrite for pushing for Clinton's impeachment while having an affair.” According to the Slate article, Gingrich said of the 1998 House proceedings against Clinton; "Perjury is at the very heart of our legal system, I [had] no choice except to move forward and say that you cannot accept ... perjury in your highest officials.” Slate goes on to point out that this sentiment “…is apparently not true for conservatives,” Dick Cheney among them, “railing against Scooter Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice.”

Obviously Gingrich is now seeking absolution for his own sins in order to “cleanse” himself for a presidential run. This whole idea of “cleansing”, including the idea that it is possible or necessary, really bothers me. In fact, it bothers me way more than the sins in no small part because of the power it gives to the hypocrites like Dobson, but also because it provides an excuse for the radical right to overlook the sins of their own while keeping their exclusive brand of religious heat up on their enemies.

With the right ideology and a small dose of absolution, even moral turpitude can be overlooked where the faithful are concerned. Newt certainly has the right ideology to suit the likes of Dobson, and he thinks that despite his dalliances he can still be President. He even professes to be a good and faithful ‘Christian’ prepared to seek whatever absolution is necessary to get him a shot at the oval office. These guys are not prepared to offer the same pass to others and that’s where the hypocrisy and duplicity come in.

If anyone believes that Newt is going to change, or that he sincerely regrets the excesses of his private life, I have a bridge to sell them. Newt is pandering pure and simple, selling his soul to the devil in hopes of winning the support of the right. I’m not surprised, and I really don’t care what Newt says, thinks or does. His, and Dobson’s, misuse of religion, fake morality and pseudo-religious manipulation to somehow render Newt worthy of office where he once was not, sickens me. Dobson and his ilk are searching for an ideological candidate, and they really don’t care about the person’s morality. In fact, personal morality really is a sideshow issue. These people just want to press their agenda on the rest of us and they are willing to dance with the devil to do it.


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