Friday, May 18, 2007

The long and winding road

Garrison Keillor wrote
The French have a new president, the British will soon have a new P.M., and we envy them as we endure the endless wait for this small dim man to go back to Texas and resume his life.
My question is--after that endless wait is over, what kind of country will we have left? Barring a Diebold disaster of the highest magnitude, given that one-third of the GOP presidential candidates believe that we would have unicorns dancing in the forests if they hadn't missed the Ark, the White House in 2008 must surely go blue. But what will it mean? How much lasting damage has been done?

Our standing in the eyes of the world has never been lower, and this administration has made the Middle east into a permanent nightmare. The Chinese are our Mr. Potter and we do live in Pottersville. The jobs that went across the seas aren't coming back, and precious time has been lost in avoiding more than one ecological disaster.

Those fellow unicorn believers sit not only on the U.S. Supreme Court, but on every federal bench in the country, and will sit there for the rest of their lives. Career professionals throughout the government have been pushed out in favor of small-minded ideologues. The U.S. military has been shattered in a fashion that will take years to rebuild. The young officer corps, the academy grads, the captains, majors and lieutenant colonels, are leaving in droves, and of course, one of our most valuable resources, the national Guard, has been effectively destroyed as another hurricane season awaits.

Yes, the small dim man will return to Texas some day. The question is--where do we go?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Three final notes

Today has been chock full of noteworthy stories, but I don't want to have too many posts, so let me combine three into one final post for the day (unless, of course, something else happens).

1) Paul Wolfowitz resigns. As a principal architect of the disaster in Iraq, I can only hope that his special comb someday gets used as his catheter.

2) The bloviating windbag says something really quite funny. During the GOP debate the other night, a question was asked about the lack of minorities or women on the stage. So, during his radio show yesterday, OxyContin boy said: "And I guess — you know, the Democrats never get those kinds of questions because it's always assumed that they're fair and just, and not discriminatory and all that." Or, perhaps, that well, I'm not even going to say it.

3) Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson are fining a suit against Shooter, Turd Blossom, Scooter, etc, charging that when they leaked her identity for political reasons they did damage to her career. Cheney's lawyer's response: "He has immunity." From the Washington Post:

The lawyers said any conversations Cheney and the officials had about Plame with one another or with reporters were part of their normal duties because they were discussing foreign policy and engaging in an appropriate "policy dispute." Cheney's attorney went further, arguing that Cheney is legally akin to the president because of his unique government role and has absolute immunity from any lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment, whether the statements were true or false?"

"That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These officials were responding to that criticism."

So, when responding to "criticism," it's perfectly okay for any member of the Admininstration to say anything, true or false? Umm, what?

Torture Boy gets pwnd!

Fifty-six members of embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez' graduation class from Harvard Law School (1982) took out a full-page ad in the Weshington Post as an open letter to Torture Boy:

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

Twenty-five years ago we, like you, graduated from Harvard Law School. While we arrived via many different paths and held many different views, we were united in our deep respect for the Constitution and the rights it guaranteed. As members of the post-Watergate generation who chose careers in law, we understood the strong connection between our liberties as Americans and the adherence of public offi cials to the law of the land. We knew that the choice to abide by the law was even more critical when public officials were tempted to take legal shortcuts. Nowhere were we taught that the ends justified the means, or that freedoms for which Americans had fought and died should be set aside when inconvenient or challenging. To the contrary: our most precious freedoms, we learned, need defending most in times of crisis.

So it has been with dismay that we have watched your cavalier handling of our freedoms time and again. When it has been important that legal boundaries hold unbridled government power in check, you have instead used pretextual rationales and strained readings to justify an ever-expanding executive authority. Witness your White House memos sweeping aside the Geneva Conventions to justify torture, endangering our own servicemen and women; witness your advice to the President effectively reading Habeas Corpus out of our constitutional protections; witness your support of presidential statements claiming inherent power to wiretap American citizens without warrants (and the Administration’s stepped-up wiretapping campaign, taking advantage of those statements, which continues on your watch to this day); and witness your dismissive explanation of the troubling firings of numerous U.S. Attorneys, and their replacement with others more "loyal" to the President’s politics, as merely "an overblown personnel matter." In these and other actions, we see a pattern. As a recent editorial put it, your approach has come to symbolize "disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law."

As lawyers, and as a matter of principle, we can no longer be silent about this Administration’s consistent disdain for the liberties we hold dear. Your failure to stand for the rule of law, particularly when faced with a President who makes the aggrandized claim of being a unitary executive, takes this country down a dangerous path.

Your country and your President are in dire need of an attorney who will do the tough job of providing independent counsel, especially when the advice runs counter to political expediency. Now more than ever, our country needs a President, and an Attorney General, who remember the apt observation attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." We call on you and the President to relent from this reckless path, and begin to restore respect for the rule of law we all learned to love many years ago.


How you can tell when you've found our house

Should you ever be driving along, looking for Magooland, you will know you've found it when you see this in our window:

The Impeachables

The Liar In Chief at today's joint press conference with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair:

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? ... I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. ... And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!"

Not really, but it amounts to the same thing (h/t TPM):

"There's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen - I'm not going to talk about it. It's a very sensitive program. I will tell you that, one, the program is necessary to protect the American people, and it's still necessary, 'cause there's still an enemy that wants to do us harm. ... And so there's going to be all kinds of talk about it, and as I say I'm not going to move the issue forward by talking about something as highly sensitive, highly classified subject. I will tell ya, however, that the program is necessary. ... As I said, this is a necessary program that's constantly reviewed and constantly briefed to the Congress."

To clarify, again, the the question that was asked had nothing to do with the nature of the program, but what could be considered "internal" deliberations within the Administration. Bush considers all such deliberations classified, because no one has the right to question him or his decisions. He was forcing through a program which John Ashcroft, for goodness' sake, was against, because Shooter and Torture Boy wanted it. Note, specifically, that he didn't in any way dispute Comey's testimony. To him, it is irrelevant what tactics he chooses, because "If the President does it, it's not illegal."

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Move this pragmatist into the "Impeach Now" column

YES, there were ample grounds for impeachment before, and yes, I thought the effort would be futile and frustrating. The wiretapping-Ashcroft stories are brazen abuses of power, though, that not only support impeachment--they demand it.

Jimbow is certainly right on "high crimes and misdemeanors." Read the report of the Judiciary Committee in 1974 (will link when I get home). This phrase referred not to "crimes" but to abuses of power.

I don't want RR's head to explode

But after reading his post below, read the following, perhaps the only time John Ashcroft came out as a sympathetic figure in his life.

From Salon:

The call came at 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 10, 2004. Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital, struck with a life-threatening case of pancreatitis. Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey was just leaving his office, being chauffeured by his security detail.

"I remember exactly where I was, on Constitution Avenue," Comey testified Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "And [I] got a call from Attorney General Ashcroft's chief of staff telling me that he had gotten a call."

So begins a remarkable tale that nearly led to the resignation of the Justice Department's senior leadership, an ordeal that was recounted in great detail for the first time Tuesday. Two senior White House officials, Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales, were headed to Ashcroft's hospital bed, despite the instructions of his wife that there would be no phone calls or visitors. They wanted Ashcroft to sign off on the secret National Security Agency wiretapping program, a program that Ashcroft had already decided to reject before falling ill.

Comey was determined to stop them. "So I hung up the phone," Comey told the committee, and I "immediately called my chief of staff, told him to get as many of my people as possible to the hospital immediately. I hung up, called [FBI] Director [Robert] Mueller and -- with whom I'd been discussing this particular matter and had been a great help to me over that week -- and told him what was happening. He said, 'I'll meet you at the hospital right now.' [I] told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran up -- literally ran up the stairs with my security detail."

The story gets better at this point. Comey's testimony reads like a detective story. Minutes later, there is a showdown in the hospital room. Ashcroft, buffered by his wife and three of his senior deputies, faces down Gonzales and Card and refuses to sign off on the spy program. Gonzales and Card storm out of the room. Card calls Comey and demands that he come to the White House, but Comey refuses to go until he can get Ted Olson, the solicitor general, to accompany him. "After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness," Comey tells Card.

Read the rest. It's scary stuff.


OK -- I'm Convinced..... It's Time to IMPEACH

I have been one poor correspondent over these months since the last election cycle. After all, the wicked witches running the congress had been melted by the icy cold water thrown on them by a disgusted electorate. I was as happy as Dorthy returned to Kansas after having lived through the terrible nightmare of the Texas neo-con tornado...

But I was dead wrong to be happy. All that I have heard since the congressional takeover is lip-service to the agenda that was forwarded by the Democratic leadership in the months leading up to the November election. We're STILL losing brave men and women in Iraq for no discernable reason. Bush is surging troops in the face of a 28% approval rating (within a percentage point of what the illustrious Schmidlap calls the Keyes Constant) and he sees no real problem with pretty much ANY WRONGDOING by his minions. Events of the last 24 hours have caused me to go past my usual distaste for all things neo-con, and get right down to brass tacks: BUSH MUST BE IMPEACHED. What events you ask? What hit my radar in the past day which makes IMPEACHMENT a necessity? It's not the Wolfowitz scandal at the world bank, nor the firing of the U.S. Attorneys for partisan political reasons.

And no, it's not the troop surge.

All of these things while distasteful are completely within the boundaries of a president's constitutional authority. So, what is it, you ask? It's HIGH CRIMES and MISDEMEANORS.

Last night on the award-winning PBS investigative series Frontline the entire breadth of Bush's illegal domestic spying program was laid bare. The basis for the program revolved around a very quiet move by the Bush administration's FBI to commandeer the records of private enterprises in Las Vegas in the weeks preceeding New Year's Eve 2003 in reaction to a "threat" against the city intercepted by the NSA. In effect, National Security Letters were used to confiscate ALL information on 250,000 people who had visited Las Vegas over a 2 week period. In the end, there was no threat. There were no terrorists, no plot. But the FBI now had the personal financial and travel records of a quarter of a million citizens - AND THEN HELD THE INFORMATION FOR AT LEAST TWO YEARS.

The despicable nazi John Yoo could barely contain his glee as he explained that under the constitution the president has unbridled and unlimited rights to do anything he wants regarding suspicionless searches and seizures. The basis for this power: the president's authority as commander-in-chief. Yoo did everything but call the 4th amendment "quaint." At the same time, the investigation revealed that the president is almost certainly STILL bypassing the FISA courts and conducting unmonitored domestic surveillance on U.S. citizens.
Here is a portion of an interview done for the program with Peter Swire, Chief Counsel for "Privacy" in the Clinton administration


FRONTLINE: ...the president says, "I authorized (the warrantless domestic spying program)." As a lawyer, as somebody who specialized in information technology and the law for a quarter of a century, what's your bottom-line take on this? …

SWIRE: I was outraged. I tend to be fairly level in the way I approach things, and I had a sense of outrage that they would just disregard the law. The law said the exclusive authority for wiretaps were these other statutes, and the president looked at exclusive authority and said, "Except when I feel like it." It was as though the lessons of Watergate had been forgotten. It was as though the lessons of centralized executive power and the problems that come with that had been forgotten. And now the president just said, "I think I can do it my way."

Q: So you're saying the president violated the law?

A: My view is that the president violated the law, yes.


Q: Now, the president has described the program publicly, and to a certain extent Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales have followed the same line that makes it sound as though the eavesdropping is from one point overseas -- Al Qaeda -- to one point in America; point to point, person to person. Is that what's going on here, or is there more going on?

A: Well, there's still mysteries here. There's one program that the president and the attorney general have announced publicly, but there's very strong reports about other programs that are happening, too. ...

Q: What are you talking about? There's one program; ... it's the program the president describes. What else have you got in mind?

A: Well, there's two other revelations that we've had -- three programs to keep in mind. Program number two has to do with a whistleblower for AT&T who says that some of the big phone switches where huge amounts of communications go in and out between the U.S. and overseas, there's a direct feed to the government. That's not point-to-point for people linked to Al Qaeda; that's anybody who's sending e-mails or [making] phone calls overseas.
[The] next report was the USA Today story in the spring of 2006 which said that for 40 or 50 million Americans -- that's not all Al Qaeda -- 40 or 50 million Americans, [their] detailed phone records have been turned over to the government by the big phone companies. So now we have huge numbers of ordinary communications being intercepted, huge numbers of ordinary Americans' phone records being taken, and no legal structure in place to do that. That's much, much broader than a few people linked to Al Qaeda. ...

Q: [T]his business of turning over the stored communication records for 40 or 50 million Americans, is that legal? …

A:I think it's illegal according to the published reports. There's something called the Stored Communications Act. It says what the rules are for when the government can get people's phone records, but the published reports went down each of the exceptions and said they didn't apply. And we had apparently senior lawyers for one of the phone companies, Qwest, that decided not to participate. … The published reports said ... that Qwest had asked for a warrant, and the government refused to do it.

Q: Could the National Security Agency have gone under the FISA law and gotten a warrant to obtain stored communications, records, for millions of Americans?
I think that would really be up to the judges on the FISA court. The Patriot Act says you can get the whole database. If the whole database is 10 million people, that's something that was never discussed in Congress, [has] never necessarily been approved by any court. The court might decide that's a general warrant and it violates the Fourth Amendment, but the words in the statute would appear to allow it. …

Q: The third program you were talking about is this AT&T program. ... What is your understanding of what is happening in the AT&T case?

A: This program sounds like it could be Carnivore on steroids (an old FBI eavesdropping program)

Both my wife and I had to pick our jaws up off the floor. And today, the exacta came in. My brother emailed me this piece from Slate wherein a former assistant to (now retired) Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before a senate committee that (then) White House Counsel (now Atty. General) Alberto Gonzalez tried to coerce Ashcroft and his deputy to sign off on the reauthorization of the COVERT domestic spying program in 2004 WHILE ASHCROFT LAY CRITICALLY ILL IN THE HOSPITAL. The punchline is that Ashcroft, who has never been accused of being a liberal, had already come to the determination that the program was ILLEGAL, and he REFUSED to signoff on it. The upshot is that the US Attorney General was telling the president that this program BROKE THE LAW. The president's reaction? Send his counsel to get his signature from a nearly comatose Ashcroft. The piece reads like Kafka on acid.

So what do we have?? We have two stories which dovetail. They tell that this administration believes that it is answerable to no one. Bush and his minions believe that TOTAL INFORMATION AWARENESS isn't a necessary evil, but a presidential prerogative. It's time to stop this madness. It's time to IMPEACH.