Sunday, July 29, 2007

Parsing Purgatory

Too bad Dante isn't around to see some of the political posturing, and chicanery coming out of the mouths of embedded hypocrites, and purveyors of the status quo, in the Bush administration. He would have especially liked the specious reasoning now used to rationalize Attorney General Gonzales' testimony before the Senate.

Instead of discussing the Terrorist Surveillance Program, current and former "officials" who were "briefed" on the program now contend that Gonzales met with Ashcroft, in 2004, to discuss data mining. (NYT) And what, pray tell, is data mining if not a form of "terrorist" surveillance. My, my, isn't there a visible point of confluence between the collection of personal information and the monitoring of so-called terrorists? One sure would think so.

If checking out people's web surfing habits doesn't constitute surveillance then what does, or does that, too, depend upon what one's "definition of the word sex is?" Anyone who suggests that eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails and collecting personal information aren't part and parcel of the same process is using the same kind of twisted logic that justified hanging Saddam Hussein and razing Baghdad despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction because Saddam was a bad guy, after all.

But, the larger question here is why is it that an attorney general who has made a career of unabashed butt-kissing, who has alluded to even more pernicious intelligence programs which Congress never bothered to investigate, who has attempted to obstruct independent inquiry into his own misconduct, and egregiously misrepresented a totally inappropriate, and unwarranted visit to the hospital bed of his predecessor, why is he being given an opportunity to "correct" his misstatements? For cripe's sake, the guy has done more ducking, dodging, and evading than has been witnessed since the Iran-Contra days. Tweaking testimony, and censoring inconvenient facts in scientific reports appears to be an irrevocable Bush Co. legacy.

That said, how is it that a former president, William Jefferson Clinton, was impeached, and disgraced, for lying under oath before a grand jury about what amounts to little more than a love tryst in the Oval Office while an attorney general can not only get away with lying under oath before Congress, but have key congressional figures give him the ammunition to get away with doing so. One would expect to find the practice of covering one's ass only in hell, and surely not in purgatory. One can only wonder how it is that the chief law enforcement officer of a country can not only lie under oath, but be aided and abetted by official enablers, many of whom we've elected, who are working overtime to help him cover his tracks.

Yes, Dante would have loved a day like this, and he would have devised a special circle in hell for those who sodomize the truth, and condemn it to political purgatory. Clearly, the vice-president isn't the only one in Washington, D.C. who needs to have his battery replaced.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Acronyms and Other Toxins

Okay, so maybe it's a coincidence that the vice president's initials, "D.C." are also the initials following the name of the nation's capital. Likewise, it may also be coincidental that the attorney general's initials, " A.G.," not only stand for attorney general, but match his name: "Alberto Gonzales." Not to put too fine a point on this, one thing both fellows seem to share is the obdurate belief that theirs is an innate, and invincible claim to power. Since the nearly six year anniversary of 9/11, we've become a nation that has sought refuge in comfort food, and comfort acronyms; witness "TSP" for "Terrorist Surveillance Program," and "NSA" for National Security Agency."

But, it seems that the only qualifying factor, for this attorney-general, is that he happens to bear the same initials as the position he holds. Even a cursory look at the job description of a federal attorney-general is enough to make one shudder, especially when one considers the disparity between Mr. Gonzales' sworn testimony before the Senate earlier this week, and official documents that reveal there is cause for Congress to consider perjury charges against him. What exactly is the U.S. attorney general appointed to do? For openers, he (or she) must function as the primary law enforcement officer who represents the country in all legal affairs. The attorney general also heads the Justice Department. And, in addition to advising the president, the attorney general is the one who defends the executive branch, before the Supreme Court, should such such defense be necessary. So, what does it say when the attorney general himself not only lacks credibility, but is impeachable on charges of perjury and, quite possibly, obstruction of justice?

When members of the Senate, even some leading Republicans, now call for a special prosecutor to investigate "misconduct" at the very department that is under the aegis of the attorney general, this speaks to the corruption of the framework of government. The vice president's aide, I. Scooter Libby, was charged and convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. He was absolved by the self-same governing body that is now acting not only in contempt of Congress, but in defiance of the rule of law.

While many may have participated in the bungled burglary known as Watergate, it was the brain child of one former president, Richard Nixon. Clearly, the same does not hold true here. The contagion, in this government, results from a collaborative effort from which no member of the Bush administration may be said to be immune. One can only hope that the very fabric of our system of government can recover from thie virus of leadership that continues to damage us daily.

Senator Feingold is right to move for censure, and others are right to suggest impeachment, but when an attorney general refuses to step down in the face of the kind of controversy that would render any head of the Department of Justice impotent, and when a president provides shelter from prosecution for those closest to him who refuse to cooperate, and testify under a subpoena, Rep. Sensenbrenner is right to suggest that maybe it's up to the court to decide what constitutes "executive privilege," and what does not. If these constitutional matters do come before the Supreme Court, consider whose job it is to defend this executive branch, and consider the gravity of the Senate's call, earlier this week, to weigh charges of perjury against this attorney general.

There's no denying that we face the gravest threat to this Republic we've ever faced. The 2008 presidential election is a distraction from the continuing redefinition of "terror" threats to include what formerly came under the umbrella of criminal activity. The effort to blur the lines between national security, and law enforcement represents a deliberate, and methodical campaign, by this administration, to abandon reason, and oulaw dissent.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ubiquitous Privlege

Help me out here: which Woody Allen movie was it that depicted Allen's mother flying over Manhattan like the Goodyear blimp? Well, lest you missed it yesterday, the Washington Post reports the White House has now decided to replace her. Check out their new and improved version of executive privilege which now allows for blanket of immunity for anyone the president takes under his wing to protect from contempt charges for refusing to testify before Congress.

It's okay to defy Congress, the justice department, and who knows---maybe even the Supreme Court as long as you do so while standing in the president's shadow, or so the administration now claims. This isn't your mother's executive privilege; indeed, this is executive privilege on human growth hormones, and renders justice impotent when it comes to prosecuting anyone who falls under the umbrella of the unitary chief.

Congressman Henry Waxman is right to suggest that the president might as well disband the justice department altogether, and save taxpayer dollars. Some even suggest that this latest flexing of White House muscle "is saying the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all." (WaPo) Those who are astonished by this latest move to offer blanket protection to all those who play the game by White House rules are themselves rather astonishing. What have they been doing for the past few years, watching re-runs of "Sex and the City?" One has only to look at the protection from being charged with war crimes given to Mr. Bush and his cronies by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which reversed the War Crimes Act.of a decade earlier.

This notion of ubiquitous privilege, and broadband immunity, which applies to any and all who follow the president's commands to defy Congress by refusing to testify as we witnessed with White House aides, and former presidential counsel like Harriet Miers, is serious stuff. This is the stuff dictatorships are made of. One wonders if the unitary executive will next grant itself immunity from charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, as well as assert its overreach to entirely nullify whatever it wishes to nullify including Supreme Court rulings. This is one presidency whose hubris clearly knows no bounds.

Maybe it isn't an omnipotent Jewish mother that hovers over Manhattan like a bloated blimp, but a president who measures his circumference by the coattails that continue to elude him.

something to remember...

"For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

II Timothy 1:7,

Friday, July 13, 2007

Growing Insurgents

Over the past few days, the Los Angeles Times and the mainstream media have been making noises about the rising threat of an imminent terror attack, and one timed, conveniently, to coincide with a burgeoning presidential campaign season, as well as chatter from Condoleezza Rice about the looming danger of Iran.

Too bad Gogol already wrote "Dead Souls" as one might just as easily believe that both the secretarys of state and defense had done so given what appears to be palpable padding of the number of Iranians involved in the Iraqi insurgency. Curiously, however, we hear little about five Iranians held by the U.S., in Baghdad, since January, on charges of being members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. They have only just been allowed to have a consular visit. despite the fact that the Iranian government insists they are members of the diplomatic corps. (Reuters) Imagine being jailed for more than six months, in a foreign country, without access to those able to secure your release? This is something many we detain at Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere in covert locations, deal with every day.

Yet, while there seems to be so much emphasis on the fact that, despite every best effort to spin it otherwise, a classified report released now reveals that Al Qaeda is regaining strength, and is more pernicious today than it has been since the attacks on the World Trade Center, there is only token coverage of the growing resistance to this administration's policies, as well as the inescapable truth that, while we were out chasing "Al Qaeda" in Iraq, bin Laden, and his homeboys, have been working out in their caves in Pakistan. If nothing else, this demonstrates that our government is vastly superior to any, in recent memory, with respect to growing insurgents.

Excuse me, but if the National Security Agency has shown themselves to be so adept at data mining, with impunity, for half a dozen years, why haven't they been able to come up with bin Laden's cell phone number? E-mail address? Doesn't he have a niece living here? Yes, yes, of course, she's estranged from her uncle, but...

More to the point, since we did such a great job of growing a resistance to occupation in Iraq, why are we having such a hard time here at home? Why does Congress simply roll over to the excesses of a runaway executive branch which has turned the Supreme Court into its enabler? Why have the politics of terror been allowed to distract, and deflect attention away from the egregious, increasing disgust the American people have for those who lead them? How can an attitude of business as usual be allowed to prevail in our nation's capital where the speaker of the house regales herself in dreams of manana. How is it that a president who has the dubious honor of being tied with another president, Richard Nixon, who was forced to step down in disgrace is allowed to continue his imperial delusions? Mr. Nixon had the good sense to step down. How are we to believe this president and his cronies ever will? The only thing that looms larger than another terror attack is the threat of another president appointed by the Supreme Court.

More important than the president, per se, is the presidency. How can the framework of government not be forever corrupted when a pattern of lies, deceit, secrecy, hubris, and contempt for common sense are allowed to run amok?

The time has come for the Democrats, or any leadership worth its salt, not only to challenge the infamous claim made by the Bush regime that any actions they've taken, since 9/11, have made us one ounce safer, but to demand accountability from those who have misled this nation. It's time for those who have consistently opposed the argument that invading Iraq had anything at all to do with a war on terror to take back the hackneyed assertion of creating a stronger defense. One has only to look at the foreign policy foibles of the past 50 plus years to see that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can make that claim.

But, in order to move forward, in order to believe that our vote even means anything, Congress must expose these deliberate, and premeditated liars for what they are, and ensure that the dignity of the executive branch is restored. Anything less reeks of acquiescence on the level of Nuremberg; anything less is an insult to the vision of America that hangs like false hope on a desperate planet.

blocker corporations

In his not to be missed article in today's New York Times, David Cay Johnston reveals "how the tax system actually operates at the highest levels of the economy"quoting from tax lawyer Lee Sheppard...

“These guys have figured out how to turn paying taxes into an annuity... the private equity managers, the investment bankers, all the financial intermediaries, are in control of their own taxation and so the debate in Washington about what tax rate to pay misses the big picture.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"some passion..."

"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

James Joyce

from "The Dead"

Monday, July 09, 2007

Another Wardrobe Malfunction

Another wardrobe malfunction, this time by the White House. Somebody's exposing something big, well, maybe not "big," but bigtime, in the president's directive to "defy congressional subpoenas" today. But, one would hardly expect an administration that decided to go to war unilaterally to cooperate with other branches of government

Quel irony that an administration which once boasted of "openness" and "transparency" now will only let former aides Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor testify "off the record and with no transcript." (AP) What they are showing by trying to, my...

What a statement, too, that the aides are under command, by the president, to break the law, and refuse to honor a subpoena. But then, as Senator Specter suggests, who's going to believe that criminal charges will be brought by a Bush appointed U.S. attorney? And, what are the odds of going up against a 5-4 Supreme Court? The deck is stacked against accountability, and the buck now can only stop where it began.

Fred Fielding, counsel to the White House and a pro when it comes to claims of executive privilege, notion that the president has "the right to hire and fire his own political appointees" is not without validity, and Congress has the right to investigate those firings, too.

But, somebody in Washington, D.C. has been watching too many John Wayne movies, and needs to be reminded of their inaugural oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," cause that ain't happening, and this executive needs to learn as much about Billy Shakespeare as Billy the Kid, too. One need only to look at the record number of times the Freedom of Information Act has been invoked during the Bush years to understand the perniciousness of this current rabid claim of "executive privilege."

The people have rights, too, like the right to fire and hire their political appointees. Indeed, Congress has been elected to represent us with respect to that right. It's time to consider firing those who continue to expose their vehement, and toxic disrespect for those documents, and deeds which have defined us as a country for more than two hundred years.

Even the president of the United States doesn't get to hide behind an American flag.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Standing to Sue

Congress is currently in the process of demanding that President Bush provide "a detailed justification of his executive privilege claims," as well as account for all the documents he is withholding from the House and Senate with respect to the controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys (WaPo) It will be fascinating to see just how much the executive branch thinks it can hide under the umbrella of "state secrets." Ostensibly, this president's claim of "executive privilege" is, in essence, no different from invoking the Fifth, which is appropriate given that he has taken the First and Fourth Amendments and buried them, like so many bones, in his backyard.

While the White House claims to be "standing on principle" in not cooperating with congressional investigations, a federal appeals panel, in Cincinnati, last week upheld the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program by questioning plaintiffs' "standing to sue." (NYT) You'll recall that the warrantless monitoring of citizens was ruled unconstitutional by a district court judge last year.

While far from unanimous, the court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit by attorneys and journalists who assert that government's program of intercepting their "international" e-mails and telephone calls, without warrants, or official notification, has been injurious to them represents a huge victory for the Bush administration. The court claims to have dropped the charges because plaintiffs were unable to present "concrete" evidence that the NSA program was directly, and tangibly, deleterious, thus they have no "standing," or cause, and are not entitled to sue.

One member of the appeals panel, Judge Gibbons, appointed to the bench by the president, suggests that the case was dismissed based on "the single fact that the plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence that they are personally subject to the program." (NYT) Indeed, one of the reasons plaintiffs may be unable to prove that they are personally affected by the program is because that evidence is "privileged," protected under "state secrets privilege," hence inadmissible in court. Ironically, another judge on the panel, Judge Batchelder, appointed by the president's father, George H.W. Bush, says that the case presents what she calls "a cascade of serious questions" as to whether the surveillance program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as both the First and Fourth Amendments. At stake here is not merely whether FISA and the Constitution have been compromised, but whether the government can be allowed to use confidentiality to preclude the admission of evidence, into court, which demonstrates government wrongdoing.

Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed alarm by the most recent appeals court decision which challenges that of district judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, who declared the Agency's spy program unconstitutional. Shapiro says that the court decision, in effect, "insulates the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails." (NYT) But, this decision goes deeper than that insofar as it reinforces the right of the government to withhold from evidence any information it deems to be secret, or classified, especially information which may be inconvenient, and/or actionable.

There was yet another case in which the state secrets argument surfaced, and led to a suit against the government being dismissed. Last April, in a district court in San Francisco, the U.S. government filed a statement in a class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation saying that they would assert "state secrets privilege" to obtain the dismissal of E.F.F.'s lawsuit against AT&T in which the group alleges that the telecommunications behemoth illegally monitored its networks. The Justice Department's statement established dismissal as the default position for any case that requires the release of what the DOJ considers classified information. And, as we've seen, the classification and de-classification of material, by this administration, has more to do with political expediency, and covering one's posterior, than national security.

As John Dean, former White House counsel to Richard Nixon, points out, for more than two centuries, the U.S. has functioned without an official state secrets act unlike other countries which criminalize divulging government information deemed to be potentially damaging to national interests. As early as 2003, Mr. Dean argued that, despite the cost to free speech and the First Amendment, "President George W. Bush has created the equivalent of an official secrets act for America…by cobbling together provisions from existing laws, Bush's Justice Department has effectively created one." (Findlaw) And, while we have no official state secrets act, there is a "state secret privilege," which amounts to an evidentiary rule, used by the government, in which the courts may be compelled to exclude any material, or testimony, that is deemed a threat to "national security."

Next month, a federal appeals court, in San Francisco, will hear another challenge to the NSA spy program in which two lawyers of a Muslim charity allege that they were "personally injured," and have had access to a document that demonstrates that the government has intercepted their exchanges. Their argument that their attorney-client privilege was damaged by the government's intrusion into their confidential affairs, according to legal experts gives them standing to sue.

The A.C .L.U. is not taking the decision by the federal appeals panel, last week, lightly, nor should we. They are even considering taking this appeal court's decision to effectively validate the administration's surveillance of American citizens all the way to the Supreme Court. And, if the Supremes can be prevailed upon to consider the legality of government's unauthorized monitoring, without a warrant, of our private conversations, they will be opening Pandora's Box as, not only is the Bush administration acting in defiance of F.I.S.A, but they will have a hard time ignoring allegations that they're in violation of the Constitution, too. We may yet get to see just how "conservative" judicial activist Bush appointees like John Roberts and Samuel Alito really are, and whether they have any standing to judge..

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Firefights and the Fourth of July

While waiting for the fireworks, consider this: last weekend, in Iraq, U.S. troops stormed the slums of Sadr City, a largely Shiite stronghold in Baghdad, "blindly" killing 26 innocent Iraqi civilians. A local resident describes a pre-dawn raid intended to target "Iranian-linked militants," in chilling terms: "At about 4 a.m., a big American convoy with tanks came and began to open fire on houses—bombing them." Another Iraqi woman says her family was hit while "peacefully sleeping."

Even an Iraqi police officer alleges he was also injured when soldiers started to randomly bomb houses, and fire at civilians. Three members of one family were killed during the attacks which Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, the officer in charge, called "an intense firefight." Garver claims that all the victims were "terrorists" who were shooting at the troops at the time, thus his men acted in self-defense. (AP)

Regardless of who is telling the truth here, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has expressed justifiable outrage at the raids, and refusal of the U.S. military to comply with his orders that prohibit any operation without "pre-approval from the Iraqi military command…Anyone who breaches the military command orders will face investigation." Presumably, the "anyone" to whom the prime minister refers includes American military personnel. Think about the irony implicit in defiance by American military command of Iraqi military command. Is it any wonder that the Iraqis want us out given that we show no more respect for them, or their "democratically" established hierarchy than Saddam Hussein did. While the officer in charge asserts that any structure, in Sadr, that came under assault was "being used for hostile intent," the question is why were his troops there in the first place, against the wishes of Iraqi leadership? This is only one, of many, questions that bear repeating if, and when, Lt. Col Garver goes before court martial.

Even if he has his day in court, keep in mind that Garver, too, takes orders from someone and as we have seen far too often over the past four years, those who most deserve to be brought up on charges manage to slip between the cracks. We witnessed the dignified "retirement" of former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, with no questions asked about what, if any, role he played whether in ordering or implementing, the systemic torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

When an American military operation views sleeping women and children are "terrorists," we have to wonder not just about who's carrying out these heinous acts, but who's giving them the orders to do so.

Ominously, too, the intentional blurring of the line between civilian and insurgent, as well as between insurgent and member of al-Qaeda, in an effort to spin an unpopular war, has been consistently employed to justify everything from "alternative interrogation techniques" such as we've seen in Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi prison which housed mainly Iraqi criminals, not "enemy combatants."

If you happen to be a citizen of an occupied country where there is an active resistance to occupation, does that make you fair game? Increasingly, the media feeds us the party line that we are no longer fighting insurgency, in Iraq, but al Qaeda. One can no longer be a citizen of Iraq, but they are, by default, either terrorists, or terrorists in training. What does it say about our attempt to bring law and order to Baghdad when our own military acts with brazen disregard for Iraqi law?

When just a day or two ago, we heard the president speak about commuting Scooter Libby's jail sentence, but leaving his conviction and $250,000 fine in place because he thinks there's a need for "accountability," (AP) one can only look to him as commander-in-chief, and expect that he hold himself fully accountable, too, for the horrific wholesale slaughter of two dozen innocent sleeping Iraqi civilians.

While the world witnessed the kangaroo trials of service members for their crimes against humanity at Abu Ghraib, so far, senior members of the Defense Department, going up the chain of command as far as possible, have not been brought to justice. Donald Rumsfeld got to return to private life with impunity. Clearly, Rumsfeld took commands, too. Yet, those who gave the original orders continue to function in secret, without oversight, and without accountability despite their alacrity for encouraging others to take responsibility for their own misdeeds. A Pentagon consultant remarked, when the horrific photographs of the systemic abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees first surfaced, that "the basic strategy was 'prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture." (The New Yorker)

But, whose "big picture" are we really protecting? In the final analysis, accountability for firing blindly on civilians, for massaging the language of war such that those who actively resist occupation, in Iraq, become "al Qaeda," and the enemy morphs into a ubiquitous mass that includes sleeping men, women, and children; in the final analysis, accountability is a four letter word: B U S H. When the Army revises its induction manual, and military legislation labels what were formerly widely recognized as human rights abuses as "alternative interrogation techniques," one needn't do a Google search to find out who's responsible. The buck often stops where the buck begins.

"I make a judgment, a considered judgment. I stand by it," the president acknowledged when he spoke, earlier this week, about his decision to commute the sentence of Libby, a convicted felon. Clearly, this commutation wasn't the first "considered judgment" this president has made. He made the judgment to invade Iraq, to oust its leadership, to bomb and plunder Baghdad, to destroy more American lives in the name of a "war on terror" than have been lost as a result of 9/11, as well as to revise the War Powers Act such that he, and his cronies, are immune from prosecution for war crimes.

On this day we celebrate our independence, and self-determination, this president continues to make the "considered judgment" that it's acceptable to deny Iraq its own sovereignty.

We have exported many things to many different parts of the world, but independence isn't one of them. Independence Day, for the Iraqis, will come when America goes home.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Charmed Lives

President Bush has just commuted the 30 month sentence of former White House aide, I. Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.

In a previous post that dealt with Paris Hilton, I predicted that she would spend more time behind bars than Scooter Libby, and I was right. It's time for all those who demanded that Hilton, the child of privilege, do her 23 day sentence to speak up, and demand, too, that this Washington, D.C. insider, the pimp of privilege, take his medicine like a man, and serve his sentence instead of hiding behind the White House's skirt.

Arguably, the larger question is: who will commute the president's sentence? Surely not history who will find this presidential reprieve to be consistent with the cronyism, chicanery, and pathology that has not only permeated the nation's capital, but run amok globally, since this administration occupied our government.

Some of us lead charmed lives. The rest of us clean up after them.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Before the Big Bang

Martin Bojowald, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said it may be possible to glimpe before the big bang...

"The eternal recurrence of absolutely identical universes would seem to be prevented by the apparent existence of an intrinsic cosmic forgetfulness."

(I want some of whatever he's smoking...)

courtesy of Yahoo News