Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, March 22nd, 2007.


Practicalities

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Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War

Tomorrow the House is going to vote on a bill that would end most military involvement in Iraq by the end of August 2008.

My understanding is that the House will be voting on one of Bush’s “emergency supplement” bills, which is how he likes to fund the war rather than through the regular budget. The bill would provide for $124 billion that will mostly go to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus “extra money tucked in for veterans’ health care, hurricane recovery and farm aid,” writes Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers. But the House Dems are attaching conditions.

Briefly, the bill would

  • Add $1.2 billion more for the war in Afghanistan than Bush requested; $3.4 billion for veterans’ and military health care; $2.5 billion to prepare troops in the United States for combat; $6.4 billion for hurricane recovery; and $3.7 billion for agricultural assistance.
  • Require that the Iraqi government meet benchmarks that Bush outlined in January for quelling the violence. Redeployment would be sped up if the benchmarks weren’t met. Some American forces would remain in Iraq to train Iraqis, protect American diplomats and military forces, and fight terrorists.
  • Require that the president explain his decision if he sends any troops into combat who aren’t fully trained, rested and equipped.
  • It’s not a de-funding bill, but the way it was talked about on some of the cable news shows this afternoon made it sound as if it was. I finally figured out that the Republicans are warning that, since Bush will certainly veto the bill, this would delay funds going to the troops.

    And that would be proof that Bush doesn’t support the troops, I say. He’s the one who waits until the last minute and then hits up Congress for “emergency supplement” bills. Why wasn’t this stuff in the budget? OK, I know the answer. First, keeping much of the Iraq War costs out of the budget helps the Bushies lie about balancing the budget. Second, it’s harder to trace where off-budget monies go.

    Other Republicans whine that Congress shouldn’t “micromanage” the Commander in Chief. First, the bill is hardly “micromanagement.” And I say Bush has had four years to manage the war, and he hasn’t. It’s time for someone else to provide some direction, since he clearly can’t do it.

    Tonight there are predictions the bill will pass. The magic number is 218 votes. The magic number for a similar measure in the Senate is 60 votes, which is probably out of reach.

    David Sirota:

    Immediately after the 2006 election, pro-war Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) told the New York Times that she hoped Democrats played a “kabuki dance” with progressives – pretending to be one thing, then doing another. It was an insulting comment – but the shrewd use of a “kabuki dance” should not be discounted as a critical political tool. And that’s exactly what’s going on with the supplemental on behalf of progressives.

    Right now, Obey’s Iraq bill is being painted in the media as something of a moderate compromise. That has led some organizations on the left to label the bill as a full-on sellout. But as progressives, we must ask ourselves: Would we rather own the public debate, or wield real power?

    Here are the facts: The Iraq supplemental bill begins redeploying troops by March 2008, and completes a full withdrawal by September 2008. You can label the bill anything you like. For all I care, you can label it the Iraq War Indefinite Continuation Act and Fox News can run slick graphics cheering on the legislation as the greatest escalation of militarism since Genghis Khan. But as long as that language is in there and the bill passes, then at the end of the day, real, binding power has been wielded to end the war.

    You might remember Rep. Obey from the YouTube video, in which he became exasperated at a hopelessly uninformed “activist” and called her a “liberal idiot.” The activist preferred another bill that would have provided money only for a withdrawal. That bill was proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, who I understand has agreed to vote for Obey’s bill tomorrow.

    David Sirota continues,

    Congressional progressives now face the same pangs that come with evolving into a movement with majority power, rather than serving merely as contrarian voices in the minority. They are undoubtedly being pressured by a small but very vocal group of organizations that make up what’s known as the Professional Protest Industry – organizations that exist solely to see the world as they want it, not as it is (a note: not everyone working to kill the supplemental is part of the Professional Protest Industry – many folks just legitimately believe stopping the supplemental is the best way to go, and I absolutely respect that even though I think it is the wrong strategy – however, there is no denying that there is a loud, vocal Professional Protest Industry – check out International ANSWER or the LaRouchies for a few examples). As a matter of existence, this industry wants – no, needs – to prioritize the public debate over wielding real legislative power, because that is the niche that makes them relevant. That these organizations have attacked some of the most steadfastly progressive groups for not being antiwar “enough” shows exactly where their priorities are.

    But lawmakers are not professional protest organizations. They are elected to wield power – that is their job. To be sure, noise and protest and press conferences can play a key constructive role in shaping legislation. But when legislation in question ultimately comes to a vote, power is wielded with the quiet force of the law, which is why the binding redeployment language must remain, by far, the most important element of this bill to anyone who is interested in ending the war.

    Finally, if one can appreciate the difference between packaging and power, consider that it is not a reach nor spin to consider the current supplemental a version of a “fully funded withdrawal.” Though it does not include language saying that the money appropriated to the Pentagon can only go to fund withdrawal activities, it is a bill that is funding for the military with the explicit, binding order that the war end by a date certain. In accepting the orders of the bill, the military knows it is being ordered to spend the money consistent with the language that says the war ends by September 2008 at the latest.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is that if this measure passes tomorrow it will weaken and isolate Bush and the hawks. If it doesn’t, the spinners will hoot about the Dems being “divided” and that they are selling out their constituents by not working hard enough to end the war. And Bush will be seen as the “winner” who can go ahead and do as he pleases.

    There are some progressive antiwar Dems who say they will vote with the Republicans because they want a better bill. I think that would be a huge mistake. If the House falls short of 218 votes for that reason, names will be named.

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    Truth and Truthiness

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    Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Valerie Plame

    May all the buddhas and bodhisattvas bless Marcy Wheeler, who took on the mighty task of being Keeper of the Facts in the Valerie Plame Wilson case. Today she takes on the fact-challenged House testimony of Victoria Toensing. This is worth a bookmark.

    ~~~~~

    By now you may have heard the sad news that Elizabeth Edwards’s cancer has returned. There were reports earlier today that John Edwards would suspend his campaign, but he says this is not so.

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    “Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition”

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    Bush Administration, corruption, criminal justice, U.S. Attorneys

    Sidney Blumenthal:

    In the U.S. attorneys scandal, Gonzales was an active though second-level perpetrator. While he gave orders, he also took orders. Just as his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has resigned as a fall guy, so Gonzales would be yet another fall guy if he were to resign. He was assigned responsibility for the purge of U.S. attorneys but did not conceive it. The plot to transform the U.S. attorneys and ipso facto the federal criminal justice system into the Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition had its origin in Karl Rove’s fertile mind.

    There’s more evidence of political manipulation of justice this morning. Carol D. Leonnig writes for the Washington Post:

    The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s racketeering case.

    Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s office began micromanaging the team’s strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government’s claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.

    She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

    “The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,” Eubanks said. “And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.”

    If you don’t remember the tobacco case, here’s a June 8, 2005 article by Ms. Leonnig for background. She wrote then,

    After eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers abruptly upset a landmark civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry yesterday by asking for less than 8 percent of the expected penalty.

    As he concluded closing arguments in the six-year-old lawsuit, Justice Department lawyer Stephen D. Brody shocked tobacco company representatives and anti-tobacco activists by announcing that the government will not seek the $130 billion that a government expert had testified was necessary to fund smoking-cessation programs. Instead, Brody said, the Justice Department will ask tobacco companies to pay $10 billion over five years to help millions of Americans quit smoking.

    Steve Soto remarked (June 7, 2005):

    Well, all those campaign contributions taken by Bush/Cheney (nearly $260,000 in 2000 and 2004) and the GOP from the tobacco industry over the years finally bought a $120 billion payday for Big Tobacco when the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department shocked the industry and anti-smoking advocates alike today by scuttling the government’s own litigation.

    Remember when I said of the U.S. Attorney scandal, “this is huge“? If clear ties to President Bush are established, this issue has the potential of putting impeachment back on Nancy Pelosi’s to-do list.

    Back to today’s article by Ms. Leonnig:

    Yesterday was the first time that any of the government lawyers on the case spoke at length publicly about what they considered high-level interference by Justice officials.

    Eubanks, who retired from Justice in December 2005, said she is coming forward now because she is concerned about what she called the “overwhelming politicization” of the department demonstrated by the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Lawyers from Justice’s civil rights division have made similar claims about being overruled by supervisors in the past.

    Pay close attention to this part:

    Eubanks said Congress should not limit its investigation to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.

    “Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,” she said. “When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration. . . . The rule of law goes out the window.”

    In its defense, the Justice Department explains it conducted its own internal investigation and cleared itself of wrongdoing. The JD also says the decision to pull back on the case was vindicated last year when a U.S. district judge said “she could not order the monetary penalty proposed by the government.” So they have an excuse for reducing the amount of damages sought. But changing testimony? Weakening the case?

    The political appointees who allegedly interfered with the prosecution were “then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler’s deputy at the time, Dan Meron.” McCallum is now the U.S. ambassador to Australia

    The Clinton Justice Department brought the unprecedented civil suit against the country’s five largest tobacco companies in 1999. President Bush disparaged the tobacco case while campaigning in 2000. After Bush took office, some officials expressed initial doubts about the government’s ability to fund the prosecution, Justice’s largest.

    Eubanks said McCallum, Keisler and Meron largely ignored the case until it became clear that the government might win. She recalled that “things began to get really tense” after McCallum read news reports in April 2005 that one government expert, professor Max H. Bazerman of Harvard Business School, would argue that tobacco officials who engaged in fraud could be removed from their corporate posts. Eubanks said she received an angry call from McCallum on the day the news broke.

    “How could you put that in there?” she recalled him saying. “We’re not going to be pursuing that.”

    Afterward, McCallum, Keisler and Meron told Eubanks to approach other witnesses about softening their testimony, Eubanks said.

    Yesterday Bob Barr, of all people, appeared on CNN blasting the Bush Administration’s apparent interference with the justice system. From Think Progress, which has the video:

    Barr blasted the White House, saying “the integrity of the Department of Justice is being used as a political football by the administration to prove who’s the toughest hombre in all this.” Rather than fighting accountability, Barr said, “the administration really ought to be going out of its way to do what prior administrations have done, such as the Bush 1 administration and Reagan administrations, and that is take whatever steps are necessary to assure the American people that the integrity of our justice system has not been compromised.”

    Last year Barr left the GOP to join the Libertarian Party. One wonders what the Bushies/GOP did to him to piss him off.

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