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thursday, october 20, 2005

Semisoft Ball
 
I’ve been watching MSNBC’s Hardball this week, even though I swore off a couple of years ago. Truly, it’s better than Six Flags. There are thrill rides–Chris Matthews and guests go swooshing through the murky depths of rightie disinformation, shoot up to a brief moment of clarity, then tumble down again. Long-debunked lies and some startling actual facts are on display. Frank Rich and Amy Goodman have been recent guests, accompanied by the usual sideshow freaks–e.g., Stephen Hayes, Victoria Toensing, and the allegedly objective "reporter" Andrea Mitchell.

What’s made Hardball worth watching is Chris Matthews’s glimmer of a clue. No, really. The owner of one of the thickest skulls on television, in Billmon’s words, “kinda sorta gets it.” From Matthews’s MSNBC “blog”:

That’s the environment in which this whole thing may have been hatched. If there was law-breaking, it came out of the vice president and his people’s determination to protect themselves against the charge that they led us into a corrupt war, a war based on false pretenses.

That’s how hot this thing is.

If there are indictments, they’re going to be probably in the vice president’s office, they’re probably going to come next week and they are going to blow this White House apart.

It’s going to be unbelievable.

I think the people watching right now who are voters better start paying attention to this issue. It’s not just about whether somebody’s name was leaked, it’s about whether we went to war under false pretenses or not, whether people knew about that or not, and what they did when they were charged against that kind of offense against the United States.

It’s serious business.

This is not to say Tweety is entirely reformed. He and his guests remain fact-challenged about many things. For example, here is Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday’s program:

MITCHELL: I don‘t know that to be the case, but what I think people need to focus on, is the overall background of what was going on back then. This was a fight—an internal fight—between the CIA and Dick Cheney. And you can‘t overstate the case of how brutal that fight over who had the right interpretation over Saddam‘s weapons was.

And in that context, when Joe Wilson went on television with us and in interviews and said he had been dispatched by the vice president, you could understand why Dick Cheney and his people probably said no, we didn‘t send him. We had nothing to do with that, because, you know, whether Wilson was told or was simply inflating his own importance, he led people to believe, he said publicly, that he had been dispatched by the vice president.

And that was clearly not the case by every bit of reporting that I have been able to do. The vice president did not know that Joe Wilson had been sent. And so when Wilson said that, that is what set into motion all of these other events because that‘s when the vice president and his staff, presumably, tried to put out the word. Joe Wilson was not our envoy.

At TPM Cafe, Larry Johnson corrects the errors:

Gee Andrea, don’t you know how to read? Here is what Joe Wilson wrote on July 6, 2003:

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990’s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president’s office.

Got it! He did not write that Cheney sent him. Joe Wilson isn’t lying, Andrea Mitchell is. Moreover, when Wilson appeared on Meet the Press on July 6, 2003 with Andrea, he did not say what she claims he did. Here’s the relevant portion of the transcript:

MS. MITCHELL: But, in fact, many officials, including the president, the vice president, Donald Rumsfeld, were referring to the Niger issue as though it were fact, as though it were true and they were told by the CIA, this information was passed on in the national intelligence estimate, I’ve been told, with a caveat from the State Department that it was highly dubious based on your trip but that that caveat was buried in a footnote, in the appendix. So was the White House misled? Were they not properly briefed on the fact that you had the previous February been there and that it wasn’t true?

AMB. WILSON: No. No. In actual fact, in my judgment, I have not seen the estimate either, but there were reports based upon my trip that were submitted to the appropriate officials. The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there.

Shocking! Joe Wilson consistently said that the request originated with the Vice President and was passed to the CIA. Don’t stop there, that is also what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported in July 2004.

Be sure to read all of Larry Johnson’s post, which corrects a number of other oft-repeated falsehoods.

By the way, if you’ve got a second, please send an email to Chris Matthews with a link to the Larry Johnson article. Be polite.

Matthews’s program still suffers from a misguided attempt to create “balance” by pairing up rightes and lefties and giving both points of view equal time and equal weight even if one side is either ignorant of the facts or lying its butt off. (Most mismatched couple: Kate O’Beirne and Bob Herbert, Hardball, October 12.) As someone, I believe Eric Alterman, once said, television producers seem to think “balance” means that if someone on your program says the earth is round, you have to give the views of the Flat Earth Society equal time and respect. As if there were no such thing as objective fact. Yes, people can have diverse opinions–e.g., the potential effects of proposed tax legislation or who’s going to win the World Series. But when Andrea Mitchell misquotes Joe Wilson and calls him a liar because of something he didn’t say, and the “host” sits and lets the lie pass without correction, that’s not “balance.” And it sure as heck isn’t journalism.

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10:34 am | link

wednesday, october 19, 2005

Cymru am byth!
 
I was printing some of my photos from Wales and thought these two turned out especially well. The first is a 13th-century cross in St. Davids, taken early in the morning. The second is on a mountain trail in north Wales. The man walking in the distance is my kinsperson, Don Roberts of Dwygyfylchi.
 
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smallbobonthemountain.jpg

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8:02 pm | link

Indictments or Bust
 
Jacob Weisberg joins the ensemble of wankers who believe the Fitzgerald grand jury is pointless. He takes his place beside veteran wankers Richard Cohen and John Tierney, of whom it can be said that putting his New York Times column behind a subscription wall is no loss. All three gentlemen argue that there’s no evidence anyone in the Bush Administration actually broke the law, ignoring the fact that no one other than the unleakable Patrick Fitzgerald and his secret grand jury have seen the evidence. But Weisberg also makes the remarkable argument that

Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald’s investigation from the start. Claiming a few conservative scalps might be satisfying, but they’ll come at a cost to principles liberals hold dear: the press’s right to find out, the government’s ability to disclose, and the public’s right to know.

I’ll pause and let you read that a few more times, so you can savor the full-blown, breathtaking idiocy behind that statement.

The press’s right to find out suggests an apology for Judy Miller and the New York Times. Find out what, pray tell? Even Judy’s editors were in the dark about what she was up to, but it’s clear that she was less interested in “finding out” than in protecting her own turf. Judy was not working to uncover possible misdeeds by government, but was a player in those misdeeds. She enabled the White House to lie to the American people. That’s not protected by the First Amendment, dear. (For another look at Judy, see Christopher Dickey’s web exclusive at Newsweek.)

The government’s ability to disclose
–I can barely guess what Weisberg was referring to there. Careful reading of the remainder of the article leads me to think he was referring to subpoenaing reporters because they were the recipients of government leaks. But it appears the “leaks” were not disclosures, but misinformation intended to smear a critic of the Administration. Weisberg is defending the government’s right to bully and intimidate critics into shutting up, which I don’t think was the intention of the First Amendment.

And, finally, the public’s right to know. Know what? The party line? The propaganda du jour? How about (dare I say it) facts, Mr. Weisberg? How about getting to the bottom of a government conspiracy to manipulate the press and spread disinformation in order to deceive the public into supporting a war? I’d like to know more about that, sir.

Enough of that. Other Traitorgate news–David Johnston and Richard Stevenson of the New York Times write that Patrick Fitzgerald has no plans to issue a final report. This means we’ll either get indictments or nothin’.

Raw Story
reports that John Hannah, “a senior national security aide on loan to Vice President Dick Cheney from the offices of then-Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John Bolton,” is “cooperating” with Fitzgerald and may have cut a deal.

The New York Daily News claims that President Bush “rebuked” Karl Rove when Bush found out about the leak, two years ago. Thomas M. DeFrank writes, “Bush was initially furious with Rove in 2003 when his deputy chief of staff conceded he had talked to the press about the Plame leak.” Buzzflash speculates that this is a story that was leaked to insulate Bush from Traitorgate fallout. But if the story is true, that means Bush has been in on the cover-up. Can we say “unindicted co-conspirator”? Stay tuned.

Speaking of Karl–Judy Miller wannabe Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press reports that Rove has cancelled three appearances before conservative groups.

See also yesterday’s Murray Waas report, which takes a closer look at Scooter Libby’s involvement in the mess.

The entire Traitorgate mess, some say, grew out of Dick the Dick’s war with the CIA over WMD intelligence. As part of that war, the White House installed Peter Porter Goss as head of the CIA a year ago. Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reports that this is not going well.

A year later, Goss is at loggerheads with the clandestine service he sought to embrace. At least a dozen senior officials — several of whom were promoted under Goss — have resigned, retired early or requested reassignment. The directorate’s second-in-command walked out of Langley last month and then told senators in a closed-door hearing that he had lost confidence in Goss’s leadership.

The turmoil has left some employees shaken and has prompted former colleagues in Congress to question how Goss intends to improve the agency’s capabilities and restore morale. The White House is aware of the problems, administration officials said, and believes they are being handled by the director of national intelligence, who now oversees the agency.

But the Senate intelligence committee, which generally took testimony once a year from Goss’s predecessors, has invited him for an unusual closed-door hearing today. Senators, according to their staff, intend to ask the former congressman from Florida to explain why the CIA is bleeding talent at a time of war, and to answer charges that the agency is adrift.

Another amazing Bush Administration appointment. Georgie Boy sure knows how to pick ‘em

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9:18 am | link

tuesday, october 18, 2005

Ends and Odds
 
Rumors are flying that Dick the Dick could resign. I think maybe we're all getting a little overheated.
 
Also--via Kevin Drum, I see that Paul Waldman stumbled onto a truth I wrote about awhile back. A couple of truths, in fact. Waldman writes,
Yet Republicans (and more than a few Democrats) raise a caution. Americans, they argue, are pretty conservative; no matter what is going on this week or this month, conservatives far outnumber liberals, so Democrats always start at a disadvantage. Democrats who want their party to stand up for a strong progressive agenda, they claim, are barking up the wrong tree. Democrats must stick to the center, or lose.

Even those with impeccably liberal pedigrees are making this argument, such as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. "According to the network exit polls, 21 percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34 percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves moderate," Dionne wrote. ...  Michael Barone of the National Journal looked at the same numbers and pronounced us to have "a conservative electorate." Evan Bayh, a probable candidate for president, cited the same figures to argue for a more centrist Democratic Party. "Do the math," he said. Noam Scheiber of The New Republic pronounced the liberal/conservative/moderate split "the most important thing you need to know about contemporary politics."

But the problem with this explanation is that the word liberal has been so demonized by the Right that even liberals don't know what it means any more. I'd be willing to bet that a whopping large amount of people who call themselves "moderate" are liberals who don't know it, or who would be liberals if someone could make a case for liberal government without some rightie goon dancing about shrieking "Tax and spend! Tax and spend!"  ...
 
....Frankly, I think genuine liberalism has been absent from public discourse and policy for so long that I think today's voters might find it quite refreshing. Considering the younger ones have never been exposed to liberalism before, maybe we should call it something else and tell 'em it's a new new thing. I bet they'd take to it like ducks to a pond.  
Fact is, a lot of people who don't call themselves liberals hold liberal ideas, whether they understand that those ideas are "liberal" or not. People don't know what the word liberal means any more. The righties have done such a through job of demonizing the word that people are afraid of it. It's like the hoards of people who say they believe in equal rights for women, "but I'm not a feminist."
 
I smack such people whenever I meet one, btw, so if this applies to you, keep your distance.
 
Waldman writes that the "median voter" sure looks like a liberal.
 At this moment in history, that voter is pro-choice, wants to increase the minimum wage, favors strong environmental protections, likes gun control, thinks corporations have too much power and that the rich get away with not paying their fair share in taxes, believes the Iraq War was a mistake, wants a foreign policy centered on diplomacy and strong alliances, and favors civil unions for gays and lesbians. Yet despite all this, those voters identify themselves as "moderate."
And we know why this is true, don't we? Waldman writes,
 The answer lies in a decades-long campaign to make the word an epithet -- from Ronald Reagan taunting Michael Dukakis as "liberal, liberal, liberal" to a host of Senate candidates who faced television ads calling them "embarrassingly liberal" or "shockingly liberal." Through endless repetition, conservatives succeeded in associating "liberal" with a series of traits that stand apart from specific issues: weakness, vacillation, moral uncertainty, and lack of patriotism, to name a few.
For example,
Liberals may write best-selling books about why George W. Bush is a terrible president, but conservatives write best-selling books about why liberalism is a pox on our nation (talk radio hate-monger Michael Savage, for instance, titled his latest book Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder).
That's exactly what I wrote here. I did a title search and found (as of May 2005):
Books by conservatives with the words liberal or liberalism in the title (not including the Michael Savage titles already named above): 
  • Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
  • Ann Coulter, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right
  • Ann Coulter, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must): The World According to Ann Coulter
  • Mona Charen, Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First
  • Mona Charen, Do Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (and the Rest of Us)
  • Sean Hannity, Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism
  • Sean Hannity, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism
  • John Podhoretz, How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane
  • David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity 
  • Michael S. Rose, Goodbye Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church
  • Robert Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Modern Liberalism and American Decline 
If I expanded this search to include "The Left" I could list a great many more titles along the same lines, and most of them sold a respectable number of copies.
 
Now here's my list of books by liberals with conservatives or conservatism in the title:
  • Thomas Frank, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
And that was the only title I found, unless you include:
  • Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America
Mr. Lind is a recent convert from neoconservatism, and I don't know for sure that he's calling himself a liberal. So that title may not count.
As I wrote in an even earlier post, it's easy to find broad-brush condemnations of liberalism coming from conservatism. But it's remarkably difficult to find broad-brush condemnations of conservatism coming from liberals.
Sure, there was plenty of snarking about conservatism. But when liberals attack conservatives, liberals tend to be person- or issue-specific, and give reasons -- This guy is a jerk because he did thus-and-so. This policy stinks because it's going to have such-and-such effect. 
Kevin suggests we fight back by "focusing on extremist conservative ideology, something we don't do often enough." We on the Blogosphere focus on it, but are we demonizing it the way the righties demonized liberalism? I'm not sure we've got it in us to do that. Although I'm willing to give it a shot.
 
But we've got to remember that conservatives are all about defending the Powers That Be--the corporations, the military-industrial complex, and various entrenched institutions dedicated to keeping the powerful in power and the playing field as uneven as possible. All they have to do to defeat us is make people afraid of us. Demonizing forces for change and real reform,* ensures that the status quo will win by default.
 
(*What righties call "reform" amounts to dismantling what's left of the New Deal and reversing all civil rights case law since the McKinley Administration--"reforming" backward instead of forward, in other words. We might call that "unreform.")
 
But liberalism has to do more than make people afraid of conservatives. We have to give people a vision of empowerment and hope, that government can be better, and can do better, to make America a better place for all of us.
 
And before we can do that we must neutralize what Steve M. calls the "Protocols of the Elders of Liberalism."
 
Given that the Right pretty much controls mass media, that's not going to be easy. But I believe we have to try. And maybe if enough people become disillusioned by the Right, they'll be ready to listen to what we have to say.

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4:30 pm | link

Gray Lady Is Not a Lady Any More
 
Today the Los Angeles Times takes the New York Times to task for its mishandling of Judy Miller. An editorial in today’s LAT accuses the NYT of “manufacturing a showdown with the government.”

The details of the Miller case (at least those that the paper has made public) reveal not so much a reporter defending a principle as a reporter using a principle to defend herself. There is still no satisfactory explanation, for instance, of why she changed her mind after 85 days in jail and decided to reveal her source.

Personally, I suspect the NY Times is on its way out as “the paper of record.” The Miller episode reveals very questionable standards of journalism, to say the least. And anyone (like a blogger) who routinely checks out stories from several different newspapers probably has noticed that other papers often do a better job. That, and the questionable business decision of putting popular content behind a subscription wall, suggest the Gray Lady is past her prime.

In today’s Salon (behind a subscription wall, naturally), Farhad Manjoo writes that Judy Miller’s unethical actions have created an internal mess at the New York Times that’s “bigger than Jayson Blair.”

On the one hand, it appears that Miller was not the source of Valerie Plame’s identity, as many speculated. However, Manjoo writes,

She protected — and, indeed, still looks to be protecting — people she knew were trying to discredit Wilson, even though they were possibly breaking the law, and even though she seems to have had no legal or ethical basis for doing so.

Judy Miller’s actions had less to do with protecting sources than covering her own butt.

Miller stonewalled the reporting team working on this case. Or, as the paper put it, “Ms. Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes.” And that’s despite the fact that on Wednesday Judge Thomas Hogan lifted his contempt order, and Miller appears to be in no legal jeopardy in the case.

One Times staffer who spoke to Salon said her relative lack of cooperation with her colleagues is likely to continue to rankle the newsroom, even now that the story has been told. There doesn’t seem to be any sound journalistic reason for her selective silence; as Jay Rosen, the NYU journalism professor and blogger writes, “What principle of confidentiality extends to ‘interactions with editors?’”

Then there is the unbelievable fact that Miller cannot recall the most key detail in this incident, the source for Plame’s name. Discussions with some at the Times indicated that this would be the hardest pill to swallow for people there: Either Miller is lying, they said, or she’s sloppy to the point of ineffectiveness in her reporting. Neither scenario speaks for her continued employment as a star reporter.

There’s no excuse for any of that. And what were the Times editors thinking? The newspaper sank millions of dollars in Judy’s defense, yet the publishers and editors themselves had no idea what she was up to. And still don’t, apparently.

… it’s unclear why the Times allowed Miller — a reporter whose discredited work on weapons of mass destruction had recently embarrassed the paper — to be put in charge of the Times’ response to investigators looking into the Plame leak. Some revelations are astonishing: Apparently nobody at the newspaper asked to review Miller’s notes in the Plame case before allowing her to defy Fitzgerald, and before the paper’s management made her a high-profile symbol of press freedom in peril.

The Times account shows that senior management did not press Miller on her sources and what the sources had revealed to her about Plame, before backing her stance in public and in numerous editorials. It’s hard to imagine why they didn’t make sure she wasn’t being used by officials in the Bush administration who may have been breaking the law. Then there’s the matter of Miller’s own unethical actions: The Times’ report showed she lied to her editors about her involvement in the case, and maybe more disturbing, she agreed to allow Libby to hide his motives from readers by identifying him in two different ways. Why is she still working at the paper? (Unconfirmed reports say she has taken a leave of absence, but there’s no word of any disciplinary action against her.)

Rem Rieder writes in American Journalism Review:

Most disturbing is the sense that the Times at times is a ship without a skipper, or, better yet, an asylum run by the inmates. Strong leadership and editorial oversight seem hard to come by.

Take the almost casual way the paper decided to put itself at the center of such an important, high-profile legal battle – one that cost the paper millions of dollars and immeasurable credibility and trust. Yet Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Executive Editor Bill Keller didn’t trouble themselves to find out much about Miller’s dealings with her confidential source, I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.

In recent years, Rieder says, the Times has lurched from one debacle to another. In 1999 the Times embarrassed itself by running a series of articles on an alleged espionage ring run by a Los Alamos physicist named Wen Ho Lee. When the case collapsed, the Times said, um, maybe we should have asked better questions. Yeah, maybe. Then the paper helped buttress the Bush Administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, for which it offered a faint apology last year. And then there was Jayson Blair, who got away with plagiarism and fabrication for a remarkably long time.

Arianna Huffington writes that the Times editors should have noticed the flashing warning signs:

We now know that Miller’s bosses were being warned about serious credibility problems with her reporting as far back as 2000 — a warning that came from a Pulitzer Prize-winning colleague of Miller who was so disturbed by her journalistic methods he took the extraordinary step of writing a warning memo to his editors and then asked that his byline not appear on an article they had both worked on.

In today’s WaPo, Howard Kurtz quotes from a December 2000 memo sent by Craig Pyes, a two time Pulitzer winner who had worked with Miller on a series of Times stories on al-Qaeda.

“I’m not willing to work further on this project with Judy Miller… I do not trust her work, her judgment, or her conduct. She is an advocate, and her actions threaten the integrity of the enterprise, and of everyone who works with her. . . . She has turned in a draft of a story of a collective enterprise that is little more than dictation from government sources over several days, filled with unproven assertions and factual inaccuracies,” and “tried to stampede it into the paper.”

It’s the journalistic equivalent of Dean telling Nixon that Watergate was “a cancer on the presidency.” But while the Times corrected the specific stories Pyes was concerned about, the paper, like Nixon, ignored the long-term diagnosis. And, of course, the very same issues Pyes raised in 2000 — Miller’s questionable judgment, her advocacy, her willingness to take dictation from government sources — were the ones that reappeared in Miller’s pre-war “reporting” on Saddam’s WMD.

I think the Times management, from chairman Arthur Sulzberger on down, needs to think real hard about what it is a newspaper is for. One incident of compromised reporting might be forgiven, but the Times has developed a pattern. It may not be too late for the Times to mend its reputation, but it had better start doing so now. Else we're going to be calling it the Gray Disreputable Woman.

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11:27 am | link

Plame On
 
In the past couple of days many have speculated that Patrick Fitzgerald must be looking hard at Vice President Cheney’s staff if not the Dick himself. Today in the Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus confirm this.

As the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent’s name hurtles to an apparent conclusion, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney’s office, according to lawyers familiar with the case and government officials. The prosecutor has assembled evidence that suggests Cheney’s long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame.

In grand jury sessions, including with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Fitzgerald has pressed witnesses on what Cheney may have known about the effort to push back against ex-diplomat and Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV, including the leak of his wife’s position at the CIA, Miller and others said. But Fitzgerald has focused more on the role of Cheney’s top aides, including Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, lawyers involved in the case said. …

…Lawyers in the case said Fitzgerald has focused extensively on whether behind-the-scenes efforts by the vice president’s aides and other senior Bush aides were part of a criminal campaign to punish Wilson in part by unmasking his wife.

Josh Marshall writes that three points in this story stand out. First, Fitzgerald’s investigation has dug into Cheney’s running battle with the CIA regarding Iraq intelligence. Second, Fitzgerald said he would announce his findings in Washington and not in his office in Chicago; a hint that the end is at hand, perhaps? The third is this paragraph in the WaPo story:

The special prosecutor has personally interviewed numerous officials from the CIA, White House and State Department. In the process, he and his investigative team have talked to a number of Cheney aides, including Mary Matalin, his former strategist; Catherine Martin, his former communications adviser; and Jennifer Millerwise, his former spokeswoman. In the case of Millerwise, she talked with the prosecutor more than two years ago but never appeared before the grand jury, according to a person familiar with her situation.

Josh explains:

[Millerwise] was Cheney’s Press Secretary from 2001 to 2003. She then went to work on Bush-Cheney 2004. Then in January 2005 she was appointed Director of Public Affairs for the CIA. She had apparently also worked for then-incoming CIA-Director Porter Goss on Capitol Hill. And her installation appears to have been part of Goss’s effort to install Republican operatives in key positions at the Agency. Douglas Jehl, in the Times last January, called her appointment “the latest in a series of former Republican aides to be installed by Mr. Goss in senior positions at the C.I.A.”

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10:01 am | link

monday, october 17, 2005

Left Behind
 
"In 2004, which was touted both by the Bush administration and by Wall Street as a year in which the economy boomed, the median real income of full-time, year-round male workers fell more than 2 percent." -- Paul Krugman, today's column
 
Today Krugman's column focuses on Delphi, once the parts division of General Motors and now an independent company. Delphi has filed for bankruptcy. It is asking workers to take drastic wage cuts and may default on pension obligations. "The rest of the auto industry may well be tempted--or forced--to do the same," Krugman writes. "And that will mark the end of the era in which ordinary working Americans could be part of the middle class."
 
In the case of Delphi,
Why were large severance packages given to Delphi executives even as the company demanded wage cuts? Why, when General Motors was profitable, did it pay big dividends but fail to put in enough money to secure its workers' pensions?
The story begins with the hole in the nation's defined-benefit pension plans, the type that -- unlike 401(k) plans -- promise a fixed proportion of salary upon retirement. The rules governing these plans are dysfunctional: They allow companies to promise workers lavish benefits while setting aside too little money to pay those benefits when the time comes. Rather than keep workers happy with wage increases, which would have to be paid for with real money, financially pressed firms often bribe them with false promises of big pensions. When these firms go bust, employees get smaller pensions than cynical managers had promised them. And taxpayers, who guarantee pensions up to some $45,000 per retiree, have to rescue the bankrupt pension plans.
For years companies have been padding the balance sheets by shorting employees. Years ago I worked for a division of Simon & Schuster, then part of Paramount Communications. Corporate communications routinely sent letters to employees explaining that profits were stagnant so wages had to be frozen, and by the way we're upping your health insurance deduction. Then the next day those of us who were also stockholders were told that profits were up and Paramount's future never looked brighter. The employees, needless to say, developed some attitude.
 
And government, of course, is lookin' out for the robber barons instead of us.
 
In regard to pension reform--giving credit where credit is due, the Bush Administration in January proposed legislation that would require companies to fund pensions properly and to pay the government a fair insurance premium for guaranteeing benefits. But after Congress got done with this proposal it was unrecognizable. The House pension committee watered it down a bit, then the Senate Finance Committee watered it down more, and the Senate pensions committee produced something even more watery.

Then they hit a speed bump. In the Senate, which had already thrashed out two bills, passed them through two committees on a bipartisan basis and produced a "final" compromise, Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) upset plans for a floor vote by demanding still more dilutions. These lacked majority backing, so the senators exploited the Senate's absurd rules to block the legislation indefinitely until their business allies got what they wanted.

All of this diluting was done to please lobbyists, of course.
You get a taste of the relationship between senators and lobbyists from an e-mail sent out by the American Benefits Council on Oct. 7. "With the active support of the Council, Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), along with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), continues to press for an amendment," the group reported to its members. "DeWine called the Council to personally thank us for our steadfast support," it continued. That same day another business lobby, the ERISA Industry Committee, informed its shock troops: "Sen. DeWine has directly asked for our help in getting cosponsors" for his diluting amendment. Mr. DeWine and other senators will no doubt be rewarded for their efforts. On Thursday the American Benefits Council will host a thank-you lunch for Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate pensions committee. The invitation includes a line that reads: "Requested contribution: $1,000 PAC/$500 personal."

So the enemies of reform bogged down the legislation. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the authors of the Senate reform bill, complained that the DeWine-Mikulski maneuvers would worsen underfunding and "put more workers' pensions at risk." But then something else happened. On Tuesday the Congressional Budget Office published an analysis showing that it wasn't just the rogue amendment that would do that; both the Senate and House bills were so diluted that they would make the pension crisis worse, just as happened with the legislation that Congress passed last year. The same day Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House pensions committee, leaked an analysis by the Bush administration, which reached the same conclusion. So it turns out that legislation that had once been close to passage does the opposite of what's intended. Nobody in Congress was told this until it was almost too late.

Although the White House had, for once, done the right thing in proposing the initial legislation, WaPo was critical of its role in the fiasco.
This, unfortunately, says a lot about the Bush administration: about its incompetence in handling economic issues and its cowardice in dealing with Congress. At some point in the past fortnight or so, the administration must belatedly have done enough analysis to understand that the Senate and House bills were going in the wrong direction, but it didn't breathe a word. The idea of publishing numbers that would have forced it to veto a bill written by Republican committee chairmen appears to have been too much for the Bush team. Remember, Mr. Bush is the first president since John Quincy Adams to have completed a full term in the White House without vetoing a single bill.
Dubya may seen tough on the outside, but he has a soft, chewy center.
 
So, no pension reform. And wages are being squeezed as well. Back to Krugman--

Now the last vestiges of the era of plentiful good jobs are rapidly disappearing. Almost everywhere you look, corporations are squeezing wages and benefits, saying that they have no choice in the face of global competition. And with the Delphi bankruptcy, the big squeeze has reached the auto industry itself. ...

... America's working middle class has been eroding for a generation, and it may be about to wash away completely. Something must be done.

Last week I wrote about grand themes the Democrats ought to be addressing. A couple of them apply here-- Make Work Pay and Protect Retirement Security. And as Krugman points out, national health care would relieve corporations of the burden of providing medical benefits, which would go a long way toward keeping them profitable. 
 
Democrats (excepting Senator Mikulski) should be all over these issues, not only advocating a square deal for workers but also educating voters of the link between our overexpensive mess of a health care "system" and the cost of doing business in the U.S. They should  be driving these themes home now in preparation for next year's election campaigns. So far, I'm not hearing much.  

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2:03 pm | link

Weaving a Tangled Web
 
Today's buzz is that Patrick Fitzgerald is looking into Dick Cheney's role in the Valerie Plame leak. Bloomberg reports:

The special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, has questioned current and former officials of President George W. Bush's administration about whether Cheney was involved in an effort to discredit the agent's husband, Iraq war critic and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, according to the people.

Fitzgerald has questioned Cheney's communications adviser Catherine Martin and former spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise and ex-White House aide Jim Wilkinson about the vice president's knowledge of the anti-Wilson campaign and his dealings on it with Libby, his chief of staff, the people said. The information came from multiple sources, who requested anonymity because of the secrecy and political sensitivity of the investigation. ...

... One lawyer intimately involved in the case, who like the others demanded anonymity, said one reason Fitzgerald was willing to send Miller to jail to compel testimony was because he was pursuing evidence the vice president may have been aware of the specifics of the anti-Wilson strategy.

And both U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan and an appellate-court panel -- including David Tatel, a First Amendment advocate -- said they ruled in Fitzgerald's favor because of the gravity of the case.

Another juicy bit:
Fitzgerald has told lawyers involved in the case that he hopes to conclude soon -- the grand jury's term expires Oct. 28, although it could be extended -- and there is a growing sense among knowledgeable observers that the outcome will involve serious criminal charges. ``Fitzgerald is putting together a big case,'' Washington attorney Robert Bennett, who represents Miller, said on the ABC-TV program ``This Week'' yesterday.
World o' Crap poses a serious constitutional question:
So, if Bush gets impeached for incompetence, Cheney resigns because he's implicated in a conspiracy that ended up outing a CIA agent, and DeLay has stepped down as Speaker of the House House Majority Leader because of an ongoing corruption investigation, then who becomes the President?  (And doesn't the Constitution specify that, per the "Three Strikes and You're Out" clause, that this would mean that the party in charge has to retire from the field?)
Maybe we could outsource the federal government?
 

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9:10 am | link

sunday, october 16, 2005

Cornered
 
Condi Rice is guardedly optimistic the Iraqi Constitution will be approved.
"The assessment of the people on the ground, who are trying to do the numbers and trying to look at where the votes are coming from, is there's a belief that it can probably pass,'' Rice told reporters today in London. She cautioned that she wasn't certain of the outcome.  
Does this mean we've turned another corner? If so, how many corners have we turned, all together? And next time we invade somebody, let's make it a country with fewer corners.
 
Juan Cole is the go-to guy for background on the Iraqi constitution and today's vote. Here is his most recent post.
 
Speaking of Condi--bloggers are having some fun with her this morning. No, really. Today on Meet the Press, she said,
The fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al Qaeda…or we could take a bolder approach.
Comments:
 
That is way, way too nuanced for George Bush. He told us he was going to get Al Qaeda. Bin Laden was going to be captured "dead or alive." Not true after all.

So, the "bolder approach" was to go after Iraq? That had nothing to do with September 11, or the people who flew those planes into buildings. But he said he was going after Al Qaeda. Thanks for clearing that up.

Condi's right about one thing: Bush did have a choice to make. He said his choice was to make us safer from terrorism. That would have meant going after Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. He made another choice by invading Iraq. That has made us less safe, killed a lot more Americans and increased terrorism. Nice job.

This may be news to the Secretary of State but the proximate cause of 9-11 was al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, the administration decided to invade Iraq instead of focusing our efforts on destroying al-Qaeda and capturing Bin Laden.

Today, bin Laden remains at large, international terrorism is on the rise and the invasion has become “a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

 Kos:

We could destroy the people who attacked us, or we could let our attackers off scott free to go after an unrelated and unthreatening foe.

That’s not “bold”. That’s “fucking idiotic”.

If you could sit down and talk to Condi, what would you say to her? No, let me rephrase–what would you say to her other than f— you, you lying bitch?

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2:47 pm | link

Punchin' Judy
 
Judy Miller’s eagerly anticipated account of her grand jury testimony is published. Already there is enough commentary on the Blogosphere to fill a library.

And today there are new questions about whether Scooter Libby tried to keep Judy quiet. Pete Yost of the Associated Press writes today,

The dispute centers on year-ago conversations that the lawyer Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby had with one of Miller’s lawyers and on a letter from Libby to Miller last month regarding their talks in the summer of 2003 that touched on covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

In urging her to cooperate with prosecutors, Libby wrote Miller while she was still in jail in September, “I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all. … The public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me.”

One of Miller’s lawyers, Robert Bennett, was asked Sunday whether he thought Libby’s letter was an attempt to steer her prospective testimony.

“I wouldn’t say the answer to that is yes, but it was very troubling,” Bennett said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Our reaction when we got that letter, both Judy’s and mine, is that was a very stupid thing to put in a letter because it just complicated the situation,” Bennett said.

“It was a very foolish thing to put in a letter, as evidenced by the fact that you’re highlighting it here,” Bennett said. “It was a close call and she was troubled by it; no question about it.”

In today’s Times, Miller wrote that she’d been questioned on this point [emphasis added].

During my testimony on Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, the special counsel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, asked me whether Mr. Libby had shared classified information with me during our several encounters before Mr. Novak’s article. He also asked whether I thought Mr. Libby had tried to shape my testimony through a letter he sent to me in jail. …

…When I was last before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald posed a series of questions about a letter I received in jail last month from Mr. Libby. The letter, two pages long, encouraged me to testify. “Your reporting, and you, are missed,” it begins.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to read the final three paragraphs aloud to the grand jury. “The public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me,” Mr. Libby wrote.

The prosecutor asked my reaction to those words. I replied that this portion of the letter had surprised me because it might be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby to suggest that I, too, would say we had not discussed Ms. Plame’s identity. Yet my notes suggested that we had discussed her job.

Mr. Fitzgerald also focused on the letter’s closing lines. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning,” Mr. Libby wrote. “They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.”

How did I interpret that? Mr. Fitzgerald asked.

In answer, I told the grand jury about my last encounter with Mr. Libby. It came in August 2003, shortly after I attended a conference on national security issues held in Aspen, Colo. After the conference, I traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo. At a rodeo one afternoon, a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached me. He asked me how the Aspen conference had gone. I had no idea who he was.

“Judy,” he said. “It’s Scooter Libby.”

That’s where Judy ends the article, btw. Very weird, if you ask me.

It seems to me Judy still has some ’spainin’ to do; if not to Fitzgerald, then to the staff and readers of the New York Times. At Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell writes that the Times should fire Miller and apologize to its readers. Howard Kurtz writes at WaPo that the New York Times staff is upset and demoralized by the Judy Miller episode and doubt that the newspaper’s editors and executives are being, shall we say, transparent about what’s really going on. Be sure to read James Wolcott and Steve Gilliard, too.

Other commentaries of note:

Digby argues that the nature of the testimony must have caused Patrick Fitzgerald to at least consider the bogus WMD claims made by the Regime before the invasion.

Judy Hamsher at Firedoglake says
Judy and Fitz must’ve played “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Arianna says it’s no clearer now exactly why Judy Miller went to jail.

John Aravosis at AMERICAblog writes that Libby undercut Bush.

Viveca Novak and Mike Allen write in Time that, if indicted, Karl Rove and other White House staff plan to either resign or take unpaid leave. This would apply to Scooter Libby as well. The article implies that this is Karl Rove’s plan, not President Bush’s plan, which seems odd. It’s as if they know the boss can’t make decisions; they have to be made for him.

Update: Judy had a security clearance? WTF?

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1:10 pm | link


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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

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It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

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