The Gun Problem Is Guns

Dharma help us, but Marianne Williamson wrote an op ed about the gun violence crisis. I actually agree with some of it. This includes the part in the second paragraph where she says he must break the influence of money in politics; can’t argue with that.

Sometimes she gets too wound up in saying something clever rather than sensible. “It is not just our gun policy but our politics that fails to free us of this insanity.” Um, sweetums, “gun policy” and “politics” are kind of inextricably bound together. Then she says,

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.


Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

Right. But there is one critical word that doesn’t appear anywhere in Williamson’s op ed. That word is greed. Our environmental policies cater to greed rather than protection. Greed is the real creator of poverty, IMO. I also would argue the military policies and most of the other stuff Williamson complains about are rooted in greed. If there is violence, it is greed fueling the violence. Toss in some ignorance, especially bigotry, and fear with that and you’ve accounted for it all. Violence is just a by-product. And government isn’t mitigating the effects of greed because of corruption.

Williamson’s Big Idea is to create a Department of Peace to battle the culture of conflict, which amounts to more wasted money, IMO. The eternally flakey Dennis Kucinich has been pushing a Department of Peace for a long time; these two should get together. But that’s the problem with the New Agey types; they are big on how everybody should be more about love and kindness, but they have no idea why they aren’t or how to bring about change. Williamson’s general method is to snarl at people about how they should be nicer. See also this passage from a New York Times article about Williamson

She finished her speech in New Hampshire to great applause and asked for questions, but nobody wanted to know how “a politics of love,” as she called it, would handle, say, President Vladimir Putin’s annexing Crimea, or how it would prevent a mass shooting, which were things she had thought about deeply and had specific and elaborate plans for. They didn’t want to know about her Department of Children and Youth or her Department of Peace. No, they wanted self-help. A woman raised her hand and said she didn’t know what to do about her trauma and her rage these days — how she couldn’t find forgiveness for the people who voted for Trump, even though those people weren’t exactly asking for it. “It’s like I’ve been infected,” the woman said. “How do I manage that?”

Williamson told her she has no time for people traumatized by the election.

Well, then, I have no more time for Williamson, and with any luck she soon will fade back into the pop culture woodwork. So let’s go on.

What’s killing the United States and the planet is greed and corruption. Gun violence is just a by-product; it’s greed and corruption that keeps turning up the flames of gun-rights zealotry, making us by far the most heavily armed citizenry on the planet. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations and an estimated 41 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.

And that’s why we have a gun violence problem. I suspect any other group of people as heavily armed as we are would be shooting each other a lot, too. The presence of guns makes shooting a lot more likely. And there is a plausible argument to be made that the presence of guns stokes violent behavior, a phenomenon known in social psychology as the “weapons effect.”

As long as our knee-jerk reaction to gun violence is to buy more guns, our gun violence problem is just going to get worse. The problem of guns is guns.

Scientific American:

In a 2015 study using data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.

In the minds of gun activists, strangers are eternally plotting to break into their homes and kill them, so they need a gun. I looked; the enormous majority of home break-ins are burglaries that take place when the residents are not at home. According to this, about 86 to 100 people a year in the U.S. are murdered by burglers who broke into their home, possibly, but the way the crime data is reported makes it all kind of murky. But let’s say 100 Americans a year are murdered by strangers invading their homes.

(Also, FYI, according to FBI crime statistics, where the relationship between the victim and perpetrator is known, only about 10 percent of homicide victims are killed by complete strangers. Apparently it’s the people you know you’ve got to watch.)

Compare/contrast to the nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) who are shot and killed in the U.S every year, many of whom died by the gun their parents bought “for protection.” Nearly 15,600 are shot and injured. But you can’t tell the gun fanatics that having a gun in their home is a danger to their family. They need to “for protection.” They will not look at the data. They will not listen to reason. They have to have that gun.

Where is that fear coming from? At least some of it is being manufactured by gun lobbyists and the NRA, I’m sure. Our children have to die so that some people can make more money.

Yes, it’s madness, but the first path out of the madness is to reduce the prevalence of guns. I don’t see any way around that. As long as Americans are acquiring more and more guns, they are going to be more and more violent.

How to reduce the number of guns in circulation is another question, and I am sure there will be no magic bullet. And, ultimately, the greed has to be called out and punished, and we need a functioning government to do that. Well, good luck to us.

CIA: Now They Tell Us

The Washington Post‘s “Russia” story is getting real traction, in spite of the fact that we sorta kinda knew this for a long time, as far as I’m concerned.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

Let us be clear that nobody officially is saying that Donald Trump is not the legitimate winner of the Electoral College vote. Hillary Clinton might have lost, anyway, for a whole lot of other reasons. And, again, most of this isn’t new. It was kind of obvious.

Some elements of this story were new, however. And the picture that emerges is dirty as hell.

One is that some time back Russian hackers broke into both the RNC and DNC networks. That the DNC and other Democratic networks had been hacked was public knowledge. But the Republicans have denied all along that their networks had been hacked, which was a lie.

The CIA now confirms that Wikileaks received materials from hackers working for the Russian government and released those materials. The Russian hackers apparently passed only material stolen from Democrats on to Wikileaks, however, which is why the CIA concluded Russia wanted Trump to win.

Further, the CIA presented this assessment to key members of Congress back in September. Democrats wanted the information to be made public; Republicans wanted to quash it. And the chief Republican who blocked release of this information before the election was Mitch McConnell.

You might remember that Donald Trump nominated McConnell’s wife to be Secretary of Transportation.  Stinks, much?

One of the individuals who knew about this intelligence was our old buddy FBI Director James Comey. You might remember that the FBI released a statement a week before the election saying there was no clear link between Trump and Russia, and that the Russian hacking was not part of an attempt by Russia to mess with the election. But Comey was fully aware of the CIA assessment that said otherwise.

Today outgoing Senator Harry Reid called for Comey to resign.

“I am so disappointed in Comey. He has let the country down for partisan purposes. That’s why I call him J. Edgar Hoover. Because I believe that,” Reid told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Saturday.

Later asked if Comey should resign as FBI director, Reid replied, “of course.” Reid also said that Comey should be investigated by the U.S. Senate and other security agencies of the government.

Some senators — including Republican senators McCain and Graham, to give credit where credit is due — are calling for an all-out Senate probe into this situation. And President Obama has asked the intelligence agencies to give him a full report before he leaves office.

Typically, the yam-elect threw a tantrum.

Mr. Trump, in a statement issued by his transition team on Friday evening, expressed complete disbelief in the intelligence agencies’ assessments.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Trump’s team said, adding that the election was over and that it was time to “move on.”

Though Mr. Trump has wasted no time in antagonizing the agencies, he will have to rely on them for the sort of espionage activities and analysis that they spend more than $70 billion a year to perform.

At this point in a transition, a president-elect is usually delving into intelligence he has never before seen and learning about C.I.A. and National Security Agency abilities. But Mr. Trump, who has taken intelligence briefings only sporadically, is questioning not only analytic conclusions, but also their underlying facts.

“To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions — wow,” said Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the N.S.A. and later the C.I.A. under President George W. Bush.

Further, the current frontrunner for the Secretary of State job — a bleeping Exxon CEO with no public sector experience whatsoeverhas extensive ties to Russia.

Tillerson received the Order of Friendship from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013. Tillerson’s work with ExxonMobil included a stretch working for Exxon Neftegas Ltd., putting him in charge of the subsidiary’s fields in Russia and the Caspian Sea.

Two years before receiving the award, ExxonMobil won a contract to explore for oil in a Russia-controlled portion of the Arctic Ocean, which was made more economically viable for drilling in part thanks to the sea ice decline that’s followed global warming. Putin himself announced the deal at a meeting in Sochi (where the Winter Olympics would be held the next year).

Tillerson’s stake in ExxonMobil will certainly raise questions at a confirmation hearing. Once Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the United States instituted sanctions against Russia that froze ExxonMobil’s Arctic agreement. Were those sanctions to be lifted, the deal would probably move forward — making Tillerson’s shares of ExxonMobil stock much more valuable. (The Wall Street Journal noted that he’d probably have to divest from that stock if appointed to run the State Department.)

Bob Cesca wrote last July that the Russian hacking was a bigger scandal than Watergate; I’d say he was right.

The Heller Decision

I hate to swim against the tide, but several years ago I took an interest in the subject of militias in the Constitution. And after a lot of reading and listening to arguments, I came to believe that the militia clause in the 2nd Amendment, however badly worded, should not be construed to mean that only active members of the state militias (now the National Guard) had a right to own firearms. Rather, I think it’s more likely the Second Amendment protected the right of individuals to own firearms so that the state militias could not be disarmed by the federal government. I know that doesn’t make much sense now, but I can see how 18th century men might have seen it that way.

The original state militias were compulsory, meaning all eligible men were required to register. They were also often self-armed, and federal regulations passed by the original Congress stipulated what sort of musket the registered militia members were supposed to maintain. In reality these regulations were not followed all that well. Some states took their militias seriously and some let them go to rot. There are all kinds of stories of men drilling with broomsticks and cornstalks instead of muskets because they didn’t own muskets. Militias tended not to be very good at actual warfare. However, in the early 19th century drilling competitions between militia units were a popular spectator sport.

Anyway, long story short, the way the original state militias were conceived, the ability of citizens to purchase and possess firearms was essential if the state militia was going to be armed.

I haven’t read the Heller decision myself, so I don’t know how the majority of the court argued it.

Let It Burn

In keeping with our current theme about government and its responsibilities — David Sirota writes,

With Montana facing major wildfires, senior Montana Republican lawmaker John Sinrud – who heads the state House’s appropriations committee – used a legislative hearing this week to attack Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s (D) administration for — get ready for this — trying to prevent homes and buildings from being burnt down. At the hearing, he asks “Why not just let [buildings] burn?”

You can hear it yourselves —

David S. continues,

The Helena Independent Record last week reported that Schweitzer is being forced to call an emergency legislative session (at a cost of $65,000 per day) in order to obtain more firefighting money because Republicans like Sinrud previously rejected his efforts to add that money to the budget – all while they advocated for massive tax cuts for out-of-state corporations. The Montana GOP has responded by writing letters to the editor claiming Schweitzer is lying, though the Great Falls Tribune editorial board debunks that claim entirely — showing that it is the GOP that is lying.

I keep saying the American people need to face some basic questions about government, like why do we bother to have one if it’s not going to do shit for citizens? Right wing extremists have decided that government has no responsibilities to citizens at all. It is not supposed to protect civil liberties, or property, or public safety, or even lives. To the Right, government exists only to protect privilege and accumulate power, and if you aren’t already in the “privileged and powerful” column you’re on your own. But I suspect there are a lot of (perhaps former) Republican voters who didn’t realize that’s what they signed on for.

“All Politics, All the Time.”

Following up yesterday’s post on possible Hatch Act violations by the White House — John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen provide more details in today’s Washington Post. Karl Rove, they write, enlisted “political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.”

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was “asset deployment,” and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush’s reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

“The White House determines which members need visits,” said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove “deployment” team, “and where we need to be strategically placing our assets.” …

… Under Rove’s direction, this highly coordinated effort to leverage the government for political marketing started as soon as Bush took office in 2001 and continued through last year’s congressional elections, when it played out in its most quintessential form in the coastal Connecticut district of Rep. Christopher Shays, an endangered Republican incumbent. Seven times, senior administration officials visited Shays’s district in the six months before the election — once for an announcement as minor as a single $23 government weather alert radio presented to an elementary school. On Election Day, Shays was the only Republican House member in New England to survive the Democratic victory.

Apparently the administration officials on these trips didn’t make campaign appearances with the GOP candidates. However, these appearances were hardly apolitical.

In practical terms, that meant Cabinet officials concentrated their official government travel on the media markets Rove’s team chose, rolling out grant decisions made by agencies with red-carpet fanfare in GOP congressional districts, and carefully crafted announcements highlighting the release of federal money in battleground states.


… the scale of Rove’s effort is far broader than previously revealed; they say that Rove’s team gave more than 100 such briefings during the seven years of the Bush administration. The political sessions touched nearly all of the Cabinet departments and a handful of smaller agencies that often had major roles in providing grants, such as the White House office of drug policy and the State Department’s Agency for International Development.

As I understand it — note that I’m not an expert — the grants themselves were not a violation of the Hatch Act if the “team” was only making announcements and not meddling with the allocations themselves. The question is, did Bush appointees make grant decisions based on the White House’ political goals?

“What we are seeing is the tip of a whole effort to make the federal government a subsidiary of the Republican Party. It was all politics, all the time,” Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said last week.

There is no question there was tight coordination of campaigns and grant allocations —

Shays wrote Bush on Sept. 8, 2006, to seek the early release — before the election — of heating assistance money for low-income residents in his state. Just four days later, the White House released $6 million. Asked to comment on the administration’s help, Shays’s campaign manager Michael Sohn said, “Chris was grateful to be returned to office based on his record of hard work and accomplishment.”

Were the grant decisions made for political expedience? A WaPo analysis of 2004 Department of Health and Human Services grants for community health and disease-prevention programs showed that

[H]alf the awards went to targeted election states or congressional districts, the rest to noncompetitive areas that included Democratic strongholds.

The agency’s news release about those grants, however, detailed at the top just four recipients — in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and an Oklahoma congressional district — that Rove’s team identified in earlier 2004 briefings as key to the GOP’s reelection strategy.

I would argue that while these grants may not have been politically tainted, taxpayer monies were being used to pay someone in the agency to write GOP campaign press releases. I’d also like to see how much taxpayer money was used to pay for all that travel.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao made 13 official visits in the last two months of the election, never straying more than 50 miles from the media markets on Rove’s office list, the analysis showed. That August, she attended three local Fraternal Order of Police meetings in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to tout new overtime rules that would soon go into effect. Likewise, she traveled to Tampa — another targeted media market — to announce grants for recipients who actually lived in Jacksonville, Fla., a less competitive area.

Aside from her home town of Denver, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton visited just five cities in the first two months of 2004, according to the public announcements. But that pace changed between June and November, when — in visits to 37 cities — she hit the target election markets 32 times, the announcements show.

The White House probably will argue that as long as the officials didn’t specifically endorse candidates, these were not really “campaign” trips. On the other hand …

Those visits occurred after Interior liaison William Kloiber wrote to White House political affairs aide Matt Schlapp to thank him for a briefing about the political landscape. In an e-mail obtained by congressional investigators, Kloiber wrote, “Sometimes these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographic travel can benefit the President.“[emphasis added]

Um, Mr. Kloiber? Who do you work for?

Let’s go back to grant allocation. The White House claims that Karl avoided meddling in “grant and contract decisions made by career government employees.” But more and more of those “career government employees” were hand-picked for their political loyalties.

And can we say “Department of Homeland Security”? In the spring of election year 2004, we learned that DHS was not exactly allocating grant money according to risk.

Of the top 10 states and districts receiving the most money per capita last year, only the District of Columbia also appeared on a list of the top 10 most at-risk places, as calculated by AIR for TIME. In fact, funding appears to be almost inversely proportional to risk.

If all the federal homeland-security grants from last year are added together, Wyoming received $61 a person while California got just $14, according to data gathered at TIME’s request by the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent, nonprofit research organization. Alaska received an impressive $58 a resident, while New York got less than $25. On and on goes the upside-down math of the new homeland-security funding.

There was much chest-thumping and vows to do better, but in the spring of election year 2006 we learned that New York City has no landmarks worth protecting.

Instead, the department’s database of vulnerable critical infrastructure and key resources included the Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo near Huntsville, Ala., a bourbon festival, a bean festival and the Kangaroo Conservation Center in Dawsonville, Ga. …

… [T]he Homeland Security assessment of New York this year failed to include Times Square, the Empire State Building the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty as a national icon or monument.

Someone might want to revisit the DHS grant issue. When New York City howled about its reduced DHS money in 1996, Michael Chertoff said it was New York’s own fault for not filing their proposals properly. Jen Chung wrote at The Gothamist (June 2, 2006; emphasis added):

As New York state and city politicians attack the Department of Homeland Security over cutting the funds NYC gets for anti-terrorism efforts, the DHS has been fighting back by saying that New York City’s proposal wasn’t well-prepared. The NY Times writes, “Federal officials said yesterday that the city had not only done a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but had also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required, instead faxing its request to Washington.” Ha! NY state and city officials say that, in fact, they did electronically submit the application – but you know that there’s probably sniping about so-and-so’s aide or intern screwing things up. But In fact, NYC, though in the “top 25% of urban areas at risk,” was rated in the bottom 25% for the “quality of its application”! Our politicians, though, are saying that the DHS directed money to cities where reelections were coming up in the fall. The Daily News has a feature on Tracy Henske, the DHS official who “signed off on the cuts” – she’s from Missouri and Missouri cities got increases in funding!

Jen Chung linked to a New York Post article that is no longer online. This deserves further investigation, I say.

Saturday Cartoons and Scandal Preview

First, the cartoons.

[Update: Hat tip to erinyes — ya gotta see the FKN Newz Roundup.]

The scandal preview is provided by Marisa Taylor and Kevin G. Hall of McClatchy Newspapers, who write:

Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.

Political appointees in the Treasury Department received at least 10 political briefings from July 2001 to August 2006, officials familiar with the meetings said. Their counterparts at the Commerce Department received at least four briefings — all in the election years of 2002, 2004 and 2006.

If these political appointees spent taxpayer money to benefit candidates, it would be a violation of the Hatch Act.

During the briefings at Treasury and Commerce, then-Bush administration political director Ken Mehlman and other White House aides detailed competitive congressional districts, battleground election states and key media markets and outlined GOP strategy for getting out the vote.

Commerce and Treasury political appointees later made numerous public appearances and grant announcements that often correlated with GOP interests, according to a review of the events by McClatchy Newspapers. The pattern raises the possibility that the events were arranged with the White House’s political guidance in mind.

I like the next part:

One congressional aide, who asked to remain anonymous, said the investigation was revealing “a number of remarkable coincidences” similar to how Treasury and Commerce events appeared to coincide with the strategy in the political briefings. However, it remains to be seen whether the subsequent department actions were intentional, said the aide, who asked not to be named because the investigation is ongoing.

Remarkable, yes. This is a remarkable administration. I assume the White House will stand by the “coincidence” story. And I assume one would need some documentation that proves intent. Further, I assume most of such documentation has already been shredded.

I also assume that, even as I keyboard, all manner of operatives and sympathizers are going through Clinton Administration records to find similar “coincidences” to prepare their usual fallback defense — Clinton did it, too. However, a former Clinton Administration Treasury official is quoted as saying nothing remotely like that happened in the Clinton years. “I never experienced anything like that. The notion that the White House would be holding meetings with Treasury appointees just didn’t fit.”

As part of the probe, committee investigators found that White House drug czar John Walters took 20 trips at taxpayers’ expense in 2006 to appear with Republican congressional candidates.

Remarkable coincidences, huh?

In a separate investigation, the independent Office of Special Counsel concluded that GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of government employees. Witnesses told investigators that Doan asked at the end of one political briefing in January 2007 what her agency could do to help GOP candidates. Doan has said she doesn’t recall that remark.

Violations of the Hatch Act are treated as administrative, not criminal, matters, and punishment for violations ranges from suspension to termination. The administration has not taken any action against Doan.

And, of course, it won’t, because as long as the administration doesn’t punish anyone they can pretend it never happened. Democrats in Congress are just witch hunting.

In the months leading up to the 2002 election, then-Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Bush’s former campaign finance chairman, made eight appearances or announcements with Republican incumbents in districts deemed by White House aides either as competitive districts or battleground presidential states.

During the stops, he doled out millions of dollars in grants, including in two public announcements with Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican in a competitive district.

That Heather Wilson is a busy girl.

Taylor and Hall describes several more remarkable coincidences involving Treasury officials, then say,

Bush’s first treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, stuck mainly to giving speeches praising President Bush’s economic policies rather than appearing with candidates. O’Neill was unceremoniously dumped after disagreeing repeatedly with the White House.

Was O’Neill asked to take part in some coincidences before he was dumped?

The briefings are part of the legacy of White House political adviser Karl Rove, who announced this week that he’s stepping down at the end of the month to spend more time with his family.

Digby speculates that the Hatch Act investigations might have been the real reason Rove decided to spend more time with his family. She reminds us that fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who filed a Hatch Act complaint against Rove, said

I believe if OSC digs in, they can get direct evidence. …

… [T]he Justice Department papers everything. I mean, the most minute issue has an incredible researched and memoed product. There has to be a paper trail. I haven’t seen it yet. If it’s not at the Justice Department, it has got to be at the White House.

The White House will, of course, claim executive privilege. But that takes us into a whole new rant, so I believe I will stop here.

The Devil and Dick Cheney

You know the Veep is in trouble when he’s lost David Broder. “[W]hen presidential candidate George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate, I applauded the choice. … Boy, was I wrong.”

Truly, there’s not much lower Dick can sink. I checked to see if Hugh Hewitt had turned on him yet — that would be, I think, absolute rock bottom — but I found no recent Hewitt postings on Cheney. Yet. Even really stupid rats will get off the sinking ship before they drown.

Do a news google for “impeach Cheney” and you get an eyeful. Coming at a time when the Bush Administration faces mutiny over immigration, it can truly be said the White House is (finally) under siege from all sides. Some parts of the Republican Party are still trying to provide a buffer, of course, but the GOP is starting to look like the last defenders of the Bastille.

Raw Story reports that this morning the White House asserted “executive privilege” and said it would not turn over documents related to the firings of federal attorneys. I believe we’re still waiting for a response to yesterday’s subpoenas regarding the warantless wiretap program.

My understanding is that if the Administration refuses to comply with subpoenas from Congress, Congress has to go to a federal court to get the subpoenas enforced. If a court rules the Administration must comply, the White House can appeal, and fish around for federal judges who will allow them to continue to operate outside the law. That’s how the Dickster was able to avoid turning his energy task force records over to the General Accounting Office, for example.

I assume the White House can appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court. Yeah, that’s so … not reassuring. Judging in part by how the voting went in Bush v. Gore, in which Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas voted to stop the recounts, I can see the votes falling the same way they did during the recent Carhart decision — Kennedy, Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas supporting the White House; Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens upholding the law.

Right now, this nation is as close to totalitarianism as it has ever been. Closer, probably.

What if the White House exhausts all appeals and still refuses to turn over the subpoenaed documents? I honestly don’t know what the next step might be. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. How might they be forced to comply? There have been many times in American history in which some or all of the three branches of government were at odds with each other, but the extreme behavior of the Bush Administration is taking us into uncharted territory.

An appeal process could drag on for months. The Bushies might run out the clock. Or, if it is resolved late next year, Congress might decide to spare itself from sending law enforcement agents into the White House to enforce the subpoenas.

Even so, I sincerely hope all appearances of criminal behavior will be investigated, and the perps brought to justice eventually. As long as it takes. That means it’s essential to seek no pardon pledges from all our Democratic presidential candidates.

And, David Broder — shut up and listen to us dirty bleeping hippies next time, OK?

Essential reading — don’t miss Sidney Blumenthal’s essay, “The imperial vice presidency,” in Salon today. See also “Impeach Cheney: The Vice President Has Run Utterly Amok and Must Be Stopped” by Bruce Fein in Slate and “Cheney and the National Security Secrets Fraud” by Scott Horton at Harper’s.

Also — I realize Rep. Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney last April. Does anyone have a link to the exact document that Kucinich submitted to the House? I ran into one commenter who said that Kucinich’s bill, while well-intentioned, did not introduce the strongest reasons to impeach Cheney. I’d like to read it myself before I comment.

Doing Business

Lurita Alexis Doan, Chief Administrator of the General Services Administration, says on the GSA web site that she hopes to meet “President Bush’s challenge for all federal agencies to find new and smarter ways to do business.”

That business is, apparently, electing Republicans.

Scott Higham and Robert O’Harrow Jr. write in today’s Washington Post:

Witnesses have told congressional investigators that the chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove’s political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.

With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House’s deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections.

When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next elections,” according to a March 6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using “targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country.”

Doan is scheduled to testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. Doan and others may have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids executive-branch employees from using their positions for partisan political purposes.

(That’s Henry Waxman’s committee, the same one that heard the testimony of Valerie Plame. I just wanted to point that out to underscore why it was so important to elect a Democratic majority to Congress in the midterms. It wasn’t because Democrats are perfect, because they aren’t, but turning control of committees over to Democrats makes investigation of the Bush Regime possible.)

The planned hearing is part of an expanding examination by Waxman’s committee of Doan’s tumultuous 10-month tenure as administrator of the GSA. The government’s leading procurement agency annually handles about $56 billion worth of federal contracts.

The committee is also expected to question Doan about her attempt to give a no-bid job to a friend and professional associate last summer. In addition, the committee plans to look at Waxman’s charge that Doan “intervened” in a troubled technology contract with Sun Microsystems that could cost taxpayers millions more than necessary.

Ah, yes. Bushies and cronyism. Together forever.

In the Senate, Doan is facing a similar line of questioning in letters from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Also examining Doan are the GSA’s Office of Inspector General and the independent federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of Hatch Act violations.

In several recent statements, Doan has said she did nothing wrong. She said her troubles are the result of retaliation by the inspector general over her efforts to rein in spending and balance the GSA budget. Doan, a wealthy former government contractor who sold her company before taking over the GSA last May, has hired three law firms and two media relations companies at her own expense to handle inquiries from the federal investigators and the news media.

“Ever since I made the decision to restore fiscal discipline to all divisions within GSA, I have had to face a series of personal attacks and charges,” Doan said in a March 7 statement.

Readers of the rightie e-rag Townhall are being told that Doan has been targeted by Waxman’s Witch Hunt because she dared to cut spending — you know that liberals are pro-spending — and because Doan canceled a $20,000 contract intended to “promote diversity.” The WaPo story mentions the contract and provides some information Townhall leaves out —

On July 25, two months after Doan took office, she took the unusual step of personally signing the no-bid arrangement with Diversity Best Practices and Business Women’s Network, firms then run by Fraser, to produce a report about GSA’s use of businesses owned by minorities or women. The GSA’s general counsel at the time, Alan R. Swendiman, told Waxman’s investigators he was “alarmed” that the project was not competitively bid.

“Fraser” is Edie Fraser, a Washington public relations executive with whom Doan has had a long business relationship and who helped Doan get the plum GSA position. It appears the contract was a quid pro quo.

The GSA general counsel “immediately and repeatedly” advised Doan to terminate the contract. When Doan refused, the general counsel directed another GSA official to do the terminating. Somehow these little details escaped the attention of Townhall.

The J. Scott Jennings, the “deputy in Karl Rove’s political affairs office” mentioned above, was also instrumental in getting one of Rove’s aides, Tim Griffin, a U.S. Attorney job. Among the items discussed during the videoconference were how they could keep Nancy Pelosi from attending the opening of a new courthouse in her district.

Karl Rove and various Republican politicians apparently pushed U.S. attorneys to manufacture charges against Democrats to help Republicans win elections. And now this. What do you want to bet that similar shenanigans are going on in several other federal agencies?

Pass the popcorn.

“Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition”

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.

This Is Huge

A White House document dump has provided new revelations about the U.S. Attorney purge. And the biggest revelation — although not a surprising one — is that the idea to fire U.S. Attorneys and replace them with politically compliant toadies originated in the White House.

I’m piecing together two news stories, one by David Johnston and Eric Lipton in today’s New York Times, and the other by Dan Eggen and John Solomon in today’s Washington Post. The story thus far:

In early 2005, White House legal counsel Harriet Miers asked D. Kyle Sampson, a justice department official, if it would be feasible to fire and replace all 93 U.S. attorneys. It appears the White House was unhappy with the attorneys because Republicans were alleging widespread voter fraud on the part of Democrats, and the attorneys were unwilling to bring indictments against the Democrats, most probably because the allegations were a fantasy. (Josh Marshall provides an archive of his posts on the voter fraud allegations going back to 2001.)

However, as Johnston and Lipton note, the documentation isn’t clear if the voter fraud issue was the real or only reason.

The documents did not provide a clear motive for the firings. Some suggested that department officials were dissatisfied with specific prosecutors, but none cited aggressive public corruption inquiries or failure to pursue voter fraud cases as an explicit reason to remove them.

As has been widely noted in the recent past, the pattern suggests that the White House and the Republican Party generally have been using the Justice Department as part of their election campaign process. In other words, Karl and Co. have been turning our criminal justice system into a Republican Party machine.

Sampson — who resigned yesterday, btw — replied to Miers that filling that many jobs at once would be too big a job. (The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the same thing at the time.) Instead, Miers and Sampson began working together on a select list of attorneys to replace. As they did this, Karl Rove and other White House officials helpfully relayed the complaints they were getting from Republican officials about the attorneys’ failure to indict Democrats on voter fraud.

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo (emphasis added):

The e-mails [between Miers and Sampson] show that Rove was interested in the appointment of a former aide, Tim Griffin, as an Arkansas prosecutor. Sampson wrote in one that “getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.”

Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.” A third group merited no opinion.

In January 2006, Sampson sent a first list of attorneys to be fired to the White House. Four of the attorneys who would be fired were on this list: Chiara, Cummins, Lam and Ryan (the final list is here). This list also suggested Tim Griffin be one of the replacements.

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates, telling the White House that Cummins was “in the process of being pushed out” and providing the names of eight others whom “we should consider pushing out.” Five on that list were fired in December; the others were spared. …

… Sampson also strongly urged bypassing Congress in naming replacements, using a little-known power slipped into the renewal of the USA Patriot Act in March 2006 that allows the attorney general to name interim replacements without Senate confirmation.

“I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed,” Sampson wrote in a Sept. 17 memo to Miers. “It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don’t have replacements ready to roll immediately.

“I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments,” he wrote.

By avoiding Senate confirmation, Sampson added, “we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.”

[Update: See also Think Progress.]

Note that the Patriot Act provision came into being in March 2006, about a year after Miers and Sampson began work on their list. Coincidence? Not a chance.

Notice this little detail, from Eggen and Solomon:

Iglesias, the New Mexico prosecutor, was not on that list. Justice officials said Sampson added him in October, based in part on complaints from Sen. Pete V. Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases.

You may remember that in October 2006 — shortly before the elections — Domenici had called U.S. attorney David Iglesias and asked him about the status of an investigation into a Democratic state senator. Domenici also spoke to President Bush. Then Bush spoke to Gonzales “to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud,” Johnston and Lipton write. Thus Iglesias was added to the purge list, even though he had received a “strong performer” rating from Miers and Sampson in the earlier stages of their list-making.

A White House spokeswoman insisted that the President did not call for the removal of any specific attorney. Nor did he know that Miers, Sampson, and Rove had been drawing up a list already. (Bush never seems to know anything that’s going on under his nose, does he? I find it hard to believe that Bush didn’t at least mention Iglesias to Sampson.)

A few weeks after the conversation between Bush and Gonzales, the Justice Department forced out seven prosecutors.

Johnston and Lipton, NY Times:

On Dec. 4, 2006, three days before the dismissals, Mr. Sampson sent an e-mail message to the White House with a copy to Ms. Miers outlining plans to carry out the firings

“We would like to execute this on Thursday, Dec. 7,” Mr. Sampson wrote. Because some United States attorneys were still in Washington attending a conference, he planned to postpone telling them they were being fired. He wrote, “We want to wait until they are back home and dispersed to reduce chatter.”

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

On the day of the Dec. 7 firings, Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici’s chief of staff “is happy as a clam” about Iglesias.

A week later, Sampson wrote: “Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool).”

Domenici is so busted.

E-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August. By mid-December, Sampson was suggesting that Gonzales exercise his newfound appointment authority to put Griffin in place until the end of Bush’s term.

Griffin’s appointment and his connection to Karl Rove was reported in Arkansas newspapers in mid-December. This was one of our first clues that something screwy was going on regarding the U.S. attorneys.

Miers resigned as White House counsel less than three weeks later, in early January.

As for D. Kyle Sampson, in a sidebar story the New York Times reports that he had been using his post as chief of staff to the attorney general to get named U.S. attorney in Utah, his home state, even though he had never worked as a full-time prosecutor. The White House and Justice Department backed Sampson, but Senator Orrin Hatch wanted Brett Tolman, “a one-time Utah federal prosecutor who had spent the previous three years working on antiterrorism issues for the Judiciary Committee staff.”

This suggests to me that Orrin Hatch has known about some of these shenanigans for some time. But let’s go on …

This put Mr. Sampson in an unusual position. As Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, he was fielding calls and letters from Mr. Hatch’s office, even though he was vying for the job that Mr. Hatch was writing about, two former officials from Mr. Hatch’s office said. That made at least some Senate officials uncomfortable.

“It was a little like the fox watching the hen house,” said one former Senate staff member, who asked not to be named because he now works in a different job.

Mr. Sampson did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Hatch finally made a personal appeal to Mr. Gonzales to drop his bid to nominate Mr. Sampson. After a four-month delay, President Bush nominated Mr. Sampson’s rival for the job last June.

Sampson — did I mention he resigned yesterday? — is a religious conservative (a Mormon) who “told the Brigham Young University news service that he admired Mr. Bush because the president recognized that politics and religious beliefs could not be separated.” Apparently Mr. Sampson’s religious beliefs didn’t teach him anything about ethics.

This really is huge. The “underlying crime” in the Watergate scandal was the White House’s illegal activities — such as money laundering and breaking into Dem Party offices to look for something incriminating — to ensure Nixon’s re-election in 1972. Now there is mounting evidence that the Bush White House and other Republican officials have been trying to use the entire federal criminal justice system to win elections for Republicans. I say this has Watergate beat all to hell. So far we know thatGonzales has lied to Congress about the reasons for purging the attorneys, and certainly more juicy bits will be revealed as time goes on.

Yesterday Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he intends to subpoena Karl Rove if he doesn’t testify to Congress voluntarily. Stay tuned.