Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The dog ate the homework

Two readers have brought this story to my attention: It seems that fifty-six counties in Ohio (out of 88) have lost or destroyed their 2004 Presidential election ballots. This despite an order from the secretary of state and a federal court.

The story is a bit complex, and rather than go through the gory details, I suggest you read it for yourself, here.

Regular readers will know that I am skeptical of conspiracy theories, although from what I have seen in the past, a reasonable person could believe that Bush's margin in Ohio (a little more than 120,000 votes) was manufactured through a combination of voter suppression in Democratic areas and outright fraud, theft or corruption in others. This is a matter of moment, because had Bush not won Ohio, John Kerry would be President.

(There would have been great irony if Kerry had won; for the second election in a row, the candidate with the largest number of popular votes would have been denied the Oval Office.)

Given the multiple instances of criminality, venality, incompetence and outright scurrility to which the Repubs have subjected America over the past seven years, it's tempting to dismiss this latest example with a "what did you expect?" shrug. But manipulating elections strikes at the heart of democracy.

The missing ballots probably means that there will never be a definitive answer to whether the 2004 election was stolen. But given the weakness of the excuses offered by some county officials--one reported, "Our staff unintentionally discarded boxes containing Ballot Pages...due to unclear and misinterpreted instructions"--there will be a powerful tendency to believe that something nefarious must have been going on. After all, we're talking about 56 counties, not one or two. A cover-up is likely to insure that history judges that a theft occurred--a crime that led to thousands of deaths and injuries, together with numerous other crimes and offenses.

More on "A War We Just Might Win"

Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack's op-ed piece in yesterday's times, "A War We Just Might Win," has generated a lot of buzz. Two long-time critics of the way the war in Iraq has been fought--Pollack, at least, was for the war in the beginning--wrote an optimistic view of the war's progress, based on a week's tour, and got it published in The Newspaper of Record. As I noted yesterday, their comments are at variance with others, some of which much more authoritative (see below).

(I can recall similarly optimistic articles during Vietnam. I was convinced by some of them.)

In The Huffington Post, Joseph A. Palermo pretty much eviscerates O'Hanlon and Pollack. Take a look.

In yesterday's post, I quoted from Frank Rich's column, which gave a much less optimistic view of conditions in the northern oil city of Mosul than what O'Hanlon and Pollack reported. For those of you who didn't follow the link in the Rich quote, it is to the DOD's June 2007 report to Congress, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq. A key comment: "In Ninewa (Niniveh) Province, Mosul is (al-Qaeda in Iraq's) northern strategic base and serves as a way-station for foreign fighters entering from Syria."

According to ABC, the White House sent out copies of O'Hanlon and Pollack's article, but one Congressional source said that its effect on the debate in Congress would be "zero."

Monday, July 30, 2007

So, which edition of the NYT op-ed do ya read?

"We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate."
"A War We Might Just Win," Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, NYT 7/30/07

"It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon’s own June report. "
"Who Really Took Over During That Colonoscopy," Frank Rich, NYT, 7/29/07

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Department of clear thinking

One of the administration's articles of faith is that if we leave Iraq, al Qaeda will take over.

That is, frankly, a crock.

Consider this: when the US pulls out, Iraq will be dominated by the Shia. Bin Laden and his acolytes are radical Sunnites who have called the Shia infidels. True, there will be a substantial number of Sunni Iraqis, but the second word of that phrase is the most important: they are Iraqi. Al Qaeda is not--its members are mainly foreign.

Will al Qaeda cause trouble in Iraq even after the last American combat troops are gone? Very likely--although if it acts against fellow Arabs it will soon lose what shred of legitimacy it may have. But dominate the country? Never. And ultimately, its adherents will have to leave Iraq or be slaughtered.

The ghost of John Mitchell

If Alberto Gonzalez does up the river for perjury--still a long shot, but the odds get shorter every day--at least he won't set a precedent. John Mitchell, one of his predecessors, went to jail for his antics in the Watergate scandal.

Today, as you've no doubt heard, Gonzalez was "contradicted," The New York Times' word, by Robert Mueller, director of the FBI. Now, when you're a government official suspected of lying to Congress under oath, the person you don't want calling your truthfulness into question is the head of the FBI.

The lies that are getting the most attention now--Gonzalez has told so many that they'd fill a fair-sized book--involve what program then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was asked to approve as he lay sedated on his bed of pain following gall bladder surgery. The story is a bit complicated, but essentially it revolves around the question of how many domestic surveillance programs the administration was running, what their parameters were and what Bush's satraps had to do to get even such a shill as Ashcroft to approve them. TPMuckraker has a lengthy post analyzing all this. Take a look.


Jean Edward Smith reminds us that the nine-member Supreme Court is not a creature of the Constitution, but of Congress. The number has varied from five to 10 (for two periods, it has been an even number, which seems passing strange for a court of last resort--as Justice Jackson put it, "We are not final because we are infallible; we are infallible because we are final," but dissents were rare in the first hundred years of the Court's existence).

So, should a Democrat be elected in 2008,and should the Democrats control the Senate sufficiently to beat back a filibuster (a tall order perhaps), there would be nothing to stop them from adding, say, a couple of justices to bring the court's membership to eleven. Assuming a couple of reliably "liberal" appointees, and the current conservative majority might disappear.

Is this likely? No. What is more probable is that the Court (calling Justice Kennedy...) will prove out Finley Peter Dunne's maxim, "whither th' Constitution follows the flag or not, th' Supreme Court follows the illiction returns."


Mitt Romney is telling audiences that with her platform, Hillary couldn't get elected President of France.

Excuse me, but don't Repubs think that's a GOOD thing?

Feel good

Every so often we need a story that make us say, "Aw www." So here's the feel-good story of the week (or maybe the month): a cat lost for 10 years, reunited with her human. (Warning: the story does not say how the cat feels about the reunion; it is written from the human's perspective.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The total moral and political bankruptcy of Congressional Repubs--a state to which they have been brought by their slavish devotion to the morally and politically bankrupt occupant of the Oval Office, has not been on better display than in the hearing today, on issuing contempt-of-Congress citations to Harriet Miers and Joshua Botlen. TPM has the lowlights--and a couple of highlights from Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Adam Schiff (D-CA)--here. (In case you haven't heard already, not a single member of the minority party crossed the line to vote with the Democrats to uphold the power of Congress to investigate as part of its constitutional oversight responsibility.)

Stripped its essentials, the GOP position is that Congress dare not try to enforce the subpoenas that Miers and the White House have ignored, because if it loses, the presidency will be more empowered than it is now. According to which logic, the best way to avoid defeat is to put up the white flag without a battle.

As I've said from time to time, the unarticulated major premise of the GOP is that the American people are stupid.

Tienamen Square, USA

I was wondering

How come Joe Biden isn't doing better in the polls. Just about every time I hear him, he makes sense. He says things that I, and a lot of other Democrats, I think, want to hear. Unlike many of the other candidates, he doesn't mince words. So why is he mired so far back in the pack?

Department of no comment.

"More than two decades later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way."
-- George W. Bush, July 4, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Less is more?

That's what Rory Stewart argues in the case of Afghanistan. Specifically, he takes issue with people like my man Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, who say we should stop concentrating our military might in Iraq and use more of it in Afghanistan. Stewart's thesis is that there has been great progress in large parts of Afghanistan, that the areas that are now unstable are going to be that way for a number of years, but that putting concentrations of troops in will only make the situation worse.

He gives a couple of examples where greater NATO presence (British troops in one case, Dutch in the other) has been accompanied by a worsening security situation. Frankly, I am not convinced by these cases; it may be the constraints of the op-ed page, with a more-or-less strict word limit, but the mere fact that things got worse with more troops does not prove that putting in the additional forces was the cause or even a major cause for the change.

Still, Stewart has a provocative point. I think I can safely say that I was one of the few Americans who expressed concern over going into Afghanistan in the first place. I did so for historical reasons: for millenia, foreigners have invaded that land, and one after another they have suffered defeat and even disaster. I did not expect that the Afghans would welcome us any more than they did the Greeks, the Moguls, the British (who suffered some of their greatest colonial-era defeats at Afghan hands) or the Russians.

I have been agreeably surprised, in general, by the way we have been received in Afghanistan, but I believe that it is vital for us to make clear that we have no desire for a permanent military presence in that nation, and that we want the Afghans to govern themselves. Naturally, there are things we could do to help them, and forward our own policy. Paying opium growers for their crop--and assuring them that it will be destroyed if they sell to drug dealers--would be one step. Finding new crops, even if they need subsidies, to replace the opium poppy would be a later and better one.

There is one point on which I think Stewart is wrong. I heard a talk by Barney Frank a couple of months ago, and he argued that one of the things that is driving Afghans from us is the toll of civilians killed in air strikes. We are using air strikes, according to Barney (he's my congressman, and everyone in the district calls him Barney) because we have so much of our military tied up in Iraq that we must fight on the cheap in Afghanistan. Putting in more troops so that we do not have to use the imprecise weapon of air power, and so can reduce civilian casualties, would be a good thing. Provided that we can avoid alienating the local people with our troops on the ground.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The present crisis

In The Times, Adam Cohen writes on what he calls a constitutional showdown over the Iraq war. He is valuable in summarizing the importance that the Founders gave to Congress in the declaration and prosecution of wars--in stark contrast to the extremism of Bush & Co. Cohen's article is well titled:

Just What the Founders Feared: An Imperial President Goes to War

Cohen does a service to the general public in outlining the important role that Congress plays, both in declaring war (which somehow seems an antique notion today) and in paying for it--the ultimate power.

Obliquely, Cohen refers to the elephant (not the GOP symbol) in the room: this fall, the Democrats could force a reversal in Bush's war strategy by simply refusing to pay for the war without such a change. If Democrats have the spine (which is to say if they believe the polls), they could just say no to an unconstrained war without a schedule for American withdrawal. Will they have the courage, even in this non-election year? Don't count on it.

(Why anti-war forces, buoyed by a surge in public opinion polls, do not wage a 'Just say no to war' campaign is beyond me.)

(Let me hasten to add that I do not believe that we can execute a pull-out of American forces in six or eight months, or even a year, even with the best will in the world. And withdrawal will be perilous, both for Americans in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have thrown in their lot with us on one level or another. But a withdrawal as rapidly as is consonant with good order and protection for our forces and the Iraqis--and one where the impetus is on extracting our forces, not on protection as an excuse for continued involvement--is the best of a bad group of choices.)

If I have a criticism of Cohen, it is only that he did not tie what Bush and his co-conspirators have done to the Constitution over the war to the violence they have done to our basic governing document on all fronts.


Adam Liptak has an article on a study of the convictions (now 200) reversed by DNA evidence in The New York Times. Liptak is a treasure, and this piece is based on the work of Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

I won't go into the substance of the article, which details a lot of misbehavior and some apparent racial factors in these wrongful convictions. Let me note, however, that the study's results suggest that there are thousands of other innocent people in prison--inmates who will not have the chance for vindication through DNA, because there is no biological evidence in their cases. (It is no accident that a very high proportion of those exonerated were convicted of rape.)

One of the most disturbing parts of the article is the way in which prosecutors have too often been prepared to accept flawed or sometimes fraudulent evidence. I don't mean to suggest that many of them connive knowingly at the use of such proof--although there are a disturbing number of instances in which that seems to be the case. Prosecutors seem to forget that their role is not merely to convict, but to serve justice. Perhaps it would help if they had this truth drummed into them: When the wrong person is convicted, the guilty person is still out there on the street.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Enron revisited?

The New York Times reports that "record failures at oil refineries" have helped to drive up gasoline prices. These include damage from floods in Texas and Kansas and fires at several refineries, some caused by lightning strikes.

Now, no one is saying that these events were made to happen--not even the oil industry is powerful enough to direct a hurricane or a lighting strike. But do we know that repairs are actually being carried out as fast as possible? Remember what happened in California when Enron decided to drive up the price of electricity?

I have absolutely no evidence that oil companies are using refinery problems to raise prices artificially, but the Enron experience breeds cynicism, a view that is only enhanced by the nature of the energy market, which reacts to a relatively small shortage (The Times estimates that US refineries are running at approximately 95% of capacity) leads to skyrocketing prices. Will we see some revelation on front pages in 2009?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Be afraid, be very afraid

Well, it's about to happen. Deadeye Dick Cheney is about to become President of the United States!

Actually, he's going to be acting-President, and that--let us hope--only for about 2 hours, while W undergoes a colonoscopy.

Deadeye Dick can't start a war in a couple of hours, can he?

Some reports say that Bush will be anesthetized for the procedure; I've had a couple of colonoscopies, and no one has ever offered anesthesia. They do offer sedation; I ask for the minimum dose, because I don't like being drugged and the procedure is just minimally uncomfortable. Be interesting to know how far under they put our Fearless Leader.

Are you like me--do you think it somehow appropriate for Bush to get a colonoscopy? Or do you, perhaps, wonder what they'll find. His head, maybe?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lost time

I had some surgery a couple of days ago. Modern medicine really is amazing: I reported at 6:00, went into the operating room about 7:30 and would have been home by noon, except it took a little time to get a cab. (Amazingly good and caring care, too.)

But that's not what I want to talk about in this post.

I remember being wheeled into the operating room--not by an orderly (although one might have been pushing at the head of the gurney), but by the anesthesiologist and the anesthesiology resident. I remember moving from the gurney to the operating table and hearing the resident say that she was going to give me a sedative through the IV line in my arm. I knew, from the anesthesiologist, that they were going to give me a mask for oxygen, put the anesthetic through the IV line and, after I was out, put an oxygen tube in my throat. (Yeccchhhh to the last!) Then the surgeon was going to burrow into my innards. But after hearing the resident say that she was going to give me the sedative--preparatory to the mask, etc.--the next thing I remember is seeing black and, I think, hearing someone (probably the nurse in the recovery room) call my name.

What happened was that the anesthetic caused some retrograde amnesia. That is, I lost the memory of 1-5 minutes before I was actually knocked out. Retrograde amnesia is common; especially in cases of concussion and, I now suppose, anesthetic. When I did personal-injury law, I had a client who said he remembered falling from a loading dock, all the way down to the ground. I am sure that he believed that, but I never did. I always assumed that he had amnesia and filled in the blank in his mind.

The point of my maundering is this: Memory is almost all of our consciousness. Think about it: there is now and there is memory. The future is a guess, at best. The present is the most transitory of states--the cursor moving across the page of our lives. The rest is memory.

Those few lost moments in the operating room stand out, because the are so sharp-edged. I know that I am missing something--perhaps not the sequence exactly as described, surely it was not the way I imagined it when speaking with the doctor, but something close to what was told me. But I cannot fill in that void with a version of "what must have happened."

That is rare. We all forget things, but we surround our lost recollections with haze of the half-forgotten. I know that there are people I went to school with whose names and faces I no longer recall, but I am comforted by the knowledge that I once knew, and the feeling that the information I had has merely receded into the background. The few minutes I lost the other day are different: there is the before, the after and nothing in between. (If I had not remarked on this, I suppose that in time I might have constructed a "memory" of those lost minutes.)

To me, that blank in my life is eloquent. I suspect that I have not described my experience well enough for you to understand what I felt, but I now have a new appreciation for the preciousness of memory.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The cure

Bill Moyers Journal had an absolutely essential program on impeachment the other night. Go here and watch it; it's an hour long, which is a lot of video to watch on your computer, but it is well worth it.

Moyers' guests were Bruce Fein, one of the people who wrote the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, and John Nichols, of The Nation, who has just written a book on impeachment. Fein, who was an official in Reagan's administration, is a traditional conservative. Like John Dean, who has written that the Bush administration is worse than Watergate, Fein is horrified at what has been happening in Washington. He argues that both Bush and Cheney must be impeached.

Two essential points: Nichols noted that "impeachment is not a constitutional crisis. It's the cure for a constitutional crisis." Most of us make the mistake of turning the two around in our minds. Fein argues--and he's right, I believe--that the elevation of the executive branch into an independent, virtually uncontrolled branch of government will not end with Bush if it is not ended before he leaves office. A Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, not to mention a Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson, will be mightily tempted to use the expanded powers of the presidency. That, as Fein points out, is the real threat that Bush, Cheney & Co. present to us.

There has been increasing attention paid of late to analogies between the United States and the Roman Empire. The Bush administration has given the country a mighty shove down the road toward despotism and away from democracy. Rome's leaders sealed the empire's fate when they headed down a similar path. The genius of democracy is its capacity for renewal and recovery; the fatal flaw of authoritarianism is the absence of the people's judgment.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blind justice, revisited

Sailorcurt posted a new comment on this post from a few weeks ago. I suggest that you take a couple of minutes to read it; he has some good points.

I agree with a lot of what Curt has to say. In particular, it's pretty clear by now that there are elements of culture that hold African-Americans (or blacks, if you prefer) back. It's still hard for a white person to say that without being thought racist, but more and more people in the black (African-American, if you prefer) community have accepted this as fact.

(I first encountered the idea that black American culture was holding people back in the book called More Like Us, written by James Fallows in the late 1980's. He pointed out that African immigrants to the US progress at pretty much the same rate as immigrants from other nations. That still seems to be the case--as it is with Afro-Caribbeans. What, then, holds American-born blacks back? The answer seems to be--let me know if you believe there are other causes--cultural.)

On one level, the idea that culture is part of the problem is encouraging, because it means that black Americans have more control over their destinies than a theory blaming racial disparity on white society would suggest. On the other hand, changing culture is a very tall order.

Still, to the extent that Curt suggests that the need for cultural change means that integration is not needed, or no longer needed, I think he is wrong. To begin with, the elements in black culture still hold Americans back, those elements were created by three hundred and fifty years of slavery and one hundred-plus years of segregation. To walk away from integration is for white society (and I include myself in that, although none of my ancestors came to this country until after 1890) to ignore its role in what happened.

Of more immediate moment, while blacks need not, indeed should not, simply imitate white manners and mannerisms, the dominant culture of this country--the one that African-Americans must be able to succeed in--is one that is largely a "white" culture. (The idea that the dominant culture is predominantly white is a less and less accurate statement in literal terms., because that culture is shifted by its association with immigrants. The "white" culture of the 19th Century regarded the Irish and Italians, for instance, as being of a lower order, but today's "white" culture contains important elements picked up from Irish, Italian and many other immigrant groups. Today, the culture contains elements from Hispanic and Asian cultures, and the dominant "white" culture includes many contributions from African-Americans, of which jazz is only the most obvious. Still, for convenience we might call it white, if only for historical reasons.) If we believe that cultural change would be beneficial, it is important to give African-Americans, particularly children, the chance to understand and come to terms with that culture. Segregation--whether by choice or by law--inhibits that opportunity.

We cannot force a cultural change upon the black community, but we should recognize that it is in our interest--the interest of the people of the United States as a whole--to have the African-American community succeed. So far as I know, no responsible element in any part of our society wants to continue as we are today, when more young African-American men to to prison than to college. Integration is still a most important factor in allowing and encouraging such success; segregation, whatever the cause, will ensure failure.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hard to argue

Those of us who have opposed the Iraq war often fail to give sufficient credit and consideration to some of the subtle and sophisticated arguments of those who support what the administration has done.

Consider this from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) yesterday:

"The best way to support the troops is just to support the troops."

Or, from Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), also yesterday:

"The way to defeat al Qaeda is to defeat al Qaeda."

I'm convinced.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

GWOT update

So, how's that Global War on Terror working out for you?

Not at all well, apparently.

*First, there's a report that US counter-terrorism experts say that al Qaeda has rebuilt its capacity to where it was before 9/11. (Note that these professionals appear to be referring to the original al Qaeda, and not the offshoots and copy-cats who have adopted the name.) The title of the report is "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West." Has a ring to it. Like "Bin Laden determined to strike US," the August 2001 report that Bush ignored.

*Then The New York Times says that the NRC gave a license to a bogus company that would have allowed it to purchase materials for a dirty bomb--without any investigation. Even worse, according to The Times, "That license, on a standard-size piece of paper, also had so few security measures incorporated into it that the investigators, using commercially available equipment, were able to modify it easily, removing a limit on the amount of radioactive material they could buy, the report says." So much for homeland security.

And we're stuck with Bush and Co. for another seventeen months.
A beautiful summer weekend, a little physical trauma, the need to learn a new cel phone (the old one having drowned), and it's a week between postings. Sheesh. I really need to be more disciplined.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The inquisitors

Josh Marshall has a terrific post on the cast of characters who put Scooter Libby in the dock, giving the lie to those who argue that the man is nothing but a victim caught up in political tides.

A clarification

Seems that the Scooter Defense Fund did not contribute to the funds that I. Lewis used to pay his fine yesterday. So the dollars came from other sources; I'm sure that Scooter has a lot of friends with plenty of long green.

By the way, the SDF has raised $5 million. A lot of money, right? But at $500 an hour--which is probably less than his lead counsel charges--that's 1,000 hours, and I'd bet the case has taken that much time already, with the appeal process hardly begun. So Scooter's friends had better go back to beating the bushes (no pun intended).

While you're at it, take a look at this portrait of Mel Sembler, the guy who heads the defense fund. Not just another child abuser; he made money at it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

No surprise

Given what we've seen, this was to be expected. From today's White House press briefing:

"Q Scott, is Scooter Libby getting more than equal justice under the law? Is he getting special treatment?

"MR. STANZEL: Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by 'equal justice under the law.'"

It's really like shooting fish in a barrel.

A glorious fourth

I hope yours was, at any rate. Your editor spent his working under an 18-foot Concordia Sloop Boat named Defiant, putting seam compound (what a landsman would call caulking) into her seams. This is what I call a day well spent, if not exactly enjoyable; the seam compound is just as messy as you might imagine.

has been out of the water undergoing partial restoration for the past couple of years. Now it's time to fix her up and sell her, the editor having acquired the lovely Rozinante in the interim. Here's a photo of Defiant in her element, before restoration:

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Chaff was the name given to shreds of aluminum foil tossed out of aircraft to fool radar during WWII. Chaff is what we are seeing from the administration and its corps of apologists as they attempt to distract us from the truth.

Unfortunately, the misconceptions are not confined to White House flacks and their allies (such as David Brooks in the NYT). Sailorcurt posted a comment to my post on the commutation echoing much of the rhetoric of Libby's defenders. A friend of mine who is not a Republican and no fan of George W. Bush expressed many of the same sentiments.

Clearly, the right-wing propaganda machine has managed to get the message out beyond its acolytes. If we're not careful, the deniers will succeed in undermining the truth about what really happened in l'affaire Libby. In an effort to do our small part to make clear what really happened, let's look at some of the most common red herrings out there:

1. Libby should never have been prosecuted because no one was prosecuted for revealing Valerie Plame's identity, the leak that initiated the special prosecutor's investigation. It's pretty common for perjury cases to be brought where there is no underlying crime charged. Effective perjury, after all, may make such a prosecution impossible. In this case, it's now clear that the first person to reveal Plame's identity was Richard Armitage, and he was not charged. That's not relevant to what Libby did, however. For one thing, Cheney, Libby et als engaged in a cover-up, whether it was criminal or not. (Apparently, prosecution of the second leaker, even if he or she didn't know of the first is not possible.) Nor is it necessary for there to be an underlying crime: One can perjure himself to cover up something that is not criminal. Libby might have done just that--covering for a political offense, not a crime. It seems likely that the Cheney-orchestrated smear campaign against Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, was independent of Armitage's revelation. It is possible that Libby and his bosses were not even aware of what Armitage had done.

2. That Libby should not have been prosecuted, because Bill Clinton was not charged with a crime for his perjury. First, the fact that one person gets away with a crime does not provide an defense for someone else to avoid the consequences of his acts. More important, the quality of the acts was different. While Clinton was the President and Libby only a special assistant to a President (oh, and chief-of-staff to the VP), Clinton lied about an affair, and he did so in a civil deposition. You could count the number of perjury cases brought for lying in civil cases without taking off your shoes. Scooter's perjury, in contrast, came in front of a grand jury that was investigating possible wrongdoing by some of the highest officials in our government. Libby's lies obstructed justice. Clinton's perjury had nothing--beyond casting his credibility into deep shadow--to do with the office he held. Libby's falsehoods were made in the course of his official duties.

(Clinton may not have been prosecuted, but he was impeached--only the second President to have been so treated; some might consider that condign punishment.)

3. Libby's sentence was disproportionately severe. To begin with, that is simply untrue; the sentence was within the federal guidelines. Indeed, on June 21st the Supreme Court, in a case entitled Rita v. US, upheld a more severe sentence for perjury. Also, if Bush really thought that the sentence was too stiff, he could have reduced it--he did not have to cancel it entirely.

For six-and-a-half years, W and his administration have consistently lied to the American people. They depend on the good will of their opponents--the assumption that we will presume a certain good faith on the part of high government officials--to lend themselves credibility that they do not deserve. Let's not permit ourselves to be sold yet another bill of goods.

July 4th

Freedom a word, more than the base coinage
Of statesmen, the tyrants dishonoured cheque, or the dreamer's
Inflated currency. She is mortal, we know, and made
In the image of simple men who have no taste for carnage
But sooner kill and are killed than see that image betrayed.

C. Day Lewis, The Nabara

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Never thought I'd see the day

when the leading Democratic candidates' fund-raising "dwarfed" that of their Repub opponents.

One good turn...

deserves another. Kilroy_60 was kind enough to include The Old New Englander in the latest edition of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Blogosphere. Take a look. And look at some of the other blogs he highlights. I've looked at a few and some of them are very interesting. I was particularly struck by A Thousand Words...One Frame at a Time, a photographic blog with some very striking images. Marooned in England also caught my eye. And, of course, you ought to scan Kilroy's Fear and Loathing--the Gonzo Papers.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Different worlds

Are these men--former Senate colleagues--living on the same planet?

Fred Thompson, soon-to-be-presidential candidate, on Bush's gift to Scooter Libby: "I am very happy for Scooter Libby. I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife and children. While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the President's decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."

Chuck Schumer: “As Independence Day nears, we are reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.”


Barack Obama points out that Libby's lies, "
compromised our national security." The full statement.

John Edwards: "Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today." His statement.

And Joe Biden suggests that we flood the White House with phone calls. Good idea. The daytime number is 202-456-1111. That's right, it's not toll-free. They only give the 800 number to big donors. You could also send an email.

Even I didn't think he would do it

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush sent hundreds of men and women to their deaths without batting an eye. And as President, he's sent thousands of Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis to their doom. But 2 1/2 years in Club Fed is too much for one of his cronies is too much for the President to stomach.

Incredible--to me at least--that George W. Bush would be so arrogant, cynical and, yes, stupid as to commute Scooter Libby's sentence before the man's toes had crossed the threshold of a federal prison.

Read the White House statement excusing Bush's act. As might be expected, it is a farrago of deceptions, half-truths and outright lies.

Commutation sounds less dramatic than a pardon, (the $250,000 fine is still in place), but it isn't. Scooter isn't going to pay the fine: one way or another, his friends are. While he will lose his law license for having been convicted of a felony (if he hasn't lost it already), some of his buddies will make sure that he lands on his feet.

What amazes me is the stupidity of Bush's move, and especially its timing. According to the White House, Mr. Bush "concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive." But he did not wait until Scooter had served a year, or six months or even thirty days; he spared him even a moment in jail. He did this before the Court of Appeals has heard Libby's appeal, or even received the briefs. Indeed, in all probability, a notice of appeal has barely been filed, and it may not even have landed in the appellate court as yet.

Many people suggested that Bush would pardon Scooter to avoid a prison sentence and the risk that Libby would spill his guts to prosecutors. I never bought that. From all the evidence that I've seen, Scooter's middle name is loyalty; he would never turn on his bosses, especially with only two-and-a-half years in some Club Fed to serve.

So, why did Bush act, and act now? Maybe I was wrong about Scooter and he really was threatening to roll over. But I think it's more likely that the President is simply displaying once again his contempt for the law, the public and the truth.