Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Why Twelve Years?

Congress is working on a bill to undo another of Bush's and Cheney's fetishes with secrecy--E.O. 13233--and restore the Presidential Records Act. E.O. 13233, for all the folderol embedded in it about "enhancing" and "facilitating" the PRA, turned the PRA on its head, essentially giving the Presidents, their families and the sitting President the right to ignore the Act, and further extending that privilege to Vice-Presidents with regard to their papers.

In a nutshell, the Act provides for release of all Presidential and Vice-Presidential papers twelve years after an administration leaves office, subject to review by the National Archives for still-classified information. E.O. 13233 undid the law. At the time, it seemed a bald-faced plan to prevent the release of Bush's father's Vice-Presidential papers, due for release to the public in January, 2001, and his Presidential papers, due out in January, 2005. After more than six years of Bush and Cheney, it's now very apparent that they were thinking ahead about their own papers, as well.

Congress ought to undo this rather obvious--and egregious--misuse of the executive order to undo law. But, they ought to think hard (and abandon any thought of partisan interest in doing so), about modifying the limiting term. Why? Because twelve years safely puts any President or Vice-President and their advisors well beyond likely prosecution for all crimes but those relating to international war crimes.

The law establishes those papers as public property, rather than the private papers of elected officials, and, in essence, legally makes the work product of the administration state's evidence--but only after the administration is long gone, and, after twelve years, virtually unprosecutable for crimes committed while in office. While the administration is in office, it is generally protected by either arbitrary classification of documentation, or by assertions of executive privilege, neither of which conditions can be promptly addressed through the courts or FOIA.

After Nixon's Watergate misdeeds, Reagan's Iran-Contra illegalities and the Bush/Cheney junta's manufactured wars and bureaucratic indifferences to Executive Branch obligations such as disaster management and fulfilling the intent of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, removing the time limit on the release of Presidential and Vice-Presidential papers may be the only deterrent to law-breaking on the part of rogue executives.

The Republicans have successfully made impeachment and conviction in the Senate an impossibility in contemporary times through their wholly political impeachment of Clinton in his second term. For years to come, that action will taint any attempt, however reasonable and deserved, to impeach a sitting President or Vice-President as politically motivated. Despite the assertion by some that impeachment is always political, that certainly was not the intent of the Framers. It was intended to be an administrative function available to an independent branch to remove anyone in government using their office to break the law, and, it's worth noting, was written before the advent of political parties in the country. It became political because of political parties, rather than in spite of them.

Given current circumstances, the people are left with no effective means of challenging corruption in government. The politicization of the Justice Department by the Bush administration, combined with the politicization of the impeachment process, renders the mechanisms available unworkable.

If Presidents and Vice-Presidents knew that their papers, their now-secret memoranda, were to be revealed upon departing office, it might make it more difficult for them to direct others to break the law. It might also deter sitting Presidents and Vice-Presidents from evading their responsibilities to prosecute public corruption.

There's not any great doubt that a better President than Bush will revoke E.O. 13233 upon entering office, but, there's no guarantee of that. There must be some effective means of holding those in government accountable for their actions, as removed from politics as is humanly possible. Returning the Justice Department to some semblance of independence from political influence would help, but there's no guarantee what's happened in the Bush administration cannot happen again. Given the success they've had in doing so, someone equally unscrupulous will try to do the same in the future. Until Congress is populated by people who feel more strongly about the integrity of the government than party power, we can't depend upon the stringent application of impeachment and conviction to correct abuses in and of government.

With what are the people left to deter governmental wrongdoing, or punish it when exposed? Yes, we can vote the bastards out. That didn't work too well in 2004, and until we have a voting system with built-in integrity (and a news media collectively willing to find fact, rather than balance lies with truth), that avenue is choked off, too.

One has no choice but to take a hard look at what's happened in just over six years, and realize that the prime movers of all that destruction are going to get off scot-free. They won't be removed from office (as they should have been, long ago), since even the opposing party has removed impeachment from consideration--and the President's party would never, given politics today, even consider bringing Bush and Cheney to justice. They could eat live babies on the Truman balcony at high noon on Easter, and senators of McConnell's ilk would say, "maybe they were hungry." Their own Justice Department, regardless of the evidence, has been so perversely corrupted that it will never charge them while in office. They still have roughly nineteen months in office, able to continue as they have by virtue of the power of the Executive. Anyone who thinks they won't do their best to manufacture evidence to justify another war hasn't been paying attention.

Would they have done what they've done, or contemplate new crimes, if they knew their papers (barring deservedly classified information) would be released to the public with plenty of time for prosecution for their actions?

So, why twelve years?

(Yes, I know, the statute of limitations begins upon discovery of a crime, not when the crime was committed, but what prosecutor has had the nerve to try a public corruption case fifteen years after the fact? Not many, if any at all. Will any, fifteen years from now, bring the rotting-from-within eighty-one-year-old hulk of Cheney to trial if the documents indicate that he was in collusion with the oil companies to invade Iraq, or that his office was instrumental in covering up his influence in providing Halliburton and KBR no-bid, cost-plus contracts, and then in trying to thwart investigations of their misdeeds in carrying out those contracts? I doubt it. More to the point, can the nation continue to stand in the face of the sort of secrecy in government which partisanship and totalitarian inclinations have created without any effective means of deterrence? And, yes, such a law might well encourage further law-breaking such as industrial-scale document-shredding before leaving office. Still, the question remains: Can the nation stand if it does not address serious law-breaking by its chief executive officers, if it is reduced to considering such acts only in an historical context?)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

If He Were As Smart...

... as he thinks he is (and lord knows, as badly as he's fucked up in life, he must think he's a genius), Cheney'd invent a laser bread slicer which would cause every loaf exposed to it to explode in flames. He'd invent a new pesticide that even Monsanto would think too deadly to market. Or a new navigational aid which caused aircraft to crash. If he were a movie producer, he'd want to make the first snuff film for kids. If he were a chemist, his crowning achievement would be Ice-nine. If he were an economist, we'd all be in sackcloth and ashes, picking through Warren Buffett's trash, looking for the stray PB&J leavings.

If he were a fast-food worker, everyone would get salmonella along with their egg mcmuffins™. If he drove a bus, he'd be the one to OD on drugs on duty and go crashing through parked cars and small buildings. If he were a surgeon, he'd be the one to saw off the wrong leg. If he were a hooker, he'd be the one giving every john HIV. If he were a chicken-plucker, you'd never want to even look at fried chicken again. If he were a plumber, you'd have sewage coming out of your kitchen sink and your toilet would sound like the garbage disposal every time you flushed.

But, because he's a politician, the press thinks he's a smart guy and has him on to chat every time he deigns to appear. What the hell's that about?

And then he lies to `em and sneers at 'em, as if he's daring them to disagree with him. (There is the theory out there that he's threatened them with sending Lynne to tear out their throats with her teeth if they don't play nice.)

And, while it's not new news, he's continuing to assert, in effect, that he's the fourth branch of government. Here's some ABC-type information, DickHead: the office of Vice-President is created by Article II of the Constitution. That, for Herr Addington's sake, is the part of the Constitution establishing the Executive Branch. That makes Toad-In-The-Hole part of the Executive Branch, being allowed to break ties in the Senate notwithstanding. As Richard Wolffe said on The Daily Show, "if that's [Cheney's assertion] Constitutional, I'm a banana."

As with virtually every issue in his time in government and business, Cheney's wrong on this one, too. Like so many ham-handed and ham-headed Repugs, Cheney's guiding principle in government is that saying something makes it true. As with the evidence for his war of choice, or his whining during the Iran-Contra hearings that politics were being criminalized, he's been just plain wrong. Wrong enough for even the wingnuts to have filed papers for the political divorce. If you averaged his approval rating with Bush's, you'd probably get a negative number.

If he manages to twist and manufacture enough evidence to convince his Presidential co-conspirator to bomb Iran, he'll be wrong about that one, too.

If someone puts up a statue of him somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming after these eight years, no one is going to ever bother cleaning off the birdshit from it. It won't be worth the effort.

If one looks at how badly things have turned out--in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in this country, in perceptions of the US around the world, in the details of the illegalities that have been undertaken by Bush and Cheney--Cheney's fingerprints are on all those things, and there're two reasons for that.

Cheney has never understood the difference between cleverness and wisdom, and he's got a totalitarian's attitude toward law and legal restraint, and disdain for any Constitution, let alone our own. It's not a perfect analogy, but Bush is the people's folksy fascist--coming to power, as Sinclair Lewis said, wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross, while Cheney is Bush's Lavrenty Beria.

But, the salient point is that the next time someone on the right brags about getting a tough-talkin', authoritarian CEO in the White House who's gonna straighten things out, just remember: Richard Bruce Cheney, fuck-up extraordinaire.

`Nuff said.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Just musing here...

... but is Rudy Giuliani the ordained savior of Western civilization and all pants-peeing right-wingers, or, is he a modern opera buffo version of Officer Judy?

Missing the Point....

Making excuses for Dem candidates who won't let go of the war is, well, making excuses. Swopa at FDL makes the attempt to explain why the leading candidates are hedging their bets and making their language on our military in Iraq more circumspect.

In this entire analysis, there're two things missing. The Iraqis don't want us there, and the American people don't want us there.

As for the ancillary points, the notion that there's no air force in Iraq ignores the obvious--Iraq hasn't had an air force worth pissing on since 1991, and that didn't prompt Iran or Saudi Arabia or Turkey, or Israel, for that matter, to attack Iraq. Iraq has been militarily castrated for more than a decade, period. The only country attacking them in all that intervening time was... us.

As well, the notion that the South Korea model applies to Iraq in the sense that an American presence could prevent other countries from attacking Iran is specious. What's the truth about the "South Korea model?" It's that the South Koreans are fed up with us being there, have been for some time, and the American presence in South Korea has actually impeded South Korean efforts to bring North Korea around through its "Sunshine" initiatives. We've succeeded, in the last few years, in annoying both Koreas. Better people than I say the same thing, foremost among them, Chalmers Johnson.

More importantly, giving Dem candidates an out on this matter ignores one important point. Keeping a US military presence in Iraq confirms the world's suspicions that the US is behaving imperially, if only because many already see the invasion not as an exercise in "liberation," but, rather, as a necessary step to keeping US forces in the region for further imperial ambitions made possible by military force. Bush & Co.™ cynically used the Iraq invasion to rid themselves of the onerous problem of US forces in Saudi Arabia (the root cause of much of the terrorism directed at the United States since 1991, and directly attributable to Bush's sainted Dad), without actually having to give up the openly imperial desire for controlling the region militarily.

Hiding in amongst Swopa's words are some assumptions which, I think, are fundamentally imperial in nature. For example, in considering our "long-term" presence in Iraq, Swopa says, "... any residual presence will need to depend on establishing a non-intervention agreement among Iraq’s neighbors that we can then police...." Why should we be policing such an agreement? It's their part of the world, not ours (something that even progressives seem to forget all too frequently). It's far too easy to slip into the "white man's burden" mode of thinking, and the above is an example.

Further, any attempt to keep our military in Iraq continues to enable all the worst aspects of the occupation, from a progressive perspective--the wretched excesses of private military contractors, for both security and military logistical services, not to mention the huge expense of keeping "enduring" bases in operation in a hostile and demanding environment, and a level of bloodshed we created.

And then, there's the matter of treating this as a simple political strategy to minimize the endgame effects that were already set in motion when Bush determined to attack another country for no good reason, and none of the possibilities with soldiers remaining in the country are the least bit attractive, morally, ethically or politically. If a Democrat persists in the view that a US military presence is necessary, this leaves open the clear possibility that such will cause a backlash among US voters. They may simply stay away from the polls (given that a strong percentage of voters currently are dissing the Democratically-controlled Congress for its perceived failure to solve the Iraq problem in short order, this eventuality has to be considered).

There's also the strategic box in which such a policy would put both soldiers and future policy makers. Failing to leave might well encourage various Iraqi factions to cut off supply routes to such bases, forcing supply by air (think a bit about airlifting in just fresh water for 50,000 soldiers and 50,000 contractors).

Then, there's the matter of our presence in Iraq encouraging the recruitment of and facilitating the training of new terrorists. As long as we're there, we give them a reason to go on doing so.

Then, there's the moral aspect of withdrawing American forces from security patrols to entrenched positions, leaving the Iraqis to blow each other up. What message does that send to the rest of the world? That we're above the fray, or that we're exhibiting a grotesque realpolitik, allowing the warring factions of Iraq to destroy each other while we wait out the violence in order to establish ourselves as a permanent fixture in the country and its government, achieving our originally-intended goal of creating a puppet state safe enough for our risk-averse oil multinationals to occupy with the help of our military? No matter how much innocent blood may be shed in the process?

What no candidate has thus far entertained is the one thing which will minimize the damage and also extract the US military from the region--appealing to the Iraqi public's self-interest and wishes. The reason we have not done so is that the current administration sees the economic interests of the oil companies as greater than that of the desires of either the American public or the Iraqi public.

The Republicans are quite brazen about their intentions for the region--one knows what they mean when they talk about "freedom" and "democracy" and "sovereignty." They're talking about profits--no one above the age of six should be mistaken about that bit of three-card monte disguised as an altruism serving only to reinforce mistaken notions of American exceptionalism.

Democrats, however, keep telling us they want to do the right thing. As long as they perpetuate a war begun for illegitimate reasons, by imbeciles subsumed by their own propaganda, they're simply perpetuating a horrible error. No good comes from finding the middle ground in a disaster. The way to fix the problem is to actually fix it.

It was not long ago that Georgie Anne Geyer reported that friends of Bush from Texas said, in a meeting with him, that he had been "nearly wild-eyed" as he repeated "I am the President." This was to suggest that Bush's mental stability was in question. The other phrase in the story, less mulled over, was that Bush "also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of 'our country's destiny.'"

And that is exactly what Bush is doing, if one goes by the words of most of the Dem presidential hopefuls. If the Dem candidates are so willing to let themselves be outwitted by an imbecilic bozo of Bush's miniscule mental caliber, what else are the voters to think--that the Dems are in league with the same financial elite and oil barons that pull Bush's strings, or that they're stupider than the poster child for stupid Presidents? If Bush says he's gonna force his successor to do what he, Bush, wants, shouldn't they at least make some small attempt to rub Bush's fuckin' nose in his own evil intentions?

There aren't too many other choices in this matter. Thanks to Bush and some reality-averse people in Congress (including a lot of Dems that now wish we didn't notice their election-induced Alice-in-Wonderland logic of that time), we did great wrong. We can't fix that by continuing to do wrong.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

They Write Letters....

Everyone from Henry Kissinger to his paperboy's aunt wrote letters in support of Irving Lewis "Scooter" Libby, attesting to his character, and particularly, his "service" to his country.

I can understand people like Paul Wolfowitz attesting to his character, because they're peas in a pod. But, this "service" to country bullshit really sticks in my craw. Just because someone is in government doesn't mean they're diligently obsessed with the welfare of the people, and this bunch of neo-cons (with Judge Reggie Walton now nicely redefining that moniker) never gave "the people" a second thought in all their time in power.

And, indeed, they were in government for the power, the raw, obscene power they wanted to exercise over the world. I suppose that if these people had been born in Lichtenstein, they would have still been attracted to government, that it would have been in their blood to take over Europe. After Europe, the world.

Sound extreme? Let's go back to those heady days of the reign of Bush the Elder. It was Wolfowitz and Libby who were commissioned in 1992 by none other than VP Toad-In-The-Hole, when he was Bush the Elder's Secretary of Defense, to come up with the plan to rule the world.

And they were very obliging. The resulting 1992 "Defense Planning Guidance" they created was nothing short of exactly that. The plan proposed:

"Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.

"There are three additional aspects to this objective: First the U.S must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. Second, in the non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

Remember, this is the time of the end of the Soviet Union. About the only places in the world in which they weren't interested at the time were Africa and South America (likely because both were poor). That would change, of course, when they refocused their attention on oil.

It's interesting that, when the draft DPG was released to select members of the elder Bush's administration, no one got too excited about it--until it was leaked to the New York Times. Then, apparently, Bush went bonkers and ordered all the copies retrieved and, as rumor has it, burned.

Which is a way of saying, ultimately, that the principal difference between Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger is one of style, not substance. They really do think the same way because they're both rich WASP elitists who have an overweening sense of entitlement. But, Junior likes to get in people's faces, while Senior would prefer to work in the dark, and leave as few fingerprints as possible. They both needed people like Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby, people like "loyal" Scooter (as Alan Simpson, the Homer Simpson of Wyoming, put it), to do the scut work of empire-building for them.

If empire-building seems too strong a term for this, consider, as Frontline put, these words from the report:

There is no mention in the draft document of taking collective action through the United Nations.

The document states that coalitions "hold considerable promise for promoting collective action," but it also states the U.S. "should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies" formed to deal with a particular crisis and which may not outlive the resolution of the crisis.

The document states that what is most important is "the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the U.S." and that "the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated" or in a crisis that calls for quick response.

Orchestrated. As in, orchestrated by the United States. As in, all power derives from us. (I wonder if Tony Blair has thought to read the 1992 DPG and wonder about his role in one of those "ad hoc assemblies.")

Of course, how nice for the Bushes that they've been in the driver's seat of this kind of policy, too.

Irving Lewis Libby is as much a symptom of the Bush disease as he has been a cause of its spread. Loyal to individuals with whom he shared an ideology of world conquest, loyal to a dream of hegemony, loyal to power. Loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law, umm, not so much. That's why mention of Scooter's "service" to his country sticks in my craw. He was never interested in the country. He never worked for the country. He's always worked for his Prince. That's what got him into trouble. "Cheney's Cheney," everyone called him. Little wonder now why they did.