Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ah, Geez, How Could I Not Account For...

... raw, naked, partisan political animus in the Harman wiretapping case? After all, silly me, it's

When I mused about the reasons for the Harman wiretapping transcripts being leaked at this particular moment, I simply forgot that there were some very bitter rivalries amongst the members of the House intelligence committee, and some actions taken by Harman to run a cattle prod up the asses of Porter Goss and his friends, including a not-very-nice report issued by Harman on some of the ultimately fraudulent activities of one of Goss' best buddies in the CIA, Dusty Foggo, in the course of dishing dirt on Duke Cunningham's bribery shopping list.

It was, of course, Foggo's too-close relationship to Brent Wilkes, and Goss' too-close relationship to Foggo that ultimately forced Goss to resign as DCI. It's also becoming more than a little likely that it's Goss or, maybe, one of the Gosslings, that's been feeding the transcripts to CQ reporter, Jeff Stein.

Goss certainly has motive. Dems working on the committee could barely conceal their glee when the San Diego Times-Union began its series of stories on the hinky stuff in Duke Cunningham's real estate transactions, and were close to busting their bladders when Dusty Foggo and Brent Wilkes were fingered. Goss must have felt as if mention of his participation in their poker games in the press was just too damned close for comfort, and tried very hard to convince everyone outside the CIA that Foggo had been forced on him (which doesn't seem to square with the available evidence). Goss, for a time, seemed to be just one degree away from Foggo, and two degrees from Wilkes, and it would be very natural for a partisan yahoo like Goss to try to paint Dem efforts to shine a light on the Foggo/Wilkes/Cunningham corruption as the real problem--rather than the real problem being the corruption itself and Goss' proximity to the people involved. No doubt, though, that Goss could easily still think, years after his firing, that he had been victimized by Harman, and had adequate justification for sending a few barbs her way.

None of this changes the fact that Harman ultimately created the problem for herself. Saying that discussing influence peddling with a suspected Israeli spy was just constituent service is bit like blaming her tit in the wringer on a wardrobe malfunction.

In the immortal words of Loudon Wainwright III...

"ha, ha, ha, ha
ho ho ho ho.
Chuckle chuckle chuckle chuckle.
Snigger snigger snigger snigger...."

The right honorable Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, believes that the defection of "moderates" such as Arlen Specter from the GOP is a sure sign of an impending Repug landslide in 2010....

If one parses the logic, it's a sort of purification of the party that will clarify the issues for the 19% of the voting public that still self-identifies as Repug. So, it will be all that much easier for the splintered remainder to proudly proclaim that they are the party of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, Biblical inerrancy, illegal foreign wars, denial of scientific thought, and will seek a platform on which the remaining 19% can agree without reservation: theocracy, crony capitalism, abandonment of civil rights (but, only for the godless libruls), unending war, beatification of oil company CEOs and a lot more guns, guns, guns and a lot fewer gays, Jews, Muslims, blacks and poor non-white people in general. And, of course, when the innate batshit insane extremism in the current GOP is revealed to the general public in all its dystopian glory, we'll all have no choice but to embrace their platform as the only sensible response to the times.

Either that, or Inhofe is just one more of that specie of confused rats that tend to swim toward sinking ships....

(On edit, Michael Reagan, wingnut extraordinaire, says that the right wing has been "
closeted for the last eight years; it's time for the right to come out of the closet.")

In the closet? Eight goddamned years of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Michele Bachman, George W. Bush, Dick Fucking Cheney? Blackwater, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Bill Frist, Marilyn Musgrave, Mean Jean Schmidt, the Terri Schiavo fiasco? Eight years of protofascists screaming for the heads of every "pinko" who just happened to be right about Bush's lies and Cheney's ham-headed rush to war and torture, shouting down every meek suggestion that, maybe, just maybe, illegal warrantless wiretapping was no less than a wholesale abrogation of civil rights?

It's time for the right to come out of the closet? Jaysus, what a scary thought... what the hell do they have hiding in that closet that's worse than what we've seen in the last thirty years? The mind reels....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Buck Turgidson and Winners and Losers....

One of the curious ironies of being the big winner in a major conflagration like WWII is that the United States got to make the rules. One of those rules created the Nuremberg Trials which put the major players in the Nazi network of monsters on trial--and on public display for all the Germans to see, in the hope that the ordinary German would understand that the last vestiges of the Third Reich were circling the drain, soon to be gone forever.

Nuremberg was as much a PR exercise as it was ostensibly justice for the victims of the Third Reich (select monsters were spirited away from the court's grasp by the CIA via Operation Paperclip because they were perceived to be dedicated anti-Communists and were seen--often wrongly--as having extensive knowledge of Soviet affairs, or had specialized knowledge from their war work, including experiments on concentration camp inmates), but, the trials established certain standards in the prosecution of war crimes. First and foremost, Nuremberg fixed in stone that the people giving the orders to commit war crimes were supremely responsible for those war crimes, and second, that following orders was not a mitigating factor in establishing guilt. Both of those principles essentially have their roots in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The trials also prompted a new, more comprehensive round of agreements in 1949 on the Geneva Conventions, incorporating many of the lessons learned during the trials, and started a steady round of revisions on the definition of war crimes that continued for decades afterwards, culminating in the formulation of the UN Convention Against Torture (which the United States has signed and ratified, and to some degree has codified in its own law through the War Crimes Act).

All this has come about because the United States was the big winner in WWII. By pursuing war crimes trials, the United States, effectively, became the de facto defender of human rights in the world, a role which it relished, since such a reputation made it much easier to poke Stalin with a sharp, holier-than-thou stick. In the meantime, the CIA had instituted ongoing programs to assassinate or depose foreign leaders, culminating in Operation Phoenix, through which an estimated 20,000 political assassinations were carried out in Vietnam and Laos, and many more people were tortured. The U.S. Army started the School of the Americas (now trying to hide behind a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) which had long been suspected of training the military and police of friendly dictatorships in some of the worst techniques for maintaining political control of their populations--suspicions that were confirmed when SOA was forced to release training manuals which included detailed instruction in torture and political assassination and a host of other extra-legal means of intimidating popular democratic movements.

Given this history, in some ways, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the United States created a comprehensive, scientific program of torture immediately after 9/11. There were strong political needs perceived by the White House for such.

So, why is the country and a healthy part of the world now clamoring for some justice? The answer might be found in an offhand comment made by the U.S. Air Force's model for the satirical character of Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson in "Dr. Strangelove," Gen. Curtis LeMay. Two decades after the end of WWII, LeMay was asked about the morality of the daylight bombing of largely civilian population centers in Europe, and the use of extensive fire-bombing and nuclear weapons on civilians in Japan. He replied, "if we had lost the war, we probably would have been tried for war crimes."

So simple. The winners make the rules. This time around, Bush and Cheney pushed the nation into a war of aggression that did not even have the fig leaf of UN Security Council approval. In what now seems like ironic commentary on the United States' history on torture, the Nuremberg Tribunal stated, "To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Seizing control of Baghdad and vanquishing a delapidated, careworn Iraqi military could not be seen as a "victory," nor could the ensuing bloodshed and chaos created by Bush's inept administration of a military occupation. In fact, the Bushies lost the war the moment they embarked upon an aggressive military misadventure for purely personal and political reasons, and cemented that loss with every lie they told about it.

Republicans and their enablers in the press still tell themselves that the United States is "winning," whatever the hell they mean by that, but, the raw reality is that the United States' losses began the moment that Bush and his alter ego, Cheney, decided to use 9/11 to expand Executive power at home and U.S. military presence in the rest of the world. Those same apologists for torture and aggressive war simply do not understand that we are not the winners here. From the very start, thanks to Bush and Cheney and their toadies, we were destined to be the losers.

This time, the United States is the big loser, and the losers don't get to make the rules.

Now, the expectation is that the United States--and the Bushies--be prosecuted by the very same rules the United States promulgated at Nuremberg over sixty years ago, when, once upon a time, the United States were big winners....

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lewis Carroll Would Understand This...

... reversal of reality....

Sen. Kit Bond (R-MOron) thinks bringing torturers to justice is just like what happens with show trials in "banana republics."

Uh, Kit, let's back up here and define terms. "Banana republics" are where dictators torture people to obtain false confessions, and then the torturers use those false confessions obtained by torture in show trials to condemn the tortured for political purposes.

Get that, bozo? Your buddies in the Bush administration were the torturers....

It's not exactly complicated, is it, Kit? I guess that means either you have the IQ of cold oatmeal, or, you're hoping that we're all too stupid to notice that you're turning the issue upside-down for a transparent political purpose.

Oh, wait a minute. Those two arguments are not mutually exclusive. My bad.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Actually Excruciatingly Funny...

... and pretty goddamned sad, too. Of course, I speak of Jane Harman's bit of scenery-chewing over being wiretapped, especially as demonstrated in her very recent (today) interview with Robert Siegel on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Whines Harman, "I have to say I am outraged that I may have been wiretapped by my government in 2005 or 2006 while I was ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee."

Hmm. Do I detect just the slightest bit of, um, entitlement in this? An entitlement that Harman steadfastly has refused to extend to her fellow citizens? Yup, that's right--this is the same Jane Harman who wanted the program to continue, who might have tilted the 2004 election in Bush's favor by trying to get The New York Times to spike a story in 2004 that would have laid out the general operation of warrantless wiretapping carried out by the Bush administration for years--against its own citizens (the Risen/Lichtblau story eventually made it to print in 2005).

The gist of the story--reported by Jeff Stein at the blog of Congressional Quarterly--is that current and former officials told Stein that Harman had been picked up on an NSA wiretap speaking to a "suspected Israeli agent" about the DoJ case against two AIPAC-associated men accused of transferring U.S. secrets to the Israelis via the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC.

There was some initial confusion about whether or not the other end of her conversation was with Haim Saban, a Dem money man, but, that seems not to be the case (the NYT story seems to verify that the caller mentions Saban). Siegel paraphrases a NYT story today in forming a question to her:

"Yes, but the reports — I don't know how partial they are, but they are based on people who have seen transcripts of wiretaps. And they're very detailed. One, The New York Times reports today that in a call, the caller offered to get Haim Saban, a big political donor and a supporter of Israel, to tell Nancy Pelosi that he wouldn't donate money if you didn't get the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee."

It would behoove Harman to listen carefully, since the question mentions "transcripts" (plural).

However, the NPR transcript records her initial reply as: [Harman chuckles]

Rep. Harman ought to be a bit more careful. After all, she's not just the bimbo of a rich industrialist, she's also a trained lawyer, which is why some of her following comments and answers are so mystifying. When Harman claims not to remember the call, and Siegel questions her on that, she says:

"That's why I have written--this morning to Attorney General [Eric] Holder asking him to release any transcripts of any interceptions of my conversations without any redactions — that means don't cross anything out — to me and my intention is to make them public, and then we'll see what I may or may not have said four years ago in conversations with an advocacy group like AIPAC or any other groups about the chairmanship of the intelligence committee or anything else. It's totally proper for members of Congress to talk to advocacy groups and our constituents; that's part of our job."

How odd.... Siegel refers to conversations with someone whom intelligence officials describe as a "suspected Israeli agent," and Harman starts talking about AIPAC. What Harman just did was open a door that AIPAC and similar organizations have tried to keep slammed shut since their inception: that such organizations are, in fact, agents of a foreign government, and therefore are subject to greatly limited lobbying rights in Congress, as compared to domestic lobbyists, including a ban on contributing to the campaigns of people running for office. Organizations representing the interests of U.S. citizens can be domestic lobbyists, but organizations that principally represent another nation cannot. Almost from their beginnings, organizations such AIPAC and JINSA and the AJA have been suspected of being fronts for the Israeli government, but they have strenuously denied it, and have said that they represent all Jews in the United States (even though the bulk of their policy prescriptions are not shared by the 70% or so of Jews who are liberal and amenable to peace with Palestine).

So, a suspected Israeli agent calls you about trying to spring two AIPAC-associated people from a case currently being investigated, and then, in exchange, offers to get a Dem money man to put the squeeze on the then-minority leader Pelosi to put you in the chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, once the Dems regain the House.

That's a fairly hilarious interpretation of everyday constituent work.

Strike one, Jane.

Harman goes on to say:

"And, by the way, there's a question about whether they were legal, and there's another question about whether other members of Congress, who also talk regularly to advocacy groups and constituency groups, might have been picked up and may be wiretapped even now or maybe I'm even wiretapped now."

Another knee-slapper (keep this up, Jane, and Leno will start fearing for his job). Let's just back up a bit and recollect that Jane Harman has been one of the most outspoken cheerleaders for Bush's and Cheney's warrantless wiretapping in the whole Dem three-ring circus of Bush apologists. A few months after the White House managed to get the NYT to lay off the story just before the election, Harman told Eric Lichtblau (co-writer of the story for The Times) that "[t]he Times did the right thing by not publishing that story ... This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised."

Since there are multiple transcripts, it's unknown at this time if Harman was first picked up by the NSA because they were listening in on the conversations of a suspected foreign agent, and because Bush/Cheney gave them the go-ahead to listen to anything they wanted, Harman was caught up in the process, then the NSA passed the information to the FBI, which opened an investigation, or if there was an approved NSA warrant, or if the FBI applied for and got a warrant after getting a tip and the conversation(s) were all recorded under warrant, despite the original info coming from the tainted NSA program. It's all quite complicated, but, the essential point is that, one way or another, Harman got hoisted on her own petard, and now she's indignant about being the hoistee.

Strike two, Jane.

Siegel tries to get to recall the conversations, and why they might have been the subject of a legitimate warrant, but, she resists, and he asks, again: "But you are saying that you know it was an American citizen. So that would suggest that you know that there was a —"

To which Jane interjects:

"Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen. I didn't talk to some foreigner about it."

As I said, ol' Jane's a lawyer. She ought to be smarter than this. Jonathan Pollard, just to pick a name out a hat, was an American citizen, too. And the program she was rah-rahing didn't distinguish between citizens and non-citizens, inside or outside the country.

Strike three, Jane.

But, Jane thinks she's getting a base on balls, so she swings again:

"Apparently some people in the government, some people in Congress knew about this; but I didn't know a thing about this. And it seems to me very troubling and an abuse of power that members of Congress are wiretapped and may be some part of some kind of investigation. But I was never told. This was four years ago. I have never been told in any way by the Justice Department that I was being investigated for anything."

Since when is she entitled to know that she's a target of an investigation until she's called to testify before a grand jury or is in danger of indictment and is being warned to lawyer up? And, let's not forget that even target notification is a courtesy afforded white collar suspects that are not considered flight risks. Most ordinary people in this country find out they're going to court when the cops show up to arrest them.

Strike four, Jane.

It's a pretty good story, full of ironic humor, and the irony seems to be completely lost on Ms. Harman. There's so much hubris implicit in, first, her thinking that Bush and Cheney would never, ever fuck her because she was such a good friend of theirs and of Israel, and second, that patently illegal activities were just fine with her if they benefitted her career, or Israel, or both, and she's absolutely humorless about the notion that she might get treated just like, like, well, like some Arab terrorist or, heavens forbid, some ordinary American. (On edit, it seems to me a scene out "Animal House." Bush's Otter and Cheney's Bluto to Harman's Flounder: "hey, you fucked up... you trusted us.")

My guess is that's there's probably an underlying reason for the leak occurring at this moment. Harman may be angling once again for the intelligence committee chairmanship, and that may have scared someone, somewhere. She might be sitting on something she knows that someone, somewhere, wants her to keep sitting on, and this is just a warning. Or, this is just the first salvo in a series of revelations about Harman's behind-the-scenes dealings.

Two things are glaringly apparent in this, however. Harman has never really seriously read Washington's Farewell Address, especially the part that goes:

"In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim."

The other very apparent consideration in all this is that the power of campaign money is part and parcel of the problem. By Washington's standard, Harman has become a slave to both another nation and the influence it brings her in campaigns and in the exercise of her office. I doubt that Rep. Harman yet understands that her own willing enslavement is at the root of her problems--with both AIPAC and wiretaps, nor does she understand (and perhaps she never will) that her own slavery seemed so natural to her that she was willing to let Bush and Cheney and their thugs make slaves of the rest of us, for that is what a conscious denial of our--and her--rights accomplishes. In Washington's terms, she has been led astray from her duty and the country's interests. That's the really, truly goddamned sad part.