Thursday, April 27, 2006


it's definitely not your imagination, mr. president. those vibrations rumbling faintly beneath your feet since january — this week they're loud enough to hear.

can you hear it, mr. president — coming from the plains?

the bill urges the illinois general assembly to "submit charges to the u. s. house of representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the united states, george w. bush, for willfully violating his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the united states and if found guilty urges his removal from office and disqualification to hold any other office in the united states."

can you hear it, mr. president — coming from the coast?

joining illinois, california has become the second state in which a proposal to impeach president bush has been introduced in the state legislature. and this one includes cheney as well.

there it is again — coming from up north!

more than a dozen lawmakers on tuesday introduced a resolution calling for president bush's impeachment, making the vermont legislature the second in the nation to consider such a move. [third in the nation, actually]

history was quietly made over the past five days when three states from across the nation, in rapid succession, made the first calls for impeachment ever introduced to any state legislature.

the state drive for impeachment takes advantage of an obscure, never-before-explored parliamentary procedure written by vice president thomas jefferson, which allows a state legislature to send impeachment charges to congress:

according to section 603 of jefferson's manual, "there are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion": 1) by charges made on the floor by a member of the house; 2) by charges preferred by a memorial filed by a house member; 3) by charges contained in a resolution introduced by a house member; 4) by a message from the president; 5) by charges transmitted by a state legislature, or a grand jury; 6) by facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the house.

even more intriguing, once transmitted to the house, impeachment charges supercede all other pending business:

a direct proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the house and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules governing the order of business. it may not even be superseded by an election case, which is also a matter of high privilege. it does not lose its privilege from the fact that a similar proposition has been made at a previous time during that same session of congress, previous action of the house not affecting it.

as noted by method 1, the normal avenue for impeachment requires that articles be introduced first in the house of representatives. if passed, the charges are then taken up by the senate. until now, this was the way impeachment had always been conducted.

such charges have yet to be introduced to the house. however, in december 2005, articles for an inquiry into bush's misconduct, for consideration toward a move for impeachment, were introduced by rep. john conyers, who has since introduced motions to censure bush and cheney. in march senator russ feingold lobbed his own censure bombshell into the senate. facing perfunctory opposition from the republican majority in congress, these articles of course have failed to gain any traction in either house, even among democrats.

but the growing pressure to rebuke the president in any fashion, like the magma churning beneath the earth's crust, has to be channeled somewhere, somehow. the state initiatives represent fissures that the congressional republicans have little hope of plugging at once and for all, because the movement is made up of dozens of small municipal committees across the country working together, with the aid of the blogosphere, where it was born. similar resolutions from committees in new mexico, north carolina and wisconsin (home to senator feingold) continue to surge upward from the lowest strata of our political landscape.

of course, each initiative still must breach two major thresholds: passage in its own respective legislature and passage in the house of representatives. but in january this was dismissed a crackpot idea. in less than four months, eruptions around the country are already being felt. by summer, house republicans fighting for their continued relevance may be further burdened with the silly spectacle of being forced to play impeachment whack-a-mole.

so you might want to grab hold of something, mr. president — you may be in for a rocky ride this summer.

it doesn't get any better than this

or in other words, it can only get worse.

and it will.

josh marshall: bright side for the white house: it can only get worse. [emphasis his]

... when you think about this coming election, and the stakes for the white house, you need to figure that that's all come about without any independent, let alone antagonistic or hostile, investigations into the key issues that have led to this souring view of the president.

would the president look better after a new look at the iraq intel bamboozlement that wasn't controlled by sen. roberts? how about an investigation into the executive branch side of the abramoff scandal? what about a look into the plame affair? what about the folks in rumsfeld's office who knew about duke's corruption but looked the other way? [emphases mine]

the predicament faced by the white house is really quite amazing from a purely clinical aspect, though, like a cancer diagnosis, what it reveals at the same time is thoroughly horrifying.

this administration, chiefly characterized by its pathological stubbornness, has lashed itself to the wheel. bush is resolved to "stay the course", not only in iraq, but in all his policies and programs, none of which actually work for the majority of the electorate, if anyone besides halliburton and exxon. his predicament is that any attempt to change gears, in any meaningful sense, one that is not purely cosmetic and one that will benefit the country, also brings with it the greater risk of exposure of his malfeasance and maladministration, which leads to probes and trials, and we can't have any of that now, can we?

so things won't get any better than this. the country's problems will inevitably grow worse. and the worse those problems become, the worse dear leader looks. but so long as bush has his way, he will not change course. so he's screwed. and he's criminally lashed us to the wheel right with him, on his good ship titanic.

washington post: a variety of bush advisers suggested that the president is not interested in altering his major decisions or philosophy, but that he recognizes he needs to do a better job communicating in washington and beyond.

"the president's message and vision are firmly in place and are not going to change," mckinnon said. "but it still helps to have a new messenger. it helps to wipe the slate clean."

the logic is inescapable: things will continue to get worse before they can possibly get better. as long as this administration remains in place, things will never get better.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

i'm just askin'

christy hardin smith (aka "reddhedd") at firedoglake asks one of those little innocuous questions that get frequently lost in all the flash and thunder and smoke and mirrors:

if things in iraq are going so swimmingly, why is it that no us official ever makes an announced visit there? why did condi and rummy sneak into town like thieves in the night if it’s all flowers and candy and good news in the colonies? i mean, honestly, we are a sovereign nation supposedly sending members of our administration into the territory of another soverign nation, right? since when have we sneaked into britain or russia or even trinidad and tobago? why all the tiptoeing into iraq?

perhaps because they would rather be alivesince things are not going all that swimmingly? i’m just saying.

apocalypse wow!!!

i'm going off topic for a moment to evangelize a toothy adaption of one of the most obtuse works in the christian canon, the book of revelation. i'm an atheist, so religious writings have only an academic interest for me, but even before i finished the first chapter of apocamon: the final judgment, mine heathen eyes were ope'd anew.

it's a big puzzle how revelation ever made it into the bible. i've always thought it more than a little embarrassing for a tome people insist on taking literally. it's like the big-time bum drug trip your high school counselor warned you about. war, disasters, plagues and plenty of george w. bush's forbidden "human-animal hybrids" cavorting and exterminating everything in the air, on the ground and 'neath the sea. that must have been one sick pitch the prophet john tossed the studio heads at Christian Media™ Inc.!

anyway, just a scant 1900 years later, the book has finally found the inspired treatment it deserves. apocamon is a tour du force blending manga comics, a pokemon-cute bestiary, and genuinely brilliant scriptwriting into a sticky candy-colored treat.

it's judgment day in color harmony.

it's the work of the prolific patrick farley, sole propietor of electric sheep comix. farley is also well known for his acclaimed dystopian epic middle-east thriller "the spiders".

god will see you now — try not to freak out.

farley masterfully blends scanned hand-drawn line art with 3d-generated backgrounds and props, so well that one forgets there's a twain being met. his panels look like cells from animated feature films. it's a style easily made ugly by lesser beings.

scientists prove god does not exist
— it's miller time!

farley uses flash to punctuate the story with music and animated effects, though he does not explore these dimensions to their full potential (not that apocamon requires either to enjoy it). however, knowing how effects can exponentially increase both the labor and the size of the finished product, i can understand his restraint.

the lord of the bottomless pit
is well-known for his enthusiasm.

as visually satisfying as apocamon is, the storytelling is equally impressive, considering the challenge of the source material. the characterizations are engaging and the dialog witty and perfectly on key. blunt language gives apocamon an "r" rating, but its profanity is unforced. listen as abbadon, the popeye-armed lord of the bottomless pit, gets his marching orders:

angel:here are the rules: 1. only sting those humans who don't have the seal of god on their forehead. got it?
abbadon:whatever you say, "pal"!
angel:2. don't harm the trees. 3. don't harm the grass. now repeat what i just said back to me.
abbadon:do i look like a fuckin' retard? i heard you the first time!
angel:repeat it.
abbadon:aww, fer fuck's sake ... only sting the unsealed ones and don't hurt the trees.
abbadon:and don't dunk crucifixes into buckets of piss.
angel:you want to go back in the pit, mister?
abbadon:the grass! don't mess with the fucking grass! i got it already!
angel:i hope so. you may go.
abbadon:thanks, "boss". see you at armageddon!

finally — end times prophecy for the rest of us. i can fuckin' dig it.

look out — god just let go a floater!

in keeping with the spirit of the pokemon franchise, farley has also produced the apocadex, a "card" catalog of all the heavenly chimera, complete with each creature's vitals and stats.

the beasts of heav'n and hell. collect 'em all!

thus far the first three chapters of twelve are online, but it appears that this is all that we'll be seeing of this work, since the third chapter was last worked on in 2003 and ends abruptly, suggesting that it is incomplete. three years for a project on the internet is a lifetime and farley has since moved onto other projects. but verily, i'd be willing to wait an eternity to see the end of apocamon, god willing.

sorry girls, virgin guys only!
(aren't you glad you're going to hell?)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the only thing we have to fear

(cross-posted at daily kos)

less than 200 days before judgment, the state teeters on ruin. the masses, having reiterated their anemic approval — a glum 32% — begin to gather their pitchforks and torches. brass-plated generals, once dutifully mute, parade forth in open mutiny. on the hill and in the provinces, caesar's retinue draws fewer invitations. meanwhile his beleaguered aides, having retreated to their washington stronghold, resign themselves to a carefully stacked round of russian roulette.

yet the left, despite their opponent's pathetic flailing and reeling, insists on keeping a cautious distance, seemingly unable to cast off a debilitating malaise, born of fear of a regime cornered like an wounded animal. wary of a rove free of distracting policy tasks, the left waits transfixed in dread of what sorcery might spew from the white house belfry.

e. j. dionne: here's the real meaning of the white house shake-up and the redefinition of karl rove's role in the bush presidency: the administration's one and only domestic priority in 2006 is hanging on to control of congress.

josh marshall: the key is subpoena power.

little of what's happened in the last five years would have been possible were it not for the fact that there was no political institution with subpoena power in washington not under the control of the white house. ...

the white house and the entire dc gop for that matter is just sitting on too many secrets and bad acts. the bogus investigations of the pre-war intel is just one example, if one of the most resonant and glaring. keeping control of the house and the senate is less a matter of conventional ideological and partisan politics as it is a simple matter of survival.

they have too much to cover up. they could not survive sunlight.

yes, the left has ample real reasons to harbor such dread, having impotently and angrily watched it crystallize during the last five years. bush's judicial coronation, his reichstag legislations and congress' potemkin investigations have all sparked in the loyal opposition a host of stifling fears.

fear that the bush regime in its desperation will stop at nothing to abort its impending emasculation. fear that it will steal or suspend elections. fear that it will revoke the constitution in part or in whole. fear that it will exile dissenters to fema prison camps. fear that it will stage deadly terrorist attacks, unleash virulent plagues and launch global nuclear armageddon — all in the name of retaining its slipping grasp on power.

but the left should not let even legitimate reasons cloud its ability to follow its irrational fears to their logical conclusions. while any attempt by the bush regime to realize those fears of course cannot be completely discounted, the successful fulfillment of any one of these strategeries does not resound with any ring of plausibility:

the "october surprise"

as the reasoning goes, a message from bin laden or a terror alert or attack will rally the country back into the comforting arms of big brother. but more likely, it will blow away any dangling shreds of his mantle as the "great protector", especially if an attack is both destructive enough and dramatic enough to influence the voting of millions of people. bush will not have the benefit of doubt afforded him after 9-11 as a relatively new and untested leader; worse, he'll be forced to again defend a proven record of failure. fortunately, bin laden's april message gives us (and the white house?) an opportunity to test this theory. it could even inoculate the electorate against the impact of an october message. however, pulling bin laden himself out of a hat could have a beneficial effect on his slide, similar to the effect of saddam's capture. but if all the public gets out of it is osama, with no accompanying relief from the violence, then the slide will inevitably resume.

martial law

as the reasoning goes, suspending elections and/or revoking the 22nd amendment, especially in the wake of an attack or an outbreak of disease, will legally lock the regime's stranglehold on the body politic into the forseeable future. but more likely, further attempts to subvert the law will only further inflame the masses, who have grown tired of the rationalizations, which have now become either too convoluted ("i'm not the leaker 'cause it's not a leak 'cause already i declassified what i leaked.") or too childish ("i'm the decider!").

in the face of ever-restrictive inventions of law dispensed by the justice department, progressives have missed no opportunity to equate the regime with genuinely militant fascist dictatorships [guilty as charged!] and have made no secret of their dismay at the apparent passivity of the man on the street. but are we to believe that a nation of 300 million will meekly accept the yoke of an overt dictatorship? not bloody likely. the active-duty forces would finally have a justifiable reason to openly defy the regime and a citizenry indoctrinated from the cradle in the worship of the very concept of freedom will not greet such a naked theft of birthright without the kind of resistance many will argue is obligated under the declaration of independence, the 2nd amendment and the star spangled banner. rockets red glare indeed!

however, i forsee no kent states, especially if the regime loses the military; once directly challenged on its lawlessness — a situation that has not yet been permitted by bush's congress — the regime will sensibly retreat.

election fraud

as the reasoning goes, the republicans could steal the elections the old-fashioned way, and more efficiently than ever with their new-fangled machines. but more likely, any instances of significant fraud will be quickly unmasked. irregularities in each of the elections since 2000 have been followed by claims of fraud, but all kinds of fraud has dogged elections since the birth of the republic. however, dismissing such claims becomes much harder as the gap between the projected and actual results widens. election tampering that might survive a challenge over a 2% margin between candidates, as in 2004, would be impossible to explain over today's 10% margin. and a washington post - abc news poll puts the margin at 15% — reporting that 55% plan to vote democratic and only 40% republican — representing more than 18 million votes if the turnout matches 2004. moving this many ballots would require chicanery of truly herculean proportions.

imagine the scandal: systematic nationwide election tampering and vote supression favoring republicans in all instances. now imagine the reaction: not quiet acquiescence but seething outrage and chaos dwarfing that following the 2000 races. "republican culture of corruption" would emerge as the central recount (revote?) meme and republicans would lose even more the second time around.

war with iran

as the reasoning goes, military action against iran will serve to invigorate bush's grumbling base, which has been steadily suckled on the same twin teats of propaganda and hate that nourished them for the iraq invasion. but more likely, conventional action will only provide a reenactment of the deathtrap in iraq and the vastly more dire repercussions of nuclear action will quickly rebound out of anyone's control. in both cases, the longed-for instant telegenic panacea of righteous blitzkrieg will turn into the bitter wormwood of yet one more unholy quagmire. without a draft, for which no meaningful support exists, ground operations remain the stuff of chickenhawk wetdreams. convention air operations are at best a blunt club. nuclear weapons do not carry any guarantee of success but do carry the price of worldwide opprobrium; america would be branded an international criminal and any lingering vestige of moral authority would be swept offstage by a tall bright column of ash. even if the regime exhibits no interest in courting the admiration of the international community, the majority of the nation does care about its image in the world mirror.

and unlike iraq, iran boasts the capability of striking back at its attacker, both with and without warning. its long shadow across the straits of hormuz and its purported international network of sleeper cells have been thoroughly dissected in other publications, so suffice it here to say that most americans would prefer that iran's boasts remain untested.

it is already apparent to any member of the "reality-based" community that none of these gambits has any chance of success. but many still fear an attempt to implement them, convinced that the injured animal under the brush is both pained and crazed enough to risk a suicide bid. as loathsome as i find this regime, i remain unconvinced that they are possessed by some evangelical messianism or are otherwise insane. none of their actions cannot be explained by basic greed and cynicism and sheer venality. besides, in the end, as they walk out the door, to continue their larcenies in the private sector, they can simply sue to grant themselves pardons.

but it is far too late for this regime to save 2006 and 2008. bush's ratings have already dropped into the range of the worst presidents and the poisonous drip-drip-drip of scandal betrays no sign of abating. as long as the white house insists on treating its problems as a matter of perception, they will continue their pointless pantomine of leadership and never adopt the substantive remedies that might regain the public's trust. thus the drip-drip-drip will torment them to the bitter end.

josh bolten's new five-point "recovery plan" for the white house:
  1. deploy guns and badges: harass illegals
  2. make wall street happy: more tax cuts!
  3. brag more: more speeches!
  4. reclaim security credibility: harass iran
  5. court the press: rehire armstrong williams

what has wounded the regime the most is the exposure of its fundamental ineptitude. the king is naked and his reign is littered with tattered policies, discarded initiatives and, most odious of all, wasted sacrifices. if bush could do just one thing right he might win back some support, but that's the catch when it comes to incompetency. even if any of the desperate strategeries discussed had more than a snowball's chance of success, chances are more than certain this regime would blow it and blow it big. but today there aren't enough kool-aid drinkers left standing and the rest of the electorate is wary and suspicious but most of all very pissed.

unfortunately that anger extends to the other side of the aisle; progressives have grown weary of their leadership's aversion to confronting a political risk that diminishes with each day. against demonstrably corrupt opponents there is no danger in taking the high ground. while the pols have exhibited some ability to push back from behind the scenes, clearly the necessary tonic for the anxieties of their constituents is some grandstanding and good old-fashioned theater, at least until they regain some subpoena power. no one ever believes you have a spine when you refuse to exhibit it. the republicans know this too well.

booman tribune: if only we could trust the democrats to know how to take of advantage of the gop's obvious disarray. after all, we saw similar concerns back in the spring of 2004 with the torture scandal, yet come november somehow the evil empire pulled out another elctoral victory by hook or by crook.

i'd like to believe this time will be different.

distrust of the democratic leadership only compounds the fear that the regime will escape unpunished for its sins. more medals than paddles have been dished out to its cronies. fatigued at seeing one unpunished crime follow another, the disenchanted become easily seduced by the fear that the theft of november is not beyond the republicans' reach. admittedly, to resist the fear and the fatigue, one must indulge in a little hope that the agents of justice will eventually catch up with the regime. i believe that the mechanisms of our legal system, the brazenness and incompetence of the criminals and the growing revulsion of the masses do warrant it. the only thing we really have to fear is that we stop trying.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

groundhog day

yes, america, you can stop pinching yourself, this, unfortunately, is not a bad dream. as you know — to paraphrase secretary of defense donald rumsfeldyou get to relive the past you have, not the past you might want or wish to have at a later time.

april 11, 2003: rumsfeld addressing the press regarding the growing alarm over the continuing violence in iraq:

i picked up a newspaper today ... and i couldn't believe it. i read eight headlines that talked about "chaos!" "violence!" "unrest!" and it was just henny penny, "the sky is falling!" i've never seen anything like it ...

those pesky newspapers — just a bunch of noisy old ladies. chaos? violence? unrest? puh-leez!

and we all know how that so-called chaos, violence and unrest never materialized, don't we?

now fast forward three years later to the very same day ...

april 11, 2006: rumsfeld addressing the press regarding the growing alarm over a preemptive nuclear strike against iran:

you know, someone comes up with an idea ... runs it in a magazine or a paper, other papers pick it up and reprint it, editorialists then say: "oh, henny penny, the sky is falling!" and opine on this and opine on that ...

those pesky newspapers ...

i just can't wait for april 11, 2009. assuming we're all still here, of course.

hat tip to crooks and liars; video courtesy of jon stewart's the daily show.

Friday, April 14, 2006

seven days in may

(cross-posted at daily kos)

what if they had a war and nobody came?

in his recent post "does the debate over iran matter?", constitutional law litigator glenn greenwald points out that there is frankly nothing — no law, no political body — that might stand in the way should bush decide to launch the attack, whether conventional or nuclear, that he has been threatening over the past weeks.

bush's attorneys have argued that even if the president lacks the congressional authority for such an attack — a position that they do not concede — he does have the inherent constitutional authority under article ii to exercise, unilaterally, any force he deems necessary in the conduct of his global war on terror:

we conclude that the constitution vests the president with the plenary authority, as commander in chief and the sole organ of the nation in its foreign relations, to use military force abroad — especially in response to grave national emergencies created by sudden, unforeseen attacks on the people and territory of the united states.

"yoo memorandum", september 25, 2001

since congress has yet to formally challenge this assertion, and since congress has already demonstrated during the nsa hearings its fawning acquiescence to the white house's expanding exercises of power, we cannot expect any potent resistance from that quarter, certainly not while congress remains under the control of the president's party.

but even if congress were today populated entirely by jealous and power-hungry democrats hellbent on obstructing bush's tiniest move, there exists no legal or procedural mechanism it can invoke that would bar the chief executive from unilaterally dispatching any kind of military action anywhere in the world, especially when this particular chief executive is fiercely determined to demonstrate his authority and his ability to exercise it. congress may decide to punish him afterwards, in any number of ways, from defunding his operation all the way up to impeachment, but it has no means to preemptively block such an action. the world's "sole superpower" truly sits under the sword of damocles, now dangled by a man whose constituents deem an "incompetent", an "idiot" and a "liar". and no one can predict whether the threat of that sword will serve to prevent or precipitate its fall.

a curious development at this phase of what appears to be a somnambulant second act to the iraq war is the never-before-seen and growing number of senior military personnel now taking the stage — on television, the radio and in print — to voice opposition to its civilian leadership and to specifically demand the resignation of secretary of defense donald rumsfeld:

army lieutenant general john riggs, retired, former director, objective force task force:

everyone pretty much thinks rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out. [they] made fools of themselves.

army major general charles swannack, retired, former airborne commander in iraq:

i feel that he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objectives. i really believe that we need a new secretary of defense.

army major general john batiste, retired, former division commander in iraq:

i believe we need a fresh start in the pentagon. we need a leader who understands team work, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation. a leader that conforms and practices the letter and the law of the goldwater-nichols act ...

it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the department of defense ...

when decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes. when we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril.

army general george joulwan, retired, former nato supreme allied commander:

it's our responsibility as military leaders to stand up and be counted on tough issues ...

i think we've got to get more officers to stand up and be counted at the table, when they're on active duty. i think you're going to see more of that because there is a degree of frustration with the way things are going ...

blitzer: what are you hearing from your friends at the pentagon, the top three, four-star generals right now behind the scenes? how frustrated, how angry are they with rumsfeld?

joulwan: many of them very much so, particularly the last two or three years. the issue was, they don't trust us. the team that secretary rumsfeld has surrounded himself with doesn't trust the military.

blitzer: ... would the country be better off, would the u.s. military be better off right now if the president found a new defense secretary?

joulwan: i'm going to leave that up to the president of the united states.

army major general paul eaton, retired, former office of security transition commander in iraq:

defense secretary donald rumsfeld is not competent to lead our armed forces. first, his failure to build coalitions with our allies from what he dismissively called “old europe” has imposed far greater demands and risks on our soldiers in iraq than necessary. second, he alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.

in sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in iraq. mr. rumsfeld must step down.

in the five years mr. rumsfeld has presided over the pentagon, i have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership ...

donald rumsfeld demands more than loyalty. he wants fealty. and he has hired men who give it ...

more vital in the longer term, congress must assert itself. too much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of waging war but also in planning the military of the future. congress should remember it still has the power of the purse ...

marine lieutenant general greg newbold, retired, director of operations, joint chiefs of staff:

i think i was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. but i now regret that i did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat — al-qaeda. i retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. until now, i have resisted speaking out in public. i've been silent long enough ...

with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, i offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't — or don't have the opportunity to — speak. enlisted members of the armed forces swear their oath to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the constitution. the distinction is important ...

the bush administration and senior military officials are not alone in their culpability. members of congress — from both parties — defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight. many in the media saw the warning signs and heard cautionary tales before the invasion from wise observers like former central command chiefs joe hoar and tony zinni but gave insufficient weight to their views ...

we need fresh ideas and fresh faces. that means, as a first step, replacing rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.

newbold's avowal that "an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the constitution" and joulwan's call for officers to speak out while on active duty are almost incendiary. active duty officers are rigidly constrained in the proper channels and activities available to them for voicing opposition to an order or program or policy. participating in any overtly political activity of any kind is all but entirely verboten. express obedience is not merely the norm but the heart and spine of any military organization. deference to civilian authority is a fundamental safeguard of our republic. the implications of congress' abdication of its constitutional responsibilities have not been lost on them, who now shoulder an unfair burden. just how much longer will the fighting men dutifully follow the orders of demonstrably inept flight-suited civilians who will not listen to them and who do not trust them? will they really follow them over the cliff and into iran?

in the quiet 1964 drama seven days in may, the joint chiefs of staff, fearing soviet treachery, conspire to take command of the government before an unpopular president can succeed in passing a nuclear disarmament treaty. in that tale, of course, the joint chiefs are the bad guys, representing the same sinister forces president eisenhower warned the nation against three years earlier, in the final days of his term. he had been the first president to negotiate strategies for disarmament with the soviets:

we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. we should take nothing for granted.

what rich irony then, that the world's only hope against an insatiable corporate-industrial complex, led by a saber-rattling president, just might depend upon a mutiny by a disaffected military establishment!

as extraordinary and momentous as it might be to actually witness, do not expect this revolution to be televised. the white house would never allow the public to learn of bush's emasculation, nor would the pentagon allow itself to be brought before congress for treason. instead, a quiet agreement would be reached under the cover of an announcement, with great fanfare, of a "breakthrough in secret talks" with iran.

unfortunately, it is, of course, far more likely that bush will be able to find a boykin or a bork 1 to wage his iranian campaign. it is a big military, after all, with plenty of room for advancement. let us hope then, for the world's sake, that there is also plenty more room for dissent.

if there is any irony left to be had in this mad lurch towards nuclear armageddon, we shall know within the next few weeks.

1 a "bork" is a subordinate called to fulfill a legally or morally questionable task that his superiors refuse to perform. the term comes from robert bork, who fired watergate special prosecutor archibald cox at president nixon's insistence, when he assumed the role of acting attorney general after his superior john ruckelshaus was fired and ruckelshaus' superior elliot richardson had resigned. this series of firings and resignations became known as the "saturday night massacre".


the bush presidency, to borrow a phrase from its dour deputy, is in its last throes.

32 years ago it was a "second-rate burglary" that brought down the highest office in the land. today it appears, at first glance, far less — mere snippets of "almost gossip", delivered, we are told, in an "offhand, casual manner" — that now threaten again to collapse an office already on its knees beneath a debilitating barrage of ceaseless scandal.

bush's folly can be traced from his team's opening moves, when the texas governor, taking advantage of the climate lingering after clinton's impeachment, made a campaign mantra out of a sacred and solemn promise to usher in an age of honor:

august 11, 2000: i will swear to uphold the laws of the land. but i will also swear to uphold the honor and the integrity of the office to which i have been elected, so help me god.

august 13, 2000: americans want to be assured that the next administration will bring honor and dignity to the white house.

september 15, 2000: americans are tired of investigations and scandal, and the best way to get rid of them is to elect a new president who will bring a new administration, who will restore honor and dignity to the white house.

october 17, 2000: should i be fortunate enough to become your president, when i put my hand on the bible, i will swear to not only uphold the laws of the land, but i will also swear to uphold the honor and the dignity of the office to which i have been elected, so help me god.

november 3, 2000: i want to conclude by telling you i understand the awesome responsibilities of this job. i understand the serious undertaking. i understand that when i put my hand on the bible, i will swear to not only uphold the laws of this land, but to answer the calls of the mothers and dads who i see all the time around america, who come to my rallies and hold a picture of their child and look me in the eye and say, "governor, i'm here to say, never let us down again," to hear those calls. i will also swear to uphold the honor and the integrity of the office to which i have been elected, so help me god.

it was a promise he would not forget to reiterate as he swore in his staff:

january 22, 2001: we must remember the high standards that come with high office. this begins with careful adherence to the rules. i expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. this means avoiding even the appearance of problems. this means checking and, if need be, double-checking that the rules have been obeyed. this means never compromising those rules. no one in the white house should be afraid to confront the people they work for, for ethical concerns, and no one should hesitate to confront me as well. we are all accountable to one another. and above all, we are all accountable to the law and to the american people.

but my, what a difference 1900 days make!

even without such stultifying failures as the iraq occupation, the stillborn response to hurricane katrina and the dubious dubai port deal, the grinding investigation into the july 2003 outing of cia agent valerie plame seemed destined to erode the one asset that pundits continue to insist the president still commands:

blitzer: here's what you write in the book. you write: "candidates have to look closely at george w. bush and realize that they cannot win by running away from the leader of their party. rather, they have to identify the single greatest strength the president embodies and put it front and center in their campaigns." "that greatest strength," you write, "is, in fact, trustworthiness."

now, we looked at our most recent cnn/"usa today"/gallup poll. in february 2004, two years ago, 55 percent thought bush was honest and trustworthy. that has gone down now, in february 2006, to 47 percent, not even a majority.

hewitt: yes. but that's still much better than most of his other numbers on performance. it's his strongest calling card.

the situation room, cnn, march 31, 2006

just as nixon had at the beginning of watergate, bush, speaking through press secretary scott mcclellan, denied all involvement and knowledge in the scandal. he even declared the leak a firing offense ...

september 29, 2003: the president has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. he's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. if anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.

... and speaking on his own, hinted suspiciously, that despite his sincerest efforts, the leaker might never be found:

september 30, 2003: there’s just too many leaks, and if there is a leak out of my administration, i want to know who it is.

october 7, 2003: i want to know the truth. … i have no idea whether we’ll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers.

october 28, 2003: i’d like to know if somebody in my white house did leak sensitive information.

the press, however, failed the president, despite his sincerest hints. unwilling to suffer jail for contempt, time magazine reporter matthew cooper revealed that both karl rove and scooter libby were his sources on the plame story, forcing bush the next day to refine his position:

july 18, 2005: it's best people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. i don't know all the facts. i want to know all the facts. i would like this to end as quickly as possible. if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.

but cooper's revelation had dealt bush's credibility a solid blow; an abc news poll found that only 25% believed that the white house was fully cooperating with fitzgerald's investigation and that 75% thought that rove should be fired if he leaked classified information.

by the time fitzgerald finally handed down his indictment of scooter libby on charges of obstruction and perjury, scott mcclellan informed the press that the white house had decided that the best defense was now no defense at all:

october 28, 2005 : because of the ongoing investigation and legal proceedings, at the direction of the white house counsel's office, all white house officials, including myself, are not going to be able to respond to questions or discuss the factual circumstances of the matter, except as requested by the special counsel, or in consultation with the white house counsel's office.

bush himself issued only his regrets at libby's resignation. a week later came the announcement of an eight-part refresher course on ethics for the staff, no doubt to the collective rolling of eyes from coast to coast.

but as embarrassing as the scandal grew, as tight as the noose became, the president himself remained unimplicated in the leak.

this, of course, would soon change.


ironically, it would be libby himself (considered by many the "firewall" between the prosecutor and his employers) who secured the knot, as revealed in fitzgerald's bombshell april filing in response to libby's request for documents for his own defense:

april 6, 2006: mr. libby is said to have testified that "at first" he rebuffed mr. cheney's suggestion to release the information because the estimate was classified. however, according to the vice presidential aide, mr. cheney subsequently said he got permission for the release directly from mr. bush. "defendant testified that the vice president later advised him that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the [national intelligence estimate]," the prosecution filing said.

after several days of silence, bush would admit, in a cheneyesque display of sophistry, that while he had indeed authorized the leak, not only was the intel no longer classified, but his authorization meant that the leak wasn't really a leak at all:

april 10, 2006: i decided to declassify the nie for a reason. i wanted people to see what some of those statements were based on, so i wanted people to see the truth.

such noble sentiment. nonetheless, bush's noose is threatening to become a gibbet, as the fitzgerald filing also bluntly revealed a basis for conspiracy charges all around:

april 7, 2006: [libby] wants the materials because he thinks they will show that his misstatements were innocent and did not stem from an orchestrated administration campaign to discredit wilson, according to his court filings.

fitzgerald's brief uses unusually strong language to rebut this claim. in light of the grand jury testimony, the prosecutor said, "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of white house efforts to 'punish' wilson."

it appears that the game the white house has been playing over the last five years is drawing to a desperate close. it was a game in which honor and dignity were nothing more than chips and tokens; morals and ethics just a strategem. it is an old gambit, to be sure, and if there remains anyone left at all surprised by the endgame, it is probably only bush and his once-swaggering team. but now the entire board itself is in near total ruin, with his pawns being stripped, one by one, while the king himself stands naked:

pew research center: until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great", terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

the single word most frequently associated with george w. bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." all three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

newsweek's johnathan alter: there are not a lot of people who expect him to move very much in the polls. and once you're tagged as an incompetent, that's pretty hard to recover from.

gop pollster tony fabrizio : these numbers are scary. we’ve lost every advantage we’ve ever had.


Sunday, April 09, 2006


i have a video that i like to indulge myself with on occasion. it helps remind me not only that incidents of real television journalism are still technically possible under the present administration but also that incidents of real television journalism have in fact occurred.

too often on today's talking heads programs are guests allowed to distort, obfuscate, propagandize and outright lie without any meaningful challenge from the host. often the simplest follow-up question would suffice.

in this video, a too-rare instance of how real interviews should be conducted, secretary of defense donald rumsfeld makes an appearance on march 14, 2004 with new york times columnist thomas friedman on cbs' face the nation, hosted by bob schieffer.

the interview proceeds unremarkably until schieffer brings up the administration's claims that iraq posed an "immediate threat" to the nation — a threat that of course proved spectacularly hollow when no wmds were found.

rumsfeld then not only flatly denies that the white house had ever made any such claims but also blithely accuses his critics of spreading "folklore" and smugly invites schieffer to produce evidence of any of such statements from the white house. clearly this is a man who knows that he is not about to be challenged.

boy, was he wrong!

friedman: we have one here. it says "some have argued that the nu-" — this is you speaking — "that the nuclear threat from iraq is not imminent, that saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. i would not be so certain."

just the sight of rumsfeld's crag collapsing like cheap plaster is well worth the price of admission. but little did rummy know that friedman was just warming up.

just as rumsfeld drifts off into a catatonic ralph kramden stammer, friedman admits that the phrasing is "close" (i.e., "imminent" is not "immediate") — and rummy gladly runs with the bait. the change in his demeanor, his relief at being handed such a welcome exit, is both immediate (no pun intended) and undisguised and is just as quickly replaced with his familiar smirk as he glibly relaxes back into the interview. no harm done — all in good fun, really ...

rumsfeld: i've tried to be precise, and i've tried to be accurate ...

hold on now — i ain't done with you yet, sucka!

friedman: "no terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world and the regime of saddam hussein in iraq."


what more priceless theater than rummy reduced to blubbering incoherence on national television, hoist high on his baldface lies like a prize halibut?

this type of "gotcha!" journalism, however, is very easy to accomplish. statements by officials like rumsfeld are a matter of public record — any research intern could do the work that these over-priced celebrity news personalities are supposed to be doing. so why aren't we seeing more of these public figures being held with their feet to the fire?

the answer, i believe, at least in part, is access. television journalists and their network sponsors (and by extension the media as a whole) know that the continued success of their venue depends on their access to the movers and the shakers. what politician, pundit or priest would risk entering the studio just to run a gauntlet of their own deceit? programs like face the nation would quickly become ghost towns populated by faceless and impotent nth-level bureaucrats.

but would that be so bad — the closing of their precious access to the liars and the spinners — if it also meant that the liars' and the spinners' access to the eyes and ears of the masses were also consequentially closed? after all, access is a two-way street — the liars need these venues for the peddling of their noxious wares as much as, if not more than, their network enablers.

the sad reality, however, is that as long as disreputable networks like fox exist to serve as a ready rostrum for the sultans of spin, other stations will remain at a competitive disadvantage if they desire to both attract powerful guests and maintain any semblance of credibility and responsibility. unfortunately, in the marketplace of ideas, fact is no more valuable than fiction.

rumsfeld: we're dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case. and to the extent people lie, ultimately, they are caught lying and they lose their credibility, and one would think it wouldn't take very long for that to happen dealing with people like this.

remarks on al qaeda, the taliban and the aljazeera news network, october 28, 2001

"on the ground"

i have a small request.

i would prefer that folks refrain from using the expression "on the ground" since it is a bushism that adds zero information to whatever statement it is added. the term is a kind of rhetorical olestra; it imparts a dubious flavor to the discourse without any benefit of nutritional value. and, quite frankly, abuse of the phrase is starting to drive me a little batty — consider this quote from white house press secretary scott mcclellan during a recent press conference:

well, i think that general casey and the vice president talked about that very issue yesterday. they talked about their views of the situation on the ground. general casey is someone who is on the ground and has a firsthand account of what is taking place, as is our ambassador, ambassador khalilzad and they've expressed their views of the situation on the ground.

white house briefing, march 20, 2006

i believe that the bush administration has strategically adopted the use of this expression to short-circuit criticism of its spin on events in iraq, by implicitly bestowing an unearned authenticity to its deployed personnel that stateside critics cannot claim.

certainly authenticity is more a function of accuracy and transparency than of mere location. certainly credibility has more to do with whether one is a responsible journalist (or any other type of news source), who presumably would be just as credible from wherever "on the planet" he reports.

would we imagine a report by bill o'reilly or brit hume to be any more credible were they to choose to broadcast from iraq — admittedly a not very likely scenario — rather than from the safety of their comfortable studios in new york? one might hope, but not if they and their ilk simply choose to shovel more of the same distortion and propaganda that their networks substitute for honest news.

"on the ground" however has become no longer exclusively the administration's favorite press whip. quite ironically, as the white house in march stepped up its campaign to blame the messenger for the bleak news coming from iraq, reporters in iraq to their credit quickly took up the gauntlet, throwing the expression right back in the president's face:

gregory: do we miss the overall story about what's going on in iraq, or does security remain the overall story?

engel: i think the security problem is the overall story and most iraqi's i speak to say — actually most reporters get it wrong — it's the situation on the ground is actually worse than the images we project on television.

nbc today, march 22, 2006

unfortunately the occurence of the expression has metastasized, its use now reflexively employed to convey any sort of authenticity, even when physical location is completely irrelevant to the issue, as blogger jonathan singer does in his recent article on the senate fight over the now-defunct immigration bill:

in his weekly radio address today, george w. bush strenuously worked to spin his own party's immigration bill disaster by pinning blame for the legislation's downfall on harry reid. unfortunately for the president the facts on the ground do not support his claims, as is often the case.

"bush wrongly tries to shift blame ...", april 8, 2006

i doubt any meaning would have been lost on us if singer had instead written:

unfortunately for the president the facts do not support his claims, as is often the case.

my continued sanity may soon depend upon it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

for whom the bills toll

"in truth i tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times."
— matthew 26:34

november 1967: in response to the growing demonstrations that culminated in the october peace march on the pentagon, president lyndon johnson launched a press blitz aimed at shoring up flagging support for the vietnam war. johnson relit "the light at the tunnel" and flew general william westmoreland, commander of u.s. forces in vietnam, to washington to personally assure the national press club that "we have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view." johnson received a nearly 10-point bounce in the polls for his efforts, from 40% to 48%.

however, johnson's bounce in the polls was quickly turned into a dive by the startling tet offensive, launched by the north vietnamese at the start of february 1968, which demonstrated that they were far from their last throes. during the offensive american audiences were also treated to a brutal street execution and were introduced to the now-famous phrase "we had to destroy the village in order to save it", attributed by many to the destruction of the city of ben tre.

by february's end a turning point in the war of domestic public opinion had arrived, made explicit when cbs evening news anchor walter cronkite, considered by viewers, "the most trusted man in america" — even as late as 1995 — concluded that "it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of vietnam is to end in a stalemate." in turn, johnson reportedly concluded that "if i've lost walter cronkite, i've lost middle america." the "light at the end of the tunnel" had been rudely snuffed out in homes across america.

johnson's approval sank back down to 38% and approval for his handling of the war hit 26%. comprehending the hole he was in, on the last day of march he withdrew his bid for reelection.

38 years later

november 2005: nearly three years into the war, with support for the occupation and the president at its lowest ebb — a familiar 38% — george w. bush launched his public relations blitz, dubbed the "national strategy for victory in iraq". while the speeches may have earned him a modest bounce of 5 points, one could argue instead that it was the december 15 iraqi elections that gave america a glimpse of hope. but bush could not escape johnson's fate and his bounce too came crashing down in late february when the golden mosque in samarra was destroyed, dashing any hope that civil war could be averted.

by that time venerable walter cronkite, long retired but still active at the ripe age of 89, had already made his case for withdrawal in january:

"it's my belief that we should get out now," cronkite said in a meeting with reporters.

... the best time to have made a similar statement about iraq came after hurricane katrina, he said.

"we had an opportunity to say to the world and iraqis after the hurricane disaster that mother nature has not treated us well and we find ourselves missing the amount of money it takes to help these poor people out of their homeless situation and rebuild some of our most important cities in the united states," he said. "therefore, we are going to have to bring our troops home."

but his pronouncement was no "cronkite moment": in fact the journalist had come out against the war at least as far back as december 2003:

kurtz: let's talk a little bit about your views. you were opposed, no question about it, to the war in iraq. why?

cronkite: well, not so much the war in iraq, as the way we entered the war in iraq. without any support from our previous allies, or the united nations as a whole. it seemed to me that this was — this unilateralism is a very serious breach of diplomacy, of strategy.

having remained largely out of the public eye for twenty years, cronkite no longer holds the nation in the thrall he once enjoyed as television's preeminent newsman, despite the continued respect of the public and the absense of any clear heir. furthermore, his advanced age, his having "outed" himself as a "social liberal" and his having endorsed 2004 democratic presidential hopeful dennis "moonbeam" kucinich's proposal for a federal "department of peace" gave ruthless war boosters fodder that they could use to dismiss the news legend as a doddering "leftie" loon.

but there can be little doubt that america had reached a "cronkite moment", even if the man himself was unable to deliver it personally. no, today's proliferation of network and cable news options no longer affords a single voice that kind of power over the national conscience. but three noteworthy voices did chime that week in february when the golden mosque was destroyed — noteworthy because they all were vocal supporters of the invasion.

bill o'reilly, fox news host and the most watched personality on cable news, could certainly lay claim to an audience the size of cronkite's, but no one save o'reilly himself would lay claim to any of cronkite's gravitas. quite the opposite: o'reilly is a sanctimonious screeching cartoon. nevertheless, on february 21, the day before the bombing of the golden mosque, a flummoxed o'reilly proclaimed:

here is the essential problem in iraq. there are so many nuts in the country — so many crazies — that we can't control them. and i don't — we're never gonna be able to control them. so the only solution to this is to hand over everything to the iraqis as fast as humanly possible. because we just can't control these crazy people. this is all over the place. and that was the big mistake about america: they didn't — it was the crazy-people underestimation. we did not know how to deal with them — still don't. but they're just all over the place.

bill buckley, jr., called "the father of contemporary conservatism", founder of the national review, is known to the layperson as the longtime host of firing line, his public policy arena. buckley's real audience however is the washington beltway; the professional narcissists in the nation's capitol want to know what buckley thinks of them. two days after the bombing a morose buckley concluded:

one can't doubt that the american objective in iraq has failed.

... our mission has failed because iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 americans.

... different plans have to be made. and the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

bill kristol, scion of a founder of neoconservatism and the founder of the weekly standard, is familiar to viewers as a regular commentator on the fox news circuit. as a founder and chairman of the project for the new american century (whose members had included neo-apostate francis fukuyama), the think tank behind much of bush's suicidal foreign policy, kristol is the rightful father of the iraq adventure. speaking on the weekend following the bombing, as would a step-parent to a brood of half-wits, a testy kristol complained:

kristol: there would not be civil war if zarqawi had not spent the last 2 1/2 years — had ex-saddamists with him, very skillfully going on the offensive slaughtering shia in karbala, now blowing up the mosque.

wallace: they’re there. there are going to be more mosques to blow up. what do you do about the terrorists?

kristol: kill them. defeat them.

wallace: we’ve been trying.

kristol: we’ve been trying, and our soldiers are doing terrifically, but we have not had a serious three-year effort to fight a war in iraq as opposed to laying the preconditions for getting out.

connelly: i think that really begs the question then: what have we been doing over there for three-plus years? you say there hasn’t been a serious effort to rid that region of the terrorists. i just wonder what secretary rumsfeld would say in response to that or all the u.s. soldiers who have been over there all this time.

kristol: secretary rumsfeld’s plan was to draw down to 30,000 troops at the end of major activities.

in less than a week, after civil war could no longer be denied, a popular champion of the war and a respected opinion leader publicly abandoned the mission and one of its key architects publicly disparaged its execution. the bills have tolled. the cock has crowed. despite his claims to disregard polls and pundits, there can be no doubt that george bush has heard the knell and the caw. sadly for those still destined to suffer the gravest mistake of his presidency, bush has yet to exhibit any of johnson's powers of comprehension and appears intent only on abandoning any reckoning or resolution to his ill-starred successors.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

history lessons

those who do not learn the lessons of history shall be doomed to rewrite it.

house columnist richard cohen, writing three years ago in the washington post on the appearance of then-secretary of state colin powell before the united nations to present evidence of saddam hussein's secret weapons program:

the evidence he presented to the united nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. only a fool — or possibly a frenchman — could conclude otherwise.

... but the case powell laid out regarding chemical and biological weapons was so strong — so convincing — it hardly mattered that nukes may be years away, and thank god for that. in effect, he was telling the french and the russians what could happen — what would happen — if the united nations did not do what it said it would and hold saddam hussein accountable for, in effect, being saddam hussein.

... if anyone had any doubt, powell proved that [iraq] has defied international law — not to mention international norms concerning human rights — and virtually dared the united nations to put up or shut up. there is no other hand. there is no choice.

"a winning hand for powell", february 6, 2003

cohen today, (re)writing on the third anniversary of the invasion:

colin powell, you may recall, soiled his stellar reputation with a united nations speech that is now just plain sad to read. almost none of it is true.

... whatever bush's specific reason or reasons, the one thing that's so far missing from the record is proof of him looking for a genuine way out of war instead of looking for a way to get it started. bush wanted war. he just didn't want the war he got.

"bush wanted war", march 30, 2006

i guess cohen didn't want the war he got either. so what of his reputation? (all right, to be honest, it was never "stellar".)

it is of course always a good thing each day a war pundit joins the rest of us in the so-called "reality-based community". but the one thing that's so far missing from the record is proof of his mea culpa.