Thursday, July 28, 2005

"Over There" - A Review

FX premiered Stephen Bochco's new Iraq War drama, Over There, last night and I have to say, the show is intense. As we've come to expect from Bochco, Over There definitely pushes the envelope. Not only do "shit" and its variations make regular appearances in the dialogue, but the show does not shy away from portraying the violence of war. In one memorable scene, an American soldier shoots an insurgent with a bazooka, shattering his entire upper body but leaving his legs intact to walk 2 or 3 steps before dropping to the ground.

Despite the fact that Over There is airing on Rupert Murdoch-owned FX, I didn't expect the show to be pro-war propaganda as some on the left feared. There seems to be a distinct separation between the news divisions and the entertainment divisions of the huge conglomerates that produce and air our television entertainment. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone may have voted for Bush and may want Republicans to win so there will be less and less media ownership regulation, but it didn't stop CBS from airing an anti-war tirade by an Iraqi-American houseguest on Big Brother.

What I did not expect, however, was that the show would portray the war in Iraq as nothing less than hell on earth. In Bochco's hands, Iraq is a place where no one in his right mind would want to go. The young soldier protagonists of Over There confront unseen deadly enemies, constant fear of death and roadside IEDs, all within the first week of being there. An Army recruitment video this is not.

That's not to say the show lacks a pro-military point of view. One character, bright-eyed born leader Bo, is obviously thrilled to be there; at one point in the heat of battle, he goes off about how much he loves being in the Army. But as if to blunt his enthusiasm, an IED blows off his leg at the end of the episode. Another character clearly derives a perverse thrill from killing the enemy, announcing patriotically "we're not here for oil, we're here to kill you assholes!" But this character is one of the less sympathetic: the gruff sergeant nicknamed "Scream" who scolds one character "you put one of my men in harm's way again, I'll shoot you myself." A third soldier, a Cornell graduate nicknamed "Dim" (the idea being that only an idiot would end up in the Army after such an elite education), seems to rail against the war, calling himself and his fellow soldiers "monsters" for what they're doing but then his dialogue takes a strange turn...he begins to talk of the "honor" in what they're doing and the "privelege" he feels to be there. I think the point was to show the true force of the sense of mission soldiers feel and perhaps even the sense of mission one must feel in such a circumstance just to get through the day; but to me it felt forced, it felt as though the hand of the writer was in full view, perhaps even responding to a studio executive's note to make the show more evenhanded. But that was the one false note in an otherwise solid first episode.

I actually hope the show does not turn out to be explicitly anti-war -- for it to be truthful and complex, it should explore both sides of the argument; I'm not interested in watching propaganda of any stripe and it would be refreshing to see an honest debate take place in the media about this war, even if it is in the form of fiction.

Over There airs on FX Wednesdays at 10pm E/P.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Roberts Needs a Good Borking

I don't know if it's ironic or just sad that the must exciting time Todd and I had covering the 2004 election was where, in retrospect, it was ultimately lost - the DNC Convention. As much as the convention was a waste for John Kerry, it was putatively more than a nominating infommercial. The leading members of the party, not just on the Fleet Center dais, but in event after event Todd and I attended, promised its members in the next four years to fight against the extreme values on the other side that (after 4 years of Bush) we now understood the Republicans were all about. If the test of that oath does not come when George W. Bush replaces a court moderate with a 50-year-old arch-conservative whose position on the most important pending legal issue of our time is all but crystal clear - when is it?

It's true, it's most likely too early to tell whether or not it is politically expedient or convenient or even winnable to fight the nomination, though all may seem dubious at the moment. That is besides the point. We know enough about Bush's candidate to know that he strongly resents our core values, and will almost surely do so for 20 years on the court. The writ he signed decrying Roe v Wade is a smoking gun. Right there he should be discarded by all Senators who consider themselves allies to women's rights and personal freedoms. His record is staunchly pro-corporate, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-woman. He has a long history of strong political allegiances with the right wing of the party, if not the ultra-batty tip in which the Ashcrofts of the world reside.

It is not difficult to extrapolate the Rovian machinations behind this nomination: Bush lusted for a hard-core conservative white Christian male, but in his tremulous current standing needed one without a provocative mouth or a history long in memorandum. This is a cynical power play. Make no mistake Bush did not make this choice without getting the promise (whether it came in the form a wink or a nudge or signed promise made on confidential, stolen CIA stationary) from Roberts, or his people, that he would be a hard-right stooge. I'm sure Bush the First counseled the scion on sussing out the ideological bones of his man, after that disastrous experience he had nominating the free-thinking, moderate Justice Souter.

This president could not be trusted with a water gun, nevermind a supreme court nomination. He deserves no benefit of the doubt, this master of the most misbegotten, misleading foreign and domestic policy (embracing all in rhetoric, but anti-everyone who's not exceedingly rich nor a Halliburton-like entity in practice). A candidate with a clear paper trail of moderation, this is the only offering we should abide at this moment.

If the first 48 hours in opposing a nominee are the most important as experience and experts seem inclined to tell us, we must work with the facts we have now and vociferously hold the leaders of our party to the promise made to us last summer: to, if nothing less, protect the liberties the other side seeks to retract.

Todd, you don't have to give any money to Kerry, or sign MoveOn's petition. Just call Dianne Feinstein and tell her you won't stomach the confirmation of any judge who would clearly vote to overturn Roe V Wade. It's the truth, isn't it?

Another View On Roberts

Thanks to Fletcher Christian for his take on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

President Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court of the United States was not in the least surprising. Judge Roberts is highly qualified, well-respected by his colleagues, and known for being a thoughtful jurist. Is he conservative? Of course. But did we expect this president to nominate anyone less conservative than Roberts? Only a fool would have labored under that delusion.

To those on the left who object to the nominee, I say 'tough.' Judge Roberts is not the worst person President Bush could have nominated to the Court. In fact, he is likely the best we could have hoped for given the track record of this White House.

However you feel about their politics, the men and women of this West Wing are master tacticians. They nominated the most conservative, qualified person they could find who would garner at least 50 votes in the Senate and make Senate Democrats look silly if they filibustered the nominee. This is how this White House plays every decision. They demand the absolute maximum that will garner the minimum votes necessary to win. It's no different with the case of Judge Roberts.

When the President said that he would like to nominate someone to the Court in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, he wasn't kidding. (Thankfully, he nominated someone closer to the qualifications of Justice Scalia instead of the woefully inadequate Thomas, whose legal mind is outshone by anyone you could reach at 1-800-LAWYER.) Unless Bush or any president nominates someone to the Court who rejects the very basic precepts of America jurisprudence, that nominee will be confirmed. All one need do is look at the tiny number of Court nominees who have ever been rejected by the Senate to understand this fact. The nominee must either be mentally unfit (Washington-nominated Rutledge), wholly unqualified (Nixon-nominated Carswell), or completely contemptuous of senators (Reagan-nominated Bork) to be denied a seat on the Court.

Conservative presidents nominate conservative nominees; moderates nominate moderates, and so on. The lesson for liberals is this: win elections. When you get your man or woman in the White House, you can nominate whomever you wish. Considering that this nominee is mentally competent, well-qualified, and of a pleasant demeanor, you should make your speeches on the Senate floor, vote against him, and then watch Justice Roberts take his seat on the bench on the first Monday in October.

Roberts...The Day After

I'm surprised by some things I'm feeling this morning, and no, anonymous, it has nothing to do with your enlightening comments. First I should say that part of what motivated me (and so many of us to be sure) during the election last year was this issue -- the desire to prevent Bush from having the opportunity to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The very prospect was chilling as he had consistently demonstrated an aggressive antagonism toward our values in his first term. We could not allow him to fill a vacancy on the highest court in the land.

But a lot has happened since last year. First of all, Democrats found their voice and, even after losing seats in both houses of Congress last year, managed thus far this year to be an effective minority party blocking both Social Security privatization and John Bolton's nomination largely by informing and controlling public opinion. Secondly, Bush's approval ratings have plummetted. The country is demonstrating serious buyer's remorse as Bush's facade of moderation has faded and more and more people see him for the out of the mainstream extremist he is. In addition, Sandra Day O'Connor retired to a fanfare of praise for her role as a swing vote, the ultimate ode to the refreshing lack of partisanship she demonstrated as a justice. And finally, 2 words: Karl Rove.

Which brings me to my gut reaction this morning, which I guess can only be described as "the choice could have been a lot worse." On one hand, the fact that Roberts has only been a judge for 2 years and so doesn't have a long record of judicial decisions is a little scary -- this guy is an unknown quantity; but that can work both ways -- Bush needs insurance against critics on the right as well as on the left so he went with the safe choice, someone with conservative credentials whose inside the beltway status and lack of controversial decisions would virtually ensure his confirmation. Let's face it: the choice of Roberts is the choice of an embattled president, a weak president, one who can not afford another bitter fight, who can not afford to lose another battle to the minority party.

Having said that, we can't ignore how the reaction to O'Connor's retiremement must have informed Bush's choice as well. In the wake of her announcement earlier this month, O'Connor was essentially deified by the media and by most mainstream voices. As a caller on the Stephanie Miller Show said this morning, this court will be known as the O'Connor court, not the Rehnquist court. Bush's desire for a long-lasting judicial legacy demands that he appoint a thoughtful evenhanded justice who will serve to moderate between the perceived divided factions that already serve on the court; the same goes for Roberts himself.

Having these thoughts running through my head this morning, I arrived to work with several e-mails from left wing activist groups in my inbox, most declaring what a disastrous nominee Roberts is; and to my surprise, all I can think is "chill the f- out." I'm sorry, Move On, I'm not going to sign your petition this time; no, John Kerry, you're not gonna get any more money out of me today; and sorry Human Rights Campaign, no nominee was going to make you happy. We need to remember that simply being conservative does not disqualify one from being appointed to The Supreme Court and I really just don't like the alarmist tone being struck by a lot of these groups, opposing for the sake of opposing, exploiting my fears of a radical rightwing judiciary to raise money.

I do recommend the Center For American Progress website, however. It's devoted to informing us about Roberts and suggesting plans of attack for the Senate to make sure that this guy is a mainstream choice. I'm certainly not advocating that the Senate rubber stamp this nominee; some of his rulings and arguments on behalf of the government have been disturbing and we do need to ask questions about his judicial temperament and demand that he answer them. But at the same time, we can not allow the Democrats and liberals to fall into the obstructionist trap that Republicans have set and we should not oppose for opposing's sake.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bush's Nominee: Judge John Roberts

Bush's choice for the Supreme Court is U.S. Circuit Judge John Roberts Jr. This is an aggressively divisive pick.

First his history, care of CNN:

Nominated by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Roberts joined the bench in June 2003 after Senate Democrats initially stalled his nomination. The appellate court in Washington is considered the most prestigious in the country, and several justices have moved from there to the U.S. Supreme Court, including Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Roberts has argued 39 cases before the high court. A Harvard Law School graduate, he clerked for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist. In 1982, Gordon served as associate White House counsel under President Reagan, leaving four years later to join the Washington-based law firm of Hogan & Hartson. He became deputy solicitor general in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush before returning to Hogan & Hartson in 1993. Gordon was born in 1955 in Buffalo, New York. Like McConnell, his relative youth may prove attractive to Bush if the president wants to leave a long judicial legacy.

Some of his legal arguments/rulings care of Slate:

On Separation of Church & State:

For Bush I, co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that public high-school graduation programs could include religious ceremonies. The Supreme Court
disagreed by a vote of 5-4. (Lee v. Weisman, 1992)

On Criminal Law:

Joined a unanimous opinion ruling that a police officer who searched the trunk of a car without saying that he was looking for evidence of a crime (the standard for constitutionality) still conducted the search legally, because there was a reasonable basis to think contraband was in the trunk, regardless of whether the officer was thinking in those terms. (U.S. v. Brown, 2004)

On abortion:

For Bush I, successfully helped argue that doctors and clinics receiving federal funds may not talk to patients about abortion. (Rust v. Sullivan, 1991)


A few other tidbits include that Roberts gave $1,000 to Bush's 2000 campaign, he clerked for Kenneth Starr and he was voted to the DC Circuit Court by a unanimous Senate vote in 2003.

So he's close to Bush, his conservatism all but guarantees a fight, which will distract the media from Karl Rove yet his prior confirmation vote all but guarantees that he'll be confirmed this time and he's only 50, which means he'll be on the court forever. Sounds like it could be a political home run for Bush.

This is not good.

Meet The Press Smackdown

It's nice to see Tim Russert actually get exercized about an issue, especially when it involves smacking down a Republican spinmeister. On Sunday's Meet The Press Russert addressed the Rove scandal with Chairman of the RNC Ken Mehlman and former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta. Here's a nice (albeit long) exchange that addressed what the White House has said in the past vs. what they're saying now vis a vis Rove's involvement in the leak:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me go through the public pronouncements from the White House. Here's President Bush on September 30, 2003, about the leak.
(Videotape, September 30, 2003):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.
(End videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: "That person will be taken care of." A week after that, Scott McClellan talked to the White House press corps and the American people. David Gregory of NBC News asked him the following question.
(Videotape, October 7, 2003):
MR. DAVID GREGORY: You have said that you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Whey did you do that? And can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked them?
MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): Yeah. They are good individuals. They are important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with--of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you, and that's exactly what I did.
(End videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: "They were not involved." Is that comment still operative?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, I know Scott McClellan very well. Scott's a smart guy. He's an honest guy. He's a very effective spokesman. And he'd love to be on this show this morning commenting. But in contradiction to what he said, attack, attack, attack is not how we'll respond to this investigation. This White House is responding by cooperate, cooperate, cooperate. And what Scott understands and all of us understand as attorneys is that the last thing a prosecutor wants to see are people out talking about the facts of his case. And so Scott is now not commenting. But the fact is--what the facts this week show is what Scott said is accurate. The facts show that Karl Rove was not the source of Bob Novak, that there was another source that, in fact, leaked the information to him, and that Karl Rove at the time didn't know her name, didn't know she was undercover and didn't provide that information to him.

...

MR. RUSSERT: Whoa, hold on, hold on. Why did Scott McClellan feel comfortable in commenting on the investigation back in 2003 when it was just going on?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, it...
MR. RUSSERT: He said to the American people that Libby, Rove, Abrams were not involved. And we now know that, according to published reports and Mr. Rove's attorney, that Mr. Rove confirmed the Novak account and was the source for Matt Cooper, as Matt Cooper testified before the grand jury and explained this morning on MEET THE PRESS. Is that not being involved?
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, as you know, investigations have different phases. In the very early part of an investigation, when there's less--when there are fewer witnesses testifying, and less activity is one point. Clearly now, I think, that Scott's right. And I give tremendous credit to this president, and to this White House, who is saying, "We don't care about the short-term political heat we may feel. We care about justice being done," which is why they're not commenting.

...

MR. RUSSERT: But he said they were not involved. Is that accurate?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, according to the information that's come out this week--and, again, we're here speculating--but the information that's come out this week, that we all agree on, says they were not involved in a leak.
MR. PODESTA: Oh, well, I think that's absurd, and I think the American public sees that. The question at the time that Mr. McClellan was answering was: Was Karl Rove one of the two sources for Mr. Novak? Now, we know that he was. His own lawyers admitted that. And at least he does it off the record on background, but it's clear that Mr. Luskin's out there briefing The New York Times and others, that says that Mr. Rove was the second source. So the one thing--you don't have to be a genius to know that when Karl Rove sent Scott McClellan to the podium to say he wasn't involved, he was not telling the truth. And, I think, at this point, as he sits there as deputy chief of staff in charge of coordinating the Homeland Security Council the National Security Council, he's not serving the president, he's not serving the country. And I think that if he had an ounce of character, he'd do the right thing and resign.

Bush To Announce SCOTUS Nominee Tonight

Bush is set to announce his nominee to the Supreme Court tonight at 9pm Eastern. The better to get Karl Rove off the front page...

The most persistent rumor is that his nominee will be Judge Edith Brown Clement of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. She is one of the class of 2001; among the eight Bush nominated appellate court justices from 4 years ago that the Senate confirmed.

Will this choice be controversial? Will it spark a fight on the left? Signs right now are pointing to no. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of the Judiciary Committe, called on Bush to appoint a moderate and word is that he is happy with this appointment. Also, the only record of Judge Clement's having given to a political campaign was in 1987 when she gave to George Herbert Walker Bush's campaign, generally considered to be a moderate Republican, possibly signaling that she's no partisan.

Slate would seem to agree with this assessment. Judge Edith Brown Clement was the only woman featured in their July 1 profile of 8 likely SCOTUS nominees. Here's an excerpt:
Age: 57
Graduated from: Tulane Law School.
She's now: a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
(appointed 2001).


Her confirmation battle: Clement doesn't provide much ammunition for opposition groups, but perhaps not much for conservatives to get excited about either. She hasn't written anything notable off the bench (or at least nothing that's come to light yet), and most of her judicial decisions have been in relatively routine and uncontroversial cases.
People For The American Way is less sanguine about the choice. They profile disturbing decisions of various of Bush's circuit court appointments, including Judge Clement, saying they (she included) have "confirmed our worst fears" about Bush's judges.

In fact, Senator Harry Reid's (D-NV) own analysis of decisions by the eight justices confirmed to appellate courts in 2001 points to a disturbing decision on the part of Judge Clement:
Judge Edith Brown Clement dissented from a 2-1 ruling in favor of African American plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit brought against life insurance companies that had maintained dual rate and dual plan policies by race, placing African Americans “in policies offering the same benefits as do policies sold to whites, but at a higher premium.”

The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion to proceed with a class action – which, in all likelihood, would have ended the lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit reversed, with Judge Clement dissenting. Bratcher v. National Standard Life Insurance Co., 365 F.3d 408 (5th Cir. 2004)

All in all there isn't much we know about how Judge Clement would lean on the more controversial topics of the day such as abortion and right to privacy issues. What do we know? Right wing RedState.org tries to appease its readers' fears:

I have been told by multiple parties that, though we know little about Judge Clement's leanings on social issues, we should make no mistake that her family background is conservative and that her husband is a "loyal" conservative. Also, I've gotten a few emails and phone calls from a few particular people who would know who all say that we should trust the President on this pick. I also know that lawyers in my home state of Louisiana like Clement and do think she is conservative.
...and addresses the probably political realities of this choice:

We don't know much else about Edith Clement. What we do know means the President has attempted to address Democratic concerns about replacing O'Connor with someone like O'Connor. We also know that Clement's background is more conservative than O'Connor's. We also know that there is a political calculus on having a photogenic female judge without any harsh statements on file, the record of an enigma, and the family pedigree of a rock solid conservative pass through the Senate without the expenditure of an extraordinary amount of political capital.
It would seem very un-Bush-like to nominate a moderate, considering all the flack he'd get from the right. But perhaps his concern now is to appease the moderates, most importantly those in the Senate who have to actually confirm his choice. Perhaps Bush is tired of defeats that have undermined his power and his popularity. Perhaps he wants this to go through nice and easy like. Well, that would all make sense if Bush were a pod person...that is to say if his body were taken over by a moderate alien life form. A more likely scenario is that Clement is indeed a conservative activist, the perfect kind -- a Trojan Horse conservative.

But yet another scenario has entered into the rumor mill fray: that Judge Clement is merely a decoy. A new rumor has it that the President plans a bait and switch: float the rumor that it's Clement then announce that his pick is actually Judge Edith H. Jones, also of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. If she's the pick, prepare for a serious fight. Here's a little sample of Judge Jones for ya to whet your appetite:
...if courts were to delve into the facts underlying Roe [v. Wade]'s balancing scheme with present-day knowledge, they might conclude that the woman's 'choice' is far more risky and less beneficial, and the child's sentience far more advanced, than the Roe Court knew." Judge Jones also stated that "[o]ne may fervently hope that the Court will someday acknowledge" the findings of post-Roe research on women's mental and physical health following abortion "and re-evaluate Roe and Casey accordingly." In conclusion, Judge Jones noted "[t]hat the Court's constitutional decisionmaking leaves our nation in a position of willful blindness to evolving knowledge should trouble any dispassionate observer not only about the abortion decisions, but about a number of other areas in which the Court unhesitatingly steps into the realm of social policy under the guise of constitutional adjudication.

Yikes.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Deconstructing the Rove Spin

Salon's War Room does a great job of identifying and demystifying some of the Republicans' misleading statements in their attempts to defend Karl Rove:

Two years ago, the White House told the American public that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved with the Plame leak and that he would fire anyone who was. Now we know that Rove was involved and that Bush hasn't fired him yet. That's the reality unless the Republicans can create a new one, which explains just a little about why they're trying so hard to do so.

It explains why you're hearing claims that Rove
didn't really leak anything because he didn't use Plame's name, despite the fact that Rove's lawyer acknowledges that that's a difference without a distinction.

It explains why you're hearing claims that Plame was just some kind of glorified secretary at the CIA at the same time that the Republicans are arguing that she had the authority to send Wilson off to Niger to investigate claims about uranium and Iraq.

It explains why you're hearing that Plame
wasn't really undercover -- she drove her car to Langley! -- when the CIA, as an agency official once acknowledged, would never have referred the case to the Justice Department if she weren't.

It explains why you're hearing claims that this whole thing is a
"tempest in a teapot" and a "partisan attack" despite the fact that a federal prosecutor appointed by George W. Bush and a slew of federal judges apparently consider the leak of Plame's identity important enough to warrant the jailing of a reporter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

AP Slams Bush On Rove

Check out the first paragraph of an AP story titled Bush Passes on Public Endorsement of Rove

President Bush passed up a chance Wednesday to express confidence in senior aide Karl Rove in a political fight over a news leak that exposed a CIA
officer's identity. The lack of endorsement surprised some White House officials who had been told Bush would back his embattled friend.
It's things like this that give fuel to the "liberal media" fire but hell, if the media's gonna do the time, it would be nice once in a while if they actually did the crime.

What If This Happened Under Clinton?

It's funny to watch Republicans resort to Clintonian parsing of words in their fervent defense of Karl Rove.

The President said he would only fire someone if they committed a CRIME, they will tell you, and a crime is only committed if someone KNOWINGLY NAMED an UNDERCOVER operative and not only did Rove not know Plame was undercover if she even was -- they'll claim that she was not -- but Rove never NAMED Plame, merely identified her as Wilson's wife.

Umm, OK. So it's cool then.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) exemplified this pathetic apologist rhetoric on yesterday's Scarborough Country:

KING: It's only wrong if he knew that she was undercover and that the CIA was making every attempt to keep her undercover. He didn't give her name. He didn't know she was undercover.
SCARBOROUGH: But he said it's Joe Wilson's wife. I mean, that's the same thing, isn't it?
KING: Joe Wilson listed his wife's name in his own bio. It was on—it was in his Web site. He listed his wife's name. So, it was no secret that she was his wife. And to me...
SCARBOROUGH: Well, yes, but Joe Wilson didn't say, she's an undercover CIA agent, Peter.
KING: And neither did Karl Rove say she was undercover CIA agent. He said she worked for the CIA. She was working at the CIA headquarters. It was no secret she was working there, and he brought this out. And, to me, if you have someone who is over there, and we are—and we're in time of war and he is actually falsifying what he heard in Niger.


What's been impressive, quite frankly, is the extent to which members of the press are actually acknowledging how differently Republicans would be acting if the shoe were on the other foot -- if this was Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff instead.

Tim Russert on The Today Show said
One Republican said to me last night. If this was a Democratic White House, we'd have Congressional hearings in a second.
Even conservatives are granting the point. Joe Scarborough, conservative host of Scarborough Country, said
A White House official should not reveal the identity of a CIA agent. And if that White House official had done it, or let's say they had done it in the Clinton administration, you and I would be calling for the resignation of that official, would we not?
And conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan shares this e-mail from a reader that nails it:

Two points, briefly:1. People need to stop hiding behind Clintonian semantics here and understand that even if no actual technical violation of the law is found in the Rove/Plame case it will still be true, based on what we know now from the Time emails, that White House actions compromised a CIA asset during a time of war. What would Hannity, Limbaugh, Scarborough and all the cable loudmouths be saying if it had been Sidney Blumenthal?

2. Scott McClellan once told the American people that Karl Rove was not involved in any way, and that the President would remove anyone found to be involved. During the Lewinsky scandal many people insisted that it was not the sex that bothered them, but it was the lying, spinning, parsing, and direct misleading of the American people that offended them, and that came to define the Clinton White House. What would the cable loudmouths be saying if instead of McClellan it had been McCurry?

Scotty On The Ropes

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, "Puffy McMoonface" to all you Stephanie Miller fans and just plain old "Scotty" for our purposes here, has been put through the ringer the last few days regarding this Karl Rove/Valerie Plame scandal. We on the left are, of course, loving it, especially seeing the Press Corps actually doing their job, challenging the usual obfuscations perpetrated by Scotty on behalf of his bosses.

The transcript from Monday's press briefing is below but be sure to watch the video for full effect.

NBC's DAVID GREGORY: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MCCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to a ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than: We're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.
GREGORY: Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003, when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliot Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this"?
GREGORY: Do you stand by that statement?
MCCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that, as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation, we're not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time as well.
GREGORY: Scott, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail, and tell people watching this that somehow you've decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?
MCCLELLAN: I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said. And I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation...
GREGORY: (inaudible) when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
MCCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish.
GREGORY: No, you're not finishing. You're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn't he?
MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
GREGORY: Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.
ABC's TERRY MORAN: You're in a bad spot here, Scott...
(LAUGHTER)
... because after the investigation began -- after the criminal investigation was under way -- you said, October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this," from that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation.
MCCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that. We know each other very well. And it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation. And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this. Because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States. I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I'm just not going to do that.
MORAN: So you're now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore and since then you haven't.
MCCLELLAN: Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and I'm just not going to respond to them.

MORAN: When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you pin down a date?
MCCLELLAN: Back in that time period.
MORAN: Well, then the president commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.

MORAN: Well, we are going to keep asking them.

Rove/Plame: a Primer

In February of 2002, the CIA sent Joe Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. Despite the fact that Wilson concluded that such a claim was unequivocally false, the following 16 words made their way into Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Ahh, the old “the British learned it” trick. So, since the British did actually receive such intelligence, faulty as it may have been, according to administration apologists, it was technically not a lie. Hey, anything to spread the fear of a nuclear attack in the run up to an unnecessary war, right?

Disgusted with the fact that this information made it into the State of the Union, Joe Wilson wrote a blistering OpEd in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 that led to a firestorm over the accuracy of the State of the Union and was the beginning of the discrediting of much of the administration’s claims about the sort of threat Iraq actually posed. On July 14, a mere 8 days later, conservative columnist Robert Novak reported that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.

Cut to two years later. Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the trail of the leaker of Valerie Plame’s identity to the press in order to determine whether a crime was committed -- in other words did an administration official knowingly out an undercover federal agent? This trail has apparently led him to two journalists, neither of whom revealed Plame’s identity mind you, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time Magazine. Fitzgerald subpoenaed both of them but they refused to cooperate, having promised anonymity to their sources. In fact, on July 6, 2005 Judith Miller went to jail rather than reveal her source. Matt Cooper, however, was granted a waiver by his source that allowed him to cooperate and testify before a grand jury. As it turns out, the generous benefactor of this waiver was none other than Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and re-election architect extraordinaire himself, Karl Rove.

Karl Rove does not deny having spoken to Cooper about this issue. Time released an e-mail Cooper wrote to his editors identifying Rove as his source for the information, which Rove does not dispute. But even Cooper admits that Rove did not name Valerie Plame, but merely indicated that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative. Hardly an important distinction. The fact is that Rove leaked the information and the fact is also that the President has promised to fire anyone in his administration that is responsible for the leak. Will he keep his word?

Sounds like deja vu all over again:
Karl Rove was fired from the 1992 re-election campaign of Bush Sr. for allegedly leaking a negative story about Bush loyalist/fundraiser Robert Mosbacher to Novak. Novak's piece described a meeting organized by then-Senator Phil Gramm at which Mosbacher was relieved of his duties as state campaign manager because "the president's re-election effort in Texas has been a bust." Rove was fired after Mosbacher fingered him as Novak's source.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Post-London Poll

The first poll after the terrorist attacks in London last week, the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll reports mixed messages for Bush. As you'll recall from the LA Times's Sunday propaganda piece, Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, was quoted as saying:
All our data show that Bush's greatest strength is on terrorism, as opposed to other parts of his job. These attacks will remind people … of what Bush's strength is. The most probable effect is that support for the president and his policies will go up in the short term.
Indeed, Bush's approval rating did go up slightly from early June:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?

July 7-10 (June 6-9)

Approve: 49 (47)
Disapprove: 48 (49)

But the news is not all good, especially as it pertains to Iraq. Thanks to Bush's constant rhetoric, which may now be biting him in the ass, people clearly connect the attacks in London to the failure of the war in Iraq to make the world safer.
All in all, do you think it was worth going into Iraq or not?

July 7-10 (June 29-30)

Worth it: 44 (46)
Not worth it: 53 (52)

And...
Do you think the war in Iraq has made the US safer or less safe from terrorism?

July 7-10 (June 29-30)

More safe: 40 (44)
Less safe: 54 (39)
No change: 5 (13)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Of Tin Foil and Terrorism

Immediately after the London bombings on Thursday, the tinfoil hat brigade was in full force, announcing their latest theory: that the July 7 attacks on London were planned by Bush and Blair to hoist their flagging approval ratings. Mm hmm.

Now I'm not predisposed to conspiracy theories anyway, but this one seemed to me to be particularly problematic. First of all, the theory presumes that a terrorist attack is by definition a plus politically for those in power at the time. Yes, we've seen Bush deftly use 9/11 to his political advantage for almost 4 years now but it was most definitely a loser for the Spanish now ex-president after their subway system was attacked on his watch. In addition, neither Bush nor Blair needs to get elected ever again. They've crossed that hurdle. Now, granted, higher support among their respective electorates can only be positive for the leaders, both for Blair's longevity in power and for Bush's ability to ram through legislation and/or judges back in the US. But this attack on London took the "leader of the war on terror" spotlight away from Bush and placed it squarely on Blair. And the world knows, Bush included, that Tony is so much better at this stuff than Bush is. No, W would never go for it, he's the leader of the War on Terror, god dammit, and would never want anyone to forget it.

Now even if I grant the conspiracy theorists all of the above points, I am still troubled by one big problem that an attack in either the US or Britain would seem to cause for Bush: it proves the lie that Bush has been peddling about the Iraq War, perhaps his fifth or sixth justification for going into Iraq, that we're fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them on our own streets. Hmm, turns out we ARE fighting them on our streets after all, Georgie. As Keith Olbermann so eloquently said on his 7/7 edition of Countdown:

Nine days ago, speaking of terrorists and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush told this nation, quoting, “There is only one course of action against them, to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.” Last October, he had said that the goals of the conflicts around the gulf—we're quoting again—“so we do not to have face them in the streets of our own cities.” Londoners, still steadying shattered nerves and inventorying family and friends, may be questioning the logic of those statements right now.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, Olberman seems to be the only mainstream media figure making this connection. The other end of the media spectrum is represented by The LA Times, whose front page yesterday had a "news analysis" piece that would seem to valildate the conspiracy theory rationale. The headline?

After Flagging Support, a Second Wind for Bush
But the article doesn't quote one new poll or any evidence that there is indeed renewed support for Bush or the War on Terror after the London bombings, merely speculation:

"The bombings will give both Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair a boost," said Christopher Gelpi, a political scientist at Duke University who studies public opinion in times of war. "I think the attacks may help slow the ebbing of [public] support over Iraq, because the bombings make [Bush's] point about linking Iraq and terrorism."
And...

"All our data show that Bush's greatest strength is on terrorism, as opposed to other parts of his job," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. "These attacks will remind people … of what Bush's strength is. The most probable effect is that support for the president and his policies will go up in the short term."
Yes, in this media climate, speculation = news and the mere reporting of this speculation is enough to declare in a headline on the front page of a leading newspaper that indeed:

After Flagging Support, a Second Wind for Bush
If anything positive can be said to come out of the horrible events in London last week, it's that there may be an renewed focus on al Qaeda, the organization that actually attacked us on our soil. In addition, it will likely refocus our legislators on securing our ports and our transit systems. As Tim Russert reported on Meet The Press yesterday, the 2006 budget calls for $600 million to be spent on such security; remarkably, this is what is currently spent on Iraq every 3 days.