Monday, November 13, 2006

Now What!

Nowadays there is no one capable of being dumbfounded.

---Soen Nakagawa

The fire-fly
gives light
to its pursuer.


Wealth is the number of things one can do without.

---Feodor Dostoyevsky

Most of the post-election smoke cleared by this weekend here in the States---there still are some contests in contention or recount---and the weekend brought a wagonload of analysis, talking heads, menus of work to be done, and a lot of advice on all sides. With a month and a half before the Democrats move into Congress to take charge, Republicans are scurrying to cram through what they can of Bush's agenda. It won't be easy for them though...not as it's been these half dozen years. I found 3 articles this morning that might be of help and interest in the understanding of where this nation goes now. They follow this credit for Mr. Fish's devastating editorial cartoon.

Carl Hulse has a fine projection in this morning's New York Times on what we might expect from Congress through December~~~
The New York Times
November 13, 2006
For Post-Election Congress, Extensive To-Do List Is Awaiting Action

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 — The Democrats won the midterm elections, but time has not run out on the Republican majority in Congress.

Despite devastating losses at the polls, Republicans will control the post-election session that opens Monday as lawmakers return to try to finish 10 overdue spending bills and other legislation that stalled because of pre-election gamesmanship.

Republican leaders have compiled an ambitious to-do list, hoping to dispose of energy legislation, a trade deal or two, a civilian nuclear treaty with India and other favored bills before turning over the keys to the House and Senate chambers to the Democrats in January.

Democrats have some measures they want completed as well, most notably the spending bills, to save them the added work next year.

President Bush, hoping to get the most out of the remaining days of a Republican majority, is pressing two contentious matters: legislation authorizing domestic wiretapping by the National Security Agency and the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. And the Senate has scheduled confirmation hearings for Robert M. Gates to be the new secretary of defense to begin the week of Dec 4.

Members of both parties in Congress have all but written off the wiretapping legislation and the Bolton nomination, given the strong Democratic opposition and the impending power shift. It is also uncertain how hard Congressional Republicans will be willing to press Mr. Bush’s more divisive issues. Some have expressed anger at his decision to remove Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld the day after the election, contending that earlier action might have cut Republican losses.

“The only things that can get done in the lame duck are things that have the consent of both sides,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “You can bluster around all you want, but it is not going to happen. Anything controversial just by definition won’t get done.”

The White House still intends to seek approval of Mr. Bolton and the eavesdropping program, said Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, but it is not doing so to be “provocative” in the wake of the election.

“Those are goals: an effective U.N. ambassador, also an effective way of going after terrorists,” Mr. Snow said. “Those are both constructive and important goals, and we’ll see how the lame duck works through it.”

Besides tackling a legislative workload that may take Congress well into December, the parties will elect new leadership for the 110th Congress. House Democrats and Republicans will decide contested races for top positions.

Though they will not be sworn in until January, members elected last week will be on hand for the leadership battles and for freshman orientation, creating the potentially awkward situation of bumping into the lawmakers they defeated. It looms as a difficult period for the 6 Republican senators and more than 20 House members who will be casting their final votes in the last gasps of the 109th Congress.

“We lost some good friends on our side, and we are going to miss those folks,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is expected to be elected the new Republican leader this week. “It will be sad.”

Mr. McConnell said he thought that Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the incoming majority leader, laid out a reasonable agenda last week in a letter to Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader who is winding up his Senate career.

Mr. Reid urged Republicans to focus on the unfinished spending bills; a nuclear agreement with India; an offshore oil drilling bill; legislation to prepare for a potential flu pandemic and a biological attack; and a package of popular tax breaks.

“I think it is a good list, and if we can accomplish those things that would be a very productive lame duck,” Mr. McConnell said, “and I like his attitude about it.”

But the legislative agenda could shift quickly when lawmakers arrive with their own ideas of what should be on the table.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, elected as an independent, said Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC that he wanted Congress to take up the lobbying and ethics changes that died before the election. Some Democrats want to push changes in Iraq policy, and Republicans also expect Democrats to try to make early moves on domestic elements of their agenda.

In the first test of the bipartisan spirit that followed the elections, the House on Monday is set to approve a trade deal with Vietnam that Mr. Bush would like to have in his pocket as he travels to Hanoi this week for a regional trade meeting. But senators in both parties have raised objections to the deal that the administration is trying to resolve, and the fate of the trade pact is uncertain.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

What many await are hearings into the activities of this most secretive of all American administrations. Nat Parry put together a laundry list for us at

Bush's Belated Accountability Moment
By Nat Parry
November 12, 2006

After securing a second term in November 2004, George W. Bush was asked by the Washington Post why no one in his administration had been held accountable for the problems facing U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush replied dismissively, “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.”

The President echoed that sentiment two weeks before this year's Nov. 7 balloting, rejecting the notion that the midterm elections could serve as a check on his administration. Accountability, Bush said, is “what the 2004 campaign was about.”

But it appears Bush may have spoken too soon. With the Democratic sweep of Congress, the White House finds itself confronting the likelihood of a more systematic and more rigorous form of accountability from congressional Democrats newly armed with subpoena powers.

Rep. John Conyers, who has been holding investigative hearings into administration wrongdoing from the Capitol basement because the Republican congressional leadership denied him a committee room, now stands poised to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Though handicapped in his earlier investigations, the Michigan Democrat unearthed and documented a staggering array of White House deceptions that led the United States into war, as well as evidence of other abuses such as torture, warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, and erosion of civil liberties.

Constitution in Crisis

Conyers's 350-page report, “Constitution in Crisis,” deals with the so-called Downing Street Minutes, which revealed that the Bush administration was “fixing” the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify a pre-ordained policy of war against Iraq.

The “single overriding characteristic running through all of the allegations of misconduct … has been the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to allow its actions to be subject to any form of meaningful outside review,” the report said.

“Not only were 122 Members of Congress unable to obtain any response to their questions posed regarding the Downing Street Minutes,” the report goes on, “but neither the House nor the Senate has ever engaged in any serious review of the facts surrounding the NSA domestic spying programs.”

That dynamic could change with the new make-up of Congress. Not only will Conyers be chairing the Judiciary Committee, but Henry Waxman, D-California, will be taking over the House Committee on Government Reform.

Complementing Conyers’s investigations into pre-war manipulations of intelligence have been Waxman’s investigations into administration favoritism toward Halliburton, which was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Texas-based company has profited handsomely by securing no-bid contracts for everything from rebuilding in Iraq, to supplying U.S. troops with food, to repairing government facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, to building detention facilities in the U.S. [For more information on the latter, see’s “Bush’s Mysterious ‘New Programs.’”]

According to an analysis by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, these no-bid contracts have contributed to the value of Cheney’s Halliburton stock options rising by more than 3,000 percent. In 2005, Cheney’s stock options increased in value from $241,498 to over $8 million.

“It is unseemly,” noted Lautenberg, “for the Vice President to continue to benefit from this company at the same time his administration funnels billions of dollars to it.”

Another issue that could be explored by Waxman’s committee is the content of the Energy Task Force meetings during the early days of the Bush administration. Though ordered by a federal judge to release the task force records completely, the administration heavily redacted the 13,500 pages of documents.

Before turning the records over to the Natural Resources Defense Council as ordered by the judge, the administration removed extensive portions of information. “Some pages were empty,” said the NRDC. “Whole strings of correspondence were stripped to just a few words.”

Nevertheless, the records revealed that energy industry lobbyists played a pivotal role in developing the administration’s national energy strategy, and actually wrote much of it themselves.

“The administration sought the advice of polluting corporations early and often and then incorporated their recommendations into its policy, sometimes verbatim,” according to the NRDC.

Oil Fields

Though most attention on the Energy Task Force has focused on the perceived impropriety of oil companies dictating national energy policy, another concern is that the energy companies may have influenced the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.

In 2004, reporter Jane Mayer disclosed a National Security Council document dated Feb. 3, 2001. It instructed NSC officials to cooperate with Cheney’s Energy Task Force, explaining that the task force was “melding” two previously unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”

Mayer’s discovery suggests that the Bush administration in its first days recognized the linkage between ousting the likes of Saddam Hussein and securing oil reserves for future U.S. consumption. In other words, the Cheney task force appears to have had a military component to “capture” oil fields in “rogue states.” [For details on Mayer’s document, see The New Yorker, Feb. 16, 2004.]

The NSC document reinforced allegations made by Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, who described a similar early linkage between invading Iraq and controlling its vast oil reserves.
In Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty, O’Neill described the first NSC meeting at the White House only a few days into Bush’s presidency. An invasion of Iraq was already on the agenda, O’Neill said. There was even a map for a post-war occupation, marking out how Iraq’s oil fields would be carved up.

O’Neill said even at that early date, the goal of invading Iraq was clear. The message from Bush was “find a way to do this,” according to O’Neill, who was forced out of the administration in December 2002.

Combined with the Downing Street Minutes, O’Neill’s account provides substantial evidence that the Bush administration had decided early on to invade Iraq, and simply decided on weapons of mass destruction as the most convenient pretext for war.

Words of Caution

Another investigation-worthy topic about the run-up to war is how the Bush administration dismissed and rejected words of caution from knowledgeable sources inside and outside the U.S. government.

Although many Bush defenders now claim that no one could have foreseen what a disaster the war would turn out to be, there were those who urged caution before the invasion, including members of Bush’s own administration.

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under George H.W. Bush and chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, said a strike on Iraq “could unleash an Armageddon in the Middle East.”

Also, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as a Middle East envoy for George W. Bush, warned in October 2002 that by invading Iraq, “we are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region that we will rue the day we ever started.”

America’s closest ally in the invasion, the United Kingdom, also had strong reservations. Although publicly British officials supported Bush’s calls to forcibly “disarm” Iraq, behind the scenes, they worried that the war was poorly conceived, possibly illegal and potentially disastrous.

Internal government documents disclosed in 2005 by British journalist Michael Smith indicate that British officials foresaw a host of problems, including weak intelligence on Iraq, lack of public support for war and poor planning for the aftermath of military action.

The investigations by John Conyers and Henry Waxman – both armed with subpoena powers – could connect the dots linking Cheney's Energy Task Force, oil companies, Halliburton, pre-war deceptions and poor post-invasion planning.

The results of that investigation might shock the American people, adding to public pressure for impeachment.

Off the Table?

Though incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared impeachment of Bush and Cheney “off the table,” it's unclear what would happen if the White House chooses to stonewall congressional oversight or if investigations turn up damaging evidence of grave abuses of power.
Already, there are those such as former Nixon administration counsel John W. Dean who argue that Bush-Cheney’s crimes are worse than Richard Nixon’s and are grounds for impeachment.

There is also a fledgling grassroots movement for impeachment that could gather force in the coming months, emboldened by the Democratic victory. In Philadelphia, activists, lawyers and a former member of Congress held a forum this weekend to launch a new movement for impeaching Bush and Cheney.

Pelosi’s own constituents in San Francisco voted decisively on Election Day to endorse Bush and Cheney’s removal from office. Proposition J, which called for impeachment, passed with the 59 percent of the vote.

In his presidential news conference the day after the election, Bush was asked if he was “prepared to deal with the level of oversight and investigation that is possibly going to come from one chamber or two in Congress?”

Bush replied that the Democrats “are going to have to make up their mind about how they’re going to conduct their affairs.”

If it is left up to the likes of Conyers and Waxman, who seem to have already made up their minds, Bush might finally learn what an “accountability moment” really means.
Reference links are in the text at the original article.

Finally, we have a rejoinder to all these goings on from a neocon. Joshua Muravchik is an author and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Educated at City College of New York and Georgetown, he's one of those interesting characters who abandoned the socialist left in the early '70s, and went way right. In this article, entitled "Operation Comeback" he sketches the strategy the neoconservative movement should attempt at this point---including the bombing of Iran before Bush's term is finished. This man's thinking on how to save the neocons is not to be ignored!

1 comment:

jazzolog said...

Before the Senate became a realization, I was quite content merely to spend the next 2 years observing House investigations. I prefer research before presentation of a bunch of bills. The last 6 years have been a dizzying spin job by a bunch of merry pranksters in the pay of pirates and buccaneers. The Treasury has been emptied and I want details on who and how...indictments, convictions, if possible---and some fines. It's impossible all this pilfering of the public trust has been legal. But if it turns out---and I think careful investigation should take time---these guys legislated and then took the money...all legal just like the Mob...then we need legislation to undo it. We will need appeals and repeals. Yes, the desperate plight of Iraq and the environment are issues that cannot wait...but I hesitate to call for a lot of legislation until we assess all the crime.

So for a while I shall be content to see them all hauled before House committees on this and that and everything. I want it clear this country is scolding these people and moving them to jail cells if possible. For a scolding there is no better place to go than to Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair. The new issue arrived yesterday, and there's Brad Pitt, soaking wet in his underwear, on the cover...but if it sells magazines so people will read this column, I'm for it. Besides, let's see the neocons put one of their guys on the cover wearing something like that!

Editor's Letter
The President's Delicate Condition
by Graydon Carter
December 2006

Given the complete cock-up the president has made of his job during the past six years, I wouldn't be surprised if Bush in Rehab were the title of the next volume in Bob Woodward's topsy-turvy history of this administration. As I've said before, if the president's hitting the bottle these days, who could blame the poor fellow? He's got a catastrophic war on his hands; his budget deficits are in the stratosphere; his poll numbers are lost in the carpet somewhere; his fellow Republicans have been avoiding him in the run-up to the midterm elections as if he had just farted; he's got a sex scandal involving male pages staining the front pages and a crazy man in North Korea with a nuke who's sticking his tongue out at him. Under normal circumstances, the president could fall back on his base: Christian fundamentalists. Except that a new book by a former deputy director of the administration's religious-outreach office claims that the Bush administration fawned over dignitaries from the Christian right to their faces, then snickered behind their backs, mocking them and all but taping KICK ME signs to their jackets.

Whether the president is wetting his lips or not, he might need the all-purpose alcohol excuse just to get out of the public doghouse he finds himself in. It might work for Mel Gibson. It might even work for Mark Foley. Bush in late 2008: I was drunk when I invaded Iraq—there, I've said it. Then it's off to Silver Hill for two months of drying out, followed by a book contract with Simon & Schuster, a teary confession on 60 Minutes, and the $250,000-a-pop speaking circuit. Experts differ on the subject of the president's drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous veterans of my acquaintance say that Bush is a "dry drunk"—someone who quit one day and is just holding on for dear life. My esteemed colleague Christopher Hitchens claims that the president was no more a heavy boozer than any other wealthy layabout his age—but that he used drinking as a hurdle to overcome in order to be saved by the Lord, and thereby get in good with Christian evangelicals.

The Mark Foley scandal has given Americans a delightful insight into the actual values of the party of family values. As The New York Times put it in an editorial, "When there is a choice between the right thing to do and the easiest route to perpetuation of power, top Republicans always pick wrong." The Foley affair has been particularly vexing for House Speaker Dennis Hastert—a politician in the Tammany Hall ward-heeler mode that only 19th-century political cartoonist Thomas Nast could have dreamed up. When the page scandal broke, Hastert's immediate reaction was to take the lead of Sergeant Schultz in Hogan's Heroes, the popular 60s sitcom: I know nothing! The president, for his part, simply followed the tack he had taken when he told FEMA chief Michael Brown, after Hurricane Katrina had leveled New Orleans, that "Brownie" was doing a "heck of a job." As the swirling Foley scandal began to center on exactly when Hastert had first been informed about the congressman's indiscretions, Bush told reporters, "Denny is very credible, as far as I'm concerned. And he's done a fine job as Speaker." A fine job, I suppose, as long as you don't happen to be a teenage male page being sexually stalked via e-mail by a Republican congressman from Florida—the pivotal state in the 2000 election.

Foley himself was quickly hustled offstage to rehab for the duration of the election, but not before playing another card in his effort to get back into the public's good graces: he said that he had been abused as a teenage altar boy, and went on to identify the priest who did it. Party mandarins were uncharacteristically sympathetic about Foley's lurid tale. Can you imagine what would have happened if he hadn't been a Republican? (In a momentary bout of wishful thinking, Fox News's O'Reilly Factor even briefly labeled Foley a Democrat.) One shudders to even contemplate his fate at the hands of the Bible-thumping Republican attack squads were it so. That Foley was chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus is an absurdist jolt of irony that even a writer of fiction wouldn't go near. The other irony that is difficult to overlook is that the party that, in the 2004 presidential election, so manipulated the issue of traditional morality got mired itself in a truly tawdry Capitol Hill sex scandal just weeks before another election. And tawdry it is. In one instant-message exchange with a teenage male page, Foley said that he had masturbated while waiting to cast a vote in the House. When it's time for C-SPAN to issue parental advisories, you know that Washington has become overly louche.

In many respects, it's like 1968–72 all over again, when American opinion about the Vietnam War took a permanent downturn following the Tet offensive. You've got the good Dr. Henry Kissinger back roaming the White House's corridors of power, spouting the same catastrophic bilge he did during Vietnam. You've also got a possible what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it? cover-up (the Watergate break-in then; the Foley-Hastert scandal now). And, as it was during Nixon's final innings, you've got a president who may well be as mad as a hatter—isolated, deluded, and paranoid. In his latest book, State of Denial, Bob Woodward reported the president saying that, even if it comes down to just Laura and the family dog Barney believing in him, he's still going to hang in there on Iraq. Funny, but that doesn't seem to me like a fitting statement by the head of a representative democracy. I suggest that after the 2008 election—after the president has sold his hobby ranch in Crawford—he, Laura, and Barney should head to Anbar Province and "stay the course" there. Bush is not alone in his delusions. Coming very close to Einstein's definition of madness (doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result), the vice president told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that not only was Iraq the right thing to do, but "if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing."

There is one marked difference between Iraq and Vietnam: the number of major books on the subject during the period of the war. In the decade that American troops slogged it out in the jungles of Southeast Asia, just two books on the conflict made it onto the New York Times best-seller list: David Halberstam's epic The Best and the Brightest and Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake. And those hit the list just months before the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, in January 1973, which ended the U.S. involvement in the war. Other masterpieces, such as Michael Herr's Dispatches, didn't come out until four years later. In the past three years, the Times best-seller list has been littered with numerous books about the Iraq war. In addition to State of Denial (and Woodward's two previous books, Bush at War and Plan of Attack), there is Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, and Fiasco: The Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks. There is also Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn's Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Also on bookshelves: Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, by James Fallows, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, by Peter W. Galbraith, The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, by George Packer, and The Fall of Baghdad, by Jon Lee Anderson. (And that's not even counting books such as Ron Suskind's two best-sellers The Price of Loyalty and The One Percent Doctrine, which drilled down into the administration's incompetence in general.) If sales and titles are any indication, it is going to be a long and brutal conflict.

As Election Day loomed, Bush was taking a page from that classic episode of the British TV sitcom Fawlty Towers when the Germans came to stay at the hotel, and Basil ran around telling Sybil and Polly, "Don't mention the war!" Not Bush, nor Cheney, nor Rumsfeld has yet to attend the funeral of a single U.S. soldier killed in action. And they've had upwards of 2,800 chances in the past three and a half years. "Ultimately, when this chapter of history will be written, however, it's going to be a comma," the president famously declared this fall about the Iraq debacle. A comma. Unless you happen to be one of the fallen—in which case, it's most certainly a period. Leaders of the U.S. and British military have declared the administration's strategy a disaster. And who could argue: Iraq was the result of insufficient diplomacy, insufficient due diligence, insufficient planning, and insufficient ground troops. It was a war done on the cheap that has cost us dearly and will for decades to come. The president still commands official respect in his international travels, but it is the respect you accord the 17-year-old with a Kalashnikov rifle. British prime minister Tony Blair has been ridiculed at home for his slavish devotion to Bush, and has been all but hounded from office, announcing this fall that he will step down sometime next year. Aside from Saddam, he is the only leader the U.S. has managed to topple since the war on terror began.

The other side isn't faring much better. It could safely be said that Iraqis are dying at a faster clip since the American-led invasion and occupation than they did during the last decade of Saddam Hussein's rule. A team from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a study building on a 2004 survey by the British medical journal The Lancet that sought to determine the Iraqi death toll since the war began. In a door-to-door survey covering 1,849 households, the Johns Hopkins study estimated that as of July 2006, 650,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war—an overwhelming majority of them from gunfire. That's 20 times the number the Bush administration has been claiming. NBC News reported that coffin-makers in Baghdad have been working around the clock to meet demand. That's Bush-era diplomacy and economics in a nutshell.

Graydon Carter is the editor of Vanity Fair. His books include What We've Lost (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Oscar Night: 75 Years of Hollywood Parties (Knopf).