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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 6 April 2006
Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Hypocrites, Thugs and the Ineffectual

Thursdays is photography day for the weekly Just Above Sunset, and the daily Just Above Sunset Photography, and Thursday, April 6th was the same - off to document Hollywood stuff, Paramount Studios down on Melrose, and more of old Hollywood, the dead celebrities at Hollywood Forever Memorial Park. There really is such a place, honest - it's a massive cemetery behind Paramount's back lot. Those photos will be along soon. Douglas Fairbanks and Junior's thing is quite impressive, as is Cecil B. DeMille's site, but then he founded Paramount so that makes sense. I missed Mel Blanc, Don Adams and Peter Lorre. There was too much to cover. And there were botanicals to shot on the grounds. Then there was the process of editing the eighty shots - discarding the silly and out of focus, and modifying what was cool for web posting. This took many hours. And while "engaged in the visual" it seemed all hell broke loose on the national front. The political world kind of exploded.

What happened? Well, there was this (Pete Yost, Associated Press) -
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney authorized Cheney's top aide to launch a counterattack of leaks against administration critics on Iraq by feeding intelligence information to reporters, according to court papers citing the aide's testimony in the CIA leak case.

In a court filing, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald stopped short of accusing Cheney of authorizing his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, to leak the CIA identity of Valerie Plame.

But the prosecutor, detailing the evidence he has gathered, raised the possibility that the vice president was trying to use Plame's CIA employment to discredit her husband, administration critic Joseph Wilson. Cheney, according to an indictment against Libby, knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as early as June 12, 2003, more than a month before that fact turned up in a column by Robert Novak.

Fitzgerald quoted Libby as saying he was authorized to tell New York Times reporter Judith Miller that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium. Fitzgerald said Libby told him it "was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the president's authorization that it be disclosed."

The process was so secretive that other Cabinet-level officials did not know about it, according to the court papers, which point to Bush and Cheney as setting in motion a leak campaign to the press that ended in Plame's blown cover.
What? When all this started the president played dumb, and said he hated when people leaked classified stuff, to make themselves seem more important, or for political reasons, or for even more nefarious reasons (treasonously helping our enemies for financial gain or because the personal leaking information just wants us to fail). He said anyone who was leaking classified stuff would be fired. He wanted to get to the bottom of this leak of a CIA operative's name.

And now? It seems this Libby fellow testified under oath that the president himself authorized Libby to show Judith Miller of the New York Times some highly classified stuff so she would dutifully write it up in the newspaper. Saddam was after uranium in Africa, and those aluminum tubes really were just the thing for the centrifuges that create fissile material for bombs.

The kicker was the document in Libby's hot little hands, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), said they really weren't sure about the Africa thing, and both the State Department and the folks in the Energy Department said those aluminum tubes just couldn't be for nuclear enrichment work. Libby seems to have been under instructions to not leak that part to Miller, the useful and willing tool who loved scoops, and, as seems obvious now, wanted this war and was working on using the Times, without the knowledge of its editors, to make sure it happened.

The problem is Libby make have chatted a bit too much and mentioned that the wife of the skeptic, who was publicly saying the Africa tale was silly, worked for the CIA and may have set up her husband's investigative trip to Africa to get him out of the house or give him something to do, so he must be full of shit.

Most curious. The White House was in major defensive mode, which means attack the critics (the best defense is a massive attack, and all that). And the whole "get Wilson" thing, no matter what the cost to the CIA and one of its agents, was being orchestrated by Bush and Cheney. That does seem to be the implication.

And as Yost at the AP drying outs it - "Libby's testimony puts the president and the vice president in the awkward position of authorizing leaks. Both men have long said they abhor such practices, so much so that the administration has put in motion criminal investigations at their behest to hunt down leakers."

Yep, they have the Justice Department going after whoever let the cat out of the bag about the NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program. They want to prosecute whoever leaked word of the secret prison system we run, where people just disappear, never to be seen again, so they just pretty much never existed. They hate leaks.

Yost compiles the reaction from the loyal opposition (although the conservative right doubts their loyalty, and patriotism, and sometimes their sanity).

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid - "President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois, on the Senate floor - "The president and the vice president must be held accountable, accountable for misleading the American people, accountable for the disclosure of classified material for political purposes. It is as serious as it gets in this democracy."

Yeah, yeah. The beleaguered spokesman for the president, Scott McClellan said the White House "would have no comment on the investigation." You don't comment on ongoing investigations, of course. Phew. And of course, the attorney general, slick Alberto Gonzales, said the president has the "inherent authority to decide who should have classified information."

Other details? We're told, according to Fitzgerald's court filing, Cheney, in a conversation with Libby, expressed concerns on whether a CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger by Wilson "was legitimate or whether it was in effect a junket set up by Mr. Wilson's wife."

So you see why Libby might have mentioned that to Miller. And Yost notes that the Fitzgerald item has this - when Wilson's thing was published in the press, ironically in Miller's own New York Times in July of 2003, that piece was viewed in the office of vice president as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president, and the president, on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

They were upset. They had their own plant at the Times to create a furor for war, and now this guy in the same paper was messing everything up, so he had to be taken down, using, it would seem, anything that worked. Libby asked Cheney if he really could dump more carefully selected classified information on Miller, and Cheney said he could - the president approved.

You do what you must. It seems Libby was still freaked. He testified he ran the whole thing by David Addington, the counsel to the vice president, "whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document."

Libby doesn't want to go to jail. "They told it was okay." That's the defense.

And it probably was okay, legally. The president can decide to make some things public. His call. It just looks bad, given what had been said before. (And the editors at the Times must have been wondering whose newspaper it really was, as they were getting jerked around, as they later discovered, and fired Miller.)

John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent at SLATE.COM, the electronic opinion magazine owned by the Washington Post, and he has a good rundown with the fitting title - We've Found the Leaker in the White House! It's the President.

The key there? This -
The press corps - and bloggers - will likely compile a yards-long list of occasions when the president has denounced leaking, but it's worth asking the philosophical question: Can the president even be a leaker? For a leak to be real, it has to be unsanctioned. Once a piece of secret information gets unwrapped (by the president no less), it's not a leak, it's part of a communications strategy. It's national policy. So, maybe he's not a leaker.

But he is certainly a hypocrite. It's one thing to declassify information; it's another thing to present information to a reporter as though it were classified to preserve the shadow authenticity that comes with a leak. Bush wanted to have the information out there but not have to account for it or explain it.

All presidents engage in this hypocrisy, but Bush has made it Texas-sized by putting on such a show about leaks during his time in office. He's done everything short of forming a Department of Anti-Leaking.
And now this.

Oh well, those who trust him will find some way out of this conundrum. Those who don't will be unhappy, but not surprised - the president and vice president cooked up, or at least approved the details of a political smear campaign to "get" someone who made them look bad, using carefully managed classified information and their plant in the premier newspaper in the country. So what else is new?

The fallout?

CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, here -
I think is it very damaging for the president to be seen here to have come out after his political enemies by authorizing - no crime - by authorizing the leak of classified information from the National Intelligence Estimate.

Again, we don't know what classified information that was, it's only described in the special prosecutor's report as certain information, key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, relevant portions that were aimed at discrediting the published views of Ambassador Wilson, who criticized the administration's intelligence-gathering efforts.

He was out to get his political enemy, to discredit Joe Wilson. And he did it by authorizing intelligence information to be leaked. I think most Americans would say that's a very dangerous and very foolish thing to do.
You think? And after CNN runs a clip of a congressman and the attorney general having at it earlier in the day, where the attorney general has to admit the president could play games with classified information to "get" people he thinks have made him look bad, but this president, even though he hypothetically could do that, just never would, Schneider says this -
I think where this does him damage is, on the one issue, the one characteristic that has always been his strong suit, Americans have for the most part considered Bush to be honest and trustworthy. That is really the thing that got him elected, at least by the Electoral College, in the year 2000.

In January 2001, when he first took office, 64 percent of Americans thought he was honest and trustworthy. President Clinton's ratings were down in the 20s. That contrast was very important for President Bush. But now, questions - or serious questions are being raised, is he really honest and trustworthy? Does he level with the American people?

You just heard the congressman say he was leaking political - sensitive intelligence information apparently for political reasons, political reasons, not national security reasons. And that, I think, is going to be very difficult to explain.
You think?

Digby at Hullabaloo with this - "This is not an honest administration and the idea of trusting that they are limiting their illegal national security activity only to "terrorists" is ludicrous, whether it's the NSA spying, Guantánamo, war profiteering or anything else."

But there are defenders of all this. Go here for a video clip from Fox News. Brit Hume is reporting on all this, notices the stock headline in the onscreen graphic, "Bush Authorized Leaks," and demands it be taken down. It is. The whole newsroom - staff, cameramen, technical folks - stand up and cheer. Fascinating.

Hume's point was that the president cannot "leak" classified information. He's the man in charge. When he says this should be given to someone, the "this" is automatically then not classified at all. So what's the big deal?

The logic? It's this (Andrew Sullivan) - "The president's self-defense at this point must be that if he, the president, decides to leak classified information, like the NIE assessment, then, by definition, it isn't a classified leak. POTUS gets to decide what is and isn't classified. And so he cannot commit the wrong or crime he decries in others. He can break no secrets because the secrets are his to break. He is above the law because, in terms of executive privilege, he is the law."

It's a mess. Claiming the authority to ignore laws with those signing statements, and the NSA spying argument that as commander-in-chief his battle field decision cannot be questioned, and he gets to define the battlefield and when we're at war and when not, has created some problems. When we reelected him did we sign up for this? Should we have known we were choosing a new theory of government for the nation. Probably.

But now there are second thoughts as the ramifications of the vote become clear. No one is impressed, and the poll number will drop like a rock now. One thinks of the title of that odd novel, Less Than Zero.

So what should the administration do now? Ask for more tax cuts? Invade Iran?

Well, the president spent the same day talking up the war on terrorism, or terror, or evil, or whatever it is. He gave the boilerplate speech one more time, this time in North Carolina. We're doing fine. We'll win. People may think the whole thing is making things worse and costing us too much for too little, but he says he knows he's right about all this, and he'd have never gotten us into anything as costly and deadly as what he has got us into if he didn't feel it was right, no matter what people think. He's resolved. Be impressed.

But then, as you see in this video clip, someone wasn't buying.

Did this actually happen? A man stood up and had some thoughts to share -
Q: You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you'd like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf. You are -

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not your favorite guy. Go ahead. (Laughter and applause.) Go on, what's your question?

Q: Okay, I don't have a question. What I wanted to say to you is that I - in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate, and -

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: No, wait a sec - let him speak.

Q: And I would hope - I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration, and I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself inside yourself. ...
And you see in the clip (or in the White House transcript here) the president saying he's not ashamed of anything he's ever done, and on all these topics he's just right, and always has been, no matter what the law says or any expert or the world or the economy and whatnot. He's resolved. Be impressed.

This is going nowhere. How can you discuss things with the man? What's the line from the movie? "I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. And there's nothing you can do about it."

There's something in the air like that, as documented here. Tom Delay announced he's quitting the House and won't run for office again. His supporters, in an email, plan a parting shot. The email is from Delay's now grumpy campaign manager. He wants to have some fun, now that he's got to find something else to do with himself. He gathers a group of Delay fans and they crash a campaign appearance by the man who is running for Delay's seat, the Democrat who would have perhaps defeated Delay, had Delay not dropped out. They cannot do anything for DeLay now, but they can do some symbolic street theater. They blast the air horn so the guy cannot speak. They rough-up a sixty-nine year old woman pretty good. They push around a guy with a toddler in his arms. The link has a bit of video, and links to the still photos.

That's how the game is played these days. The old woman may press assault charges, but she wasn't seriously hurt, and there is the freedom of speech and assembly defense. The expression of political opinion is protected. And expression can take many forms.

The left says the current Republicans are a bunch of thugs. Maybe. Or maybe they're just enthusiastic, with great "resolve." And manly. Check out the evidence. Who's to say? When, in 2000, a bunch of Bush supporters busted into a Florida precinct and trashed the place, stopped the recount of the votes, the conservative columnist David Brooks, now with the New York Times, said it was a harmless "bourgeois riot," and kind of funny. This may be, in his eyes, and in the eyes of Fox News and the rest, the same sort of thing. Maybe.

Consider it a bookend to the North Carolina speech.

What else happened on the same day? The Senate pulled off a miraculous bipartisan compromise on changing the immigration laws. They tossed out the thing the Senate Judiciary Committee came up with and came up with this -
Under the Senate agreement, illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years or more, about 7 million people, would eventually be granted citizenship if they remained employed, underwent background checks, paid fines and back taxes and learned English.

Illegal immigrants who have lived here for two to five years, about three million people, would have to travel to a United States border crossing and apply for a temporary work visa. They would be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship over time, but they would have to wait several years longer for it.

Illegal immigrants who have been here less than two years, about 1 million people, would be required to leave the country altogether. They could apply for spots in the temporary worker program, but they would not be guaranteed positions.
The obvious political problem is this would have to be reconciled with House bill, the one that made being here illegally, no matter how long you'd been here, an "aggravated felony" that would get you immediately deported, and made offering any kind of aid at any time to someone who was here illegally, or you should have know was here illegally, a felony also, and called for building a giant wall across the US-Mexican border. No reconciliation seems possible.

Then there's the simple problem of reality with the Senate compromise. There are more than eleven million people here illegally. Hey, there's no record of when they came! They didn't check in! How can you tell which to jam in the long line of freight cars, shackled and stacked like cordwood, headed for the border, from the middle group you're going to fine and eventually accept, from the third group who you say may be okay after all? What records do you use? Does everyone get a hearing, a chance to dig up secondary evidence to prove they fall into one of the latter two categories - old telephone bills, store receipts and just what? We'll need five and a half million bureaucrats to do the Kafka thing and hear all the cases. Those who can gin up false documents, nicely aged, will get rich.

It doesn't matter. The whole thing fell apart the same evening. Those in the Senate who liked the House bill, as it would play well with their angry constituents, tried adding amendments that would make this a plan where bad people would pay for breaking the rules, and the supporters of the president, who himself likes the idea of guest workers who may become citizens, were having none of it, and the Democrats, doing the liberal "let's not be racists" thing, held things up. It's dead.

It was a good day to miss the news and take pictures.

Posted by Alan at 23:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006 23:11 PDT home

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