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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gonzales hasn't contradicted the story.

Just of some interest, there has been no denial yet from anybody that Al Gonzales, Paul McNulty, and Robert Mueller threatened to resign over the FBI's search of Rep. Jefferson's office. "Spokesmen for the White House, Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment, saying they would not discuss internal deliberations."

Also, it does appear that Hastert, Pelosi, and Frist have all backed down after meeting with Gonzales.

What's going on in Basra?

If you're not watching Iraq closely, this may not be interesting to you. The recent upsurge in violence in Basra appears to be a small ripple reflecting much bigger issues involving the United Iraqi Alliance, the group which put Prime Minister Maliki in power.

Effectively, a small Shia party based in Basra, Fadhila, is threatening a go-slow on Iraq's oil exports until they get concessions from the Maliki's government. The violence in Basra appears to be an outgrowth of this conflict.

"With beleaguered British troops trying to hold the ring in Basra, London has pressed Maliki to intervene, pointing out that the credibility of the Alliance-led government is at stake."

So, just something to watch, I guess.

Tom's dirty little secret - He no longer approves of Bush

If you're into presidential polling data, Gallup has a demographic breakdown of Bush's poll slide since January of this year. Generally speking, the erosion this year has come primarily from white, christian, youngish, suburbanites who self identify as moderate Republicans.

(Note, this poll uses self identification so there's no way to know if those "moderate Republicans" used to self identify as "conservative Republicans.")

And, just as a bit of empirical evidence from down here in Houston, many of the people I know who were strong Bush supporters in 2004(not fervent, but strong) are beginning to turn on Bush. Among this group of successful, family, christian suburbanites, Bush is fading mainly on the issues of the deficit, oil prices, and Iraq. It's really kinda funny the way I've become aware of this.

At this point, it's not that they're openly badmouthing Bush, usually, they're catching me alone or pulling me aside at social functions, dinner parties, tennis groups, etc, and starting to talk about it. They know that I am firmly anti-Bush and it's almost like they're seeking some sort of validation for their change of opinion. They speak in low tones looking to see if anyone is coming over. It's like they feel they have come to some secret heretical belief and are afraid that other people in their group might find out that they no longer believe in Bush.

Yet, at the same time, they feel the need to talk about it. It's like they're afraid that they're outside the mainstream and wrong somehow, and just want me to tell them they're OK. I really just can't adequately describe it. It's just a very weird dynamic that's appeared in about a dozen conversations over the last month.

(And, I wouldn't project this as some sort of plus for the Dems come election time as only one of these conversations even mentioned the Dems.)

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Crater from an airstrike in Najaf

Still fighting the last war

I just found this interesting when coupled with US/Iran on again/off again talks about Iraq and the recent shift in US tactical strategy. There's no evidence that this sort of conversation has taken place regarding Iraq, but this just offers an awareness that such things do happen.
Henry A. Kissinger quietly acknowledged to China in 1972 that Washington could accept a communist takeover of South Vietnam if that evolved after a withdrawal of U.S. troops -- even as the war to drive back the communists dragged on with mounting deaths....

Kissinger's comments appear to lend credence to the "decent interval" theory posed by some historians who say the United States was prepared to see communists take over Saigon as long as, to save face, that happened long enough after a U.S. troop departure.

Again, I'm not trying to allege a parallel, it's just interesting.

Tony Snow steps in it, again

Tony Snow, in an effort to explain the "not amnesty" portion of the Bush immigration plan, used the analogy of a traffic ticket.

"If you had a traffic ticket and you paid it, you're not forever a speeder, are you?" White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said in response to questions from The Examiner.

"So the fact is, you have paid your debt to society," he added. "And we have come up with a way to make sure that the debt to society gets paid. Then you move forward."

I have a feeling that that's not going to help the administration's case among "the base".

Also, just to get an idea of how ugly this is getting, in his section on immigration, Drudge also links to a local story about an illegal immigrant accused of raping a ten year old girl. His headline "Illegal accused of impregnating 10-year-old in TX..." It is, in fact, a horrible story, but the subtext of his linking this local story from a tiny Texas town is quite ugly as well.

US backing Somali warlords - confirmed

We finally have some confirmation from US officials of the US backing Somali warlords in the latest violence there. (For background, look here.)
The United States says it is being "wrongly blamed", although it has refused to confirm or deny its support for the ARPCT.

But US officials and Somali officials and warlords have told AFP that Washington has given money to the ARPCT, which is one of several groups it is working with to curb what it says is a growing threat from radical Islamists in Somalia.

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Letters from home.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Al Gonzales threatened his resignation?

Is Al Gonzales' loyalty to the law greater than his loyalty to Bush? (Tonight/tomorrow's NYTimes.)
WASHINGTON, May 26 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior officials and career prosecutors at the Justice Department told associates this week that they were prepared to quit if the White House directed them to relinquish evidence seized in a bitterly disputed search of a House member's office, government officials said Friday. (McNulty threatened, too. - mike)

Let's think about this. Would Alberto Gonzales threaten to resign if Bush, or someone else speaking for him, had not asked the Justice Dept. about returning the Jefferson papers? I mean do you think Al Gonzales would just preemptively offer a resignation before anyone asked him? Bush is well known for taking threats like that in stride, eh?

So, I would gather from this that the administration was seriously considering returning the Jefferson evidence. More evidence perhaps of a weakened presidency trying to make nice with the Hill.

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Iran's influence in Iraq

If you want evidence that Iran is influencing Iraqi politics, I would offer this as proof. After the horrific war between them that killed millions and the historical animosity between the two countries, the new Iraqi government has endorsed Iran's nuclear research.

More on "inkblots" vs. "superbases" in Iraq

This first got put into my head in the William Lind column at SFTT.org where he discussed the shift from "inkspot" to "superbase" strategy for dealing with the Iraqi insurgency. I find I keep thinking about this. The US is undergoing a major strategic shift in Iraq right now.

Very briefly, the inkblot strategy for defeating an insurgency is the dispersal of forces in small units out into the towns and communities to build very local areas of control. The soldiers stay in these areas for long periods and build up relationships with the locals thus undermining the insurgency. The descriptor "inkblot" is a visual metaphor for how those "safe" areas are intended to grow and spread taking more territory, more resources, and more population from the insurgents. The theory is that as these "inkblots" spread they will join up eventually defeating an insurgency from a huge number of local points.

The alternative, and the apparent current strategy, is to pull forces out of local areas to "superbases." The main draw of superbases is that with fewer points of deployment, those fewer points, and their access roads, etc., can be better defended leading to fewer casualties. The issue with "superbases" is that while they allow fewer casualties, they also put more distance between US forces and the local populations. Raids and force maneuvers can still be conducted, but there is little effort to hold ground. In theory, the US could act as the leading edge, clearing an area for Iraqi forces to then hold it, but that's not happening.

I write all of this because there is a major shift going on right now in US tactical strategy in Iraq. Again, this was discussed in the Lind piece, and this post was prompted by a post by a guestblogger at Americablog dicussing the same thing.

The reason all of this is significant is because at at tactical level, the inkblot strategy is the only way the Iraqi insurgency might be defeated, and yet the current motion is away from it, towards superbases. In theory, this could be a proper response if the Iraqi army is ready to hold territory, but all reasonable estimates, even those out of the administration, say that will not be the case for at least another year. (probably much longer. - mike)

So, realistically, somebody up the decision chain has made an evaluation that involves one or a combination of these three possibilities.

1) that defeating the Iraqi insurgency is not worth a cost they are willing to pay. In other words politics won't allow the casualties to implement the strategy most likely to quell the insurgency.

2) that the US can't successfully implement the inkblot strategy with the current number of troops.

3) that, for whatever reason, the military leaders no longer believe the insurgency can be beaten, merely beaten back.

I don't know which of these is right, although I would honestly bet that all three have figured into the shift in strategy. The bottom line is that the US is shifting on a tactical level away from defeating the insurgency and more towards responding to it. (watch for the word "containment.")

(I'm working outside my expertise here, so any comments or corrections would be appreciated.)

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Kristin Kenny of Edison New Jersey clutches the grave stone of her boyfriend Dennis Flanagan at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia May 25, 2006. Flanagan was killed in Iraq on January 21, 2006 by an improvised explosive device. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006


WASHINGTON, May 25 — A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday.

The report is expected to say the killings took 3 to 5 hours and were "methodical in nature."

This is just horrible for everyone. These are things that happen in war, and this is why war should never be entered into lightly.

Look, Georgie made a Boom-Boom.

I'm sorry, but I'm supposed to be impressed with President Bush because he just now, finally, figured out that there might have been some minor mistakes of language in Iraq?

I mean, seriously, who else in the whole world, quite literally, in the entire global population, did not know that mistakes have been made in Iraq. And Bush gets praised for acknowledging it.

Just how low is the bar for this guy?

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Plame Gossip - Novak lied to protect Rove?

Ho-ly Crap. (Check the updates at the bottom for my current working theory on why this information came out and why now.)
On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men. ....

A second reason that federal investigators were suspicious, sources said, is that they believed that after the September 29 call, Novak shifted his account of his July 9, 2003, conversation with Rove to show that administration officials had a passive role in leaking Plame's identity.

So, a couple of questions. Did Novak reconsider this "assurance" to Rove and cooperate with Fitzgerald? That's been the general consensus, and it would spell real trouble for Rove if this story's characterization is true, Novak as the co-conspirator in Obstruction, flipping and giving up Rove. (Another possibility from Emptywheel is that this might be new Rove supplied info, possibly coming out of a new spirit of full cooperation(Read plea deal.))

Also, why now? After all the reporters working the Rove investigation for six months, why does this story break now, possibly right on the eve of a Rove indictment? Is this Novak's camp trying to frame him as wanting to help Rove but being forced to give him up? An effort to keep Novak's Republican street cred? An effort to get pro-Novak spin out in front of an indictment?

Because if this story is right, it sounds like the name Novak will be appearing prominently in the supporting evidence of any indictment of Karl Rove.

Or, if this came from the Rove camp, then, what? What would Rove gain by making this public right now? Taking Novak down with him(because he talked with Fitzgerald?) I have a problem with this coming out of possible Rove plea deal, because if he is cooperating, he'd probably be told to keep his mouth shut in public. So, certainly it could've come from Rove's talkative camp, but what would they gain?

(I still can't get my head around this one and what it means in the bigger picture. Lots of questions. I think where this came from is very important.) (In case you hadn't noticed, I'm starting to get the Rove itch again.)

UPDATE: Hardball:

SHUSTER: Meanwhile, in the investigation of Karl Rove, sources close to the presidential advisor are now confirming a story first reported in the national journal that Rove, who was a source for columnist Bob Novak, later had a separate conversation with Novak after the investigation began.

Former federal prosecutors are convinced Fitzgerald has explored whether Rove and Novak coordinated their testimony.

(Novak was unavailable for comment.)

So just off the top of my head, since team Rove was ready to confirm and respond and Novak wasn't, let me speculate that Rove's camp leaked the story so they could get out in front of Fitzgerald's portrayal and say "Karl Rove has never urged anyone, directly or indirectly, to withhold information from the special Counsel or to testify falsely."

(As I really just can't seem to figure out the strategy/political significance of this story, I'm guessing that there's some element in motion that we're not seeing. Somebody wanted it out there RIGHT NOW. If we figure out why, we may learn something big about what's going on under the water.)

UPDATE 2: Let me try this as a working theory. Camp Rove released this because it makes Novak look bad and undermines his credibility in the public arena. If Novak is going to play a key role in the indictment, what is a more classic Rovian strategy than going after the credibility of the critic rather than rebutting the criticism. I mean, after all, that's the whole basis of the Plame outing, and it is a repeated pattern from Rove for, what, 20 years.

So, let's try that on and see if that fits.


With so much going on in the legal/political/scandal world, I wanted to make sure these three stories didn't go without mention.

Afghanistan is facing some serious issues of hunger in the coming months, and if the US/coalition doesn't resolve it, the Taleban probably will, with seriously bad implications.

The battles in Somalia are continuing with the US backed warlords losing ground to the Islamic militiamen in and around Mogadishu. If you'll remember, in a recent tape, Bin Laden called upon his followers to take up arms in Somalia. At the time I thought it odd, Somalia(?), but with more evidence coming in of US backing of the warlords it makes alot more sense.

In Iraq, Gunmen shot and seriously wounded a senior Defense Ministry official in Baghdad on Thursday, police said, in what appeared to be part of a campaign against the top echelons of Iraq's U.S.-backed administration.

Look, no matter what you think of the merits of the GWOT(Global War on Terror,) we seem to be approaching a very critical point.

Iraq and Afghanistan are getting further out of control, where apparently the US/coalition has lost control of key regions (Ramadi/Anbar and SE Afghanistan,) Islamists seem to be winning the battles in Northeast Africa and able to operate freely (Sudan and Somalia,) the major Islamic states seem to be drifting out of the US's orbit and influence (Iran, Saudi and Egypt,) and the few elections held in the region seem to be showing far more support for Islamic extremists (Egypt, Palestine, and Iran.)

We're right on the bubble on this thing, and the tide may be turning against the US. My point is, it's bigger than Iraq.

Ken Lay was "white as a ghost."

Our local coverage here in Houston has been far better and far more organized than the nationals' efforts.

I don't really have too much to add to the news, pretty much everybody in town thought they were guilty. But I do know four people who worked at Enron when it went down, and I don't think any of them will be sated by this. It's better than if they got off, but it doesn't erase the disruption to their lives or replace the money in the 401K.

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I think this is Dick Cheney trying to smile.

ABCNews stands by Hastert allegation

Wow. Yesterday ABCNews, on their "The Blotter" blog, made the allegation that Republican Speaker of the House was now under investigation in the Abramoff scandal. The DOJ and FBI almost immediately stated this was not the case, but as of 10 PM last night ABCNews stuck to their guns although they did soften their language a bit.
Despite a flat denial from the Department of Justice, federal law enforcement sources tonight said ABC News accurately reported that Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is "in the mix" in the FBI investigation of corruption in Congress.

Speaker Hastert said tonight the story was "absolutely untrue" and has demanded ABC News retract its story.

Law enforcement sources told ABC News that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has provided information to the FBI about Hastert and a number of other members of Congress that have broadened the scope of the investigation. Sources would not divulge details of the Abramoff’s information.

"You guys wrote the story very carefully but they are not reading it very carefully," a senior official said.

Don't know, don't know, but they certainly didn't retract it even when faced with "flat denials." That tells me they have something very solid that they believe.

UPDATE: I didn't read the whole damn thing before I posted.

ABC’s law enforcement sources said the Justice Department denial was meant only to deny that Hastert was a formal “target” or “subject” of the investigation.....

Officials said the next logical investigative step would be for the FBI to seek a wide range of documents from the members of Congress named by Abramoff, including letters and business documents.

Kinda puts Hastert's outrage yesterday over the search of Rep Jefferson's House office in some context. Perhaps the passion behind Hastert's defense was a bit more personal than the constitutional issues he claimed.....

If you listen very closely, you can hear the shredders from here.

(Oh, and this is sweet. A Hastert aide claims the ABC story is "payback" for Hastert's defense of Jefferson. So, a Gonzales led Justice Department issues a "brushback" to the Republican Speaker of the House? Now that's good spin.)

Plame Gossip - Right to the edge on Cheney

Again, this is from court filings so I don't have the full context at this point, but check out this revelation, "Libby Told Grand Jury Cheney Spoke of Plame." This isn't a huge surprise after the Wilson Op/Ed with Cheney's handwritten notes, but it is still more confirmation of what we all suspected, that Vice President Dick Cheney was chest deep in the effort to rebut Wilson and was discussing Plame with Scooter Libby.
"The state of mind of the Vice President as communicated to defendant(Libby) is directly relevant to the issue of whether defendant knowingly made false statements to federal agents and the grand jury regarding when and how he learned about Ms. Wilson's employment and what he said to reporters regarding this issue," he said.

Also from an updated AP story,
In his grand jury testimony, Libby said Cheney was so upset about Wilson's allegations that they discussed them daily after the article appeared. "He was very keen to get the truth out," Libby testified, quoting Cheney as saying, "Let's get everything out."

So, Cheney was talking about Wilson's "allegations" daily in the wake of the Wilson editorial but before Plame was outed. We have circumstantial evidence that Libby, and maybe Cheney, were directly warned by a high ranking CIA agent about outing Plame, possibly by more than one person, before Plame was outed.

Fitzgerald has repeatedly stated in filings that he believes Plame's status was classified, and because Libby knew this, was motivated to commit perjury. Now, if Cheney and Libby were having "daily conversations" about Wilson, and Cheney had hand written notes mentioning Wilson's wife.......

The timing is key. We don't yet have the exact timing.

But, to me, it is beginning to look alot more like Fitzgerald is indeed looking at the underlying crime, the outing of Valerie Plame, and, from the paltry bits that have been released by Fitzgerald, it does appear that this outing came very close to these conversations between Cheney and Libby.

In this scenario, this phase of the investigation, Rove/Libby perjury/obstruction, is merely clearing the evidentiary field before Fitzgerald proceeds to investigate and prosecute the underlying crime of outing a covert agent. That's my current working theory of the investigation.

We'll have to wait and see on all this, of course, but with every revelation in this area, Cheney's strained heart is beating just a little faster.

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Plame Gossip - What's going on with Rove?

There's a whole lot of Fitzgerald/Rove chatter, but nothing ostensibly new. Talkleft had a post up early today noting that Rove seems to be going on with business as usual, but, I guess, what else would we expect him to do? Travel to extradition free Belize to "negotiate a trade deal?"

David Schuster seems to have ruffled some feathers in asking other prosecutors about the procedures in a case like this. He puts together a collection of quotes and looks at the work circumstances of the Fitzgerald team to support the "not if, but when" framing of the indictment.

Firedoglake takes a longer view of the Schuster piece, but the bottom line is that there was nothing new today. Nothing.

The only real news of interest is that Fitzgerald, in a filing, stated that Cheney could be called to testify in the Libby trial in January 2007. That could lead to some very interesting questions from both sides, not to mention putting more pressure on Libby to deal.

One question though, if Fitzgerald is angling after Cheney, he wouldn't really want him to testify in the Libby case. So, is this signalling Cheney is not an eventual target, or is this a bit of a bluff? (Notice the careful language, "Cheney would be a logical government witness.")

This was in a court filing and I don't have the context so it might be an intentionally open response to the question, "Will the VP be a witness?" It's possible that Fitzgerald has no intention of calling Cheney because of the "ongoing investigation," but didn't really want to release that bombshell at this point.

So, no Rove news, but a fair amount of Plame chatter. Keep your eyes peeled on Friday, though as that's the next logical day. If it's not Friday, we'll revisit the possibility of a plea deal.

UPDATE: The NYTimes has a bit more context. Fitzgerald, "To the best of government's counsel's recollection, the government has not commented on whether it intends to call the vice president as a witness."

So, the blaring AP headline was overstated. If he doesn't call Cheney, though, we can assume that's because he's, at least, a focus of the investigation.

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If the Dems can't win with this.....

It may bruise some of their own, but the oil companies and Republicans have just handed the Democrats a huge club to swing for the 2006 midterms.
Eighty four percent of the $8.6 million oil and gas companies have contributed to the 2006 elections has gone to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

I should be seeing television ads on this tomorrow, and everyday for the next five and a half months. (Here's the charts/graphs from CRP which I assume this story is based on. If you've never been to www.opensecrets.org, it's a great site.)

Update: Ron Nasty says in the comments, "Makes me feel better knowing all the extra I'm paying is being used for a good cause."

You heard it here first

Business Week is asking questions about the May 5, 2006 Executive Order that granted the President's authority to "John Negroponte "to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A)) " Such activities would normally suffer disclosure under Federal Securities Laws.

They don't go as far as I did, noting that this EO was signed after the government certainly knew of the coming USAToday article on the phone records database, but they're definitely going in that direction.

Also, I hadn't made the connection that this EO was signed, just coincidentally, the morning that Porter Goss decided to resign. That would also mean that news of the coming USAToday story on the phone records database was probably bouncing around the White House just as Goss decided he had to resign, immediately. Curious, eh?

It makes me wonder if that could have been the cause of the "turf battle" and resignation. Could it be that Goss, upon finding out about this program (perhaps more details than we know, or maybe another affiliated program,) felt he had to resign immediately? No proof, just a theory.

Time quote rerun

I thought I'd repost this quote from last night from a Time magazine "day in the life piece" in Ramadi. I think it's significant and I don't want it to get lost.
The bigger problem, though, is one that few in the military command want to hear: there aren't enough troops to do the job. .... But while Gronski says his fighting strength is "appropriate," other commanders bristle at the limitations. "I can't believe it each time the Secretary of Defense talks about reducing force," says a senior U.S. officer. War planners in Iraq say just getting a handle on Ramadi demands three times as many soldiers as are there now.

Several U.S. commanders say they won't ask superiors for more troops or plan large-scale operations because doing so would expose problems in the U.S.'s strategy that no one wants to acknowledge. "It's what I call the Big Lie," a high-ranking U.S. commander told TIME.

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Has anyone else noticed Don Rumsfeld going quiet after all the calls for his resignation?

Going to the Geopolitical Base

I guess the administration has just given up on the "hearts and minds" of the Islamic world. In the same day, the Bush administration refused to negotiate with Iran, it pledged to aid Israel if it was attacked.

Yeah, I'm sure that will help end the war on terror.

(Yglesias, filling in for Josh Marshall, has a brilliant post about the refusal to negotiate with Iran.)

A mercenary coup plot in the Congo?

I don't really know what to make of this at this point, but BBC is reporting that 30 foreigners have been arrested in the Congo for an alleged coup plot, at least one, possibly three, of them American.

I don't know if this is anything, but with the recent history of the Mark Thatcher coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, and recent US special forces action in NE Africa, Djibouti and Somalia, this article caught my eye.

(The Congo's main resources are mining interests, diamonds, and there have long been allegations of mining companies funding and backing the various factions in the decades long civil war.)

Immigration Vote last night shows alot

There was a vote in the Senate last night on the Grassley Amendment to the current immigration bill under consideration. The Grassley amendment, among other things, increases the penalties for employing illegal immigrants to $20,000.

The amendment passed 58-40 and the from the quotes in the AP article and the statements by Bill Frist and Mel Martinez, you would think that this represented some kind of breakthrough for the Republican side, but it's not. Take a look at the vote. Only 18 Republican Senators voted in favor; the measure passed because the Dems voted 41-2 in the affirmative, but you wouldn't know that from the coverage.

Even at this late date in the issue, it appears that Republicans, even in the "more moderate" Senate are not willing to go after illegal employers.

(This provision does have a backdoor in it. In order for enforcement to take place, employers would be required to submit all Social Security numbers to the DHS for checks (I'm assuming Immigration and Customs enforcement,) but funding for this program is to be provided seperately.)

Also, Milbank has a profile on Senator Jeff Sessions and his objections to the overall bill, a bit of a candid snapshot of the broader Republican anti-immigrant position. Also, Also, McCain hating Drudge links to this NYObserver piece where McCain, in a closed door fundraiser, blasts Limbaugh, Dobbs, and Savage for helping to “fuel the problem.”

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US soldiers fighting in the streets of Ramadi.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Credit to the New York Times

The NYTimes is running a series of massive articles surveying the major issues that underly the current security situation in Iraq. Tomorrow's article is an extensive look at the myriad overlapping armed groups, government, tribal, insurgent, and blends of all three, that are making efforts to restore security impossible.

Unlike the normal simplistic media representation of the forces in Iraq as four hierarchichal structures combating each other, government forces, Shia/militia, Sunni/insurgent/Al Qaeda, Kurdish Peshmerga, the picture the NYTimes paints is one of total chaos with no centralized structure and control.

Try to imagine a civil war in this context.

It's a big read, but it's one of the most complete pictures yet in the major media. (The previous two articles in the series both looked at the efforts to train and equip the police. Part 1, Part 2)

Also, Time magazine has a "day in the life" piece with a unit in Ramadi. There are some gripping sections, but it's in the summary section of page 4 where the problem really jumps out, (this is coming out of commanders in Ramadi)
The bigger problem, though, is one that few in the military command want to hear: there aren't enough troops to do the job. .... "I can't believe it each time the Secretary of Defense talks about reducing force," says a senior U.S. officer. War planners in Iraq say just getting a handle on Ramadi demands three times as many soldiers as are there now. Several U.S. commanders say they won't ask superiors for more troops or plan large-scale operations because doing so would expose problems in the U.S.'s strategy that no one wants to acknowledge. "It's what I call the Big Lie," a high-ranking U.S. commander told TIME.

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Pssst... Vladimir. What'd you get on number two?

If data is collected by the private sector, it's all legal.

From BusinessWeek, another way around government privacy laws.
The Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security spend millions annually to buy commercial databases that track Americans' finances, phone numbers, and biographical information, according to a report last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Often, the agencies and their contractors don't ensure the data's accuracy, the GAO found.

Buying commercially collected data allows the government to dodge certain privacy rules. The Privacy Act of 1974 restricts how federal agencies may use such information and requires disclosure of what the government is doing with it. But the law applies only when the government is doing the data collecting.

Now, I have to mention that both Molly and my Aunt sent me a piece by Greg Palast 10 days ago about ChoicePoint, the world's largest data aggregator, being used exactly like this.

Plame Gossip - CIA officials to testify against Libby

Libby is just cooked.

Both CIA officials - including a top architect of the 2003 Iraq invasion - discussed Plame with Libby a month before columnist Robert Novak blew her cover in July 2003, prosecutors charge.

Libby has said journalists told him about Plame - not Cheney or the six witnesses named so far by prosecutors.

His perjury defense is that he forgot these half dozen conversations about a matter that was clearly on his desk daily during this time. At least six witnesses, including two high ranking CIA officials told him about Plame's status a month before he claims he "relearned" it from reporters. (Not to mention the mounting documentary evidence.)

That's a whole lot of evidence against the "I forgot" perjury defense.

That Fitzgerald sure builds a fine case, eh?

Running from Bush

Curt Weldon got pretty wacky around the whole Able Danger thing, but how do you think this is going down at the White House.
President Bush goes to Pennsylvania tomorrow to campaign for embattled Republican House members in the Philadelphia suburbs. But one of the candidates isn't expected to be there.

Mr. Bush "is really doing poorly in our state," says Rep. Curt Weldon, explaining why he won't be on hand and hasn't asked for the president's help. "I've got to win this by myself."....

One local paper in suburban Delaware County quoted Mr. Weldon suggesting that he is running from Mr. Bush, saying, "What am I supposed to do?"

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Policy statement

Because of a recent troll infestation, I thought I'd formalize my policy on comments.

I do not like to delete any comments, but racism, sexism, threats of violence, and attacks on other commenters will consistently get your comments deleted. If I haven't zapped any of your comments, don't worry about this.

And please, feel free to disagree, I really enjoy reasonable argument. (Praise Leo here.) That will never get you zapped as long as you're not racist, sexist,.....

(I backarchived it because the page looked too full today.)

Iraq, corruption, and the stability of the new government.

Just a quick throw out here. One of new Iraqi Prime Minister's stated goals is to reduce corruption, but take just a second to think about what that means.

Iraqis just barely agreed to a partial government apportioning the various ministry seats among the factions. Is he going to look into corruption in the Shia controlled oil ministry as closely as he looks into corruption in other ministries controlled by other factions?

And just exactly what is he going to do about it, sack a Kurdish or Sunni minister? Which means that al Maliki's choices are to either accept the corruption or break apart the fragile new government structure.

And, the real kicker is where will the money from that largely unchecked corruption go? Certainly a portion goes to enriching the minister, his friends, family, and clan, but at the same time, I would guess that a fair portion of it would be directed, almost as protection money, to the various faction's paramilitary forces.

Do you think that an Sunni politician would dare say no to an extortative demand for funds from the Sunni armed groups? What about a Kurdish minister who refused to support the Peshmerga, or a Shia leader who refuses to support the militias?

My point is this. In this fragile government structure, the argument over ministries will have a real effect on the amounts of government monies that are channelled to the various armed groups. Certainly this isn't the biggest problem in Iraq right now, but it is a structural flaw that will continue unchecked to provide fuel for the fire of civil war.

Also: Two Iraq articles that caught my eye. Number One: Patrick Cockburn in the Independent(anti-Iraq war all the way, it must be said) points out the sad irony that as the violence in Iraq gets worse, Western leaders can more easily say things are going well because the increased violence limits reporting. (Later: it's gotten so bad that Voice of America has closed its bureau.)

And, Newsweek has what might be a very significant article talking about a shift in US military strategy in Iraq towards superbases and the implications this as there is a lower US presence around the country. (If this grabs your eye, I would highly recommend the William Lind piece from a couple of days ago discussing the strategy of these "superbases" vs. the more traditional "inkspot" strategy for ombating insurgencies.)
The U.S. military is already gearing up for this outcome, but not for “victory” any longer. It is consolidating to several “superbases” in hopes that its continued presence will prevent Iraq from succumbing to full-flown civil war and turning into a failed state. Pentagon strategists admit they have not figured out how to move to superbases, as a way of reducing the pressure—and casualties—inflicted on the U.S. Army, while at the same time remaining embedded with Iraqi police and military units. It is a circle no one has squared. But consolidation plans are moving ahead as a default position, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has talked frankly about containing the spillover from Iraq’s chaos in the region.

(And, no, I'm not going to write about the NYTimes's big piece on the Clinton's marriage today, although I did enjoy Atrios' response.)

Picture of the Day

Two Iraqi girls playing with toy pistols on the roof of their building.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Picture of the Day - 3

Playing politics with National Security

This is so wrong on so many levels. Somebody "leaked" to the British Telegraph that
American defence officials have secretly requested a "prodigious quantity" of ammunition from Russia to supply the Afghan army in case a Democrat president takes over in Washington and pulls out US troops.....

The Bush administration is said to want the deal because of worries that the next president could be a Democrat, possibly Hillary Clinton, who may abandon Afghanistan.

After five and a half years of this administration, I shouldn't be surprised by dirty politics anymore, but are you kidding me?

When the Iraqis push up on their elbows, the US will hunch down a little.

In the title I was aiming for a play on the tired "when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" line but I think I missed. Rawstory is reporting a coming announcement of an Iraq troop drawdown, from 133,000 to 100,000.

From the sound of it, the US will not actually be turning over any significant amount of populated territory to the Iraqi foces, just reducing US numbers.

And, I like the bit about how they're going to get al Maliki, the New Iraqi PM, to ask for the drawdown. Think he's been out of the American protected Green Zone yet?

UPDATE: Interesting, here's the London Times story that prompted Rawstory to check out the American end. It has a very different colouring than the Rawstory version beyond just focusing on British troops. Al Maliki's statement here is "that he expected as many as 16 of the 18 provinces to be "Iraqi-ised" - under the control of Iraqi forces - by the end of this year."

That's a long way from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace last week saying that the US could not pull completely out of any provinces this year. Read 'em both, judge for yourself.

Also, the NYTimes has a story on all this that seems to say Maliki should be praised for his strengths(whatever they are) but then goes on to imply that he's biting off far more than he can chew and that coalition forces hope to be fully out by 2009.

Picture of the Day - 2

Sy Hersh on the NSA

Sy Hersh has some reporting on the NSA. As with most of his reporting, it has some pretty strong charges based on vague or single sourcing, but definitely worth a read. (I'm a big Sy Hersh fan.)
A security consultant working with a major telecommunications carrier told me that his client set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between its main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center. This link provided direct access to the carrier’s network core—the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. “What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,” the consultant said. “They’re providing total access to all the data.”....

The N.S.A. also programmed computers to map the connections between telephone numbers in the United States and suspect numbers abroad, sometimes focussing on a geographic area, rather than on a specific person—for example, a region of Pakistan. Such calls often triggered a process, known as “chaining,” in which subsequent calls to and from the American number were monitored and linked.....

The next step, theoretically, could have been to get a suspect’s name and go to the fisa court for a warrant to listen in. One problem, however, was the volume and the ambiguity of the data that had already been generated. (“There’s too many calls and not enough judges in the world,” the former senior intelligence official said.) The agency would also have had to reveal how far it had gone, and how many Americans were involved. And there was a risk that the court could shut down the program.

Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other.

Update: Leslie pointed out that I should probably add a link to the Wired revelations this morning. Wired released all the documents and statements from Mark Klein, the key insider witness in the EFF's lawsuit against AT&T over the company's role in giving data and access to the NSA without warrants.

Plame Gossip - Valerie Plame was Covert - Fitzgerald

I wanted to make a point of emphasizing this because a number of people I've spoken with lately who are only casually following the Plame investigation have tried to make the point that it's not that big of a deal because Plame wasn't covert. I'm looking at you, Dad, Bob, Stan. Don't believe the spin coming from the administration side. Fitzgerald believes that Plame was under cover and that's what matters.

Throughout the Libby pretrial motions, Fitzgerald has repeatedly implied that Valerie Plame's role at the CIA was classified and thus, in the conspiracy to destroy Joe Wilson, she was outed(the underlying crime.) This WaPo story collects some of the references and states it more clearly than anywhere else I've seen.

This falls into my current overarching working theory on the Plame case, that all of this that we've seen so far is just a clearing of the evidentiary deck, as it were, before Fitzgerald goes after the underlying crime, the outing of Plame.

Before Fitzgerald could proceed on the outing of Plame, he has to/had to go through all the evidence available surrounding the Plame case and establish its truth or falsity. All of the charges thus far, Lying to Investigators, Perjury, and potentially in Rove's case, Obstruction of Justice, are merely outgrowths of this process of gaining a clear view of the evidence before proceeding towards the outing of Valerie Plame.

That's one of the reasons that I view the Leopold story the way that I do, because seeking a plea deal with Rove would be a very logical step in this interpretation. That doesn't mean that the Leopold story is true by any means, but it fits with my overall understanding of where we are in the case.

If I were forced to make a prediction, I would guess that the next investigative stage would surround the 250 "missing" emails. We don't actually know the details on these emails, all we have is the characterization by Fitzgerald that the emails were not "preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system," and that Plame was mentioned in some of them.

As we don't really have any further detail on the "missing" emails, there might be nothing there, but that does look a bit like somebody trying to destroy evidence.

So, after establishing in criminal detail the lies of Libby and Rove, I would guess that's the next evidentiary deck Fitzgerald must clear. And from there he could then gain the clearest possible view as to the circumstance of Plame's outing. My hunch would be that he is aiming for charges in this direction because this is an awful lot of investigative effort if Fitzgerald doesn't feel that the underlying crime probably will be charged.

A couple of notes. There's been circumstantial reporting that Fitzgerald is looking at potential conspiracy charges, whether that's regarding outing Plame or the coverup is not entirely clear.

Fitzgerald's final targets are also a little in question in my mind. It's clear that Cheney, for instance, had a very significant role coordinating the pushback against Wilson, although from the publicly available evidence, there's no proof as yet that he authorized the outing of Plame. (And we just have no idea on the emails.)

If the reports of a possible Rove deal, even an offered one, are true, it would certainly indicate to me that Fitzgerald is either after someone much more significant, like Cheney, or someone guilty of far more serious crimes.

Also, there's one more major complication in my theory. If the allegations of Armitage as the primary leaker of Plame's identity are true, that would make a Cheney led outing far less probable. Armitage was well outside the White House circle, and I would think that if he outed Plame, it is highly unlikely that he did so as a part of White House conspiracy. I can't at this point resolve this adequately unless he received the Grossman memo then accidentally let Plame's identity slip. (Armitage was Grossman's superior.) Sort of an accidental release from outside that then led to the discovery of a conspiracy. But, what's the conspiracy if Armitage was the outer?

And if Armitage was the outer, just what were Libby and Rove perjuring themselves to coverup? I don't see them risking jailtime to save an Armitage mistake. And then there's the report of Armitage being a key witness....

See, it just doesn't really work, unless either Armitage wasn't the first leaker or there's something far bigger out there that they are/were covering up. (Maybe an Nixonian "enemies' list" operation?)

I don't know, but if Armitage is the primary leaker, I think this investigation may be about something more than just Plame. But that's if Armitage was the primary leaker.

(Sorry for the lengthy post, but I thought it had been awhile since I had done one of these overarching looks at the Fitzgerald investigation. All of this represents my opinion of where we are, and could certainly be sorely misguided, but as there's been so much back and forth around Plame lately, I thought it might be useful to repost my interpretation so that you kind of know where I'm coming from in my analysis.)

All the sordid details on Rep Jefferson.

TPM Muckraker has a pretty good collection of alot of the sordid detail of the Rep William Jefferson bribery thing. Oh, he did it.

Surprisingly, though, in all the coverage, I haven't seen a repitition of the charge around Hurricane Katrina. Does anybody else remember the reports that on day three or four, after New Orleans had been flooded when those terrible images were coming out, that Rep Jefferson took a National Guard escort to his home so he could collect some papers?

I don't know if those reports turned out to be correct or not, but they stand out in my memory as the point in which I assumed him guilty. (And, it may not have been day three or four, I'm working from memory, but I remember the story vivdly, because in the midst of the crisis, this SOB "hijacked" National Guardsmen to help him cover his ass when they could have been far more useful rescuing people.)

Picture of the Day

Let's spend a couple of weeks talking about immigration......

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A little more Truthout/"Rove Indicted" story.

If you're tracking the controversy around the Leopold story that Rove has already been indicted, we have another affirmation from Mark Ash, one of the Truthout.org editors, that they are standing by the main tent poles of their story that Rove has already been indicted, and that Fitzgerald met with Rove's team a week ago Friday.

(I still can't get the Truthout forums to work, so you're going to have to make due with that link)

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz the WaPo's Media columnist offers coverage of Leopold's piece repeating every charge against him early in the article, "was written by a journalist who has battled drug addiction and mental illness and been convicted of grand larceny."

This column doesn't shed any new light on whether the piece was true or not, repeating Luskin and Corallo's denials, but it does smell an awful lot like pushback. True or not, the politics of the article has ruffled feathers.

Where were you ....

Where were you when you first heard Dick Cheney shot a man in the face?

I'm feeling a little odd today, so here are a few quickhits.

The WaPo has a pretty obvious piece that the Republican's choosing immigration as their election issue is going to cost them Hispanic votes. (The "survey" has a pretty small sample size.) I think that the fact that this issue emerged at all is evidence of congressional Republicans looking out for their own reelection over the strength of their party.

Al Gonzales was talking about prosecuting reporters for publishing classified information this morning. Check the quote, by creatively interpreting the laws, we can do this, and we have an obligation to enforce that creative interpretation. He also said that the administration "will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters."

William Lind had an interesting commentary that the US's retreat to "superbases" in Iraq runs counter to the more successful "inkblot" strategy for dealing with insurgencies. I found the tactical vs. strategic, an interesting discussion.

This was in the WSJ yesterday, "Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement efforts to secure corporate information about clients and suppliers have reached such levels that some companies have had to create special units that do nothing but deal with these demands, a process often called "subpoena management."

Last, the LaTimes has a piece on soldiers reenlisting after taking a look at the world outside the military, "For Kruger, who returned to a war zone for his third tour in December, the danger of losing his family's health insurance was more real and immediate than the danger of dying in combat."

That's about all I've got in me right now. Happy reading. Hope there's something there that catches your interest. - Mike

Picture of the Day - 2

I like Bush's hand on Laura's back as she prepares to kiss Ray Nagin.

Baghdad ER

A documentary of a US Army hospital in Baghdad is on HBO tonight that has gotten tons of prepress both for and against. It looks to be both graphically bloody and quite emotional. This is just a heads up if you're interested. There's an HBO 30 second ad for it on the site.

(I do not have HBO, so I have a friend recording it. But, I feel pretty secure in saying that this will be out on the web sometime tonight/tomorrow, and soon as I find it, I'll link it. If you see it first, let me know. - Mike)

A Republican earthquake, will there be a tsunami?

Richard A. Viguerie, one of the key figures in building the framework and organization of "the religious right," has called on them to splinter off and create a "third force," a third party or, "at the very least, conservatives must stop funding the Republican National Committee and other party groups." He also said they should sit out the 2006 election.

If he's serious and not just playing a huge political card here, this is huge. Here's the WaPo editorial, and here's a shorter AFP article about it.

I'll probably write more on this later, but it's big, so I wanted to get it up. (By the way, he mentions a spending bill, Harriet Miers and Dubai Ports as his turning points affirming my earlier guess that Hariet Miers was Bush's "jumping the shark" moment.)

Also, interestingly, Viguerie was the first "expert" in a NYTimes piece a week ago titled, "Conservative Christians Criticize Republicans." So, was that a trial ballon? He got a good response, and decided to extend it?

(A more cynical analysis might be that Viguerie has read the 2006 tea leaves and doesn't want to devalue his movement by being on the losing side. Or, he could see a loss coming and is trying to set up his faction to have more power in the 2008 Republican presidential decisions by claiming that it was his group's not voting that made the difference.)

Picture of the Day