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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Karl Rove Sings "Daisy" 

It looks to me like Karl Rove and Andrew Card are at war with each other.

A Times story today alleges that the knives are out for Card because he "oversaw the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina" and "personally managed the selection of Harriet E. Miers". I have nothing much to say about Card's culpability for the (lack of) response to the catastrophe in New Orleans, but I do have a strong opinion regarding the insinuation that Karl Rove had nothing to do with the selection of Harriet Miers: I don't buy it.

The initial wave of stories arguing against Rove's involvement were cut from the Bush-has-lost-his-mojo cookie cutter that was all the rage two weeks ago. The idea was that, since Bush's brain is busy kissing up to Patrick Fitzgerald, the Miers selection gave us a rare opportunity to witness a Bush decision actually made by Bush. Representative of the genre is the Newsweek piece in which Howard Fineman went crazy wacky-metaphor-style:

[T]he selection of Miers reminds me of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the astronauts unplug the memory chips in the brain of Hal the Computer, the machine returns to its roots, so to speak, plaintively singing the first song it was taught, "Daisy Bell." Miers is Bush singing "Daisy Bell."

Here is an alternative theory. It looks to many White House observers as if Bush was operating pretty much alone on this pick.

The Hal 9000 bit is funny, yes, but unfortunately Fineman's assertion is directly contradicted by Republican insiders who are on record discussing Rove's involvement in picking Miers. The Washington Times quoted GOP strategist Charlie Black as saying Rove was "very involved" in selecting Miers and Black listed Rove, as well as Card, among Bush's four primary advisors on the decision, for example.

Unlike Fineman's amusing speculation, today's Times piece on Card cites unnamed Rove flunkies as the source of the Karl-had-nothing-to-do-with-Miers rumor:

The Miers nomination has touched off the most vitriol. Some conservatives and Rove allies say Mr. Card kept Mr. Rove in the dark about the seriousness of Mr. Bush's intentions until very late in the process, thus sidestepping the adviser who would have been best able to anticipate dissent among Republicans.

So, in other words, via surrogates, Karl Rove is planting anti-Andy stories in the press. If you know anything about Card and Rove, the allegation I'm making shouldn't be too surprising. They have been sparring with each other since the day Rove was promoted; see for example, this exchange from a Post-hosted chat with Dan Froomkin last winter:

Alexandria, Va.: How will Andy Card handle the promotion of Rove to Deputy Chief of Staff? Can Andy use his Jedi Memory Trick on Rove to reel him in? Or is Rove more like a bucking bronco: hard to control and strong-willed?

Dan Froomkin: That's one of the big questions here. There's some speculation that Rove is getting ready to take over from Card, if Card should leave.

Card obviously must have gone along with this, but willingly?

Remember what Card said when Karen Hughes announced she was leaving. Let me find it.

Here. This is from Ron Suskind's piece in Esquire in 2003:

"[L]ast spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes's resignation: 'I'll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won't be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.'"

You know, maybe it's like when HAL 9000 had those memory chips ripped out ... Karl's backed into a corner and has reverted to his Rovian larval essence orchestrating a stealth slime campaign in a zombielike Daisy-singing manner despite the fact that his target is one of their own.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Judith Miller and the New York Times (Part 2): "Oh, sure, all the time" 

UPDATE: Norman Soloman gets it:

It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to U.S. military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors. Most of the way through her article, Miller slipped in this sentence: "During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment 'embedded' with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons." And, according to the same article, she ultimately told the grand jury that during a July 8, 2003, meeting with the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, "I might have expressed frustration to Mr. Libby that I was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq."

And,

On June 14, 2003, shortly before he was promoted to the job of executive editor at the New York Times, the newspaper published an essay by Bill Keller that explained why the U.S. government should strive to improve the quality of its intelligence. "The truth is that the information-gathering machine designed to guide our leaders in matters of war and peace shows signs of being corrupted," he wrote. "To my mind, this is a worrisome problem, but not because it invalidates the war we won. It is a problem because it weakens us for the wars we still face."

Soloman is leading us to the river's edge, where we cannot evade the alarming question: To what extent were Miller's activities affirmatively sanctioned by NYT management, as opposed to being the consequence of passive acquiescence? It is becoming more and more implausible that Miller was acting so brazenly on behalf of the White House Iraq Group without an unequivocal signal from the highest levels of the company. So long as the media and media pundits implicitly protect the NYT by defining this story as one involving an out of control journalist with a personal agenda, we will never find out what really occurred.



ORIGINAL POST: As people familiar with my posts here know, I’m not one to chase the news cycle. I have this naive belief that we should discuss important social and philosophical aspects of our politics discarded by our fascination with breaking news and the media’s manipulative way of presenting it. And, anyway, there’s no way that I would even try to keep up with Eli over at Left i. I have, however, made an exception in regard to the involvement of Judith Miller and the NYT in the disclosure of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife as a covert CIA operative.

Why? For this reason: Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is revealing the media’s collaboration with the Bush White House in promoting the expansionist goals of American foreign policy, most tragically as demonstrated by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Through Judith Miller, the NYT, as an institution with unprecendented credibility, played an essential role in legitimizing the war on security grounds. Perhaps, this is not so remarkable. As Sam Smith of the Progressive Review observed several years ago:

Carl Bernstein, in a [1977] article in Rolling Stone, estimated that 400 American journalists had been tied to the CIA at one point or another, including such well known media figures as the Alsop brothers, C.L. Sulzberger of the New York Times, and Philip Graham of the Washington Post. Later the New York Times reported that the CIA had owned or subsidized more than 50 newspapers, news services, radio stations, and periodicals, mostly overseas. And, says NameBase Newslines, at least 22 American news organizations employed CIA assets, and "nearly a dozen American publishing houses printed some of the more than 1,000 books that had been produced or subsidized by the CIA. When asked in a 1976 interview whether the CIA had ever told its media agents what to write, William Colby replied, 'Oh, sure, all the time.'" . . . In 1996, the Council on Foreign Relations suggested that the CIA be allowed once more to use journalists and clergy as cover for its operations. As NameBase Newslines points out, "For 70 years, [the CFR has] rarely recommended anything that has not become policy."

Part of the distant past? Think again. Late last year, the Los Angeles Times reported about an incident in which CNN uncritically broadcast false information related to the impending assault upon Falluja provided by the Pentagon, noting:

The Pentagon in 2002 was forced to shutter its controversial Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), which was opened shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, after reports that the office intended to plant false news stories in the international media. But officials say that much of OSI's mission — using information as a tool of war — has been assumed by other offices throughout the U.S. government. Although most of the work remains classified, officials say that some of the ongoing efforts include having U.S. military spokesmen play a greater role in psychological operations in Iraq, as well as planting information with sources used by Arabic TV channels such as Al Jazeera to help influence the portrayal of the United States.

On September 7, 2002, Miller, along with Michael Gordon, published the now infamous article about Saddam Hussein attempting to obtain aluminum tubes and centrifuges for use to enrich uranium as part of a nuclear weapons development program:

More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

The article serendipitously appeared within a two day period of television appearances by Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, in which they all emphasized the purported nuclear threat presented by Iraq’s Baathist regime. Cheney specifically referenced the article during an appearance on Meet the Press, a classic instance of manufacturing your own corroboration. The story, like others authored by Miller and Gordon about the peril presented by Iraq in 2002 and 20o3, has been discredited by the emergence of specific evidence to the contrary as well as the failure to find WMDs in Iraq.

Of course, it seems unfair to characterize Miller as a neo-conservative intelligence asset operating in the margins between governance and journalism based upon these stories alone. But, over the weekend, a number of interesting pieces of a possible puzzle came to light that make the prospect more plausible. First, Juan Cole made this observation about Miller in a Salon.com article posted on Friday:

Miller was a consistent critic of Saddam's regime, but before 1998 she was capable of making nuanced judgments about the problem it posed for the United States. At some point after that, she apparently began to believe that she, with her prescient expertise about WMD and radical Islam, and her hawkish and neocon sources were right. This was when her fateful decline began. A minor scientist and sometime college teacher such as Khidhir Hamza became "the highest ranking scientist" to defect from Iraq. She relayed complaints from Gucci revolutionaries like Chalabi that they had been left out of the loop by the Clinton administration, and retailed Iraq National Congress tall tales to her unsuspecting audience. By the late 1990s, she had laid the ground for her subsequent path, of becoming stenographer to a motley crew of neoconservative hawks and Iraqi expatriate wheelers and dealers. The aluminum tubes story, in particular, which she co-wrote and which helped pave the way to war, will likely be taught in journalism classes for years as a textbook study of flawed reporting.

Cole ultimately concludes that she was a “useful idiot” instead of a “true believer”, but could there be more? Let’s now turn to the two articles about Judith Miller’s involvement in the Fitzgerald investigation published by the NYT yesterday. One, published by a team of NYT reporters, Don Van Natta, Jr, Adam Liptak and Clifford J. Levy, is entitled, The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a Jail Cell and a Deal, and the other is Miller’s description of her testimony before the federal grand jury. They are fascinating, especially in light of what we already know about the involvement of the intelligence community with the media, causing one to reasonably wonder whether Miller was serving as an operative on behalf of the Office of the Vice President, through Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, and the White House Iraq Group.

As for the Miller article, one cannot avoid reading it subjectively, and I encourage readers of this blog entry to take advantage of the link here and do so. Miller is careful, certainly much more so than she was in any of the articles that she wrote about WMDs, but she cannot avoid suggesting a starstruck quality when it comes to Libby. In a blunt, compelling column, Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher insists that Miller should be fired for crimes against journalism, but his column is equally valuable for its brief vivisection of the Miller/Libby relationship. He emphasizes, quite rightly, the peculiarity of Miller describing Libby as “a good faith source who was usually straight with me.” Even the most ardent Bush partisans would be embarassed to describe the administration this way. He additionally condemns Miller’s willingness to grant Libby’s request that his anonymity be preserved by describing him as a “former Hill staffer” as opposed to “a senior administration official”.

Space limitations and time constraints apparently prevented Mitchell from engaging in a closer textual reading, so let’s try to do a little ourselves. Miller’s recollection of the first meeting is most telling, as she recalled:

(1) [his] frustration and anger about what he called "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq

(2) that [he] was angry about reports suggesting that senior administration officials, including Mr. Cheney, had embraced skimpy intelligence about Iraq's alleged efforts to buy uranium in Africa while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Such reports, he said, according to my notes, were "highly distorted."

Nowhere does Miller indicate that she challenged Libby on either of these contentious assertions, and this lack of independent thought and inquiry flows through the remainder of her description of her encounters with Libby, which read like the rememberances of an acolyte in the Catholic Church.

So, with Libby, Miller conducted herself as something other than a journalist. And, curiously enough, she did at the NYT as well, except that, whereas she was submissive with Libby, she was domineering with her peers, and even her superiors, which the other article establishes beyond doubt:

In the year after Mr. Engelberg left the paper in 2002, though, Ms. Miller operated with a degree of autonomy rare at The Times. Douglas Frantz, who succeeded Mr. Engelberg as the investigative editor, said that Ms. Miller once called herself "Miss Run Amok." "I said, 'What does that mean?' " said Mr. Frantz, who was recently appointed managing editor at The Los Angeles Times. "And she said, 'I can do whatever I want.' "

And,

On July 30, 2003, Mr. Keller became executive editor after his predecessor, Howell Raines, was dismissed after a fabrication scandal involving a young reporter named Jayson Blair. Within a few weeks, in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, "she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm."

Most damning, however, is the extent to which the NYT warped its news coverage to protect her:

Even after reporters learned it from outside sources, The Times did not publish Mr. Libby's name, though other news organizations already had. The Times did not tell its readers that Mr. Libby was Ms. Miller's source until Sept. 30, in an article about Ms. Miller's release from jail.

Some reporters said editors seemed reluctant to publish articles about other aspects of the case as well, like how it was being investigated by Mr. Fitzgerald. In July, Richard W. Stevenson and other reporters in the Washington bureau wrote an article about the role of Mr. Cheney's senior aides, including Mr. Libby, in the leak case. The article, which did not disclose that Mr. Libby was Ms. Miller's source, was not published.

Mr. Stevenson said he was told by his editors that the article did not break enough new ground. "It was taken pretty clearly among us as a signal that we were cutting too close to the bone, that we were getting into an area that could complicate Judy's situation," he said.

In August, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, two other Washington reporters, sent a memo to the Washington bureau chief, Mr. Taubman, listing ideas for coverage of the case. Mr. Taubman said Mr. Keller did not want them pursued because of the risk of provoking Mr. Fitzgerald or exposing Mr. Libby while Ms. Miller was in jail.

This is unprecedented, and strongly suggests two interrelated possibilities. One, that Miller and the NYT were criminally implicated in the exposure of Valerie Plame and, second, that Miller was a highly cultivated, extremely valuable intelligence asset.

Such a conclusion is additionally supported by the willingness of NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger, and Executive Editor Bill Keller, to allow Miller to doggedly refuse to testify without displaying any curiosity as to the actual facts:

But Mr. Sulzberger and the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, knew few details about Ms. Miller's conversations with her confidential source other than his name. They did not review Ms. Miller's notes. Mr. Keller said he learned about the "Valerie Flame" notation only this month. Mr. Sulzberger was told about it by Times reporters on Thursday. Interviews show that the paper's leaders, in taking what they considered to be a principled stand, ultimately left the major decisions in the case up to Ms. Miller, an intrepid reporter whom editors found hard to control. "This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk," Mr. Sulzberger said.

Sulzberger’s explanation is, of course, preposterous, given that he was ignorantly allowing one journalist to assume a high level of risk for a large media enterprise with extraordinary brand identification, and reminds me of a maxim that I vaguely recall from somewhere like one of Le Carre’s George Smiley novels, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or possibly, Dr. Who, something to the effect that when a person, or, in this instance, an entire institution, acts out of character and openly contrary to their interests, we must pay “careful attention”. It is certainly warranted here, and we may yet discover that the relationship between the NYT, Judith Miller, Lewis Libby and the Office of the Vice President is even more unseemly than we could ever imagine.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Judith Miller and The New York Times: The Long Nightmare is Just Beginning 

UPDATE: From Raw Story, through pontificator at Daily Kos:

Conversations with nearly a dozen Times reporters revealed a scarred landscape of discontent. Few reporters were willing to go on the record, but none who spoke with RAW STORY said they supported Miller. Many voiced worries that the paper’s editor, Bill Keller, was sacrificing his own integrity to protect her. . . . . Miller, who joined the Times Washington bureau in 1977, spent 85 days in jail after refusing to reveal who told her the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Since her release, reporters say, she has not been cooperative with the paper’s investigation into her role in events surrounding the case. Two reporters allege there have been newsroom outbursts between Keller and Miller over her refusal to talk to the paper’s own reporters.

Need it be said that this is behaviour entirely consistent with someone facing the prospect of a criminal indictment, or, similarly, someone who is cooperating with Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald under duress, having been instructed to remain publicly silent under threat of indictment? Such a development is also indirectly suggested by the announcement of Times Public Editor Brian Calame that he would soon be writing about the controversy, having been given assurances that, "A representative of Ms. Miller has indicated that she will talk to me at some point."



ORIGINAL POST: Judith Miller has testified for the second time in front of the federal grand jury at the request of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about her early summer 2003 encounters with the chief of staff for the Vice President, Lewis Libby. It is an extremely ominous development for both Miller and her employer, the New York Times. As Swopa over at Needlenose observed about Fitzgerald, citing this excerpt from an August 15, 2005 Los Angeles Times article:

Although some prosecutors use grand juries to rubber stamp charges based on testimony from government witnesses, such as FBI agents, Fitzgerald views the grand jury process as a wide-ranging search for facts, an effect of which is to reveal people who have been less than truthful. The Plame investigation has involved dozens of witnesses.

"Pat definitely uses it as an inquisitorial body," said Joshua Berman, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Fitzgerald in New York and who is a partner with the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal in Washington. "He uses the grand jury as an apparatus to seek the truth. When people are not truthful … he believes those people should be punished."

Or, as Richard Sauber, the attorney for Time journalist Matt Cooper said more concisely, "I think people are going to be charged." Fear of criminal prosecution therefore explains why the NYT is scrupulously maintaining such an embarrassing silence about Miller's role in the investigation. After Miller's highly publicized initial appearance before the grand jury on September 30th, she subsequently discovered notes of another meeting with Libby on June 23, 2003. In an article published about a week ago, Reuters laid it all out, leaving little to the imagination:

Last Friday, after spending 85 days in jail, Miller testified before the grand jury about two conversations she had with Libby in July 2003 and turned over redacted notes.

She testified about a meeting with Libby on July 8, 2003 at the St. Regis Hotel and a later conversation by telephone on July 12, 2003, sources said.

But after she testified, Miller discovered that she had additional notes from the June 2003 conversation with Libby.

Put bluntly, Miller perjured herself by refusing to disclose her earlier conversation with Libby in June. Unless, of course, Fitzgerald improbably refused to ask if there had been any other meetings related to the subject of his investigation, which, given his willingness to incarcerate her for her testimony, is improbable, if not absurd. Furthermore, she, and/or the NYT, refused to produce these records in response to subpoenas issued compelling her grand jury testimony, as noted by Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher:

--Is the Times' reluctance to report fully on this case the result of being in a bit of hot water itself with the prosecutor? You'll recall that the prosecutor long ago subpoenaed the paper for any notes related to the probe and the Times replied that it had nothing —- or anything it did have belonged to its reporters (company policy, it said). Fitzgerald never seemed to challenge that. If Miller turned over the notes herself, is the Times still claiming the rule still stands?

Stunned, the mainstream media can't bring itself to believe that a self-styled star reporter from the most prestigious newspaper in the country faces the prospect of being indicted for perjury, obstruction of justice, and possibly, even exposing Valerie Plame's status as a covert CIA operative to Libby. The NYT could find itself separately charged with obstruction of justice if it falsely stated that it had no records responsive to Fitzgerald's subpoenas, although this seems less likely. One wonders, did anyone at the NYT naively rely upon a claim by Miller that there were no such records, or, alternatively, accept the legal parsing of counsel, related here by Mitchell, to helpfully put their signature on a declaration under penalty of perjury to this effect?

But such questions, while undoubtedly entertaining, divert us from the heart of the story. And, for that, we have to call Dr. Who, request the use of his TARDIS, and travel back to May, June and July of 2003. There are still some gaps, some unanswered questions, but here's the back of the envelope version, inspired by a revealing article by Gabriel Sherman in the New York Observer :

May 6, 2003: On the opinion page side of the NYT, Nicholas Kristof writes "Missing in Action: Truth", a column about the cooking of intelligence to support the presence of WMDs in Iraq, getting his information from Joseph Wilson behind the scenes.

May-June 2003: Judith Miller is concluding her treasure hunt for WMDs in Iraq as an embedded journalist with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha empty handed, where, you might recall, she acted as a member of the search team, and got the commander's order to stop searching a particular area rescinded by calling a general who was a personal friend. One sees her aggression in a new light when one realizes that she was now being pressured by the lack of any WMD discoveries from inside the newspaper by Kristof.

June 2003: The news division enters the fray in light of the threat posed by Kristof's rogue operation on the opinion page side, Miller is assigned to investigate her own previous stories, so she goes to their favorite source, Libby, and talks to him on June 23, 2003. A meeting that was not disclosed by Miller to Fitzgerald until last week when she produced her notes of it.

July 6, 2003: The NYT publishes an article by Wilson, "What I Didn't Find in Africa", describing his inability to find support for the belief that Saddam Hussein attempted to obtain "yellowcake" uranium form Niger, a belief that formed the core of the Bush Administration's case for war against Iraq. According to Sidney Blumenthal, Miller's colleagues at the NYT recall that she was "livid" that the NYT had published it.

Such seemingly minor emotional details matter, because they explain Miller's subsequent behaviour in light of the air of desperation created by her inability to find WMDs in Iraq, and her increasing peril within the newspaper because of Kristof's insistence upon confronting the issue with the help of Wilson.

So, what happened on June 23, 2005? Personally, like Justin Raimondo and Arianna Huffington, I believe that Miller told Libby that Plame was a covert CIA operative, and that they conspired to give out her name to journalists like Matt Cooper and Robert Novak. As both Raimondo and Huffington have observed, Miller had written stories about WMDs and Iraq going back to the early 1990s, so she could have come across Plame's covert work in this field quite easily. And, note the following from a Daily Kos diary entry a couple of days ago:

Matthews just discussed the lastest news of the "Leak Case" with the Washington Post's Mike Allen, and NBC's Norah O'Donnel.

Mike Allen said people inside the White House are readying their legal defense, and that it will be that the Valerie Wilson information came from the press to them, not the other way around. One problem though, is that Allen said members of the State Department (including Colin Powell) have testified that the White House specifically requested the information about Valerie Wilson before there were any press accounts.

Of course, the prospect of Libby and Rove defending themselves by asserting that they got Plame's name from Miller (who else could it have been?) would shake the NYT to its foundations, regardless of the truth of it. My sense, however, is that Kristof's May 6, 2003 column was not considered a "press account" that crossed the radar of the State Department because it was printed as opinion, not a news, rendering it relatively non-threatening, except to Miller, because it was generated by her own newspaper. And, thus the circle is squared. Allen, being a journalist, implies that the idea that another journalist provided White House staffers like Libby and Rove with Plame's name is fictional by describing it as a "legal defense", but, as I said, Raimondo and Huffington believe it to be true, and the fact that Miller concealed the June 23, 2003 meeting until the last minute, hoping that the clock would run out on Fitzgerald's investigation, gives it circumstantial credibility.

Far-fetched, you say? Put yourself in the position of Miller and Libby in the early summer of 2003. As noted, they confronted a highly pressurized situation, and immediate, aggressive action was required to discredit and intimidate Wilson. Here's the thought process that these two amoral individuals would have gone through, fairly quickly, when considering the prospects of getting caught, which is all that would have mattered to them:

(1) the press would make a big deal of the exposure of Plame for a week or so, and then the story would fade

(2) if not, the investigation would be conducted by then Attorney General John Ashcroft, and summarily concluded with no misconduct found

(3) in the extremely unlikely event that the investigation was more thorough (and, here, they probably never contemplated the prospect that the investigation would get peeled away from Ashcroft), Miller could always fall back upon a journalist's need to protect her sources to bring things to a halt

And, remember, all of them, Rove, Libby, Miller, and her enabler, her boss, Executive Editor Bill Keller, were operating at a time when the ruthless Bush team was considered omnipotent. Never in a thousand years did they believe that Ashcroft would be thrown off the case and that Fitzgerald would take on the media with his subpoenas and force Miller, Cooper and Novak to testify. This was Miller's great utility to the neo-conservatives in the Bush White House: she could participate and do the dirty work, and never contradict anyone's story, like Libby's, because she could smile sweetly and invoke the sanctity of a journalist's need to protect her sources. Or, at least, that's what they thought.

One major issue that is neglected by both the media and the blogsphere is the significance of Miller's pending 1.2 million dollar book deal with Simon and Shuster. 1.2 million dollars for a book that few people will read, that will be remaindered in less than a month? If alarm bells haven't gone off in Fitzgerald's office, they should be. Hush money, anyone? If so, it worked for about a day or so, until Fitzgerald sprang his knowledge of that June 23,2003 meeting on Miller and her attorney, Bob Bennett. "Oh gosh, I forgot all about those notes, Mr. Special Prosecutor!" But a charge of obstruction of justice doesn't require that it actually work.

So, for Miller and the NYT, the nightmare is just beginning. She will soon find herself under indictment, or considered an unindicted co-conspirator, or, perhaps, merely a perjurer, forced to settle for the best possible deal, agreeing to assist Fitzgerald as required, used to compel pleas, and if necessary, testify in court as a hostile witness, where her initial refusal to testify, her perjury and her last minute release of highly pertinent documents, her notes of the 6/23/03 meeting, will all be put to good use to convict Libby, and possibly others associated with him.

Meanwhile, as for the NYT, the extent to which the newspaper was embedded with people aligned with the neo-conservative movement, people like publisher Arthur Sulzberger, former Middle East Bureau Chief Jill Abramson, Keller, William Safire, Thomas Friedman and, of course, Miller, is going to be highlighted for the whole world to see during the course of Fitzgerald's prosecutions. All sorts of people like this will briefly wander ghostlike through the proceedings, playing cameo roles, relating legally unimportant, but embarrassing tales that will grind away the NYT's credibility. Indeed, it is already being rumored that Fitzgerald has expanded the investigation to include Vice President Cheney and the activities of the White House Iraq Group. Huffington is suggesting that not just Miller, not just Miller and Keller, but that Miller, Keller and even Sulzberger himself, will be forced to resign to avoid a mass exodus. It will accelerate the substitution of the Internet for newspapers as sources of information, with all of the contradictions that this entails.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sir! No Sir! . . . But What About the Iraqis? 

On September 24th, I arrived late for the antwar protest in San Francisco. Having missed the march, I walked over to Jefferson Square Park from the Civic Center BART station, and listened to several speakers. Later that evening, I wandered over to the New College over in the Mission District to watch an excerpt from the film Sir! No Sir!, a documentary about GI resistance to the Vietnam War, and listen to some of the participants profiled in the film describe their experiences.


The documentary is significant, because, as director David Zeiger said, the social history of GI resistance has been completely forgotten, even by people familiar with it when it occurred. It is a companion to the reissue of David Cortright's book on the same theme, Soldiers in Revolt. Both conclude that rebellion within the ranks played a significant role in finally bringing American involvement in Southeast Asia to an end, and some, like Alexander Cockburn, for example, believe that it was an essential one. There is no doubt that their stories are remarkable.

After a 15 minute segment of the film was shown, a panel composed of Tom Bernard, Matthew Rinaldi and Keith Mather described their involvement in the GI Resistance movement. Rinaldi and Maher were soldiers that participated in civil disobedience at the Presidio. Rinaldi was subsequently involved in providing legal assistance to people in the military who objected to the war. Troops within Vietnam, possibly one of the few areas of the GI resistance effort still ingrained within the public memory, seriously impaired the combat readiness of the military, provoking officers to recognize the peril of the loss of control over their soldiers.


Bernard, an Air Force intepreter responsible for monitoring North Vietnamese communications during the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi, engaged in a work stoppage along with several of his associates, an action so threatening in its implications, even as past history, that it has been expunged from memory. Bernard's action paralleled equally serious actions of disobedience in the Air Force that impaired the bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia, a companion to the disobedience, sabotage and racial conflict within the Navy during this period that disrupted its capacity to assist in the conduct of the air war.


No doubt, the film appears to be very good, and the GI resistance effort was, and remains, a noble, praiseworthy endeavor. But, during the subsequent panel discussion, a discussion that invariably turned toward soldiers and the war in Iraq, the Iraqis, the people most directly affected by the continuing occupation, remained typically invisible. Everyone knows that we are approaching 2000 dead American soldiers, but how many Iraqis have died? Tens of thousands? Over one hundred thousand? Note that the lower estimate, from Iraq Body Count, relies significantly upon news media reports. while the the higher one, from the medical journal, The Lancet, attempts to address this deficiency through cluster studies.


Towards the end of the session, I asked the panelists, wouldn't it be a good idea to work with Muslims to refute the tendency to conflate the entire Iraqi resistance with Islamic extremists? Silence. And, then, someone in the audience took the opportunity to announce another event. After he finished, someone on the panel started to talk about something else, but Bernard, bless his heart, interjected, and responded. He vaguely spoke about how, based upon his Vietnam experience, you never get the real story, but, at least, he stepped forward.


It is this inability of Americans, even those in the anti-war movement, to confront the scope of the atrocity that we have inflicted upon the Iraqis, and, by extension, acknowledge their right to resist the occupation, that drains the energy out of our efforts to bring this conflict to an end. In effect, we are fetishizing American life at the expense of Iraqi ones, and it invariably leads to well meaning, but morally evasive, attempts to split the difference, and please everyone, transforming the anti-war movement into more of a national therapy effort for its participants than one seeking fundamental political change. And, thus, one that can be easily coopted, so that the next war can go forward.


The classic instance of this phenomenon is a common variation on the "Support the Troops" theme. During a discussion on the DC indymedia website, I engaged in a dialogue with a purportedly antiwar woman who said the following:

Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to spend their time protesting. Many people have to make hard economic choices, and joining the military is one of them.


And, then later, after I disagreed, inquiring about her attitude about the loss of Iraqi life, and the harshness of the occupation:

I OPPOSE the war. That is a separate issue and I should not have muddied the water. I stand by my belief that my brother's choice to serve his country as a way to feed and clothe his kids is honorable but I abhor the war as much as he does.


Let's get this straight: she opposes the war, but publicly supports a family member who made a hard economic choice to feed his kids by volunteering to go to Iraq and kill people there. Now, I could understand if she privately expressed this within her family, but to publicly do so, and expect others to empathize with it . . . well, as I said there, it's morally myopic, a failure to hold someone accountable for their actions. Nowhere in this dialogue, despite being prompted to do so, did she ever express any sadness for the loss of Iraqi life, and the brutalities, like the torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. For her, the allegedly "hard economic choices" of Americans are more important than the Iraqis who are subjected to American military violence every day. Furthermore, it turns out that, contrary to her assumption, that there are plenty of alternatives to military service. Participants in the counter-recruitment effort inform young people of them all the time, achieving great success in diverting them away from military service.


Such an emotionally understandable, but politically and morally ineffectual, elevation of the importance of American lives over Iraqi ones gives birth to another absurdity, alarm over the prospect that the effectiveness of the US military will be impaired. Medea Benjamin made the following statement within an article published in advance of the September 24th protests:

We're marching because the war in Iraq is undermining the capacity of the US military. The military has been unable to reach its recruiting goals for months now, because young people don't want to be sent off to fight in a war they don't believe in.


Say what? If the military is failing to meet its recruiting goals, that's a good thing. If the military had failed to meet its goals in the years prior to Iraq, there's an excellent chance that the war never would have happened. Just as the woman with the brother in the military wants us to identify with someone who facilitates the occupation, but purports to be against the war, Benjamin encourages us to partially ground our opposition in the need to assuage the fears of the military-industrial complex. Activism transformed into giving and receiving emotional comfort. This is the path that lead Benjamin protege Marla Ruzicka to bond with US troops in Iraq, support the occupation and, ultimately, give it a false, human face, with tragic results.


Is it any wonder that Bush continues to conduct the occupation of Iraq with a free hand? The antiwar movement should take on a more challenging task than craving the approval of its opponents by emphasizing the connections between recruitment and the extent to which the United States relies on military power to dominate much of the world. Chalmers Johnson has addressed it quite directly:

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.


Indeed, the network is vast, almost beyond comprehension:

It's not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries -- and an estimated $591,519.8 million to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.


It's a daunting, seemingly impossible ambition: to participate in the liberation of much of the rest of the world from US military and economic hegemony. Perhaps, there are even Americans receptive to such an endeavor. After all, isn't it plausible that many of us, especially African Americans, recognize the most sinister aspects of our own history when we see US troops using dogs on detainees at Abu Ghraib? People who have served in Iraq, like Camilo Mejia, have spoken passionately about our imperial aspirations there. If we want to avoid the prospect that young Americans will continue to kill and be killed, destroying the societies of countries like Syria, Iran, Venezuela, and possibly, if the more extreme neo-conservatives are to be believed, even China, we must abandon our provincial attitude about Iraq, and reach out to those around the world who enthusiastically await our assistance.

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The Hardball Guys on Things That Don't Take a Lot of Perry Mason Work 

The guys on Hardball said today that Rove is a target in the investigation and were generally treating the whole thing a little less like a sideshow than they usually do. No big shocks for anyone who reads blogs ... but it is significant that such discussions have bubbled up to the professional talking heads. Here's an excerpt: (from here)

[CHRIS] MATTHEWS: Was he [Luskin] assured by his client [Rove] that he was not the source of the leak?

[MICHAEL] ISIKOFF: He did not tell that to the Associated Press today.

MATTHEWS: Right. Let me go to John Harris.

I want to ask right now, if Mike Isikoff is following the sequence of events with accuracy in reporting, if he knows, as you seem to know, that the lawyer for Karl Rove felt he had to go back after it was public what had happened in the testimony from Matt Cooper of Time magazine, in other words, that his client was the main source for information about Valerie Plame, the wife of Joe Wilson, who worked over at the CIA, he had to come back and sort of correct his testimony, change it, modify it.

It doesn`t seem like it takes a lot of Perry Mason work here to figure that he`s the target here.

JOHN HARRIS, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, he`s obviously a central figure. And I think we have to assume now that he is a target.

I have to say, this point is still murky to me, based on the reporting done that`s been over at The Post, whether Luskin said, hey, let me come back; my client wants to come back, or whether he made that offer back in July, and Fitzgerald says, yes, I want you to come back. In other words, who is seeking this testimony that I think could come as early as tomorrow is a critical question.

The whole thing is worth a read ... just after the above Harris speculates that Rove might be making this new appearance in order to try to "talk his way out" of an indictment ... Well, if anyone could do it ...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Venezuelan Nukes and a Short Rant on the Fact that Pat Robertson Seems not to Have Read the New Testament 

Pat Robertson's obsession with Hugo Chavez gets funnier and funnier. Now, he's saying that after 9/11 Chavez gave a million dollars to Osama bin Laden and that Chavez is trying to buy nuclear materials from Iran: (from here)

"The truth is, this man is setting up a Marxist-type dictatorship in Venezuela, he's trying to spread Marxism throughout South America, he's negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material and he also sent 1.2 million dollars in cash to Osama bin Laden right after 9/11," Robertson said.

"I apologized [for, I assume, calling for Chavez's head] and I said I will be praying for him, but one day we will be staring nuclear weapons and it won't be (Hurricane) Katrina facing New Orleans, it's going to be a Venezuelan nuke," Robertson said.

"So my suggestion was, isn't it a lot cheaper sometimes to deal with these problems before you have to have a big war," he added. Asked how he had obtained information on Chavez giving money to bin Laden, Robertson said: "Sources that came to me. That's what I was told."

I love "Sources that came to me." -- you know, Pat Robertson's extensive sources in the intelligence community that told him and no one else ... pure gold.

Anyway, on the subject of Robertson's apparent disdain for all forms of government to the left of the Libertarian Party, I wish just once someone would ask him something like, "Hey Pat, you know how you hate socialism and all, did you ever notice that that guy who founded the religion you're supposed to represent, was kind of, you know, a big fucking socialist?"

I'm not even just talking about the obvious stuff that everyone brings up like the time the rich guy asked Jesus what he should do the get eternal life and Jesus told him, "Give all your money to the poor and follow me.":

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, honor thy father and mother. 20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. 21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

The above is often commented on ... it immediately precedes Christ's well-known dictum "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Less well known, however, is that in the later books of the New Testament there are direct descriptions of the organization of the early Christian community that sound pretty damn socialistic. Take for instance this quote from Acts:

All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
(Acts 2:44-45)

Or this one, once again describing the community of the early Christians:

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
(Acts 4:34-37)

"It was distributed to each as any had need" -- Someone should ask Pat Robertson if that reminds him of another famous quotation...

I've never understood why Christians of Robertson's ilk are hell-bent on taking every line of every weird old myth in the Old Testament literally but when it comes to the actual words of the founder of their religion and the material dealing with the structure of early Christian society, it's, "Well, you know, Jesus liked to talk in parables..."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Perp Walk in the Nation 

A new version of "Perp Walk" is in the Nation. I had to redo it a little bit to conform to the vertical aspect ratio of a magazine, but I actually like the new version a lot better than the original. Here's what it looks like...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Venezuelan Series (Part 4): Co-management Reveals Fissures in the Bolivarian Revolution 

[This is a series based upon my participation in a Global Exchange sponsored tour of Venezuela. Each post is a stand alone commentary, and Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 address related aspects of my experience there. Comments can be e-mailed to me at restes60@earthlink.net.]


What is the proper, most beneficial, relationship between labor, capital and the community? It is a vexing question, especially if one eschews the simplicity of neoliberal orthodoxy: the frenetic, unregulated reverberation of global investment necessarily produces the best possible outcomes under the circumstances.


Is there an alternative Bolivarian answer to it? Chavez habitually expresses his contempt for neoliberalism in just about every public forum. Even so, rhetoric is not be a substitute for a program, no matter how skillfully packaged as rebellion. As noted in Part 3, Chavez intends to industrialize Venezuela through state controlled enterprises. In the two weeks since Part 3 was posted, Chavez has asserted state control over the mineral sector, and announced plans for the formation of a state owned steel company to compete with the privatized SIDOR. With US troops incapable of escaping the Iraqi mousetrap, and preoccupied with the prospect of a nuclear Iran, Chavez hardly lets a day go by without some new initiative.


Even so, the Bolivarian Revolution aspires to inscribe itself into the historical record as somthing more than a flawlessly executed economic development program. One does not find murals of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew adorning the walls of Caracas, even though it is probable that Chavez would, on balance, comment quite favorably upon Yew's achievements if asked, emphasizing his participation in the struggle against colonialism and his insistence upon a prominent governmental role in the allocation of resources. Chavez must further redefine the relationship between labor, capital and community to fulfill the revolutionary expectations created by his rhetoric. At present, he tentatively seeks to do so through an initiative to empower workers in the conduct of their businesses, an initiative described as cogestion, or co-management.


Cogestion: What Is It?


Currently, cogestion is an evolving concept, as Chavez has yet to seek legislation to provide for its implementation throughout the country, rendering it highly susceptible to people projecting their own societal visions upon it. According to BBC reporter Iain Bruce, it is only being attempted within some publicly owned companies, primarily within the aluminum industry, and a couple of bankrupt ones. Elie Sayago, an environmental specialist at CVG Alcasa, the state controlled aluminum company in Puerto Ordaz that produces primarily for the domestic market, defined cogestion as a radical break with the traditional hierarchical methods of management. Workers participate in the fundamental decisions of the company, such as the methods of production, the election of managers, including the director, and the preparation of the budget. Both myself and Bruce, who must have visited the facility shortly after I left the region, had similar conversations with line workers, workers who expressed improved morale and enhanced productivity as a result of their direct involvement in the management of the company. Carlos Lanz, the recently appointed president of CVG Alcasa, told Bruce, "This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century."


Conversely, the situation at CVG Venalum, the state controlled aluminum company in Puerto Ordaz that produces primarily for export, was a little different. Jose Seguea, the president of the company, said, in a remark certain to terrify business organizations like the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce and Fedecameras, that cogestion was for the private sector, not the public one. Admittedly, there could have been some difficulties with translation, because it is possible that he understood cogestion to be a term of art that described the expansion of public sector management practices to the private sector, but this was not my impression. Furthermore, during the course of a discussion with three prominent labor leaders at CVG Venalum, Estilito Garcia, Fernando Serrano and Dennys Lara, cogestion did not emerge as a major theme, except to the extent that they emphasized the involvement of worker representatives on committees responsible for health and environmental safety. CVG Venalum has an atmosphere of cool professionalism that provides a subtle contrast to the more improvisational one at CVG Alcasa.


Meanwhile, in Caracas, Franklin Rondon, the president of FENTRASEP, the national federation of public sector workers, understands cogestion differently than either Sayago or Seguea. Describing it primarily as a means of improving Venezuela's economic performance, he said that cogestion involves consultation with workers to develop strategies of competitiveness and quality. He maintained that it originated in Germany, and characterized it as a shared responsibility between business owners and workers for the creation of management proposals through conferences and forums. If so, Rondon and Albis Munoz of Fedecameras, the business association, may not be too far apart, as Munoz told Bruce that she doesn't have a problem with the kind of co-management developed by the Christian Democrats in Germany, purportedly, in the words of Bruce, "a freely negotiated, strategic alliance between employees, employers and consumers". For me, such comments evoke the type of allegedly pro-management relationship that some American union leaders, like Andrew Stern of the Service Employees' International Union, present as an ideal.


Cogestion: Can the Interests of the State, the Workers and the Community Be Reconciled?


As my encounters demonstrate, cogestion is a preliminary work in progress, with much uncertainty about its scope and implementation. Even so, there is a thread that runs through these alternative visions: Cogestion is a process designed to empower interests marginalized through neoliberalism: the nation state, workers and local communities. It appears evident, Sequea's remark aside, that cogestion will be initially implemented in the state sector and abandoned private facilities. According to Sayago, the concept of cogestion has been driven more by the government than by trade unions, which is consistent with their past collaboration with the political parties of the pre-Chavez era in facilitating privatization.


Embarking upon such an enterprise results, however, in the emergence of contentious issues that go to the heart of the Bolivarian Revolution. As David Hernandez, steelworker, sociologist and activist, told me, CVG, a complex of state-owned mining and metal production and processing facilities in Bolivar state that includes CVG Alcasa and CVG Venalum, is considered an essential resource base of the revolution. He explained that there are four lines of thought about how to exploit it, although, as a cautionary note, one should be wary about seeing them as separate and distinct.


First, there is what Hernandez described as anarchismo, permitting the workers to own the company and control it. While superficially alluring, the social realities of Venezuela render this approach controversial. Historically, there has been pervasive corruption within Venezuelan unions. Many of the people that I met in Ciudad Guyana spent their lives working inside the steel and aluminum plants to reform them. Furthermore, the workers, having escaped the ruthlessness of the informal sector, have some of the best paying jobs in Venezuela. It is feared that this approach would relinquish assets, developed with the assistance of the state, to a privileged, sometimes corrupt, proletarian elite. CVG Alcasa leans in this direction, with workers selecting managements and developing budgets, but it cannot be truly said that they own it.


Second, there is statione, a system whereby the state runs the company in consultation with workers and management. Hernandez called it "the Cuban model". CVG Venalum, with its majority state interest, professional management style and plant committees, could be construed as an example of this method. Leftist labor unions do not appear to be very supportive. About two weeks ago, they made the following ascerbic comment within a statement issued after meeting in Caracas: "We reject the reactionary elements of the parasitical techno-bureaucracy in the government that have erected obstacles in the processes of co-management in the Basic Industries in Guayana, PDVSA [oil company] and CADAFE [electricity company]."


Third, there is the an alternative known as the cooperative association of workers, which Hernandez described as aecimista, a form of organization for participation in a capitalist system. Clearly, this is unacceptable to the industrialized workers in these industries, raising an obvious question: why shouldn't it be adopted, because, after all, the government promotes cooperatives all over the country for campesinos and participants in the informal sector. There is no obvious answer, except for the primary economic and political position of these workers historically within many variants of Marxism. In any event, the global economy will inevitably impose some market discipline on the workers, regardless of their domestic relationship with their industries.


Finally, there is the policy purportedly preferred by the government, running production for the benefit of the workers, the community and, ultimately, the state. It has the advantage about being suitably vague about whether anarchismo or statione will be selected as the preferred mode of internal operation, while requiring the workers to acknowledge their privileged position and share the earnings of their companies with the surrounding community. It is hard to know how quickly this will happen, with CVG Alcasa and CVG Venalum fitfully moving in this direction. Sayago admitted that there was a need to make workers conscious of their elite status. Hernandez observed that trade unions fear losing power during this process. For example, there was a controversy about whether union membership was necessary to serve on plant committees. Militants, focusing more on class identity rather than union membership, opposed such a requirement.


Similarly, Puerto Ordaz, San Felix and Genares, where many of the workers and management of CVG Alcasa and CVG Venalum live, have minimal, poor quality public services (no public transit and intermittent electricity in a region known for its generation of hydroelectric power, for example). CVG administered some services until it divested itself of them to the local governments in the 1980s. Neither CVG Alcasa nor CVG Venalum volunteered any willingness to participate in the enhancement and expansion of them, although, to be fair, one could plausibly assert that, with regard to electricity, this is the responsibility of CADAFE.


Of course, such a discussion runs beyond some obvious questions: Who speaks for the community? Cooperatives? Government officials? CVG managers? CVG workers? The numerous participants in the informal sector? All of them? Answers will significantly influence the ultimate form of cogestion, a subject that remains extremely controversial, engendering opaque comments like this one in the recent leftist labor union statement:


The workers and the union at CADAFE have been fighting for some time for real workers' control in the company as against the proposal of sections of the management that want to give only token representation to the workers. High functionaries in the government have recently expressed opposition to implementing co-management in the strategic industries such as the basic industries, oil and electricity. The workers reply that they themselves are the best guarantee for the normal running of these industries since they recovered them against the sabotage of the reactionary managers during the sabotage of the economy in December 2002-January 2003.


Hernandez humorously navigates the political cross currents of the dispute more succinctly: "I just say, I'm for the strong defense of the working class."

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harriet Miers is Anti-Choice 

The title of this post probably isn't a big shock to anyone but I thought it needed to be stated bluntly because the corporate press is being annoyingly coy about the issue. Most news accounts since Bush's announcement imply through omission that Miers' views on abortion can only be gleaned indirectly based on statements made by her colleagues and by her association with a Dallas evangelical church. On Good Morning America an angry Sam Brownback threatened to vote against Miers if she views Roe v. Wade as "settled law" (One hopes she does, given that it's, you know, settled law), and CNN assures us that Bush says he "has never discussed abortion with White House counsel Harriet Miers." All of which, of course, hints that maybe there's some doubt about where Miers' stands on this issue.

Here's the story. Miers was a pro-choice Democrat through most of the 70's but had a religious conversion experience in '79 and started drifting rightward; see "Religion played a role in her swing to the right", Newsday. According to the Post, in the 1980's after attending a lecture by a Christian popular science writer named Paul Brand, Miers proclaimed to a friend: "I'm convinced that life begins at conception." Lorlee Bartos, manager of Miers' City Council campaign in 1989, describes Miers views at that time as "on the extreme end of the antichoice movement" and suspects that Miers "is of the same cloth as the president."

In the early 1990's Miers became the president of the Texas State Bar and worked to induce the American Bar Association to repudiate its stance in favor of a woman's right to choose. It is surprising that this project of Miers is not getting more play in the national press given that it occurred relatively recently and that Miers is on record commenting about the failed campaign: (I found the following via a LexisNexis search; can't link to the articles because they're not available for free)

Here's Miers commenting on Darell Jordan, previous president of the Texas Bar who fought against the ABA's initial adoption of the pro-choice position: ("Jordan role lauded, assailed in `90 dispute on abortion", THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS, March 31, 1995, Friday)

Harriet Miers, a former Dallas City Council member who was State Bar president in 1992 and 1993, praised Mr. Jordan's actions and contended that they showed he would be a good mayor for Dallas.

"He really is the kind of leader who would take an unpopular position because he thought it was right and fought hard to have it sustained," said Ms. Miers, a co-chairwoman of the Jordan campaign.


Here's an article from the ABA Journal in which Miers is portrayed as the protagonist in the effort to change the ABA's position on abortion: ("No Abortion Debate", ABAJ, 1993)

The ABA House of Delegates narrowly escaped debating abortion at its February meeting in Boston, but the issue should return in August when the delegates gather for the annual meeting in New York.

Saying they wanted to rewrite the proposal, sponsors at the last minute withdrew a resolution calling for a ballot to be mailed to all 370,000 ABA members for a vote on whether the association should be neutral on abortion.

The delay may improve the sponsors' chances in the House. A majority of all 528 delegates would have been needed to order a referendum, not just a majority of those voting. Only 487 attended the midyear meeting, leaving the resolution's sponsors "greatly disadvantaged," said Harriet Miers, president of the State Bar of Texas, the resolution's chief sponsor. More are likely to show up in New York.

Waiting until August also will allow debate by the ABA Assembly, which consists of all ABA members registered for the annual meeting. The Assembly, which advises the House on policy issues, was likely to consider the abortion issue in some form anyway, Miers said.

The ABA Board of Governors weighed in on the issue at the midyear meeting. It recommended that the House reject the referendum plan on the ground that the ABA has a representative government, which already had spoken on abortion.

That, according to the referendum's proponents, is the problem. The House adopted a pro-abortion-rights policy in February 1990, replaced it with a neutrality stance the following August and then adopted another abortion-rights position in August 1992.

Miers said that "the best way to bring closure to this issue" is through a vote of all the members. "We have a referendum procedure, and if we don't use it here, what issue can we use it on?"

Sponsors now will reword the proposed referendum to be sure it focuses on whether the ABA should be involved in the abortion dispute, not the underlying issue of abortion, according to Miers.

The delay also will allow more time to consider ways to cut costs. Estimates presented to the Board of Governors ranged from $75,000 to more than $200,000. Miers told reporters the referendum would cost about $150,000.


And here's a bit in which Miers compares her own attempt to force a referendum among the ABA members to defending the Alamo: ("Abortion Measure Goes Up Against Rules, Apathy", The Recorder, August 10, 1993)

In a bizarre twist of parliamentary procedure, the Texas State Bar's effort to require a referendum on the ABA's final position on abortion was short-circuited Monday. The proposal had been on both the assembly and house of delegates agendas. [ ... ]

ABA President J. Michael McWilliams ruled that Texas could pursue its measure in the assembly if it was amended so that it would be a recommendation to the house. But that status would have required a super-majority -- that's more than half of all house delegates, rather than of those in attendance -- to be approved.

"I remember the Alamo," proponent Texas State Bar past president Harriet Miers said as she withdrew her measure. She said she'd continue the fight today.

"What we have is a playing field coated with butter and I don't think it is tipped in my direction." The referendum is expected to fail in the house.

So assuming she doesn't get hit on the head with a bowling ball or something, I think we can assume the case is closed on this issue. I guess the only real doubt that was cast on the matter was circumstantial doubt based on the fact that Miers did indeed donate money to Al Gore in 1988. The Newsday article that I cited above -- which, of the pieces I have read, does the best job of summarizing who the hell this woman is -- summed up the Gore thing like this,

By 1988, when records show she contributed $3,000 to Democrats including Al Gore's unsuccessful presidential campaign, she was only going through the motions, Hecht and Francis say. "That was a 'have to' deal," Hecht said.

meaning, as stated explicitly earlier in the article, that in 70's/80's Texas milieu if one wanted "to get ahead as a lawyer" one had to be a Democrat and that the Gore contribution should be viewed in that light.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bush in Free Fall 

It's been a while since there's been one of those mildly-funny anti-Bush web crazes that occasionally pop up. While it might not get very far due to its essential pointlessness ... this little bit of interactive flash animation remains amusing for a surprisingly long time. (If the little falling Bush gets stuck, you can drag him with the mouse.)

Via Isefire.

Harriet Miers: What the Hell? 

Well one thing is pretty clear ... If blog posts are an accurate measure, the rightwing really doesn't like Bush's latest Supreme Court pick. Here's a sampling (which I mostly ripped from M. Malkin) ...

Here's Hindrocket:

A Disappointment. Harriet Miers, that is. I'm sure that she is a capable lawyer and a loyal aide to President Bush. But the bottom line is that he had a number of great candidates to choose from, and instead of picking one of them--Luttig, McConnell, Brown, or a number of others--he nominated someone whose only obvious qualification is her relationship with him.


and Frum:

I worked with Harriet Miers. She's a lovely person: intelligent, honest, capable, loyal, discreet, dedicated ... I could pile on the praise all morning. But there is no reason at all to believe either that she is a legal conservative or--and more importantly--that she has the spine and steel necessary to resist the pressures that constantly bend the American legal system toward the left. This is a chance that may never occur again: a decisive vacancy on the court, a conservative president, a 55-seat Republican majority, a large bench of brilliant and superbly credentialed conservative jurists ... and what has been done with the opportunity?

I am not saying that Harriet Miers is not a legal conservative. I am not saying that she is not steely. I am saying only that there is no good reason to believe either of these things. Not even her closest associates on the job have good reason to believe either of these things. In other words, we are being asked by this president to take this appointment purely on trust, without any independent reason to support it. And that is not a request conservatives can safely grant.


and Glen Reynolds is "underwhelmed" (Christ, does that guy ever do anything besides just link to someone else's opinion? -- I was going to quote him but there's nothing to quote.)

and some guy on Red State seems to be on the verge of crying:

We've got a lot to learn about SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers. To hear the White House tell us, "With her distinguished career and extensive community involvement, Ms. Miers would bring a wealth of personal experience and diversity to the Supreme Court."
Diversity. Sure she does. In fact, she gives money to Republicans *and* Democrats.

Mr. President, you've got some explaining to do. And please remember - we've been defending you these five years because of this moment. [Here's this guy's source for the donated-to-Democrats allegation.]

I guess the idea was to pick someone who wasn't clearly rabid enough of a conservative for the Democrats to get too excited ... which typifies the sort of display of weakness that we should expect more of from the new mojo-less Bush. The choice was supposed to sneak by in the same manner that Roberts did ... the diffenence is that Roberts, say what you want about his politics, was viewed as competent.

Miers, however, is viewed as being outlandishly unqualified. Not only does this woman have no experience as a judge, she's never even argued a case before the Supreme Court. Given that the charge of cronyism has stuck in a big way to the post-Katrina White House, it's really remarkable that Bush would pick someone whose only qualification according even to conservatives is that she's a personal friend of his. Not only is she just unqualified, but in this case there's some scandalicious red meat to the charge of cronyism -- Will Bunch of the Philly Daily News reports that Harriet Miers "[knows] better than just about anyone else where the bodies are buried" regarding Bush's (lack of) service in the National Guard:

Bush's Texas gubenatorial campaign in 1998 (when he was starting to eye the White House) actually paid Miers $19,000 to run an internal pre-emptive probe of the potential scandal. Not long after, a since-settled lawsuit alleged that the Texas Lottery Commission -- while chaired by Bush appointee Miers -- played a role in a multi-million dollar cover-up of the scandal.

Whatever Miers knows about the president's troubled past, she may soon be keeping that information underneath the black robe of an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Miers, who not long ago succeeded Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez as White House counsel, is now Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor:

Miers is a skilled lawyer -- mainly on behalf of big business, including Microsoft and Disney -- and the first woman elected Texas State Bar President. But her main qualifications for the highest court in the land appear to be the same as most of Bush's recent appointments: She is unfailingly loyal to George W. Bush.

Bunch goes on to sketch Miers' connection to another scandal, this one involving fellow Bush-Guard-service-scandal veteran Ben Barnes and corruption in the Texas Lottery Commission.

I don't know if there's anything to Bunch's insinuation that Miers was chosen because she has dirt on Bush; to be honest, I'm pretty skeptical of this sort of Google-search-inspired conspiracy-mongering, but I am surprised that Bush (or Rove) would choose someone that makes it so easy to spin yarns like the above, and can't help wondering if SCOTUSblog's Tom Goldstein, of Goldstein & Howe, P.C., "the nation's only Supreme Court litigation boutique", might be right on this one -- Goldstein predicts that Miers will not be confirmed:

I really need to get down to the Court to argue but wanted to note my sense that the President's nomination creates a very interesting political dynamic - one that places the nomination in peril. The nomination obviously will be vigorously supported by groups created for the purpose of pressing the President's nominees, and vigorously opposed by groups on the other side. But within the conservative wing of the Republican party, there is thus far (very early in the process) only great disappointment, not enthusiasm. They would prefer Miers to be rejected in the hope - misguided, I think - that the President would then nominate, for example, Janice Rogers Brown. Moderate Republicans have no substantial incentive to support Miers, and the President seems to have somewhat less capital to invest here. On the Democratic side, there will be inevitable - perhaps knee-jerk - opposition. Nor does Miers have a built in "fan base" of people in Washington, in contrast to the people (Democratic and Republican) who knew and respected John Roberts. Even if Democrats aren't truly gravely concerned, they will see this as an opportunity to damage the President. The themes of the opposition will be cronyism and inexperience. Democratic questioning at the hearings will be an onslaught of questions about federal constitutional law that Miers in all likelihood won't want to, or won't be able to (because her jobs haven't called on her to study the issues), answer. I have no view on whether she should be confirmed (it's simply too early to say), but will go out on a limb and predict that she will be rejected by the Senate. In my view, Justice O'Connor will still be sitting on the Court on January 1, 2006.

Gitmo's Hunger Strikes 

Lawyer to 45 detainees, Clive Stafford-Smith, reveals in The Nation that a major hunger strike is still underway at Gitmo.

This is not exactly breaking news; for example, Voice of America citing the Times admitted a few weeks ago that

a widespread hunger strike at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is posing a serious challenge to military commanders there. [...] The hunger strike is the second this year at Guantanamo. It began in August after some detainees reported witnessing the abuse of a prisoner.

Stafford-Smith's editorial and the little VOA piece above are both discussing the same action despite the fact that the VOA writer labels the strike the "second" this year. If you want to carve up the hunger strikes with that level of granularity, the current one should actually qualify as about the third or fourth but it is very hard to disentangle which mainstream news account is talking about which, and it makes more sense to view the whole phenomenon as one big ongoing act of civil disobedience.

And it is a big act -- Stafford-Smith's piece led me to start reading all I could find on the subject and I was quickly struck by the scale of this story. Some sources are saying as many as 200 inmates are involved: that's 40% of the total prisoner population at Guantanamo Bay. We are all so used to the almost non-existent coverage of the plight of these prisoners, that when you read the occasional news story that does appear -- say, last summer when the Koran-in-the-toilet riots forced Guantanamo Bay back into American newspapers -- and the story offhandedly mentions the hunger strikers, we assume this action is a minor affair.

The truth is the strikes have been remarkably large and remarkably successful given the absolute powerlessness of those involved. Here's the Wikopedia:

The first hunger strike ended on July 28, 2005, when prison authorities agreed to make concessions. According to some accounts half a dozen detainees were then close to death. According to some accounts so many detainees were being forced to receive intravenous rehydration that the prison's well-equipped infirmary was overwhelmed and detainees had to be transferred to the Naval hospital.

According to human rights workers the prison authorities had a "waiver form" they called upon detainees to sign if they wanted to refuse intravenous rehydration. But the detainees have all been advised, by their lawyers, not to sign anything their lawyers haven't reviewed.

One concession the American authorities acknowledge making was to supply the detainees with a bottle of clean water to drink with each meal.

The detainees reported, to their lawyers, that the prison authorities had agreed that they would begin to treat them in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. And when, a week later, it was obvious that the prison authorities were not abiding by their commitment, they initiated a second hunger strike in early August.

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