donkey o.d. too

My main site, donkey o.d. is moving here. Pardon the dust...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Fashioning Deadly Fiascos by MAUREEN DOWD

Fashioning Deadly Fiascos
Saturday, November 5th, 2005
From NY Times
By Maureen Dowd

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Men are simply not biologically suited to hold higher office. The Bush administration has proved that once and for all.

These guys can’t be bothered to run the country. They are too obsessed with frivolous stuff, like fashion and whether they look fat. They are catty, sometimes even sabotaging their closest friends. They are deceitful minxes and malicious gossips.

And heaven knows they’re bad at math. Otherwise, W. would realize that a 60 percent disapproval rating, or worse, means that most Americans would like some fresh blood in the administration. It’s appalling to see ringleaders of the incompetent, mendacious crew who rushed into Iraq but not New Orleans getting big promotions and posh consulting jobs.

Let’s first consider the astonishing new cache of Brownie e-mail released by the Congressional panel investigating the heartbreaking Katrina non-response.

Batting away the frantic warnings of death and doom in New Orleans, bubbleheaded Brownie boasted of his style sense, replying to a staffer who told him his outfit looked “fabulous” on TV: “I got it at Nordstrom.”

In another e-mail to staffers, he preened: “If you’ll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you’ll really vomit. I am a fashion god.”

Brownie had other things on his mind besides managing the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history: restaurants and dog sitters, and marshaling spin for stories about his past management gaffes at the International Arabian Horse Association.

By Sept. 4, with disaster apartheid in full view, Brownie was getting e-mail advice from his press secretary: “You just need to look more hardworking,” Sharon Worthy wrote the FEMA Fashionista. “ROLL UP THE SLEEVES!”

It may seem unfathomable that W. has kept Brownie, one of the biggest boobs in U.S. history, on the federal payroll as a $148,000-a-year consultant.

But President Bush may be empathetic to Brownie’s concerns about looking good. Obsessed with losing the seven pounds he’d gained around his waist, W. was so focused on getting back his hourglass figure that his staff had to compile an emergency DVD of Katrina news stories before he could be dragged away from biking.

Unless it’s some catty attempt to undermine someone you’re pretending to like, how to explain the Mean Girls cabal headed by Dick Cheney, Rummy and the Rummy aide Douglas Feith? These hawkish Heathers lured W. into war with hyped intelligence and then clawed out Colin Powell’s eyes to take charge of the occupation, only to bollix up the whole thing beyond belief and send the president’s ratings cratering.

The former Powell chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who often verbalizes what Mr. Powell does not say because the ex-secretary of state does not want to be in a public catfight with the cabal, charged on NPR that the cabal issued directives that led to the abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It was clear to me,” he said, “that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms – I’ll give you that – that to a soldier in the field meant two things: we’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence – and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it.”

Colonel Wilkerson called David Addington, the shadowy Cheney counsel who has been promoted to Scooter’s chief of staff job, “a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.”

Heathers have their own rules. Having ignored the warnings that an invasion would cause an insurgency, the Vice squad stepped up the torture to try to stop an insurgency born amid the arrogant, incompetent occupation.

The colonel also described how Vice shaped war policy. Mr. Cheney’s fiercely ideological staff monitored the National Security Council staff in such Big Brother fashion that some of the N.S.C. staff “quit using e-mails for substantive conversations because they knew the vice president’s alternate national security staff was reading their e-mails now.”

Colonel Wilkerson said that there was an N.S.C. memo that made a compelling argument for a large number of troops being necessary in Iraq, “and to this day, I don’t know whether that memorandum ever got to the president of the United States.”

Women are affected by hormones only at times. Vice’s hormones rage every day.

[thx true blue lib]

Friday, November 04, 2005



Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. “The Emperor’s New Suit” doesn’t end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to admit their mistake.

I’ve laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was over.

The talk-show host Bill O’Reilly yelled, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at the little boy. Calling the boy a nut, he threatened to go to the boy’s house and “surprise” him.

Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing, then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.

Imperial officials eventually admitted that they couldn’t find any evidence that the suit ever existed, or that there had even been an effort to produce a suit.

They insisted, however, that they had found evidence of wardrobe-manufacturing-and-distribution-related program activities.

After the naked procession, pro-wardrobe pundits denied that the emperor was at fault. The blame, they said, rested with the C.I.A., which had provided the emperor with bad intelligence about the potential for a suit.

Even a quick Web search shows that before the procession, those same pundits had written articles attacking C.I.A. analysts because those analysts had refused to support strong administration assertions about the invisible suit.

Although the imperial administration was conservative, its wardrobe plans drew crucial support from a group of liberal pundits. After the emperor’s nakedness was revealed, the online magazine Slate held a symposium in which eight of these pundits were asked whether the fact that there was no suit had led them to reconsider their views.

Only one admitted that he had been wrong – and he had changed his mind about the suit before the procession.

Helen Thomas, the veteran palace correspondent, opposed the suit project from the beginning. When she pointed out that the emperor’s clothes had turned out not to exist, the imperial press secretary accused her of being “opposed to the broader war on nakedness.”

Even though skeptics about the emperor’s suit had been vindicated, TV news programs continued to portray those skeptics as crazy people. For example, the news networks showed, over and over, a clip of the little boy shouting at a party.

The clip was deeply misleading: he had been shouting to be heard over background noise, which the ambient microphone didn’t pick up. Nonetheless, “the scream” became a staple of political discourse.

The emperor gave many speeches in which he declared that his wardrobe was the “central front” in the war on nakedness.

The editor of one liberal but pro-wardrobe magazine admitted that he had known from the beginning that there were good reasons to doubt the emperor’s trustworthiness.

But he said that he had put those doubts aside because doing so made him “feel superior to the Democrats.” Unabashed, he continued to denounce those who had opposed the suit as soft on sartorial security.

At the Radio and Television Correspondents’ annual dinner, the emperor entertained the assembled journalists with a bit of humor: he showed slides of himself looking under furniture in his office, searching for the nonexistent suit. Some of the guests were aghast, but most of the audience roared with laughter.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee oversaw an inquiry into how the government had come to believe in a nonexistent suit.

The first part focused on the mistakes made by career government tailors. But the second part of the inquiry, on the role of the imperial administration in promoting faulty tailoring, appeared to vanish from the agenda.

Two and a half years after the emperor’s naked procession, a majority of citizens believed that the imperial administration had deliberately misled the country.

Several former officials had gone public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe from Day 1.

But apologists for the emperor continued to dismiss any suggestion that officials had lied to the nation. It was, they said, a crazy conspiracy theory. After all, back in 1998 Bill Clinton thought there was a suit.

And they all lived happily ever after – in the story. Here in reality, a large and growing number are being killed by roadside bombs.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

John Biguenet's NOLA Journal - DEFEND NEW ORLEANS

Nov. 1, 2005
Defend New Orleans

Saturday night, Marsha and I attended a Nine Inch Nails tribute concert for relief and emergency workers as part of the Voodoo Music Experience, an annual New Orleans festival. The concert was held on the banks of the Mississippi River in weather that turned crisp after darkness fell.

Earlier, as the setting sun silhouetted tankers and container ships gliding down the river toward the Gulf, we had been entranced by Worms Union, a local punk drum ensemble, one of whose members wore the most commonly seen T-shirt at the festival. It featured, just above a musket, a skull emblazoned with a fleur-de-lis; circling the skull and gun was a simple message: “Defend New Orleans.”

If there’s anything left for me to say after my 15 columns and videos this past month about my hometown, it’s to echo that plea: Defend New Orleans.

The city is in jeopardy. At dinner last night, a knowledgeable historian and friend, who has been trying to get a fix on the actual population of New Orleans today, told me that the estimate he keeps hearing is 150,000 people during the day and only 50,000 at night. That means, if those numbers are accurate, the city has a resident population only one-tenth its size before Hurricane Katrina hit two months ago.

Many have compared the tragedy here to the events of 9/11, but as terrible as that day was for America and the families that lost loved ones, it resulted in the closing of a neighborhood in New York and a building in Washington. My son, then a student at Columbia University, was back in class a few days later. The collapse of defective levees here, on the other hand, led to the forced evacuation of an entire city. Our universities will not open again until January. Basic governmental services are still being restored two months later. Much of the population is homeless and either jobless or without salaries. What happened in New Orleans is a catastrophe of so large a scale, it is difficult to comprehend the extent of the upheaval.

As has now been widely documented, all this suffering was engendered by the incompetence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As an engineer on an L.S.U. team researching the collapse of the city’s levees concluded, the levee design the corps chose to use “could never work.” But having lost our houses, cars, jobs, and possessions to a needless flood for which a government agency bears responsibility, we now face an administration ideologically opposed to the use of government to serve the public good. The grandiose promises of reconstruction aid made by President Bush before St. Louis Cathedral in a dramatically lit nighttime speech to the nation turn out to have been nothing more than lies by a weakened politician. It is now expected that what aid we get will be funds redirected from existing poverty programs, and unlike any other federal disaster aid in history, we will be made to pay it all back.

I have been overwhelmed by the response to my columns this past month, and I apologize for not having been able to respond personally to all the readers around the world who sent their sympathy, encouragement, and gratitude. (I was especially touched by the bookshop owner in Maine who offered to replace some of the books I had lost and another reader who tried to locate a place for us to stay when Marsha and I were taking cold showers in the daycare center where we first slept upon returning to New Orleans.) Many readers expressed their shame and outrage at the performance of the federal government in responding to the crisis here.

I hope all those readers and everyone who loves the Big Easy will do whatever they can to keep attention focused on what happens down here over the next year and to support, however they can, the rebuilding of this great city. We New Orleanians can’t defend New Orleans by ourselves; we need your help.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Secrets and Shame By BOB HERBERT

November 3, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Secrets and Shame

Ultimately the whole truth will come out and historians will have their say, and Americans will look in the mirror and be ashamed.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the "better angels" of our nature. George W. Bush will have none of that. He's set his sights much, much lower.

The latest story from the Dante-esque depths of this administration was front-page news in The Washington Post yesterday. The reporter, Dana Priest, gave us the best glimpse yet of the extent of the secret network of prisons in which the C.I.A. has been hiding and interrogating terror suspects. The network includes a facility at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.

"The hidden global internment network is a central element in the C.I.A.'s unconventional war on terrorism," wrote Ms. Priest. "It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s covert actions."

The individuals held in these prisons have been deprived of all rights. They don't even have the basic minimum safeguards of prisoners of war. If they are being tortured or otherwise abused, there is no way for the outside world to know about it. If some mistake has been made and they are, in fact, innocent of wrongdoing - too bad.

As Ms. Priest wrote, "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

This is the border along which democracy bleeds into tyranny.

Some of the prisoners being held by the C.I.A. are no doubt murderous individuals who, given the opportunity, would do tremendous harm. There are others, however, whose links to terrorist activities are dubious at best, and perhaps nonexistent.

The C.I.A.'s original plan was to hide and interrogate maybe two or three dozen top leaders of Al Qaeda who were directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or were believed to pose an imminent threat. It turned out that many more people were corralled by the C.I.A. for one reason or another. Their terror ties and intelligence value were less certain. But they were thrown into the secret prisons, nevertheless.

A number of current and former officials told The Washington Post that "the original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored."

The secret C.I.A. prisons are just one link in the long chain of abominations that the Bush administration has unrolled in its so-called fight against terrorism. Rendition, the outsourcing of torture to places like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, is another. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is little, if any, legal oversight of these detainees, or effective monitoring of the conditions in which they are being held.

Terrible instances of torture and other forms of abuse of detainees have come to light. The Pentagon has listed the deaths of at least 27 prisoners in American custody as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides.

None of this has given the administration pause. It continues to go out of its way to block a legislative effort by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to ban the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

I had a conversation yesterday with Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, about the secret C.I.A. prisons. "We're a nation founded on laws and rules that say you treat people humanely," he said, "and among the safeguards is that people in detention should be formally recognized; they should have access, at a minimum, to the Red Cross; and somebody should be accountable for their treatment.

"What we've done is essentially to throw away the rule book and say that there are some people who are beyond the law, beyond scrutiny, and that the people doing the detentions and interrogations are totally unaccountable. It's a secret process that almost inevitably leads to abuse."

Worse stories are still to come - stories of murder, torture and abuse. We'll watch them unfold the way people watch the aftermath of terrible accidents. And then we'll ask, "How could this have happened?"

Chain, Chain, Chain of Cheney Fools By MAUREEN DOWD

November 2, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Chain, Chain, Chain of Cheney Fools

Scooter used to be Cheney's Cheney.

Now we've got Cheney's Cheney's Cheney.

This is not an improvement.

Once Scooter left, many people, including a lot of alarmed conservatives and moderate Republicans, were hoping that W. and Vice would throw open some White House windows to let the air and sun in, and climb out of that incestuous, secretive, vindictive, hallucinatory dark hole they've been bunkered in for five years.

But they like it in their paranoid paradise. One of the most confounding aspects of W.'s exceedingly confounding presidency is his apparent unwillingness to consider that anyone who ever worked for him - and was in any way responsible for any of the disasters now afflicting his administration - should be jettisoned.

This is not loyalty. This is myopia. Where is a meddling, power-intoxicated first lady when we need one? Maybe the clever Nancy Reagan should have a little talk with Laura Bush tonight at the dinner for Prince Charles and Camilla, and explain to her how to step in and fire overweening officials who are hurting your man.

Vice thumbed his nose yesterday at the notion that he should clean up his creepy laboratory when he promoted two Renfields who are part of the gang that got us into this mess.

Dick Cheney has appointed David Addington as his new chief of staff, an ideologue who is so fanatically secretive, so in love with the shadows, so belligerent and unyielding that he's known around town as the Keyser Soze of the usual suspects. At 48, Mr. Addington is a legend: he's worked his way up the G.O.P. scandal ladder from Iran-contra to Abu Ghraib.

Unlike Scooter, this lone-wolf lawyer doesn't reach out to journalists, even to use them as conduits or covers; he makes his boss look gregarious. He routinely declines to be interviewed or photographed.

Vice also appointed John Hannah as his national security adviser, a title also held by Scooter. Mr. Addington and Mr. Hannah often battled with the C.I.A. and State as the cabal pushed the case that Saddam was a direct threat to America, sabotaging Colin Powell's reputation when it "helped" with his U.N. speech. Mr. Hannah was the contact for Ahmad Chalabi, who went around the C.I.A. to feed Vice's office the baloney intel and rosy scenarios that suckered the U.S. into war.

Mr. Addington has done his best to crown King Cheney. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Mr. Addington pushed an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that "favors an extraordinarily powerful president." He would go "through every page of the federal budget in search of riders that could restrict executive authority."

"He was a principal author of the White House memo justifying torture of terrorism suspects," Mr. Milbank wrote. "He was a prime advocate of arguments supporting the holding of terrorism suspects without access to courts. Addington also led the fight with Congress and environmentalists over access to information about corporations that advised the White House on energy policy." And he helped stonewall the 9/11 commission.

The National Journal pointed out that Scooter had talked to Mr. Addington and Mr. Hannah about Joseph Wilson and his C.I.A. wife when he was seeking more information to discredit them in the press. Mr. Addington, the story said, "was deeply immersed" in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism about warped W.M.D. intelligence, and attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Mr. Wilson.

"Further," the magazine said, "Addington played a leading role in 2004 on behalf of the Bush administration when it refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee documents from Libby's office on the alleged misuse of intelligence information regarding Iraq."

Mr. Addington may as well have turned the documents over for safekeeping to Pat Roberts, because, as it turned out, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee didn't want to investigate anything.

Angry at the Scooter scandal, the Addington appointment and the Roberts stonewalling, Senate Democrats did something remarkable yesterday: they dimmed the lights, stamped their feet and shut down the Senate.

Tired of being in the dark, the Democrats put the Republicans in the dark. Childish, perhaps, but effective. Republicans screamed but grudgingly agreed to take a look at where the investigation stands. But even if the Senate starts investigating again, Mr. Addington, now promoted, will have even more authority not to cooperate.

It's the Cheney chain of command.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Let's Have a Big Hand For ... MOST INANE COLUMNIST: John Tierney

November 1, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Let's Have a Big Hand For ...

Whatever you think of Samuel Alito Jr. for the Supreme Court, you have to give President Bush credit for great timing. Just when Americans couldn't bear one more look at the Wilsons mugging for the camera or Scooter Libby hobbling on crutches, he's given TV viewers a new face and a new battle.

But before we get too deep in the mud of this new fight, we should pay a parting tribute to the veterans of the last one. Only now, after the special prosecutor has revealed how little criminal material they had to work with, can we fully appreciate their achievements. The envelopes, please:

Best dramatic performance before a grand jury Scooter Libby, for his soliloquy describing his conversation with Tim Russert in July 2003.

By this time, according to the indictment, Libby had discussed with at least seven different people the fact that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked for the C.I.A. Russert testified that her name didn't come up, but Libby testified that Russert brought it up - and that it was news to him:

"And then he [Russert] said, did you know that this - excuse me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the C.I.A.? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback."

Best nickname Judith Miller, for calling herself Miss Run Amok.

Worst nickname I. Lewis Libby's father, for dubbing him Scooter. Although this may seem an obvious choice, there was strong dissent on our panel from judges who argued that Libby's father, presciently realizing that his son might need to be tough enough to survive in prison, was following the "Boy Named Sue" theory of child development.

Murkiest crimes Perjury and obstruction of justice. To the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, they're serious crimes that are prosecuted "all the time," but that's not how Washington veterans view them. It all depends on who's accused of the crimes - Bill Clinton or Scooter Libby - and whether he's in your party.

To legal scholars, these crimes are like tax evasion: deplorable and widespread but unlikely to be punished, especially when the perpetrators are not celebrities or public officials. "Perjury is extremely common," said Sam Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan. "Perjury prosecutions are incredibly uncommon."

'Our Man in Havana' prize Joseph Wilson, for being even more persistent than the White House in hyping prewar intelligence. While administration officials now admit their pre-war ignorance, on Sunday Wilson sounded as confident as ever on NBC's "Dateline" when he was asked whether his 2002 trip to Niger had proved that no uranium from that nation had been sold to Iraq.

"Absolutely," he replied. "After eight days in Niger, I determined that it did not happen and could not have happened without a lot of people knowing, and there was absolutely no evidence that such a transaction had taken place or even had been contemplated."

How could anyone have known that so definitively after spending a few days in a country and sipping tea with dignitaries? Why would anyone expect officials in Niger to suddenly reveal their secrets to a visiting U.S. ambassador?

What Wilson actually found was very little, according to a bipartisan Senate committee that investigated. The committee said that most of the analysts who heard Wilson's oral report in 2002 concluded that the scant evidence he brought back, if anything, bolstered the theory that Iraq had been seeking uranium.

Austin Powers international person of mystery award Valerie Wilson. Could a former U.S. ambassador's wife, working at C.I.A. headquarters, really be a deep-cover spy? Then why did she represent the C.I.A. in meetings with other agencies, and why, after her name was printed, did she further out herself by posing for Vanity Fair?

Most thoughtful media analysts The lawyers who wrote the amicus curiae brief for three dozen media organizations opposed to the special prosecutor's subpoenas of reporters.

The brief, filed seven months ago, said there was "serious doubt as to whether a crime has even been committed" in revealing Valerie Wilson's status. Arguing that the C.I.A. had been "cavalier" about protecting her identity and had been criticized for "ineptitude" in sending her husband to Niger, the brief suggested that "the C.I.A. may have initiated this investigation out of embarrassment over revelations of its own shortcomings."

Most shocking revelation The "I" in I. Lewis Libby is for Irve.


What Did Cheney Know, and When Did He Know It? By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

November 1, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
What Did Cheney Know, and When Did He Know It?
Come on, Mr. Vice President, tell us what happened.

A federal indictment charges that criminality swirled around your office, and it demeans this administration and the entire country when you hide in your bunker and refuse to say whether you knew of any such activities.

Five lawyers I've consulted all agree that there is no compelling legal reason why you should not discuss the situation. It's urgent that you clear the air by answering these questions in a televised news conference:

Did you ask Scooter Libby to undertake his inquiries about Ambassador Joseph Wilson? Mr. Libby made such a concerted push to get information, from both the State Department and the C.I.A., that I suspect that you prodded him. Is that right? If so, why?

Why did you independently ask the C.I.A. for information about the Wilsons? The indictment states that on June 12, 2003, you advised Mr. Libby that you had learned, apparently from the C.I.A., that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked in the agency. So did you ask George Tenet, then the director, about Mr. and Mrs. Wilson? Did you review the related documents that the C.I.A. faxed to your office?

Did you know that Mrs. Wilson was a covert officer? The indictment states that you knew she worked in the C.I.A.'s counterproliferation division. You would think that anyone as steeped in intelligence issues as you are would know that meant she worked in the Directorate of Operations and was perhaps a spook's spook.

Did you advise Mr. Libby to leak information about Mrs. Wilson's work in the C.I.A. to journalists? Mr. Libby flew with you on Air Force Two on July 12, 2003, and according to the indictment, one of the issues Mr. Libby discussed onboard the plane (with you?) was how to deal with the news media. Within hours, the indictment charges, Mr. Libby told two reporters that Mrs. Wilson worked in the agency.

When Mr. Libby made his statements in the inquiry - allegedly committing perjury - were you aware of what he was saying? Mr. Libby rode to work with you almost every morning, but this topic never came up?

Was Mr. Libby fearful of disclosing something about your behavior in the summer of 2003? Mr. Libby is renowned for his caution, yet he is alleged to have suddenly embarked upon a high-risk campaign of leaks and lies. If he did do that, was it a misguided attempt to protect you? The alleged lies shielded you by indicating that the information you gave him about Mrs. Wilson instead came from reporters.

Would the truth have been so potentially damaging to your position that Mr. Libby chose perjury instead?

My guess is that there was no malevolent conspiracy to "out" Mrs. Wilson. Rather, my hunch is that you and Mr. Libby were enraged at what you perceived as false suggestions that you had been personally responsible for sending Mr. Wilson to Niger and had then ignored his findings.

I'm speculating that you may have thought that you were just knocking down unfair exaggerations and rumors - and then Mrs. Wilson's identity was disclosed to suggest that she was more responsible for sending him to Niger than you were.

And once a criminal investigation began, perhaps Mr. Libby didn't want to acknowledge that you were knee-deep in actions that at a minimum looked petty and unseemly.

Whatever happened, Mr. Vice President, the American public deserves some reassurance. If you had nothing to do with any of this, then say so. But don't cower behind your lawyers. As it is, you're pleading "no contest" in the court of public opinion, and that's painful for all of us who want to believe in the integrity of our government.

When Richard Nixon was vice president and embroiled in scandal, he addressed the charges in his Checkers speech: "The best and only answer to a smear or to an honest misunderstanding of the facts is to tell the truth." (Mr. Vice President, any time a columnist quotes Nixon to you in an exhortation to be honest, you're in trouble.)

Even when Spiro Agnew was embroiled in a criminal investigation, he tried to explain himself, repeatedly. Do you really want to be less forthcoming than Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew?

We don't need to try to turn this into Watergate, and we don't need gloating from the Democrats. But we do need straight talk from you. The indictment has left a cloud that impedes governing, and if we're to move on, we need you to clear the air.

So, Mr. Cheney, tell us what happened. If you're afraid to say what you knew, and when you knew it, then you should resign.

Monday, October 31, 2005

John Biguenet's NOLA Journal - What Have We Learned?

Oct. 30, 2005
What Have We Learned?
John Biguenet

It’s been two months since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. What have we learned?

First of all, we now know that on August 29, 2005, the region suffered not one but two distinct calamities: a natural disaster that devastated the region and a manmade catastrophe that destroyed much of New Orleans. The flattened communities in Louisiana’s St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes and on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast trace the path of a fierce storm. The destruction inflicted on New Orleans when its levees collapsed, however, was not an act of God but of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote in a front-page story confirming widely reported accounts of levee design flaws, “. . . the soil analyses of the levee and the ground beneath it show a picture of such weak support that failure of the wall under maximum loads was almost a given for the design that the Army Corps of Engineers chose to use: a single wall of steel sheet pile that was not driven to reach below the bottom of the canal.”

Second, we know that although four years have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government is unprepared to respond to an assault on even a relatively small U.S. city. As New Orleanians suffered and died on sweltering rooftops after the incompetence of the corps allowed massive flooding of the city, neither military support nor federal disaster aid arrived for days.

Third, we also know that the failure of the federal government to address the urgent communications needs of police officers, firefighters, and other first responders to such a large-scale disaster is only a single aspect of the more ominous failure since 9/11 to put in place a public communications system that cannot be crippled by knocking out a few centralized hubs. As Clive Thompson noted in this paper on September 18, even employees of the mayor’s office were cut off and managed to maintain communication with the outside world only by breaking into an Office Depot and stealing “phones, routers and the store’s own computer server.”

Fourth, we learned the country needs a national 911 emergency dispatch center to handle sudden crises that incapacitate a region. During the storm and after, a few cell phones continued to work, and Wi-Fi was extremely reliable in areas that had access to it. But with the city’s telephone system out — almost a certainty in a large-scale disaster — we had no centralized outside phone number or Internet site to report people in need of rescue or any other information that might have been of help to the authorities attempting to respond to the crisis.

Fifth, we have discovered how unprepared the U.S. Postal Service is to deal with a delivery backlog related to a disaster. Despite having rented a P.O. box and filed a change of address form, I was directed to another post office yesterday to pick up my mail from the last two months. When I arrived, I joined a long line of others from flooded neighborhoods who were told the postal system has no idea where our mail is, that it’s probably safe somewhere, and that we should try back in a few weeks. As a writer, I depend upon the mail, and I’m sure all the other individuals and businesses that have gone without mail for eight weeks now are facing as many personal and professional problems as I am.

Sixth, we learned that the lack of a national registry of displaced victims made it impossible after the disaster to locate doctors, landlords, colleagues, clients, friends, and family members. More than two weeks after the hurricane hit, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reported that only 552 of 2,430 children separated from their families by Katrina had been reunited with their caregivers.

Seventh, we continue to find that victims of a major disaster need a single Web site that lists all forms of available aid with links to simple application forms. Untold hours have been spent by people in devastated areas trying to piece together instructions on how to access help.

Eighth, we discovered how deeply generous our fellow Americans are — even if their politicians are not. The reaction of compassionate conservatives may have been typified by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who, when confronted by the staggering bill to rebuild New Orleans, opined that “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed,” and the president’s mother, who assured the nation that many of us New Orleanians were actually better off in makeshift shelters than we were before the failed levees flooded our homes. But ordinary Americans all across the country opened their hearts (and wallets) to those of us who had been displaced. The last two months have left me enormously proud and grateful to be the countryman of such kind and truly compassionate people.

Ninth, we are learning that when you empty a city of its inhabitants and keep them from reentering for a month, many of them — perhaps as many as half — never return.

Tenth, we’ve come to understand that the difficult part of all this is only just beginning.

Smoke Gets in Our Eyes By BOB HERBERT

October 31, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Smoke Gets in Our Eyes

There's a reason so many top officials of the Bush administration treat the truth as if it were kryptonite.

More than anything else, the simple truth has the potential to destroy the Bush gang.

Scooter Libby was one of the most powerful figures in the administration, Dick Cheney's most highly trusted aide and a champion of the wholesale flim-flammery that led us into the crucible of Iraq. I haven't heard anyone express surprise that he would lie in the service of the administration.

But if the federal indictment returned last week in Washington is to be believed, Mr. Libby lied with the kind of reckless disregard for his own interests that would suggest he had become unhinged. It was as if he'd waved red flags in front of the grand jury and cried, "Come get me!"

You will hardly ever hear of someone who is skilled in the art of government, and a lawyer to boot, telling the kind of transparent lies that Mr. Libby is accused of telling the F.B.I. and a federal grand jury.

The indictment says, for example, that he told the feds he'd had a discussion with N.B.C.'s Tim Russert in which Mr. Russert asserted that "all the reporters" knew that Valerie Wilson, the wife of the former diplomat Joseph Wilson, worked for the C.I.A. In fact, according to the indictment and Mr. Russert, no such discussion occurred.

Mr. Libby himself was spreading the word about Ms. Wilson and, as Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel investigating the case, asserted, "he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly."

Who knows why Mr. Libby did what he did. Misplaced loyalty? An irrepressible need to be punished for his sins? Maybe he's just a dope. Of greater consequence for the republic is the fact that Mr. Libby is no hapless functionary who somehow lost his way. He's a symptom, the hacking cough that should alert us to a dangerous national disease, and that's the Bush administration's culture of deceit.

Scooter Libby was the main man of the most powerful vice president in the history of the United States. The most important aspect of the prosecution of Mr. Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice is the tremendous spotlight it is likely to shine on the way this administration does its business - its relentless, almost pathological, undermining of the truth, and its ruthless treatment of individuals who cling to the old-fashioned notion that the truth matters.

Condoleezza Rice, for example, gave us nightmare fantasies of mushroom clouds and declared on television that aluminum tubes seized en route to Iraq "were only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." Perhaps she forgot that a year earlier her own staff had been advised that experts had serious doubts about that. In any event, she would be promoted to secretary of state.

Gen. Eric Shinseki met a different fate when, as chief of staff of the Army, he dared to speak an uncomfortable truth to a Senate committee: that it would take several hundred thousand soldiers to pacify postwar Iraq. There was no promotion for him. His long and honorable career evaporated.

That's the game plan of this administration, to fool the people as much as possible (not just on the war, but on taxes, Social Security, energy policy and so on) and punish, if not destroy, anyone who tries to counter the madness with the truth.

Most members of the administration are more artful than Scooter Libby when they send out the smoke that is designed to hide the truth on important matters. They dissemble and give themselves wiggle room, like Dick Cheney when he said, truthfully but deceptively on "Meet the Press," that he didn't know Joseph Wilson. The vice president didn't know him personally, but he sure knew what was going on.

The art of Bush-speak is to achieve the effect of a lie without actually getting caught in a lie. That's what administration officials did when they deliberately fostered the impression that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda and thus was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. This is an insidious way of governing, and the opposite of what the United States should be about.

It should tell you something that the administration's resident sleazemeister, Karl Rove, who is up to his ears in this mess but has managed so far to escape indictment, continues to be viewed not as an embarrassment, but as President Bush's most important and absolutely indispensable asset.

Ending the Fraudulence By PAUL KRUGMAN

October 31, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Ending the Fraudulence

Let me be frank: it has been a long political nightmare. For some of us, daily life has remained safe and comfortable, so the nightmare has merely been intellectual: we realized early on that this administration was cynical, dishonest and incompetent, but spent a long time unable to get others to see the obvious. For others - above all, of course, those Americans risking their lives in a war whose real rationale has never been explained - the nightmare has been all too concrete.

So is the nightmare finally coming to an end? Yes, I think so. I have no idea whether Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, will bring more indictments in the Plame affair. In any case, I don't share fantasies that Dick Cheney will be forced to resign; even Karl Rove may keep his post. One way or another, the Bush administration will stagger on for three more years. But its essential fraudulence stands exposed, and it's hard to see how that exposure can be undone.

What do I mean by essential fraudulence? Basically, I mean the way an administration with an almost unbroken record of policy failure has nonetheless achieved political dominance through a carefully cultivated set of myths.

The record of policy failure is truly remarkable. It sometimes seems as if President Bush and Mr. Cheney are Midases in reverse: everything they touch - from Iraq reconstruction to hurricane relief, from prescription drug coverage to the pursuit of Osama - turns to crud. Even the few apparent successes turn out to contain failures at their core: for example, real G.D.P. may be up, but real wages are down.

The point is that this administration's political triumphs have never been based on its real-world achievements, which are few and far between. The administration has, instead, built its power on myths: the myth of presidential leadership, the ugly myth that the administration is patriotic while its critics are not. Take away those myths, and the administration has nothing left.

Well, Katrina ended the leadership myth, which was already fading as the war dragged on. There was a time when a photo of Mr. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One on 9/11 became an iconic image of leadership. Now, a similar image of Mr. Bush looking out at a flooded New Orleans has become an iconic image of his lack of connection. Pundits may try to resurrect Mr. Bush's reputation, but his cult of personality is dead - and the inscription on the tombstone reads, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Meanwhile, the Plame inquiry, however it winds up, has ended the myth of the administration's monopoly on patriotism, which was also fading in the face of the war.

Apologists can shout all they like that no laws were broken, that hardball politics is nothing new, or whatever. The fact remains that officials close to both Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush leaked the identity of an undercover operative for political reasons. Whether or not that act was illegal, it was clearly unpatriotic.

And the Plame affair has also solidified the public's growing doubts about the administration's morals. By a three-to-one margin, according to a Washington Post poll, the public now believes that the level of ethics and honesty in the government has declined rather than risen under Mr. Bush.

So the Bush administration has lost the myths that sustained its mojo, and with them much of its power to do harm. But the nightmare won't be fully over until two things happen.

First, politicians will have to admit that they were misled. Second, the news media will have to face up to their role in allowing incompetents to pose as leaders and political apparatchiks to pose as patriots.

It's a sad commentary on the timidity of most Democrats that even now, with Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, telling us how policy was "hijacked" by the Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal," it's hard to get leading figures to admit that they were misled into supporting the Iraq war. Kudos to John Kerry for finally saying just that last week.

And as for the media: these days, there is much harsh, justified criticism of the failure of major news organizations, this one included, to exert due diligence on rationales for the war. But the failures that made the long nightmare possible began much earlier, during the weeks after 9/11, when the media eagerly helped our political leaders build up a completely false picture of who they were.

So the long nightmare won't really be over until journalists ask themselves: what did we know, when did we know it, and why didn't we tell the public?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada by FRANK RICH

October 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

One Step Closer to the Big Enchilada

TO believe that the Bush-Cheney scandals will be behind us anytime soon you'd have to believe that the Nixon-Agnew scandals peaked when G. Gordon Liddy and his bumbling band were nailed for the Watergate break-in. But Watergate played out for nearly two years after the gang that burglarized Democratic headquarters was indicted by a federal grand jury; it even dragged on for more than a year after Nixon took "responsibility" for the scandal, sacrificed his two top aides and weathered the indictments of two first-term cabinet members. In those ensuing months, America would come to see that the original petty crime was merely the leading edge of thematically related but wildly disparate abuses of power that Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, would name "the White House horrors."

In our current imperial presidency, as in its antecedent, what may look like a narrow case involving a second banana with a child's name contains the DNA of the White House, and that DNA offers a road map to the duplicitous culture of the whole. The coming prosecution of Lewis (Scooter) Libby in the Wilson affair is hardly the end of the story. That "Cheney's Cheney," as Mr. Libby is known, would allegedly go to such lengths to obscure his role in punishing a man who challenged the administration's W.M.D. propaganda is just one very big window into the genesis of the smoke screen (or, more accurately, mushroom cloud) that the White House used to sell the war in Iraq.

After the heat of last week's drama, we can forget just how effective the administration's cover-up of that con job had been until very recently. Before Patrick Fitzgerald's leak investigation, there were two separate official investigations into the failure of prewar intelligence. With great fanfare and to great acclaim, both found that our information about Saddam's W.M.D.'s was dead wrong. But wittingly or unwittingly, both of these supposedly thorough inquiries actually protected the White House by avoiding, in Watergate lingo, "the big enchilada."

The 601-page report from the special presidential commission led by Laurence Silberman and Charles Robb, hailed at its March release as a "sharp critique" by Mr. Bush, contains only a passing mention of Dick Cheney. It has no mention whatsoever of Mr. Libby or Karl Rove or their semicovert propaganda operation (the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG) created to push all that dead-wrong intel. Nor does it mention Douglas Feith, the first-term under secretary of defense for policy, whose rogue intelligence operation in the Pentagon supplied the vice president with the disinformation that bamboozled the nation.

The other investigation into prewar intelligence, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, is a scandal in its own right. After the release of its initial findings in July 2004, the committee's Republican chairman, Pat Roberts, promised that a Phase 2 to determine whether the White House had misled the public would arrive after the presidential election. It still hasn't, and no wonder: Murray Waas reported Thursday in The National Journal that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby had refused to provide the committee with "crucial documents," including the Libby-written passages in early drafts of Colin Powell's notorious presentation of W.M.D. "evidence" to the U.N. on the eve of war.

Along the way, Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation has prompted the revelation of much of what these previous investigations left out. But even so, the trigger for the Wilson affair - the administration's fierce effort to protect its hype of Saddam's uranium - is only one piece of the larger puzzle of post- and pre-9/11 White House subterfuge. We're a long way from putting together the full history of a self-described "war presidency" that bungled the war in Iraq and, in doing so, may be losing the war against radical Islamic terrorism as well.

There are many other mysteries to be cracked, from the catastrophic, almost willful failure of the Pentagon to plan for the occupation of Iraq to the utter ineptitude of the huge and costly Department of Homeland Security that was revealed in all its bankruptcy by Katrina. There are countless riddles, large and small. Why have the official reports on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo spared all but a single officer in the chain of command? Why does Halliburton continue to receive lucrative government contracts even after it's been the focus of multiple federal inquiries into accusations of bid-rigging, overcharging and fraud? Why did it take five weeks for Pat Tillman's parents to be told that their son had been killed by friendly fire, and who ordered up the fake story of his death that was sold relentlessly on TV before then?

These questions are just a representative sampling. It won't be easy to get honest answers because this administration, like Nixon's, practices obsessive secrecy even as it erects an alternative reality built on spin and outright lies.

Mr. Cheney is a particularly shameless master of these black arts. Long before he played semantics on "Meet the Press" with his knowledge of Joseph Wilson in the leak case, he repeatedly fictionalized crucial matters of national security. As far back as May 8, 2001, he appeared on CNN to promote his new assignment, announced that day by Mr. Bush, to direct a governmentwide review of U.S. "consequence management" in the event of a terrorist attack. As we would learn only in the recriminatory aftermath of 9/11 (from Barton Gellman of The Washington Post), Mr. Cheney never did so.

That stunt was a preview of Mr. Cheney's unreliable pronouncements about the war, from his early prediction that American troops would be "greeted as liberators" in Iraq to this summer's declaration that the insurgency was in its "last throes." Even before he began inflating Saddam's nuclear capabilities, he went on "Meet the Press" in December 2001 to peddle the notion that "it's been pretty well confirmed" that there was a direct pre-9/11 link between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence. When the Atta-Saddam link was disproved later, Gloria Borger, interviewing the vice president on CNBC, confronted him about his earlier claim, and Mr. Cheney told her three times that he had never said it had been "pretty well confirmed." When a man thinks he can get away with denying his own words even though there are millions of witnesses and a video record, he clearly believes he can get away with murder.

Mr. Bush is only slightly less brazen. His own false claims about Iraq's W.M.D.'s ("We found the weapons of mass destruction," he said in May 2003) are, if anything, exceeded by his repeated boasts of capturing various bin Laden and Zarqawi deputies and beating back Al Qaeda. His speech this month announcing the foiling of 10 Qaeda plots is typical; as USA Today reported last week, at least 6 of the 10 on the president's list "involved preliminary ideas about potential attacks, not terrorist operations that were about to be carried out." In June, Mr. Bush stood beside his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and similarly claimed that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects" and that "more than half" of those had been convicted. A Washington Post investigation found that only 39 of those convictions had involved terrorism or national security (as opposed to, say, immigration violations). That sum could yet be exceeded by the combined number of convictions in the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay scandals.

The hyping of post-9/11 threats indeed reflects the same DNA as the hyping of Saddam's uranium: in both cases, national security scares are trumpeted to advance the White House's political goals. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC recently compiled 13 "coincidences" in which "a political downturn for the administration," from revelations of ignored pre-9/11 terror warnings to fresh news of detainee abuses, is "followed by a 'terror event' - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning." To switch the national subject from the fallout of the televised testimony of the F.B.I. whistle-blower Coleen Rowley in 2002, John Ashcroft went so far as to broadcast a frantic announcement, via satellite from Russia, that the government had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot" to explode a dirty bomb. What he was actually referring to was the arrest of a single suspect, Jose Padilla, for allegedly exploring such a plan - an arrest that had taken place a month earlier.

For now, it's conventional wisdom in Washington that the Bush White House's infractions are nowhere near those of the Nixon administration, as David Gergen put it on MSNBC on Friday morning. But Watergate's dirty tricks were mainly prompted by the ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost. That's a powerful element in the Bush scandals, too, but this administration has upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war. Back on July 6, 2003, when the American casualty toll in Iraq stood at 169 and Mr. Wilson had just published his fateful Op-Ed, Robert Novak, yet to write his column outing Mr. Wilson's wife, declared that "weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger" were "little elitist issues that don't bother most of the people." That's what Nixon administration defenders first said about the "third-rate burglary" at Watergate, too.

There he goes again with the 'unseemly'. Argh.

October 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Time for the Vice President to Explain Himself

I owe Patrick Fitzgerald an apology.

Over the last year, I've referred to him nastily a couple of times as "Inspector Javert," after the merciless and inflexible character in Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables." In my last column, I fretted aloud that he might pursue overzealous or technical indictments.

But Mr. Fitzgerald didn't do that. The indictments of Lewis Libby are not for memory lapses or debatable offenses, but for repeatedly telling a fairy tale under oath.

Moreover, Mr. Fitzgerald was wise not to push onto mushier ground. It appears he was tempted to indict Karl Rove, but he's right to refrain unless the evidence against Mr. Rove is similarly strong. If it's a borderline call, as it seems, Mr. Rove should walk.

So where do we go from here?

First, Democrats should wipe the smiles off their faces. This is a humiliation for the entire country, and their glee is unseemly. Moreover, the situation is not that neocons are all crooks, but that one vice-presidential aide must be presumed innocent of trying to cover up conduct that may not have been illegal in the first place.

Second, President Bush needs to clean house. Just as special prosecutors should steer clear of questionable indictments, presidents should avoid questionable characters.

Mr. Rove escaped indictment, but he has been tarred. He apparently passed information about Valerie Wilson to reporters and then conveniently forgot about one of those conversations. He also may have misled the president, and the White House ended up giving false information to the public. It's fine for Mr. Rove to work as a Republican political adviser, but not as White House deputy chief of staff.

Even more important, Vice President Dick Cheney owes the nation an explanation. According to the indictment, he learned from the C.I.A. that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the agency and told Mr. Libby that on about June 12, 2003. Why?

There may be innocent explanations. I gather from the indictment and other sources that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were upset in May and June 2003 by a column of mine from May 6, 2003, in which I linked Mr. Cheney to Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger. If Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby thought that my column was unfair, or that Mr. Wilson was exaggerating his role, they had every right to ask for a correction or set the record straight.

But they never raised the issue with me - nor, when Mr. Wilson went public, did they make their case publicly. Certainly the solution was not to leak classified information about Mr. Wilson's wife.

Mr. Libby is now accused in effect of lying to protect Mr. Cheney. According to the indictment, Mr. Libby insisted under oath that he had heard about Mrs. Wilson from reporters, when he had actually heard about her from his boss. You can't help wondering if this alleged perjury was purely his own idea and whether Mr. Cheney was aware of it.

Since Mr. Libby is joined at the hip to Mr. Cheney, it's reasonable to ask: What did Mr. Cheney know and when did he know it? Did the vice president have any grasp of the criminal behavior allegedly happening in his office? We shouldn't assume the worst, but Mr. Cheney needs to give us a full account.

Instead, Mr. Cheney said in a written statement: "Because this is a pending legal proceeding, in fairness to all those involved, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the charges or on any facts relating to the proceeding."

Balderdash. If Mr. Cheney can't address the questions about his conduct, if he can't be forthcoming about the activities in his office that gave rise to the investigation, then he should resign. And if he won't resign, Mr. Bush should demand his resignation.

It's not that there's a lick of evidence that Mr. Cheney is a criminal. There isn't. But the standard of the office should be higher than that: the White House should symbolize integrity, not legalistic refusals to discuss criminal cover-ups. I didn't want technical indictments of White House officials because they inflame partisanship and impede government; for just the same reason, it's unsavory when a vice president resorts to technical defenses and clams up.

At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000, Mr. Cheney won adoring applause when he suggested that Bill Clinton's deceit had besmirched the White House. Mr. Cheney then pledged that Mr. Bush would be different: "On the first hour of the first day, he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."

Mr. Cheney added of the Democrats: "They will offer more lectures, and legalisms, and carefully worded denials. We offer another way, a better way, and a stiff dose of truth."

You were right, Mr. Cheney, in your insistence that the White House be beyond reproach. Now it's time for you to give the nation "a stiff dose of truth." Otherwise, you sully this country with your own legalisms.