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Hubris in High Places

The scandal action in Washington is intense, almost too much to properly savor.

That squirrely little right-winger at the Justice Department who was arranging a mass execution for US attorneys is compelled to resign. Now people want his boss, the precious-speaking Attorney General, to resign too.

The Army doctors who looked the other way as health care for wounded soldiers deteriorated have resigned. Then the Marine general who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs comes along and gratuitously attacks homosexuals. Maybe he should the join the list.

All this upset takes us back to a more settled time when George W. Bush could walk on water. If he stepped into manure, as he frequently did, nobody would make much fuss. He was Bush-Rove, after all, and invincible. The Republican party thought it was going to be the Thousand Year Majority. Dems grieved over their impotence and sulked at the brilliance of their opposition.

This seems like ancient history now that the Bush regime is in free fall, but it was actually just two years ago. GWB had just won his re-election and had indeed accumulated considerable political capital. He announced he was going to spend some of it by taking down the ultimate New Deal monument--the much beloved Social Security System. Conventional wisdom assumed he would succeed. The people were not consulted. But then they had just re-elected this man so it must be what they want, too. Yes, political reasoning in Washington is that shallow.

It was in this post-election glow of hubris that the twerps at the White House conspired with twerps in the Justice Department on the scheme to politicize federal prosecutors by firing a bunch of them. They assumed, based on the record, that they could do it and get away with it. Karl Rove blessed the project, Bush added his voice. The temperament was utterly Nixonian. After his second-term victory, Richard Nixon was pumped up by the same overweening pride and vast ambitions. Just before his great fall.

The Army administrators at Walter Reed were doubtless also misled by the presidential hubris. After all, they were doing what the Bush crowd wanted--privatizing the hospital by firing the maintenance staff--and nobody had ever gotten in trouble during the Bush years by following lame-brain instructions from the White House.

Scooter Libby is going to prison for a similar misunderstanding.

And the list is likely to grow longer. Painful as may be to behold these powerful, prideful men brought down, good citizens should do their duty and applaud vigorously. We are also permitted to smile (wisely) at their folly.

Obama: Palestinians Matter, Too

Barack Obama did the unthinkable recently: he had the audacity to mention the Palestinians.

"Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," Obama told voters in Iowa on Sunday. That remark hardly endeared him to the hawkish pro-Israel supporters at AIPAC, where Obama (and Hillary) spoke on Monday.

According to the New York Times, Obama and Hillary held dueling receptions to woo Jewish voters. Hillary offered the standard pro-Israel line, even displaying a sign spelling her name in Hebrew (can't imagine Barack translates very well).

In the past, Obama has spoken highly of the Palestinian people and the calamities they've faced. No doubt, his opponents will now try and use that against him. National Review's blog has already posted a picture of him with (gasp) Edward Said.

In the AIPAC primary, it's fair to say Hillary is winning round one.

Stop the Madness

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) --nearly one-third of the Democratic Caucus with 71 members--has challenged a Bush budget that would continue to drain our treasury through increased spending on the Iraq disaster while making tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent.

"Based on the budget that President Bush has sent to Congress it seems that the only priorities he values are cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us, and escalating his disastrous Iraq policy," said CPC co-Chair, Representative Lynn Woolsey.

In a statement issued on behalf of caucus members today, CPC co-chairs – Representatives Barbara Lee and Woolsey – noted that the Bush budget request of $392 billion for domestic, non-military discretionary spending in FY08 doesn't even keep pace with inflation. Meanwhile, the military budget would balloon to $481 billion – an 11 percent increase – not including the $200 billion in requested spending in Iraq over the next 2 years.

The CPC proposes a fairer, saner, and more humane budget that would provide at least $450 billion in domestic, non-military discretionary spending – a figure representing the funding level in FY05 and also adjusted for inflation. Repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans alone – as the CPC favors – would raise at least $348 billion in revenues. (Deborah Weinstein, director of the Coalition on Human Needs, points out in a recent post that "the difference between $450 billion and the president's proposal is nearly made up by the 2008 cost of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires alone--$55 billion.") Additionally, a CPC budget would reduce the Bush defense budget request by $68.7 billion to $412.7 billion in FY08. (And also save at least $187 billion in the next two years by bringing our troops home in 2007.)

Other critical aspects of the CPC budget include: raising tens of billions of dollars in revenues by curbing corporate welfare and collecting underreported and delinquent taxes; savings of at least $60 billion per year by eliminating obsolete Cold War weaponry and implementing GAO recommendations to stop Defense Department waste, fraud and abuse; and increasing funding for Hurricane Katrina recovery, renewable energy development, education, health care and Veterans' health care, community development and policing, housing, food and nutrition programs, and child care.

In a letter to Representative John Spratt, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Lee and Woolsey summarized, "For the good of our country, we need a federal budget that points our nation in a fundamentally fairer and more responsible direction."

At least some Dems are listening to voters who spoke so clearly in November – and pursuing a true alternative to the continuing course of soulless budgets offered by a failed President.

AIPAC Disses Pelosi

House Minority Leader John Boehner got a standing ovation when he voiced his continued support for the war in Iraq at AIPAC's annual conference today. When his counterpart, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, dared to criticize the war, she heard boos.

"Any US military engagement must be judged on three counts--whether it makes our country safer, our military stronger, or the region more stable," Pelosi told 5-6,000 AIPAC supporters. "The war in Iraq fails on all three scores." First came light applause, followed by catcalls and boos, The Hill reported.

The disrespect toward Pelosi is all the more remarkable given that House Democrats yesterday bowed to AIPAC's wishes and removed language from the Iraq supplemental spending bill prohibiting President Bush from attacking Iran without Congressional approval, as I reported earlier today.

AIPAC's continued support for the war in Iraq proves how disconnected the organization is from mainstream Jewish Americans. According to a recent Gallup poll, Jewish Americans oppose the war in Iraq more vigorously than any other religious group in the US. Seventy-seven percent of US Jews (and 89 percent of Jewish Democrats!) believe the war in Iraq was a mistake.

By speaking to AIPAC, Pelosi is giving the organization legitimacy that it doesn't deserve.

Edwards Wins the Gonzales Primary

UPDATE: This just in from ABC News: "In an exclusive interview to air Wednesday morning, March 14, on "Good Morning America," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, for the first time called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales." HRC wasn't going to let Edwards enjoy his first-to-call-on-Gonzales-to-resign status for very long. See below.

Former Senator John Edwards wins. He's the first of the leading Democratic presidential candidates to call for the head of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on a stick--that is, for the A.G. to resign over the still-expanding U.S. attorney scandal. After news stories appeared on Tuesday reporting White House involvement in the recent firings of federal prosecutors (including those who were unresponsive to Republican pressure to investigate Democrats), Edwards released this statement:

Today's news is only the latest and most disturbing sign of the politicization of justice under President Bush. From the abuse of investigative authority under the Patriot Act to the unconstitutional imprisonment of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and illegal torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Force Base, this president has consistently shown contempt for the rule of law.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales betrayed his public trust by playing politics when his job is to enforce and uphold the law. By violating that trust, he's done a great disservice to his office. If White House officials ordered this purge, he should have refused them. If they insisted, he should have resigned in protest. Attorney General Gonzales should certainly resign now.

Edwards left current Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the dust. Earlier in the day, HRC's office put out a statement in which she called for more answers--from President Bush:

With the White House now acknowledging a direct role in the Justice Department's U.S. Attorney firings, the president must affirmatively step forward to explain what he is doing to address the politicization of our prosecutorial system and what role he and his aides played in this controversy.

The president is the chief executive of the country and this matter goes to the heart of his ability to manage our federal law enforcement and U.S. Attorney system. It is imperative that the president act swiftly to explain what role the White House played in this situation, hold those who acted inappropriately accountable, and take responsibility.

Yes, she asked Bush to take responsibility. Has she not been paying attention?

Obama took a similar stance, highlighting his previous opposition to Gonzales:

I opposed Mr. Gonzalez's nomination, in part, because he had shown in his role as White House Counsel a penchant for subverting justice to serve the President's political goals, and I feared that in an Attorney General. Sadly, the latest revelations underscore my concern. Americans deserve to know who in the White House is pulling the strings at the Department of Justice, and why. Anyone involved should appear under oath and answer these questions.

Round to Edwards.

That is perhaps a flippant way of looking at today's flurry of press releases from the Democratic candidates. But if this scandal does widen, expect Edwards to remind Democratic primary voters (over and over) that when evidence emerged suggesting the Bush administration perverted the federal prosecution system, he was the first to demand that Gonzales, who in 2005 approved the idea of firing a group of prosecutors, leave the administration. If the scandal peters out, no Democratic voter will hold it against Edwards that he demanded Gonzales' resignation. Yet he may well end up with the bragging rights. After all, you never know where a scandal is heading or how big it will become.

What's Alberto Gonzalez's worst mistake? Cast your vote in the Nation Poll.

Gonzalez's Big Mistake

What's Alberto Gonzalez's biggest mistake? Cast your vote in the Nation Poll.

House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers wants White House political czar Karl Rove to testify--under oath--about his role in the firing of US attorneys who refused to politicize their prosecutions.

Seven US attorneys were removed from their positions as part of a purge that has now been linked to Rove and the Bush White House. An eighth US attorney was removed in an apparent effort to clear a position in Arkansas for a Rove protege.

In response to the revelations of Rove's involvement in efforts to pressure US attorneys to use their positions to advance the Bush administration's political agenda, Conyers is taking the lead in demanding accountability.

"On Friday, the Judiciary Committee issued a letter expanding the investigation into the firing of US attorneys to include the White House," says the Michigan Democrat, who is the senior member of the committee. "We had previously learned of Karl Rove´s involvement in the firings, and recent stories implicating him in the firing of [David C. Iglesias, who had served as U.S. attorney for New Mexico] raise even more alarm bells for us. As a result, we would want to ensure that Karl Rove was one of the White House staff that we interview in connection with our investigation."

John Conyers is also seeking to interview former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and deputy counsel William Kelly about their involvement, if any, in the firings.

There is movement on the Senate side of the Capitol, as well, with New York Democrat Chuck Schumer calling for an aggressive Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry. "The more we learn, the more it seems that people at high levels in the White House have been involved in the U.S. attorney purge," says Schumer.

The administration is clearly feeling the heat. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' top aide, D. Kyle Sampson, has been forced to resign because of his role in the scandal. But, says Schumer, "Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy."

Translation: Congress is not going to let the administration hide behind a loyal aide in order to avoid accountability, as was the case with the decision to sacrifice I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, vice president Cheney's former chief of staff, in order to avoid legal scrutiny of Cheney's role in organizing attacks on former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife after Wilson exposed the administration's manipulation of intelligence prior to the Iraq invasion.

Gonzales is not getting the courtesy that has, so far, been afforded Cheney.

"We were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, 'never ever' make a change for political reasons," says Schumer. "It now turns out that this was a falsehood. As all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics."

People for the American Way has called on Gonzales to resign. Failing that, argues the group, the Attorney General should be removed from office as "the first step toward holding the White House and Department of Justice accountable to the rule of law." Says PFAW's Ralph Neas: "The Attorney General has demonstrated time and again that Americans can't trust him--or this administration--to follow the law, or to uphold the Constitution. There has to be some accountability here. It is in the nation's best interest for the Attorney General to resign, and if he fails to do so, President Bush should remove him from office."

But what about President Bush, himself?

Schumer says, "Attorney General Gonzales has either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or doesn't understand that his duty to protect the law is greater than his duty to protect the president."

If, in fact, Gonzales or Rove acted with the approval of President Bush or Vice President Cheney, then the issue at hand becomes a constitutional matter of the highest order -- or, to be more precise, of the high crimes and misdemeanors order.

Which brings us to the first question that Conyers or other members of the House and Senate might ask Rove.

How about: "What did the President or Vice President know, and when did they know it?"

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Pelosi's Disastrous Misstep on Iran

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies in the chamber's Democratic leadership initially accepted that spending legislation designed to outline an Iraq exit strategy should also include a provision barring the president from attacking Iran without congressional approval, they opened up a monumental discussion about presidential war powers.

As such, the decision by Pelosi and her allies to rewrite their Iraq legislation to exclude the statement regarding the need for congressional approval of any military assault on the neighboring country of Iran sends the worst possible signal to the White House.

It is not too much to suggest that Pelosi disastrous misstep could haunt her and the Congress for years to come.

Here's how the Speaker messed up:

The Democratic proposal for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq included a provision that would have required President Bush to seek congressional approval before using military force in Iran. It was an entirely appropriate piece of the Iraq proposal, as the past experiences of U.S. involvement in southeast Asia and Latin America has well illustrated that when wars bleed across borders it becomes significantly more difficult to end them. Thus, fears about the prospect that Bush might attack Iran are legitimately related to the debate about how and when to end the occupation of Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pelosi is so desperate to advance her flawed spending legislation that she is willing to bargain with any Democrat about any part of the proposal.

Under pressure from some conservative members of her caucus, and from lobbyists associated with neoconservative groupings that want war with Iran and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC), Pelosi agreed on Monday to strip the Iran provision from the spending bill that has become the House leadership's primary vehicle for challenging the administration's policies in the region.

One of the chief advocates for eliminating the Iran provision, Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley, said she wanted it out of the legislation because she wants to maintain the threat of U.S. military action as a tool in seeking to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. "It would take away perhaps the most important negotiating tool that the U.S. has when it comes to Iran," explained Berkley.

The problem with Berkley's "reasoning" -- if it can be called that -- is this: Nothing in the provision that had been included in the spending bill would have prevented Bush from threatening Iran. Nothing in the provision would have prevented war with Iran. It merely reminded the president that, before launching such an attack, he would need to obey the Constitutional requirement that he seek a declaration of war.

By first including the provision and then removing it, Pelosi and her aides have given Bush more of an opening to claim that he does not require Congressional approval.

Again and again, the Bush administration has seized any and every opening to claim powers that were never accorded the executive branch by the Constitution or the Congress. Remember that this administration has sought to justify a massive, unregulated domestic spying program by claiming authority under narrow legislation that was passed permitting the president to respond to the September 11, 2OO1, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Never mind that no mention of such spying was included in the 2OO1 legislation; the fact that it was not explicitly barred gave the administration all the room it required to claim the power to disregard the Constitution and the rule of law.

By stripping the Iran provision from the legislation that is now under consideration by Congress, Pelosi has handed Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- no believer he is the separation of powers -- exactly what they want. They can and will say that, when the question of whether Congress should require the administration to seek Congressional approval for an attack on Iran, Pelosi chose not to pursue the matter.

Anyone who thinks that Bush and Cheney will fail to exploit this profound misstep by Pelosi has not been paying attention for the past six years. The speaker has erred, dramatically and dangerously.

Pelosi should reverse her decision and restore the Iran provision to the legislation. It is the only way to check and balance an administration that stands ready to exploit every opening it is given by a naive and inept Congress.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The AIPAC Caucus

The night before Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference, House Democrats removed language from an Iraq supplemental bill that would have prevented President Bush from attacking Iran without Congressional approval.

"Conservative Democrats as well as lawmakers concerned about the possible impact on Israel had argued for the change in strategy," the Associated Press reported. "Opposition to the Iran language from conservative Blue Dogs had threatened to sink the spending plan," added National Journal's Congress Daily.

Hawkish "pro-Israel" organizations, on the Jewish and Christian right, have been leading advocates of a more confrontational Iran policy. Thousands of supporters are in town for AIPAC's star-studded convention, which as usual drew half of the Senate and a third of the House, including members of both parties' leadership.

The effort to remove the Iran language was spearheaded by Congressman Allen Boyd (the only Democrat to support the privatization of Social Security in 2005). In addition to supporting the White House line on Iran, the Blue Dogs want to give Bush a waiver to keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely. Appeasing the Blue Dogs could hurt Pelosi with the progressive wing of her caucus, which is already weary about the supplemental.

Rep. Jim McDermott, sponsor of the Iran provision, says he wants to see the final version of the bill before deciding how to vote. That's also the position of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But there is much unease. By acquiescing to the White House, many rank-and-file Democrats believe their leadership is missing a major opportunity to end one war and prevent another. The leading proponent of reining in the Bush Administration on Iran is Senator Jim Webb. You'd think that Webb would be the ideal person to speak for the party on national security matters. The Blue Dogs and the AIPAC caucus apparently disagree.

Surge Creep

When it comes to surging in Iraq, it's "encouraging" out there. So the President tells us ("Yet even at this early hour, there are some encouraging signs…"); so Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the surge commander in Baghdad, tells us ("[It's] too early to discern significant trends, [but] there have been a few encouraging signs…"). No, they're not talking about what Juan Cole calls the "new spate of massive and deadly bombings [that] has spread insecurity and further compromised the Iraqi government… right in downtown Baghdad, within spitting distance of the Green Zone, where the U.S. and the Iraqi government planned out the new security arrangements"; they're referring to some weapons caches found, some under-strength Iraqi units deployed to the capital, a possible small drop in deaths from sectarian violence.

Still, if surge success isn't exactly looming on the horizon, it's clear enough what is: Call it "surge creep." In a way, surge creep has been the story of the Iraq War since the beginning.

Numbers creep: As Tom Ricks has reported in his book Fiasco,when the Bush administration first invaded Iraq in March 2003, its top officials believed that, by August, most American troops would be withdrawn. Only 30,000 or so would remain to garrison a grateful country. That, of course, was four years ago. Today, American troop totals in Iraq are heading back towards 160,000-plus.

The forces for the surge plan alone, announced at 21,500 by the President in January, are already creeping toward 30,000. Recently, the administration "clarified" all this in a piecemeal sort of way. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England explained to Congress that the surge combat units might well need up to 7,000 more support troops. He suggested this in rejecting "a recent estimate by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that the surge would require an additional 15,000-28,000 support personnel." (Keep that figure in the back of your mind, as surge creep continues.) Then Lt. Gen. Petraeus requested 2,200 extra military police for all the detainees he plans to pick up in sweeps of Baghdad neighborhoods. The President signed off on them this week. Whether they are part of those up to 7,000 support troops or not remains foggy; meanwhile Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, the commander of American forces outside the surge zone in Northern Iraq, just called for reinforcements for Diyala Province where attacks have risen 30%.

Money creep: The administration supposedly budgeted $5.6 billion for the new surge plan in the capital and al-Anbar Province. But that was January, this is March. Another billion dollars or so has already been added on for those extra "support troops" (that no one had evidently given a thought to a month and a half ago) and--among easy predictions--look for real costs to creep ever higher, as they have done since March 2003.

Time creep: When the surge plan was first proposed in January, then-commanding general George W. Casey Jr. suggested that it might be successfully completed, with Baghdadis "feeling safe" in their neighborhoods, by "the summer, late summer." Soon enough, new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates let it be known that the time estimate had crept into the fall, when, he felt sure, the surge might begin to be "reversed." Now, Petraeus is talking about extending the (rising) surge troop levels into the winter; his second-in-command, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, is already floating the idea of surging into February 2008; and, according to the Washington Post, some commanders under them in Baghdad are "predicting that U.S. troop levels in the Iraqi capital will have to remain elevated until at least the spring of 2008." This sort of time creep--like the numbers creep and the money creep--has been an ongoing aspect of the administration's Iraq for years now.

Blame creep: Finally, we can already see the first little surge of blame creep out of Baghdad. Petraeus, not even a month in the Iraqi capital, has evidently taken a good hard look around and found things not exactly to his liking. He's just held his first news conference and offered his mantra for saving the capital (or at least his own rep): "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq... Military action is necessary to help improve security... but it is not sufficient." Such comments are already getting him headlines like: "U.S. commander says no military solution in Iraq." Think of the general as carefully beginning to signal his future explanation for the failure of the surge plan. (Those dopes in Washington couldn't handle the politics of the situation.) Remember: If you're going to blame someone convincingly, you have to plant your story early.

In the meantime, when it comes to what the President's surge plan will actually do in Baghdad, check out Michael Schwartz's "Surge and Destroy."