"The Culture of Corruption" is a clever alliteration, a catchy political phrase, but without a vivid image to bring it to life, it amounts to a series of statistics: the increase in earmarks, the number of no-bid contracts, etc. But a rather vivid picture has started to emerge of a new scandal Wonkette is calling WatergateGate.
According to reporting in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and The Nation's own David Corn, the CIA inspector general and the FBI are investigating whether Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director, helped businessman Brent Wilkes win overpriced CIA contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Foggo was a regular at Wilke's poker game.
Wilkes stands accused of conspiring with defense contractor Mitchell Wade to bribe Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Wade, who has pled guilty, claims he also provided the Republican congressman with free limos, prostitutes, and rooms at, yes, the Watergate Hotel. The feds are investigating whether any other current or former Congressmen or their staffs received similar perks.
And just as these two stories were gathering momentum, Porter Goss, the former Republican congressman who promoted and worked closely with Foggo at the CIA, resigned rather abruptly Friday afternoon. So abruptly in fact that he forgot to mention he wanted to spend more time with his family.
So picture this: Republican Congressmen, CIA officials, defense contractors, shady businessmen, and lobbyists playing poker in a Watergate hotel room complete with your tax dollars and free prostitutes. The mind boggles. Were they Russian? It's like Christopher Buckley penned an episode of The Sopranos.
Bada Bing Bada Bombshell.
As far as scandals are concerned, the widening investigation into former Rep. Duke Cunningham has got it all. The drumroll, in no specific order:
Prostitutes. Poker. The Watergate Hotel. Members of Congress. Shady limousine companies. CIA officials with names like Dusty Foggo and Nine Fingers.
What more could reporters want in a story? I seem to recall that the last time there was a sex scandal in DC, back in the late 1990s, reporters paid rapt attention.
As Media Matters astutely noted, these are the "only hookers Fox WON'T cover."
Is it possible that George W. Bush didn't know that there are, um, blacks in Brazil? Some have long thought that such a notion -- first aired a couple of years ago-- was an urban legend.
Well...blogger Randy Paul has come across some corrobating evidence. And his source is pretty good: none other than the autobiography of former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso.
While we're on the subject of Latin America. There's also this depressing news -- that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is talking about staying in power another 25 years. This is totally unacceptable and should not be rationalized by anyone, no matter how sympathetic with his policies.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country made the choice that will help shape their futures for years to come--where to attend college. But with exorbitant tuition rates and unprecedented cuts in student aid, for many, there was no choice at all.
And while state universities have leveled the playing field for low and middle-income students--with tuition rates at a fraction of those for private schools--thousands of undocumented immigrants are deprived of the chance of attending state schools altogether. Currently, the 65,000 undocumented high school students who graduate each year are technically ineligible for in-state tuition rates, and as a result, often must forgo college, work menial jobs, and more or less abandon their American dreams. Many of these students have lived in America for the majority of their lives, speak perfect English, and have exceled in high schools.
The bipartisan DREAM Act-- which was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2003 and included in the McCain-Kennedy bill-- would reverse this excessively punitive policy and also provide opportunities for these students to eventually obtain full legal status. But with the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/02/AR200605... ">indefinite stalling in the Senate, many states, fearing longterm federal inaction, have now taken up the cause.
On April 12, "red" Nebraska became the 10th state to open up in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. Rep DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, former chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, who spent five years trying to get the bill passed, rejoiced as the state legislature overrode Gov. Dave Heineman's veto by a vote of 30 to 16.
Josh Bernstein of the National Immigration Law Center believes that the victory in Nebraska will help pressure the Senate to pass the DREAM Act nationally.
"We should take these kids out of the battlefield of this [immigration reform] war, because that's not where kids belong" said Bernstein. "The DREAM Act, fundamentally, is not even about immigration policy, it's about how we treat young people who grow up here," said Bernstein.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
A bolt out of the blue? Or a bolt?
Porter Goss's sudden announcement of his departure from the CIA is puzzling. The former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee and ex-CIA case officer offered no reason for vacating the CIA directorship, and there was no successor ready to go. News of his resignation came during a brief joint appearance at the White House by George W. Bush and Goss on Friday afternoon (the traditional time slot for putting out bad news). And--whaddayaknow--no pesky questions from journalists. This has led to the obvious speculation: was it the hookers?
I'll get to the (potential) hot stuff in a moment. But consider this: The CIA has been a mess for years--especially after 9/11. Former CIA officials routinely say that morale is lousy and that employees have been fleeing the agency, many of them alienated by the heavy-handed Goss regime, regarded as too close to the White House. One former CIA official recently told me that the retention rate for new analysts and case officers has plummeted. Many are leaving after a year. Private contractors routinely troll the CIA cafeteria, luring away the best talent they can find. ("We'll pay you more, contract you back to the agency, and you won't have to deal with those damn bureaucrats.") And there is a war still going on. The Bush administration has yet to declare al Qaeda defeated. In fact, Osama bin Laden is continues to make his videos.
The CIA beset with problems, Americans dying overseas--why would Goss give up this crucial post at a critical time before a replacement was in the wings? What sort of patriot is this?
And--I'm getting closer to the sex angle--there's already turmoil on the Seventh Floor of CIA HQ. Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director (who was put in that post by Goss), has been under investigation by both the CIA's inspector general and the FBI. Foggo, the No. 3 man at the CIA, was a regular at a poker game hosted by Brent Wilkes, a businessman tagged by federal prosecutors as a coconspirator in the bribery case that landed Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham in jail. The CIA IG is examining whether Foggo helped one of Wilkes' companies win a CIA contract for providing bottled water, first-aid supplies and other items to CIA officials in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to he San Diego Union-Tribune, critics have claimed the CIA overpaid for this contract.
Did Foggo help Wilkes, his best friend since the late 1960s, bilk the CIA?
That may be the least of it. Last week--here it is!--the Wall Street Journal reported that the feds are investigating whether Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to giving Duke Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes, supplied Cunningham with prostitutes, limos and hotel rooms (a dangerous combination). The Journal wrote, "Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others." Other members of Congress. That's something to ponder.
Wade reportedly has confessed that he did periodically arrange for a limousine to pick up Cunningham and a hooker and ferry them to a suite at the Watergate Hotel or the Westin Grand. Wade also said that Wilkes participated in the ply-Duke-with-sex scheme.
What's this got to do with Porter Goss? Maybe nothing. But here's the reason for speculation. Wilkes did hold parties and poker games for CIA officials and lawmakers, including members of the House intelligence committee. (Goss has been a CIA director, a lawmaker, and a member of the House intelligence committee.) Wilkes was pals with Foggo. (As CIA executive director, Foggo manages the CIA on a day-by-day basis for Goss.) So might Goss know anything about (a) a rigged contract; (b) bad behavior at Wilkes' poker bashes; (c) the non-recreational use of prostitutes; (d) all of the above or something we cannot even imagine? The Foggo-Wilkes-hooker links are certainly quite sketchy at the moment. But--to put this in perspective--they are firmer than some of the intelligence the Bush administration used to claim Saddam Hussein was in bed with bin Laden.
Did Goss attend those poker games? Does he have a connection with Wilkes? Is there a bad movie in all this? Some initial reports have suggested that Goss left the CIA after losing a bureaucratic turf fight against John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. But if Goss had a good explanation for his decision to bail, he could have shared it--even on a Friday afternoon. And if the reason is just old-fashioned anger over losing some of his power, he could have orchestrated a smoother transition. What led to his abrupt resignation should not be a top secret.
His departure is not necessarily a loss for the CIA. He brought in aides who were assailed as political hacks. Weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the White House officials had asked the CIA to tell them the political affiliations of senior CIA officials. (Why would the White House want that information?) Representative Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, pointing to all the experienced hands who have left the agency after Goss took over, recently complained that "CIA is in a free fall." And Goss has hardly inspired confidence--in the agency or his own leadership. Last year, he said in a public speech that he was overwhelmed: "The jobs I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear are too much for this mortal. I'm a little amazed at the workload."
Well, Goss is hanging up those five hats--and prompting suspicion that there are other shoes (or high heels) to drop.
Challenged by veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern to explain why he had claimed to "know" before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when that suggestion had been repeatedly called into question, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to use former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a human shield.
From the crowd at an Atlanta gathering of the Southern Center for International Studies, McGovern asked: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?"
Rumsfeld replied, "Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there."
What Rumsfeld failed to mention is the hard evidence that Powell was pressured by Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others to make far more aggressive statements regarding WMDs than the Secretary of State thought to be appropriate.
British scholar Philippe Sands, the author of the very fine book Lawless World and perhaps the most dogged investigator of the internal discussions involving the cabinets of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair prior to the war, has revealed that Powell shared his doubts with his British counterpart before speaking to the United Nations in February, 2003.
Referring to a memorandum containing details of a meeting between Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Sands pointed out during a March, 2006, interview on MSNBC that, "[There's] now no shred of doubt and there's been no denial, you will have noticed, as to the contents of the memorandum that the decision was indeed taken in January before Colin Powell went [to the UN]. In fact, one other aspect that I've described in my book, Lawless World, that hasn't emerged so much in the New York Times memo is another memo which records a conversation between Colin Powell and his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Jack Straw, which makes it clear that in Colin Powell's eyes if there wasn't enough evidence for a second Security Council resolution, then there wasn't enough evidence to justify the U.S. going it alone."
"So," Sands explained, "Colin Powell was spot on, but it seems he was overridden by a president and others in the administration who were absolutely committed to taking the United States to war, tragically in erroneous circumstances, irrespective of what the inspectors found."
The fact that Powell had been presented with information that cast into doubt the claims he would make to the UN was confirmed by his former chief of staff at the State Department, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who said in a February, 2006, interview on the PBS program NOW: "[The] Intelligence Bureau and the State Department at this time we were preparing Secretary Powell dissented on one key issue. And they essentially said there was no active nuclear program in Iraq."
Wilkerson has detailed the work of Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of what refers to as their "cabal" to hijack what should have been a serious examination of the intelligence regarding Iraq. He has also revealed that Powell was troubled by the over-the-top claims contained in the "script" the White House initially asked him to read from at the UN. Ultimately, Powell was pressured by Cheney and others to deliver a version of the speech that, while toned down in some areas, still contained claims based on statements by sources that had been discredited within the intelligence community.
The point here is not to make a hero of Powell. There is every reason to continue the debate about whether Powell was duped or whether he gave in to the intense pressure from Cheney, Rumsfeld and their aides in order to maintain his political viability. There is no question, however, that the former Secretary of State and those around him quickly came to be embarrassed by the roles they were forced to play. Indeed, for most of the last year in which they worked together in the White House, the split between the Cheney and Rumsfeld camp and the Powell camp was so severe that the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense rarely spoke with the Secretary of State.
Of his own participation in the preparations for the UN speech, Wilkerson says, "It makes me feel terrible. I've said in other places that it... constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That's not a very comforting thing."
Powell, it should be noted, has not distanced himself from Wilkerson's remarks.
As for Rumsfeld, he can say that he "did not lie." But he cannot claim that his statement in Atlanta was an honest one. He knows that his reference to Powell was an attempt to deflect blame from himself. He also knows the real story of how he and Cheney pressured Powell to make the "case" for war using dubious and discredited intelligence. And, above all, he knows that any attempt to link his own statements and actions with those of Powell is spin rather than an honest response to the most fundamental of all questions regarding this administration's high crimes and misdemeanors.
Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre was just on CNN talking about Porter Goss's suprise resignation as CIA chief. When asked why Goss unexpectedly quit, McIntyre feigned ignorance and couldn't quite find the words.
The story may be right in front of the mainstream media. Could it be encapsulated in one word? Hookers.
Goss may be the first casualty of the expanding investigation into Duke Cunningham, otherwise known as Hookergate. Cunningham's indicted co-conspirators, defense contractors Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, provided suites at the Westin and Watergate (sound familiar?) to entertain Congressman and other DC players. According to Ken Silverstein of Harper's, "party nights began early with poker games and degenerated into what the source described as a "frat party" scene--real bacchanals." The FBI is investigating whether prostitutes were involved. The Watergate has received multiple subpoenas.
Goss's #3 man at the CIA, Dusty Foggo, has already admitted to attending "poker parties." Silverstein, one of the best investigative reporters in Washington, revealed last week that "those under intense scrutiny by the FBI are current and former lawmakers on Defense and Intelligence comittees--including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post."
Goss certainly fits that bill.
Just eight weeks ago I was in Moscow at a conference called, "From Fulton to Malta: How the Cold War Began and Ended."
What a difference two months make.
In DC and Moscow, it's beginning to feel like a new--if scaled-down--Cold War. Hard-liners within the Bush Administration, led by that champion of democracy, civil liberties and human rights Dick Cheney, seem to have won the day. A new tough line against Moscow is now front- page news.
Of course, Russia isn't on a path to democracy. Putin is a "small a authoritarian" who has reasserted state control over Russian television (the print press remains relatively free and politically diverse), jailed a leading oligarch (the country's assets that he looted should be confiscated, not his body) and may well alter the constitution so he can remain President for a third term beginning in 2008.
But as many writers, including (my husband) Stephen Cohen in The Nation and New America Foundation fellow Anatol Lieven in the Los Angeles Times, have argued, de-democratization began not under Putin but under Boris Yeltsin. As Lieven puts it: " The 'democracy' that Putin has allegedly overthrown was, in fact, not a real democracy at all, but a pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans." Furthermore, he notes, "During the 1990s, the administration of Boris Yelstin, under the sway of the oligarchs and the liberal elites, rigged elections repressed the opposition and launched a bloody and unnecessary war in Chechnya--all with the support of Washington."
Highlighting the hypocrisy, in a sharp and smart comment for Truthout.com, William Fisher rightly notes how "truly grotesque" it is that Cheney would be "lecturing anyone about democracy and human rights." As Fisher, who worked for the US State Department and USAID for thirty years, puts it: "[Cheney] has dishonored these core American values in his own country...Could there be anyone less credible on subjects like democratic reform and open government?" Certainly not our very own autocratic President who has stated that he doesn't feel bound by the Congressional ban on torture and who believes in the unitary presidency, which means placing his imperial vision of the executive branch over the will of America's elected lawmakers.
Instead of counter-productive hectoring by hardliners and their chief hawk Cheney, we should be developing a cooperative relationship with a Russia that is reengaging pragmatically in the Middle East--by testing Hamas' willingness to moderate its anti-Israel militancy, and controlling Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. As essential is the need to restart negotiations on reducing each countries' bloated nuclear arsenals. And on democracy initiatives--let Russia's homegrown democracy activists find their own path and domestic constituencies. (Cheney's hypocritical support--has this guy ever met a true pro-democracy activist he really liked?--will only stigmatize them as American proxies.)
This is asking a lot of our current administration but what we really need is a policy that understands why Russia has become a semi-authoritarian state. But understanding usually requires a sense of history--something missing from too much of our politics and media today. One thing that's clear though is that at a time when anti-Americanism has reached record highs, US lectures to the Russians about democracy will do more harm than good.
Just what we needed. The flamboyant Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County (the Phoenix area), will now have his deputies start arresting illegal immigrants.
More precisely, Sheriff Joe is deploying his volunteer -- and fully armed -- posse to do the job.
The detentions will be made under a new and controversial law that the Sheriff says renders the undocumented guilty of smuggling themselves illegally into the county.
Arpaio has been making headlines for the last decade: first by locking up his prisoners in a primitive tent city; then by issuing them pink underwear, striped uniforms and green-colored bologna sandwiches.
When I interviewed him a handful of years ago he got angry with me when I referred to him as only the meanest Sheriff in the country. He slammed his desk and corrected me saying, "I'm the damned meanest Sheriff in the world!"
That same night I went out on patrol with some of his then newly-formed volunteer posse members. They drove fully-equipped police cruisers, purchased with their own funds. They wore uniforms identical to sworn deputies and carried new Glock 9mm pistols. The unit I went out with -- led by the-then GOP County Chairman-- ran down and cornered a couple of vice suspects in the parking lot of a seedy motel. With drawn guns pointed at them by the volunteer posse, the "suspects" identified themselves as undercover agents working with the Phoenix Police Department.
Now the posse is going to be out hunting illegal aliens. Heaven help us.
If the confusion and miserable performance that has resulted from the Republicans' Prescription Drug giveaway to the HMO's and insurance companies wasn't enough to demonstrate the private sector's incapacity to meet our medical needs, then check out this horrifying investigative report by the Los Angeles Times.
Kaiser Permanente forced more than 1500 patients awaiting kidney transplants to transfer "to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself -- the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO."
The patients were moved from established programs into its "fledgling program" in San Francisco with "a waiting list [that] ranked among the longest in the country…. The patients didn't know it, but their odds of getting a kidney had plummeted."
The numbers tell much of the story: in the first year, "Kaiser performed only 56 transplants, while twice that many people on the waiting list died…. In each of the two years before Kaiser opened its program, UC San Francisco and UC Davis medical centers together performed at least 168 transplants on Kaiser patients."
In hundreds of cases Kaiser neglected to record the amount of time patients had already spent on waiting lists at other hospitals. Consequently, many were wrongly placed at the bottom of the new waiting list – even if a patient was close to receiving a transplant at a previous hospital.
Dr. Stephen Tomlanovich, medical director of UC San Francisco's renal transplant service, has tried repeatedly--"by phone, fax and e-mail"--to contact Kaiser about 220 patients who have not been credited with time already spent on its waiting list. He also noted that Kaiser representatives denied 25 patients "the chance for new kidneys that were nearly perfectly matched" because the company would not authorize UC San Francisco to do the transplants. To make matters worse, Kaiser failed to do the paperwork necessary to transfer those same patients into its own program--the patients were "stranded."
67 patients formerly treated by UC Davis inherited another setback due to the transfer: organs are allocated regionally, and the waiting time in the concentrated San Francisco area is nearly double that of the Sacramento area.
The financial motive for Kaiser's decision is readily apparent. "The San Francisco hospital's open-heart surgery program was shrinking as less-invasive procedures became more popular. Kaiser was left with unused beds and operating rooms."
"The timing was perfect," according to Dr. Bruce Blumberg, the chief physician at Kaiser's main San Francisco hospital.
Aside from the statistics on patient care, the personnel records are also revealing: "10 permanent employees have quit or been fired out of a staff of 22."
In January--prior to being placed on administrative leave--kidney specialist Dr. W. James Chon wrote, "On the outside, the program seems to have settled into a reasonably functioning unit. However, a closer look at the program will show that it is suffering from very serious and potentially explosive problems."
Indeed, it is explosive problems such as these that have led an overwhelming majority of Americans to support national health care, as well as The Nation and columnists like Paul Krugman who called for Medicare for all Americans in his Death By Insurance op-ed this week.
The 2006 and 2008 elections must be defined by three issues: The Constitution--DEFEND it; the war in Iraq--END IT; and national health care--PASS IT. The Kaiser kidney fiasco reemphasizes the urgency of taking health care out of the hands of private companies concerned first and foremost with profits not people.