The Nation

The Ambassador, the Iraqi, and the Penguin

An ambassador--his name happens to be Timothy Carney--an Iraqi, and a penguin walk into a bar. The bartender asks how the Iraqi will ever possibly pay for his drink. The ambassador replies:

"The point to make there is that Iraq is basically a rich country; that in fact there's been a successful effort to mightily reduce the debt that Iraq had incurred during the Saddam Hussein era. I would argue that as Iraq returns to its former levels of 3 million-plus barrels a day of oil exported, that you're going to find as much money as the country needs for the major portion of this effort at maintenance and sustainment as you've defined it."

Oh wait, I think I've already heard this joke before; but back in March 2003, it went like this:

A Deputy Secretary of Defense--his name was Paul Wolfowitz--an Iraqi exile, and a penguin walk into the House Committee on Appropriations. A Congressman asks how the invasion and occupation the Bush administration has just launched will be paid for. The Deputy Secretary of Defense replies that our "Second Iraq War" won't be "overly expensive for American taxpayers": "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people… and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years… We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Oh, and ambassador Carney, who is officially in Baghdad as the "coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq," offered his gem on how the Iraqis could take over paying for the "reconstruction" of their country in a March 9th, 2007 Department of Defense briefing in the Iraqi capital.

When you hear jokes like this repeated almost four years later, head for the exits… fast.

The Last Anniversary?

March 19 update:
Click here to read hundreds of reports on this past weekend's antiwar events.

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The carnage and waste of the war are obvious to all. As Stephen F. Cohen writes in The Nation, "complete and immediate withdrawal is the only way to redeem our nation for its role the catastrophe." This is what antiwar groups are demanding in a series of protests, demonstrations, rallies and concerts this weekend.

There's a national March on the Pentagon in Washington March 17 and lots and lots of small, local actions taking place nationwide.

An understandable march fatigue has set in among many progressives, but it still seems important to me to mark this terrible anniversary with as much noise as possible. Yes, we've done it before and the war still rages on. And I'm personally glad that the entire antiwar movement, such as it is, hasn't put its energy into bringing as many people as possible to DC this month. Seems better to me at this moment to invest the resources in other forms of opposition and outreach. But I'm also pleased to see that there are at least 1,000 antiwar events planned for this weekend across the US.

In Fayetteville, NC, the home of Fort Bragg, a peace fair with live music from Holly Near and others will start at 10:00am on Saturday.

In Tulsa, there'll be a peace rally and vigil for Oklahoma's war dead starting at 1 pm on Sunday, featuring short speeches, a performance from the All Souls' Unitarian choir and an address by Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls' senior pastor.

In Nashville, musicians, speakers and marchers will gather on Saturday at 2:00 pm at Owen Bradley Park at 16th and Division for a rally and march to the Federal Building at Broadway and 9th Avenue.

Across the state of Maine, more than 100 rural towns will participate in a campaign called "From Every Village Green."

In New York City, marchers will assemble on Sunday at 1:00 pm at 35th Street east of Sixth Avenue for a walk along 42nd St. to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

The weather is expected to be bright and sunny across America this weekend. Click here to see what's going on near you.

Connecting the Dots

Over at TAPPED, Ezra Klein proposes the following maxim as a means of understanding the Bush administration: "Bush's Razor: Given a possible universe of explanations for a particular administration action, the most morally pessimistic and politically cynical will inevitably be proven correct."

As the details of the US attorney purge leak out, it's clear that the Bush administration sought to convert the Justice Department into a partisan sledgehammer reminiscent of the way Nixon subverted the machinery of the state to pursuing his own petty vendettas. So here's the next question: We know that the administration has the power to wiretap any American it wants. Back during the Nixon administration, the White House used similar powers to spy on political enemies. Has the Bush administration done the same? As of now there's no evidence that they have, but given their record, and the hyper partisan mo that the most recent scandal is illuminating, it seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

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?"


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.'"