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16 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Married to the Mob

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26:   David Addington, C...When the history of the Bush Administration is written, few individuals will be held as responsible for its excesses as David Addington.  He is the G. Gordon Liddy of attorneys, a one man dirty tricks squad — except in his case, he wasn’t working outside the law, he was rewriting the law.

In an excerpt from Angler that ran in yesterday’s Washington Post, author Barton Gelman describes what happened when the Justice Department ruled that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal.  Cheney determined that the program should nonetheless be reauthorized and ordered Addington to get it done.

Addington opened the code-word-classified file on his computer. He had a presidential directive to rewrite.

It has been widely reported that Bush executed the March 11 order with a blank space over the attorney general’s signature line. That is not correct. For reasons both symbolic and practical, the vice president’s lawyer could not tolerate an empty spot where a mutinous subordinate should have signed. Addington typed a substitute signature line: “Alberto R. Gonzales.”

What Addington wrote for Bush that day was more transcendent than that. He drew up new language in which the president relied on his own authority to certify the program as lawful. Bush expressly overrode the Justice Department and any act of Congress or judicial decision that purported to constrain his power as commander in chief. Only Richard M. Nixon, in an interview after leaving the White House in disgrace, claimed authority so nearly unlimited.

The specter of future prosecutions hung over the program, now that Justice had ruled it illegal.  “Pardon was in the air,” said one of the lawyers involved.

It was possible to construct a case, he said, in which those who planned and carried out the program were engaged in a criminal conspiracy. That would be tendentious, this lawyer believed, but with a change of government it could not be ruled out.  “I’m sure when we leave office we’re all going to be hauled up before congressional committees and grand juries,” Addington told one colleague in disgust.

Addington may only be a minion, but particularly effective henchmen often can be as dangerous and destructive as their dark lords.  Cheney made the decisions that led to torture, rendition, indefinite detention, and other such abominations, but Addington gave Cheney the legal cover to justify his actions as within the law.

As Jane Mayer notes in The Dark Side, Addington’s interpretation of the law was, in essence, that there was no law, only executive authority:

The Bush legal team, as former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis observed, spent an extraordinary amount of effort figuring out how to steer top administration officials around criminal conduct.  Their “memos,” Lewis wrote, “read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a Mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison.  Avoiding prosecution is literally a theory of the memoranda.”  Behind these contortions was the reality that the White House lawyers, like crminial litigators, were using their skills to provide rationales for a path their clients had already taken.

Let’s not mince words here.  What Addington, John Yoo, and other Administration lawyers did was nothing less than criminal behavior.  If a private organization were to act in this way, federal authorities would not hesitate to prosecute it under the Racketeering in Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO):

Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes—27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes—within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering. Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $25,000 and/or sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. . . . Under the law, racketeering activity means:

  • Any violation of state statutes against gambling, murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in the Controlled Substances Act);
  • Any act of bribery, counterfeiting, theft, embezzlement, fraud, dealing in obscene matter, obstruction of justice, slavery, racketeering, gambling, money laundering, commission of murder-for-hire, and several other offenses covered under the Federal criminal code (Title 18);
  • Embezzlement of union funds;
  • Bankruptcy or securities fraud;
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Money laundering and related offenses;
  • Bringing in, aiding or assisting aliens in illegally entering the country (if the action was for financial gain);
  • Acts of terrorism.

Pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years (excluding any period of imprisonment) after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would argue that Cheney and Addington (and others in the Administration) committed at least four such acts:  conspiracy to murder (CIA personnel may have, as a result of their use of “vigorous” interrogations promoted by Cheney and Addington, been responsible for the death of at least six detainees); kidnapping (the rendition program was essentially a federally sanctioned kidnap operation); fraud (inserting the signature of Alberto Gonzales instead of John Ashcroft); and obstruction of justice (as Gellman notes above, Addington, at Cheney’s instruction, attempted to override a Justice Department determination that the warrantless surveillance program was illegal).  That means they’re eligible.

Before you start arguing that the RICO statute cannot be used against government officials, know this:

In June 1984, the Key West Police Department in Monroe County, FL was declared a criminal Enterprise under the Federal RICO statutes after a lengthy United States Department of Justice investigation. Several high-ranking officers of the department, including Deputy Police Chief Raymond Cassamayor, were arrested on federal charges of running a protection racket for illegal cocaine smugglers.  At trial, a witness testified he routinely delivered bags of cocaine to the Deputy Chief’s office at City Hall.

To paraphrase Pogo, we have met the government and it is the mob.

Photo:  Getty Images via Daylife

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .

One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:15 pm

The Perfect Allegory for the Past Eight Years

So about six weeks ago, right at the peak of The Dark Knight’s popularity, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal argued that Bush was Batman.  Not as in the old Snickers “I’m Batman” commercial, but rather as in “he is a superhero fighting evil.” Whatever.

Bush isn’t Batman.  Cheney is Batman.   After all, they both live in an underground bunker in an undisclosed location.  And both have been known to claim that fighting evil requires stomping on a few civil liberties.

I know this is a fairly old story, but I thought of it again when I saw this panel from All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder # 10, written by Frank Miller (of Dark Knight and Sin City fame) and drawn by Jim Lee:

That’s not Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne; it’s George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

It’s also the past eight years of U.S. foreign policy summed up in a single comic book panel.

Dick Cheney thinks he is the Goddamn Batman.

Hat tip:  Slog

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Obama, Messaging, and Dean Wormer

Take a moment to watch this clip.  It’s from an Obama town hall appearance yesterday in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

At first glance, it seems pretty good.  He says that “there should be no contradiction between keeping America safe and secure and respecting our Constitution.”  He gets in a good shot in about the need to catch the terrorists before you worry about what to do with them.  And he has a great line at the end:  “Don’t mock the constitution.  Don’t make fun of it!  Don’t suggest that it’s un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up.”

Those are all good points.  The problem is that along the way, he violates two fundamental rules of messaging:

1.  Don’t use your opponent’s talking points to frame your arguments.  Obama did that on three occasions:

“Senator Obama is less interested in protecting people from terrorism than he is in reading them their rights.”

“You may think it’s Barack the bomb thrower, when in fact it might be Barack, the guy running for president.”

“The reason you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism.”

When you do this, you reinforce people’s preconceptions about you.  If folks are already inclined to worry about whether you’re the right guy, then what they’re going to hear is that Obama is soft on terrorism, has a Muslim name, and is interested in protecting the bad guys.

2.  Don’t try to convince people with facts.  Obama spends over a minute explaining the concept of habeas corpus.  He sounded like a professor.  Most people don’t have any idea what the words “habeus corpus” mean.  But they do understand the underlying principle:  that sometimes, our government makes mistakes, and we need rules to protect innocent people from being thrown in jail indefinitely.  They’ll understand that much more readily than talking about how this right goes back to before we were a country.

So what should have Obama said?  How about something like this:

You know, all of us want to be treated fairly.  You could say that’s the basic idea behind the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:  do unto others as you would have them do onto you.  In this country, we give people the chance to be heard. We promise them that they won’t be tortured.  We say to them that they have the right to prove that they are innocent of the charges against them, and that they don’t have to incriminate themselves.

These are our core values.  These are incredible gifts that the founding fathers gave to us.  And these are the very things that our opponents are now mocking.  How dare John McCain and Sarah Palin suggest that what was good enough for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin isn’t good enough for us.

Other than our familes, our freedoms are the most precious thing we have .  They are what made this country great.  They are the promise that all men and women are created equal, that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and, as you said so beautifully, ma’am, that we are the sweet land of liberty.

John McCain and Sarah Palin, just like George Bush and Dick Cheney, want you to believe that our security is more important than our freedoms.  What you know and what I know — and what McCain and Palin and Bush and Cheney certainly should know is that we cannot have security without freedom.  We cannot have justice without freedom.  We cannot be America without our freedoms.

Those who suggest otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

They should be ashamed for resorting to torture, for doing the very same things that John McCain himself suffered in Vietnam.  They should be ashamed for letting places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, instead of places like Farmington Hills and Peoria define who we are.  They should be ashamed for allowing waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, and other techniques that we used to think only happened in places like Zimbabwe and Burma and Cuba.  They should be ashamed of themselves for believing that it’s all okay because the President can do anything he wants anytime he wants.

That’s not my America.  That’s not your America.  That’s not George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s or Teddy Roosevelt’s or FDR’s or JFK’s or Ronald Reagan’s America.  Nowhere in our Constitution does it say the President can do anything he or she wants.  Nowhere.  That’s not Martin Luther King’s or Susan B. Anthony’s or Bobby Kennedy’s America.  That’s George Bush’s America.

It’s time we reclaim our heritage of freedom, our role as that shining city on the hill.  It’s time we say “not on our watch,” not here, not in Guantanamo, not anywhere.

It’s time that we say to Bush and Cheney and McCain and Palin and anyone else who supports them, we’re taking America back.  We’re taking America back to what it stands for.  We’re going to make America great again.  We’re going to be the America that respects people’s rights, that honors our core values, that draws so many people around the world to our shores.

Let’s start showing the world why we’re better than our enemies.  Let’s honor our founding fathers by returning to the values that make America America.

That would knock McCain and Palin on their butts.  It would force them to explain why they support the very torture techniques that  John McCain himself endured.  It would make them explain why they aren’t un-American.  It would require them to argue that they don’t want to destroy the Constitution or shred the Bill of Rights.  Tar them with every sin of the Bush Administration, and do it in a way that will leave them no space to reply except by repeating your arguments.

That, after all, is exactly what they’re doing to the Democrats.

So for crying out loud, Senator Obama, stop defending yourself and start attacking them.  It’s the only way you win.

P.S.  To my colleagues in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, this goes double for you.  Stop caring about how many times Sarah Palin lied about the bridge to nowhere and start talking about why Obama and Biden are the right choice. Stop parsing every lie that McCain and Palin tell and start talking about what their Administration would do to the country.  And if you can’t, then shut the hell up.

It’s the Dean Wormer Theory of Politics.  In Animal House, Dean Vernon Wormer tells Flounder, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

In politics, defensive, bitter, and angry is no way to win an election. 

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Diplospeak Translator: The Condi and The Sarahnator

Over the weekend, CNN asked Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, scratch golfer, and yet-to-be-indicted war criminal, whether she thought Sarah Palin had the experience to be Vice President.  Watch:

Time for the Diplospeak Translatorâ„¢!

QUESTION:  [Do you think Governor Palin has the experience to be Vice President?]

THE CONDI:  I thought that Sarah Palin gave a terrific speech, and not to get into the politics of it.  She’s a governor of a state here in the United States and she spoke very well.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Nope. Not even close.  Even I can’t lie that convincingly, and I’m the freaking liar-in-chief.

QUESTION:  Does she have the kind of experience to handle the things you need to handle?

THE CONDI:  These are decisions that Senator McCain has made.  I have great confidence in him.  I’m not going to get involved in this political campaign. As the Secretary of State, I don’t do that.  But I thought her speech was wonderful.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  Are you kidding me?  I have more experience in my big toe than she has.  Nope, nada, nyet. Give me a minute and I’ll come up with “no” in ten other languages, none of which Sarah Palin has freaking even heard of.

QUESTION:  But a lot of Republicans are also saying that she just lacks the experience.  I mean you can dispatch Vice President Cheney to deal with Ukraine and Georgia but Sarah Palin just won’t be able to handle it.

THE CONDI:  There are different kinds of experiences in life that help one to deal with matters of foreign policy.

DIPLOSPEAK TRANSLATOR:  I can’t believe that McCain has made He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered look good in comparison.  And I can’t believe that most people think that dealing with the PTA is the same as going face-to-face with Gadhafi, Hu Jintao, or Putin.

At least we now know why The Condi got sent to Libya in the middle of the Republican National Convention.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

New Poll: Pick a New Theme Song for Sarah Palin

Thanks to everyone who voted that Dick Cheney should prevent the Rebel Alliance from destroying the Death Star last week.  We’ve passed your recommendation on to the Vice President — you should expect your invitations to the Guantanamo Country Club any day now.

This week, we have a very special poll.  As you may have heard, the band Heart has sent a cease and desist letter to the McCain campaign for its unauthorized use of “Barracuda” as Sarah Palin’s theme song.

Here at Undip, we feel bad for the Sarahnator, so we’re conducting a Hillary Clinton-style song contest!  You can see the finalists below.

Don’t forget to vote early and vote often!  And if you have other suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.

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6 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

While You Were Away: Hot for Condi

You may have missed it, what with Sarahpalooza and everything, but Dick Cheney wasn’t the only Bush Administration official exiled sent overseas during the Republican National Convention.

For some reason, Condoleezza Rice, perhaps second only to the Vice President on the list of people George Bush actually listens to, was sent to Libya to meet with raving nutjob new ally Moammar Gadhafi (or however the hell he’s spelling it this week).

Libya was never major-league caliber evil, but they did make it to the high minors a couple of times, particularly during the Reagan Administration.  There are some who still think they have the stuff to be Axis-caliber, but the Bushies have decided to make nice.

Not everyone — particularly the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 — shares that sentiment, so apparently the Administration thought that sending The Condi to Tripoli in the middle of the Republican National Convention might mean that most Americans would be too distracted by McCainia to realize she was meeting with the Gadster (or is it Qaddster?  Khadster? GQKaaadster?  I can never keep it straight):

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - once reviled as a “mad dog” by a U.S. president - on Friday on a historic visit that she said proved that Washington had no permanent enemies.

Rice’s trip, the first by a U.S. secretary of state to the North African country in 55 years, is intended to end decades of enmity, five years after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction program.

“I think we are off to a good start. It is only a start but after many, many years, I think it is a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward,” Rice told a news conference after talks with Gaddafi at a compound bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986.

For a couple of years now, the Bush Administration has bragged about how it forced the Libyans to give up its nucular nuclear ambitions and return to the community of nations.  But what we didn’t know was that Gadhafi had a secret motive for improving U.S.-Libyan relations:  love.

From a 2007 Al-Jazeera interview with the Lucky Gadhafella himself:

Qadhafi:  I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. She beckons to the Arab foreign ministers, and they come to her, either in groups or individually.

Interviewer:  You are referring to the American secretary of state, right?

Qadhafi: Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much. I admire her, and I’m proud of her, because she’s a black woman of African origin. I congratulate her on reaching this global status. When she beckons to the heads of the Arab security agencies, they come running. She’s the secretary of state, yet she heads the Arab security agencies.

I think we’ve just established a new gold standard in the category of creepy stalker boyfriend wannabes.

Dipnote, the State Department’s little blog that could (if it only had the proper clearances!), either didn’t see this little tidbit or has a much more twisted sense of humor than I thought.  This is the headline to their story about The Condi’s visit:

What Lessons Can Be Learned from the U.S.-Libyan Relationship?

Nudge nudge, wink wink.  Say no more!

But what do you do with a problem like Moammar?  I have a suggestion.  The Condi should invite him to play a round of golf.  And now that Dubya has set a timetable for withdrawal of our troops in an aspirational horizon for success in Iraq, he could give up giving up golf and join them.  Add Dick Cheney and you have a war criminal foursome!  Be careful:  if you don’t let them play through, you might be taking lessons from the golf pro at Guantanamo Country Club.

Better yet, Moammar could tour with Van Halen.  They need a new lead singer (again), and “Hot for Condi” has a nice ring to it.

Hat tip:  Somewhere in Africa

Photos:  Wikipedia

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6 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Words Matter

Interesting bubble graph showing which words the candidates used during the Conventions:

What I found most interesting is that the Republicans never uttered Dick Cheney’s name once, nor did they ever talk about “four more years.”  The Democrats mentioned Bush nearly seven times as often as the Republicans did.

I knew the Republicans would run away from Bush.  They have to.  But I didn’t expect them to do it to the degree they have.

The last thing I would note is how infrequently foreign policy was mentioned (unless you count energy, but most of the time candidates were talking about American energy independence).  Only four topics made the cut — Iran, Iraq, “war,” and “terror(ism)/terrorist(s).”  The Democrats spoke of these issues 64 times, the Republicans 46 times (although the numbers may have been more even had Russia-Georgia been included — Obama mentioned it at least once, and virtually every Republican speaker highlighted it).

What’s striking is what’s not on the list:  torture (which I believe only Bill Richardson and Rudy Giuliani mentioned, and in the case of Giuliani, it was in reference to John McCain), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, democracy, human rights, climate change/global warming.

That’s not to say that some of these issues were not covered — they just didn’t make the cut for the graph.  It’s therefore hard to say whether the speakers did not discuss foreign policy or the graph has a built in bias against those issues.

Hat tip:  Switchblog

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5 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:04 pm

While You Were Away: Russia-Georgia

Map of South Ossetia

The last two weeks have been nuts, what with the Clinton and Obama speeches, Hurricane Sarah, and all other things political.  And things are unlikely to slow down anytime soon, given the fact that the election is only sixty days away.

While Americans focused on the conventions (and Hurricane Gustav), world events didn’t just grind to a halt.  Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of important developments that are not only important in their own right but also may have a significant impact on the next President’s ability to govern.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try to highlight someJ of them.  Let’s start with Russia-Georgia.

In the past two weeks, the Russia-Georgia conflict has increasingly turned into a proxy (cold) war between the United States and the Russian Federation.  Russian President Medvedev has demonstrated a particular affection for Bushian bluster, making grandiose nationalistic statements about reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence that were meant as much for internal consumption as for global politics.  Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has taken several steps to bind the United States even more closely to the fate of Georgia — including a pledge of more than $1 billion in new (non-military) foreign assistance and a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

John McCain’s protestations notwithstanding, most Americans still do not understand what is going on or why the conflict is relevant to their lives.

For all the jokes about Cheney being sent out of the country during the Convention, the reality is that his trip was deadly serious, designed to show the Russians that the United States would not be cowed in the face of its aggression.  But it also showed Cheney’s unbelievably blinkered view of the world:  in the end, the reason the U.S. is backing Georgia is because of the latter’s decision to send troops to Iraq.

The Administration’s actions are going to make it much harder for the next President to pursue a more rational, interests-based policy while at the same time defending Georgian sovereignty.  Of course, if McCain is President, that will not be a problem.

The bottom line:  this has become a game of low-intensity chicken, with both sides acting like 12-year-old boys.  And neither side really cares to behave like adults.  Georgia, which is largely (though not entirely) the victim here, is stuck in the middle, with little hope of serious support from the West or complete withdrawal of Russian forces.  The real fear is that some further incident will cause one side or the other to ratchet up the rhetoric in a way that we’re suddenly looking at Bosnia 1914 all over again — except this time, it will be with thousands upon thousands of nukes on both sides.

For those interested in the specifics, you can find a straightforward report on the events of the past two weeks after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

New Poll: Cheneypalooza!

Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States.Image via Wikipedia

Time for a new poll, boys and girls!  Thanks to all of those who volunteered to staple-gun their toenails to their foreheads in our last poll.

The topic this time is. . . Dick Cheney.

With all the focus on Sarah Palin and Hurricane Gustav, I think it’s a shame that we’ve all but ignored our favorite evil nemesis.

Since he’s winging off to the Republic of Georgia (and other not-so-tropical climes) today, there’s no time like the present to think about his corrosive influence over and impact on U.S. foreign policy.

Please remember to vote early and vote often!  Vice President Cheney wants to make damn sure that we can fix this election too!

And if you don’t vote, the terrorists will win.

And remember — the evil he does, he does for us.  You could say it’s selfless evil, altruistic evil, a kinder and gentler evil.


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31 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:45 pm

Five to Watch: McCain, Bush, and Gustav

Here’s the latest tracking on Gustav.

New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain are at roughly 30° North, 90° West on the map above.  They’re the part of the red line that appears to run inland from the coast.

Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s not heading directly at New Orleans anymore.  If anything, the current path is worse:

If, as currently predicted, Gustav lands west of New Orleans on Monday as a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds up to 155 mph (249 kph), its 16-foot (4.9 metre) storm surge could break through the same levees that failed three year ago.

In the face of what is likely to be one of the worst natural disasters in American history, it may seem a bit insensitive and even vulgar to talk about the storm’s political implications. But the timing and location of the storm — during the Republican National Convention and on the same path as (and on the third anniversary of) Katrina — ensures that politics are inevitably part of the bigger story.

Right now, it looks like the Republicans are going to go forward with the Convention.  They have promised to make it a more subdued, muted affair, but you can bet that every media outlet in town (well, everyone other than Fox) is going to be cruising for revelers.

In addition, the White House has announced that neither President George W. Bush nor Vice President Lord Voldemort Dick Cheney will attend the convention (which doesn’t preclude their addressing it via a live feed or even videotape).  The Cheney announcement alone may lead some delegates to celebrate — the last thing McCain wanted (other than, of course, Hurricane Gustav) was that guy showing up.

John McCain has promised that the convention will not be a celebration, and is visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast today apparently to show just how cynical he can be he really truly does care a whole lot about the danger Gustav poses.  Barack Obama, smartly in my opinion, is staying away and not criticizing McCain’s decision.

Here are five issues to watch as Gustav makes landfall:

1.  The mainstream media will portray McCain’s visit to Mississippi as a sign of leadership rather than as a cynical ploy or a foolishly rash act (after all, we’re talking about a person who wants to be the next POTUS putting himself in the way of a “monster” storm).  The one exception is Anderson Cooper, who may just go postal on McCain, just as he did three years ago on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Senator Mary Landrieu, and others.

2.  No matter what the Republicans do in St. Paul, they’re facing a split screen convention, with coverage of the devastation competing with their rhetoric and ruffles.  It is a comparison from which they cannot benefit, no matter how muted or subdued they make the event.  And iff New Orleans is badly damaged by the storm — even if its residents evacuate — they’re going to find it almost impossible to hold the media’s (and by extension the public’s) attention.

3.  Gustav is both bad news and good news for the McCain campaign.  The bad news (other than the issue of a split screen convention) is that Gustav will cost McCain all or part of his convention bounce — even if it fails to hit New Orleans.  The good news is that Ron Paul’s alternative convention will disappear off the radar.

4.  No matter what happens — good or bad, direct hit on New Orleans or not — the Administration (and more than likely the McCain campaign) will attempt to portray the federal response to the crisis as fast, smart, and a reflection of the lessons learned from Katrina.  And chances are that it will be an outright lie.  The big question is not what the Administration will say, but rather how the media responds.  Again, Anderson Cooper will be a bellwether.

5.  Sooner or later, a prominent Democrat (not Obama or Biden, but someone) will be tempted to talk about how great it is that Gustav is hitting New Orleans just when the Republicans are holding their convention (much as Michael Moore did on MSNBC Friday night).  If that Democrat fails to shut the hell up, it will negate any and all bad publicity for the Republicans.  The most likely purveyor of such idiocies is New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who once again will be portrayed by Republicans as utterly incompetent.

Both parties have to be careful here.  Gustav is a potential tragedy in the making, and hundreds if not thousands of people will lose their lives.  Hundreds of thousands will at best find themselves displaced and at worst homeless.  Any effort by either candidate (or party) to use this terrible development for political ends will not play well either on the Gulf Coast or in the rest of the country.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:15 pm

Can We Shut up about the Columns Now, Please?

Both the wingnuts and the progosphere have been in a lather today because the set for Obama’s speech on Thursday features Greek columns.

Conservatives are insisting that they’re Doric, while progressives are arguing that they’re Ionic.  Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, is waging a lonely battle on behalf of Corinthian.

Okay, no more architecture jokes.

Here’s why this whole debate is stupid.  Via Ben Smith, here’s Bush’s podium in 2004:

If you look closely, you can see a shotgun-totin’ Dick Cheney on the right, ready to shoot any unbelievers in the face.

Let me repeat what I said earlier:  Calm. The. Hell. Down.  And for a moment, try to remember why you’re supporting Obama (if you are):  not because of the optics, but because of the issues.

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27 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:20 am

What’s Missing at DNC: Torture, Guantanamo. . .and Cheney

So far we’ve seen dozens of speakers at the Democratic National Convention.  They’ve attacked Bush and McCain.  They’ve touted solutions to energy and climate change.  They’ve talked about Supreme Court justices and choice.  They’ve talked getting out of Iraq, and winning the war against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.  A few have even mentioned, in passing, that the United States needs to rebuild its relationship with allies, once agan leading rather than dictating to the rest of the world.

But there is one set of issues that we haven’t heard about yet — not once in two days of banal blathering.

Call it the destruction of American values.  It includes a number of things.

Like torture.


Abu Ghraib.

Indefinite detention of American citizens.

Denial of habeas corpus.



Black sites.

It’s as if the books by Jane Meyer, Jack Goldsmith, Philippe Sands, and so many others have gone right down the memory hole.

Where’s the anger at this desecration of everything America supposedly stands for?  Where’s the condemnation of the Bush Administration’s trashing of the Constitution?  Where are the demands that these things stop, and stop immediately?

And where are the attacks on the man who most needs to answer for his role in not just allowing, but promoting these abominations?  Where is the condemnation and vilification of Dick Cheney?

There isn’t a politician more unpopular in America today.  More importantly, there isn’t anyone more responsible for the trashing of America’s reputation in the world.

Yet after two days, we’ve heard nothing about him or his comprehensive attack on human rights and civil liberties.  Nothing about his single-minded shredding of the Bill of Rights, Geneva Conventions, and Convention against Torture.  Nothing about waterboarding, sleep deprivation, the use of dogs, or forced confinement.  Nothing about the fact that our allies now believe that this Administration has committed war crimes.

We’ve heard plenty about windmills and wages, but nothing about Cheney’s conscious destruction of American values.

In less than a week, Dick Cheney will take the Darth Vader world tour to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.  In his primetime speech, he will call Democrats weak, inept, and unwilling to face down “evil.”

If the Democrats fail to call him out on his own evil this week, he’ll be right.

Are Democrats afraid?  Are they unwilling to confront Bush, Cheney, and McCain on foreign policy?   Are they afraid of John McCain because he keeps reminding people on every possible occasion that he was a POW?

There’s a simple way to handle this.  All the Democrats have to say is that the Bush Administration believes that it doesn’t torture.  Then talk about all the things that they now do that the North Vietnamese did to John McCain.  And then point out that according to George Bush and Dick Cheney, John McCain wasn’t tortured. And then say how dare they implement polices once used against our brave servicemen and women.  And also make sure that people know that John McCain actually sanctions torture, as long as it’s committed by the CIA.

It’s the truth.  It reminds Americans of what we stand for without dragging them through the muck and horror of the past seven years.  It also has the advantage of putting both McCain and the Bushies on the defensive.

We’ve heard that Obama-Biden will be different, that they will no longer concede the high ground on foreign policy issues to the Republicans.  But if they never mention torture, Guantanamo, or any of the other terrors that Cheney, Addington, Yoo and company have inflicted on America and the world, then they are just as fearful and timorous as past candidates.

And next week, the Republicans will have free reign to make them look like apologists and traitors.

And in November, Barack Obama will lose.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, world at home | 1 Comment

25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:37 pm

Georgia and (Cindy) McCain: No Presumption Here

Cindy McCain is heading to the Republic of Georgia.  Right in the middle of the Democratic National Convention.  And right before Dick Cheney heads there.  But it’s all a coincidence.

Her aides say that the timing of the trip, during the Democrats’ convention in Denver, was never a consideration. But that doesn’t mean they’re ignoring the subtext: “She’s on the phone with the World Food Program, he’s on the phone with Sakaashvili,” McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace told me. “It’s like this great picture of what they’ll be like in the White House.” [Link added.]

So who’s presumptuous now?  Sheesh.

Oh wait.  He’s a POW.  And she’s the daughter of a robber baron wife of a POW.  I guess I can’t ask.

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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:45 am

McCain Hearts Cheney While Cheney Hearts Georgia

From 2001:

All that’s missing is his “I ♥ Dick Cheney” t-shirt.  So much for his ads trying to run away from the Bush Administration.  If I were the Obama campaign, I’d run this clip into the ground.

Now flash forward seven-plus years.  Today, the White House issued the following statement:

Vice President Cheney will travel abroad beginning September 2, 2008. President Bush has asked the Vice President to travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Italy for discussions with these key partners on issues of mutual interest. The Vice President will meet with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, President Saakashvili of Georgia, President Yushchenko of Ukraine, and President Napolitano and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, as well as senior officials of their respective governments. In addition to meetings with foreign leaders, the Vice President will attend and address the Ambrosetti forum entitled, “Intelligence on the World, Europe and Italy” in Lake Como, Italy.

I presume Air Force Two will head to Baku straight from St. Paul, as the Dickster is scheduled to speak on Monday, September 1, followed by a brief ceremony where he shoots McCain’s VP pick in the face.

On a serious note, most of my fellow bloggers are viewing this as an effort to get Cheney out of town so as not to distract from McCain.  That’s plausible, but I fear a more sinister motive may also be at play.

Think about it:  Cheney will be meeting with Saakashvili right in the middle of the Convention.  And not meeting with the Russians.  Giving John McCain another opportunity to denounce Putin and praise the Georgians, thus making him look strong on national security.

I’d say that is far more provocative than anything Cheney could say or do in St. Paul.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:13 pm

Controlympics: The Tae Kwon Do Guy’s Mistake

Pity poor Angel Matos, the Cuban tae kwon do athlete who was expelled for life for kicking a referee in the face:

If he had just shot the guy instead, he could have run for Vice President of the United States.

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24 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

Niche Marketers for Obama

I think the Democrats may be taking the whole niche marketing thing a bit too far.  Here are some of the buttons currently available.  I swear these are not spoofs.

But here’s my absolute favorite:

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 pm

Was McCain Tortured? Ask Dick Cheney

Set aside Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with the cross in the dirt story.**  He hits on a much more important point today:

[What the Vietnamese] deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration’s definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.  Cheney denies that McCain was tortured; as does Bush. So do John Yoo and David Addington and George Tenet. . . .McCain talks of the agony of long-time standing. A quarter century later, Don Rumsfeld was putting his signature to memos lengthening the agony of “long-time standing” that victims of Bush’s torture regime would have to endure.  These torture techniques are, according to the president of the United States, merely “enhanced interrogation.”

. . .[T]he techniques used are, according to the president, tools to extract accurate information. And so the false confessions that McCain was forced to make were, according to the logic of the Bush administration, as accurate as the “intelligence” we have procured from “interrogating” terror suspects. Feel safer?

Here’s what Jane Meyer says in The Dark Side about the decision to define torture downward:

Shortly after Zubayda’s capture, John Yoo was summoned to the White House. . . .[Addington, Yoo, and others] tossed around ideas about exactly what sorts of pain could be inflicted on Zubayda.  The CIA had sent a wish list of “stress techniques” it wanted to use. . . .

To blur [the] bright legal line [in the Convention against Torture's definition of torture as "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental"] the White House lawyers turned not to law but to language.  The soft spot in the CAT as they saw it, was the definition of torture. . . .[W]hat if the Bush Administration decribed the psychic stress and physical duress they hoped to exert on captives as something else? . . .The redefinition. . .enabled Cheney to describe waterboarding. . .as “a no-brainer for me,” while at the same time insisting “We don’t torture.”


The Bush Administration’s corruption of language had a curiously corrupting impact on the public debate, as well.  It was all but impossible to have a national conversation about torture if top administration officials denied they were engaged in it. . . .

On August 1, 2002, in an infamous memo written largely by Yoo. . .the [Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel] defined the crime of torture [so as] to make it all but impossible to commit.  They argued that torture required the intent to inflict suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodly function, or even death.”  Mental suffering, they wrote, had to “result in significant psychological harm” and “be of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or years.”  This. . .stretched a [U.S.} reservation to the CAT that the Senate added in 1988 at the urging of the first President Bush, requiring mental pain to be "prolonged" to qualify as torture. . . .[I]t was tailor-made to decriminalize waterboarding.

So I think we have the answer to Sullivan’s question.

Wouldn’t it be great, though if a White House correspondent were to ask Dana Perino the question?  Or even better, ask Dubya?

Helen Thomas, white courtesy phone please.

**Sorry, folks, but questioning a story that by its very nature cannot be either verified or disproved — and involves McCain’s time as a POW and his faith –  is a no-win for Obama, his surrogates, or the blogosphere.  If I were McCain, I’d be saying “bring it on.”

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 4 Comments

19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:30 pm

State Department Watch: Fed up with Bush?

In my three years as a political appointee in the Clinton Administration, I often butted heads with foreign service officers over a variety of issues.  Let’s just say that desk officers didn’t necessarily share my Bureau’s belief that human rights should be a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy.  To be fair, they didn’t necessarily disdain such issues, they just thought other things like American economic interests should also be taken into account.

So I’m not completely uncritical of the foreign service.  There’s a lot that could be done to improve it.  But even when I disagreed with FSOs, I always felt that they were worthy of my respect.  Most Americans have no idea that our diplomats often work in harrowing conditions, risking their lives in order to advance American interests and serve their country.

In that context, I wanted to draw attention to a letter that will come out tomorrow from a group of former foreign service officers** known as Foreign Policy Professionals for Obama:

We are a diverse group of over 200 former Foreign Service officers. Each of us has had extensive experience in implementing the international affairs and national security policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations. We have first hand knowledge of the grave multiple challenges of the Cold War, a period of peril but one in which the United States wore with honor the mantle of leadership. In cooperation with other democracies, and dialog with countries that were not, our nation found solutions to problems which seemed intractable. Senator Obama can place our nation again in that position of trust, credibility and respect.

With him, we call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

We, the undersigned, are firmly convinced that new American leadership is critical at this juncture in world history. We urge Americans, regardless of party affiliation, to select as our next president Senator Barack Obama, a leader with courage, intelligence, energy, a fresh perspective and a focus on the future. We believe based on our long foreign policy experience that he has the qualities needed to restore American leadership, credibility and respect in the world, the persona to make bipartisanship a possibility once again, and the judgment and vision to set our nation on the path to a better future.

As far as I know, FSOs are not overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic (if anyone knows differently, please diabuse me).  As public servants, they understand that their job is to implement, not interpret, a given President’s foreign policy.  But if you asked most, they would tell you that they prefer Presidents who build consensus at home and abroad.  That is, after all, the nature of diplomacy.

With that in mind, take a second look at the following sentences:

[W]e call for a return to the successful reliance on bipartisan cooperation at home and close coordination on the use of active diplomacy with our friends and allies abroad, to face the challenges posed by those who are neither. We have watched with profound regret the frequent, costly failures of the current administration to apply these fundamental principles.

In the world of diplomacy, that’s about as close to a smackdown as you’re ever going to see.  To call out a current President for his foreign policy blunders is just not done.  Usually, people who want to do that resign first.

I want to emphasize again that these are former officers, so the analogy isn’t perfect.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if a large majority of current FSOs share the sentiments expressed in this letter.  Just as U.S. troops currently deployed abroad have donated more money to Obama than McCain by a 6:1 margin, I would bet good money that FSOs currently serving overseas have similar giving patterns.

If I’m right, that marks an enormous sea change in less than eight years.  Most folks have forgotten now, but when Colin Powell arrived at the State Department in 2001, he was welcomed as a hero:

When Colin L. Powell took charge in Foggy Bottom last month, the new secretary of state delivered a rousing speech to his staff, promising an ambitious and expensive agenda for modernizing a department that has long complained it is strapped for cash.  The hundreds of employees who were present applauded and cheered.

Madeleine Albright was not a popular figure at State.  Many FSOs viewed her as remote, unsympathetic to their plight, and uninterested in the nuts and bolts of Department management.  A number of security snafus during her time there — which in turn led to some draconian new security measures — didn’t help matters.  (Just to be clear, I served under Albright and did not share all of these concerns.  But then again, I wasn’t a foreign service officer)  So when Powell came on board, he inherited a building ready for and willing to change.

But in the aftermath of September 11 — and particularly after the invasion of Iraq — not much new money came State’s way.  Modernizing diplomacy took a back seat to going to war.  The near-blank check given to DOD didn’t help; neither did the money poured into the new Department of Homeland Security.  But perhaps the greatest problem was that Powell ended up outside the decisionmaking process, frozen out by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other key decisionmakers.

Few presidencies have ever demonstrated the contempt for the State Department, its employees, and its role that the Bush Administration does.  Only Nixon was worse.  Ironically, since the Eisenhower years, only two Secretaries of State have had a genuinely close working relationship with their President: Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice.

Powell (and Rice, to be fair) did devote some time to management issues, and as a result, the building has become a better place to work.  The Department has solved some of its computer issues; adjusted staffing at key posts to reflect the realities of the post-Cold War era (fewer FSOs in Germany and more in India, for example); and changed some of the outdated guidelines concerning FSO advancement.

But morale continues to sag, in large part because these largely cosmetic reforms cannot paper over Foggy Bottom’s profound unhappiness with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.  And as I have noted elsewhere, the post-Kenya/Tanzania/9-11 security-first mentality has made it far more difficult for FSOs stationed overseas to do their jobs.

The fundamental question, then, is will a President Obama (and his Secretary of State) pay enough attention (and devote the necessary resources) to fixing what ails Foggy Bottom?  Because if he doesn’t, he’s going to find it almost impossible to achieve his ambitious foreign policy goals.

Big honkin’ Tip of the Hat to Gerald Loftus at Avuncular American for pointing me to this story.  If don’t yet read his blog, check it out.

**Full disclosure:  I am not a signatory to the letter, as I’m not a former foreign service officer.  That said, I strongly agree with its sentiments and would be happy to sign it.

| posted in foreign policy, politics | 2 Comments

7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:44 pm

Compare and Contrast

I was struck by similarities in the following two descriptions of individuals subjected to information overload.

First, a description from Jane Meyer’s The Dark Side of the Bush Administration trying to cope with a deluge of raw intelligence after 9/11:

[Bush] and Cheney demanded to see all available raw intelligence reports concerning additional possible threats to America on a daily basis. . . . Others who saw the same intelligence reports found the experience mind-altering.  .  .  .Readers suffered “sensory overload” and became “paranoid.” . . .[T]he cumulative effect turned national security concerns into “an obsession.”

Now take a look at this report from Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald about the trial of Salim Hamdin, Osama bin Laden’s driver and, subsequent to this report, convicted war criminal:

In the al Qaeda world of driver Salim Hamdan, exhortations to martyrdom and railing at the infidels [became] mind-numbing.  Or so claimed several FBI agents who testified last week at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver, the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education. ”Mr. Hamdan pretty much got tired of hearing the same thing over and over again,” said FBI Agent George Crouch Jr. And so, he “tuned out.”

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting some sort of moral equivalence here.  But the fact that both Bush Administration staffers and al Qaeda camp followers had similar sensory overload experiences is quite striking.  There’s a reason that interrogators, torturers, and cults all use sensory overload — it softens up targets and makes them much more willing to cooperate.

The jury in Hamdan’s case apparently concluded that sensory overload was an inadequate defense (I say apparently because the court’s decision to keep the jurors’ identities secret means we’ll never really know what was behind their deliberations).

Yet the almost exact same conditions existed inside the Bush Administration in the days after 9/11.  And it was the fear and panic of those early days, as Meyer notes, that led Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and others to conclude that they needed to use any and all means necessary to protect the United States.

Perhaps the time has come to stop thinking of the Bush Administration as evil and start thinking of them as untreated survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder.  PTSD certainly can significantly alter an individual’s behavior, and historians have documented numerous instances where a national trauma has generated what some have called collective psychosis.

That said, I don’t think we can excuse what someone has done just because they were traumatized.  Permit that argument, and almost anything — say, for example, torturing suspects or flying planes into buildings — can be justified.  And that way lies true madness.

| posted in foreign policy, politics, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

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