Monday, November 28, 2005

Americans Realize They Were Duped And Are Angry - Why Can't Democratic Politicians Admit The Same And Get Angry Too?

I recently sent this to the Bull Moose , which is loosely affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, in an effort to get them to rethink their Iraq strategy - with no chance of success, of course.

"You ask whether the American people will be inclined towards a party that is re-litigating the causes for the Iraq War. It seems they are already doing so , individually, in the privacy of their own minds. That is why you see the poll numbers continue to drop. Average Americans are coming to the conclusion that they were wrong. And they are doing so without any real leadership moving them in that direction.

I would urge you to rethink the following from you piece -

'In the post-9/11 environment any American Administration would have erred on the side of vigilance concerning Sadaam's threat. That may not have been wise, but it wasn't a case of lying and massive deceit.'

You must distinguish between the post 9/11 world and the post afghan War. After deposing the Taliban and putting al Qaeda on the run we were safer than we had been at least before the Khobar Towers and Cole bombings. We would have been even more so if we had pressed our advantage rather than diverting resources in preparation for the Iraq invasion. While many in the Clinton Administration were concerned about the Saddam threat, few if any advocated invasion. And the information generated by the Blix and Al Baradei inspections after Bush came in made clear to any impartial student of the subject that he had no serious weapons capacity, conventional or otherwise. Moreover he was not a threat to us. The only people who had anything to fear were his neighbors, and they were not very exercised.

During the whole run up to war I could not help but reflect on a similar run up more than a century earlier, one that you would be familiar with. We declared war against Spain for many reasons, but few of them were articulated publicly. Then, as now, it was difficult to have a rational discussion because neither the government or the press were interested. They wanted war.

The American people are increasingly opposed to this war because they are coming to realize what some of us tried to say before it began. There is no threat. We cannot win, if that is defined as a stable democratic Iraq. When we leave, the region will be worse for our effort and our putative adversary, Iran, will be stronger and emboldened. As people slowly realize that they will cry out for re-litigating because they feel duped. I only wish Democrats who voted in favor of the resolution would join in and say they were duped also. It is hard, yes, but it is better than perpetuating this fiction."

Time is Fast Approaching

In response to an ex colleague I summed up my lament on the Iraq war like this.

"I know you were kidding, of course, but my goals were much more modest. I was recommending a version of what we did in Viet Nam - declare victory and get out. From what I've been reading the last few days, even this group of dunderheads is coming around to that view. We will be hearing this week about how the progress in training troops is proceeding so well that we can begin a draw down and pull back. Amazing. And it will accelerate throughout 2006.

I never believed in the neocon mantra that the U. S. could bring a flowering of democracy to the Middle East. Those folks read different history books and have different life experiences overseas than I. However, there was a possibility that if we had let Sadaam's regime continue to crumble from within we could have seen a peaceful transformation in Iraq as we saw in Russia and Eastern Europe. And in the meantime, we could have devoted the military and financial resources to wiping out Qaeda and the Taliban and give Karzai a reasonable chance for success. But Feith, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other assorted geniuses had a better idea. So we will now see a decade or more of regional instability, civil war in Iraq, and probably repression in Iraq at least as bad as under Sadaam. According to ex-PM Alawi yesterday in London, on that last point we are already there. Also, Afganistan will drift back to warlordism and become a breedinground for Islamists as Muchareef and Pakistan revert to their old ways.

For all of this, what do we get? Worldwide collapse of the admiration and prestige that the U.S. had built up for over fifty years. It took a hit in the late sixties and early seventies, but nothing like this. Iran's stature as a regional power enhanced. Several thousand brave soldiers dead and tenfold that number injured. Lord knows how many thousands of dead and injured Iraqis. Hundreds of billions of dollars of additional debt. The destruction of the U.S. Army that many think will take longer to rebuild than was required after the Viet Nam war. And, domestically, a sharp turn to the latent isolationist tendencies that are always just beneath the surface.

By the way, I supported the first Gulf war and was very disappointed in the Congressional Democrats, including my ex-boss, Foley. But this was so clearly a fustercluck from its inception, both in terms of motivation and prospects for success."


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hugo Wins

Gee, it wasn't just me who was taken aback by Pat Robertson's recent outrage. According to this NYT article Preacher Pat is being "pilloried" for his assassination comments.

I don't want to carry Hugo Chavez' water but wasn't he elected in a free and fair democratic election? Why does Pat, and for that matter this White House, hate freedom? Maybe I don't understand. I guess freedom is only good if it results in the election of governments that tow the Bush/Chaney/Rumsfeld/Rice line.

Camp Casey

This article has one of the best descriptions of Camp Casey I have read. Contrary to the impression one gets from the Main Stream Media this protest has gone well beyond Cindy Sheehan.

Pat Wants To Kill Hugo

I have not written of late, not for a lack of subjects, but for too many. I hope to rectify that. But this story is too rich to pass up. Pat Robertson is advocating that the U.S. assassinate Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. This is not Pat Robertson the axe murderer, or Robertson the child molester, or Pat the homeless wino. No! It is Pat Robertson the Preacher, devout Christian, and evangelist to millions.

When I heard this I resolved to delve into my Bible and not leave until I found the passage where Christ exhorts us to murder the leaders of foreign countries.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Rove Could Be In The Soup For More Than Perjury

I'm glad that someone has finally done a thorough legal analysis of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. (I thought of writing an analysis myself but figured it's credibility would be suspect given my lack of Federal criminal prosecutorial background.) Anyway, this excellent piece by retired prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega debunks most of the silliness you have been hearing from the pundits. No - Rove did not have to refer to Valerie Plame or Wilson by name. No - he did not have to intend to harm her. In short, if one assumes that the limited information that has been disclosed to date about the Grand Jury proceedings is accurate, it should be possible to get an indictment.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Last Throes Redux

Great News! The Washington Post reports that the U.S. is talking about "speeding up " the withdrawal from Iraq. I must have missed the story on what schedule we are accelerating, but, what the hey. From what I can gather the reason is that the level of the insurgency , while getting more violent, is not increasing in numbers. And, as we are told, insurgencies need to increase to be successful. Boy these guys are good. Anyway, since the level is not going up the insurgency must be waning, which means we have succeeded and can leave.

Isn't that great. It is the last throes all over again but who cares. Let's just get out of there.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Karl Rove Outed Valerie Plame

According to this source Rove leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA agent to Bob Novak and probably others. If true, that opens the possibility of perjury charges, if he denied his involvement to the Grand Jury, as well as charges for the underlying crime.

Now, is it really credible that he was the only one in the White House in on this?

Torture is Beneath Us

This Op Ed piece by Burton J. Lee III, who served as George H. W. Bush's physician for four years, is an absolute must read by anyone concerned about the moral compass of our nation. This is how it begins -

"Having served as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps early in my career and as presidential physician to George H.W. Bush for four years, I might be expected to bring a skeptical and partisan perspective to allegations of torture and abuse by U.S. forces. I might even be expected to join those who, on the one hand, deny that U.S. personnel have engaged in systematic use of torture while, on the other, claiming that such abuse is justified. But I cannot do so.

It's precisely because of my devotion to country, respect for our military and commitment to the ethics of the medical profession that I speak out against systematic, government-sanctioned torture and excessive abuse of prisoners during our war on terrorism. I am also deeply disturbed by the reported complicity in these abuses of military medical personnel. This extraordinary shift in policy and values is alien to my concept of modern-day America and of my government and profession."

Friday, July 01, 2005

We Won - The Iraqis Can Handle It

When I suggested, tongue in cheek, that we accept the Vice President's position that the insurgency is in its last throes and begin withdrawing, I was only half kidding.

Now many "experts", most in the mold of the Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Cheney, would disagree with my suggestion. You remember, "cakewalk," "we know where the WMD are," and "we'll be greeted with flowers in the streets." The folks who gave us that wisdom now have a new litany of sage prognostications which they announce as if they are reading off stone tablets. "Failure is not an option". "Iraq will descend into chaos, possibly civil war". "We have to stay the course to avoid a humiliating defeat." "Our oil supplies are at stake." "Iraq will become a breeding ground for terrorists," "If we do not succeed Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Emirates and the rest of the region will be thrown into chaos and be vulnerable to extremists," ad nauseam.

The problem with all of these statements, aside from being totally refutable on their merits, is that they assume we can "win" in the sense of bringing a peaceful, democratic, stable, pro-American, devoid of insurgent groups, unified Iraq into existence. We can't. And the sooner we come to that realization the sooner we will be able to put this sorry episode behind us, bear the shame of having failed, put up with some more regional uncertainty, and hope to begin the very slow process of rebuilding our national and international self esteem.

Now I would not suggest that we withdraw without first having declared victory. After all, we succeeded in our declared war aim - Iraq has no WMD. On our secondary was aim we also succeeded - Hussein is behind bars. The interim government has been established and has promised to hold Constitutional elections this fall. They should be held to that deadline and their failure to achieve it will be theirs, not ours. The only remaining thing is for us to insist that the Iraqi government to establish a timetable for completing the process of rebuilding its army and police force - to be completed in not less than two years. Our withdrawal, which should be staged according to that timetable. (We should be able to begin immediately based on the numbers of troops the President has already announced are our fully operational.) If, in the future, the Iraqis fail to meet their timetables our withdrawals should continue as scheduled, to be sure they know we are serious.

Everyone knows that Vietnam is not a perfect analogy, but consider this. What was the difference between the U.S leaving Vietnam after the Tet offensive in the Spring of 1968, and when we finally withdrew in 1973? Sadly, the answer is about 30,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives. We could have had "Peace With Honor" in 1968 and saved ourselves and the Vietnamese a lot of death and destruction. But we didn't because we were told, failure was not an option, Vietnam would descend into chaos, the Communists would take over the country, we would suffer a humiliating defeat, the Soviet Union would use our defeat to press its advantage throughout Africa and the Middle East, and all of Southeast Asia would fall to the Communists, jeopardizing even South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Australia. At the time, these outcomes were accepted as gospel and were so dire that they could not be seriously debated.

Did any of that happen? Yes. We suffered a humiliating defeat and Vietnam became Communist. We got over our defeat and now have diplomatic relations with Vietnam. It's hard to argue that our international prestige was in worse shape after the war than it was during the last five years of the conflict. But the rest was all conventional wisdom bunk.

(There was one other thing, though. We destroyed our Army, which took over a decade to rebuild. We are well on the way to destroying it again and the rebuilding period could well be longer.)

Here we are again. We have a choice. We can accept reality now or accept it two, five or eight years from now. For the United States the difference will be the numbers of brave Americans killed or wounded in the process, the amount of money spent, and the level of resentment we leave behind. For the Iraqis, it will only mean a delay in the arrival of that day when they complete the process of establishing the country they desire, with or without civil war. It may be one country or maybe three, but they will get there. And the length of the period of turmoil will be less the sooner we leave.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Last Throes - You Bet

Vice President Cheney says the Iraq insurgency is in its "last throes." Now our Vice President isn't often right about much of anything and his record on Iraq is beyond dismal, but I think we should give this one to him. The insurgency is so close to the end we can start our withdrawal immediately."

Estate Tax Redux

The Washington Post has also waded in on the Estate tax.

As an asside, I've been wondering about the Post in the last few years. In the past they embodied the maxim that the role of good journalists was to "speak truth to power." But that changed with the Bush administration. They have been far too deferential, and not just in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. Lets hope a change is in the wind.

The Post correctly suggests that the Democrats, who seem wobbly on the Senator Kyle's proposal to effectively repeal the estate tax, have both the policy and politics wrong. The policy is easy. We need to raise taxes, especially on the wealthy. Our deficits are unsustainable and will cripple us if most of the Bush tax cuts are not repealed, or at least let to expire. The Republicans have successfully waged class warfare against the middle class for the last twenty-five years and it is time to put matters right. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a March 7, 2005 Report which is a must read about the scary change in after tax income distribution since 1979. The bottom line is this. From 1979 to 2002 the after tax income, adjusted for inflation, of the bottom fifth of income earners went up a total of 5%. The middle fifth, which was $43,700 in 2002, saw an increase over those twenty three years of 15%. The top fifth increased 48% and the top one percent saw a whopping 111% increase. Think about that. The incomes of the already super rich increased more than seven times as fast as the income of the middle class. If we have more of this we will truly become a banana republic economy.

While the Estate Tax did not cause this massive income shift, curtailing or eliminating it will make it worse. It will take us in the wrong direction.

On the politics, the Democratic party need to shed its fear of the "class warfare" charge. They should adopt it as their own. The Republicans have been waging class warfare against the middle class for years. They enrich their friends through tax policies, corporate welfare and regulatory policies that strip them of accountability. If the Democrats would simply stand up and call it like it is, they will not only win but also begin to return our country to some semblance of economic balance and social equality.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Estate Tax Insanity

The New York Times has it right on the continuing efforts to reduce or repeal the Estate Tax. But there is one additional thought to consider -

What is the difference between the War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Gulf War on the one hand - and the Iraq War/ War on Terror on the other. In the first group, we paid for the war in part by imposing or maintaining in place an Estate Tax that generated revenue from the most well off in our country. For the Iraq War we reduced and are on the verge of repealing the Estate Tax in place. I guess 9/11 really did change everything.

One can only hope that sanity will soon return to our Government.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Flag Burning-Playing Politics with The Constitution

The Washington Post reported that the House Of Representatives approved, again, a flag burning (or desecration) amendment. My first reaction was to write my Senator, Slazar. (I didn't even bother with Allard, but I might change my mind, even though it would do no good.) Here is the letter:

Dear Senator Salazar,

Once again the House has disgraced itself, our Nation and every person who ever wore the uniform by adopting a flag burning (desecration) amendment. I know the politics of this are tough, but the principle is too important to let this pass the Senate. Please oppose the amendment.

I served in the Army and twenty-five years in the Federal government, because I love my country. The symbols of our country are meaningless if we debase the principles upon which it was built. The flag burning amendment elevates a symbol, the flag, above one of the most cherished principles of our Nation, freedom of speech, which especially includes offensive speech.

With our freedoms and values under constant assault by those by those in the Administration and Congress who think they can achieve anything they wish by simply yelling "terror," now is an especially inauspicious time to give in to those who want to play politics with our Constitution. Please fight them.

You recently honored Flag Day. Nothing would dishonor our flag more than to turn it into an excuse to undermine our cherished Constitution.

Please stand firm.

Gary L. Norton

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Senate Still Has Rules - For Now

Fourteen Senators reached an agreement that preserves the rules of the Senate for now. The price for this agreement is that three atrocious people - Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor will be put on U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal (Pryor is already on, temporarily, as a recess appointee.) Is the price worth it?

Though the price was dear I think it was worth it because I'm not confident that the forces of reason and Democracy would have stopped the nuclear option. Once the bomb exploded we would have not only had these three judges confirmed but many more who could possibly, if that is imaginable, be much worse. But that would be just the beginning. Bush would have completely taken over the Senate. From that point on, fifty Senators, with the assistance of Dick Cheney, could have done whatever they wished. The Senate is not much of a check as it is on the absolutism sought by the radical right. After the nuke exploded it would have been no check at all.

There is one side of me that thinks the chaos of a successful nuclear power grab would have been in the long term interests of the country. The premise for this argument is that the American electorate would finally rebel against the legislative agenda the radical theocrats would enact and be revolted by the country's rapid slide into Presidential autocracy, causing a sweeping realignment of power in 2006 and 2008. But the risks are too great and the damage done in the interim could be profound.

So I prefer to adopt the more cautious hope that this agreement could be a really positive turning point for the Senate and the country. That Senators will demand a more collaborative posture from the White House and not just on judicial appointees. They have been to the brink and the view was scary. It is our country that the White House is playing with and its time for at least one branch of government to act responsibly.

Here is a good summary of the reaction across the political spectrum and the text of the agreement

We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

We have agreed to the following:

Part I: Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations

A. Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).

B. Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

Part II: Commitments for Future Nominations

A. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

B. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word “Advice” speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.

Gary L. Norton

Monday, May 23, 2005

Follow Up to NO RULES

Bruce Ackerman picks up on the lament in my last post about a Senate with no rules. He focusses on the Vice President's role from an historical perspective.

Gary L. Norton

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fristibuster - A Senate With No Rules

There are so many aspects of the Fristibuster debate, most of which have been examined at length. The nominees being debated learned little in law school and have forgotten most of that. The "this is an unprecedented use of the filibuster" argument is disingenuous in the extreme. The 2002 Congressional Research Service Report on Cloture debunks that silliness.

Maybe the most disturbing aspect of this proposal is that, if used, we will have a Senate with No Rules. Rules are what makes our society function, whether in our personal lives or in the operation of government. If you can change the rules regarding your personal behavior to suit your needs at a given time, there are no rules. You are simply free to do whatever you wish - lie, cheat, steal, etc. The same is true with government, whether a homeowners association or the Congress. That is why every organization has a procedure which requires some form of Super Majority to change its operating rules. Without that, a majority would be free to do whatever it wished at any time. That not only results in a tyranny of the majority, but also the chaos of the ever changing whims of the electorate.

This is arguably the worst aspect of the Fristibuster. Currently, Senate rules can only be changed with a two thirds majority approving the change. Mr. Frist, with the enabling of Dick Cheney, asserts he can ignore the rule regarding Filibusters (unlimited debate that can only be ended with a three fifths vote) by simply having fifty Senators and one Vice President say that a new rule applies. Once that tactic is used for judicial filibusters it can be used for any and every rule of the Senate. We will no longer have a Senate. We will have fifty spoiled children and their buddy taking their ball home whenever they wish.

Gary L. Norton

Friday, May 13, 2005

Social Secuity Privatization

Social Security is probably the best example of our Government and its Citizens giving effect to the admonition in the Preamble that we should Promote the General Welfare. Yet, since its inception Social Security has been under attack by those who see it as Socialism or something worse.

Those of you who follow the Social Security non-crisis debate know that this is just the most recent example of the Republican dream come true - the first real opportunity to kill the program. They control both Houses of Congress and the White House. The chance may never come again. Now, they can't be up front about killing Social Security because the program is too popular. So they have to work through the side door.

First they'll undercut its funding by creating Private accounts. Next, they'll means test the program so that only the poorest get a meaningful benefit. Starting at an income of just $20,000 benefits will be reduced to the point that a person making over $90,000 will only have 19 percent of that income replaced by Social Security upon retirement. In time everyone in the middle class or above will see Social Security as nothing more than another form of welfare for the poor. And, as such, it will be a prime target for the budget axe. One need only look at the cuts currently proposed for Medicaid, the program that helps the needy and poor children, to see the strategy.

Most politicians and their supporters in the media are too canny to speak the truth about their real agenda. But every once in a while someone slips, and out comes the truth. This happened last Saturday night on the Capital Gang when the intrepid Mr. Novak blurted out the following -

NOVAK: We want more. The other thing -- the other thing is, on Social Security, I thought -- I thought it was a very good thing to start means testing, to star to work away at this fiction that this is an insurance program. It's really -- it's a -- it's a glorified Welfare program, and means testing is necessary. And it's going to come sooner or later.

My, My. Better watch out Bob. Poppa may spank you.

You can read the whole transcript here.

Gary L. Norton

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Focus on the Constitution

The address and title of this blog refer to the Constitution of the United States. That wonderful document established the mechanisms and structures for the operation of our Federal government and limited the powers of that government over the lives of the people. And it did one other thing. The Preamble stated in general terms the goals that we wanted our government and our country to strive for - Establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare, and Preserve the Blessings of Liberty. Everything worthwhile and good done by the government generally falls within one or more of these goals. And when the government acts without regard to these goals it is generally doing damage to our nation and its people.

One need only look to the Patriot Act; preemptive war (AKA snipe hunt for WMD); unimaginable and destructive deficit spending; destruction of the middle class by elimination of a truly progressive tax burden; attacking the independence of our judiciary (which is the only protection we have from theocracy and despotism); jeopardizing our security by creating adversaries; weakening alliances and stretching our armed forces to the breaking point; government interference in personal family decisions; and turning the Congress into a one party dictatorship of the leadership, to know that precious little attention has been paid to Preamble and the Constitution of late.

These and many other areas will be the subject of my posts. I love my country and I love its institutions. It hurts me grievously to see what is happening and I will add my voice to the many seeking to return to the more balanced, thoughtful, compassionate, respectful and progressive country the founders intended.

Gary L. Norton