Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, May 31, 2007

  An apparent human commits suicide at Guantanamo

The US military announced that an apparent human held at Guantanamo prison has committed suicide.

They tried to save his life but he was pronounced dead," said Mario Alvarez, a Miami-based spokesman for the [US Southern] Command.


The death occurred only yesterday, so understandably the military is still trying to learn the full details about the incident on that remote island.

A spokesman for detention operations, Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, declined to comment, referring questions to the Miami-based Southern Command...


As more information has become available, the military has been exceedingly forthcoming with it.

Military spokesmen at the Pentagon and at Guantanamo referred all inquiries to Southcom. A Southcom spokesman said last night that he could not elaborate on details of yesterday's death.


The Southern Command has confirmed already, however, that the deceased was found in a cell. This caused immediate speculation among "journalists" and assorted "pundits" that he was either a human or, less likely, a mastiff. What has gone unremarked by "newsmen" are the extraordinary lengths of care that the Guantanamo guards have gone to with the now lifeless body:

The remains of the deceased detainee are being treated with the utmost respect. A cultural advisor is assisting the Joint Task Force to ensure that the remains are handled in a culturally sensitive and religiously appropriate manner.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has initiated an investigation of the incident to determine the circumstances surrounding the death.


This level of tenderness suggests that the corpse is human, rather than a dog or, less likely, a bear.

Although the NCIS report has not even been submitted yet, that has not prevented the "media" from promoting fruitless speculation. For example, "journalists" have rushed to suggest a parallel to other suicide attempts by human prisoners at Guantanamo.

As of last year, there had been more than 40 suicide attempts by about 25 detainees, including some who had tried to overdose on hoarded drugs and one who repeatedly tried to die by hanging and slashing himself.


It was little more than a week ago that the "Associated Press" was spreading the scandalous news that another prisoner had released a letter threatening suicide.

A detainee at Guantanamo Bay who has repeatedly attempted suicide warned in a letter released Sunday that he still hoped to kill himself out of despair over his confinement and conditions at the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

Juma Mohammed Al-Dossary said he would prefer death than his open-ended detention at Guantanamo, where he complains that he and other detainees have been mistreated by the U.S. military.


Now certain American lawyers, without any sense of decency or respect, have exploited the present tragedy to try to micromanage the prison, distant though it is from America's shores:

Anant Raut, of Washington, D.C., who represents five captives at Guantánamo in federal courts for several years, called for a reevaluation of conditions at the base, where most captives live in single cells.

He said "as a simple matter of human decency" the United States should abandon its policy of indefinite detention without charge of the vast majority.

Of the 380 or so Muslim captives there, only three have been charged.

"If we're not going to charge them with anything, send them home," said Raut. "Don't lock them in a hole and take away their hope."


In fact, some particularly meddlesome lawyers have gone so far as to actually blame the military for the suicide, which on the face of it the guards did everything possible to prevent.

[Center for Constitutional Rights] staff attorney Wells Dixon blamed conditions and said the unidentified man was likely moved by despair.

"In the last year, the conditions at Guantánamo have become even more bleak: the military has increasingly held people in solitary confinement and continued to refuse to allow independent psychological evaluations," said Dixon. "The United States government is responsible for this man's death and must be held accountable."

Dixon also blamed the U.S. courts system and Congress, which last year passed a law stripping Guantánamo captives of the right to sue for their freedom through classic habeas corpus petitions in U.S. District Court...

''By refusing to hear the men's cases or exercise any oversight of their conditions, the judiciary contributed further to the desperation of the detainees,'' said Dixon, "and Congress, in failing to restore the fundamental right of habeas corpus, dealt the final blow."


This lawyer in particular is notorious among top military leaders for his frequent scurrilous remarks:

Prisoners in Camp 5, which is similar to the highest-security U.S. prisons, are kept in individual, solid-wall cells and allowed outside for only two hours a day of recreation in an enclosed area.

Wells Dixon, a defense attorney who met with detainees at Camp 5 last month, said many showed signs of desperation.

"I can assure you that it is hell on earth," Dixon said. "You can see the despair on the faces of detainees. It’s transparent."


And precisely because the military speedily declared the corpse to be Saudi Arabian, it was beset immediately by further lawyers.

Lawyer Julia Tarver Mason, whose firm represents eight Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, said she has tried so far without success to learn from the government if the apparent suicide was by one of her clients


Notwithstanding that, "journalists" did not hesitate to identify the corpse not merely as human, but even to attach a name and number to it.

Abdul Rahman Ma Ath Thafir al Amri, 34, was found dead about 1 p.m. Wednesday in his cell at the remote detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Southeast Cuba.

Two separate sources with knowledge of the case who spoke to The Miami Herald on condition of anonymity identified the dead man as Amri, and also gave his internment serial number as 199...

A check of military documents and court records indicates that -- like the three Arab men who committed suicide in simultaneous hangings a year ago -- Amri was part of the detainee population who had never met with an American attorney across about five years in U.S. detention.


As the latter statement demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt, those two anonymous sources must surely be lawyers who are resentful because they've been sidelined by the judicial processes at Guantanamo. You would have thought that their bias in the matter was transparent, even to a "journalist". Yet the government of Saudi Arabia now feels compelled to speculate that the corpse was indeed once a Saudi citizen, even in the total absence of evidence.

If authorities are able to confirm in the end that the corpse was human and a terrorist, then his suicide will prove to be another provocative incident in the asymmetric warfare that those prisoners have been waging for the last year against the US Southern Command.

Rear Adm Harry Harris, the camp commander, said: "They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."


crossposted from Unbossed

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

  That "surrender" date in Iraq

For the last two months, George Bush and his Republican defenders have been tossing the term "surrender" in the faces of his critics. Advocates of withdrawal from Iraq, they claim, are proposing to "surrender to the terrorists"; a timetable for withdrawal is a "surrender date".

Originally this rhetorical trope was invented when Republicans needed to vilify Rep. John Murtha for urging withdrawal in 2005. Mission accomplished, the rhetoric of "surrender" earned some well deserved R&R until the Democratic victory in the 2006 election. The old trope was dusted off again to smear anybody trying to force Bush's hand.

Does it make the slightest sense at all to liken withdrawal from Iraq, to "surrender"?

White House Spokesman Dana Perino recently insisted that it does. In regard to the supplemental bill being drafted by Congress last month, she was asked about the tone of the debate:

Question: I'd like to ask you about the level of political discourse about Iraq. The Vice President and President are accusing the Democrats of being defeatist, they're talking about surrender dates...

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what happens in Washington at times of high drama and passion on both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, that there are times when you're trying to make your substantive point, that the rhetoric can sometimes lead you to say things that you might not otherwise say in a one-on-one conversation.

I do think that when talking about a surrender date, it is very descriptive of what we believe is in the legislation. It says, you must leave on this day, and we think that that tells the enemy that they've won and that we've surrendered. And I think that's a good way to explain it to the American people.

Question: Well, and you say that you're not questioning their patriotism, but by calling them defeatist and talking about surrender, you don't think that that gets close to that line of not--

MS. PERINO: I think that what we have done is argued on the merits and on the substance of our arguments. And I don't know if that's always been the case on the other side. I grant you that I think that tension is high, because the stakes are high. And we feel very strongly that leaving before the job is done is turning over the victory to the enemy.


You could hardly hope to discover a more obtuse and obnoxious defense of the term "surrender". Especially puzzling are Perino's assertions that setting a date for withdrawal or "turning over the victory to the enemy" (sic) are equivalent to "surrender". It's a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to explain how withdrawal from the occupation of Iraq should be described as an act of "surrender".

Even after Congress capitulated to Bush on the Iraq funding bill, as John McCain demonstrated on Friday, Republicans were keen to level against Democrats every egregious accusation from their long, long list of Iraq talking-points.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain assailed Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on Friday for voting against legislation paying for the Iraq war, accusing them of embracing "the policy of surrender."...

McCain also implied that the country would be less safe if Clinton or Obama became commander in chief. "I wouldn't use the words 'less safe,' I would use the wording that our national security would be at risk if we pursue the policy and cut off funding," McCain said.

In an earlier statement, he called his Democratic rivals' opposition to the spending bill "the equivalent of waving a white flag to al-Qaida." He said he was "very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."


You would never turn to John McCain for sense regarding Iraq, and he doesn't disappoint here. But he does put the rhetoric of "surrender" right back in the limelight once again.

~~~


In the past, I've pondered this expression long and hard: How in the world could any adult make the basic error of likening withdrawal of troops from the midst of a civil war, to "surrender"? Nobody but nobody is proposing that American troops surrender to any of the Iraqi guerrillas (even if it were feasible to surrender to people you can't identify). So what is the connection between these two very different things? Why did Republicans take it into their heads to substitute one term for the other? They certainly didn't use this trope when Reagan withdrew the Marines he had foolishly inserted into the middle of the Lebanese civil war.

It sure is a puzzle. Reminds me of the curious substitutions you sometimes see in student papers, the ones who hunt and peck for impressive-sounding words in a thesaurus. I sometimes wonder how completely inappropriate terms have managed to get shoe-horned into undergraduate papers...just as I've puzzled over the mysterious parallel that Republicans see between withdrawal and "surrender".

I had nearly given up trying to make sense of it, until the truth finally struck me—there is in fact a parallel. Republicans in Washington have been trying to explain it to us, and we haven't been listening carefully enough.

The reason for surrendering an army is identical to the reason why you might withdraw from the midst of a civil war—a desire to save the troops' lives. These two options both presuppose that the situation on the ground is futile, and therefore it's pointless to get any more soldiers killed trying to salvage what is beyond remedy.

Republican "leadership" likens withdrawal to surrender because they see nothing positive whatever in either option.

I see only two alternatives: Either the Republicans don't care about saving our troops, or they can't tolerate having to admit that the situation in Iraq is beyond remedy.

And yet Bush has admitted that Iraq is beyond actual remedy. Nobody in the White House has talked about an "end of violence" in Iraq since last summer. This year, Bush has acknowledged that the goal of the occupation has been scaled back to reducing the level of violence in Iraq—rather than ending it—and training more Iraqi troops rather than achieving a political reconciliation among Iraqis.

[Bush's] new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available...

"Sectarian violence is not a problem we can fix," said one senior official...U.S. officials offer a somber evaluation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: His Shiite-dominated government is weak and sectarian, but they have concluded that, going forward, there is no practical alternative.


The fact that Bush has changed the goal posts is an admission that the situation in Iraq is indeed futile. Even if the goal of reducing violence were somehow met, that would mean American troops will continue to be slaughtered in the midst of that civil war.

The only tenable conclusion, then, appears to be that Republican "leadership" doesn't care to save the lives of American troops and deeply resents those who would try.

crossposted at Unbossed

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

  Naming of Parts

With apologies to Henry Reed

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
et militavi non sine gloria.


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had cleaning and storage. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after positioning. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Sunny
Watches from the window eyes glistening like tears,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the manual swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The children
Surge toward her with their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the strap-latch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his teeth. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The Democrats
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their teeth.

And this you can see is the pulley. The purpose of this
Is to open the arm, as you see. We can wind it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
Congress is fumbling around for non-binding gestures:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the pulley,
And the strap, and the swivel, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and Memorial Day
And the silent stone gardens and Congressmen going backwards and forwards,
For to-day we have naming of parts.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Monday, May 21, 2007

  The RICO suit against Wachovia

Yesterday this post discussed a notorious telemarketing scandal in which a crooked Pennsylvania company, Payment Processing Center, wrote fraudulent (unsigned) checks drawn upon the accounts of many elderly victims of con artists. P.P.C. cleaned out the victims' bank accounts by running the fraudulent checks through its accounts in a Philadelphia branch of Wachovia Bank. Wachovia had many clues that P.P.C. was engaged in a racket--including warnings from other banks--but failed to close down P.P.C.'s accounts. Though federal authorities have not charged Wachovia in the scam, the bank is now facing a civil suit.

I've discovered further information about that suit, and about the relationship between Wachovia and P.P.C., which suggests that the matter is even more scandalous than I'd indicated in the original post.

Here is a press release about the Langer & Grogan civil suit leveled against Wachovia. It gives more information about the nature of the allegations than the news story I quoted in yesterday's post.

Specifically, Langer & Grogan is bringing a class action RICO lawsuit that accuses Wachovia of more than simply "failing to clamp down" on P.P.C. (as the news report had it).

Langer & Grogan, P.C. announced today that it had filed a RICO class action alleging that Wachovia Bank, N.A. had conspired with a payment processor, Payment Processing Center ("PPC"), in a scheme that facilitated fraudulent telemarketing directed primarily at the elderly involving tens of millions of dollars.


Thus, an alleged conspiracy between P.P.C. and Wachovia is at the center of the lawsuit.

The press release also draws attention to some further details about the relationship between Wachovia and P.P.C., which would seem to demonstrate that Wachovia was indeed actively conspiring with activities it knew to be fraudulent (rather than merely behaving with indifference or sloppiness regarding its duties to forestall fraudulent activities it stumbled across).

The complaint alleges that Wachovia had a special agreement with PPC which granted Wachovia expanded refund and charge back rights. The complaint alleges that Wachovia knew that the banking services it provided were an essential element in PPC's scheme.


In fact, Wachovia itself exposed these special arrangements to scrutiny in federal court in 2006 as part of its filings related to the US Attorney's seizure of P.P.C.'s assets. Now, that was a tactical mistake, wasn't it? The mere fact that Wachovia had to make special arrangements to cope with P.P.C.'s particular problems is pretty good evidence that Wachovia actively conspired with P.P.C.

~~~


Here are the details of this special arrangement. As I said in yesterday's post, the US Attorney in Philadelphia had frozen P.P.C.'s accounts at Wachovia, and Wachovia wanted federal judge Timothy Rice to hand the money back to Wachovia. The Bank claimed that it had deposited the money in P.P.C.'s accounts only on a provisional basis, until the checks in question could clear with the other banks they were drawn upon. Thus the money that was frozen in the P.P.C. accounts would have reverted to Wachovia, the Bank argued, once it became clear that the checks had been refused by the other banks.

All of this is spelled out in gruesome detail in a second judgment rendered in 2006 by Judge Rice (PDF), who rejected most of Wachovia's claims for the restoration of those frozen monies.

In court pleadings, Wachovia had argued that it should be given back all the frozen money, including those funds that Wachovia had failed to reclaim from the P.P.C. accounts even several weeks after the unsigned checks were deposited. Normally, as Judge Rice noted, a bank will rescind provisional payments for bad checks within a week.

To support its rather tenuous claim for recovering all of P.P.C.'s frozen assets, Wachovia told the court that it had a special arrangement with P.P.C. that permitted it to retrieve a provisional deposit for up to a month (if I read Rice's judgment correctly) after P.P.C. initially deposited a bad check. In other words, Wachovia got from P.P.C. permission to nullify provisional payments for a considerably longer period than the norm.

On the face of it, then, that special arrangement appears to show that Wachovia recognized that P.P.C. had a special problem--a high proportion of P.P.C.'s unsigned checks got refused, or got challenged a short time later. And, indeed, as I commented yesterday, in 2005 fully 59% of P.P.C.'s unsigned checks were refused and returned to Wachovia.

Thus, on the face of it, Wachovia appeared to be aware that far too many of P.P.C.'s checks were no damned good. (Wachovia certainly knew that P.P.C. was a clearinghouse for telemarketers requesting funds.)

Oh, and incidentally, Judge Rice wasn't much impressed with Wachovia's claim that this special arrangement ought to permit it to reclaim millions of dollars from P.P.C.'s frozen accounts. Rice granted reimbursement to Wachovia only for checks deposited in the 7 days before the Feds froze P.P.C.'s accounts.

~~~


On the general subject of the greed of Wachovia, it's worth noting that Frontline produced a documentary in Feb. 2003, "Tax me if you can", which detailed how certain corporations avoid paying taxes entirely. Wachovia was a star exhibit; although it earned $3.6 billion in profits in 2002, it paid no taxes because of the foreign tax shelters it uses. The most notorious of these was a sewer system it financed in the German city of Bochum.

It will be interesting to see whether this RICO suit can dent Wachovia's colossal bottom line.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

  Is the Noose tightening around Wachovia Bank?

The NY Times reports on an epidemic of financial fraud that has gone almost unchecked for years. These scams are perpetrated mostly on the elderly with the active or passive assistance of several (poorly) regulated service industries—especially banks. Of those banks, Wachovia appears to be the most culpable and certainly the most flagrant in its disregard for basic rules that would inhibit such fraud.

Last year, my wife and I talked my elderly neighbor out of falling for one such scam. He had mailed in an entry to an international "sweepstakes", and soon began to get all sorts of calls and mailings that he realized came from scam artists. One appeal for personal information, however, appeared to him to be legitimate because it carried what purported to be an official seal from a European government. It took us about an hour to dissuade him from responding to the letter.

This is just one of millions of such tales. Too many of them end badly, with elderly and frequently poor victims losing their life savings.

The greater scandal is this: Fraud on a massive scale has grown in the US despite regulations that, if properly enforced by the federal government, would hinder or prevent it. Slowly, US Attorneys in several states have begun to investigate and prosecute institutions that play a role in these scams. Yet many of the institutions continue to wash their hands of any responsibility, and still fail to abide by the rules that are in place.

The scams are possible because of the personal-database industry. Companies that collect and sell personal information are required by law to ensure that their customers are not engaged in fraud. Yet some of these companies engage in fraud in order to obtain personal information in the first place (advertising fake "sweepstakes", for example); and then sell their databases to others whom they know, or have strong reason to suspect, are fraudsters. In fact, the database merchants will sometimes advertise specific lists as a database of 'marks', 'suckers', 'pigeons'...call them what you want. They know perfectly well that some of their best-paying customers are running frauds, and the database merchants tailor some of their lists accordingly.

One of the worst of these, according to the Times, is infoUSA:

InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”...

The banks and companies that sell such services often confront evidence that they are used for fraud, according to thousands of banking documents, court filings and e-mail messages reviewed by The New York Times.

Although some companies, including Wachovia, have made refunds to victims who have complained, neither that bank nor infoUSA stopped working with criminals even after executives were warned that they were aiding continuing crimes, according to government investigators. Instead, those companies collected millions of dollars in fees from scam artists. (Neither company has been formally accused of wrongdoing by the authorities.)...

But infoUSA has also helped sell lists to companies that were under investigation or had been prosecuted for fraud, according to records collected by the Iowa attorney general...

The Federal Trade Commission’s rules prohibit list brokers from selling to companies engaged in obvious frauds...The Direct Marketing Association, which infoUSA belongs to, requires brokers to screen buyers for suspicious activity.
But internal infoUSA e-mail messages indicate that employees did not abide by those standards.


The emails cited by the Times show that infoUSA executives were aware that they were selling databases to a convicted fraudster, yet the company continued to do so.

Perhaps you expect such companies to participate in fraud, but how about supposedly legitimate banks like Wachovia? It has become notorious for assisting in telemarketing fraud mainly because of its extraordinary willingness to accept and pass along unsigned checks drawn upon the bank accounts of the "pigeons".

Perhaps you thought a bank would not cash an unsigned check drawn on your account, and with many institutions you'd be right. But when a huge national bank such as Wachovia is putting its imprimis upon unsigned checks, a surprising number of banks have been willing to honor them. Thus Wachovia became a funnel by which money is siphoned out of accounts by scam artists.

In all, Wachovia accepted $142 million of unsigned checks from companies that made unauthorized withdrawals from thousands of accounts, federal prosecutors say. Wachovia collected millions of dollars in fees from those companies, even as it failed to act on warnings, according to records.

In 2006...an executive [of Citizens Bank] wrote to Wachovia that “the purpose of this message is to put your bank on notice of this situation and to ask for your assistance in trying to shut down this scam.”

But Wachovia, which declined to comment on that communication, did not shut down the accounts.

Banking rules required Wachovia to periodically screen companies submitting unsigned checks. Yet there is little evidence Wachovia screened most of the firms that profited from the withdrawals.

In a lawsuit filed last year, the United States attorney in Philadelphia said Wachovia received thousands of warnings that it was processing fraudulent checks, but ignored them. That suit, against the company that printed those unsigned checks, Payment Processing Center, or P.P.C., did not name Wachovia as a defendant, though at least one victim has filed a pending lawsuit against the bank.


In Februrary, the US District Court in Philadelphia issued a permanent injunction against P.P.C.:

Fraudulent telemarketers use third-party payment processors like PPC to facilitate the banking procedures by which money is taken without authorization, often on a recurring basis, from victims’ bank accounts. In a civil action captioned United States of America v. Payment Processing Center, LLC, et al., Civil Action No. 06-00725 (JP), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania obtained a permanent injunction that terminates PPC’s operations, imposes a receivership over its assets, and establishes a multi-million dollar restitution fund for victims of PPC and fraudulent telemarketers...

U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan described the permanent injunction as a warning to payment processors and others operating fraudulent schemes behind the facade of performing legitimate business...

The case began in February 2006, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained a temporary restraining order against PPC and its owners, alleging that they were processing consumer payments for an international network of fraudulent telemarketers. In a civil action brought under the Anti-Fraud Injunction Statute, 18 U.S.C. §1345, the United States alleged that telemarketers duped tens of thousands of victims from across the United States, including many senior citizens, with false and misleading offers of goods and services, and manipulated consumers to disclose personal bank account information. Fraudulent telemarketers transmitted consumers’ bank account information to PPC. PPC then created unsigned bank drafts – checks without signatures – based upon the consumers’ fraudulently obtained bank account information. Using accounts at Wachovia Bank, PPC processed the unsigned bank drafts for payment. All the while, the United States alleged, the defendants knew that the telemarketers had obtained consumers’ bank account information through fraud, misrepresentations, and trickery, or that it remained indifferent the telemarketers’ illegal conduct.


You might get the sense that Wachovia knew that PPC was engaging in fraud. Certainly it should have known. In 2005, according to the Times, 59% of the unsigned checks from PPC that Wachovia sent on to other banks, were rejected and returned to Wachovia. Another bank would close an account when such obvious signs of fraud were presented.

But not Wachovia.

To get some sense of just how shamelessly Wachovia has behaved, consult this federal court ruling from June 2006. Wachovia was claiming that the government could not freeze more than $2 million in P.P.C.'s bank account with Wachovia because other banks had refused to honor the checks that it had passed along. Thus Wachovia tried to convince the court that the $2 million really belonged to Wachovia, not P.P.C.

Funny how scrupulously Wachovia was able to keep track of that money trail, once the open-secret of fraud was no longer secret from the Feds.

You won't be surprised to learn that, although the US Attorneys have so far steered clear of indicting Wachovia in such scams, the civil suits have begun.

A Philadelphia law firm said Thursday it filed a complaint in federal court accusing Wachovia Corp. (WB) unit Wachovia Bank NA of failing to clamp down a fraudulent telemarketing scheme even after another bank allegedly warned it of the scam.

Langer & Grogan PC said deceptive telemarketers obtained banking information from victims and then had now-defunct payment processor Payment Processing Center issue demand drafts for deposit in a series of Wachovia accounts.

The law firm said Wachovia continued to accept drafts from Payment Processing Center even after a second Philadelphia bank warned that it had been flooded with unauthorized drafts from the payment processor.


It couldn't happen to a nicer bank. I used to live near Charlotte, NC (where Wachovia is headquartered), and occasionally chatted with my neighbor, a long-time banking executive.

We made darned sure we kept our money out of the hands of Wachovia, and we'll continue to do so. It's been a good policy for us.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

  A stirring defense of Tony Blair

Michael "Axis of Evil" Gerson pens a stirring send-off to Tony Blair in tomorrow's Washington Post.

More than that of any other world leader, Blair's foreign policy approach is a rigorous, logical argument.


The late Robin Cook in his diary:

This was the parliamentary debate in which the prime minister presented the now notorious dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I had been familiar with previous secret reporting on Iraq, and when I came to read the dossier I was surprised that there was so little new material in it. There was no new evidence that I could find of a dramatic increase in threat requiring urgent invasion.

Intelligence is supposed to be the evidence on which ministers reach decisions on foreign and defence policy. It is not meant to be the propaganda by which ministers sell a policy to a sceptical public. Nor are intelligence reports suited for the purpose. At the Foreign Office I regularly saw the assessments of the joint intelligence committee (JIC)...

The dossier did violence to their craft in two ways.

First, it painted only a one-sided picture, whereas every JIC assessment I saw would honestly present any contrary evidence that might be inconsistent with the final conclusion. Second, it definitely proclaimed a certitude for its claims that was at odds with the nuanced tone of every JIC assessment I read...

(snip)

The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the prime minister and both had assented in it.


Michael Gerson on Blair's views:

Irresponsible and failing states become bases of operation for terrorist, crime and drug syndicates.


Gareth Stansfield, Chatham House report: Accepting Realities in Iraq

"It can be argued that Iraq is on the verge of being a failed state which faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation."


Michael Gerson:

On Wednesday, sitting in shirtsleeves by the pool at the British Embassy in Washington, Blair recalled that day, along with Sept. 11, 2001, as evidence of a movement with "completely unnegotiable demands" that is "prepared to visit unlimited destruction."


Tony Blair, March 9, 2003:

Saddam Hussein is to be given a 'final and non-negotiable' list of weapons he must destroy or account for within six days to prevent a devastating onslaught from American and British forces.

In a stark outline of the endgame for Iraq, Britain and the US are to publish a set of disarmament 'trip-points' detailing specific weapons in his arsenal that the United Nations has listed in a private report to the Security Council circulated this weekend....

"We want to emphasise that this can still be resolved peacefully if Saddam Hussein decides to disarm," [Blair's spokesman said].


Michael Gerson:

"They are prepared to play a long game," he told me, "and they believe that we are not." Blair's impending departure from the game makes that terrorist belief more plausible.


Robin Cook:

Kofi Annan had just received a letter from the Iraqis accepting the return of UN weapons inspectors without any conditions. This is quite a climbdown by Saddam. We cannot credibly proceed with a military strike now he has met our key demand.

...the first thing I did was to ring Jonathan Powell to express my strong view that we could not simply bat away the latest offer from Saddam. I found Jonathan very receptive to my argument, but there was a catch: "We have to be careful of how our statements will play in Washington, and we therefore should not get too far in front of the Americans."

Later in the day, passing through No 10 on my way to the Cabinet Office, I bumped into Alastair Campbell and again expressed the view that we should not be too grudging in our response. Alastair, as always, was no-nonsense in his reply: "I cannot agree with you. We are playing a long game." Presumably the long game is to contrive an assault on Iraq whatever Saddam does...

I expressed my concern about the hard-line rightwingers around Bush and warned [Blair] that many of them would regard it as a bonus in the present crisis if we were driven from office and replaced by a Conservative government. He laughed and said, "Regime change is for Baghdad. It is not for here."


Michael Gerson:

The prime minister's staff, over drinks, will complain that he cares too much for the views of the press...


Tony Blair:

Prime Minister Tony Blair believes BBC coverage of Hurricane Katrina is "full of hate" for America, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has claimed in a speech...

Mr Murdoch said Mr Blair told him in a private conversation BBC World Service coverage was "full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles".


Michael Gerson:

"Justice," he says, "is the thing that is most powerful in its appeal to people."


Tony Blair vision of modern Justice, days before the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes:

Shortly after the July 7 bombings Tony Blair told his monthly Downing Street briefing "the rules have changed". He signalled an offensive designed to strengthen Britain's anti-terror laws.

Despite setbacks and legal criticism that his measures were taking Britain down the path towards authoritarianism, the Prime Minister is still convinced he is right...

Blair's definition of the "modern world" shapes his insistence that any hint of authoritarianism is way off the mark. ID cards are necessary for "reason of practicality"; the shooting of an innocent man in his home in Forest Gate last month was a regrettable but still praiseworthy act, a police force doing its job well; the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes merited, in the modern world, a government "narrative" on the killing, not a public inquiry.

"Traditional processes", as Blair called them, are not the answer. So 7/7 marks the onset of the "modern world" and the end of the usefulness of "traditional processes".


Michael Gerson:

But Blair's liberalism not only purrs, it bites.


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usGeorge W. Bush bids adieu to Tony Blair:

I do congratulate the Prime Minister for being a -- when he gets on a subject, it's dogged.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

  Gonzales refused to permit an investigation into gas-price gouging

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAttorney General Gonzales appears to think that his main duty is to block investigations of wrongdoing. In recent appearances before Senate and House investigations of the firing of US Attorneys, his memory of events has been so faulty as to be nearly pathological.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall...


That's far from the only major investigation that Gonzales has blocked. He also urged George Bush to shut down an independent investigation of the illegal NSA domestic spy program being conducted by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. Bush did so in one of the most outlandish ways possible—by denying the investigators the security clearances they needed to review relevant documents.

Shortly before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush last year on whether to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation, according to government records and interviews.

Bush personally intervened to sideline the Justice Department probe in April 2006 by taking the unusual step of denying investigators the security clearances necessary for their work.


Years ago I argued that one simple theme ties together, and would continue to link, all of the scandals of the Bush administration: stonewalling.

Every time Bush Co. have been faced with revelations of wrongdoing, their automatic response has been to stonewall. You remember that...it's the thing about them that infuriates you perhaps the most of all...Stonewalling is a gift that keeps on giving. There is no good end that may come of stonewalling, once it's begun...And even the most casual observer of the news knows that it is a bad sign that the administration is stonewalling.


~~~


I thought of that long history of obstructionism while I perused the testimony yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee's Anti-Trust Task Force. The hearings concerned "Prices at the Pump: Market Failure and the Oil Industry".

The Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, testified that he and other states' Attorneys General asked Gonzales in 2006 to initiate a federal investigation of price gouging by oil industries.

...a meeting that I had with the United States Attorney General less than a year ago, involving a number of my colleagues from all around the country, both Republican and Democrat Attorneys General, who met with him and the chairman of the FTC with the single purpose of persuading them to begin a federal investigation. And unfortunately, our plea went unheeded then — there has been no effective federal investigation.

“We pleaded with Attorney General Gonzales and FTC Chairman Majoras, Platt, [sic] to begin an investigation of the oil industry, and we offered our partnership in that work. All 50 Attorneys General have hands full investigating monopolistic abuses on the part of the oil industry, but we lack the authority, and expertise, and resources of the federal government. And so we invited, we beseeched the federal government to join us in that investigation and so far they have declined to do so.

“There is a need to provide greater authority but also to use that authority effectively to enforce the law. The law without enforcement is dead letter. And so, as we review what can be done to change the law, I think at the top of the priorities ought to be the kinds of demands that you have made, Mr. Chairman, and other Members of the Committee and Congress, that the Justice Department be more vigorous in enforcing these laws that protect against anti-trust and consumer abuses.


There are few enough laws that Gonzales seems to be interested in enforcing, and anti-trust statutes just don't figure among them.

Blumenthal appears to be aware of how complex the background to the oil and gas price gouging is, which is precisely why the states are looking for the unifying and broader assistance that only the federal government can give to their individual efforts to hold these corporations accountable to the law. Here are some points made in Blumenthal's prepared testimony:

Despite industry claims that high gas prices simply reflect the rise in the price of crude oil, and that the lack of new refineries in the U.S. has ensured that prices will be steep, Blumenthal argues that these can explain only a part of the hugely inflated gas and oil prices. The Senate and public watchdog groups, such as Public Citizen, have found in recent years that mergers and consolidation in the industry "concentrated too much power in too few companies". The lack of competition has resulted in "artificially high prices and unconscionable profits". Blumenthal also cited a new article in the Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, which reaches similar conclusions about the effect of mergers and oil market consolidation.

The top five companies now control 61% of the gas stations in the U.S. (that's more than twice as many as they controlled in 1991). The same companies also control 50% of the nation's oil refinery capacity (again, that figure has nearly doubled in recent years).

A GAO study in 2004 of 8 major oil industry mergers found that 6 of them "caused higher prices for consumers". It also found that lax enforcement of anti-trust law by the Federal Trade Commission allowed oil industry mergers that, among other things, led to excessive concentration of refinery capacity in the hands of a few large corporations. A second GAO study in 2006 found that the industry deliberately keeps fuel inventories low in order to keep consumer prices high.

In 2005, the Congressional Research Service found that the highest profits in the industry are in the refining and marketing of oil; thus the spike in prices was only marginally due to the rise in crude oil costs.

When states have attempted to block or impose needed conditions on mergers in recent years, they've gotten precious little help from the FTC.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal says, even if these few large companies are not illegally colluding to keep prices high, they exhibit a "herd mentality" in which one corporation's decision to restrict refining and production in one area of the country is matched by the other corporations.

He makes several recommendations to Congress, including the increase of refinery capacity and a joint federal/states investigation of sharp industry practices. He also urges a moratorium on further oil industry mergers, and the breakup of companies that engage in predatory acts (such as withholding gas to boost its price).

~~~


I also recommend that you read the testimony of Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America. He makes many excellent points about monopolistic trends in the oil industry, and his charts document these well.

Cooper also reported that the average family's expenditures on gasoline have doubled in the last five years. Families in rural areas are paying the most now, well over $2500 per annum for gas.

crossposted from Unbossed

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  Some food for thought

It's one of those days when important and thoughtful commentary seems to greet you at every turn of the internet tubes. Perhaps on a day with so much high profile news, readers of Inconvenient News may appreciate some tips about excellent material that shouldn't be overlooked.

~~~


First, diarist rerutled has done an analysis of the probability that the now-infamous firing of the US Attorneys was engineered for political purposes: NumberCruncher: DoJ Firings Were to Swing Elections. There are a few quibbles to make about the assumptions and parameters used by the author, but overall the results appear impressive: the Justice Department concentrated on hounding US Attorneys from swing states.

Background: In addition to the 8 US Attorneys actually fired, news has dribbled out regarding others who were pressured or who resigned under suspicious circumstances in the period before the 2006 election. There's also increasing evidence that Bush's political operative, Karl Rove, was involved from the start in the scheme to fire large numbers of USAs.. During the last week we also learned that Rove pressured the DoJ before the 2006 elections to take action on Republican allegations of "voter fraud" in many of the districts of the US Attorneys who were subsequently fired. (As I've commented in the past, accusations of "voter fraud" have long been a tool of the GOP to suppress the non-Republican vote.) Meanwhile, the White House continues to refuse to hand over to Congressional investigators large numbers of relevant emails from Rove.

A report today in the Washington Post adds the further information: the DoJ considered firing at least 26 US Attorneys (including the 8 who were fired ultimately). Many of those now identified in this new group of Attorneys, like several of the 8 who were indeed eventually fired, had successful and even impressive records on the job; therefore, the suspicion grows more intense that these firings were politically motivated. The Post provides this useful overview of the state of available information about the evolving list of USA's who had their heads on the chopping block.

The statistical analysis of the distribution of the firings by rerutled, thus, has a fairly broad basis—what with all the new names we have. What it shows pretty conclusively is that the vast majority of US Attorneys fired or threatened with firing worked in the most politically competitive states.

For the sake of argument, let's identify as "swing states" the 21 states in which the vote margin between Bush and Kerry was within 5%. Seven of the eight fired US Attorneys came from swing states (and the eighth, from Arizona, had a vote-margin of only 5.3%). Of the longer list of 26 Attorneys whom the WaPo reports were under threat, only 5 came from non-swing-states.

The mathematical probability that this pattern would occur merely by chance is highly remote, as rerutled points out.

~~~


Secondly, the Washington Post runs a very striking op-ed today about torture by retired Generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar, the retired Commandant of the Marine Corps and CiC of US Central Command.

It's one thing for the WH to deny what everybody knows, that it endorses torture, or for Gen. Petraeus to urge soldiers in Iraq not to practice torture, however weakly ("history shows that [acts of torture] also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.").

It's quite another for retired officers of this stature to take an unequivocally strong stance against torture in Washington's paper of record. Their column explicitly rejects the excuses and equivocations about torture offered by George Tenet, as well as condemning the disgusting show of affection for torture by nearly all the Republican politicians at the latest presidential candidates' debate. As Krulak and Hoar say:

We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim -- not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.


And incidentally, McCain's rejection of torture, always equivocal, grew wobbly as it became apparent that the Republican audience was eager for red-meat. The Krulak/Hoar column is today's must-read:

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.


This point is so obvious, whether applied to the military or to CIA operations, that it's horrifying to realize that it still needs to be said.

~~~


More briefly, a Pentagon scandal about the body armor that it supplies to troops finally is about to get serious attention from the US corporate media. An excellent blogger, occam's hatchet, has been writing off and on about this scandal, taking his lead from the work of a group named Soldiers for the Truth. Today he announces that NBC has picked up the story and plans to broadcast a segment about it tonight on the Nightly News. See his post today, Body armor about to hit the fan.

Briefly, the current body armor ("Interceptor") is highly fragile and can take only a single shot before it crumbles. The main contractor manufacturing "Interceptor", Armor Holdings, is however run by a well-connected Republican donor. The Pentagon was pressured in 2005 and 2006 to test the effectiveness of "Interceptor" against some rival body armor types including "Dragon Skin", which on the face of it appears to be superior.

The mandated tests, run by Col. John Norwood, were called off before completion. "Interceptor" was not faring well in the tests that had been done. Since the tests never produced documented results, the Pentagon has taken no action to substitute a better body armor for the much-criticized "Interceptor". A few months after the tests were abruptly cut short, Col. Norwood retired and went to work for Armor Holdings as a Vice President.

Are you as scandalized as I am by the perennial revolving door in DC?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

  Senate: Give the Quagmire time to Succeed

By a vote of 67 to 29 today, the Senate professed itself happy to leave total control of the Iraq war in the hands of Bush & Co. It's a vote of confidence in the administration's upper level mismanagement.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

  The decapitation of secular Iraq

George Bush's Iraq policy is built upon the pretense that Iraqi society will be able to heal itself if only some semblance of order can be restored. For the most part, Bush & Co. have succeeded in focusing debate in the U.S. on the question of whether and how public order can be restored. Yet the presumption that Iraqi society can be retrieved from the brink of disaster in that way strikes me as a mirage, at this late date.

Iraqi society has already been decapitated. Almost as efficiently as the Nazis worked to rid Germany of intellectuals, extremists in Iraq have killed or driven into exile a large proportion of the country's most highly educated and skilled classes. Even if the nefarious influences in Iraq could be eliminated with a simple restoration of order, why assume that the lost intellectuals would flock back to help rebuild the country? What assurance would there be that they could retrieve their own property, positions, and liberties?

No, I fear that Bush's failed occupation of Iraq has almost irreparably damaged Iraqi society.

For evidence of this, perhaps you need not look much farther than Nir Rosen's must-read in the NY Times Sunday Magazine on the plight of Iraqi exiles. Although most of the 2 million Iraqis who've fled abroad in the last few years are facing significant difficulties, these are nothing compared to the fearful conditions were they to return home. That's why every month some 50,000 new exiles flee. Inside the country, meanwhile, there are another 2 million refugees. This is a complex refugee crisis for which (thankfully) there've been few modern parallels since World War Two. About 15% of the population of Iraq has been uprooted.

Those Iraqis who are best positioned to rebuild their lives abroad are the well educated.

From the Iraqi perspective, the greatest loss has been the flight of the professional class, the people whose resources and skills might once have combined to build a post-Saddam Iraq. It seems, however, that precisely because they are critical to rebuilding Iraq and less prone to sectarianism and violence, professionals are most vulnerable to those forces that are tearing Iraq apart. Many of them are now in Syria...

Right after the invasion of Iraq, [an Iraqi doctor in exile named] Lujai told me, Shiite clerics took over many of Baghdad’s hospitals but did not know how to manage them. “They were sectarian from the beginning,” she said, “firing Sunnis, saying they were Baathists. In 2004 the problems started. They wanted to separate Sunnis. The Ministry of Health was given to the Sadr movement”...Following the 2005 elections that brought Islamist Shiites to power, Lujai said, the Sadrists initiated what they called a “campaign to remove the Saddamists.”...In June of last year, Ali al-Mahdawi, a Sunni who had managed the Diyala Province’s health department, disappeared, along with his bodyguards, at the ministry of health. (In February, the American military raided the ministry and arrested the deputy health minister, saying he was tied to the murder of Mahdawi.) Lujai told me that Sunni patients were often accused by Sadrist officials of being terrorists. After the doctors treated them, the special police from the Ministry of the Interior would arrest the Sunni patients. Their corpses would later be found in the Baghdad morgue. “This happened tens of times,” she said, to “anybody who came with bullet wounds and wasn’t Shiite.”


In September 2006, Lujai's husband, a surgeon, was kidnapped by Shiites and murdered on his way home from the hospital.

She had asked the Iraqi police to investigate her husband’s murder and was told: “He is a doctor, he has a degree and he is a Sunni, so he couldn’t stay in Iraq. That’s why he was killed.” Two weeks later she received a letter ordering her to leave her Palestine Street neighborhood.

On Sept. 24 she and her children fled with her brother Abu Shama, his wife and their four children. They gave away or sold what they could and paid $600 for the ride in the S.U.V. that carried them to Syria. Because of what happened to her husband, she said, as many as 20 other doctors also fled....

In some ways, despite the ethnic and religious motives of most of the Iraqi factions, the Iraqi civil war resembles internal conflicts in revolutionary China or Cambodia: there is a cleansing of the intelligentsia and of anyone else who stands out from the mass. The small Iraqi minorities — Christians and such sects as the Mandeans — are mostly gone. The intellectuals and artists are gone.


The very existence of a war against intellectuals is a token of something deeply rotten in Iraq, which a mere restoration or order (should it come about) will do little to cure. Besides, once such a war takes root, the damage becomes nearly irreversible.

Though until very recently Americans were fairly well sheltered from information about the war against intellectuals in Iraq, it had become a major crisis within less than a year of the invasion. Already in July 2003 the President of Baghdad University, Muhammad al-Rawi, was murdered deliberately.

The dead man's name was on an ominous list naming professors, intellectuals and academics marked for assassination after the US-led occupation of Iraq. Although al-Rawi heard he was on the list, he did not take it seriously, says [his wife]. "He would say that he had no enemies. He would say to me 'I am a scientist and a doctor'," she says.


The politics of the killing and intimidation was byzantine from the start; you could get killed for having been a Baathist; for talking to the American occupiers; or for calling for resistance to the occupation

During the years of UN-imposed sanctions, thousands of Iraq's most talented professionals left the country. And almost one year after the recent US-led war, about 2000 professors and academics have fled. Many academics fear a deliberate brain drain is now being executed through murder...

But who is behind the murders?

General Ahmad Katham Ibrahim, deputy interior minister, claims Baathists, fearing that intellectuals will divulge information on alleged weapons programmes, are assassinating them.

However, not all black-listed professors come from the field of science: many have either journalism, political science or even literature backgrounds.


By late in 2004, the Associated Press finally published a report on the brain-drain from Iraq.

In the last 18 months, at least 28 university teachers and administrators have been killed, while 13 professors were kidnapped and released on payments of ransom, according to the Association of University Lecturers. Many others have received death threats.

The result: an exodus of academics and other intellectuals, who are urgently needed by a shattered society, from their schools and often the country, joining an earlier generation of exiles who fled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"The brain drain may cause serious problems in rebuilding a country that has just emerged from wars," said Mohammed Qassim, a lecturer at the Iraqi University of Technology in Baghdad...

"Assassins are targeting Iraqi university professors in a coordinated, liquidation process to force well-known scholars to leave the country and thus hinder the country's reconstruction," said Issam al-Rawi, a geologist at Baghdad University and head of the Association of University Lecturers.


But aside from political activists, few in the U.S. took the crisis very seriously. That was in line with the attitude of the American occupation, which turned its back on the looting of libraries and museums in "liberated" Baghdad and essentially ignored intellectuals in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution and virtually every other aspect of restoring the country.

While Americans looked the other way, the assassinations of intellectuals became systematized during 2005 as outside forces' influence in Iraq solidified. The ultimate goal was to eliminate the possibility of creating an independent, secular state.

Iraqi intellectuals and scientists are targeted by many elements. [When we analyze who is targeted and by what methods it is clear that] the Israelis and the Americans are after one part of them. Iran and the sectarian parties are after some others. The Baathists liquidated some of their old comrades when they noticed that they were cooperating with the Americans, and the local mafias kidnapped and assassinated others after making them pay ransoms. The problem of security, or the lack of it, is the main reason why intellectuals have become such easy targets for any act. Yet, precisely because of the chaos, the systematized assassinations of Iraqi intellectuals have gone largely unnoticed in the outside world. Iraq is being drained of its most able thinkers, thus an important component to any true Iraqi independence is being eliminated.


Here is one mark of how systematically the war on intellectuals was being conducted.

Iraqi assassins are being asked to take aim at hundreds of intellectuals whose names appear on a hit list circulating in the country by an unknown group, according to reports on the Science and Development Network's website, SciDev.Net.

The list's existence suggests that the ongoing assassination of Iraqi academics is more organised and systematic than previously thought. Leaflets calling for the murder of 461 named individuals were described in an article published last month by the newspaper Az-Zaman.

The United States-based magazine Science reported this week that it has obtained a copy of the list, verified as authentic by several Iraqi scientists. It names scientists, university officials, engineers, doctors and journalists in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.


The double bombing at Baghdad University in January, which killed 65 students, may have finally focused public attention in the U.S. Two months ago, perhaps for the first time, a major American newspaper drew attention to the disaster that long ago overtook Iraq. Alexandra Zavis of the LA Times told us of the disappearance of the Iraqi middle class under a "government of thieves and gangsters".

Iraq's urban, educated, largely secular middle class had everything to gain from the fall of Saddam Hussein's oppressive and isolating regime. Four years later, it is on the way to being wiped out...

As the U.S.-led occupation enters its fifth year, holdouts of middle-class society are starting to ask: Who will be left to pick up the pieces when the fighting is done?...

Iraq once was a modern society, with well-developed infrastructure and health and education systems. All that is in pieces now, and a generation of technical expertise has been ravaged with no prospect of filling the vacuum.

Attendance at Iraq's schools and universities has plummeted as campuses have become battlegrounds in the war between Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab Muslim militants. University lecturers are afraid of their own students, some of whom report to militant groups. "They want a people who can't think," said Abu Mohammed, head of Iraq's Assn. of University Lecturers.


The current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "Iraq's Universities [are] near collapse".

Thousands of academics have fled the country, classes are frequently canceled, students often stay away for fear of attack, and research is at a standstill...

"Terrorism is targeting scholars in an almost unprecedented way," says Allan E. Goodman, president and chief executive of the Institute of International Education, in New York. "It's hard to say there even is a higher-education system in Iraq anymore, with so many students and professors being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis."...

The situation has become so grave that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research recently announced that university researchers may come to campuses just twice a week to reduce the risk of being attacked... more than 100 courses at the university [of Baghdad] have been canceled this semester for lack of instructors. At Al-Nahrain University, says Mr. Kamal [president of the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers], some departments have lost all their faculty members...

The higher-education ministry recently decided to allow students and professors to transfer to other universities in the face of such threats. More than 1,000 academics and 10,000 students chose that option this year. But an even larger number of students, especially women, have stopped going to college altogether, with some universities operating at 10 percent to 20 percent of their usual capacity.

The result is a near paralysis of Iraqi universities. Almost all academic research in Iraq has halted because fieldwork and data collection are nearly impossible...

Sectarian battles have further effects in the classroom. According to a new Unesco report, academic posts that previously were distributed to Baath Party loyalists are now being distributed according to sectarian interests...

Before the invasion, Mr. Jawad says, he used to "encourage students to analyze, to criticize — of course without touching Saddam or his two sons. But we used to assure them that whatever they say is between the students. Now you can speak freely about the Baath Party or the Baath experience, but there are things, like the sectarian way of thinking or sectarian leaders and religious leaders — you cannot touch them or their thinking or even criticize them."

The armed militias that control Iraq have also begun using their power to control curricula.


Freedom of thought is vanishing under a pall of oppression almost everywhere in Iraq, under American occupation. Rapidly and almost inexorably, the independent, the educated, the skilled have been decapitated from Iraqi society.

This is what the much vaunted rebuilding of Iraq has wrought.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Monday, May 14, 2007

  Deputy AG McNulty resigns to spend more time with his conscience

The shameless Paul McNulty, Alberto Gonzales' right-hand man in the firing of the US Attorneys, finally announced his resignation today. But rather than just going, he's hanging on to his job at DoJ all summer. And rather than coming clean about his activities—beginning with the lies he told Congress in February—McNulty let on that he's leaving public service because he can't afford to live within his considerable salary ("financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career.").

Some commentators, have tried to pretend that McNulty is a victim of the dishonorable behavior of Gonzales and the rest of that scrappy gang of White House plumbers exposed in this scandal. His old pal, Sen. Schumer, has been most aggressive in peddling that line.

[McNulty's] ultimate decision to step down, the [DoJ] aides said, was hastened by anger at being linked to the prosecutors' purge that Congress is investigating to determine if eight U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons.


But in fact McNulty was a willing participant in his own debasement. Why judge Paul McNulty harshly? Because we know enough of his career under Bush & Co. to confirm that he's lacking in real principle.

~~~


Take his recent behavior, which is sufficiently well documented.

As details of the firing of the 8 US Attorneys began to dribble out, McNulty's chief of staff called some of the attorneys and pressured them not to testify to Congress. As the House Judiciary Committee said in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding:

On its face, this testimony raises the possibility that the Department may have sought to obstruct Congress' efforts to ascertain the truth concerning these firings.


Then on Feb. 6, McNulty testified to Congress that the recent firing of the eight US Attorneys had been for poor performance of their duties. He later admitted to Sen. Schumer that that was false, however, claiming improbably enough that his subordinates had kept the truth from him.

You'd have thought that any official with integrity who'd lied to Congress would resign, at a minimum, but McNulty actually dug in to hang onto to his job.

Furthermore, this hypocrite is the same man who, last year in an address to the National Association of Attorneys General, waxed eloquently about the need to uphold the highest standards of integrity.

So today I challenge us all to rededicate ourselves to serving the public with integrity and to ensuring that others do so as well. Together, we can shore up the foundations of our republic and restore, in the words of Ben Franklin, "the general opinion of the goodness of the Government."


My own reading in Franklin's writings would not have prepared me for the entirely surprising view that the creator of Poor Richard favored perjury, stonewalling, and partisan conspiracies as the best mode for augmenting "the general opinion of the goodness of the Government."

~~~


Paul McNulty had an ugly record even before he went to work for Gonzales. He served from 2001 to 2006 as the US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. In those years, he treated his office in the most outlandishly partisan fashion.

Virginia's Eastern District had a well-established reputation as the most political U.S. attorney's office in the country. Among McNulty's key cases had been the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and the mentally unhinged Moroccan “twentieth hijacker” from 9/11, Zararias Moussaoui. Both cases had been sensationalized in the media. Less well known were the dozen odd cases of contractor abuse emerging from the Abu Ghraib scandal, investigated by the Pentagon's CID, and referred to McNulty. Nothing ever came of those cases; indeed, McNulty made sure of that.


As Billmon once remarked (link is to an archived digest):

McNulty has shown a certain willingness to, shall we say, narrow the scope of cases that might prove embarrassing for the cabal and its various tentacles.


McNulty specialized in prosecuting with severity those cases that might appear to give the Bush administration much needed "victories" in the "War on Terror". So what if there was virtually no evidence to prove that the alleged "paint-ball terrorists" had planned to commit any actual crimes? Nothing stood in the way of pursuing draconian sentences. And if the only real "evidence" against Ahmed Abu Ali was a confession extracted under torture in Egypt, and the allegations preposterous? McNulty wasn't going to allow that to stand in the way of hounding the man until he was salted away for 30 years.

Disingenuous, ruthless, shameless; and for the last six years, devoted to glorifying the name of George W. Bush while silencing his detractors. Those were the hallmarks of McNulty's career as US Attorney, which he has described as...

one of the greatest jobs you can ever have.


It must have been a very splendid job, the sort a partisan hack could turn to great advantage. Which is why you've got to be pleased McNulty now has more time to spend with his conscience.

crossposted at Unbossed

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Friday, May 11, 2007

  Let us remember to praise Guantanamo

With the Bush administration, the Irony fairly drips:

The United States condemns the recent sentencings of democracy activists Anwar al-Bunni and Kamal Labwani to long terms of imprisonment and is alarmed by reports that they have been subjected to inhumane prison conditions [in Syria].


That appears in a high-minded statement of principle released today by the White House. Alert readers will recall that the same Bush administration shipped Maher Arar off to Syria to be tortured. Indeed, Syria has been a favorite destination for secret CIA flights carrying out "extraordinary renditions".

In the words of former CIA agent Robert Baer: "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria."


Gen. David Petraeus has a blindspot the size of Guantanamo as well. Today, he responded to the findings of a recent mental health survey, which revealed that 41% of American troops in Iraq support the use of torture at least some times. Petraeus warned the soldiers under his command that torture is illegal and unacceptable.

"Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary."


Torture is illegal and frequently unnecessary: There's that famed Irony again.

crossposted from Unbossed

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  Does Congress matter any longer?

The answer is "no", according to the Bush administration. They've been doing their best to school Congress in this simple fact—that it can't touch Bush & Co. It's a lesson that Democrats have been slow to learn.

Take for example the notorious appearance of Alberto Gonzales before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. As Dahlia Lithwick notes, the Attorney General made not the slightest effort this time around to explain how and why the eight (or more) US Attorneys got fired. He didn't try to justify himself or the administration. Instead, he just giggled at House Democrats and repeated nonsensical refrains. It was an act of defiance.

Gonzales was displaying open contempt for Congress. He wanted them to know that they don't matter.

Gonzales revealed little in the daylong testimony, as Democrats grew increasingly upset with his failure to offer specifics about who decided whom to fire and why.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., accused Gonzales of lying when he couldn't be pinned down on who decided to add Iglesias to the list in the eleventh hour. "Are you the attorney general?" he asked. "Do you run the Department of Justice? You know who put him on the list, but you won't tell us."

McClatchy


Republicans seem to like it that way.

"I'm going to ask you the basis question, which is, if you continue to serve for 20 more months at the pleasure of the president, which I believe you will, will you, in fact, not be gun shy as a result of what happens here today?" - Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"Contrary to being gun shy, this process is somewhat liberating in terms of going forward." - Gonzales.


Contempt for Congress, without having to face all those pesky charges, must of course be liberating and just a little amusing too.

Bush & Co. have been hammering the point home recently. For example, yesterday we learned from Murray Waas about some further documents that the White House has withheld from Congress. These emails would demonstrate that Rove played a central role in the firing of those US Attorneys.

Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel's office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.

The senior official said that Gonzales, in preparing for testimony before Congress, has personally reviewed the withheld records and has a responsibility to make public any information he has about efforts by his former chief of staff, other department aides, and White House officials to conceal Rove's role..."If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress."


They would have a responsibility to make them public, along with all the other documents they've been withholding—if Congress actually mattered.

Separately, six senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee...complained to Gonzales last week that they had not been told anything about a confidential order he signed in March 2006, which delegated the authority to hire and fire many of the department's most senior political appointees to Sampson and to Monica Goodling...

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the [Judiciary] committee, said he was infuriated that he knew nothing of the existence of the order until it was disclosed by National Journal. "Pardon me if I raise my voice," Specter said.


The Senator will indeed be pardoned, once he permits himself to pipe down.

The intelligence agencies also believe that Congress doesn't matter. Steve Aftergood reports:


U.S. intelligence recently undertook a "significant" covert action without notifying Congress, as required by law, the House Intelligence Committee disclosed in a new report on the 2008 intelligence authorization bill.

"The Committee was dismayed at a recent incident wherein the Intelligence Community failed to inform the Congress of a significant covert action activity. This failure to notify Congress constitutes a violation of the National Security Act of 1947."


With a Gonzales-like chuckle, the CIA assured the Committee that the failure to notify them was entirely accidental.

The [2008 authorization] bill does not include changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act sought by the Administration.

"Before the Committee will support any change to existing law, it is essential that the President provide some measure of assurance that were he to sign a bill modifying FISA into law, he would agree to be bound by it," the [House Intelligence Committee] report stated.


The paradox here, you see, is that the Congress has never acknowledged the President's right to revoke legislation through signing statements. Thus it refuses to pass new laws handing over the power demanded by Bush, until he agrees to abide by them.

Not to be outdone, the military is also stepping up its challenges to the authority of Congress. Today we learn that the Pentagon is refusing to permit military officials to testify before Congress.

The Pentagon has placed unprecedented restrictions on who can testify before Congress, reserving the right to bar lower-ranking officers, enlisted soldiers, and career bureaucrats from appearing before oversight committees or having their remarks transcribed, according to Defense Department documents.

Robert L. Wilkie , a former Bush administration national security official who left the White House to become assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs last year, has outlined a half-dozen guidelines that prohibit most officers below the rank of colonel from appearing in hearings, restricting testimony to high-ranking officers and civilians appointed by President Bush.

The guidelines, described in an April 19 memo to the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, adds that all field-level officers and enlisted personnel must be "deemed appropriate" by the Department of Defense before they can participate in personal briefings for members of Congress or their staffs; in addition, according to the memo, the proceedings must not be recorded...

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress see the move as a blatant attempt to bog down investigations of the war. But veterans of the legislative process -- who say they have never heard of such guidelines before -- maintain that the Pentagon has no authority to set such ground rules...

Veterans of Capitol Hill scoffed at the Pentagon's restrictions on who can talk to lawmakers. "If I was the staff director I would say why the hell should I care who you want to appear before my committee," said Winslow Wheeler , who worked for three Republican senators and one Democrat in a 30-year career as a top congressional aide. He called Wilkie's memo "embarrassing."


Once again, members of Congress are missing the point. Of course it's embarrassing. When will Congress face up to the fact that the AUMF was a declaration of permanent war—against the privileges of the pre-eminent and original Branch of government?

There's a new Branch in town, and he's in charge now.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

  About Bush's "Nixon moment" with those tough-talking Republicans

For the past day, reporters and bloggers have been chattering about what is being described as a "watershed moment" for George Bush two days ago. He met with eleven Republican Congressmen who, we're told, spoke bluntly to Bush and warned him that he was going to lose Republican support in Congress unless he 'fixed' Iraq. This is supposed to be something like the beginning of the end of Bush politically.

Except that the entire episode amounts to practically nothing. Those 'tough' warnings come from a group of marginalized Republicans whose alleged demands of Bush make no sense. They promised, in effect, to continue supporting for the foreseeable future a President they claim they don't trust, while opposing all attempts to rein in his failed policies in Iraq. In other words, they're spineless fools at best.

One of the two leaders of the group is my own do-nothing Congressman, Charles Dent, so I think I can speak directly to this issue.

I won't bother to analyze the exaggerated importance that many have already attributed to this private meeting, following the lead of Tim Russert and Keith Olbermann. These representatives can claim anything about what they said to Bush, since no transcript of the meeting has been released. I will note, though, that they waited to meet with Bush when Dick Cheney was out of the country. That gives you some measure of how "tough" these members of Congress are.

They do want the public to suppose that they took a hard-line with Bush; they rushed right out to talk up their "secret" meeting with reporters. But what did they demand of Bush, actually?

[O]ne said “My district is prepared for defeat. We need candor, we need honesty, Mr. President.” The president responded, “I don’t want to pass this off to another president. I don’t want to pass this off, particularly, to a Democratic president,” underscoring he understood how serious the situation was.

Brian, the Republican congressman then went on to say, “The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from Gen. Petraeus.” The meeting lasted an hour and 15 minutes and was, in the words of one, “remarkable for the bluntness and no-holds-barred honesty in the message delivered by all these Republican congressmen.”


Well, that's certainly hard-nosed: a demand for candor and honesty, and then (paradoxically) an announcement that Bush can't be trusted in any case. The latter has been obvious to nearly everybody for the last, ohhhh, several years. So why are they just getting around now to telling the President they don't believe his lies regarding Iraq?

As for the demand that Gen. Petraeus should do the White House's talking in the future, that boggles the mind. First, it is a political job that the Congressman wants to delegate to a member of the military. Second, setting aside the inappropriateness of it, why would Petraeus be trusted to say anything other than what Bush wanted to be said? So how does that make any such pronouncements more trustworthy? Third, if Bush can't be trusted, shouldn't he resign and permit the nation to be led by a President who can be?

As a side issue, I note that Gen. Petraeus hardly has won much trust in recent months. As soon as Bush decided to promote him, Petraeus began toeing the Bush line. For example, consider Petraeus' reaction to the recently published survey of the mental health and ethics of troops serving in Iraq.

At the Associated Press’ annual meeting in New York on Tuesday, I sat in the audience observing Gen. Petraeus on a huge screen, via satellite from Baghdad, as he answered questions from two AP journalists. Asked about a military study of over 1,300 U.S. troops in Iraq, released last week, which showed increasing mental stress -- and an alarming spillover into poor treatment of noncombatants -- Petraeus replied, "When I received that survey I was very concerned by the results. It showed a willingness of a fair number to not report the wrongdoing of their buddies."

That's true enough, but then he asserted that the survey showed that only a "small number" admitted they may have mistreated "detainees."

That was a lie. Actually, the study found that 10% of U.S. forces reported that they had personally, and without cause, mistreated civilians...


Well, it was also a lie to say he "was very concerned by the results". Petraeus took no steps at all to address the survey's findings until last week, after it was revealed to the public. But the survey was completed last November. The policies Petraeus has been endorsing since that time run flatly counter to the findings of the survey, which emphasized above all that the troops' increasingly severe problems with mental health and levels of rage were largely a factor of the length and frequency of the tours in Iraq.

But rather than reduce the rotations, Petraeus agreed to allow them to be lengthened from 12 to 15 months. The promise, absurdly enough, was that this would be offset somehow by permitting troops to have their full year out of theater before being rotated back to Iraq. But even that fig leaf has now been abandoned.

So Petraeus' "concern" about the survey amounted to ignoring the damage Bush's war was doing to the military and pressing ahead with even more damaging policies in order to satisfy the unreasonble demands of his boss.

This is the man whom the tough-minded Republican congressmen want to turn into the WH spokesman for the Iraq war.

To return to what they demanded of Bush:

Top Republicans have said an expected September review by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, may decide the future of the war. Bush must be able to show by September that the push to pacify Baghdad and its surrounding provinces is working, LaHood said.

"The American people are war-fatigued. The American people want to know there's a way out," LaHood said. "We will hang with them until September, but we need an honest assessment in September," he said of his fellow congressmen. "People's patience is running very, very thin."


An "honest" assessment in September is what they want. That's an admission that the administration's and the Pentagon's reports until now have been dishonest. And yet, the only impact it has had upon them is that they now demand that the third quarterly report from the Pentagon (not the second one, due in June) should be honest:

The Republicans told Bush they had little faith in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "to get his act together" and expected a "very candid report" from Gen. David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, on the progress of Iraq's government this fall, LaHood said.

"We want a very candid report in September," LaHood said. "We don't want politics mixed into it. And the way forward after September, if the report is not good, is going to be very, very difficult."


These are supposed to be brave and tough-minded Congressmen, all but inviting the administration to 'mix in some more politics' in the 2nd quarterly report, yet daring to demand an honest 3rd report? This part from CNN gets closer to what this group really was up to:

One source who attended the meeting said that Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, told Bush that without positive results soon in Iraq, his district will be prepared for defeat. The message from the lawmakers was "we're all with you now, but we have concerns about where we will be next year," a House GOP leadership aide said.


So the Congressmen warned the President sternly that they would stick by Bush (whom they don't trust even to speak about Iraq) for another half year. Then, if there weren't better results, they would be prepared for "defeat"; their main concerns are about "where we will be next year".

In other words, this meeting was not about Bush's failures in Iraq; nor about the need for new advisors; nor about urging him to adopt a new course that these Congressmen thought preferable. It was not about saving American or Iraqi lives this year—they're going to have to continue being hostages to Bush's refusal to face up to his own failure.

Nor was it about putting Bush on notice that the Republicans in Congress would force his hand in Iraq, now, or soon, or in September, or really at any time. The 'rebels' assured Bush that they would vote en masse against the Democratic proposal to pass supplemental bills to pay for the war in two-month installments.

Representative Charles Dent...said lawmakers wanted to convey the frustration and impatience with the war they are hearing from voters. "We had a very frank conversation about the situation in Iraq," he said. Even so, the Republicans who attended the White House session indicated that they would maintain solidarity with Bush for now by opposing the latest Democratic proposal for two-stage financing of war...


Indeed, another proposal is coming to the floor today in the House, the Iraq Redeployment Act, which would begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. You can bet these eleven "rebels" will vote against that bill as well. They're planning on standing four-square with Bush for the foreseeable future—a man, remember, whom they say they don't trust.

No, this meeting was an opportunity for the eleven Congressmen to whine to Bush that their supporters were telling them to expect very difficult re-election campaigns in 2008 if Iraq continues to be such a mess. This meeting was a reaction to negative poll results, or something like it.

If the September report shows things haven't improved in Iraq, LaHood said, "I think public opinion probably turns even worse than it is."


More from CBS:

Mr. Bush was reportedly told that the war is unsustainable without public support and is having a corrosive effect on the GOP's political fortunes. Congressman Charles Dent says he told the president that his Pennsylvania constituents are "impatient, and in some cases have a sense of futility" about the war.


Their own political futures—that's what they value. Not the lives that are being shredded in Iraq, not the families of American soldiers who are suffering endless torment, not the damage to the military from this war, not the obscene levels of debt we're accumulating. Not even, particularly, the rank dishonesty of the administration. It's just the fact that voters are reaching the end of their patience with these wet noodles.

But until the political circumstances become utterly desperate, these brave souls will continue to make excuses for Bush's incompetent policies. That's what they're used to doing.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTake my own second-term Congressman, Charles Dent. Like the others who met with Bush on Tuesday, he's not the brightest candle in the box. Dent has tried to ingratiate himself with the Party by by doing the bidding of the Republican leadership in all but their most extreme battles.

And right from the start, he has backed Bush loyally on the Iraq fiasco. Half a year into his first term, Dent traveled to Iraq and came back with glowing words about 'progress' being made there.

I left Iraq feeling optimistic and hopeful that the slow, gradual pace to normal life in much of Iraq is progressing – not without setbacks and heartbreaking loss of life, but still with purpose and determination.


Here is Washington Post on Dent's Iraq report:

His assessment afterward was upbeat. "Ultimately, life is slowly but gradually returning to normal," Dent told reporters. "There is a lot of room for optimism here. There's really no choice but to be optimistic at this point. It's just a matter of patience and will."


By contrast, this is the kind of thing I was writing about in the summer of 2005: Iraq Interior Ministry: Torture Inc.. I didn't need to fly into Iraq to observe the signs of imminent collapse of society. Dent's upbeat "progress" report, by the way, once was displayed prominently on Dent's website, but now it's accessible to the public only if you know where to find it in the archives.

Since that much-derided report, Dent has mostly fled from the issue of Iraq, preferring to remain silent for the most part about the largest political issue of our times. When pressed about where he stands, Dent becomes evasive. Here he is in July 2006.

Republicans, especially those in swing districts, had no choice but to shift the emphasis of their war talk, lawmakers said. "The Iraq issue is the lens through which people are looking at the federal government," said Rep. Charles W. Dent (Pa.), another swing-district Republican. "That is the issue to most people. There's no question about that."

To pretend the war is resolving itself nicely is no longer an option, he said.


Quite a mouthful from Dent. Iraq is the main issue, he admits, though he remains all but silent on it...and to judge by the "demands" he and his fellow wet noodles made of Bush on Tuesday, he's going to remain mum until at least Autumn.

Dent also implies that he once thought "pretend[ing] the war is resolving itself nicely" was in fact an option. You would have gotten the same impression, of course, from reading his report on "progress" dating only 11 months earlier.

In Jan. 2007, the Washington Post even featured a profile of the wishy-washy Dent as he struggled to decide whether to give Bush yet another blank check in Iraq.

Rep. Charlie Dent wrestled all week with President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

On Monday, the two-term Republican from eastern Pennsylvania told a hometown reporter that it would take "a pretty hard sell" for Bush to win him over. He fretted Wednesday about the Iraqis: "Are they going to be up to the task?" By Thursday evening, 24 hours after Bush's address from the White House library, he was nursing huge doubts and a jumble of emotions.

"I'm very skeptical, I'm very concerned," Dent said wearily, slumping in a leather chair in his office. "What would be the mission of our troops? I'm not sure the president addressed it."

Dent has reason to worry. He won reelection in November by a surprisingly narrow margin against an obscure opponent, and Democrats have no intention of letting him off easily again. Depending on the course of the war, Iraq could prove an even bigger impediment for Republicans in 2008....

Dent decided on a blended approach.

"I think we have the obligation to process this a little bit," he said carefully. "But I still think the president has to make a case, a strong case. He's got a lot of selling left to do."


By "blended", Dent meant that he was caving in to Bush but trying to portray himself as (slightly) independent-minded. Thus Dent voted against a non-binding resolution objecting to Bush's policies in Iraq. As this blogger remarked, that's just par for the course for Dent.

To sum up, all the opposition that Dent has been able to muster until this week has been fall into line always and forever with the President:

One person [Dent] regularly speaks with is John Brinson, a West Point graduate and local conservative political commentator who owns a chain of fitness clubs in Dent's district. "I'm going to advise him to be quiet about the war and support the president 100 percent," Brinson said. "In fact, I'm going to call him right now and tell him that."


Brinson, his trusted advisor, is this laughing-stock. You would have to look long and hard to find a stupider man than he.

Anyhow, that's the kind of "thinking" Charlie Dent has been using up until now regarding Bush's policies. What has changed is that Dent, like the others who pleaded with Bush for changes, is facing a very real prospect of defeat in 2008. The Democrats have not fielded credible opponents in either of Dent's two races:

Dent caught a break in November. Although he represents a moderate district centered in the Lehigh Valley -- he has dubbed it "Deep Purple" -- Democrats failed to recruit a seasoned candidate to run against him. Instead, Dent faced Charles Dertinger, a little-known county councilman who spent just $66,000 on his grass-roots campaign. Dent spent more than $1 million, but he captured just 53 percent of the vote...

As the 2006 midterm elections approached, Dent's strategy was to repeat his successful approach from two years earlier of talking about Iraq as little as possible. "He never said a word during the campaign about the war," Dertinger said.


Dertinger was nearly invisible in 2006 and had little support from the Party anyway, so his 47% of the vote was largely an anybody-but-Dent message. Democrats would be foolish not to back a strong challenge in 2008 to Dent, who is extremely fearful of defeat (in 2006, he went so far as to try to obtain the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, in order to run unopposed in the fall).

That, dear reader, is the actual story from the White House meeting: A significant number of Republican members of the House anticipate defeat in 2008 unless Bush changes course in Iraq before then.

And the troops now serving there? Well, as far as this gang is concerned, there's no need to worry about their future's quite yet. 2008 will be plenty soon enough to sort things out.

crossposted from Unbossed

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