Political MoJo

I'm with Salon, All Roads Do Lead to Rove

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 12:35 PM EDT

Ok, so Jonathan and I are both on Rove's case today. See below for more haranguing.

Yesterday, Dan reported on the irony of a man like Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel investigating Karl Rove for his recently revealed dirty dealings. Bloch himself is under investigation by the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, spurred on, in part, by his staff who claimed "he engaged in the very retaliatory practices his agency is charged with investigating." We're wondering, "courageous effort to expose White House malfeasance, or a last ditch attempt to save his own hide"?

Bloch and the OSC plan to investigate Rove's involvement in, among other things, that politicized power-point presentation given to political appointees at the General Services Administration (GSA) by a Rove deputy, which, once again, is front page news. Yes, Bloch's job just got even more involved. As Jonathan notes in his post about the Hatch Act below, there wasn't just one power-point presentation, but 20 given to 15 different agencies and all -- you guessed it -- by Rove deputies. I know, it's overwhelming and a little tough to keep track of the various transgressions these days by WH and government officials, but it might be more simple than it appears. I think Salon had some great foresight when they titled this piece: "All Roads Lead to Rove."

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Violation of Hatch Act Now Clear: Rove's Team Gave 20 Partisan Briefings to Fed. Employees

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:57 AM EDT

I blogged yesterday about how the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using government resources on partisan political activities. One might argue that having Karl Rove as the deputy chief of staff is a violation of the Hatch Act in and of itself, since his only job, really, is to get Republicans elected. But that's not specific enough to be a real allegation. I understand.

You know what is specific enough? This:

White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The violations of the Hatch Act seem pretty obvious:

In the GSA briefing -- conducted like all the others by a deputy to chief White House political adviser Karl Rove -- two slides were presented showing 20 House Democrats targeted for defeat and several dozen vulnerable Republicans.
At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses.

Currently, the administration's defense is that these were "informational briefings about the political landscape." Whatever that means.

Now, Henry Waxman will probably hold a hearing or two on this, but the entity specifically tasked with investigating violations of the Hatch Act is the disturbingly partisan Office of Special Counsel, who has a history of neglecting its core responsibilities and instead toeing the Bush line.

That's why we're worried the OSC's investigation of Karl Rove and his shop (for these partisan presentations and other things) is just a crafty diversion. We'll see.

White House Officials Admit They Don't Buy Bush's Iraq Rhetoric

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:24 AM EDT

President Bush has made two main claims when attacking the Democrats' push for an Iraq withdrawal timeline. The first is the Dems are legislating defeat. "The American people did not vote for failure and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership bill would guarantee," he said recently. The goal, obviously, is shame and embarrassment. No one wants to be a surrender monkey.

The second claim is that a bloodbath, both within Iraq's borders and without, will follow an American withdrawal. "[Withdrawal] could unleash chaos in Iraq that could spread across the entire region," the president has said. "It would be an invitation to the enemy to attack America and our friends around the world." In a different appearance, he said, "The security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq." The idea here is to convince Americans (1) we have a moral obligation to protect the vulnerable, and (2) we have a national security reason to keep on fighting.

According to a new Newsweek article, however, the second claim is mostly PR pablum, and high-level officials within the administration know it.

One senior administration official with extensive knowledge of the region, who didn't want to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters, tells NEWSWEEK that the chances of a regional war in Iraq are low in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. When asked if a regional war would break out, the official said: "Possibly, not probably. It's more likely that other powers would support their favorite militias, as they're doing already."

What's more, the ethnic cleansing many fear would tear through Iraq in the absence of U.S. troops is mostly fantasy.

The senior official said the genocidal bloodbath that Sen. John McCain outlined recently was also unlikely, pointing to the militias' ability to secure their own neighborhoods after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in early 2006.

The Newsweek writers speculate that the reason Bush keeps pushing this doomsday talk is that it is a good way of keeping the pressure on the Democrats. It's all politics, they argue. I disagree. I think Bush believes his own spin. I think the positions he espouses now are the inevitable positions someone would hold if they believed almost messianically that they were doing the right thing every step of the way, and did not bother to hear dissent, from external experts or White House staffers, at any point.

It's psychological. (Cognitive dissonance? Correct me in the comments.) Bush already believes the war must go on, so he has to buy shoddy reasoning in order to square his belief. It reminds me of how we got into war: neocons in the administration believed the war had to happen, so they got on board with bad intelligence (either they believed it, or pretended to) in order to justify their belief.

(And PS -- I am legitimately scared at the idea of ethnic cleansing in the wake of our departure. But can the violence really get worse that it is now?)

EU and Iran Working to End Deadlock Over Tehran's Nuclear Program

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:14 AM EDT

Just an update to remind you that in some parts of the world, people still believe in diplomacy.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the talks were useful and had been conducted in a good atmosphere, although no huge breakthrough was immediately apparent.
"We have tried to understand each other better and that, without any doubt, is a very fundamental part of the resolution of the problem," Mr Solana added. "We have not made miracles, but have tried to move the dossier forward a little bit."

I'll take it. After all, slow-moving diplomacy worked before, just recently. The United States could learn something here. Even when we put down the sabers, the best we've been able to do is this.

Barbara Bush: Still the Nation's Best Source For Sick Humor

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:16 PM EDT

She asked us why she should waste her beautiful mind on such things as body bags and death.

Then, she comforted us (with a chuckle) by telling us how much better off the Katrina evacuees were hanging out in Houston's hurricane relief centers.

And yesterday, the former First Lady said it was okay for Mitt Romney to be "Mormon" (a term that is avoided by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but used by Larry King) because there are "wild people" in every religion. (Barbara should know--she is one wild Episcopalian.) She went on to explain: "I mean it was in 1897 that bigamy was outlawed in that church. You know we have a lot of Christian wild people too, and a lot of Jewish wild people and a lot of Muslim wild people. The Mormon religion takes care of its own, they don't have people on welfare."

In the world of Bush, that is the ultimate compliment.

While she and her husband were chatting with Larry King, George H.W. Bush remarked, without irony, that he thought the nation was suffering from "Bush fatigue," and therefore, Jeb could not run for president.

Thanks to The Heretik.

Arnold to EPA: I'll Be Back

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:39 PM EDT

Can you imagine being a bland, later middle-aged Washington bureaucrat, and having Arnold Schwarzenegger march into your office and threaten you...with a lawsuit? That's just what happened to Steve Johnson, the administrator of the EPA. Read more on the Blue Marble.

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SNAP! A Spate of Subpoenas

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:16 PM EDT

The Dems are getting serious. Get this: They may subpoena Condi to get her to testify about her role in pumping the whole Niger uranium myth. The House Judiciary Committee also voted to grant former senior Justice aide Monica Goodling immunity in exchange for her testimony on the U.S. Attorney firings. A subpoena for Bush's Monica was approved but not issued (yet). My personal favorite—just because the Condi affair seems pretty stale at this point—is that Patrick Leahy wrote a note to Alberto Gonzales telling him to refresh his memory and report back in a week. (There was much the Attorney General couldn't recall in his testimony last week.) Subpoenas were also approved for members of the Republican National Committee, who the House hopes will shed some light on the slew of missing emails from Attorney-gate.

European Members of World Bank Spurn Changes to Family-Planning Policy

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 4:05 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports today that, in a closed meeting yesterday at the World Bank, European members objected to a Washington-supported proposal to change the bank's family-planning policy, which would put in place age restrictions on family-planning assistance, including abortions. Cameron wrote a few weeks ago about Wolfowitz' denial of any changes to its family-planning policy, one that has long been an integral part of the bank's development strategy. The former Iraq war architect said, in response to accusations, "Let me make it very clear. Our policy hasn't changed." But the Government Accountability Project found documents that contradict his statement.

Wolfowitz' transgressions, past and present, are not making him any friends. Aside from the European members who "revolted" against the family-planning policy amendment, "rank-and-file" employees are wearing blue ribbons (good-governance ribbons) to signify that they don't trust him. Well, this is not news to us. Mother Jones hasn't trusted Wolfowitz for awhile. Here are a few of our reasons why.

Sex and Abortion in the City (Mexico City)

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

In Mexico, feminism never took. Gender relations there are pretty close to what they were in the United States in the early 60s. And because the country is largely Catholic, birth control isn't widely used among married or unmarried couples. (Arguably, the most effective contraceptive is the cultural convention of living with your family until you get married—a convention that leads to some embarrassingly heavy public petting.)

Mexico is also a country with a gaping maw of an income gap. The wealthy have live-in maids, whose own homes have dirt floors and no running water. The poor have virtually no education and no opportunities. Meanwhile, the wealthy fly to San Antonio to shop—and sometimes to have abortions, which were until yesterday illegal in Mexico except in cases of rape or serious danger to the woman's health. Yesterday, Mexico City legalized abortions in the first trimester. (Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, accounts for nearly a fifth of the country's total population.)

The timing couldn't be more ironic: The United States took a huge step backward on abortion earlier this month, banning a legitimate abortion procedure regardless of timing or circumstances. Mexico has been able to move forward recently (it also legalized same-sex marriage) due to increasingly open national and local elections, which have given power in the capital to liberals. The Times also attributes the change to the church's loss of prestige following the pedophile priest fiasco. Apparently, Mexicans are more attuned to hypocrisy than Americans, who continue to let people like Newt Gingrich and Ted Haggard preach sexual morality.

However, the Mexican conservatives—members of president Felipe Calderón's PAN party—have clearly taken a page from the religious right's playbook. PAN's Jorge Romero said legalizing abortion would "support juvenile imprudence"—a claim which is especially annoying in a country where maids, who have no idea what sex even is, are frequently raped by sons of the wealthy. And Catholic Lawyers, the main opposition group, in an echo of Mitt Romney's Desperate Conservatives move in Massachusetts, protested that the city government had violated the Constitution by ignoring a petition for a referendum on abortion.

Maybe instead of them cribbing from our shoddy, hypocritical playbook, we ought to shed our superiority complex long enough to learn a lesson or two from our neighbors to the South.

Tillman Family, Jessica Lynch Have Strong Words for Military

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 2:33 PM EDT

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman's brother Kevin strongly challenged the government and the military in their statements yesterday before Henry Waxman's congressional committee. Lynch made it clear that the narrative of her capture and rescue put out by the military was overblown (though we already knew that) but stopped short of offering speculation as to why the military would distort the truth.

Kevin Tillman, on the other hand, did not hold back.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his brother was killed in Afghanistan three years ago, Kevin Tillman told a congressional hearing that the Army and administration officials had exploited his brother's death to divert attention from the detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib prison...
Kevin Tillman, who gave up a minor-league baseball career to enlist with his older brother after the 9/11 attacks and was nearby the day Pat Tillman was shot by fellow soldiers, said the military's early, heroic depiction of his brother's death was "utter fiction."
"To our family and friends, it was a devastating loss. To the nation, it was a moment of disorientation. To the military, it was a nightmare," Kevin Tillman said, his voice wavering with emotion. "But to others within the government, it appears to have been an opportunity. "
In his brother's case, he charged that evidence had been destroyed, an autopsy did not conform to regulations and eyewitness testimony "disappeared into thin air."

Here's Kevin Tillman's very moving and very damning opening statement.

And here's a link to the story I believe provides the best taste of Pat Tillman's unique personality and the clearest explanation of his death. It's from Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith, possibly the best sports writer on the planet.