I remember the moment I fell out of love with Chuck Hagel. I was writing the blog post that Leigh links to below and decided to do some digging into the Nebraska senator's background. I found out that the Republican I half-revered as Congress's loudest war objector and Bush Administration critic actually voted with the White House more frequently in 2006 than any senator of any party. The man is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. You can see his record at the link I provide above.

And tell me: How is that not the best possible candidate for the Republican nomation? In the eyes of the conservative base, Hagel is perfect on every social and economic issue. The one place he diverges from the party line is the one place where America diverges from the party line. Some are speculating that there isn't a place for an anti-war candidate in the Republican Party. I say if there will ever be a time for an anti-war candidate, it is now. And considering how flat wrong all the frontrunners for the Republican nomination are on key issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns, I think even if the base finds Hagel hard to stomach on Iraq, they'll take him. Hagel-Huckabee '08!

Today, Senator Chuck Hagel is set to announce whether or not he will run for president. But will anyone care? The New York Times' blog, the Caucus, reported this morning that few Americans know enough about the guy to offer any opinion at all. The paper, in conjunction with CBS News, conducted a poll from last Wednesday through last night of 1,266 registered voters nationwide. 75 percent of the polled voters say "they had not heard enough about Mr. Hagel to offer an opinion of him either good or bad." For more info on the guy, read this post by Jonathan, "The Changing Dynamics of the Chuck Hagel Phenomenon."

As I wrote last Thursday, Karl Rove is making it clear that he does not think the mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, now under investigation by both the House and Senate, is a big deal. It appears that perhaps the president's adviser is insisting that the purge is a non-issue because of his potential implication in the situation. Yesterday, McClatchy reported that the New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh admitted to having a conversation in 2005 with a White House liaison to Rove, during which, he urged the White House to fire David Iglesias because the USA had failed to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation. Weh claims to have followed up with Rove personally in the winter of 2006. The party chairman inquired as to whether anything would happen to Iglesias (read: would he be fired) and Rove said, "He's gone." Weh responded, "Hallelujah." As McClatchy points out, this directly contradicts what the Justice Department has been saying about White House involvement; that they merely approved a DOJ-created list of attorneys to be fired.

Saying that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution," Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for Gonzales to resign today on Face the Nation. You can see the video on ThinkProgress.

An editorial in the New York Times today says essentially the same thing. It calls for Gonzales to step down because he "never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency." Gotta love the Times.

The Times makes it clear that Gonzales has got to go not just because of this new flap with the fired U.S. Attorneys and not because of the F.B.I.'s newly exposed overreach in gathering information about Americans. It's because of his body of work.

It was Mr. Gonzales, after all, who repeatedly defended Mr. Bush's decision to authorize warrantless eavesdropping on Americans' international calls and e-mail. He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way. Mr. Gonzales was disdainful of any attempt by Congress to examine the spying program, let alone control it.
The attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration's assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers.
His Justice Department has abandoned its duties as guardian of election integrity and voting rights. It approved a Georgia photo-ID law that a federal judge later likened to a poll tax, a case in which Mr. Gonzales's political team overrode the objections of the department's professional staff.
The Justice Department has been shamefully indifferent to complaints of voter suppression aimed at minority voters. But it has managed to find the time to sue a group of black political leaders in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters.

The Bush Administration has a long history of naming appointees to oversee areas they once lobbied on. It would make sense, then, that the Attorney General "more than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney... symbolizes Mr. Bush's disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law."

We've written a ton about the need for diplomacy with Iran here at MoJoBlog. Here's my position, from an earlier post:

...talks with Iran fundamentally make the United States safer. Right now we have no influence over Iran, and, if anything, continue to antagonize them. Entering a tense but workable diplomatic relationship humanizes both sides, allows them to talk through grievances, and begins the process of making concessions and finding middle ground.

I've always felt, "Hey, why not try it? It can't make things worse." Well, it's happened. After a period in which the White House repeatedly changed course over whether they would establish contact with the Iranians, and if so, to what extent, the two sides finally met a long-awaited meeting of regional leaders in Iraq. But when I say they "met," I mean they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. From the Wall Street Journal:

...the two sides merely had a quick "meet and greet" and then exchanged remarks within the larger forum. U.S. and Iranian officials said there were no private conversations of any substance.

The optimist in me says, "It's a start, but we can and must do better." The cynic in me says that the White House simply used the announcement of talks with Iran as a way to generate positive headlines and never had any intention of performing true diplomacy.

With this being Women's History Month and yesterday being International Women's Day should we try to cram in a crib sheet on the complex and varied "women's issues," of the day? One might argue that such issues are most powerful, and all the more relevant, when addressed as human issues, just as we should all look at Hillary not as the female candidate, Obama not as the black one. But, alas, we humans do love to compartmentalize, so here goes.

As an opportunity to demonstrate international solidarity groups took full advantage of IWD yesterday. Women (and men) all around the world attended demonstrations and rallies calling for equal rights and a stop to violence against women. And while many recognize that there are some initiatives and laws that theoretically secure and guarantee gender equality, in practice much remains to be done.

In Pakistan yesterday activists repeated the demand for a complete abolition of the Hudood Ordinances. Some background: last year's much advertised Protection of Women Act amends the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 and was touted by President General Musharraf as a measure to "safeguard the rights of women." But it only partially repeals the ordinances. Previously, rape was subject to the Sharia law; now, a judge can choose whether the rape case should be tried at a criminal court or under the Sharia, based on " forensic and circumstantial evidence." Little wonder that Pakistani women's groups have severely criticized the bill, charging that Musharraf is still beholden to the radical mullahs. In order to placate the mullahs, Pakistanis who want change, and international criticism of women's rights in Pakistan, he recently introduced this half-assed bill which is arguably no different from the Ordinances.

Pakistan's next door neighbor, the "largest democracy" in the world, India, also has its share of problems regarding the situation of women: child trafficking, the sex trade, female foeticide, illiteracy, discrimination, and Hindu fundamentalists that police Hindu women and direct sexual violence towards Muslim women. The country's Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which took effect last year, does not require women to provide physical evidence of abuse in contrast to previous laws --meaning emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse are now recognized as potential forms of abuse. Moreover, it includes all females, whether they are spouses or not. A step forward though this act is not a remedy for all social ills: phenomenon such as female foeticide must be effectively targeted.

And a word on the home front. Perhaps because most of the western media heavily focuses on the status of women in the Third World and in conflict-ridden areas, we're under the impression that we don't have equally serious problems here at home. Think again: According to a UN Report from last year, "between 40 and 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by husbands or boyfriends in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States." And, "in Europe, North America and Australia, more than half of women with disabilities have experienced physical abuse, compared with one third of non-disabled women." And the numbers reflecting abuse against females in the US indeed prove that violence against women is "pervasive" across the globe, even in America. More on women's plight here at home in our package of articles on domestic violence, "No Safe Haven".

--Neha Inamdar

For some time now, the FBI has insisted that it is using the Patriot Act's national security letters function with caution and discretion. National security letters were used by the agency between 2003 and 2005 to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents and visitors, and a court order is not required to issue one. Corporations and other organizations receiving national securing letters are told that part of federal compliance is that they keep the request and the reply secret.

The FBI reported that it had sent only "about 9,000" national security letters, when--in fact--it had sent between 19,000 and 50,000, depending on who you ask or how the data is interpreted. At any rate, there is no doubt that they sent many more than they claim to have sent, and the figure seems to be in the several-thousand area. More significant, a sampling of the letters, investigated by the Justice Department, indicates 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations.

Because the Patriot Act permits the gathering of personal information from persons not alleged to be spies or terrorists, the potential to abuse the national security letter function was obvious to many of us from the beginning, but both the FBI and the Bush administration insisted, over and over, that no abuses were taking place. You can call it incompetence or you can call it lying, but the bottom line is that abuses were taking place all the time.

Lanny Davis, a member of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, says that a recent briefing by the FBI left him "very concerned about what I regard to be serious potential infringements of privacy and civil liberties by the FBI and their use of national security letters. It is my impression that they too regard this as very serious."

In the Justice Department report are many examples of FBI agents having used "exigent letters" to get fast information under the condition that they would later cover the requests with either full national security letters or grand jury subpoenas--only the national security letters and subpoenas never surfaced. There were also several instances in which agents claimed exigent circumstances when none existed.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is said to be "incensed" over the report, and FBI director Robert S. Mueller III has taken full responsibility for the errors.

Thanks to Think Progress and NPR.

Here's the latest in the continuation of the epic Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit—a veritable Odyssey for our times, chronicled in Mother Jones (Sept-Oct 2005) "Accounting Coup." Ten years and three Secretaries of the Interior have passed since Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet banker and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, filed suit against the government, in pursuit of money long overdue her and 500,000 Indians. Background from the MoJo article:

[Cobell's] fight takes the forms of Cobell v. Norton [now Kempthorne], a federal lawsuit on behalf of a half-million Indians across America whose individual property is held in trust by the Department of the Interior… Interior leases these private Indian lands to oil, timber, and agricultural corporations and other commercial entities, then pays the Indians the revenues those leases yield. But Cobell claims the government has been grossly negligent in its 118 years of managing the Individual Indian Trust, treating the Indians not as clients and beneficiaries but as easy marks.

While generations of non-Indians have become rich harvesting the abundant resources of private Indian lands—which once included virtually all the oil fields of Oklahoma—Indian landowners have been paid only erratically, and far less than their due. Consequently, even landowning Indians remain among the nation's poorest citizens, joining the 23 percent of Indians in America living in poverty, and the nearly 40 percent who are unemployed. Some tribes fare even worse, and the Blackfeet suffer a 34 percent poverty rate and a 70 percent unemployment rate. Overall, Indians are more than twice as poor as the average American.

Cobell filed her lawsuit in 1996 after years of kinder entreaties failed, demanding payment of all unpaid revenues from Indian leases for the past century, a tally of past revenues, and a new accounting system to deal with future revenues. According to Cobell's forensic accountants, the government owes $176 billion to individual Indian landowners, averaging $352,000 per plaintiff, making this monetarily the largest class-action lawsuit ever launched.

Now the government has proposed paying $7 billion. Seems like a lot, right? But with those monies Interior hopes to settle Cobell's lawsuit on behalf of the Individual Indian Trust and a whole lot more. Hey, this is the kind of accounting we should all get to practise when it comes time to pay our taxes… From IndianTrust.com:

The money would end the more than 250 tribal cases as well as the billion-dollar Cobell lawsuit over individual Indian funds. In exchange, the administration demands Congress extinguish the government's liability for all future trust claims. Not only would the money be used to resolve the lawsuits, it would be used to pay for trust reform programs at the Interior Department. In the letter, Gonzales and Kempthorne cite fractionation, information technology security and a controversial initiative to shift all management duties to tribes and individual Indians.

The proposal was immediately met with resistance from the Cobell plaintiffs. Keith Harper, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the plaintiffs, called it a "bad faith offer. You cannot say that you have a potentially $200 billion liability [for tribes] and try to settle that, plus Cobell, plus trust reform, plus IT security, for $7 billion," he said yesterday… The offer is also likely to draw objections from tribal leaders, who rejected the same proposal last fall when it was released by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

More from an update on IndianTrust.com:

Far from settling the long-running, acrimonious Cobell case, the government proposes that Indian beneficiaries further litigate the Cobell case. At the same time, the government's letter is an open invitation to more litigation.

Just consider that Interior's own experts have estimated that the government's liability in the Cobell case (excluding all other claims) to be at least $10 billion, and that it could exceed $40 billion. Now consider that the Kempthorne-Gonzales letter proposes a $7 billion cap that eliminates "all existing and potential individual and tribal claims for trust accounting, cash and land mismanagement, and other related claims, along with the resolution of other related matters . . . that permit recurrence of . . . litigation."

The scope is breathtaking, and the injury to Indians everywhere can only be described as catastrophic. The Attorney General himself has said that the tribal accounts alone are valued at $200 billion.

Notable though: the letter is the first time the administration has offered any type of number in association with the trust debacle. The AP via the Great Falls Tribune reports:

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he will hold hearings on the proposal and said the settlement offer is the first time the federal government has acknowledged a multibillion dollar liability for mismanagement of the trust funds over the past century.

Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said the department looks forward to working with Congress on the proposal. Congress has attempted to wade into the dispute in recent years, but has yet to find resolution. "We believe this proposal looks to the future," he said.

Yeah, right. Same old stonewalling, double-crossing future, more like it.

Now maybe I'm just the liberal rabble-rouser the right likes to believe I am, but pardon Libby: huh? A political scandal that ends in jail time for someone who worked in the White House is one that has real heft to it. But even the liberal(ish) American Prospect is calling for a pardon.

Now to play devil's advocate for a moment: Say this is a political battle, left and right in the trenches. How many of the right came to the left's aid during Clinton's absurd political persecution (cherry on the top of which sundae came today when henchman Newt Gingrich admitted that he was having an affair at the time he was impeaching Clinton for having an affair)? Precious few. Not only that, but many Democrats and leftists broke ranks to speak out against Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. And the case for doing partisan battle has never been stronger: This administration is shredding the constitution and making every department of the government partisan from top to bottom. (For a micro-tour, click here and here.)

Now let's take the arguments on their face. The Prospect says we should pardon Libby because "The offenses of which [he] has been convicted pale in comparison with the high crimes that have gotten us trapped in Iraq and that, even now, remain unacknowledged and largely unpunished." Say what? The column reads like a celebration that finally someone in this corrupt administration has been taken to task with "pardon Libby" stuck on the top and the bottom. The time has already been spent going after Libby—even if "he's small potatoes" were a good argument, it would have made sense a year ago but not now. It's not a good argument: If you work in the White House, don't lie on the stand in a probe about endangering the life of someone serving her country. Cover up for someone higher, do time.

Word to the Prospect: You know your argument is messed up when you agree with Tom DeLay. Here's the illogical platitude the oustered uber-partisan House leader offered: "In their wisdom, our Founding Fathers gave our chief executive the authority to issue pardons in order to better balance the scales of justice." Which is even more ironic than it seems given that pleas for a pardon come amid revelations that the Bush Justice Department fired prosecutors who weren't sufficiently partisan. Balance the scales of justice? More like sit their fat white asses on the right side.