Blogging for Mike Stagg

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Drugs, Cleanup & Taxes: The Only Sure Thing is that Rita's Victims Don't Rate

Folks in the 7th district are faced with another example of Rita Abuse--this one goes way beyond Rita Amnesia. The IRS nonchalantly decided earlier this month that it is not going to try to collect taxes or otherwise disturb voters in Katrina-hit areas. Conspicuously absent was any similar consideration for Rita's victims. As reported in the New York Times:
The commissioner of internal revenue has ordered his agency to delay collecting back taxes from Hurricane Katrina victims until after the Nov. 7 elections and the holiday season, saying he did so in part to avoid negative publicity...

“We are very sensitive to political perceptions,” Mr. Everson said Wednesday, adding that he regularly discussed with his senior staff members when to take actions and make announcements in light of whether they would annoy a powerful member of Congress or get lost in the flow of news.

...four former I.R.S. commissioners, who served under presidents of both parties, said that doing so because of an election was improper and indefensible.
Who might be the powerful members of Congress that rate such kid-glove treatment? Certainly not Charlie Boustany.

This fits a pattern. You might remember the issues of hurricane cleanup and the Medicare drug program. In those cases as well, people who lived in areas hit by Katrina received noticeably more sympathy and help than those hit by the more powerful Rita. In those cases as well, Congressman Boustany's response to a public outcry was to call a press conference to complain about unfair treatment and then to follow up with "strong letters" to the federal bureaucrats involved. After weeks of complaints about Katrina clean-up being 100% funded by federal dollars but Rita-hit areas being charged a co-pay that would have bankrupted Cameron and Vermilion Parishes, the state stepped up to help out. I'm not sure what makes St. Bernard better than Cameron, and high-profile complaining by our incumbent led to exactly nothing.

The Medicare drug plan for seniors deadline is following a similar trajectory. Seniors in Katrina-hit areas are being given an extension to the deadline for sign-up for the program until after the election. Seniors from Rita-hit areas are not. There is no rationale. And Boustany's response has consisted of press releases and letters to bureaucrats.

Boustany wants us to believe that he is ineffectual because he is a first-term Congressman. But freshman Charlie Melancon's district has done better. There are two differences between Melancon and Boustany and only one of them is Katrina's higher profile. The other is that Melancon is a fighter: under intense pressure to "go along" with Republican initiatives that offered half a loaf to Louisiana on issues like offshore oil revenues in trade for federal resources for his beleaguered district, Melancon fought for the full loaf. By not going along, he made his vote uncertain and the interests of his district important.

Boustany, as one of the best "rubber stamps" in a yes-man federal delegation, was a safe vote for whatever the feds suggested. (He supported the Bush agenda 94% of the time.) That "loyalty" bought him and his district little respect. Loyalty to his district, and less to his party, would have brought the needs of the 7th more attention.

Imagine what coastal Louisana could have gotten if her two freshman representatives had stood together and, in a bipartisan way, slammed FEMA, slammed the federal response and raised holy hell over the needs of the folks who were run over by the storms. They could have together refused to vote for the Bush agenda until the Bush agenda made sense for South Lousiana. That would have made news. That could have made a difference. But it would have cost Boustany with his party, so he laid low. The Republicans know he is a safe vote -- and that they don't have to respect him.

And the lack of respect shows.

We need a fighter. We need a change.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Debating Torture

I've been working trying to come up with a post about the current debate on torture, the pro and anti side, and the emerging compromises on our honoring the Geneva accords.

Then I did a double take.

The United States Senate is debating whether or not the President ought to be able to authorize torture.

The American President.

My President.

A debate in the Senate.

With a compromise being worked out in this or that committee.

On Torture.

It is unbelievable; it is outrageous; it is so profoundly wrong that it is difficult to know what to say and impossible to find an adequate way to say it.

I can say this: That we've even gotten to the point where where it's under discussion is as shameful a betrayal of the United States as I can imagine.

And I am personally ashamed that I even considered joining the "debate." The appropriate reaction is indignant, patriotic, condemnation.

There can be no compromise.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat - New York Times

The New York Times reports on what it calls "a stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies."

The assessment concludes "the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks."

It appears that this report was vigorously massaged by intelligence officials in an (apparently vain) attempt to make the assessment a bit less contradictory of the Republican talking points about 'fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here.'

Here are some key paragraphs:
More than a dozen United States government officials and outside experts were interviewed for this article, and all spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a classified intelligence document. The officials included employees of several government agencies, and both supporters and critics of the Bush administration. All of those interviewed had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts. These officials discussed some of the document’s general conclusions but not details, which remain highly classified.

Officials with knowledge of the intelligence estimate said it avoided specific judgments about the likelihood that terrorists would once again strike on United States soil. The relationship between the Iraq war and terrorism, and the question of whether the United States is safer, have been subjects of persistent debate since the war began in 2003.

National Intelligence Estimates are the most authoritative documents that the intelligence community produces on a specific national security issue, and are approved by John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence. Their conclusions are based on analysis of raw intelligence collected by all of the spy agencies.

Analysts began working on the estimate in 2004, but it was not finalized until this year. Part of the reason was that some government officials were unhappy with the structure and focus of earlier versions of the document, according to officials involved in the discussion.
So, therosyy interpretation of the impact of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is that is serving to inspire a new wave of Islamic radicalism? Match this National Intelligence Estimate with the recent assessment of the state of the U.S. Army and the likelihood that National Guard troops will have to be called for another round of active duty in order to try to ease strains on the regular Army and the picture that begins to emerge is that the invasion and occupation of Iraq are turning into the greatest foreign policy catastrophe in the history of this country.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of a U.S. Congress that has refused to exercise its constitutional responsibilities to provide oversight of the activities of the Executive branch.

Our system is a system of checks and balances. Congress has not checked the administration; as a result, our policies are out of balance.

Strained, Army Looks to Guard for More Relief

The war in Iraq has strained the U.S. Army to its limit according to an internal Army document that was given to the New York Times.

Read it and weep. The Bush administration's adventure in Iraq (a war of choice over deliberately skewed intelligence) is wrecking the U.S. military. Trapped in a quagmire of its own making, the Bush administration either needs a bigger army, must call up more National Guard units to active duty, or cut back on its foreign commitments.

Unable to admit its mistakes and unwilling to take any action that might jeopardize Republicans' chances in what appears to be an already perilous (for incumbents) mid-term election, the Army is stuck trying to respond to increasingly difficult demands without the resources to do the jobs it is being asked to do.

While the New York Times is reporting this as news now, the bind the U.S. military ground forces now find themselves in was predicted about a year ago by a number of retired military officers with ties to the officer corps still on active duty.

Here are some key paragraphs from the New York Times article:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 — Strains on the Army from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become so severe that Army officials say they may be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas deployments.
Then there's this:
While no decision has been made to mobilize more Guard forces, and may not need to be before midterm elections, the prospect presents the Bush administration with a politically vexing problem: how, without expanding the Army, to balance the pressing need for troops in the field against promises to limit overseas deployments for the Guard.

The National Guard has a goal of allowing five years at home between foreign deployments so as not to disrupt the family life and careers of its citizen soldiers. But instead it has been sending units every three to four years, according to Guard officials.

The question of how to sustain the high level of forces abroad became more acute this week as General John P. Abizaid, the senior American commander in the Middle East, said that the number of troops in Iraq, currently at more than 140,000, could not be expected to drop until next spring at the very earliest.

That disclosure comes amid many signs of mounting strain on active Army units. So many are deployed or only recently returned from combat duty that only two or three combat brigades — perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops — are fully ready to respond in case of unexpected crises, according to a senior Army general.
You read that right: the U.S. currently has 7,000 to 10,000 troops capable of responding to a crisis elsewhere in the world.

This slow-motion wrecking of the U.S. military has been taking place in full view of the U.S. Congress and with its complicit silence. Congressional leaders have failed their constitutional duties to provide oversight for the actions of the executive branch.

Members of Congress took an oath to the Constitution, not their president and not their party. The members of the Republican majorities in the House and, to a lesser extent, the Senate have forgotten that in their lock-step, unquestioning loyalty to the Bush administration.

The military is paying the price fderelictioniliction of congressional duty.

Blind loyalty to failed policies does not demonstrate support for our troops; in fact, it undermines their mission, their safety and our security.

"Are We Really So Fearful?"

This column appears in Sunday's Washington Post. It is so powerful and moving that I'm posting it in its entirety here.

Mike Stagg
Democratic Candidate for Congress
Louisiana's Seventh District

• • • • •

Are We Really So Fearful?
By Ariel Dorfman
Sunday, September 24, 2006; B01

DURHAM, N.C.

It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.

That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.

It was his image, in fact, that swirled up from the past as I pondered the current political debate in the United States about the practicality of torture. Something in me must have needed to resurrect that victim, force my fellow citizens here to spend a few minutes with the eternal iciness that had settled into that man's heart and flesh, and demand that they take a good hard look at him before anyone dare maintain that, to save lives, it might be necessary to inflict unbearable pain on a fellow human being. Perhaps the optimist in me hoped that this damaged Argentine man could, all these decades later, help shatter the perverse innocence of contemporary Americans, just as he had burst the bubble of ignorance protecting the young Chilean I used to be, someone who back then had encountered torture mainly through books and movies and newspaper reports.

That is not, however, the only lesson that today's ruthless world can learn from that distant man condemned to shiver forever.

All those years ago, that torture victim kept moving his lips, trying to articulate an explanation, muttering the same words over and over. "It was a mistake," he repeated, and in the next few days I pieced together his sad and foolish tale. He was an Argentine revolutionary who had fled his homeland and, as soon as he had crossed the mountains into Chile, had begun to boast about what he would do to the military there if it staged a coup, about his expertise with arms of every sort, about his colossal stash of weapons. Bluster and braggadocio -- and every word of it false.

But how could he convince those men who were beating him, hooking his penis to electric wires and waterboarding him? How could he prove to them that he had been lying, prancing in front of his Chilean comrades, just trying to impress the ladies with his fraudulent insurgent persona?

Of course, he couldn't. He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.

There was no escape.

That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim. It was always the same story, what I discovered in the ensuing years, as I became an unwilling expert on all manner of torments and degradations, my life and my writing overflowing with grief from every continent. Each of those mutilated spines and fractured lives -- Chinese, Guatemalan, Egyptian, Indonesian, Iranian, Uzbek, need I go on? -- all of them, men and women alike, surrendered the same story of essential asymmetry, where one man has all the power in the world and the other has nothing but pain, where one man can decree death at the flick of a wrist and the other can only pray that the wrist will be flicked soon.

It is a story that our species has listened to with mounting revulsion, a horror that has led almost every nation to sign treaties over the past decades declaring these abominations as crimes against humanity, transgressions interdicted all across the earth. That is the wisdom, national and international, that has taken us thousands of years of tribulation and shame to achieve. That is the wisdom we are being asked to throw away when we formulate the question -- Does torture work? -- when we allow ourselves to ask whether we can afford to outlaw torture if we want to defeat terrorism.

I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress -- such as that extracted from the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago cesspool in 1973 -- are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

adorfman@duke.edu

Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean American writer and professor at Duke University, is author of "Death and the Maiden."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Republican Business Model: Caring for Cronies

I've been thinking about the Republican business model as it applies to governing at the federal level. There are some prime examples where the emergence of that model becomes clear: Iraq, Medicare prescription drug program, FEMA/disaster recovery, energy policy and other areas of focus of this administration.

Corruption is definitely a core piece of the business model.

However, the model itself looks to me to be something like this: identify an issue/challenge/policy; propose/pretend to address it; initiate action, the prime efficiency of which is to enrich your cronies and patrons.

In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was flooded with cronies, had great power, but the real money was made by the contractors. That continues in Iraq today long after the CPA has disappeared.

The Medicare prescription drug program gets prescription drugs to seniors, but the primary beneficiaries are the insurance companies selling plans and the pharmaceutical industry selling the drugs at taxpayer expense at rates they solely determine (remember, the government can't negotiate on prices).

FEMA's response to both Katrina and Rita (remember Rita? One-year anniversary coming up this weekend) was more of the same. The prime beneficiaries were the Halliburtons of the world who got no bid contracts to handle aspects of the cleanup/recovery. While residents across the northern Gulf of Mexico, individuals, families, communities and businesses continue to struggle to recover, the contractors have been rewarded with another round of no-bid contracts from FEMA.

Energy policy is explicitly corrupt. Bush/Cheney energy policies have resulted in record high prices and record profits for oil companies. In their eyes (and the eyes of the energy companies) the policy is a smashing success.

The use of a business model template is useful because it helps anticipate how emerging policy initiatives of the administration will actually turn out. Apply this business model to Bush's renewed vow to privatize Social Security and it becomes apparent that the fate of retirees will be substantially less secure, but the financial services companies will make a killing.

The Republican-controlled Congress gave it's approval to this approach (at least indirectly) through its failure to provide any meaningful oversight to any of the administration's policies and programs during the nearly six years it has been in power.

This was cross-posted as a comment at TPM Café:

http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2006/sep/18/cronyism_the_rights_governing_philosophy#comment-165321

FEMA Stiffs Erath

FEMA has decided to stiff Erath on its new middle and high schools according to a story in today's Advertiser. They want the public to believe it's because they are being careful with money--but believing that involves ignoring the enormous waste FEMA has enabled when the beneificiaries are well-connected corporations instead of struggling small towns.

The community has already had to fight through attempts to move it wholesale to higher ground and had just recently renewed it determination for renewal by making it clear that it wants to rebuild its schools on their old sites.

Plans to demolish and rebuild Erath High and Erath Middle schools - with the federal government paying 90 percent of the bill - are temporarily on hold while another damage assessment is conducted.

Vermilion Parish school officials thought the rebuilding plan was a sure thing, and at a public hearing two weeks ago, the community expressed its support of keeping the schools at their current sites.

They'd gone through all the hoops FEMA required, including getting a second appraisal of the damages done to the old school building. After all the delays they thought they were getting to a spot where--a year after the storm!--they could begin putting their lives together.

FEMA dashed that hope:
...David Phillips, director of FEMA's Lake Charles field office, said Monday that federal, state and local engineers will conduct a joint survey of the facilities to ensure that the amount of damage meets federal criteria for rebuilding....

Superintendent Joey Hebert appeared frustrated with the backward step, saying school officials followed every directive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"During all the discussions we've had with FEMA ... we were always led to believe that whatever they told us was how it would unfold," he said.

Phillips said the reassessment was ordered because it was impossible to compare the initial assessment of the damaged schools with the follow-up study and determine why there were differences.

FEMA's Phillips is handing out double-talk nonsense. The second assessment was done precisely to correct deficiencies in the initial assessment--which, indeed, was found to be faulty. That the first assessment was faulty most emphatically does not imply that there needs to be third assessment to figure out the differences between numbers one and two. That's already been explained. (By FEMA's apparent logic when this one is done will another assessment need to be done to explore the discrepancies between it and numbers one and two? And a fourth to figure out the difference between one, two, and three? That could go on forever. It is, I repeat, nonsense.)

Bureaucrats being bureaucrats might not make you so mad if you didn't know that the federal bureaucracy has already delayed redevelopment by forcing people to wait for empty promises to be fulfilled. Further delay is really intolerable.

But what should really make us all angry is the contrast between how FEMA treats the people of Erath and how it treats the big corporate friends of the administration. Nobody is checking, rechecking and making those guys wait for their checks while they do. You've heard about Halliburton (Vice President Cheney's company) no-bid contracts for work after the storms? Sure you have. N0-bid contracts are just the opposite of how Erath's being treated: you get to spend anything you want and, under special rules the feds put in place just for us on the gulf coast, you can pay your contractors anything. The Halliburton/ Shaw/ Bechtel/ Fluor-style companies don't actually have to do any work: they just charge FEMA outrageous prices, give the guys who do the work peanuts and pocket the rest. The very idea is an enormous rip-off and it's no surprise that it's been treated as give-away ever since the storms. Here's one nasty example: Those famous blue roofs? The companies involved charged FEMA as much as 10 times the going roofing rate for stretching plastic tarps over roofs--enough, in fact, to get repair the roof with shingles! It's the big no-bid, cost-overrun companies that got all that money--the guys actually doing the hot, sweaty work weren't even protected by the usual guarantees on paying locals a fair wage. (The lousy pay may be why a lot of it wasn't done by locals.)

The same story is told about the clean-up contracts. The well-connected corporations clean up and the folks who do the job get hurt.

You might think that Halliburton and their ilk would be punished for such widely-reported misbehavior. But you'd be wrong. Congressmen find ways to defend them and FEMA has issued the same companies contracts before the current hurricane season.

It's wrong.

FEMA's bureaucrats have a suspiciously selective vision. They seem happy to nickel and dime Louisiana citizen who want nothing more than to get their lives back but issue huge blank checks to those that are politically well-connected.

It's damned wrong.

The current administration has taken cronyism to a level not seen since the Grant administration. And our current congressman doesn't seem to notice any of it and doesn't bother to criticize any of it. He's said nothing about putting a politically connected horse fancier in charge of FEMA. And he's said nothing about the massive no-bid contracts awarded to politically connected companies. Nor has he bothered to complain about their vast overcharges or even the fact that they're being awarded vast new contracts.

Boustany is part of this problem.

We need a change.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Security - Thoughts Five Years After

Republicans have always based their claim to superiority in national security on the amount that they are willing appropriate for defense in our national budget. But it this a good measure? There are several other dimensions of security that we should be looking at.

1. Fighting the Right Wars. Iraq – need I say more? $300 billion and counting, over 2,600 of our soldiers dead, tens of thousands more seriously wounded, bin Laden running free, our international reputation in shatters, all to create a new breeding ground for terrorism and to give Iran a huge political boost. War-profiteering is alive and well, as Halliburton and Bechtel make record profits from their no-bid contracts.

2. Efficiency of defense spending. More bang for our buck should not necessarily be measured in megatons. Do we really need Star Wars II and other big budget Cold war missile systems, or are they just cash cows for the defense contractors? Our efforts should focus on strengthening our weak points, making us more resilient, rather than on improving our offensive weaponry. More mundane, localized protection, like building up our first responders, gets lost in the process.

3.Privatization of military. a) What is the quality and dependability of private contractors whose motive is highest possible profit, e.g. food service employees for soldiers in Iraq, who can cut and run? b) The differential pay scale between soldiers and contractors is demoralizing to our troops. c) Privatization does not lead to efficiency if there is no competition. No competition contracts in war-time have lead to rampant war profiteering at tax-payer expense. d) If private corporations control our weapons technology, how can we be sure of their ultimate loyalty if we decide to cut back?

4. Fiscal Integrity. The ballooning National Debt, 40% of which is foreign-owned, means that we may not have the resources to deal with disasters that may strike us. Being a debtor nation weakens our sovereignty and our freedom to control our own future.

5. Strength of our Government. The trouble with having people who hate government running it is that they are unable to use it effectively for the good of our people. In the 90’s, FEMA was a respected, efficient agency, but Bush has diminished it through fiscal cuts and cronyism. The EPA, FDA and OSHA have also been gutted and demonized under conservative rule. Without a strong government to enforce them, our Constitution and Bill of Rights are only pieces of paper.

6. Friends. Unfortunately, the importance of allies and diplomacy are completely lost on the current administration. Would you rather live in a neighborhood where you are protected by a security guard and gate, or one where you and your neighbors get along? It is also expensive for us to go it alone. Friendship involves the recognition of common goals, and working together for a better future for all. If we work towards social justice in other parts of the world, we may be able to diminish some of the underlying causes of terrorism.

7. Realism. The neo-conservatives suffer from ideological blindness – clinging to the paradigm of “free trade” in spite of clean indications that it is not working. It is leading to the concentration of wealth, resources, and powers in the hands of a few corporations, to the detriment of our own society and those around the world. The neo-Conservatives who planned the Iraq War* wanted to remake Iraq into an economy run by American corporations, where “freedom” meant the freedom of corporations to do what they pleased. The ordinary Iraqi was left completely out of the loop. Is it any wonder that they are in revolt? We have a disaster on our hands, yet they are setting up conditions for us to repeat the fiasco in Iran.

*There are several new books out on this subject, including Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks. The following quotes are from The End of Iraq by Peter Galbraith:

"The American servicemen and women who took Baghdad were professionals -- disciplined, courteous, task-oriented. Unfortunately, their political masters were so focused on making the case for the war, so keen to vanquish their political foes at home, so certain that Iraqis would embrace American-style democracy, and so blinded by their ideology that they failed to plan even for the most obvious tasks following military victory."
"Iraqis had two views of the looting. They saw a United States that was either too incompetent to keep order or so evil as to desire the country's physical destruction. Either view made resistance a logical response. It is not exaggerating to say that the United States may have lost the war on the very day it took Baghdad, April 9, 2003."

8. Loss of American Values. If we are willing to give up the rights and principles that made our country great, then what exactly is it we’re protecting with our security? The combination of rising utilities and health care costs, the loss of jobs overseas, and the assault on pensions and Social Security, are endangering our Middle Class; the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 is a noose around our necks. Lack of social justice, as the powerful grab more and more of our national wealth and resources, will inevitably lead to social unrest. How many more prisons can we build?

9. Sustainability. Can our civilization stand the test of time? We are not paying enough attention (action, not just publicity) to peak oil, water shortages, global warming, over-population. If we keep going in the present direction at the pace we’re going, what kind of a world will we be leaving for our children? I think this is the true foundation for morality.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Courage of the JAGs: a defining moment?

National Public Radio had the best coverage of the day on the House Armed Services Committee testimony by the Judge Advocate Generals of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces today.

Hearing it on All Things Considered as I drove across the Atchafalaya Basin bridge on I-10 this afternoon was an amazing experience. I believe something fundamentally changed today with this testimony.

The press today was in absolute awe of Bush/Rove/Cheney's ability to change the agenda from Iraq/Rumsfeld to the squeeze play his team was attempting to put on Democrats with his new plea for congressional approval of his illegal military tribunals for captured alleged terrorists.

That focus on the game, rather than the facts came to a grinding halt today with the testimony of the JAGs.

Steven Bradbury, the assistant attorney general who testified before the Senate panel for the Bush administration, assured lawmakers that this time, the White House got it right.

"These military commission procedures would provide for fundamentally fair trials," Bradbury said. But he also pointed out one provision that is unheard of in courts of law, that "classified evidence may be considered by the commission outside the presence of the accused."

In explaining the policy, Bradbury said that, "In the midst of the current conflict, we cannot share with captured terrorists the highly sensitive intelligence relevant to some military commission prosecutions."

For Gen. James Walker, staff judge advocate of the U.S. Marine Corps, that provision is a major problem.

"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people," he said, "where an individual can be tried without -- and convicted without -- seeing the evidence against him. And I don't think that the United States needs to become the first in that scenario."

The judge advocate generals of the Army, Navy and Air Force who also testified all agreed with Walker. Some also objected to the commissions' admissibility of evidence obtained under coercion that falls short of torture.

The Bush tribunals would not as "a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people."

Has anymore powerful indictment of the policy of any U.S. administration ever been delivered in Congress by anyone serving on active duty in the military?

In an exchange included in the airing of the segment on ATC but not in the story carried on the site, under questioning from a North Carolina Democrat, Assistant AG Bradbury admitted that the U.S. would not recognize as legitimate the very standards he was defending if captured U.S. servicemen and women were subjected to them at the hands of their captors.

The political desperation of the Bush administration has compelled it to seek rushed Congressional approval of its methods. The reforms are defined as being outside the norms of legitimate jurisprudence. What does that say about the practices that the CIA and the military have been engaged in prior to this rush for cover?

The military has stood up to the administration in a public way that has not happened before. We are in new territory here. The old plays no longer appear to be working.

Mike Stagg
Democratic Candidate for Congress
Lousiana's Seventh District
http://www.mikestagg.com

Cross posted at TPM Café and Lafayette Democrats' Blog.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Boustany Shishkabob


Snake Oil really skewers Boustany in this week's Independent. Greg Peters, the 'toon's creator takes aim at Boustany's jaunt to Lebanon.

Satire can be revealing--and this sort of satirical imagery packs a punch that mere words lack.

Maybe you are irritated that Boustany has taken off for Lebanon before even getting that "explanation" for FEMA's deciding that Cameron isn't as worthy of clean-up monies that he's been loudly letting us know in his press releases that he's "requesting" for months now. It'd be more news-worthy if he'd actually demand the same level of service Orleans, St. Bernard or other communities have received. ("Good" Press 1, 2, 3) Or maybe you harbor a little resentment at being represented by the sort of congressman who'd try and buy his way into royalty. (As if his votes weren't evidence enough of his allegiance to wealth and power.) Leave it to a satirist to notice that if he wants to pretend to royalty it ought to be a middle-eastern title he'd be looking to buy not an English peerage.

If you find it difficult to express your aggravation with the sort of behavior Boustany regularly exhibits then you'll enjoy "Charles Boustany in Lebanon."

Thanks Greg!