Sunday, October 30, 2005

Let's get it straight

Karl Rove was not exonerated of culpability for exposing a CIA operative and the indictment of "Scooter" Libby is about lying the nation into an illegitimate war! The Sunday news shows today have been replete with conservatives and Republicans claiming that prosecutor Fitzgerald came up empty-handed with his Grand Jury not accusing anyone of the crime he was initially investigating. They claim that Rove not being indicted means that he never committed a crime. They also claim that Libby's indictment of obstruction of justice, false statements, and perjury is a trivial accusation. Therefore, conservatives make the reasoning that the Iraq War was instigated with complete and honest information.

But let there be no mistake: Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald only handed down indictments on those charges where he's confident that he can get a conviction. Acting responsibly (unlike Kenneth Starr), he is strictly maintaining his allegations within the scope of his indictments. However, that does not mean that no other crimes were committed. It simply means that the burden of proof to convict someone of disclosing the identity of a covert intelligence personnel and improper disclosure of national defense information [the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative] requires proving intent on the part of the person leaking the information. Without being inside of the head of the person, proving intent is almost impossible to do. Therefore, Fitzgerald wisely decided not to try to bring indictments over which it would be difficult to prevail.

Like a smart prosecutor, Fitzgerald levied charges that will be relatively straightforward to prove. In his press release, he makes a compelling case for obstruction of justice, false statements, and perjury. In fact, this case is only missing one component to convict Libby of disclosing classified information: intent. And it's naive to claim that this indictment has nothing to do with the Iraq War. Fitzgerald only publicly said this was the case to act responsibly and maintain his credibility as he presses charges. However, the indictment has references to ambassador Joseph Wilson debunking the claims that Iraq had WMDs all over it. It's no accident that Fitzgerald makes it clear in his indictment that the American people were being deceived without actually pressing charges against someone for doing so.

It's also naive to claim that Karl Rove is innocent of any crimes simply by virtue of the fact that Fitzgerald leveled no charges against him. There's no question that the person Fitzgerald refers to in his indictment as "Official A" is Karl Rove. And although Fitzgerald made it clear that Official A is not currently under indictment now, he never closed the door on the possibility that he might be charged later. This is another case of a charge not being levied only because the burden of proof is great. Rove is a shrewd character, and he did not make some of the blatant mistakes Libby did, thereby not exposing himself to indictment for the easier charges to prove which Libby is alleged to have done. Fitzgerald would have had to show intent to convict Rove of the charges he was initially investigating. As mentioned before, intent is a very difficult thing to prove unless you're in the head of the accused.

Finally, conservatives who try to claim that the charges in the indictment are trivial, as opposed to the crimes that were initially investigated, are sadly lacking in ethics. Fitzgerald spoke at length about the importance of truth when he presented the indictment at a press conference Friday. His indictment explicitly states:
When citizens testify before grand juries they are required to tell the truth. Without the truth, our criminal justice system cannot serve our nation or its citizens. The requirement to tell the truth applies equally to all citizens, including persons who hold high positions in government. In an investigation concerning the compromise of a CIA officerĂ‚’s identity, it is especially important that grand jurors learn what really happened. The indictment returned today alleges that the efforts of the grand jury to investigate such a leak were obstructed when Mr. Libby lied about how and when he learned and subsequently disclosed classified information about Valerie Wilson.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Federal Emergency Maximization Agency

Americans expect the federal government to come to our aide when faced with an emergency. The agency tasked with that responsibility is FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Backed by the vast resources of the US government, surely Americans can rely on FEMA in time of need. At least that's what residents of the Gulf Coast thought this summer as hurrican Katrina was bearing down on them. Let's see how FEMA actually responded.

One would expect FEMA to be closely coordinated with the US military since they all fall under the administration of the executive branch of government. Therefore, Captain Nora Tyson weathered hurricane Katrina in the USS Bataan so it could follow the storm in immediately after making landfall and be a first responder. The Navy vessel had hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, and landing craft staged just 40 miles from New Orleans. The captain was ready to allow many of the 1,200 sailors to go ashore to help with the relief effort. However, FEMA never requested the Bataan's assistance. Said Bill Fish, the commander of one of the 135-foot landing crafts, "It was a disappointment. I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We've got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We've got water, toilets. We've got food."

Everyone knows the valuable role that the Red Cross plays in assistance and recovery after disasters. One would think that it would be the first NGO FEMA would reach out to, especially when faced with tens of thousands of hungry and thirsty American refugees at the New Orleans Convention Center. However, Renita Hosler, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said:
The Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans. Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. We have been at the table every single day [asking for access]. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders.
Perhaps these resources were not used by FEMA because they wanted people specifically trained in rescue to precede recovery efforts. So neighboring states sent firefighters and other local first responders to the Gulf Coast to lend aide. How were these highly-trained rescuers greeted? FEMA required them to take an eight-hour sexual harassment class, then go hand out flyers -- all this while thousands of New Orleans residents still needed to be rescued. After experiencing this cool reception, a discouraged Texas firefighter suggested to his superiors back home that they not send any more volunteers. He declined to give his name because FEMA warned them not to talk to reporters, but he did say, "They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified. We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

While turning away local and NGO resources that were made available in the Gulf Coast, the Bush administration had prioritized the use of federal resources in the recovery from hurricane Katrina. Shortly after the hurricane struck Mississippi, knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline. The two Colonial Pipeline power substations in Collins that were restarted send fuel to the Northeast -- hundreds of miles away from the area destroyed by Katrina. Meanwhile, the vice president's order to restart them delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt of Mississippi.

Other countries' resources got no closer to the Gulf Coast. Germany sent a military cargo jet carrying fifteen tons of food to the United States. The contribution was intended to feed the hungry victims of hurricane Katrina. But the food supplies never made it. The Bush administration refused the jet permission to land. Forced to turn around, the plane headed back to Cologne still fully loaded. Food from other countries had also been banned.

Americans also wanted to contribute. According to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, Wal-Mart loaded three trucks with food and water. FEMA, which controlled access to New Orleans, turned them back. A Coast Guard ship invited local authorities to get 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but FEMA ordered it to turn down the offer. Volunteers from Lafayette, LA, with 500 boats, headed for New Orleans to aid in rescue efforts, but FEMA turned them back.

Acadian Ambulance Service was tasked with transporting refugees in need of medical care out of New Orleans. Unfortunately, FEMA's paperwork slowed the evacuation of patients from the airport, and Acadian's frustrated medics waited with empty helicopters. Since they couldn't get patients out fast enough, the company sent in outside doctors and nurses to the airport, where patients were dying and medical care was in short supply. Nonetheless, FEMA rejected the help because the doctors and nurses weren't certified members of a National Disaster Medical Team.

Marc Creswell, an Acadian medic, said:
At one point I had 10 helicopters on the ground waiting to go, but FEMA kept stonewalling us with paperwork. Meanwhile, every 30 or 40 minutes someone was dying ... When the doctors asked why they couldn't help these critically ill people lying there unattended, the FEMA people kept saying, 'You're not federalized.'
FEMA distributed so much money so quickly when hurricanes hit Florida last year that Floridians that did not qualify for emergency aide were receiving funds. However, just a scant year later in New Orleans, rather than managing the emergency, FEMA became the Federal Emergency Maximization Agency.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The unraveling of the Right

For a while, hurricane Katrina seemed to fix America's eyes on the Gulf Coast. With the media's focus off of Capitol Hill, one might think it would be an opportunity for the Right to gloss up its image, but it was not to be. FEMA's rescue effort in New Orleans led by president Bush's crony was badly bungled. The Right did their best to lay the blame on Democrats, but with little effect -- there was no denying that the Executive branch of the government, i.e. the Bush administration, had ultimate responsibility for the biggest failures. Although Bush, Chertoff, Rumsfeld, and Richard B. Myers all claimed they were not told that New Orleans' levees failed until August 30, a staffer recently testified that FEMA was actually notified on the morning of August 29.

As if that wasn't bad enough news for the Right, the media's attention has now turned back to the Hill. That pesky story about the uncovering of CIA agent Valerie Plame has blown up bigger than ever. It turns out that her identity was leaked by not one, but two White House senior staffers -- both Bush's senior advisor, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby. It seems that Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor investigating the leak, might not be satisfied with simply leveling indictments for "outing" an undercover agent. Rove and Libby now have serious exposure to legal liability for obstruction of justice -- that's right, a cover-up in the White House again.

That's not the only old story rearing its ugly head again. The investigations into Tom DeLay's ethics violations have come to a head. The prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, formally charged DeLay with state conspiracy and money laundering. DeLay seemed unflappable, taking a very flattering mug shot, but it still reflects badly on the GOP in congress. Of course, charges of corruption on the Right are not limited to the head of the House. Senate majority leader Bill Frist is also under investigation. What is Frist doing voting on healthcare bills while holding significant ownership and interest in Hospital Corporation of America anyway?

Surely the troubles on the Right must be a new phenomenon, right? This must all be part of the second-term controversies that seem to plague all re-elected presidents, mustn't it? Well, maybe not. The chief of staff for the first term's secretary of state recently spoke out about the administration. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served in the State Department from 2001 to 2005, said that Bush's foreign policy was controlled by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal," making the country more vulnerable to future crises, not less so. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, went on to say that the national security apparatus has become more twisted under Bush than he has ever before seen in all of his "studies of aberration, bastardizations" and "perturbations."

With the Right crumbling all around him, Bush had the opportunity to bolster conservatism by nominating a Supreme Court justice. How did he respond? By turning to his old stand-by: cronyism. Bush nominated his own counsel, Harriet Miers, to the highest bench in the land. It turns out that Miers is as qualified to be a Supreme Court justice as "Brownie" was to be the director of FEMA. With no judicial experience to signal what kind of justice Miers would be, criticism of this appointment is louder from the Right than it is from Democrats. Even with the GOP holding a majority, senator Schumer said today that Miers lacks the votes to be confirmed by either the senate at large or the Judiciary Committee. The Left is concerned about her apparent lack of a grasp of Constitutional law, and the Right is not confident that she would rule according to their conservative values on important cases.

The Republican party holds the White House and is the majority in both houses of congress. Right-wing blather floods the talk show radio airwaves. Red states filled the map in the last election. But this dominance cannot be sustained while the leadership continues down the path it's heading unraveling the Right.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Posse Comitatus Act

The Posse Comitatus Act was established in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, and continues in force to this day. It prohibits the application of the US Army and Air Force to enforce civilian laws domestically.

However, recent events in the Gulf Coast following hurricanes Katrina and Rita have caused some to question the appropriateness of the Posse Comitatus Act. Those who do, think that it might have prevented the Federal government from being able to control the social disorder in the wake of the disaster -- particularly in New Orleans. The logic is that lives might have been saved if the Posse Comitatus Act was not in effect.

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute summed up this philosophy in a nutshell last week when he referred to it as a "federal war on hurricanes." He is asking that America not make rash decisions while still strongly influenced by the emotional response to the hurricane disaster. Healy is questioning whether an extremely rare case should drive policy that can be applied at any time.

No one questions that the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast was turned around in large part by Lieutenant General Russel Honore. It's also clear that the US military is the most effective mass logistics force on Earth. Military personnel and equipment can play a crucial role in domestic recovery following a natural disaster. However, the more important question is whether that role should include law enforcement. Even Honore constantly ordered his troops to point their weapons down and remember they were not in Iraq.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow from the Center for American Progress inadvertently stated the gravest danger to abolishing the Posse Comitatus Act while attempting to justify doing so. When asked under what criteria US troops should be activated domestically, Korb responded that, "the president has to make that judgement." This becomes a dangerous situation when the president has poor judgement -- the danger is compounded when the president additionally lacks intelligence, critical thinking skills, and respect for any form of government other than the Federal executive branch, as is the case with George W. Bush.

The US military has overwhelming power that can be beneficial in a domestic disaster when directed by local authorities. However, in the wrong hands, that power can also be very destructive. Since local authorities know local needs better than Federal authorities ever could, the decision to apply US military forces in a locality should be left up to the respective mayors and governors. That way, if the local authorities make poor decisions, the local citizens can lay the blame on them and not on our troops.