NDN Blog

Wilkes Fires Back

Brent Wilkes has a statement out today, the day after he was indicted on 11 counts of bribery in connection with the massive GOP appropriations scandal that is coming out in dribs and drabs.  Wilkes defends both his name and that of Kyle Foggo, the also indicted top aide to Bush appointed CIA Chief Porter Goss.  That means no admission of guilt and no announcement about rehab.  The statement does include some awkward exploitation of his family though, in an attempt to drum up sympathy.

Read the entire statement here...

Update 3:00pm:

The federal prosecutor who indicted Wilkes, Carol Lam, has been fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  By most accounts, she was fired along with six others, so that  Gonzales could appoint new prosecutors who wouldn't have to go through the normal Senate confirmation process and would therefore be completely beholden to the White House.  Gonzales has the authority to do this under an obscure clause inserted into the Patriot Act at the last moment by Senator Arlen Specter.  Now House Democrats are fighting back with a strongly worded letter to the Attorney General.  Read it below:

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
U.S. Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

Last week, Congressman Emanuel sent you a letter requesting that former U.S. Attorney in San Diego Carol Lam be appointed as outside counsel to finish her work on the Duke Cunningham Case. Unfortunately, your office has not yet responded to that letter.

Two days ago, Lam's investigation continued to bear fruit as a federal grand jury charged Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and Brent Wilkes with at least 11 felony counts related to their involvement with Cunningham. As Elana Schor's article in The Hill yesterday points out, "Justice Department officials have praised the Cunningham probe as the linchpin of their growing pursuit of public corruption cases, yet prosecutor Lam is nonetheless slated to step down[Thursday] after the Bush administration cited unspecified 'performance' issues in requesting her resignation late last year. Six other U.S. attorneys, several involved in ongoing corruption investigations, were dismissed at about the same time."

As you know, of those seven fired U.S. Attorneys, Lam was not the only one investigating sitting public officials before being dismissed. For example, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona were dismissed while their offices were conducting probes concerning elected officials.

Schor's article also notes that Deputy U.S. Attorney General Paul McNulty was scheduled to brief members of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday with information on the decisions to dismiss the U.S. Attorneys. During last week's public Senate hearing, Deputy U.S. Attorney General McNulty confirmed that Bud Cummins III, the former U.S. attorney for Eastern Arkansas, was dismissed without cause to install Timothy Griffin, a former aide to White House adviser Karl Rove.

Carol Lam's indictments of Foggo and Wilkes underscore the importance of last week's request and the need for an explanation of why these diligent public servants were dismissed. It is vital that U.S. Attorneys be able to prosecute wrongdoing free from political pressure. We are pleased that the Department of Justice has also agreed to brief members of the House Judiciary Committee on the dismissals of Carol Lam and other U.S. Attorneys. We look forward to further details regarding the date for that briefing and your response regarding the request to appoint Carol Lam as an outside counsel to finish the Cunningham and related investigations.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters. We look forward to hearing from your office.

Sincerely,

Rahm Emanuel
Member of Congress

Howard Berman
Member of Congress

John Conyers
Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Linda Sánchez
Chairman, Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law

techPresident keeps tabs on 2008 web strategies

Personal Democracy Forum has a new group blog called techPresident that reports on how campaigns are both using and affected by new tools. Among other things, it tracks the number of MySpace friends each candidate has (FYI - Sen. Obama leads the pack).

Now Iran?

In light of the seriously overly optimistic planning for Iraq going on as early as 2002 (see the powerpoint), the President can't expect much support for his allegations against Iran and the accompanying saber rattling

Speaking at a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Bush dismissed as “preposterous” the contention by some skeptics that the United States was drawing unwarranted conclusions about Iran’s role. He publicly endorsed assertions that had until now been presented only by anonymous military and intelligence officials, who have said that an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps known as the Quds Force has provided Shiite militias in Iraq with the sophisticated weapons that have been responsible for killing at least 170 American soldiers and wounding more than 600.

Yesterday, Senator Hillary Clinton made it clear what she thinks about the President's authority to preemptively attack Iran.

An Iraq Plan Missing One Ingredient - Reality

This is an amazing story from the NYT, complements of FOIL...

When Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his top officers gathered in August 2002 to review an invasion plan for Iraq, it reflected a decidedly upbeat vision of what the country would look like four years after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.

A broadly representative Iraqi government would be in place. The Iraqi Army would be working to keep the peace. And the United States would have as few as 5,000 troops in the country.

Military slides obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act outline the command’s PowerPoint projection of the stable, pro-American and democratic Iraq that was to be.

The arrogance that a post-Saddam Iraq would run itself is astonishing enough.  Even more amazing is that the Administration, Gen. Franks, et al assumed that the State Department, which was sidelined throughout the rush to war, would put together the pieces and create a stable government in Iraq, with limited military support.

August 2002 was an important time for developing the strategy. President Bush had yet to go to the United Nations to declare Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons programs a menace to international security, but the war planning was well under way. The tumultuous upheaval that would follow the toppling of the Hussein government was known antiseptically in planning sessions as “Phase IV.” As is clear from the slides, it was the least defined part of the strategy.

General Franks had told his officers that it was his supposition that the State Department would have the primary responsibility for rebuilding Iraq’s political institutions.

“D.O.S. will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional government — prior to D-Day,” noted a slide on “key planning assumptions.” That was military jargon for the notion that the Department of State would assemble a viable Iraqi governing coalition before the invasion even began.

See the entire slide show here...

Blogs Define Libby Trial Coverage

The Libby trial is almost over, now that the defense has rested it's case, and one of the most important precidents it is going to be remembered for won't be in the decision.  That's because the Libby trial is a landmark for blogs:

For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Mr. Cox negotiated access for the bloggers.

The leader in coverage of the trial is www.firedoglake.com, who have a devoted legal team live blogging and providing analysis of the trial:

Even the Web-savvy may ask, Fire dog what? A collective of liberal bloggers, fueled by online donations and a fanatical devotion to the intricacies of the Libby case, Firedoglake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation. They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer, all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.

All day long during the trial, one Firedoglake blogger is on duty to beam to the Web from the courthouse media room a rough, real-time transcript of the testimony. With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake “live blog” has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial.

Blogs and the online communication revolution they are a part of are changing how we get our news, and ruffling a few traditional press feathers doing it.

In the courthouse, the old- and new-media groups have mixed warily at times. Mainstream reporters have shushed the bloggers when their sarcastic comments on the testimony drowned out the audio feed. But traditional reporters have also called on the bloggers on occasion to check a quote or an obscure detail from the investigation.

Some bloggers at the trial have seen their skepticism about mainstream reporting confirmed.

“It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” said Marcy Wheeler, author of a book on the case, “Anatomy of Deceit,” and the woman usually in the Firedoglake live-blogger seat.

Check out NDN affiliate the New Politics Institute for the latest analysis of the rise of the blogs and how progressives can engage the netroots. 

PostGlobal explores the North Korea nuclear deal

The Washington Post's website has been experimenting with something called PostGlobal, "a conversation on global issues with David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria."  Currently it is running a worthwhile discussion on the new North Korea nuclear deal featuring six professors from all over the world and other spirited commentators.  If you are looking to learn more about the deal and what it means this is a good place to start.

Wilkes/Foggo Indictments: The GOP Culture of Corruption On Display

Defense contractor and top Republican fundraiser Brent R. Wilkes and former leading CIA official under Porter Goss, Kyle Foggo were indicted today in a continuation of the GOP earmark/appropriations scandals that brought down Rep. Duck Cunningham.  In fact, Wilkes is the same defense contractor who bribed jailed former Rep. Duck Cunningham with prostitutes and other favors.

The 11-count indictment states that Wilkes subsidized meals and lavish vacations for Foggo and his family in Washington, Hawaii and Scotland and promised to employ Foggo after his retirement from the CIA. It also accuses Foggo -- a former ethics official in two divisions at the CIA -- of improperly providing classified information to Wilkes about the CIA, his contracting competitors and "other matters."

Interestingly, the federal prosecutor who made the indictments, Carol Lam, was one of the seven federal prosecutors recently fired for apparently political reasons under a little known clause of the Patriot Act. 

While the probe has threatened to sweep in other members of Congress, some uncertainty surrounds it. A key U.S. attorney involved in it -- Carol C. Lam in San Diego -- has been fired by the administration for unspecified "performance-related" deficiencies along with a handful of other federal prosecutors. Lam oversaw the Foggo investigation and is to leave Thursday. The head of the local FBI field office praised Lam's performance and said her firing appeared to be "political," an accusation that the Justice Department has denied.

For more complete coverage, not to mention all the prurient details, check out the TPM Muckraker.

Al Franken: Candidate for a New Era

Al Franken announced his candidacy for the Senate today and he came out of the gate strong, with the 'look straight into the camera, no stirring strings, post it on YouTube" announcement that is fast-becoming the accepted way to launch a candidacy.  Republican/George Galloway punching bag Senator Norm Coleman had better watch out, because Franken's announcement was good, damn good, and his mastery of this new format bodes well for his ability to run a 21st century campaign. 

In the second half of the 20th century and even up through 2006, television was the dominant way politicians communicated to voters.  This gave us the good, great leaders who also happen to be great on television:

And the bad, undistinguished politicians with nice haircuts who look presentable on teevee.  There are far too many to list here, so I'll only offer two contemporary examples that jump to mind:

But, as Simon wrote, political ads are changing and so are the ways in which we watch them.  Quick, casual messages posted to the internet can have the same impact as slickly produced television ads that show the candidate playing with kids, listening to seniors and speaking in front of a big crowd, while a narrator speaks to the accompaniment of blandly uplifting music.  This new approach requires an understanding of how to create effective internet video and a candidate who can connect through the medium. 

Julie Bergman Sender's recent paper on the topic points out that good internet video requires a good narrative and the Franken announcement has an excellent one.  He begins by addressing the white elephant in the room: can a comedian be a serious candidate?  He then talks about where his values come from - growing up in a middle class family and marrying a woman who grew up poor and never would have made it to Harvard without social security and Pell Grants.  Franken moves onto the challenges of today, talking about the concerns he's heard from ordinary Minnesotans who are finding it harder to find good jobs, afford health care,  send their kids to college, save for retirement, and who, like all of us, worry about what they see and hear from Iraq.  He finishes by tying his campaign to the great legacy of progressive Minnesota politicians:

Our state has sent some strong progressive leaders to Washington form Hubert Humphrey to Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone and now Amy Klobuchar.  Minnesota’s public servants might not always look and sound like typical politicians, but they stand by their principles and lead by their values.  That's the kind of leaders I think we need more of these days and that's the kind of Senator I'll be.

But its not just good writing (SNL misses you, Al) that makes this video so effective; it is a great performance too.  After all, until now that was Franken's job.  On SNL, in Comedy Clubs and even on his Air America show, Al made a living entertaining people.  But he's not an entertainer cum politician in the tradition of B-movie stars like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Franken's success comes from being able to connect with people in a much more direct way, be they studio guests laughing at his Henry Kissinger impersonation or commuters nodding in agreement with his commentary on the Al Franken Show.  It's the casual, genuine nature of Al Franken's entertainment that makes this video so effective.

Al Franken may just be a new kind of candidate, someone who combines celebrity with authenticity, and can use that one-two punch to communicate with voters more effectively than ever before.  In this new era, voters are going to demand more than a pretty face and an expensive media campaign and it looks like Al Franken can give it to them.

Thinking Hard About the Trade Deficit

George Bush has managed to set another record – Our trade deficit hit a record high in 2006 of $763.6 billion.  That’s up about 7 percent from the previous year and up 25 percent from 2004.  The country’s 2006 deficit in manufactured goods was actually $836 billion, but some of that was offset by a $72.5 billion surplus in services.

 A number like $836 billion, especially written in red ink, can be daunting, so let’s take it apart and see in what exact ways it matters.  It’s certainly not good for the overall economy to purchase $836 billion more in goods from other countries than we sell to other countries, but it’s also not necessarily bad.  It’s hard to posit that it reflects a collapse in the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing companies, since manufacturing accounts for about the share of our GDP as it did 20 years ago, and America’s global market share in manufacturing actually rose over the last 10 years from 20 to 22 percent – while Europe and Japan’s global market shares feel sharply.  And our companies’ global market share in high-tech manufacturing went up even more. The critical issue here is that we measure trade flows by the value of what passes across our border in either direction, and American manufacturers are more highly globalized than Europe’s.  So one-third or more of our manufacturing imports are actually shipments from the foreign subsidiaries and affiliates of U.S. manufacturers.

 That makes the $836 billion number less troubling from the perspective of the competitiveness of U.S. companies.  But it leaves U.S. manufacturing workers in the lurch.  The number of manufacturing workers is way down – down 3 million since 2000.  But that’s also more complicated than it may seem.  Some of those losses reflect technology, with the workers that have remained earning more, because the technology makes them more productive.  A lot of it is also probably domestic outsourcing designed to cut the costs of health care and pension benefits, shifting a whole range of services from cleaning crews to lawyers from in-house to sub-contractors.

 There are more manufacturing jobs in America’s future, and it’s mainly in the technologically-based aspects of overall manufacturing and the manufacture of the most advanced, high-technology products.  It’s time for serious, progressive efforts to provide American workers the training and skills to fill those jobs, so five years from now we don’t have to import them from India and other places under special visas.   Let’s also focus on the service surpluses, a good share of which comes from royalty and licensing payments for America’s most highly-competitive export, our intellectual property.   So it’s also time for serious, progressive efforts to expand the access of lower and middle-income workers and their children to the scientific and technical education that can equip to take part in creating and applying new ideas.

 There is one unequivocally scary aspect of the huge trade deficits that have emerged under this administration: We finance them by borrowing that much from other countries, especially China, Japan and the Gulf states. That means that every year, our lenders get to take home the profits, interest and dividends earned on their new holdings in the United States. If this administration were running $100 or $200 billion budget surpluses, as the last Democratic administration did, instead of $200 or $300 billion budget deficits, we could finance $300 to $500 billion of our trade imbalance ourselves.  And that ultimately would make America a lot richer, since the returns, interest or dividends which all that money earns year after year would stay here instead of flowing to Beijing, Tokyo and Riyadh.

But that would require that the Bush administration know what it’s doing in economic affairs, something that has been consistently beyond their capacity since they took office.

Council of Foreign Relations Issues Major Iraq Report

As House Democrats move to debate President Bush’s escalation of the war, Steven Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations has issued a thoughtful report outlining the actions the US should take in Iraq after the surge:

The United States should...make clear now to the Iraqi government that, as the results of the anticipated surge become apparent, the two sides will begin to negotiate a U.S. military disengagement from Iraq,” says a new Council Special Report. “The proposed military disengagement would not be linked to benchmarks that the Iraqi government is probably incapable of fulfilling....The U.S. drawdown should not be hostage to Iraqi performance.”

The report’s author, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies Steven N. Simon, says the surge is a fait accompli and its results will be known very soon: “the surge is going to take place regardless of public or congressional opposition. Thus, the issue is what happens after the surge. Since General David Petraeus has said that he expects the results of the surge to become apparent quickly, the ‘day after’ realities should be thought through now.”

Disengagement “would entail withdrawing the bulk of American forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months (that is to say, over the course of calendar year 2008); shifting the American focus to containment of the conflict and strengthening the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region; and engaging Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in an Iraq stabilization plan,” Simon writes.

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