Sunday, November 30, 2008

Has the National Economic Council Hit the Big Time?

The National Economic Council (NEC) was founded by the last Democratic President. He promised to "focus like a laser" on the economy. The NEC was supposed to be an economic equivalent to the National Security Council. It was viewed with some skepticism within the bureaucracy. National security almost always includes two heavyweight departments (State and Defense) and often other agencies as well. Treasury does not have a peer competitor on economic policy. Smaller players on economic policy were also not keen on this new structure. To mollify the Council of Economic Advisers, it was agreed that the NEC wouldn't have any actual economists - it would manage process rather than forge policy.

The NEC however had an important asset. Its first chief, Robert Rubin, was an able player with access to the President and an excellent relationship with Lloyd Bentsen the Treasury Secretary. But it wasn't clear if this new structure was here to stay, or merely an effective vehicle for Rubin.

When Bentsen stepped down, Rubin replaced him (just as National Security Advisers have often replaced Secretaries of State.) When Rubin stepped down as Secretary of Treasury he was replaced by his deputy at Treasury Lawrence Summers.

Now, in the Obama administration, Summers is the head of the NEC. Offhand I cannot think of a Secretary of State coming back to be the National Security Adviser. Kissinger held both positions at once - but started as the NSA.

So does this mean that the NEC has now become an important component of the White House bureaucracy? The NEC wasn't exactly front an center in the Bush Administration. More than likely this is a return to the NEC's roots as a vehicle for an out-sized personality that the President wants to keep close at hand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Willacy County v. Cheney: Prosecutor Indicts Ham Sandwich

So, Dick Cheney has been indicted - not by the ICC or Spain's Baltasar Garzon (who has a thing for indicting international figures for crimes against humanity or by some other avatar of human rights.

No, this indictment stems from Cheney's holdings in a company that invests in for-profit prisons. Alberto Gonzalez, Bush confidant and the former Attorney General, was also indicted. Here's a descriptive bit from the San Antonio Express-News:
Cheney is accused of contributing to the neglect of federal immigration detainees by contracting for-profit prisons.

“By working through corporations as prisons for profit, Defendant Richard Cheney has committed at least misdemeanor assaults of our inmates and/or detainees,” the indictment reads, adding that a “money trail” can be traced to Cheney's substantial investments in the Vanguard Group, which invests in privately run prisons.

Megan Mitchell, spokeswoman for Cheney, said: “We have not received an indictment. We haven't received a call from the district attorney's office. ... We haven't heard anything from the district attorney.”

[Willacy County DA Juan Angel] Guerra said he kept Operation Goliath secret for four months over concern that pressure would be brought to bear to stop it.

He said “everything was being worked out of my house” and only one trusted member of his staff knew about it. He said he enlisted the help of people all over the country and talked to witnesses all over the country. Everyone who helped was assigned a biblical name. Guerra was known as David.
We've heard this story before, deranged local prosecutor goes through the looking glass to take on the powerful at the heart of a vast conspiracy. Paging Oliver Stone...

Guerra, the re-incarnation of Jim Garrison, issued a whole slew of indictments against local officials for "official abuse of official capacity and official corruption."

Guerra has been indicted himself (for public theft) and responded by camping out in front of the county jail with goats, roosters, and a horse. He was later defeated in the primary and will soon be out of office. No doubt he can find a gig on the international anti-Cheney circuit.

There is a very good chance the case will be dismissed, but it will be interesting to watch how this story moves through the international media, blogosphere, and labyrinth of conspiracy theories.

And of course it proves the old adage, a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich.