Sunday, December 31, 2006

Have Another Drinkee, Senator

This illustrates the reason that state funerals are traditionally not held at night. Especially during the holiday season.

"In the nation's darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment. . . . He knew the road to national healing began with the courage to forgive," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the Senate's president pro tem, who also spoke at the state funeral.

To give the senator the benefit of the doubt, the Civil War, World Wars One and Two, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11, et al., may have simply slipped Sen. Stevens' mind.

No reasonable American can seriously consider the comeuppance of the crooked Richard Nixon as being "the nation's darkest hour."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Everything Coming Up Roses For GOP Victor in Disputed Race

Things are breaking in the direction of the Republican candidate in the disputed race for Florida's 13th Congressional district seat vacated by former Rep. Katherine Harris.

Republican Vern Buchanan won two major victories on Friday, removing key barriers that had stood in the way of him representing the 13th District in Congress.

Hours after Democrats announced they would seat Buchanan next week when Congress will swear in its new members, a Florida court threw out Democrat Christine Jennings' legal challenge to the Nov. 7 election results.

Circuit Judge William Gary ruled that Jennings' case was based on conjecture and speculation, and denied her request to see the source codes in the software that helps run Sarasota County's touch-screen voting machines. Gary ruled that he wouldn't open up the source codes, which would reveal trade secrets of the voting machine company Election Systems & Software Inc.

The source codes are a key in helping Jennings make her case that voting machines may have malfunctioned.

The combination of the political decision by Democrats in Congress and the legal decision in Tallahassee makes certain Buchanan will take his seat in Congress on Thursday.

"I am looking forward to taking office next week," said Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. "I have assembled my staff, and I am ready to get to work on behalf of the people of Florida's 13th Congressional District."

Although Jennings said she will press forward by challenging the election results in Congress -- her last hope -- she'll have to do it with Buchanan sitting in Congress.

A spokesman for incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it is in the best interest of voters in the 13th District that Buchanan be seated in Congress, despite Jennings' ongoing challenge.

"We see this as the best way to have continuing representation for the people of that district," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.

The decision removes a significant political distraction as the Democratic Party ascends to power in the House for the first time in a dozen years.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Reyes' Letter About Non-Existant Link Between Al Qaeda and Saddam Was Improperly Classified

The dude doesn't know Shiites from apple butter (or Sunnis), but he has been known to ask the occasional pertinent question.

Incoming House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes says he'd rather figure out how to stabilize Iraq and bring the troops home than get bogged down investigating what went wrong.

Despite that pledge, he does plan to revisit one bit of history: What he sees as the government's improper classification of a letter he wrote during the congressional debate on the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In the letter, he questioned the intelligence used to take the country to war and specifically the "epiphany in the intelligence community" that al-Qaida and the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein were linked, Reyes says. Based on the answers to questions he'd asked since Sept. 11, 2001, he said that assessment was "a complete turnaround" for U.S. analysts.

"We now know that the intelligence was cherry-picked and manipulated," Reyes said in a recent interview. "I thought it was real petty to get (the letter) classified."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Biden To Hold Hearings Over Troop Surge

At least somebody is trying to provide some supervision here:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday rejected a troop increase for Iraq, foreshadowing what could be a contentious fight between the Bush administration and Congress.

Mr. Biden, a Democrat, announced that he would begin hearings on Iraq on Jan. 9 and expected high-ranking officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to appear. ...

One plan under (White House) consideration is to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq in a bid to restore order. "I totally oppose this surging of additional American troops into Baghdad," Mr. Biden said. "It's contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both inside and outside the administration." ...

He did not say what he would do if the administration went ahead with a temporary increase in American combat forces, and it is unclear whether the Democrats have the power to stop such a move.

The odious Frederick Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane (USA Ret), major architects of the "Surge" idea, weigh in this morning with a Washington Post op-ed that sounds more like a child's list for Santa Claus than a responsible proposal from foreign policy "experts."

From the wish list:

Clearing and holding the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the center of Baghdad, which are the keys to getting the overall levels of violence down, will require around nine American combat brigades (27 battalions, in partnership with Iraqi forces, divided among some 23 districts). Since there are about five brigades in Baghdad now, achieving this level would require a surge of at least four additional combat brigades -- some 20,000 combat troops. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to send precisely as many troops as we think we need. Sound planning requires a reserve of at least one brigade (5,000 soldiers) to respond to unexpected developments. The insurgents have bases beyond Baghdad, especially in Anbar province. Securing Baghdad requires addressing these bases -- a task that would necessitate at least two more Marine regiments (around 7,000 Marines).

Anything else you want me to bring you?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Justice Department Database

Yet another database (presumably) intended to keep us "safe" from "terror."

The accuracy of the information available to authorized users will inevitably be somewhat lacking.

The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said. ...

(C)ivil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes. ...

"The goal is that all of U.S. law enforcement will be able to look at each other's records to solve cases and protect U.S. citizens," McNulty said. "With OneDOJ, we will essentially hook them up to a pipe that will take them into its records."

McNulty and other Justice officials emphasize that the information available in the database already is held individually by the FBI and other federal agencies. Much information will be kept out of the system, including data about public corruption cases, classified or sensitive topics, confidential informants, administrative cases and civil rights probes involving allegations of wrongdoing by police, officials said.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates -- many of whom are already alarmed by the proliferation of federal databases -- warn that granting broad access to such a system is almost certain to invite abuse and lead to police mistakes.

Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the main problem is one of "garbage in, garbage out," because case files frequently include erroneous or unproved allegations.

"Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected," Steinhardt said. "That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they're creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling."

Still In Denial

President Bush still flounders in the famous "river in Africa."

And it is becoming embarrassingly obvious.

"I've seen very few tea leaves in the mix that would give you any sense of hope or confidence that he is getting it so far," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who supports the study group's advice that the administration seek help from Iran and Syria in Iraq. "The bottom line is this president can't afford not to change course. The time is up."

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army ranger who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, said, "I don’t think he's given up the sort of sloganizing and the simplistic view of what's happening there."

"I think the American people's message was deep concern about Iraq, deep skepticism about his policies, and what they want is a resolution of Iraq," said Mr. Reed, who supports a steady withdrawal that is fundamentally at odds with any idea of an increase in troops there. ...

"I'm growing more disturbed every night by how isolated George W. Bush has become," the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough said on his MSNBC program last week. "Shouldn't more Americans be disturbed at this unprecedented example of a White House that’s in — and you can only call it this — a bunker mentality?" The screen below him read, "Bush: Determined or Delusional?"

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Christmas Miracle

This does seem kinda far-fetched.

Is there hope for newspapers after all? Readers may be abandoning the printed versions, but over the last couple of years, at least one person seems to have started reading them, at least sometimes. He lives in the White House.

President Bush declared in 2003 that he did not read newspapers, but at his final news conference of the year last week, he casually mentioned that he had seen something in the paper that very day.

Asked for his reaction to word that Vice President Cheney would be called to testify in the C.I.A. leak case, the president allowed: "I read it in the newspaper today, and it's an interesting piece of news."

That was a marked contrast with his position in 2003, when he told Brit Hume on Fox News that he glanced at the headlines, but "I rarely read the stories," because, he said, they mix opinion with fact. He said he preferred to get his news from "objective sources" — like "people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Media Wants Fitzgerald Statements On Reason For Reporters' Subpoenas

Justice Department guidelines for U.S. Attorneys say that issuing subpoenas to reporters to divulge their sources is an extreme measure to be done only when there is no other way to obtain the needed information.

Two news organizations are asking a federal judge to unseal documents in the CIA leak case, arguing that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never needed the testimony of reporters because he knew the source of the leak all along.

The Associated Press and Dow Jones, in court papers filed this week, asked for the release of the sworn statements Fitzgerald gave to justify subpoenas for New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.

Fitzgerald wanted the reporters help in his investigation of the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Miller spent 85 days in jail in 2005 for refusing to testify. Cooper testified under a court order.

"Recently the public learned that the special counsel's pursuit of those reporters was entirely unnecessary for him to determine who leaked Ms. Plame's name to Mr. Novak," lawyers for the news services wrote.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has acknowledged being Novak's source but said it was a passing, inadvertent conversation. He also said he told Fitzgerald about the conversation as soon as the investigation began.

Lawyers for the news organizations said the public has the right to know why, despite that knowledge, Fitzgerald testified that he needed the testimony of reporters to continue the investigation. The only way to know that, the lawyers argued, is to unseal Fitzgerald's affidavits and the court's full legal opinion on the issue.

Of course, Fitzgerald may have wanted to see who -- if anyone -- else was peddling Plame's identity around to members of the Washington press corps.

Friday, December 22, 2006

One Less Red Herring Now In The Path Of Electronic Voting Fraud Investigations

In this matter, people conflated the very real threat of electronic voting skullduggery in U.S. elections with the artificially hyped specter of the Venezuelan bogeyman, Hugo Chavez.

A major voting machine company owned by Venezuelan investors said Friday it plans to sell its U.S. subsidiary, ending a federal investigation into alleged ties between the company and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In March 2005, Smartmatic Corp. acquired the Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., which produces touch-screen and other machines and is one of the largest voting equipment makers in the U.S.

The U.S. government began informally reviewing the deal earlier this spring after a request by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who cited a potential risk to the integrity of U.S. elections.

Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica, who is a dual-Spanish-Venezuelan citizen, later called for an official investigation to dispel what he said were baseless claims of the company's ties to Chavez.

The announcement Friday did not say whether it had found a buyer. Still, it effectively ends the U.S. investigation by an interagency panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. ...

There was no immediate reaction from the Venezuelan government.

William Castillo, spokesman for Venezuela's National Electoral Council, said its nonpartisan members would not be making comments about what was exclusively a Smartmatic issue.

Sequoia officials said the controversy would not affect their company's role in U.S. elections. Company officials insist the Venezuelan government has never had a stake in Smartmatic or Sequoia.

CA Indian Tribe Political Donations Under Campaign Finance Laws, Court Rules

Somewhere a potential Abramoff weeps.

A fractured California Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Thursday that Indian tribes, some of the state's biggest political donors, are bound by campaign-finance disclosure rules.

The justices upheld a lower court decision that said tribes were subject to campaign-finance enforcement lawsuits from the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency that oversees elections.

The case is significant for California's political culture. The Golden State's more than 100 tribes, some flush with casino revenue, are major campaign donors, having given at least $200 million to candidate and ballot measure campaigns during the past decade, according to the tribes. ...

The tribes that were sued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to comply with disclosure rules maintained they are sovereign governments immune from most state intervention, including lawsuits to enforce state laws.

Justice Ming Chin said the majority reached its decision based on the "significant importance of the state's ability to provide a transparent election process with rules that apply equally to all parties who enter the electoral fray."

The three-justice minority said it was up to Congress or the tribes themselves to authorize such enforcement actions against an Indian tribe. Justice Carlos Moreno noted the U.S. Supreme Court has said Oklahoma could not sue tribes in that state over the collection of cigarette taxes, and said the California Legislature should petition Congress to allow campaign disclosure enforcement actions.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

FBI Releasing Last Classified Files On John Lennon

I suspected for decades that in this case the U.S. was simply trying to protect the "special relationship" with British intelligence.

Now we know for sure.

The FBI agreed Tuesday to make public the final 10 documents about the surveillance of John Lennon that it had withheld for 25 years from a UC Irvine historian on the grounds that releasing them could cause "military retaliation against the United States."

Despite the fierce battle the government waged to keep the documents secret, the files contain information that is hardly shocking, just new details about Lennon's ties to New Left leaders and antiwar groups in London in the early 1970s, said the historian, Jon Wiener.

For example, in one memo, then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote to H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon's chief of staff, that "Lennon had taken an interest in 'extreme left-wing activities in Britain' and is known to be a sympathizer of Trotskyist communists in England."

Another document had been blacked out on the grounds of national security when Wiener obtained it more than 20 years ago through litigation brought under the Freedom of Information Act. It is now known that it said two prominent British leftists, Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, had courted Lennon in hopes that he would "finance a left-wing bookshop and reading room in London." ...

Another surveillance report states explicitly that there was "no certain proof" that Lennon had provided money "for subversive purposes." And yet another says there was no evidence that Lennon had any formal tie to any leftist group. ...

"I doubt that Tony Blair's government will launch a military strike on the U.S. in retaliation for the release of these documents. Today, we can see that the national security claims that the FBI has been making for 25 years were absurd from the beginning," said Wiener, who requested the documents in 1981.

Wiener initially obtained some files showing that the FBI closely monitored Lennon's activities in 1971 and 1972. The documents indicated Nixon administration concern that Lennon would support then-Sen. George S. McGovern (D-S.D.) for president against incumbent Richard M. Nixon in 1972, the first year that 18-year-olds could vote. ...

Wiener sued in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeking all the documents. The FBI countered that some contained "national security information provided by a foreign government under an explicit promise of confidentiality" and that release of the documents "can reasonably be expected to ... lead to foreign diplomatic, economic and military retaliation against the United States," according to a government brief filed in 1983.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The All-Purpose Excuse

Hell, the White House used the 9/11 attacks to further it's nefarious agenda. Why expect anything better from one of the major brokerage houses?

Securities regulators charged Morgan Stanley DW Inc. with failing to hand over millions of e-mail messages to investigators and plaintiffs by falsely saying that the documents had been lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, according to a complaint filed yesterday.

The NASD alleged that the retail brokerage destroyed nearly 8 million electronic messages between September 2001 and March 2005, a period when documents preserved on backup tapes and on the computers of individual employees were deleted during the normal course of business.

Morgan Stanley had told regulators and plaintiffs seeking to recover money lost in disputes with company brokers over investment strategy that its computer servers had fallen victim to terror attacks in New York. Documents dated before Sept. 11 were no longer available for review, the company said. In fact, the firm had backed up its systems as of Aug. 30, according to investigators. ...

In its complaint, the NASD said Morgan Stanley was able to rebuild its e-mail system and restore 11 of its 12 computer servers within days of the attack. Even more messages remained in the inboxes of individual employees, regulators said. But by last year millions of the pre-Sept. 11 e-mails had been deleted, leaving only 500,000 for regulators to examine.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Overclassification Taken To The Next Lunatic Step

We looked at this story when it broke last week (see Feds Trying New Tactic Against Leaks).

It now turns out that the "Secret" material that the government was trying to protect by issuing a subpoena to the ACLU for a classified document in their possession related to information that should never have been classified in the first place.

Overclassification taken to the next lunatic step.

Federal prosecutors yesterday dropped their demand that the American Civil Liberties Union turn over all copies of a "secret" document the organization had obtained, after the government was roundly criticized for using a grand jury subpoena in an attempt to seize the material. ...

The ACLU hailed the government's retreat as a victory. "This was a legal standoff with enormous implications for free speech and the public's right to know, and today the government blinked," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The Bush administration's attempt to suppress information using the grand jury process was truly chilling and is unprecedented in law and in our history as an organization." ...

The 3 1/2 -page document, which the ACLU had maintained would be only "mildly embarrassing" to the government, was an "information paper" prepared by a judge advocate for the 101st Airborne Division. It told soldiers not to photograph enemy prisoners of war and detainees.

The document is dated Dec. 20, 2005, more than a year after the military was scandalized by photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

SECRET information is information which, if disclosed without authorization, could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.

The "don't take pictures of prisoners" instruction doesn't fit that criteria.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Conservatives Worried About 4th Circuit Becoming "Liberal"

You gotta laugh like hell at the GOP concern about this. Virginia Democrats (especially potential appeals-court judges) are not exactly "San Francisco liberals."

A growing list of vacancies on the federal appeals court in Richmond is heightening concern among Republicans that one of the nation's most conservative and influential courts could soon come under moderate or even liberal control, Republicans and legal scholars say.

A number of prominent Republican appointees have left or announced plans to leave the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which has played a key role in terrorism cases and has long been known for forceful conservative rulings and judicial personalities.

Republican concerns also are fueled by the pending Democratic takeover of Congress, as several of President Bush's 4th Circuit nominees were already bottled up in the Senate when Republicans ran it. From the GOP's perspective, the situation now will worsen. ...

The 15-member court has three vacancies, and a fourth judgeship will open in July. That would leave the bench with six Republican and five Democratic appointees by summer. In addition, one of those six Republican appointees has announced plans to take senior status as soon as a replacement can be confirmed. Senior judges receive full pay and hear cases but can take a reduced workload and are not considered active-service members of the court.

Some of the 4th Circuit's best-known rulings, upheld by the Supreme Court, include striking down a law allowing rape victims to sue their attackers in federal court and preventing the Food and Drug Administration from regulating tobacco.

In 1999, the 4th Circuit overturned the requirement that police read suspects their rights before interrogating them. The Supreme Court later reaffirmed the Miranda rights.

During the Bush administration, the 4th Circuit has been the court of choice on national security, issuing key rulings that backed the government on the detention of enemy combatants and the prosecution of Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. The court's conservative majority has included some of the nation's most prominent judges, including J. Michael Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson III.

Gingrich Is Losing It

Newt "We are currently fighting World War III" Gingrich runs off at the mouth again:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told an audience in New Hampshire Muslim clerics pulled off a plane for praying should have been charged criminally.

Gingrich made the remark Friday night, as he delivered the keynote speech at the Manchester Republican City Committee Christmas dinner, the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader reported.

"Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists," Gingrich said. "And the crew of the U.S. airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens."

The imams, who had been attending a conference in Minneapolis, were pulled off a US Air flight to Phoenix after other passengers said they had been acting suspicious. They were questioned by the FBI for several hours and then released.

Their suspicious behavior apparently consisted of reports that they had prayed in Arabic and that they were not sitting together but had walked around to talk to each other.

Gingrich said last month the United States might have to accept new curbs of First Amendment rights to fight terrorism.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Levin Plans To Put Administration On Hotseat

Like many Americans, incoming Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is tired of the unaccountability that the White House has enjoyed during the George W. Bush years.

Unlike most Americans, Levin's status as a powerful committee chairman gives him a way to do something about it.

Levin, a sharp critic of the administration's use of prewar intelligence, will have new, substantial powers to press the White House for information and for a new direction in Iraq.

In a recent interview in his Senate office, Levin said the Senate Armed Services Committee's first priority will be to seek ways to stabilize Iraq and gradually disengage the United States from the war. But the committee will also hold retrospective hearings, he said, to determine whether administration officials manipulated intelligence before the war and whether the post-invasion provisional government abused its contracting powers and wasted huge sums of money. ...

Levin plans to use his new powers in his long-running dispute with the Bush administration over the conduct of Douglas J. Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy. Levin says Feith exaggerated the relationship between Hussein's government and al-Qaeda when the Bush administration was trying to build public support for the Iraq invasion.

The administration's repeated refusal to give Levin 58 documents related to Feith's activities is about to be tested. "We're entitled to those documents," Levin said. "If necessary, I intend to subpoena those documents."

Bob Barr Leaves GOP

This guy was a real dick as a congressman. His staunch privacy advocacy after leaving office was a pleasant surprise. He later worked for the ACLU as a consultant.

Former Georgia congressman Robert L. Barr Jr. has quit the Republican Party to become a Libertarian, saying he is disillusioned with the GOP on issues such as government spending and privacy.

"It's something that's been bothering me for quite some time, the direction in which the party has been going more and more toward big government and disregard toward privacy and civil liberties," Barr, a lawyer and consultant in Atlanta, said of the GOP. "In terms of where the country needs to be going to get back to our constitutional roots . . . I've come to the conclusion that the only way to do that is to work with a party that practices what it preaches, and that is the Libertarian Party."

Barr served eight years in the House before losing his seat in 2002 to fellow Republican John Linder.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Ill-Fated Senate Class of 1953-1954

The uncertainty surrounding the political ramifications of the health crisis of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)-- also that of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY)(being treated for leukemia)-- pales in comparison to the woes that befell an earlier Senate class.

(T)he unsettled situation pales when compared with the bizarre 83rd Congress in 1953 and 1954, during which nine of the then-96 senators died, including one who committed suicide, and one resigned.

When the Senate convened on Jan. 3, 1953, the GOP was in charge 48 to 47, plus one former Republican, Sen. Wayne L. Morse-- an independent so independent that he moved his seat to the Senate aisle and would not vote with the Democrats to organize.

By Aug. 3 of that year, when the first session adjourned, three members -- including Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) -- had died. When the next session began in January 1954, the Democrats had become the majority, 48-47-1, but they did not assume control. At one point during that session, as various members died, the D's even had a two-vote lead, but they never challenged Republican control of the body. The Senate adjourned Aug. 20 back where it had started, with the GOP holding a one-vote majority.

So why didn't the Democrats take over? For one thing, seems the "minority" leader, Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Tex.), didn't particularly want to. He preferred to have the Republicans deal with Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), according to Senate associate historian Donald A. Ritchie.

It was an ugly time at the Senate. Sen. Lester Hunt (D-Wyo.) committed suicide, shooting himself in his office in the Old Senate Office Building on June 19, 1954. McCarthyites were after Hunt, who strongly opposed McCarthy, and they threatened to reveal that Hunt's son had been arrested the year before, accused of soliciting a male undercover police officer in Lafayette Square. The McCarthyites wanted Hunt to announce he would not run again. He did so, then killed himself.

More important, there was "no way the Democrats could have claimed a majority," Ritchie said, "because the Republicans could have blocked them" with a filibuster, and in the Senate, most everything can be filibustered -- even by the minority.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Feds Trying New Tactic Against Leaks

Federal prosecutors are trying to force the American Civil Liberties Union to turn over copies of a classified document it received from a source, using what legal experts called a new extension of the Bush administration’s efforts to protect national-security secrets.

The novelty in the government's approach is in its broad use of a grand jury subpoena, which is typically a way to gather evidence, rather than to confiscate all traces of it. But the subpoena issued to the A.C.L.U. seeks "any and all copies" of a document e-mailed to it unsolicited in October, indicating that the government also wants to prevent further dissemination of the information in the document. ...

The subpoena, however, raised the possibility that the government had found a new tool to stop the dissemination of secrets, one that could avoid the all but absolute constitutional prohibition on prior restraints on publication.

The disputed document, according to the A.C.L.U., is three-and-a-half pages long and unremarkable, and its disclosure would be only mildly embarrassing to the government.

The subpoena issued in the Southern District of New York provides the latest example of the Justice Department's aggressive use of the anti-spying law (the Espionage Act of 1917), a broadly worded and little-used statute that has become the bedrock in a series of leak-related investigations by the Bush administration.

In a motion filed in federal court, the ACLU called the subpoena an "unprecedented abuse" of the government's grand-jury powers that violates the First Amendment and is aimed at suppressing information rather than investigating a crime.

The civil liberties group -- which has been sharply critical of the Bush administration's terrorism and detainee policies -- said it is prohibited from disclosing the contents of the document. But it described the document as "nothing more than a policy, promulgated in December 2005, that has nothing to do with national defense."

"No official secrets act has yet been enacted into law, and the grand jury's subpoena power cannot be employed to create one," the ACLU wrote in its brief, which was filed with U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The "Decider" In Irresolute Mode

When you have backed yourself into a corner in a bad part of town, there are usually no easy solutions.

The White House said Tuesday that President Bush would delay presenting any new strategy for Iraq until early next year, as officials suggested that Mr. Bush's advisers were locked in internal debates on several fronts about how to proceed.

The absence of an immediate new American plan for Iraq is adding to anxiety among Iraq's moderate neighbors, who identify with the country's minority Sunni Arab population, and has opened the way for new proposals from many quarters, in Iraq as well as in Washington, about the next steps. But several administration officials said Mr. Bush had concluded that the decisions about troops, political pressure and diplomacy were too complicated to rush in order to lay out a plan to the nation before Christmas.

The White House decision prompted criticism from Democratic Congressional leaders and from at least one Republican senator who said Mr. Bush was failing to show sufficient urgency about Iraq despite months of escalating violence there.

The Iraq Study Group's report last week portrayed the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating," and on Tuesday alone, 70 Iraqis were killed and more than 200 wounded in a truck-bomb attack in a central Baghdad square. ...

Some members of the administration, including some in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, have argued that the administration needs to provide clear support to a strong Shiite majority government, but the State Department, led by Condoleezza Rice, views that as a recipe for perpetual civil war. Ms. Rice has instead advocated a proposal intended to woo centrist Sunni leaders to Mr. Maliki's side, including provincial leaders. ...

In an interview, Senator Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who is often critical of the president's war policy, called the delay "unpardonable" and added: "Every day that goes by, we are losing ground." Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said in a statement, "Waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one's interests."

Last Congressional Race Settled

Bonilla's hard-line stance on immigration is said to be the major factor in Rodriguez' upset victory.

The last congressional race in the midterm elections went Tuesday night as so many others did over the past five weeks, with a Democrat ousting a Republican from office.

Ciro Rodriguez handily defeated Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) in a runoff election in Texas's 23rd Congressional District, the 36th congressional seat this year that switched from Republican to Democratic hands.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Rodriguez had 55 percent of the vote. Bonilla, who was seeking an eighth term, drew 45 percent.

Rodriguez's victory means Democrats will hold a 233-202 advantage in the House.

Rodriguez served from 1997 to 2005 in another district but was defeated in the 2004 Democratic primary by Rep. Henry Cuellar. He lost again to Cuellar this past March in the primary for the 28th District.

But Rodriguez got another chance to run when the Supreme Court ruled in June that a 2003 reconfiguration of the 23rd District was unconstitutional. In August, a three-judge panel redrew the district to add Hispanics, in the process including Rodriguez's home.

Rodriguez, Bonilla and six others were candidates in a free-for-all special election Nov. 7. The goal of the six Democrats running was to keep Bonilla below 50 percent and force him into a runoff. It worked: Bonilla won 48.6 percent of the vote, more than twice Rodriguez's total but not enough to win outright.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Democrats Sidestep GOP Budget Trap

Not a bad gambit by the Democrats. It even pleases fiscal conservatives by hamstringing rampant earmarking.

At least for a while.

Democratic leaders declared a temporary moratorium on special-interest provisions known as earmarks as they attempt to cope with a budget crisis left by the outgoing Republican-led 109th Congress.

Congress adjourned early Saturday, having completed work on two of the 11 spending bills for the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. As a short-term fix, lawmakers extended current funding levels until Feb. 15. But the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees announced yesterday that they would extend current levels until the 2008 fiscal year begins next Oct. 1.

The alternative was to attempt to finish work on the spending bills when the Democratic-led Congress convenes in January, a dreaded prospect that could have derailed Democratic legislative efforts and stirred up policy battles around the same time that President Bush is due to submit his fiscal 2008 budget to the Hill, along with a large supplemental spending request for the Iraq war. ...

(The new chairmen, Rep. David R. Obey and Sen. Robert C. Byrd) said they would place a moratorium on all earmarks until lobbying changes are enacted. Those special spending provisions included in the unfinished fiscal 2007 bills will be eligible for consideration next year, the chairmen said, subject to new standards. ...

The unfinished bills account for about $463 billion in annual spending and include just about every domestic program other than defense and homeland security.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nice One, Ileana

It was bad enough when Rev. Pat Robertson called for Hugo Chavez' assassination, but he is just a charlatan taking advantage of other religious kooks.

It is worse when an elected member of congress spews something like that.

A congresswoman says a video showing her calling for Fidel Castro's assassination is fake, a charge denied Sunday by the film's director.

The congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, appears in the 28-second clip made available on the Internet by the makers of a new British documentary, "638 Ways to Kill Castro."

In it, she says: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people."

But Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, a Havana-born lawmaker recently selected to become the top Republican on the House International Relations Committee, says the filmmakers spliced clips together to make the sound bite.

"It's twisted in a way that gives the viewer a totally wrong impression," she told The Miami Herald. "I've said the community has moved on, that those strategies are not being used today, but apparently the filmmakers think we're still in a '60s mentality."

Still, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said it was possible she had, at some point, mentioned Mr. Castro’s potential assassination.

"If someone were to do it, I wouldn't be crying," she said.

The film's director, Dollan Cannell, stood by the authenticity of the video.

"I can assure you categorically and completely that there has been no distortion of what she said," Mr. Cannell told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nothing Bothers These Folks

The House ethics committee concluded yesterday that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his top staff probably knew for months, if not years, of then-Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with former House pages but did nothing to protect the teenagers. ...

But the ethics panel, officially known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, decided against taking any action against the leaders, aides or House officials involved in the saga, declining even to describe their actions as bringing ill repute on the House.

The ethics committee managed to dig up evidence of a cover-up, even as it managed to exonerate the main conspirators:

(A previously unreported) incident was also brought to light in the report. After the Foley matter became public on Sept. 29, The Post quoted Boehner saying that he had told Hastert that spring of concerns about Foley and that Hastert had said the matter was being taken care of. When the story appeared on The Post's Web site that night, (Scott) Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff, contacted Boehner's chief of staff to discuss what the report called "the perceived inconsistency" between Boehner's story and Hastert's statement denying all knowledge of the concerns.

That led to a late-night strategy session of House GOP leaders in Boehner's office, which some members at the time feared was inappropriate because the case had been referred to the ethics committee. ...

On the central question of Hastert's involvement, the committee firmly sided with (clerk of the House, Jeff) Trandahl and former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham, who testified that they brought Foley's behavior to the attention of Palmer and of Hastert counsel Van Der Meid years ago. Fordham also testified that Palmer assured him he had brought the issue directly to the speaker in late 2002 or early 2003.

Trandahl said Palmer had told him: "I've talked to Kirk Fordham. I understand the problem. I'm on it." He said he remembered it "vividly."

Palmer testified repeatedly that he remembered no such meeting, and Hastert said he did not remember learning anything of the Foley matter.

But the committee found "the weight of the evidence supports" Fordham and Trandahl. Moreover, "the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told, at least in passing, about the e-mails" by Boehner and Reynolds in spring 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Corporate Watchdog On The Job

The "business-friendly" party is coming through for the team:

The departing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee proposed legislation yesterday calling for a rollback of the tactics adopted by federal prosecutors to combat corporate wrongdoing after the Enron collapse.

The bill from Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, is the latest challenge to the tactics, which have come under scrutiny from trade groups, former United States attorneys general and a prominent federal judge. Mr. Specter said he would reintroduce the bill next month when Congress convenes.

The Justice Department is now weighing how much to revise the guidelines, which are used as a playbook by prosecutors when conducting investigations of companies and employees. But the white-collar-crime group of an advisory council to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the body that is redrafting the guidelines, is mired in internal debate over how much to scale them back, according to a person close to the matter.

The current guidelines lay out nine factors that prosecutors must consider when weighing whether to indict a company or an individual. The guidelines are intended to encourage companies and people under scrutiny to demonstrate cooperation with investigators by, among other things, disclosing legal secrets, or else face a heightened risk of indictment — a death knell, as it was for the accounting firm Arthur Anderson in 2002.

Congressional Inaction On Iraq Policy Noted

You have to appreciate the rare occasion when someone who is respected as an old colleague and foreign policy sage castigates the current cowardly Congress for having neglected their fiduciary duty to the nation.

Lee Hamilton testifying yesterday at the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Hamilton also told the senators that they are part of the problem. "I, frankly, am not that impressed with what the Congress has been able to do," said the 34-year House veteran. "I think the Congress has been extraordinarily timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities on the question of warmaking and conducting war."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Democrats Want Oversight Of Counterterrorism Programs

This is encouraging:

Leading Senate Democrats put the Bush administration on notice Wednesday that they intended to press for a fuller accounting on a wide range of counterterrorism programs, including wiretapping, data-mining operations and the interrogation and treatment of detainees.

Democrats have appeared divided at times over how aggressively to challenge the administration on its terrorism policies, in part because of concerns that they risked playing into Republican accusations that they were soft on terrorism.

But Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who will take over next month as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made clear at a committee hearing Wednesday that he wanted to investigate actively the effectiveness and legality of many programs.

"The administration's gone to unprecedented lengths to hide its own activities from the public while at the same time collecting an unprecedented amount of data on private citizens," Mr. Leahy told Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As the sole witness at the hearing, Mr. Mueller bore the brunt of the Democrats' criticism. But their sharp questions often went well beyond the F.B.I.'s purview, delving into areas like the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogations of Qaeda suspects and the Department of Homeland Security's use of profiling scores to assess the risks posed by travelers.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not Exactly Comity From GOP

Like a retreating army, Republicans are tearing up railroad track and planting legislative land mines to make it harder for Democrats to govern when they take power in Congress next month.

Already, the Republican leadership has moved to saddle the new Democratic majority with responsibility for resolving $463 billion in spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. And the departing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), has been demanding that the Democrat-crafted 2008 budget absorb most of the $13 billion in costs incurred from a decision now to protect physician reimbursements under Medicare, the federal health-care program for the elderly and disabled.

The unstated goal is to disrupt the Democratic agenda and make it harder for the new majority to meet its promise to reinstitute "pay-as-you-go" budget rules, under which new costs or tax cuts must be offset to protect the deficit from growing. ...

"There are individuals who want to blow up the tracks, and there are more of those individuals in the House," said one Senate leadership aide.

The collapse of the appropriations process will be felt soon in the Justice and Commerce departments, food-safety agencies and veterans' health care. "It's not just a mess. It's a mountainous mess," complained Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the next House Appropriations Committee chairman.

In the Medicare dispute, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) has aligned himself with Democrats against Mr. Thomas and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R., Texas). Talks continued last night in hopes of reaching agreement this morning on the physician issue and a larger $38 billion tax-and-trade package important to business.

"Failure is not an option," warned John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. New York City and Wall Street have a major stake in $682 million in tax provisions important to transportation infrastructure and redevelopment of the World Trade Center area. And the trade package, as introduced by Mr. Thomas last night, runs from Vietnam and Andean countries to a set of expired general preferences for developing countries around the globe.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Administration Hides From ACLU Behind State Secrets Defense

If this ploy flies, all sorts of official malfeasance could be exempted from scrutiny by the courts.

The Bush administration asked a federal appeals court Monday to toss out a lawsuit challenging a warrantless surveillance program, saying the government can't defend itself without revealing national secrets.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the National Security Agency in January on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the surveillance has made it difficult for them to do their jobs because they believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets.

"This suit must be dismissed because its very subject matter is a state secret, and litigation would inevitably result in disclosing state secrets," Justice Department lawyers wrote in a brief filed Monday.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ruled in August that the program violates the rights to free speech and privacy and the separation of powers.

The Justice Department appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which ruled that the administration could keep the program in place during the appeal.

The Bush administration secretly launched the surveillance program in 2001. It monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people suspected by the government of having terrorist links.

A secret court was established in the late 1970s to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the Justice Department said it can't always wait for the court to act.

The president and his advisers "have determined that the current threat to the United States demands that signals intelligence be carried out with a speed and methodology that cannot be achieved by seeking judicial approval" through traditional channels, Monday's brief said.

The journalists and other plaintiffs lack standing to sue because secrecy considerations mean that "they cannot show, and the government cannot dispute, that the government has intercepted or likely will intercept their communications," the government brief said.

In a brief filed Nov. 14, the ACLU said that the Bush administration's "sweeping theory of executive power would allow the president to violate any law passed by Congress."

"This theory presents a profound threat to our democratic system," it said.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has set a Dec. 18 deadline for other interested groups to file their own briefs in the case.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Isolation As Mind Control Technique

There is a classified videotape that shows the outrageously excessive measures taken against "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla while in the custody of the U.S. military in South Carolina.

The military guards could not have been fearing for their lives. The use of isolation for mind-control purposes can be the only explanation.

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla's bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla's legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla's cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.

Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of "truth serums." ...

Mr. Padilla's situation, as an American declared an enemy combatant and held without charges by his own government, was extraordinary and the conditions of his detention appear to have been unprecedented in the military justice system.

Philip D. Cave, a former judge advocate general for the Navy and now a lawyer specializing in military law, said, "There's nothing comparable in terms of severity of confinement, in terms of how Padilla was held, especially considering that this was pretrial confinement." ...

Blackened goggles and earphones are rarely employed in internal prison transports in the United States, but riot gear is sometimes used for violent prisoners.

One of Mr. Padilla's lawyers, Orlando do Campo, said, however, that Mr. Padilla was a "completely docile" prisoner. "There was not one disciplinary problem with Jose ever, not one citation, not one act of disobedience," said Mr. do Campo, who is a lawyer at the Miami federal public defender's office.

In his affidavit, Mr. Patel said, "I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla's temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of 'a piece of furniture.' "

Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers are locked in a tug of war over the relevancy of Mr. Padilla's military detention to the present criminal case. Federal prosecutors have asked the judge to forbid Mr. Padilla's lawyers from mentioning the circumstances of his military detention during the trial, maintaining that their accusations could "distract and inflame the jury."

But defense lawyers say it is unconscionable to ignore Mr. Padilla's military detention because, among other reasons, it altered him in a way that will impinge on his trial.

Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., who examined Mr. Padilla for a total of 22 hours in June and September, said in an affidavit filed Friday that he "lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense."

"It is my opinion that as the result of his experiences during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation," Dr. Hegarty said in an affidavit for the defense. ...

Mr. Padilla's status was abruptly changed to criminal defendant from enemy combatant last fall. At the time, the Supreme Court was weighing whether to take up the legality of his military detention -- and thus the issue of the president's authority to seize an American citizen on American soil and hold him indefinitely without charges -- when the Bush administration pre-empted its decision by filing criminal charges against Mr. Padilla.

Mr. Padilla was added as a defendant in a terrorism conspiracy case already under way in Miami. The strong public accusations made during his military detention -- about the dirty bomb, Al Qaeda connections and supposed plans to set off natural gas explosions in apartment buildings -- appear nowhere in the indictment against him. The indictment does not allege any specific violent plot against America.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Second Tier Candidates Need Not Apply

The chairman of the Federal Election Commission predicts that the cost of the White House contest in 2008 will far outpace the cost of the 2004 election, and that a tough time ahead awaits one of the major programs overseen by his agency: the public financing of presidential campaigns.

"The nominees of both major parties will probably turn down public funds for the general election, as well as for the primaries" in 2008, said Michael E. Toner, who is scheduled to step down as FEC chairman on Jan. 1. Candidates have rejected public funds for the primaries before, but never for the general election.

As a result, Toner said, the 2008 race "will be the longest and most expensive in American history." By rejecting public funding, the top-tier candidates "will be free to raise as much money as they can for both the primaries and the general election and the nominees of each party likely will seek to raise $500 million or more for their campaigns."

That would be a lot more than in 2004. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic nominee, raised about $235 million, and President Bush collected approximately $270 million for their primary races. Both used public funds for the general election.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Congress Looking At Insider Trading

Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican and departing chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has asked NASD, the securities industry's largest self-regulatory organization, to describe in detail how it identifies and tracks possible insider trading among its members.

Mr. Grassley's staff is investigating the Securities and Exchange Commission's handling of an insider-trading case involving a prominent hedge fund. The questions being asked of NASD indicate that Congressional scrutiny of the nation's market regulators is growing.

Insider trading appears to be a growing problem for regulators. In August, The New York Times reported that an analysis of the nation's biggest mergers during the last year found abnormal trading in the securities of 41 percent of the companies in the days and weeks before the deals became public. Those buying shares during these periods of unusual trading generated gains of as much as 40 percent. ...

Mr. Grassley asked NASD to describe its market surveillance tools, its sampling methods for capturing unusual trading around a market-moving event like a merger, its approach to repeat offenders and how it ensures that it "casts a wide net during market surveillance and oversight."

NASD was also asked to describe the types of enforcement actions it takes, the frequency of such actions and the degree to which the organization's enforcement efforts are overruled by the S.E.C. ...

Others in Congress are also interested in the apparent increase in insider trading. The Senate Judiciary Committee, overseen by Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, until Congress changes hands next year, is expected to hold a hearing on Tuesday on the oversight of insider trading. ...

The request for information from the NASD comes amid an inquiry by Mr. Grassley's staff and the Senate Judiciary Committee into the S.E.C.'s handling of an insider-trading investigation involving Pequot Capital Management, a $7 billion hedge fund run by Arthur J. Samberg. That investigation, which began in 2004, centered on a number of profitable trades Pequot made in advance of mergers or other market-moving news.