Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bush White House "Misled the Public" on Global Warming

Global warming deniers are often the same kind of people who try to tell the public that there is scientific debate about evolution, too.

As a United Nations panel readied an update on global warming this week, charges erupted in Congress on Tuesday over alleged White House political manipulation of scientific climate-change research.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a hearing that evidence indicated Bush administration officials had tried to "mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming."

Two advocacy groups released a survey to the panel in which a number of government climate scientists said either that their research had been edited to change the meaning or that they were told to delete references to "global warming" or "climate change" from reports. ...

The alleged political manipulation of global warming research marked Waxman's first inquiry since he took over as head of one of Congress' premier investigative panels.

Waxman reported that he and the ranking Republican on the panel, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, had unsuccessfully sought documents from the White House on climate-change policy.

He said this effort was based on published reports last year that a Bush aide, Phil Cooney, a former lobbyist for the oil industry who at the time headed the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, had "imposed his own views on the reports scientists had submitted to the White House." Waxman called it an "orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Big States Moving Toward Early Primaries

From E.J. Dionne:

Fearing that California will bigfoot its way into dominance by moving its primary to Feb. 5, 2008, Illinois, Florida and New Jersey are maneuvering to do exactly the same thing. Thus would this diverse group of states give its voters a say just two weeks after the New Hampshire primary, three weeks after the Iowa caucuses, and also close to the contests in Nevada and South Carolina, which the Democrats have moved up in their order of battle. ...

What should surprise us is that the big states did not move years ago to enhance their role in picking the nominees.

California was once a giant in the process. In the 1964 Republican primary, Barry Goldwater narrowly defeated Nelson Rockefeller and set the GOP on the rightward course it has pursued since. In 1972, California Democrats voted for George McGovern over Hubert Humphrey, confirming the importance of the antiwar forces in the party. Since then, California's influence has been exercised largely by the people who can afford the fundraising parties at mansions in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Moreover, the bulk of the states talking about moving their primaries forward promise to enhance the influence of two groups largely left out of the current process: the voters in big cities and the vast group of suburban and exurban citizens so decisive to the outcomes of general elections. ...

It's time the polyglot cities and the great exurban tracts gain a voice commensurate with their importance to the nation.

And it's time that our candidates get tested early by broader electorates. Was it really good for the country that South Carolina's Republicans put an effective end to the battle between George W. Bush and John McCain so early in 2000, on Feb. 19 to be exact? Was it helpful that the Democratic battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley that same year effectively ended after New Hampshire voted on Feb. 1, or that John Kerry wasn't tested harder in more places after his Jan. 27, 2004, victory there?

The revolt of the big states may not slow the process and might even enhance the importance of the outcomes in Iowa, New Hampshire and the two other early states. But by forcing themselves forward, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida (and who knows who else?) will definitely let many more voters, and many more kinds of voters, in on an important choice. The legislatures in those states should ignore the complaints and let their people join the action.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Anti-"Surge" Resolutions Imperiled, Say Goopers

Passage of the non-binding Senate resolutions against the "surge" may not be the sure thing they looked to be at the end of last week.

The Senate's top Republican doubts that a resolution opposing a troop buildup in Iraq will pass, saying most lawmakers in his party believe "this is the last chance for the Iraqis to step up."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he believes Republicans might be willing to coalesce around an alternative resolution setting benchmark goals for the Iraqi government. But congressional support will probably splinter given the many competing proposals on Iraq, he said.

"I'm not certain any" will get the necessary votes, McConnell said.

Odd. Today, Robert Novak is saying the same thing:

The Democratic plan was for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden to sit down over the weekend with his longtime Republican colleague, Sen. John Warner, and hammer out a consensus bipartisan resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq. But Warner, who has been making backroom deals for 28 years in the Senate, informed Biden late last Thursday: no deal.

Warner wrote that the "will of the Senate" should be determined in "open" session, not closeted negotiations. That killed the Democratic leadership's dream of passing a Biden-crafted anti-surge resolution by 70 votes or more. Such a proposal now cannot get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster (and could fall short of the 50 senators needed for a simple majority). Conceivably, no resolution may be passed by the Senate.

Russert, Judith Miller To Appear This Week At Libby Trial

This is the week the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial meets the press.

High-profile journalists such as NBC's Tim Russert and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller are scheduled to be called as witnesses as soon as this week, as the perjury and obstruction trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff heads into its second week of testimony.

Libby's chief lawyer lays it on rather thick with this one:

In court last week, defense attorney Theodore Wells said Russert may have learned Plame's identity from two NBC colleagues before his conversation with Libby. Russert's colleagues, David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell, were working on the Plame story and may have told a forgetful Russert, Wells said.

"Tim Russert is a great reporter, but he's a human being," Wells said.

"Tim Russert can be confused and make an innocent mistake just like anyone else. The sole issue is: Is somebody telling an intentional lie?"

Wells said Libby talked to 10 reporters in the month before Plame's name became public and only brought her name up once, with Miller. The reporters, including The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, can verify that Libby was not "pushing the (Plame) story," Wells said.

It is unclear which reporters will be called by Wells.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rove and Bartlett May Have To Testify at Libby Trial

From Michael Isikoff in Newsweek:

White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials—including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett-may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby's defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby's lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a "scapegoat" to protect Rove. Cheney is expected to provide the most crucial testimony to back up Wells's assertion, one of the lawyers close to the case said. ...

An equally embarrassing conflict could emerge next week when former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer takes the stand. Fleischer has been one of the most mysterious figures in the case, making virtually no public comments about it since he left the White House in July 2003. In the past he has insisted he wasn't even represented by a lawyer. But it emerged during court arguments this week that Fleischer originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges to avoid testifying and then only agreed to do so after he was given an immunity deal by Fitzgerald -- an arrangement that normally requires extensive bargaining among attorneys. Fleischer's testimony is critical to Fitzgerald's case: as the prosecutor laid out this week in his opening statement, Fleischer has said that Libby told him over a White House lunch on July 7, 2003, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and made a point of describing this information as "hush and hush." Fitzgerald used that account to undercut Libby's grand-jury assertion that he was surprised and "taken aback" just three or four days later when, he claims, Russert told him about Wilson's wife. "You can’t learn something startling on Thursday that you're giving out Monday and Tuesday of the same week," Fitzgerald said. Fleischer has also testified that Bartlett also later told him about Wilson's wife and, after hearing it from both Libby and Bartlett, the then-White House press secretary disclosed the information to NBC reporter David Gregory.

On its face, Fleischer's account seems to contradict the repeated public assertions of his immediate successor, Scott McClellan, in October 2003 that nobody at the White House was in any way involved in the leak of Plame's identity. It also potentially puts Bartlett, one of the president's senior and most trusted advisers, on the hot seat. If Bartlett backs up Fleischer, it suggests he himself played a role in passing along radioactive information that triggered a criminal investigation that has plagued the White House for more than four years. If he contradicts Fleischer, it raises questions about the credibility of a man who was President Bush's chief spokesman for the first two and a half years of his presidency. His lawyer declined to comment on what Bartlett will say.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

White House Goal: "Stabilize Republicans"

Declaring "I'm the decision maker," President Bush yesterday challenged congressional efforts to formally condemn his Iraq plan, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned that a proposed Senate resolution criticizing the deployment of additional troops would embolden the enemy. ...

Yesterday's administration comments were part of a White House campaign to try to keep Republican lawmakers from signing on to any resolution that criticizes the president's new strategy in Iraq. By keeping down the number of Republican defections, the administration hopes to make any vote appear highly partisan and to buy Bush's new plan more time.

With Bush's leverage on Capitol Hill at a low, the White House appears to be relying heavily on GOP leaders to orchestrate the opposition to two resolutions condemning the troop buildup, according to lawmakers, lobbyists and administration officials. White House lobbyists and senior officials at the National Security Council are continuing to meet with lawmakers, but a number of senators said they did not perceive the lobbying as particularly aggressive. The strategy, as they described it, is to muddy the waters with a number of competing resolutions that could siphon support from a strong message of disapproval for the president's plan. ...

Administration officials say they realize their position on the Hill is precarious. Many Republicans blame the war in Iraq for their electoral debacle last November, and if the situation does not improve soon, the administration will be faced with massive defections within the GOP -- not only on nonbinding resolutions but perhaps also on bills that limit the president's ability to prosecute the war. ...

"No one is under any illusion that we are going to win over many Democrats or turn around the country. What we need to do is stabilize Republicans," said one senior White House official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

More Government Legal Follies Over NSA Cases

Isn't this special?

Justice Department lawyers are withholding evidence from plaintiffs and even restricting the access of judges to documents in cases involving Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize the warrantless interception of e-mail and phone calls. In one suit, Justice Department lawyers tried to seize computers from the plaintiffs’ lawyers to remove a document central to their case against the government.

In response to these and other serious concerns, the Justice Department offered only the most twisted excuses, which a federal judge rightly compared to "Alice in Wonderland."

When government lawyers tried to take back a document that has circulated around the world, the judge asked a Justice Department lawyer, "Who is it secret from?" The answer: "Anyone who has not seen it."

Friday, January 26, 2007

U.S. Wants Case Against Warrantless Eavesdropping Dismissed

Everyone just knew this was coming.

A lawsuit challenging the legality of the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program should be thrown out because the government is now conducting the wiretaps under the authority of a secret intelligence court, according to court papers filed by the Justice Department yesterday.

In a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, Justice Department lawyers said the lawsuit of the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs -- which received a favorable ruling from a federal judge in Detroit -- should be considered moot because the case "no longer has any live significance." ...

The government contends that the new arrangement essentially invalidates an August ruling in the ACLU case by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, who declared the surveillance program unconstitutional and ordered it halted. The government appealed to the 6th Circuit court. It wants Taylor's ruling vacated and the lawsuit dismissed. ...

But Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director, said that argument is "not plausible." She added that previous court rulings made it clear that the government cannot escape a legal judgment merely by voluntarily halting its illegal activity.

"The FISA court didn't reach out on its own to do something; the government asked it to do something," Beeson said. "And absent a ruling, they are free to return to their illegal conduct again."

The new lines of argument in the ACLU case come less than a week before a hearing scheduled for next Wednesday in Cincinnati where both sides are set to offer oral arguments.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Nonbinding Resolution Against "Surge"

A Senate committee approved a toughly worded resolution Wednesday to oppose a troop buildup in Iraq, moving Congress a step closer to an official repudiation of President Bush's leadership of the increasingly violent 4-year-old war. ...

With that resolution headed to the Senate floor for debate as soon as next week, momentum continued to build Wednesday behind a second, more bipartisan resolution opposing the Bush Iraq plan.

Both resolutions are nonbinding and stop well short of the limits Congress has put on spending to scale back other unpopular military operations, including the Vietnam War. But they mark a sharp departure from the largely deferential posture the Republican-led Congress assumed after Bush sought and won approval for the Iraq invasion in 2002. ...

The foreign relations panel's resolution, passed 12 to 9, is sponsored by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.). ...

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and longtime Iraq war opponent, chided his Republican colleagues for their hesitation.

"The Congress has stood in the shadows … for four years," he said. "I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? ... If you want a safe job, go sell shoes."

Democratic divisions were also on display, with the most ardent antiwar voices pleading for more dramatic action. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) tried to amend the nonbinding resolution with firm legislative language capping troop levels in Iraq at January levels, around 137,500.

"This is not a time for legislative nuancing," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). "This is not a time for trying to forge a compromise that everybody can be a part of. This is a time to stop the needless deaths of American troops in Iraq."

But the Dodd amendment was defeated, 15 to 6, with five Democrats joining all Republicans in opposition.

The committee's partisan vote strengthened the hand of Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and a bipartisan group of senators backing a less forceful resolution of opposition.

Warner and his co-sponsors, Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), went to the Senate floor last night to introduce their resolution of opposition, brandishing a raft of new co-sponsors, including Democrats Ken Salazar (Colo.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.), as well as Republicans Gordon Smith (Ore.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.).

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Hagel said negotiations with Warner would begin immediately to try to find common ground on a resolution that would attract far more Republican support.

But they said that whatever language is sent to the floor will have to include the policy prescriptions that are in both resolutions: a statement against further deployments; a call for U.S. troops to be re-deployed to guard Iraq's borders, focus on counterterrorism and speeding up the training of Iraqi troops; and a call for diplomatic efforts to engage Iraq's neighbors in the pursuit of a political settlement to the war.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Libby a "Scapegoat" Says Defense

Libby's well-connected defense fund is getting its money's worth by deflecting blame from the Office of the Vice President.

I. Lewis Libby Jr., the vice president's former chief of staff, was made a scapegoat by White House officials to protect the president's longtime political adviser, Karl Rove, Mr. Libby's lawyer asserted in his opening statement on Tuesday. ...

The statement by the lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., was the first indication that Mr. Libby, who is facing five felony counts of lying to investigators, would seek to deflect some of the blame onto his former White House colleagues. ...

Until Tuesday, Mr. Libby's defense on perjury and obstruction of justice charges was that he might simply have remembered incorrectly events he had described to a grand jury and to F.B.I. agents. But Mr. Wells told the jury that White House officials, whom he did not name, wanted to protect Mr. Rove because they believed his survival as President Bush's chief political adviser was crucial to the health of the Republican Party.

Mr. Wells said that his client was innocent and that a decision was made that "Scooter Libby was to be sacrificed," referring to Mr. Libby by his nickname. It was important to keep Mr. Rove out of trouble, Mr. Wells said, because he was Mr. Bush's right-hand man and "was most responsible for seeing the Republican Party stayed in office." ...

If Mr. Libby and his lawyers press their strategy of blaming the White House, it could prove risky, possibly even jeopardizing chances of a presidential pardon for Mr. Libby if he is convicted.

Libby, Wells said, told Cheney he feared "people in the White House are trying to set me up." Wells then showed the jury the text of a note Cheney had jotted that said: "Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."

Wells said: "That one person was Karl Rove. He was viewed as a political genius. . . . He had to be protected. The person who was to be sacrificed was Scooter Libby." According to Wells, the vice president tried to persuade White House colleagues to publicly clear Libby's name as the source of the leak.

Dick Cheney's fingerprints are all over the smear campaign against Ms. Plame.

His modus operandi has always involved behind-the-scenes attacks on enemies and other similar skullduggery.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Posada Pleads Not Guilty

Here is an update on anti-Castro figure Luis Posada Carriles, whom the last time we looked was the beneficiary of the disposal of crucial FBI and CIA files that had been in the custody of federal investigators in South Florida.

An anti-Fidel Castro militant accused of bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976 pleaded not guilty on Monday to U.S. immigration charges, the latest round in a long fight by the U.S. government to keep him in jail.

Luis Posada Carriles, 78, who says he has renounced violence in the fight against Castro and only wants to join his family in Miami, Florida, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Norbert Garney in El Paso shackled at his wrists and feet.

The shackles were removed for him to enter a not-guilty plea to a seven-count indictment issued early this month alleging he lied to U.S. immigration officials about illegally entering the United States in March 2005. He has been detained since May 2005.

If convicted on all charges, he could be sentenced to 40 years in prison.

The charges are the latest effort to hold Posada without declaring him a terrorist. Cuba and Venezuela have demanded Posada's extradition in the Cubana Airlines bombing that killed 73 people, including teenage members of Cuba's national fencing team returning from a tournament in Venezuela.

His case has been embarrassing for the U.S. government, which is engaged in a war on terror, because Posada was once in the pay of the CIA. Politically powerful Cuban-Americans see Posada as a hero but others say he is a terrorist.

The U.S. government has refused to send him to Cuba or Venezuela on grounds he might be tortured or killed but also has declined to admit him. The United States has been unable to find another country willing to accept him.

Monday, January 22, 2007

House Democrats Book Big Name For Conference

Carrot Top must have another gig scheduled for that day.

President Bush has accepted an invitation from House Democrats to travel to Williamsburg, Va., in February to speak at their annual issues conference, a move that might have been unthinkable a few short months ago, when Republicans ran Capitol Hill. ...

His planned appearance this year, on Feb. 3, was announced by Representative Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, in an e-mail message to colleagues on Friday.

"I'm happy to announce that President Bush has accepted our invitation to address the conference on Saturday morning," Mr. Emanuel wrote, adding that former President Bill Clinton would also be there.

Mr. Bush's appearance is testimony to the changed climate on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have just pushed six major pieces of legislation through the House, on issues including student loans, Medicare prescription drugs and stem cell research, with some Republican support. A White House spokeswoman said Mr. Bush would deliver a speech to the Democrats and take five questions.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Striving For Moderation

We now hear from the reasonable, moderate, pragmatic, responsible centrists. (Isn't that how we go into this mess?)

Senator John W. Warner of Virginia is drafting a proposal on Iraq policy with two Senate centrists in an effort to provide an outlet for lawmakers uneasy with President Bush's troop buildup but unwilling to back a toughly worded resolution opposing the new strategy.

Aides said Friday that Mr. Warner, a Republican who just stepped down as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was working with Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, to draw up a Senate resolution they will unveil Monday as an alternative to another bipartisan plan that flatly opposes troop increases in Iraq.

That measure, by Senators Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, both Democrats, is scheduled to be considered by the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. ...

The flurry of Iraq resolutions, coming from the political left, right and middle, raised the prospect of muddling the outcome of what Democratic leaders had hoped to keep a simple yes-or-no vote on Mr. Bush’s plan. ...

In short order this week, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut introduced a plan to cap troop levels in Iraq; Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York offered a similar proposal; and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said he would present legislation as early as next week. All stopped shy of a proposal offered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would block spending for any troop increase, an idea favored by the staunchest opponents of the war.

Supreme Court To Hear Challenge To McCain-Feingold Law

A staple of modern conservative politics is that campaign finance laws are a violation of Americans' First Amendment rights.

They have been itching to get the McCain Feingold campaign finance law overturned.

This may be their chance.

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to revisit the landmark 2002 legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws, moving to settle the role of campaign spending by corporations, unions and special interest groups in time for the 2008 presidential primaries.

It would be the first time the court has reviewed the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 since justices ruled 5 to 4 three years ago that the act was constitutional. Since then, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was in the majority, has been replaced by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

At issue in the case is the question of whether so-called issue advocacy ads paid for by the general funds of special interest groups and broadcast in the period before a federal election may mention specific candidates. A three-judge panel in Washington last month overturned that prohibition, which is one of the key provisions of the law known formally as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. ...

The justices moved quickly to take the case, which they will hear in April, in time for a ruling by the end of the court's summer term. It will make for unusual political pairings.

The Republican National Committee has been one of the strongest critics of the law, although McCain is one of his party's leading presidential contenders and a party to the appeal of the lower court's decision. The Bush administration is defending the Federal Election Commission against the Wisconsin antiabortion group, which has been a strong supporter of the president.

And Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) is not only one of the sponsors of the law but also the subject of the ads in question.

The 2004 radio ads put out by Wisconsin Right to Life said that a group of senators in Washington was keeping Bush's judicial nominees from getting a vote in the Senate and asked listeners to tell Feingold and the state's other senator, Herb Kohl (D), not to participate. "Contact Sens. Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster," the announcer said.

But because Feingold was up for reelection, the FEC said that the group could not run the ads in the closing weeks of the election.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Administration Digs Deeper Hole Over NSA CATCH ALL Program

The CATCH ALL sleight-of-hand continues:

A day after announcing that it had scrubbed a controversial warrantless surveillance program, the Bush administration refused to provide details to Congress of how a new court-review process for terror-related wiretaps would work, triggering a fresh round of complaints and suspicions from Democrats about what the administration was doing.

At the same time, President Bush and other administration officials indicated that little had changed in the electronic eavesdropping program, originally launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, other than the fact that a court had finally blessed it. ...

Bush said the approval vindicated his position that he was justified in launching the surveillance. "Nothing has changed in the program except the court has said we've analyzed it and it's a legitimate way to protect the country," Bush said in an interview with Tribune Broadcasting.

Pressed during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the administration had changed the legal justification for the surveillance program but not the essential elements of the operation.

Disputing the suggestion that the warrantless program, run by the National Security Agency, had been "terminated," Gonzales said, "It took us a period of time to develop what we thought would be an acceptable legal argument that would be acceptable to the FISA court."

When asked to explain the legal argument, Gonzales refused. "I don't want to get into a public discussion about the deliberations and work of the court," he said. ...

Government officials familiar with the matter said the Bush administration's negotiations with the FISA court accelerated after Democrats won control of Congress in November.

The officials also said the negotiations centered on securing an agreement that would allow the administration to seek warrants on groups of people in certain circumstances, rather than being required to obtain separate court orders for every individual under suspicion.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this was the "innovative" new interpretation that Justice officials had described when briefing reporters on the new guidelines.

Senate Ethics Bill Preserves Some Prerogatives

Last night the Senate Democrats managed to compromise with the GOP on the ethics reform bill, promising the Republicans that their provision allowing the president to have line-item veto budgetary authority could be inserted into an upcoming bill.

(Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid offered) Republicans a chance next week to add the spending control measure to a bill to raise the minimum wage if they can find the votes. That broke the logjam, and the Senate then began debating several amendments to the bill, with an eye toward completing work late last night.

The bipartisan vote masked furious backroom lobbying on a measure too popular to kill in public. One provision that was stricken from the bill last night would have forced interest groups to disclose funds spent on grass-roots campaigns that implore the public to contact their representatives about legislation.

That provision -- to force the disclosure of pseudo-grass-roots campaigns -- had raised the ire of an odd coalition that included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Traditional Values Coalition, the American Conservative Union and the National Right to Life Committee, which worked hard to strip it out or even block the whole bill. ...

In (a) defeat for watchdog groups, the Senate overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to create an independent ethics counsel to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Senate. The 71 to 27 vote was the second time that Congress has rejected the proposal in recent years. ...

Lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, also talked to lawmakers about excluding from the measure's travel ban trips to Israel sponsored by the group's nonprofit foundation affiliate. The legislation, as written, would allow those trips to continue.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bipartisan Resolution Makes Iraq Recommendations

We can imagine how a challenge to the "unitary executive" theory -- especially when it comes to a president's conduct of a war -- will work out.

The Senate set the stage on Wednesday for a direct clash with President Bush over the war, with two senior Democrats and a prominent Republican introducing a symbolic measure to declare that the administration's plan to send additional troops to Iraq runs counter to the national interest.

The resolution, proposed by Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, both Democrats, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican, would not be binding, and the White House said it would have no effect on Mr. Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

The Senate resolution minces no words, declaring that "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq." But it goes well beyond a simple statement of opposition. Drawing heavily from the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, it calls for an acceleration of the training of Iraqi forces and the use of U.S. troops to secure Iraq's borders to prevent meddling by its neighbors.

It requests an "appropriately expedited timeline" for the transfer of internal security duties to the Iraqi government, and it urges the administration to "engage nations in the Middle East to develop a regional, internationally-sponsored peace and reconciliation process."

The measure will come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after Tuesday's State of the Union address and is likely to be reported out for action in the full Senate the following week. A few lawmakers, as well as antiwar activists, have decried the resolution as toothless, but its sponsors said yesterday that a strong bipartisan vote would have a resounding impact.

"The single most important thing to do is generate a consensus here in the United States Congress," Biden said. "I cannot believe that the president of the United States would not pay heed to a bipartisan resolution" from the Senate.

It depends on your definition of "pay heed", I guess.

Lobbying Reform Frustrated

Republicans are actually claiming that this move is in the furtherance of ethics reform.

Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.

The bill could be brought back up later this year. Indeed, Democrats will try one last time today to break the impasse. But its unexpected collapse last night infuriated Democrats and the government watchdog groups that had been pushing it since the lobbying scandals that rocked the last Congress. Proponents charged that Republicans had used the spending-control measure as a ruse to thwart ethics rules they dared not defeat in a straight vote. ...

The bill matched the rule changes approved earlier this month in the House, banning meals, trips and gifts from lobbyists. But it went beyond those internal alterations to effect legal changes that would have reached far beyond Capitol Hill. Democrats pushed amendments that would have forced lobbyists to publicly divulge the small campaign contributions they collect from clients and "bundle" into large contributions. Lavish gatherings thrown by lobbyists and corporate interests at party conventions would have been banned.

And interest groups would have had to reveal the money they spend on campaigns to rally voters for or against legislation, a provision that had raised the ire of conservative activists such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform as well as the National Right to Life Committee.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

. . . Priceless

You just can't make this stuff up:

Bush was also asked by Lehrer why he was not willing to ask more Americans to sacrifice something, given the importance he has attached to the struggle in Iraq.

"I think a lot of people are in this fight," Bush replied. "I mean, they -- they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is -- it is somewhat down because of this war."

On the instability in Iraq, Bush said:

"I don't quite view it as the broken egg; I view it as the cracked egg... that -- where we still have a chance to move beyond the broken egg."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

State of the Union Speech Coming Up

A week from tonight, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address.

During the nationally televised address, he will be flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sitting like symbolic bookends of the political divide over the war and other issues.

"Probably the most interesting part of the speech is going to be the tone," said presidential speech expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who directs the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Pelosi is going to be signaling the Democrats by when she applauds and when she doesn't, and Cheney is going to be signaling the Republicans," she said. "In parts where Bush seems more accommodating than Cheney might like, what are Cheney's nonverbal cues going to say to the public?"

Nonverbal cues are nothing. When the speechifying president presses his luck on the war, a chorus of boos from the House chamber will speak louder than words.

Early 2008 Senate Race Picture

Rumor has it that some of the electronic voting systems used in the 2006 midterms were tweaked -- but not robustly enough to prevent the Democrats from capturing the House and Senate.

It is early still, but it looks like any skullduggerous practitioners of vote fraud will have their work cut out for them next time.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) will not seek a third term in the Senate, a decision that creates a ripe pickup opportunity for Democrats in the 2008 election. ...

Allard is the first senator to announce he will not seek reelection next year, when Republicans must defend 21 seats and Democrats only 12.

Other Republicans mentioned as possible retirees in 2008 include Thad Cochran (Miss.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) and John W. Warner (Va.). Tim Johnson (S.D.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.) are considered the most likely Democrats to retire.

Right Item, Right Time, Right Place, Right Price, Every Time

The U.S. military has sold forbidden equipment at least a half-dozen times to middlemen for countries — including Iran and China — who exploited security flaws in the Defense Department's surplus auctions. The sales include fighter jet parts and missile components.

In one case, federal investigators said, the contraband made it to Iran, a country President Bush branded part of an "axis of evil."

In that instance, a Pakistani arms broker convicted of exporting U.S. missile parts to Iran resumed business after his release from prison. He purchased Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a U.S. company that had bought them in a Pentagon surplus sale. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, speaking on condition of anonymity, say those parts made it to Iran.

"Right Item, Right Time, Right Place, Right Price, Every Time. Best Value Solutions for America's Warfighters," the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service says on its Web site, calling itself "the place to obtain original U.S. Government surplus property." ...

On a visit to a Defense Department surplus site about five years ago, defense consultant Randall Sweeney literally stumbled upon some items that clearly shouldn't have been up for sale.

"I was walking through a pile of supposedly de-milled electrical items and found a heat-seeking missile warhead intact," Sweeney said, declining to identify the surplus location for security reasons. "I carried it over and showed them. I said, 'This shouldn't be in here.'"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Reconstruction Plan Looking Unworkable

Doubts are arising among members of the U.S. mission in Baghdad as to the feasibility of an augmented reconstruction effort by Americans in Iraq.

While the plan does call for the creation of about a dozen new reconstruction teams around Iraq, most of the new personnel will be added to existing teams, the plan indicates. While 400 may sound like a small number compared with the plan to increase the number of troops by more than 20,000, the existing 10 reconstruction teams have, at most, a total of about 100 civilian specialists, and recruiting that many has been difficult, officials say.

Whether it is wise to increase the staffing of the teams by a factor of five is likely to be questioned by existing team members, the American official said.

That is because extremely restrictive security regulations have made it difficult for the specialists already on the provincial reconstruction teams, often called P.R.T.'s, to leave their bases and work with Iraqis, the official said, adding that the cumbersome rules must be followed even in relatively safe areas in the northern and central parts of Iraq. "Across the board they have to follow the same security rules," the official said. "So the P.R.T.'s that could be successful still can’t get out in the field."

In addition, because oversight agencies have previously reported that the existing teams have had trouble equipping themselves with items as essential as pencils and other office supplies, a fresh wave of officials could find it more difficult than expected to begin their work for reasons other than security.

The teams also have been criticized for relying heavily on uniformed personnel whose skills are poorly matched with specialized needs in the field. That concern has repeatedly come up because the State Department has had great difficulty persuading civilian officials to accept jobs at the dangerous, isolated and uncomfortable bases in the Iraqi provinces.

The document does not explain how so many additional government officials with the specialized skills called for will be recruited when the State Department has found it so difficult to bring a much smaller number to Iraq in the past.

So it looks like the major part of the economic leg of our new counterinsurgency "strategy" has been put forward because it sounds good in Washington -- but is in practice unworkable.

Like so much of the war up to this point.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Army Intelligence Guidelines -- FISA Optional

Steven Aftergood of the the Federation of American Scientists has noticed something interesting.

Deep into an updated Army manual, the deletion of 10 words has left some national security experts wondering whether government lawyers are again asserting the executive branch's right to wiretap Americans without a court warrant.

The manual, described by the Army as a "major revision" to intelligence-gathering guidelines, addresses policies and procedures for wiretapping Americans, among other issues.

The original guidelines, from 1984, said the Army could seek to wiretap people inside the United States on an emergency basis by going to the secret court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, or by obtaining certification from the attorney general "issued under the authority of section 102(a) of the Act."

That last phrase is missing from the latest manual, which says simply that the Army can seek emergency wiretapping authority pursuant to an order issued by the FISA court "or upon attorney general authorization." It makes no mention of the attorney general doing so under FISA.

DOD Official Tries To Bully Guantanamo Lawyers

This guy is a lawyer himself. Pretty shameful performance.

Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in a radio interview last week that companies might want to consider taking their business to other firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Legal experts and advocacy groups viewed his remarks as an attempt to intimidate law firms that provide legal help to all people, even unpopular defendants. ...

Stimson told Federal News Radio, a Washington commercial station that covers the government, that he found it "shocking" that lawyers at many of the nation's top law firms represent detainees.

He listed the names of more than a dozen major firms that he suggested should be boycotted.

"And I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms," Stimson said.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bush-Enabler Lieberman Strikes Again

The Republican voters of Connecticut are already seeing practical rewards for coming through en masse for the "Independent Democrat" in last fall's midterm election.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush's new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. ...

(T)he decision by Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to back away from the committee's Katrina probe is already dismaying public-interest groups and others who hoped the Democratic victory in November would lead to more aggressive investigations of one of the White House’s most spectacular foul-ups.

Last year, when he was running for re-election in Connecticut, Lieberman was a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of Katrina. He was especially dismayed by its failure to turn over key records that could have shed light on internal White House deliberations about the hurricane, including those involving President Bush.

Asserting that there were "too many important questions that cannot be answered," Lieberman and other committee Democrats complained in a statement last year that the panel "did not receive information or documents showing what actually was going on in the White House."

Among the missing material: the record of a videoconference in the White House Situation Room in which former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown said he warned senior officials about the dire situation in New Orleans, but was greeted with “deafening silence.” Also missing: records believed to include messages and conversations involving the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and their top aides during the days in late August and early September 2005 when the Katrina disaster was unfolding and thousands of city residents were flocking to overcrowded shelters and hanging onto rooftops awaiting rescue.

But now that he chairs the homeland panel—and is in a position to subpoena the records—Lieberman has decided not to pursue the material, according to Leslie Phillips, the senator’s chief committee spokeswoman. "The senator now intends to focus his attention on the future security of the American people and other matters and does not expect to revisit the White House’s role in Katrina," she told NEWSWEEK.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Senate Efforts To Counter Bush's "Surge"

From The Hill:

As Senate Democrats worked to coalesce behind a resolution rejecting President Bush's plan to bring 21,000 more troops to Iraq ... one of the caucus' most influential centrists called for redeployment and expressed interest in Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) bid to seek congressional approval for the coming "surge."

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Finance Committee chairman who has lent his political capital to Bush's tax cuts and Medicare drug benefit, yesterday said the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was a mistake and denounced the White House plan to escalate the U.S. presence there. Baucus, whose nephew was killed in combat last year, said after an unusually personal floor speech that he would examine the Kennedy bill.

"I'm very interested in it," Baucus said of the Kennedy proposal, which would force Bush to win approval for any new deployments from the Democratic Congress. "It raises potential constitutional questions, the degree to which Congress can determine individual troop strength ... but on the other hand, I understand it has been used in the past."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring a nonbinding resolution to the floor next week disavowing the Bush troop increase, gunning for votes among Republicans already dubious of any new commitment to the chaotic situation in Iraq. But Kennedy continued to pick up cosponsors yesterday, adding Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Kennedy predicted his bill would reach the floor in "a matter of days" after the leadership resolution. ...

Whatever path Democrats take to unified opposition to the president's surge will get a political boost from the several of the same domestic policy groups and labor unions that helped bring down the White House Social Security plan in 2005. A new anti-escalation coalition will be unveiled today and accompanied by paid advertising in the coming weeks, according to Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the effort.

Libby Trial Begins Next Week

Mark your calendars, folks. The Lewis Libby "Plamegate" perjury trial is set to begin next Tuesday.

The perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, may provide ammunition for Democrats looking to attack the White House for its conduct in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Libby, 56, is charged with perjury and obstruction for lying to a grand jury probing the leak of a CIA agent's name. He faces as many as 30 years in prison if convicted. The trial starts on Jan. 16 in Washington.

Defense lawyers say they'll call Cheney as a witness to bolster claims Libby was too busy with security matters to accurately remember events. His testifying is risky for both men. What Cheney recalls may undermine Libby's too-busy defense while exposing the vice president to probes by Congress of how the Bush administration promoted the war, legal experts said. ...

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride declined to say whether a subpoena has been received. "We have cooperated fully with the investigation and will continue to do so," McBride said.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Some Republicans Getting Worried About "Surge" Plan

These Republicans should relax, Bush announced the "surge" as part of a trap for the Democrats.

George W. Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq has members of his own party scared that the strategy could fail and cause voters to turn on Republicans in 2008 in a replay of the midterm elections.

Bush, outlining his troop buildup in a prime-time address last night, said a beefed-up U.S. force will restore order to a chaotic Baghdad and provide incentives for Iraq's government to step up home-grown security measures.

Publicly, most Republican leaders have closed ranks around the commander-in-chief, asserting the troop infusion is a short-term step that deserves a chance to work. Yet some Republicans who have rallied around the White House in the past are now distancing themselves from the buildup.

"A troop surge would put more American troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem," Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a speech yesterday.

"I oppose the troop surge in Baghdad because it is not a strategy for victory," said Coleman, who faces a potentially tough re-election in 2008.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who is exploring a run for the Republican presidential nomination, has also broken ranks. "I do not believe sending more troops to Iraq is the answer," Brownback said yesterday in a statement. "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."

Republican Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico, an Air Force veteran, also voiced doubts after Bush's speech. "I'm skeptical that this strategy will work," she said in a telephone interview. ...

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith is another buildup opponent. "We've done surges before, and they've gotten us nowhere," he said in an interview this week. "I'm skeptical about another unless there's some redefinition of victory that I haven't heard yet." Republican Smith also faces re-election in 2008.

Senator Smith -- after your recent public doubts about the legality of the war -- do you expect that the White House is willing to share the logic behind their Rovian plots with you?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Surge" Plan Appears Directed At Democrats

Unless I miss my guess, the 11,000 troops now, and 11,000 troops in a few months plan that President Bush is rumored to be announcing tonight is designed in part to goad congressional Democrats into placing restrictions on the White House's ability to conduct the war as it sees fit.

Analysts are nearly universally skeptical about the military efficacy of the administration's "surge" concept. The White House knows this. They are using the questionable plan for a "surge" to draw out the enemy -- the Democrats -- so that they can be blamed for the loss of the war in Iraq.

Domestic politics is often the driver of international affairs, and seems to be so in this case.

President Bush gravely warned House Democrats yesterday that America's credibility would be shattered if the United States pulled its troops from Iraq, forcing close ally Saudi Arabia to look elsewhere for protection and potentially destabilizing Egypt, the region's most populous country, according to participants in the meeting. ...

Bush did not say during the half-hour meeting with Democrats where else he thought Saudi Arabia would seek "protection," but he made it clear that he was simply informing Democrats of his decisions on Iraq, not consulting with them. He said that he understands the challenges and thinks his plan has the best chance of success. ...

The House Democrats included Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.), intelligence committee Chairman Sylvestre Reyes (Tex.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (Calif.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (Mich.), Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) and Rep. Robert E. Andrews (N.J.).

Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten attended the meeting. Tauscher said that Cheney emphasized his concerns about Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

DOD Report On Feith's OSP Skullduggery Due Soon

An internal Pentagon review of offices under former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is expected to be completed within the next few weeks, an official close to the investigation said.

Senate Democrats are awaiting the Defense Department's report, which is being conducted by the Inspector General, to buttress their efforts to revive probes into the Bush administration's use of pre-Iraq war intelligence. Some former U.S. officials have alleged that Feith's Office of Special Plans oversold links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda in the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Democrats have also sought to examine allegations that members of Feith's office had gone outside legal channels in conducting intelligence operations in Europe and Middle East. Lawrence Franklin, a Middle East expert who worked for Feith, pleaded guilty in 2005 to illegally provided intelligence to members of AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group, as well as to an Israeli diplomat.

Fred Fielding To Be New WH Counsel

With the good chance that the White House will be facing serious inquiries into administration malfeasance, Bush has selected a longtime Washington legal type to guide him through perilous waters.

President Bush has selected Fred F. Fielding to be his White House counsel, recruiting a seasoned Washington veteran to represent the president with Democratic congressional investigators and reprise the job he held under Ronald Reagan, sources close to the process said yesterday.

The White House plans to announce the appointment today, just days after longtime Bush loyalist Harriet Miers was eased out as the president's top lawyer in preparation for the anticipated struggle with a new Democratic Congress eager to investigate the administration. ...

Fielding served as deputy to White House counsel John W. Dean III under President Richard M. Nixon and was the first to tell Dean about the Watergate break-in. Yet Fielding was one of the few to emerge untainted by Watergate. In fact, he was suspected, wrongly, of being "Deep Throat," the inside source who helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the scandal.

Fielding served as White House counsel for Reagan from 1981 to 1986, handling a spate of conflict-of-interest situations and telling Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig he was wrong to assert that he had command authority when the president was shot. Fielding was Bush's transition counsel after the 2000 election, vetting the backgrounds of new administration officials. And he served as a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ...

(Richard Ben-Veniste, a Watergate prosecutor who served with Fielding on the Sept. 11 commission) said Fielding sometimes played intermediary with the White House in conflicts over the release of information to the commission. "At times, Fred was somewhat dismayed by the positions taken by White House counsel and other agencies," Ben-Veniste said. "But by the same token, he was someone with whom the White House was in frequent contact."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dems Worry About Timing Of Bush's Pitch

The Democrats seem to fear that their "100 hours" showcase will be upstaged this week by President Bush's winning issue.

Democratic leaders who had hoped to emphasize their domestic agenda in the opening weeks of Congress have concluded that Iraq will share top billing, and they plan on aggressively confronting administration officials this week in a series of hearings. ...

Democrats had hoped that the headlines and evening news would be dominated by votes in Congress to bolster homeland security, raise the minimum wage, fund stem cell research and grant the federal government authority to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare. Each of those measures will be taken up on sequential days this week, a bill-a-day approach designed to capture headlines and show the nation that Democrats can get things done.

But with Bush's long-awaited policy address tentatively set for midweek, those much-touted bills are not likely to lead the news, and the Democratic leaders have been forced to change their tactics.

"The challenge for them is this: Iraq is the central issue. It's an enormous problem for the president and the Republicans, but it has the suffocating effect of taking attention away from the Democrats' domestic legislative priorities, and I think they understand that," said Joe Lockhart, a White House press secretary in the Clinton administration.

Needless to say, the slow motion unraveling of the Republicans over Iraq is a much larger determinant of the future success of the Democratic Party than the "100 hours" legislation.

Why The Rich Usually Vote Republican

What a shocker!

Families earning more than $1 million a year saw their federal tax rates drop more sharply than any group in the country as a result of President Bush's tax cuts, according to a new Congressional study.

The study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, also shows that tax rates for middle-income earners edged up in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available, while rates for people at the very top continued to decline.

Based on an exhaustive analysis of tax records and census data, the study reinforced the sense that while Mr. Bush's tax cuts reduced rates for people at every income level, they offered the biggest benefits by far to people at the very top — especially the top 1 percent of income earners. ...

Economists and tax analysts have long known that the biggest dollar value of Mr. Bush's tax cuts goes to people at the very top income levels. One reason is that two of his signature measures, tax cuts on investment income and a steady reduction of estate taxes, overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest households. ...

The report shows that a comparatively small number of very wealthy households account for a very big share of total tax payments, and their share increased in the first four years after Mr. Bush’s tax cuts.

The top 1 percent of income earners paid about 36.7 percent of federal income taxes and 25.3 percent of all federal taxes in 2004. The top 20 percent of income earners paid 67.1 percent of all federal taxes, up from 66.1 percent in 2000, according to the budget office.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Economic Action To Be Part Of Iraq Package

Counterinsurgency can only be successful when an appropriate formula of political, economic and military action is put into operation as part of a coherent strategy.

The package that is going to be presented with the administration's troop surge idea -- despite a new focus on economic action -- completely fails in the area of political action, i.e. putting forward a program which will defuse violence by rallying the population towards a peaceful future.

During its two-month interagency review, the Bush administration has struggled the most to come up with proposals to jump-start the stalled political process in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats. The fate of the revised strategy will be determined as much by new movement on Iraq's combustible political front as by success on the battlefield, administration officials said. ...

The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

To ensure participation of Sunni moderates, the Bush administration is pressing the Maliki government to take three other major steps: Amend the constitution to address Sunni concerns, pass a law on the distribution of Iraq's oil revenue and change the ruling that forbids the participation of former Baath Party officials.

The three major economic options on the table would revive dormant state-owned industries, launch a micro-finance program to give small loans to generate new businesses and expand a U.S. Agency for International Development stabilization program.

A fourth option would add major funds to a short-term work program to hire Iraqis to clean up trash or do repairs after U.S. and Iraqi troops secure neighborhoods. This Pentagon-run program is a way to lure unemployed men who had joined militias back into the mainstream economy, at least briefly, with the U.S. intention that Iraq would eventually spend its own money to create permanent jobs.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

White House Visitors List Skullduggery

The White House gets the Secret Service to play along with their shenanigans.

The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed an agreement in the midst of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors to the White House are not open to the public.

Not until the fall did the Bush administration reveal the existence of the memorandum of understanding that was signed last spring. The White House is using it to deal with a legal problem on a separate front, a ruling by a federal judge ordering the production of Secret Service logs identifying visitors to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

In a federal appeals court filing three weeks ago, the administration's lawyers used the memo in a legal argument aimed at overturning the judge's ruling. The Washington Post is suing for access to the Secret Service logs.

The five-page document dated May 17 declares that all entry and exit data on White House visitors belongs to the White House as presidential records rather than to the Secret Service as agency records. Therefore, the agreement states, the material is not subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the past, Secret Service logs have revealed the comings and goings of various White House visitors, including Monica Lewinsky and Clinton campaign donor Denise Rich, the wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who received a pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton administration.

The memo last spring was signed by the White House and Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for Abramoff.

The chief counsel to another Washington-based group suing to get Secret Service logs calls the memo "a political maneuver couched as a legal one."

"It appears the White House is actually manufacturing evidence to further its own agenda," Anne Weismann, a Justice Department lawyer for 19 years and now chief counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Friday.

Friday, January 05, 2007

You Can't Put One Over On Biden

Gosh Joe, do ya think?

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will "be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof," in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam. ...

Biden gave the comments in an interview as he outlined an ambitious agenda for the committee, including holding four weeks of hearings focused on every aspect of U.S. policy in Iraq. The hearings will call top political, economic and intelligence experts; foreign diplomats; and former and current senior U.S. officials to examine the situation in Iraq and possible plans for dealing with it.

It's not too difficult to see that Biden is playing his cards in a way to try to preserve any viability he thinks he may have [laughable if you think about it] to run for president in 2008.

Whereas cutting off funds is a "hollow threat," Biden said in an interview this week, a congressional resolution could have a powerful effect if it drew support from the significant number of Republican senators who are increasingly alienated from Bush's policies. Biden, who expects to offer his proposal at a meeting of Democratic senators today, argued that an anti-surge resolution might not bind the president but would exert considerable pressure on him to reconsider his approach.

More intriguing, Biden is studying whether Congress might reconsider the original Iraq war resolution, now as out of date as the administration's prewar claims. The resolution includes references to a "significant chemical and biological weapons capability" that Iraq didn't have and repeated condemnations of "the current Iraqi regime," i.e., the Saddam Hussein regime that fell long ago. In effect, the resolution authorizes a war on an enemy who no longer exists and for purposes that are no longer relevant.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Rehnquist Confirmation Skullduggery

It is interesting how John Bolton shows up in the strangest places.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist's Senate confirmation battles in 1971 and 1986 were more intense and political than previously known, according to a newly released FBI file that also offers dramatic new details about Rehnquist's 1981 hospitalization and dependence on a painkiller.

The FBI file on Rehnquist, released last week under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that in 1971, as Rehnquist's confirmation hearings for associate justice approached, the Nixon Justice Department asked the FBI to run a criminal background check on at least two potential witnesses who were expected to testify against Rehnquist. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved the request.

In July 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice, the Justice Department asked the FBI to interview witnesses who were preparing to testify that Rehnquist had intimidated minority voters as a Republican Party official in Arizona in the early 1960s. According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department "should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats' witnesses." But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton — who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations — signed off on the request and said he would "accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI." It is unclear whether the FBI ever interviewed the witnesses.

Also in 1986, the FBI conducted an intensive investigation into Rehnquist's dependence on Placidyl, a strong painkiller that he had taken since the early 1970s for insomnia and back pain. Rehnquist's bout with drug dependence had been made public in 1981, when he was hospitalized for his back pain and suffered withdrawal symptoms when he stopped taking the drug.

The FBI's 1986 report on Rehnquist’s drug dependence was not released at the time of his confirmation, though some Democratic senators wanted it made public. But it is in Rehnquist's now-public file, and it contains new details about his behavior during his weeklong hospital stay in December 1981. One physician whose name is blocked out told the FBI that Rehnquist expressed "bizarre ideas and outrageous thoughts. He imagined, for example, that there was a CIA plot against him."

The doctor said Rehnquist "had also gone to the lobby in his pajamas in order to try to escape." The doctor said Rehnquist's delirium was consistent with him suddenly stopping his apparent daily dose of 1400 milligrams of the drug — nearly three times higher than the 500-milligram maximum recommended by physicians. The doctor said, "Any physician who prescribed it was practicing very bad medicine, bordering on malpractice."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ellison To Use Jefferson's Koran In Ceremony

Much hay has been made by Republican activists over Minnesota's newly elected congressman Keith Ellison choosing to use a Koran in a symbolic swearing-in ceremony following the actual oath in which members simply raise their hand and vow to obey the Constitution.

Ellison has found a symbolic way to deride those who object to freedom of religion.

Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.

Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Way To Go, Rudy!

This kind of thing is just plain embarrassing.

It's clearly laid out in 140 pages of printed text, handwriting and spreadsheets: The top-secret plan for Rudy Giuliani's bid for the White House.

The remarkably detailed dossier sets out the budgets, schedules and fund-raising plans that will underpin the former New York mayor's presidential campaign - as well as his aides' worries that personal and political baggage could scuttle his run.

At the center of his efforts: a massive fund-raising push to bring in at least $100 million this year, with a scramble for at least $25 million in the next three months alone.

The loss of the battle plan is a remarkable breach in the high-stakes game of presidential politics and a potentially disastrous blunder for Giuliani in the early stages of his campaign.

The document was obtained by the Daily News from a source sympathetic to one of Giuliani's rivals for the White House. The source said it was left behind in one of the cities Giuliani visited as he campaigned for dozens of Republican candidates in the weeks leading up to the November 2006 elections.

Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel suggested there were political dirty tricks behind the loss of the documents and called the timing suspicious.

"I wonder why such suspicious activity is occurring and can only guess it is because of Rudy's poll numbers in New Hampshire and Iowa," Mindel said.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Fool Me Once ...

GOP lawmakers are increasingly skeptical about Bush's troop "surge." With cause.

Republican lawmakers appear uneasy about -- and in some cases outright dismissive of -- the idea of sending many more troops to Iraq, as President Bush contemplates such a "surge" as part of his new strategy for stabilizing the country.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a leading GOP presidential contender for 2008, has been aggressively promoting a plan to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, and the idea has been gaining traction at the White House as a way to improve security in Baghdad.

But the proposition generates far less enthusiasm among rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom must face the voters again in 2008, presenting a potential obstacle for Bush as he hones the plan, according to lawmakers, aides and congressional analysts. ...

"Republicans are scared to death of it politically," said Ed Rogers, a top GOP lobbyist with ties to the White House and Republican leaders on the Hill. "The fear is that it won't make any difference. There won't be a perception of turning the corner."

Columnist Robert Novak goes with the same story today:

Sen. John McCain, leading a blue-ribbon congressional delegation to Baghdad before Christmas, collected evidence that a "surge" of more U.S. troops is needed in Iraq. But not all of his colleagues who accompanied him were convinced. What's more, he will find himself among a dwindling minority in the Senate Republican caucus when Congress reconvenes this week. ...

I checked with prominent Republicans around the country and found them confused and disturbed about the surge. They incorrectly assumed that the presence of Republican stalwart James Baker as co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group meant it was Bush-inspired (when it really was a bipartisan creation of Congress). Why, they ask, is the president casting aside the commission's recommendations and calling for more troops?

Even in Mississippi, where Bush's approval rating has just inched above 50 percent, Republicans see no public support for more troops. What is happening inside the president's party is reflected by defection from support for his war policy after November's election by two Republican senators who face an uphill race for re-election in 2008: Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Coleman announced his opposition to more troops after returning from a trip to Iraq before McCain's.

The Republicans can use the talk about a "surge" in their favor. Absent the usual Rovian public tarring of war doubters as "anti-American" or "un-patriotic" -- which worked wonders on Democrats the last few years -- the chances now of congressional support for further White House Iraq blunders is low.

If the new congress stands in the way of the administration's desire to send more troops into the Mesopotamian morass, the Democrats can be blamed for "losing" the Iraq war.