Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dems Legislative Opposition To "Surge" Losing Steam

Democratic lawmakers, who earlier this month nearly unanimously backed resolutions condemning President Bush's plans to boost troop levels in Iraq, are struggling to agree on what to do next in their drive to bring the war to an end.

In the Senate, party leaders who faced dissent in their own caucus have decided to postpone consideration of a binding resolution that would set limits on what U.S. forces could do in the conflict.

And in the House, Democrats are wrestling with even deeper divisions as they try to agree on a way to use a supplemental war funding bill to slow the deployment of more troops in Iraq amid accusations by Republicans that the move would deprive troops of the help they need.

At a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, three senior House Democrats — including the chairmen of the Appropriations and Armed Services committees — urged their colleagues to support the funding strategy, the details of which are being worked out. ...

Democratic leaders in the Senate have never been enthusiastic about using congressional authority over funding the military to tie up the deployment. But their strategy of rewriting the resolution that authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq to limit the U.S. mission there also has run into trouble.

Leaders have been circulating a draft by Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the Armed Services Committee chairman. But several senators sounded uncomfortable with language specifying that U.S. troops could engage in some activities, such as counterinsurgency, but not others.

"I think it's very difficult to start changing things after the fact and still avoid micromanaging," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a moderate lawmaker who helped lead efforts to pass a nonbinding resolution opposing the deployment of additional troops.

At the same time, Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), a leading antiwar lawmaker, said the proposal did not go far enough.

"The people of this country did not ask us to reshape the mission in Iraq," he said. "They asked us to end it."

The Democratic disagreements brought smiles to the faces of some Republicans on Tuesday. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who for weeks has been laboring to blunt the Democratic assault on Bush's plan, said: "It seems like they have to have a debate within their own caucus."

Managing Systemic Risk Requires Less Regulation, Says Administration

It was a bit of bad luck that yesterday was the day Robert Steel, the undersecretary of the Treasury for domestic finance, chose to lay out the Bush administration's case that the best protection against a market meltdown -- "systemic risk," as it is politely called in policy circles -- is not more regulation, but allowing markets to discipline themselves.

"Sophisticated financial firms have both the direct financial incentives and expertise to provide for effective market discipline," Steel told regulators and financial industry executives gathered in the Treasury's majestic Cash Room. "We believe that the collective decisions of self-interested and informed counterparties, reviewed by regulators, provide the very best protection against financial risk." Steel's goal was to head off calls for direct regulation of the hedge and private-equity funds that have come to dominate financial markets.

Steel's model is a fetching one. Banks deciding on their own to upgrade their "risk-management systems" to make sure that they do not have too much exposure to any one borrower or asset class or trading strategy. Pension funds and other institutions stepping up their due diligence before making investments, and insisting that hedge and private-equity funds provide them with background checks on fund managers and more timely information about strategies and performance. Funds themselves changing their cowboy trading cultures to embrace rules and procedures and reporting requirements that will prevent anyone from taking on undue or unauthorized risks.

It's a lovely theory, but it doesn't square very well with recent history -- the junk bond craze of the late '80s, the commercial real estate bubble of the early '90s, the Asian financial boom and the tech and telecom bubbles of the late '90s. For it is at times like these, when markets are at their most frothy and in need of discipline, that lenders and investors and the highflying fund managers tend to get the sloppiest.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Ney Staffer Goes Down

The big news here is that the young ex-Ney staffer is co-operating with federal prosecutors. That means the Abramoff scandal is not over yet.

William Heaton, former chief of staff to then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, according to court documents filed yesterday.

Heaton's plea agreement comes just days before the former lawmaker will report to federal prison in West Virginia for corruption charges. Ney is scheduled to enter prison March 1.

According to the plea agreement, Heaton could receive up to five years in jail and a fine of $250,000.

Heaton has become the second member of Ney's staff to be ensnared in the scandal involving imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who bribed Ney and his staff with lavish trips and gifts in return for official favors. Heaton's predecessor, Neil Volz, was sentenced last year for conspiracy charges.

According to court documents, Heaton, who began working for Ney in September 2001 as an executive assistant, rose quickly to the position of chief of staff when his co-conspirator Volz left the position to work for Abramoff in February 2002.

Heaton's involvement in the Abramoff scandal spanned from August 2002 until August 2004, according to the documents.

Over those two years, Heaton accepted numerous favors from Abramoff and other members of his lobbying firm, including a now-infamous all-expense-paid golf trip to Scotland. Heaton was also was one of several recipients of a number of other trips abroad, concert and sporting-event tickets, meals and gambling chips, all taken with full knowledge the gifts were in exchange for official favors from Ney.

During one of those trips, Heaton and another staffer helped Ney conceal $5,000 brought into the country through customs and stored the money in a safe inside Ney’s congressional office. Court documents said Heaton "open[ed] the safe as requested so that Ney could make repeated withdrawals."

Heaton knowingly falsified his 2002 and 2003 financial disclosure forms and assisted Ney in misrepresenting his travel disclosure form about the receipt of gifts from Abramoff and others. ...

The staffers, however, all appear to be cooperating with prosecutors. The sentencing dates or status conferences for each continue to be postponed, a bad sign for other lawmakers or staffers close to the scandal who could become targets of the probe.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Iran-Contra Skullduggery Redux

The Bush Administration's reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today's dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal "lessons learned" discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: "One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office"-a reference to Cheney's role, the former senior intelligence official said. ...

The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

"This goes back to Iran-Contra," a former National Security Council aide told me. "And much of what they’re doing is to keep the agency out of it." He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, "The C.I.A. is asking, 'What's going on?' They're concerned, because they think it's amateur hour."

Former Saudi Ambassador Says U.S. Goals for Oil Independence a Political Myth

The Bush administration's talk of breaking its dependency on foreign oil is a political myth, Saudi Arabia's former envoy to Washington and royal family member said on Sunday.

"It has become very fashionable for (U.S.) politicians to use the word 'energy independence' or 'independence from foreign oil', and that is basically a political canard politicians and technocrats use," Prince Turki al-Faisal told an economic forum.

Energy has been made into "a sensitive and a controversial political issue particularly in countries like the United States," Prince Turki said in his first public appearance after ending a relatively brief mandate in Washington.

"There is no way that people, whether in the United States or in the world, other countries that consume oil, would simply give up using oil in the next few decades at least, if not more than that," he said.

President Bush said in the January 31 State of the Union speech the U.S. was "addicted to oil" and should cut Middle East oil imports by 75 percent by 2025.

Saudi Arabia, which has about a quarter of the world's oil reserves, is one of the top three crude suppliers to the United States.

Dems Reaching Out To Evangelicals

John Kerry struggled to overcome his secular image in 2004, but the current crop of Democratic presidential front-runners is determined not to repeat his mistakes.

One of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's first campaign hires was a top evangelical staffer on Capitol Hill. U.S. News has learned that an aide in Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's office tasked with religious outreach is joining his presidential campaign this week. And former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is framing poverty relief as a moral issue that's helping to drive his campaign. "Two thousand eight could be the first time since Jimmy Carter that the presidential candidate who's really good on faith issues is the Democrat," says Eric Sapp, a Democratic consultant. So the Democratic primaries could see serious competition among candidates for the faith vote.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

McCain Realizes Support For Iraq War Could Be His Political Waterloo

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Friday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sacrificed his career to support the Iraq war, and the Arizona senator acknowledged that he could face the same fate.

McCain, a staunch defender of President Bush's new Iraq troop deployment strategy, said he worries that a cutback of British troops in southern Iraq announced by Blair this week could lead to stronger control by "Iranian-backed Shiite" forces. But he said Blair and the British deserve gratitude for their efforts.

"He has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq," McCain said during an appearance before the World Affairs Council and the City Club of Seattle. "That is a great testament to his political courage."

Asked later by a reporter if he was in danger of making the same sacrifice, McCain responded, "Sure."

Obama Criticizes Cheney On Iraq

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama ridiculed Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday for saying Britain's decision to pull troops from Iraq is a good sign that fits with the strategy for stabilizing the country.

Obama, speaking at a massive outdoor rally in Austin, Texas, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision this week to withdraw 1,600 troops is a recognition that Iraq's problems can't be solved militarily.

"Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.

"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."

Friday, February 23, 2007

2002 War Authorization On The Table Again

Murtha's plan to require certification of individual Army units before sending them to the war zone is being abandoned by Democrats in favor of a repeal of the 2002 Congressional authorization to go to war in Iraq.

Senate Democratic leaders intend to unveil a plan next week to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). ...

Biden and Levin are drafting language to present to their colleagues when the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, following a week-long recess.

The new framework would set a goal for withdrawing combat brigades by March 31, 2008, the same timetable established by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Once the combat phase ends, troops would be restricted to assisting Iraqis with training, border security and counterterrorism. ...

Party leaders in the House are likely to present a proposal for binding legislation to the Democratic caucus next week, according to lawmakers in that chamber. But lawmakers and senior Democratic aides said Murtha's plan would have to be scaled back dramatically, after a week-long Republican assault.

Murtha, chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee and a leading critic of the war, had intended to fully fund Bush's $100 billion war request for the remainder of this fiscal year. But under his plan, those funds could be spent only to deploy combat troops deemed fully rested, trained and equipped.

After nearly four years of combat, most military units would not be able to meet those standards. Although the war would be fully funded, the policy would prevent some of the 21,500 additional combat troops from being deployed, and some troops already in Iraq would have to be sent home.

But that approach may be all but dead, according to several Democratic lawmakers. Murtha doomed his own plan in part by unveiling it on a left-wing Web site, inflaming party moderates. ...

Several Democratic aides say the Iraq funding bill, due for a vote the week of March 12, may contain some of Murtha's demands for more training and better equipment for combat troops. But the proposals that set the toughest requirements are likely to drop out, such as a demand that troops be trained on and deployed with the combat equipment they will use in Iraq.

More important, the legislation may include a waiver that the president or defense secretary could invoke to deploy troops who are not fully combat-ready, Democratic aides said. That way, the commander in chief's hands would not be tied.

But under such a bill the president would have to publicly acknowledge that he is deploying troops with less than a year's rest from combat, that he is extending combat tours of troops in Iraq, or that he is sending units into battle without full training in counterinsurgency or urban warfare, the aides said.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

GOP Beating Dems In Early Fund Raising For 2008

(The first campaign finance reports for the 2007-2008 election cycle) filed to the Federal Election Commission by Tuesday’s deadline and analyzed by senior reporter Greg Giroux, showed that the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised $10.5 million in January, compared to $5.7 million for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The RNC reported $8 million in remaining cash reserves and no debts; the DNC had $6.5 million in cash and $4 million in debts.

Both parties received the vast bulk of their contributions from individuals in increments of less than $200 — donations that do not need to be itemized on the campaign reports. Of the $10.4 million the RNC raised last month from individuals, $2.6 million was itemized and $7.8 million was unitemized. Of the $5.2 million the DNC raised last month from individuals, $1.5 million was itemized and $3.7 million was unitemized.

Feds Sued Over Access To Medical Marijuana

There are two main reasons why marijuana remains illegal.

One is that the enforcement of that criminal law helps to create a large body count of arrests to justify the employment of -- in many places -- an excessive number of law enforcement officers. A national security state needs its gendarmerie.

The second (and perhaps more important) reason is the power of the pharmaceutical industry in the United States. Big pharma cannot profit from marijuana, at least in its most familiar (smokeable) form. Additionally, the industry stands to lose from people treating their over-medicated maladies with grass rather than with prescription drugs.

Frustrated by government policy and inaction, a group of advocates for medical marijuana sued two federal health agencies on Wednesday over the assertion that smoking it has no medical benefit.

The group, Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, filed the lawsuit in Federal District Court, challenging the government's position that marijuana, "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

In its lawsuit, the group contends that federal regulators have publicly issued "false and misleading statements" about the medical benefits of marijuana.

The lawsuit, which named the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, seeks a court order to retract and correct statements that the group called, "incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws."

A lawyer for the medical marijuana group, Joseph Elford, said the lawsuit was filed now because administrative avenues had been exhausted and because of mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

House Republicans Loyalty To Bush May Come Back To Bite in 2008

Three months ago, the unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war led many House Republicans to the closest reelection bids of their careers. Now, most of those with freshly painted targets on their backs have given Democrats an early vote to tie them to Bush and the war.

While Senate Republican defections on the non-binding anti-troop increase resolution last week tilted heavily toward those with tough reelection bids in 2008, the few House GOP crossovers came overwhelmingly from safe incumbents. Nearly all of those who narrowly survived in 2006 voted with Bush, possibly providing future opponents with campaign fodder.

Although many of these vulnerable Republicans expressed skepticism or opposition to the troop increase, they toed the party line and opposed the resolution, apparently in hopes that Democrats will overreach in future showdowns over Iraq, such as de-funding the war effort.

DOJ Statistics on Terrorism Shown To Leave Much To Be Desired

It all depends on the meaning of the word "terrorism."

Most of the Justice Department's major statistics on terrorism cases are highly inaccurate, and federal prosecutors routinely count cases involving drug trafficking, marriage fraud and other unrelated crimes as part of anti-terrorism efforts, according to an audit released yesterday.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that only two of the 26 sets of important statistics on domestic counterterrorism efforts compiled by Justice and the FBI from 2001 to 2005 were accurate, according to a 140-page report. ...

The biggest problems were in numbers compiled by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, which counted hundreds of terrorism cases that did not qualify for the designation because they involved minor crimes with no connection to terrorist activity, the report said. ...

The analysis is the latest to find serious faults with the Justice Department's terrorism statistics, some of which have been featured prominently in statements by President Bush or the attorney general as evidence of the terrorist threat and the department's successful efforts to combat it. ...

Fine's report was careful to stress that the inaccuracies did not appear to have been intentional but instead were the result of shoddy recordkeeping, disagreements over definitions and other problems.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Appeals Court Says Gitmo Detainees Can't Challenge Detention

A divided judicial panel ruled this morning that hundreds of foreign nationals detained for as long as five years at a military prison in Guantanamo Bay do not have rights to challenge their indefinite imprisonment through the U.S. court system.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that Congress's 2006 Military Commissions Act firmly blocked detainees from trying to appeal the president's decision to hold them without charges and without any promise of release.

Many detainees, viewed by the military as potential terrorism suspects or people with valuable information about terrorist plots, have been seeking through pro bono lawyers to challenge their imprisonment using a longstanding American legal right called the writ of habeas corpus.

But the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress at the urging of President Bush last fall, stripped detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of that right. The legislation was drafted after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Bush administration's original rules for trying detainees before military commissions was unconstitutional.

In arguing the case decided today by the appeals court, attorneys for the detainees had said the Military Commissions Act should not apply to challenges already pending before the court.

But, given the new laws passed by Congress, "federal courts have no jurisdiction in these cases," Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the panel.

"Everyone who has followed the interaction between Congress and the Supreme Court knows full well that one of the primary purposes of the [Military Commissions Act] was to overrule" the Supreme Court's decision to give detainees access to federal courts, Randolph wrote. "Everyone, that is, except the detainees."

Lawyers for the detainees said they had expected the panel to rule against them, but were glad to receive the ruling after a two-year delay, so they could appeal it directly to the Supreme Court.

In a lengthy dissent to the ruling, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote that the Military Commissions Act did not square with the Constitution or history, because it would suspend the writ of habeas corpus indefinitely, even when there was no war on U.S. soil.

Cheney's Role In Plame Leak Scrutinized

From another excellent article by Murray Waas:

In the fall of 2003, as a federal criminal probe was just getting underway to determine who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the then-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, sought out Cheney to explain to his boss his side of the story.

The explanation that Libby offered Cheney that day was virtually identical to one that Libby later told the FBI and testified to before a federal grand jury: Libby said he had only passed along to reporters unsubstantiated gossip about Plame that he had heard from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert.

The grand jury concluded that the account was a cover story to conceal the role of Libby and other White House officials in leaking information about Plame to the press, and indicted him on five felony counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice.

At the time that Libby offered his explanation to Cheney, the vice president already had reason to know that Libby's account to him was untrue, according to sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony and evidence in the CIA leak probe, as well as testimony made public during Libby's trial over the past three weeks in federal court.

Yet, according to Libby's own grand jury testimony, which was made public during his trial in federal court, Cheney did nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI and the federal grand jury. Moreover, Cheney encouraged then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly defend Libby, according to other testimony and evidence made public during Libby's trial.

If Libby is found guilty, investigators are likely to probe further to determine if Libby devised what they consider a cover story in an effort to shield Cheney. They want to know whether Cheney might have known about the leaks ahead of time or had even encouraged Libby to provide information to reporters about Plame's CIA status, the same sources said. ...

Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he told Cheney shortly after the CIA leak probe became public that even if he, Libby, had told reporters that Plame worked for the CIA, he was only repeating unsubstantiated gossip that he had heard from NBC's Russert on July 10, 2003. But notes of Libby's entered into evidence during his trial indicate that Libby learned that Plame was a CIA officer from Cheney during a June 12, 2003 telephone conversation, almost a month before Libby spoke with Russert. In addition, a senior aide to Cheney testified during Libby's trial that, after learning herself from a senior CIA official that Plame worked for the CIA, she shared that information with both Cheney and Libby during a meeting she had with both men. And Cheney himself told the special prosecutor that he regularly shared any information he learned about Plame with Libby as well, according to people familiar with Cheney's interview with the special prosecutor.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Senator Bill Clinton?

If Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the presidency, some top Democrats would like to see her husband, former President Bill Clinton, appointed to serve out Hillary's unexpired Senate term.

"As a senator, he'd be a knockout," said Harold Ickes, who was once a top White House aide to Bill Clinton and now gives behind-the-scenes advice to Hillary. "He knows issues, he loves public policy and he’s a good politician."

Some Democrats and political analysts say Bill Clinton would thrive in the world’s greatest deliberative body, much like Lyndon Johnson did before he became president.

"President Clinton would excel in the Senate," said Paul Begala, who helped Bill Clinton get elected and served in the White House as a top aide.

"Why not?" Begala added. "He excelled as attorney general and governor of Arkansas, he excelled as president and he’s been a model of the modern Senate spouse."

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agreed.

"Clinton is a natural for the Senate," Sabato said. "He loves to talk and schmooze. He could be a great vote-organizer. Majority Leader Clinton?"

Such a scenario is not beyond the realm of possibility now that the governor's mansion in New York is occupied by a Democrat, Eliot Spitzer, who succeeded Republican Gov. George Pataki last month. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House, Spitzer would likely appoint a fellow Democrat to take over her Senate seat.

So far, speculation about potential successors has focused on New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose father once held the same Senate seat.

But Spitzer could just as easily appoint Bill Clinton, who, under New York law, would fill his wife's Senate seat through 2010. A special election would then be held, and the winner would serve the final two years of her term, which expires in 2012.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Iraq War Debate Voted Down in Senate

The Senate on Saturday narrowly rejected an effort to force debate on a resolution opposing President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq, but Republican defections emboldened Democrats to promise new attempts to influence the administration’s war policy.

The 56-to-34 vote in a rare Saturday session was the second time Republicans were able to deny opponents of the troop increase a debate on a resolution challenging Mr. Bush, and it came just a day after the House formally opposed his plan to increase the military presence in Iraq.

But the outcome, four votes short of the 60 needed to break a procedural stalemate, suggested that Democrats were slowly drawing support from Senate Republicans for what was shaping up to be a drawn-out fight between the Democrat-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush over his execution of the war.

Seven Republicans split from their party and joined 48 Democrats and one Independent in calling for a debate — five more Republicans than during a similar showdown earlier this month. All but two of the seven face re-election next year.

The Republicans who broke ranks were Senators John W. Warner of Virginia, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine.

"They are trying to divert attention from the issue at hand," Reid said of Republicans yesterday. "They'd like to turn the Senate into a procedural quagmire. They want to hide behind weak and misleading arguments about the Senate's rules or a senator's right to offer amendments. These arguments are diversions."

But Republicans accused Democrats of hiding behind the Senate rulebook to avoid the funding question.

"The reason we're here on a Saturday playing stupid political games while people are off in Iraq trying to win this war is because our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are afraid to take a vote on cutting off funding," blasted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), in a speech before the vote.

Graham is just aping the main gooper talking point here.

Every war-supporting pundit worth his or her salt has urged the Democrats to cut off funding for the war.

They realize that the war is a hopeless cause, and desperately want the Democrats to cut off the appropriations so that they can then be blamed for the loss of the ill-advised and mismanaged Republican war.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cheney's Attempts To Intimidate Congress Led To Some Unintended Consequences

Dick Cheney's attempt to crack down on the leaking of classified material by Congress led -- in a roundabout way -- to Plamegate.

From Murray Waas:

Early on the morning of June 20, 2002, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., received a telephone call at home from a highly agitated Dick Cheney. Graham, who was in the middle of shaving, held a razor in one hand as he took the phone in the other.

The vice president got right to the point: A story in his morning newspaper reported that telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, apparently warned that Al Qaeda was about to launch a major attack against the United States, possibly the next day. But the intercepts were not translated until September 12, 2001, the story said, the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Because someone had leaked the highly classified information from the NSA intercepts, Cheney warned Graham, the Bush administration was considering ending all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence committees on the government's failure to predict and prevent the September 11 attacks. Classified records would no longer be turned over to the Hill, the vice president threatened, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. ...

On that morning in June 2002, Cheney could not have known that his complaints to Graham about the leaking of classified information would help set events in motion that eventually would lead to the prosecution of his own chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as the result of a separate leak investigation. ...

Although no charges were brought in the investigation of the leaked NSA intercepts, the probe helped to pave the way for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate leaks out of the White House and, specifically the Office of the Vice President, in the Plame matter, according to administration, congressional, and law enforcement officials interviewed for this story.

"They [the administration] set the prosecutorial machinery in motion themselves, and the public support for it, before it came back to bite them," said a federal law enforcement official.

Graham, for one, believes that Cheney and Libby's strident demands to investigate leakers in Congress made it all but impossible for the White House to do anything less than cooperate fully with any criminal investigation of the Plame leak. ...

By 7:30 in the morning on that June day in 2002 when Cheney called Graham, the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees met in a secure room in the Capitol. They discussed how to prevent fallout from the administration's threat that they could not be trusted with classified information. Present at the meeting were Graham, Goss, Shelby, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, then the ranking Democrat on the House panel. Senior aides were excluded.

The four lawmakers emerged from their meeting and told their staffs that they had decided to take the unprecedented step of requesting the Justice Department to conduct a criminal inquiry into whether they, any other members of their committees, or their aides were responsible for leaking the NSA intercepts to the media.

A key participant in the events recalled in an interview: "It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic... and by people with bleary eyes."

Another person involved recalled: "There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then -- not that long after September 11 -- was completely different. They took Cheney's threats very seriously."

Graham said, "Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued Al Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us." Graham added: "But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful."

Graham said that Goss shared his concerns. In 2003, according to Graham, he speculated to Goss that the White House had set them up in an effort to sabotage the joint September 11 congressional inquiry. Graham says that Goss responded: "I often wondered that myself."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Congress Getting Down To Business Over Iraq War

It looks like it is going to be today for the House Iraq resolution, and Saturday for the Senate bill.

The issue of Iraq roiled both sides of the Capitol yesterday. The House concluded three days of debate and prepared to vote this afternoon on a nonbinding resolution opposing the deployment of additional troops to Iraq, while affirming Congress's support for "the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq." ...

When the House floated its text, Senate Democratic leaders quickly latched on to it, believing Republicans would find it harder to block because of its relatively brief, straightforward language and strong support of U.S. troops.

"On the one hand they have their president, and on the other hand they have their constituencies," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "They're diametrically opposed to one another. And now they can't duck it anymore."

Also, the extent of the power that Congress holds in determining the conduct of war beyond that of the purse is becoming an issue now that there is oversight being exercised over U.S. actions in Iraq.

As (former Assistant Attorney General Walter) Dellinger suggested, there is little question among most scholars that Congress has ample constitutional authority to shut down the war. "I am not aware of a serious dispute over whether it is constitutional for Congress to defund or otherwise terminate the war in Iraq," said Brad Berenson, who was in the White House counsel's office from 2001 to 2003. "The big debate is over whether it is wise."

Indeed, some Republicans seem to be baiting the Democrats to try to defund the war. John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who became well known for his expansive assertions of presidential authority, co-wrote a piece in the New York Times this week suggesting Congress has all the power it wants to stop the war but is engaging in "bluster" with nonbinding resolutions.

Dellinger said he is baffled by such arguments. "Although it does not become law, how can it possibly be considered meaningless for each house of the Congress to exercise the view in a formal recorded vote that a planned addition to U.S. forces is a mistake?" he said. "I think that the framers of the Constitution would be astonished that a president would proceed to increase U.S. involvement in a foreign war over the expressed objection of both houses of Congress."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dems Question Premise of Key NIE Judgment

This is an example a use of the logical fallacy, the "false dilemma."

In a NIE, at that.

Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have questioned whether the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq gave political advantage to the Bush administration by making "rapid withdrawal" of U.S. troops the only alternative military option the NIE explored.

The estimate judged that rapid withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq would "almost certainly" increase sectarian violence, intensify Sunni resistance, possibly cause the Iraqi Security Forces to dissolve and allow al-Qaeda to seek a sanctuary to plan attacks inside and outside the country. That assessment came just days before the Senate and House prepared to debate nonbinding resolutions opposing increased troop levels in Iraq. ...

At a closed briefing about the NIE on Feb. 7, several committee Democrats asked why the key judgments laid out many adverse results of rapid withdrawal while other military options -- such as the redeployment of forces discussed by the Iraq Study Group or even a buildup of U.S. troops -- were not considered. They were told at the briefing that Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte had requested that the NIE include a discussion of consequences of a coalition withdrawal.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a panel member, wrote Negroponte on Feb. 8: "Setting up a false choice between indefinite military involvement and a rapid, unplanned withdrawal distorts the current debate in Congress and in the country about how best to defend our national security interests in Iraq." He added that such an approach "does, however, closely align with the administration's efforts to justify an unsustainable military involvement as the only option."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the intelligence panel's chairman, said last week that he, too, was concerned because there was no definition for "rapid" and it was unclear why the topic had been included in the estimate. In a July 26, 2006, letter from Rockefeller and others to Negroponte, setting out questions for an NIE, the closest item was listed as: "U.S. Force Posture: In what ways is the large-scale presence of multi-national forces helping or hindering Iraqis' chances of success?"

"Nowhere did anyone ask about sudden withdrawal," Rockefeller said in an interview last week. He said he worried the new NIE "took us back to days we are trying to get away from," when the White House was accused of misusing intelligence.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No Libby or Cheney Testimony On Tap

Nobody, except perhaps the clueless press, expected Scooter Libby to take the stand.

Criminal defense lawyers almost never have guilty clients testify in their own behalf. It can can only make matters worse.

The same principle applies to Cheney. The risk was always too high that an appearance on the stand would expose him to legal jeopardy.

Lawyers defending I. Lewis Libby Jr. against perjury charges surprised the courtroom on Tuesday by saying that they would rest their case this week and do so without putting on the stand either Mr. Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney. ...

The decision means that Mr. Libby’s defense, which will formally end on Wednesday, will have spanned barely three days. Mr. Libby’s chief defense lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., told Judge Reggie B. Walton that Mr. Libby had accepted the defense team’s recommendation to end their presentation swiftly and send the case to the jury by next week.

The decision could be viewed as a sign that Mr. Libby’s lawyers are confident that the prosecution failed to make its case.

Mr. Wells had earlier signaled strongly that he intended to call Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney to testify, which suggests that the defense team recently analyzed the costs and benefits of putting them on the stand and concluded that their testimony would not, on balance, help Mr. Libby.

One likely factor in that calculation is that putting Mr. Libby on the stand would expose him to a cross-examination by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the chief prosecutor, that could be withering. ...

The jury is expected to hear final arguments from both sides beginning next Tuesday.

Although the jury will not hear Mr. Libby in person, during the trial, prosecutors played eight hours of audiotapes in which Mr. Fitzgerald questioned him before the grand jury. The jury heard Mr. Libby giving his version calmly in the first two-thirds of the tapes and then seeming to become uneasy and less confident as Mr. Fitzgerald bore in.

Libby's whole "busy man that can't be expected to remember everything" defense might hold water in a case with different circumstances.

But Libby -- according to the prosecution -- crafted an elaborate fiction, a veritable web of lies, asserting under oath that he heard of Mrs. Wilson's status from Tim Russert.

If the jury buys that magnitude of bullshittery, something is wrong with them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Plamegate Plot Thickens

So, the office of the president -- not just Cheney's office -- was involved in the outing of Mrs. Wilson.

Fleischer received immunity in exchange for his truthful testimony. I wonder how he is feeling today.

A surprise revelation came when Mr. Pincus, who writes about national security and intelligence, disclosed that he was first told on July 12, 2003, about Ms. Wilson by Ari Fleischer, then the White House spokesman, and not Mr. Libby. Mr. Fleischer testified late last month that he learned about Ms. Wilson from Mr. Libby, who passed on the information about her at a lunch on July 7, 2003, in the White House mess.

The problem is that Fleischer testified two weeks ago that he had spoken of the CIA officer's identity to two reporters -- John Dickerson, then of Time magazine, and David Gregory of NBC News -- but didn't mention Pincus.

It would probably be a fruitful line of inquiry if prosecutor Fitzgerald looked into the inconsistency in the former spokesman's account.

Who knows where that might lead. Especially if Fitzgerald now has Fleischer in the barrel.

SEC: Friend Of Corporations

The Securities and Exchange Commission has begun to take steps on two fronts to protect corporations, executives and accounting firms from investor lawsuits that accuse them of fraud.

Last Friday, the commission filed a little-noticed brief in the Supreme Court urging the adoption of a legal standard that would make it harder for shareholders to prevail in fraud lawsuits against publicly traded companies and their executives.

At the same time, the agency's chief accountant told a conference that it was considering ways to protect accounting firms from large damage awards in cases brought by investors and companies.

Critics said that the moves signaled a major retrenchment from the post-Enron changes and showed that a lobbying push by big companies, Wall Street firms and the accounting industry was gaining traction as they seek to roll back what they see as onerous regulation and excessive investor litigation. ...

Institutional investors and some analysts expressed alarm at the developments, noting that the number of shareholder lawsuits was declining significantly. "It is clear from these actions that this is a commission intent on reversing seven decades of rule making, by Democrats and Republicans, that have protected investors and opposed shielding auditors," said Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the commission and the managing director of research at Glass Lewis, an adviser to large shareholders. "This administration and this agency are very pro-business and anti-investor."

Monday, February 12, 2007

House To Take Lead in Iraq Resolution Attempts

With the Senate tied down for the time being in the search for an acceptable Iraq resolution, the House of Representatives now takes center stage on the issue.

Three days of intense debate over the Iraq war begins in the House today, with Democrats planning to propose a narrowly worded rebuke of President Bush's troop buildup and Republicans girding for broad defections on their side. ...

After watching their counterparts in the Senate stall and sputter last week, unable to agree on ground rules for a debate on Iraq, House leaders are forging ahead, determined to send a statement to the White House to condemn a troop buildup.

Democrats will file a nonbinding resolution against the Bush plan while Republicans will try to broaden the dispute and seed doubt in the Democratic approach. Although Senate Republicans were able to block debate on a resolution condemning Bush's war policies last week, it will be much easier for Democrats in the House to bring a measure to the floor. ...

The last time an Iraq resolution came before the House was in June, when the Republicans controlled Congress. After two days of largely partisan debate, the House easily approved a measure declaring that the United States must complete "the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq," without setting "an arbitrary date for the withdrawal" of troops. Forty-two Democrats bucked their leadership to join a virtually united GOP.

But this debate will be different, lawmakers from both parties agree.

Democrats get to draft the resolution, and the war -- already unpopular in June -- is now clearly opposed by most voters. The party is united, even the left wing, which ultimately wants troop withdrawal from Iraq but is content to see the resolution as a first step.

House Republicans say as few as 20 or as many as 60 Republicans could vote with the Democrats, regardless of the wishes of the Republican leadership and the White House. ...

By its nature, the House is quicker to bend to public opinion than the Senate; House members are never more than two years away from an election.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Next Stop, The Supreme Court

Isn't habeas corpus supposed to be a thing of the past?

A federal appeals court in Washington ruled yesterday that a U.S. citizen in U.S. military custody in Iraq has the right to challenge his detention in a federal court.

The judges said all American citizens, regardless of where they are captured and imprisoned, are entitled to federal court review of their cases through habeas corpus petitions if they are in U.S. custody.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a U.S. court should review the circumstances of Shawqi Ahmad Omar's more than two years of incarceration in Iraq. It rejected the Bush administration's claim that the executive branch has nearly unlimited authority during wartime and its assertion that the United States can hold citizens indefinitely if they are in custody overseas.

The court also found that the U.S. military cannot transfer Omar to the Iraqi government to avoid a habeas corpus hearing. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who dissented in part, agreed that the district court has jurisdiction over Omar's habeas case. ...

The ruling applies only to U.S. citizens. It does not delve into whether captured foreign nationals who the government considers enemy combatants -- such as the 393 detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- are entitled to the same protection. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 prevents enemy combatants who are foreign nationals from filing habeas corpus petitions. That law also has been challenged in the courts.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Backdated Options Skullduggery

President Bush's uncle William H.T. "Bucky" Bush was among directors of a defense contractor who together reaped $6 million from what federal regulators say was an illegal five-year scheme by two company executives to manipulate the timing of stock option grants, court documents show.

The youngest brother of former President George H.W. Bush, he is the second Bush family member whose name has surfaced in stock options scandals this month.

He was an outside, nonexecutive director of Engineered Support Systems Inc. of St. Louis, a supplier of military equipment and electronics that financially benefited from the Iraq war. It was acquired last year by another defense contractor and has been under federal investigation on suspicion of options backdating.

In a civil suit filed Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the former chief financial officer and former controller of enriching themselves and others with backdating.

Bush and the other board members were not accused of any wrongdoing.

Bush made about $450,000 in January 2005 by exercising his company stock options and selling shares, his SEC filing shows. When questioned by a Times reporter about the sale at the time, he said he had not pulled any strings in Washington to win Iraq war contracts.

He was not immediately available to comment Thursday, a family spokesman said.

Last week in an unrelated case, Marvin Bush, the current president's youngest brother, was named as a defendant in a suit charging that officers and directors of HCC Insurance Holdings benefited from backdated options.

Marvin Bush, now an advisory director, was a director when some of the backdated options were issued. According to the complaint, Marvin Bush made $2.2 million on the questioned options. The class action was filed in U.S. District Court in Houston on behalf of HCC stockholders.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Sabotaged Iranian Outreach To U.S.?

Prevarication by Rice?

Or skullduggery by Elliott Abrams?

Its one of the two.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pressed yesterday on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity to improve relations with Iran in 2003, when Tehran issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, on matters including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.

Although former administration officials have said the proposal was discussed and ultimately rejected by top U.S. officials, Rice, who was then national security adviser, said she never saw it.

"I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, referring to reports in The Washington Post and other publications last year. "We had people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you,' lots of people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you.' But I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said, 'We're ready to recognize Israel.' . . . I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing."

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) cited a former Rice staff member, Flynt Leverett, who has publicly discussed seeing the proposal when he worked at the White House. ...

Rice's comments add a new level of complexity to an issue that has generated debate among foreign policy experts: Did the Bush administration forgo a chance to pursue a dialogue with Iran shortly after the fall of Baghdad, when U.S. power seemed at its height?

The Iranian document, conveyed to Washington via the Swiss Embassy, listed a series of Iranian aims for potential talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests," according to a copy that has circulated in Washington and was verified by Iranian and U.S. officials.

In the document, Iran offered to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, including possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of road maps on disarmament, countering terrorism and economic cooperation. ...

Leverett said yesterday that he became aware of the two-page offer, which came over a fax machine at the State Department, in his waning days in the U.S. government as a senior director at the National Security Council, but that it was not his responsibility to put it on Rice's desk because Rice had placed Elliott Abrams in charge of Middle East policy. "If he did not put it on her desk, that says volumes about how she handled the issue," he said yesterday.

Abrams is currently the deputy national security adviser in charge of the Middle East and democracy promotion. An NSC spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Abrams, said yesterday that Abrams "has no memory of any such fax and never saw or heard of any such thing." ...

Leverett said the Iranian offer is "embarrassing and politically difficult" for the administration now that it has rejected calls for a dialogue from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, has confronted Iranian agents in Iraq and has expanded military assets in the Persian Gulf.

Leverett charged in December that the White House orchestrated an effort by the CIA to demand significant deletions in an opinion article he had written on Iran policy on the grounds that the material was classified. "The single biggest recision" concerned his description of the Iran's 2003 offer, he said yesterday.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No Resolution To Iraq Resolution Talks

President Bush has supposedly bucked up Senate Republicans to block any resolutions against the "surge."

He is relying heavily on expert practitioners of the legislative arts, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell offered the day's biggest concession, proposing to shelve a resolution written by McCain that would establish tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government without opposing the additional U.S. troops.

But Republicans continued to demand that the two remaining resolutions -- one written by Warner and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), and a pro-Bush proposal from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) -- meet a 60-vote threshold to pass.

Republicans are advocating the Gregg resolution because they know, as do Democrats, that only it could garner 60 votes. Gregg's proposal would recognize the power of the president to deploy troops as well as the "responsibility" of Congress to fund them.

Democrats regard the measure as a political stunt but are loath to go on the record opposing it, for fear of giving the impression that they would harm troops in the field. They also recognize that a vote in favor of Gregg would amount to a tacit endorsement of Bush's troop plan.

With the following talking point, McCain and others indicate that they think that U.S. troops are stupid enough to conflate the political goal of extricating the United States from a military fiasco with a lack of support for, or confidence in, the troops themselves:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Democrats disingenuous for declaring support for U.S. troops while denouncing their commander in chief's strategy. Troops serving in Iraq "won't buy it," McCain said. "A vote of no confidence is a vote of no confidence."

Even McCain must realize that he is spouting bullshit.

Some Democrats, however, fear being tarred with just that brush:

There was the Democratic desire to avoid getting tied up on any vote that could be perceived as undercutting United States troops or endorsing Mr. Bush's plan. At the same time, a surprising number of Republicans showed they were not yet ready to abandon the president even though many blame him for their November election losses and worry he will hurt them again next year. Then there were the presidential ambitions of several senators who are trying to distinguish themselves from others on the issue, and have little incentive to seek common ground.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders scheduled a war debate to begin next Tuesday, culminating with a vote aimed at repudiating Bush's plan.

House Democrats had intended to work with the resolution offered by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), which Senate Democrats have rallied behind. Instead, after assessing the morass on the other side of the Capitol, they are now considering a more narrow statement of objection to Bush's proposal.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

GOP Senators Stalling Iraq Resolutions

The goopers won't be able to stall indefinitely. Reality has a way of catching up to everyone eventually, even Senate Republicans.

A long-awaited Senate showdown on the war in Iraq was shut down before it even started yesterday, when nearly all Republicans voted to stop the Senate from considering a resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional combat troops into battle.

A day of posturing, finger-pointing and backroom wrangling came to nothing when Democratic and Republican leaders could not reach agreement on which nonbinding resolutions would be debated and allowed to come to a vote. The Senate's 49 to 47 vote last night to proceed to debate on Bush's new war policy fell 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break the logjam. Just two Republicans, Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Susan Collins (Maine), voted with the Democrats to proceed with the debate. Both are considered among the most vulnerable senators standing for reelection in 2008. ...

(Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid) and (Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) were expected to resume negotiations today after conferring with lawmakers. With the tremendous national interest and media buildup to this week's confrontation, it would be extraordinary if the two sides did not reach an agreement on ground rules. But regardless of the outcome of the talks, Congress is certain to be consumed with Iraq in the months ahead.

A huge budget bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year comes before the Senate tomorrow, and Reid promised war amendments to that debate. Bush has requested $245 billion in funding for the war, to cover this year and next year, and that legislation is certain to become a magnet for Iraq concerns. ...

At issue are four separate measures. The main resolution, worked out by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), would put the Senate on record as opposing the additional troop deployment while calling for a diplomatic initiative to settle the conflict. It would oppose a cutoff of funds for troops in the field of battle.

The Republican leadership's alternative, drafted by John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), would establish tough new benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve but would not oppose the planned deployment.

Two other versions appear at the heart of the impasse. The first, drafted by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), would staunchly back the White House and the president's decision to boost troop strength in Iraq. It recognizes the power of the president to deploy troops and the "responsibility" of Congress to fund them -- before stating that "Congress should not take any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds."

The other proposed resolution, hastily written by Democrats, would simply oppose Bush's plan and insist that all troops are properly protected with body armor and other material. ...

The Democratic leadership gave Republicans a choice: Allow all four versions to come to a vote, with a simple majority needed for passing any of them, or debate and vote on the Warner and McCain resolutions, with both needing 60 votes to pass.

McConnell wanted all four resolutions to meet a 60-vote threshold, for a simple reason: Both Democrats and Republicans think the only measure that could attract 60 votes is Gregg's, because Democrats would be concerned about the political ramifications of appearing to take action that might harm troops in battle.

"If Republicans cannot swallow the thin soup of the Warner resolution, how are they going to stomach a real debate on Iraq?" asked Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).

Monday, February 05, 2007

Waxman Hearings on Iraq Contracting To Begin This Week

House Government Reform and Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman gets down to business this week:

Executives from government contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, including KBR and Compass of the UK, face a rocky ride in Washington this week as Henry Waxman, the congressman, begins hearings on allegations of "waste, fraud and abuse".

The hearings, which begin on Tuesday, are expected to mark the beginning of a new phase in which contracting practices are subject to tougher oversight.

Mr Waxman chairs the chief investigative committee in the House of Representatives. He has been a dogged critic of the Bush administration’s handling of billions of dollars of US taxpayers’ money in Iraq re­construction contracts.

The committee has called on the chief executives of Blackwater, a security contractor, KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, and Compass, food services group, among others, to answer questions. ...

Mr Waxman is likely to focus his line of inquiry on allegations that Halliburton wrongly entered into a subcontracting arrangement with ESS, a division of Compass that ran a dining facility in Iraq, which in turn used Blackwater to provide it with security services.

Halliburton controls a $16bn contract in Iraq, known as Logcap, which provides logistical support to US troops.

Under provisions of the contract, Halliburton can only rely on US military – not private security companies such as Blackwater – to provide armed protection.

In response to questions from Congress, the Department of Defense in July said that KBR had "no knowledge" of Blackwater having been hired by any of its ­subcontractors.

But in a memo Mr Waxman subsequently received from Compass, the company admitted that ESS had used Blackwater and that the US security group had been deployed by other subcontractors.

The Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) is a contract under which Halliburton has essentially become the military's quartermaster for deployed troops.

Mr. Waxman might find fruitful grounds for inquiry as to how the LOGCAP contract was awarded.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

CIA Withholding IG Report on 9/11

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA may be headed for a new confrontation over an old issue: why an internal report documenting the agency's failures in the run up to the September 11 terror attacks is still being withheld from the public.

The report, prepared by the CIA's inspector general, is the only major 9/11 government review that has still not been made publicly available.

When it was completed in August 2005, NEWSWEEK and other publications reported that it contained sharp criticisms of former CIA director George Tenet and other top agency officials for failing to address the threat posed by Al Qaeda, as well as other mistakes that might have prevented the attacks.

In a letter sent just this week, three panel members—including Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller and ranking Republican Christopher Bond—revived the issue and asked that an executive summary of the report be declassified "without delay" and released to the public. ...

"I'm going to bulldog this until it gets out," Wyden told NEWSWEEK. "The bottom line is that this is an extraordinary important perspective on one of the defining events of the country's history. I do not believe there is a national-security case for keeping this under wraps."

Wyden added that if McConnell doesn't reverse the decision made by Negroponte in refusing to declassify the report, he intends to use admittedly cumbersome intel-committee procedures to try to force the release of at least some of the inspector general's findings. One concern, he said, is that "a desire for political security" is influencing the Bush administration's refusal to greenlight the release of the document.

While Bush administration officials are hardly eager for a public rehash of the 9/11 intelligence failures, the issue is an especially sensitive one at CIA headquarters.

The inspector general's report is believed to have documented multiple faults by the agency's leadership during both the Bush and Clinton years, painting a picture of an intelligence community (which was then overseen by Tenet) that never fully mobilized to deal with the Al Qaeda threat—in part because it was embroiled in internal conflicts and bureaucratic battles, according to current and former officials familiar with the document who asked not to be identified because it involves still-classified information.

Among the matters covered in the report, the officials said, was the CIA's alleged failure to develop a strategic plan to go after Al Qaeda as well as the failure to resolve disputes about sharing National Security Agency intercepts of Al Qaeda leaders with other government agencies—another potentially sensitive matter because the NSA chief at the time is now CIA Director Michael Hayden.

In addition, the report provides the CIA's own internal account of what some believe was the most spectacular of the pre-9/11 failures: the agency's failure to alert the FBI and other U.S. government agencies to information showing that two of the hijackers had entered the United States as early as January 2000.

What's really behind the intelligence community's refusal to release the report, the senators suspect, is a desire to protect the reputations of some of the main figures. Indeed, the committee staff late last year prepared its own redacted version of the inspector-general report's findings, stripping out anything it viewed as relating to "sources and methods" or other national-security secrets. The panel then sent over a copy of its version of the report to Negroponte in hopes of getting it cleared for public release.

But Negroponte refused, insisting in a Nov. 13, 2006, letter that the committee's version still contained sensitive national-security secrets. But the senators point out that he also gave another reason for refusing to clear the panel's version: it would publicly identify current and former agency officials, some of them high profile, who had been faulted by the inspector general.

That remark especially bothered the senators. The fact that publication of even the redacted version would publicly identify officials who were being criticized "does not appear to be a valid basis for classification under current laws and executive orders," the senators wrote in their letter, a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Grim Climate Change Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which was presented yesterday is quite grim indeed.

Declaring that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal," the authors said in their "Summary for Policymakers" that even in the best-case scenario, temperatures are on track to cross a threshold to an unsustainable level. A rise of more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels would cause global effects -- such as massive species extinctions and melting of ice sheets -- that could be irreversible within a human lifetime. Under the most conservative IPCC scenario, the increase will be 4.5 degrees by 2100. ...

While the summary did not produce any groundbreaking observations -- it reflects a massive distillation of the peer-reviewed literature through the middle of 2006 -- it represents the definitive international scientific and political consensus on climate science. It provides much more definitive conclusions than the panel's previous report in 2001, which said only that it was "likely" -- meaning between 66 and 90 percent probability on a scale the panel adopted -- that human activity accounted for the warming recorded over the past 50 years.

Many energy and environment experts see such a doubling, or worse, as a foregone conclusion after 2050 unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the 20th-century pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, the main sources of carbon dioxide, and an aggressive expansion of nonpolluting sources of energy.

And the report says there is a more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a risk that many experts say is far too high to ignore. ...

The panel said there was no solid scientific understanding of how rapidly the vast stores of ice in polar regions will melt, so their estimates on new sea levels were based mainly on how much the warmed oceans will expand, and not on contributions from the melting of ice now on land.

Other scientists have recently reported evidence that the glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic could flow seaward far more quickly than estimated in the past, and they have proposed that the risks to coastal areas could be much more imminent. But the climate change panel is forbidden by its charter to enter into speculation, and so could not include such possible instabilities in its assessment.

Friday, February 02, 2007

AEI Offers Opportunities For Global Warming Deniers

Today's release of the UN IPCC report is sure to bring unwanted attention to the global warming issue. So some of the hydrocarbon producers are fighting back.

Using one of Washington's leading conservative think tanks.

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Social Security "Reform" Hopes Still Alive

Republican moneyed types view self-directed (or "privatized") Social Security accounts as opening vistas of opportunity to separate novice investors of their lucre.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson conceded on Friday that chances were slim for agreeing on a way to reform Social Security financing but said he would keep trying to find bipartisan support for it. ...

The U.S. Treasury chief has been meeting Democrats privately on Capitol Hill to try to find grounds for agreement on a method for reforming Social Security before the retirement system comes under severe pressure as more "baby boomers" retire.

Democrats, however, are suspicious that the Bush administration wants to revive its proposal to make private accounts part of Social Security as it unsuccessfully sought to do in 2005.

Paulson's comments on Friday implied he did not think the chances were high for finding a bipartisan solution.

"If we don't, I still see it as a win-win situation because it's my job to block for the President as we move the ball downfield and, to me, if we move it 10 or 20, or 30 yards it's going to be a positive," said Paulson, using football terminology that reached back to his own varsity playing days.

"Maybe we'll score a touchdown. Maybe we'll bring people together," he said. "But if we don't, we want to get the ball in scoring position for the next president."

McCain Introduces Resolution To Support "Surge"

If some Senators are still searching for a palatable resolution on the "surge", there is a new offering today.

The shape of the Senate debate over President Bush's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq came into clearer focus Thursday as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and two other senators introduced a resolution to support the buildup.

After weeks of back-and-forth negotiations over resolutions, it appears likely the Senate debate over the 4-year-old war will pit McCain's resolution of "full support" against one introduced by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) that "disagrees" with the president's proposal.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Conyers To Probe "Signing Statements"

The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, said yesterday that he is launching an aggressive investigation into whether the Bush administration has violated any of the laws it claimed a right to ignore in presidential "signing statements."

Bush has claimed that his executive powers allow him to bypass more than 1,100 laws enacted since he took office. But administration officials insist that Bush's signing statements merely question the laws' constitutionality, and do not necessarily mean that the president also authorized his subordinates to violate them.

Conyers said the president has no power "to ignore duly enacted laws he has negotiated with Congress and signed." And he vowed to find out whether the administration has followed each law it challenged -- including laws touching on classified national security matters, such as the tactics used to interrogate suspected terrorists and the FBI's use of the Patriot Act.

"This is a constitutional issue that no self-respecting federal legislature should tolerate," Conyers said, and he added that the committee was determined to "get to the bottom of this matter, and to be blunt, we are not going to take no for an answer."

The Michigan Democrat made his remarks at the committee's first oversight hearing since Democrats took control of Congress, which Conyers devoted to signing statements. He called the hearing a kickoff to his plans to use the coming session to probe the administration's "growing abuse of power."

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are beefing up their staff by hiring a special "oversight and investigative unit" of about six attorneys to lead the panel's probes of the administration.

Democrats Cave On "Surge" Resolution (Shocker!)

Maybe someone should tell the Democrats that they are now the majority party on the Hill.

Maybe during their years in the wilderness they have grown to like the taste of GOP ass.

Democratic and Republican opponents of President Bush's troop-buildup plan joined forces last night behind the nonbinding resolution with the broadest bipartisan backing: a Republican measure from Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia. ...

Although the original Democratic language was popular within the party, it had little appeal among Republicans. Warner's proposal drew support from both sides, and it was retooled last night to maximize both Democratic and Republican votes.

The revised resolution would express the Senate's opposition to the troop increase but would vow to protect funding for the troops. The resolution does not include the Democratic language saying the Bush plan is against the national interest, but it also drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops. ...

Not all Republicans are expected to sign on, however. Some believe that the buildup is a worthy cause that should be given a chance. "The critics stop short of offering any constructive alternatives," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). "All they have done is just criticize." Cornyn was assembling his own proposal that endorses Bush's strategy, while calling on the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for security throughout the country by November.