Tuesday, July 31, 2007

GOP Targeting California's 'Winner Takes All' Electoral College Vote Law

A prominent Republican lawyer wants to put a proposal on the California ballot next year that could shake up the 2008 presidential contest, a change Democrats say would rig the election.

California awards its cache of 55 electoral votes to the statewide winner in presidential elections -- the largest single prize in the nation. But under the proposal, the statewide winner would get only two electoral votes.

The rest would be distributed to the winning candidate in each of the state's congressional districts. In effect, that would create 53 races, each with one electoral vote up for grabs.

The left-leaning state has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections. But the change -- if it qualifies for one of two primary ballots next year and is approved by voters -- would mean that a Republican would be positioned the following November to snatch 20 or more electoral votes in GOP-leaning districts.

That's a number equal to winning Ohio.

The so-called Presidential Election Reform Act is being pushed by Thomas Hiltachk, a lawyer in a Sacramento firm that represents the California Republican Party and has worked with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He did not return phone messages left Monday at his office.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said the governor is not involved with the proposed initiative, and party officials said they have no connection to it.

Democratic consultant Chris Lehane called the plan "an effort to rig the system in order to fix the election."

"If this change is made, it will virtually guarantee that a Republican wins the White House in 2008," Lehane said in an e-mail.

Nineteen of the state's 53 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. President Bush carried 22 districts in 2004, while losing the statewide vote by double digits.

Only Maine and Nebraska allocate electoral votes by congressional district.

A draft of the proposed initiative says nixing the winner-take-all system would give presidential candidates "an incentive to campaign in California. ... Many of the geographic areas of the state would be as important to a candidate's chance for victory as many of the smaller states."

"We'll take a serious look at it, once it qualifies for the ballot," state Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring said.

If it does qualify, Democrats probably would have to spend millions of dollars to defeat it, which could drain money from other races. And there are expected to be additional ballot proposals on abortion and other social issues that could drive up GOP turnout.

The state already moved its presidential primary to Feb. 5 in an attempt to increase its clout in national politics.

In that primary, Republicans will award delegates only to the top vote-getter in each congressional district. A Democrat can qualify for a delegate by winning at least 15 percent of the vote in a district.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The GOP Hearts Hillary

It's not exactly a secret that the Republicans intensely desire to run against Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president in 2008.

All you have to do is speak to any GOP political type to find this out.

The media has finally decided to report on this idea. But they are pretending that it is a new development.

Since when is Hillary Clinton the pin-up gal of conservative pundits?

After Clinton delivered a foreign-policy cold-cock to Barack Obama's head during a Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday:

— Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a neo-conservative weekly, wrote that she delivered her answer to the now-famous "would-you-meet-with-despots" question "firmly and coolly."

— Rich Lowry of National Review, a conservative weekly, gushed like a schoolboy with a new crush: "She excels . . . Clinton has run a nearly flawless campaign and has done more than any other Democrat to show she's ready to be president."

— David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, wrote that Clinton "seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change" and said she's changing perceptions in a way that may persuade voters to give her a second look.

— Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist of The Washington Post, summed up the Clinton-Obama smackdown: "The grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie."

All this from members of a crowd that's spent the better part of two decades demonizing Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Is the conservative chattering class just hedging its bets, wary that Clinton might win the White House and banish them all?

Or is it a set-up: The vast right-wing conspiracy pumping up the polarizing candidate they really want to face in the general election?

Naturally, no one in politics wants to talk about that with their names attached, lest they alienate people whose favor they need. But here's what some political strategists said when given anonymity:

"Absolutely," said one Democrat, citing Clinton's high unfavorable ratings (42 percent in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, twice Obama's 21 percent). "Look at Fox News. They play her up all the time. Image-wise, they think she's the one Democrat they can beat right now."

"A plausible theory," said a Republican strategist with a top-tier GOP candidate. "Hillary Clinton is our best shot to win the White House. That's pretty much consensus by Republican insiders. It's a really crappy environment for us right now. What she does, and what Obama doesn't do yet, is single-handedly solve our base problems. Because of who she is."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Sounds Familiar

You heard it here first:

As incredible as it may seem to the liberal blogosphere, Alberto Gonzales is almost certainly telling the truth here.

There is evidence that there is more than one extra-legal warrantless domestic surveillance program that involves massive data mining of American citizens.

Now the New York Times is on to the scent of the truth, which involves the super-secret CATCH-ALL program.

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The N.S.A.'s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.

Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.

If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales' defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct. ...

A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.

Here's an important hint. The program involves the data mining of every phone call and e-mail made in the United States.

More than that, we are obliged not to say openly.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Evidence of Insecure Electronic Voting Systems

The potential for electronic voting skullduggery appears to be engineered into some of the most popular modern polling technology.

If this wasn't the case, these systems would be more tamper-proof.

Insecure electronic slot machines would never be officially tolerated in Vegas.

Computer scientists from California universities have hacked into three electronic voting systems used in California and elsewhere in the nation and found several ways in which vote totals could potentially be altered, according to reports released yesterday by the state.

The reports, the latest to raise questions about electronic voting machines, came to light on a day when House leaders announced in Washington that they had reached an agreement on measures to revamp voting systems and increase their security.

The House bill would require every state to use paper records that would let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would be available for recounts.

The House majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, and the original sponsor of the bill, Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, said it would require hundreds of counties with paperless machines to install backup paper trails by the presidential election next year while giving most states until 2012 to upgrade their machines further.

Critics of the machines said that some of the measures would be just stopgaps and that the California reports showed that security problems needed to be addressed more urgently.

The California reports said the scientists, acting at the state's request, had hacked into systems from three of the four largest companies in the business: Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems.

Thousands of their machines in varying setups are in use.

The reports said the investigators had created situations for each system "in which these weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct recording, reporting and tallying of votes."

Voting experts said the review could prompt the California secretary of state, Debra Bowen, to ban the use of some of the machines in the 2008 elections unless extra security precautions were taken and the election results were closely audited.

Matthew A. Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, who led the team that tried to compromise the machines, said his group was surprised by how easy it was not only to pick the physical locks on the machines, but also to break through the software defenses meant to block intruders.

Professor Bishop said that all the machines had problems and that one of the biggest was that the manufacturers appeared to have added the security measures after the basic systems had been designed.

By contrast, he said, the best way to create strong defenses is "to build security in from the design, in Phase 1."

The reports also said the investigators had found possible problems not only with computerized touch-screen machines, but also with optical scanning systems and broader election-management software.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Noriega Trying To Stop Extradition

Manuel Noriega is scheduled to be released from prison Sept. 9, but there is a good chance that he will be sent to France to stand trial there.

The U.S. government had been treating Noriega while in prison as a POW (allowing him to wear his uniform, etc), in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. This should prevent him from being extradited upon release to any other country, but now the government is arguing otherwise.

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega on Thursday made his first court appearance in a dozen years, his face expressionless as his lawyers fought a French request for extradition once he is released from a Florida prison in September.

A black coat covering his general's uniform and insignia, the 72-year-old answered tersely in Spanish to U.S. Magistrate William C. Turnoff's questions about his name, age and whether he understood the proceedings.

The first hearing on the U.S.-backed French extradition bid to try him on money-laundering charges took place in the same 1930s-era courtroom where Noriega was convicted on drug-trafficking charges in 1992 and given a 40-year sentence. He was arrested in January 1990 by U.S. forces after they invaded Panama the month before.

Because Noriega was taken into custody during the U.S. invasion ordered by President George H.W. Bush, he was deemed a prisoner of war by U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who presided over his trial and a decade ago also reduced his sentence by 10 years.

Attorneys Jon May and Frank Rubino, flanking the diminutive Noriega, asked Turnoff to postpone any action on the extradition request until Hoeveler rules on their contention that as a POW, Noriega must be returned to his home country once his U.S. sentence is completed.

Now a born-again Christian, Noriega has been credited with time for good behavior and is due for release from his apartment-like cell at a Southwest Miami prison on Sept. 9.

Turnoff said that whatever Hoeveler decides on the POW issue would be "controlling in this matter," but that he saw no reason not to proceed with the extradition case pending that decision. He set an Aug. 28 hearing, more than two weeks after an Aug. 10 session Hoeveler has scheduled to consider Noriega's request to be sent home after his release.

Under the Geneva Convention, a POW must be returned to his home country once the conflict and any sentence have concluded. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Patrick Sullivan argued in a brief to Hoeveler that the rules cannot be invoked to block extradition.

"The defendant can be extradited to France in accordance with all of the United States' treaty obligations — including its obligations under the Geneva Conventions," Sullivan argued.

An appeal by Noriega's lawyers for his release on bond pending the extradition hearing was denied by the judge, who noted that Noriega's prison term runs for seven more weeks. Rubino's claim that Noriega has ties to the community "as a resident of South Florida for 18 years and currently employed by the U.S. government" drew laughter from the packed courtroom. ...

The U.S. move to oust Noriega and the charges that sent him to prison were inspired by intelligence that he had been collaborating with Colombia's Medellin drug cartel to ship cocaine to the United States via Panama, receiving as much as $500,000 per delivery. But it emerged during his trial that he also had been on the CIA payroll for years.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gonzales Is Likely Telling The Truth

As incredible as it may seem to the liberal blogosphere, Alberto Gonzales is almost certainly telling the truth here.

There is evidence that there is more than one extra-legal warrantless domestic surveillance program that involves massive data mining of American citizens.

Certain congressional leaders (the "group of eight") know this, and another lawmaker -- Arlen Specter, who is the go-to man for cover-ups dating back to the Kennedy assassination -- on Tuesday actively shut Gonzales up when it appeared that the AG was going to let too much information slip out during questioning at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy threatened yesterday to request a perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, as Democrats said an intelligence official's statement about a classified surveillance program was at odds with Gonzales's sworn testimony.

The latest dispute involving public remarks by Gonzales concerned the topic of a March 10, 2004, White House briefing for members of Congress. Gonzales, in congressional testimony Tuesday, said the purpose of the briefing was to address what he called "intelligence activities" that were the subject of a legal dispute inside the administration.

Gonzales testified that the meeting was not called to discuss a dispute over the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless surveillance program, which he has repeatedly said attracted no serious controversy inside the administration.

But a letter sent to Congress in May 2006 by then-Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte described the congressional meeting as a "briefing on the Terrorist Surveillance Program," the name that President Bush has publicly used to describe the warrantless surveillance program.

Democrats pointed to the Negroponte letter yesterday in an effort to portray Gonzales's remarks as misleading. They said Gonzales is trying to conceal the existence of a dispute between White House and Justice Department lawyers that involved the surveillance program, which many Democrats have criticized as an illegal or unjustified abuse of executive-branch authority.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senate intelligence committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), have also said the meeting focused on the NSA program and have strongly disputed other Gonzales characterizations of the meeting.

Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters he is giving Gonzales until late next week to revise his testimony about the surveillance program or he will ask Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to conduct a perjury inquiry: "I'll ask the inspector general to determine who's telling the truth."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that Gonzales "stands by his testimony," and that "the disagreement . . . was not about the particular intelligence activity that has been publicly described by the president. It was about other highly classified intelligence activities." ...

Gonzales has repeatedly stood by his original testimony, in which he said the disagreement was not about "the program that the president has confirmed." A Justice official conceded during a background briefing for reporters this week that Gonzales's "linguistic parsing" has caused some confusion, but said that he spoke accurately.

In June, Gonzales veered briefly from his own account when he said at a news conference that the dispute described by Comey centered on the NSA program. But Roehrkasse told The Washington Post several days later that Gonzales misspoke.

Gonzales' real concern is to avoid perjuring himself -- thus his basically truthful testimony. Paradoxically, he is not worried about having enabled the far more serious violations of FISA because President Bush has expressly authorized these, in part through a classified United States Signals Intercepts Directive.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One Extra-Legal Spying Program Was Insufficient

The preponderance of the evidence is that there are multiple warrantless domestic spying programs -- above and beyond the extra-legal NSA program -- that have been initiated by the Bush administration.

We discussed this inescapable conclusion on this blog way back on February 7, 2006 (see What Other Illegalities Are They Hiding?).

Now, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is having trouble keeping his sworn testimony on these programs consistent.

At the hearing, several senators attacked Mr. Gonzales’s assertions under oath in testimony last year that there had been no disagreement inside the Bush administration over the N.S.A. surveillance program.

Mr. Specter asked Mr. Gonzales, "What credibility is left for you when you say there's no disagreement?"

In answers that seemed to perplex and further exasperate senators, Mr. Gonzales said his past testimony about the program was correct. He said there was no debate about the N.S.A. program whose existence was confirmed by Mr. Bush in December 2005, after it was disclosed by The New York Times.

He insisted, however, that there were other "intelligence activities" that prompted the dispute in 2004 in which Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Comey and other Justice Department officials had threatened to quit. ...

Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, a Judiciary Committee member who also sits on the Intelligence Committee and has been briefed on the classified N.S.A. activities, said he was "appalled" by Mr. Gonzales’s testimony. "I believe your testimony is misleading at best," Mr. Feingold said. He said he could not elaborate in an unclassified hearing.

Everyone knows that the U.S. government has myriad "other intelligence activities."

But how many of these are legally tenuous enough to prompt a then-Attorney General and his top aides to threaten to resign over them?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Rovian Political Skullduggery

One should probably keep in mind the fact that these ambassadors were political appointees who didn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming to attend these talks.

That's why nobody blew the whistle on these violations of the Hatch Act earlier.

White House aides have conducted at least half a dozen political briefings for the Bush administration's top diplomats, including a PowerPoint presentation for ambassadors with senior adviser Karl Rove that named Democratic incumbents targeted for defeat in 2008 and a "general political briefing" at the Peace Corps headquarters after the 2002 midterm elections.

The briefings, mostly run by Rove's deputies at the White House political affairs office, began in early 2001 and included detailed analyses for senior officials of the political landscape surrounding critical congressional and gubernatorial races, according to documents obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The documents show for the first time how the White House sought to ensure that even its appointees involved in foreign policy were kept attuned to the administration's election goals. Such briefings occurred semi-regularly over the past six years for staffers dealing with domestic policy, White House officials have previously acknowledged.

In one instance, State Department aides attended a White House meeting at which political officials examined the 55 most critical House races for 2002 and the media markets most critical to battleground states for President Bush's reelection fight in 2004, according to documents the department provided to the Senate committee.

On Jan. 4, just after the 2006 elections tossed the Republicans out of congressional power, Rove met at the White House with six U.S. ambassadors to key European missions and the consul general to Bermuda while the diplomats were in Washington for a State Department conference.

According to a department letter to the Senate panel, Rove explained the White House views on the electoral disaster while Sara M. Taylor, then the director of White House political affairs, showed a PowerPoint presentation that pinned most of the electoral blame on "corrupt" GOP lawmakers and "complacent incumbents." One chart in Taylor's presentation highlighted the GOP's top 36 targets among House Democrats for the 2008 election.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, asked whether the briefings inappropriately politicized the diplomatic agencies or violated prohibitions against political work by most federal employees.

"I do not understand why ambassadors, in Washington on official duty, would be briefed by White House officials on which Democratic House members are considered top targets by the Republican party for defeat in 2008. Nor do I understand why department employees would need to be briefed on 'key media markets' in states that are 'competitive' for the president," Biden wrote. ...

The Hatch Act insulates virtually all federal workers from partisan politics and bars the use of federal resources -- including office buildings, phones and computers -- for partisan purposes. ...

The ambassadors included in the Rove briefing were Eduardo Aguirre Jr. of Spain, James P. Cain of Denmark, Alfred Hoffman Jr. of Portugal, Ronald Spogli of Italy, Craig Stapleton of France and Robert Tuttle of Britain. Gregory Slayton, the consul general to Bermuda, also attended.

In total, the seven diplomats donated more than $1.6 million to Republican causes from 2000 through 2006, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report on large Bush donors who were named ambassadors.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Allowing The Abuse of Prisoners Must Make Him Feel Like A Tough Guy

From Bush's Torture Ban is full of Loopholes by David Cole.

Once upon a time, a U.S. official's condemnation of torture was a statement of moral principle. Today, it is an opportunity for obfuscation. We have learned that when President Bush says, "We don't torture," it's important to read the fine print. So it was once again on July 20, when Bush issued a long-awaited executive order purporting to regulate interrogation tactics used by the CIA in the "war on terror." According to a White House press release, the order provides "clear rules" to implement the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of detainees in wartime -- rules the administration insisted did not even apply to the "war on terror" until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise last summer. But while the new rules reflect a significant retreat by the administration from its initial torture policies, they are anything but "clear," come far too late in the day, and in any event are unenforceable.

The executive order prohibits the CIA from using torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual abuse, denigration of religion and serious "acts of violence" in its interrogations. While one might have thought that the impermissibility of such tactics in official U.S. interrogations would go without saying, it has not been so since 9/11. This is an administration that narrowly defined "torture" to permit the use of sexual abuse, stress positions, injecting suspects with intravenous fluids until they urinate on themselves, prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold and "waterboarding," i.e., simulated drowning. This is an administration that adopted as official legal policy the counterintuitive and deeply immoral position that international law's ban on "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" did not apply to foreigners held by the U.S. outside U.S. borders. And this is an administration that opined that the president could order torture itself if he so chose as a way of "engaging the enemy," notwithstanding a federal criminal statute and ratified treaty banning torture under all circumstances, including war.

In light of that history, an executive order that categorically bans torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is a significant step in the right direction. And make no mistake -- the administration would never have taken this step of its own accord. President Bush was forced to act by a combination of the Abu Ghraib photographs, international and domestic condemnation of the administration's torture tactics, Congress' overwhelming and veto-proof repudiation of the administration's interpretation of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," and the Supreme Court's rejection of the contention that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the conflict with al-Qaida.

But how much of a step the administration has really taken remains a serious question. The actual tactics the CIA is authorized to use remain classified, based on the bogus claim that agency interrogators need to keep detainees guessing about how far they can go in order to interrogate effectively. The Army, by contrast, has set forth for the world to see the specific tactics its interrogators can employ -- in the Army Field Manual. And of course, it is black-letter law that no use or threat of physical force is permissible for state and federal police interrogations. Yet both the Army and domestic police obtain useful information from interrogations every day. The limits do not need to be secret for interrogation to be effective.

While the executive order flatly forbids torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, its failure to specify permissible and impermissible techniques seems designed to leave the CIA wiggle room. A prohibition on "acts of violence," for example, applies only to those violent acts "serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment," as defined by the Military Commissions Act. The MCA, in turn, limits "cruel and inhuman treatment" to the infliction of bodily injury that entails: "(i) a substantial risk of death; (ii) extreme physical pain; (iii) a burn or physical disfigurement of a serious nature (other than cuts, abrasions, or bruises); or (iv) significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty." In other words, the president's order appears to permit cutting or bruising a suspect so long as the injury does not risk death, significant functional impairment or "extreme physical pain," an entirely subjective term.

Article continues at Salon.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

White House Gets Snippy About Osama

Paul Joseph Watson makes a point about the phantom bogeyman of the "war on terror."

White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend was asked at a press conference earlier this week what evidence she had that Osama Bin Laden was still alive, considering the fact that he has been gravely ill and on a kidney dialysis machine while traversing the harsh terrain of the Pakistani border region. Townsend's response was to refuse to discuss the matter and immediately leave.

Here's the exchange from the end of the press conference:

REPORTER: Fran, do you know if Osama bin Laden is still on a dialysis machine, is he still ill? What? I mean, could you tell us about that? I mean, because -- it might be laughable, but people are finding it hard, six years this man is sick, moving around from cave to cave, and can't be found -- with a dialysis machine?

MS. TOWNSEND: Have you ever been to the tribal areas? I suspect not.

REPORTER: No, I haven't, but I've seen some great pictures from Ken Herman as to the rough terrain over that way. (Laughter.)

MS. TOWNSEND: It's not exactly easy. If it were easy he'd be dead.

REPORTER: But it's not easy for him to travel around with medics and machinery if he's sick. I mean, is he -- do you know from your intelligence if he's still sick? What do you know about that?

MS. TOWNSEND: I'm not going to talk about that.

Townsend immediately went on the defensive before cutting the press conference short and leaving the room.

Judging from all the available evidence, the White House knows for certain or at least strongly suspects that Bin Laden is dead and has been for many years, but they have chosen to maintain his myth for the purposes of political propaganda and as a hook on which to pin the advance of the imperial Neo-Con agenda. Townsend's reaction to the question is a clear indication that the Bush administration don't even want to be drawn into a debate on whether Bin Laden is still alive. The premise that he might be dead cannot even be entertained because it would strip "Al-Qaeda" of much of the menace that the Neo-Cons need to attach to the group in order to keep Americans frightened and obedient.

According to French newspaper Le Figaro, Bin Laden was on a kidney dialysis machine after he had one shipped to his base in Kandahar Afghanistan in 2000. Other accounts suggest he was also suffering from Hepatitis C at the time and had only two years left to live.

Journalists who met Bin Laden before 9/11 later proclaimed their disbelief about the fact that he didn't appear on video after December 2001 to brag about the fact that he had not been captured. Since that time, every single Bin Laden video tape released has contained vague non-specific messages and in many cases the footage is old and re-hashed. The "new" Bin Laden tape released last weekend was being aired for the third time, having been shot in October 2001 then broadcast in May 2002 before being aired again in October 2003.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sober Doesn't Mean Sober-Minded

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Friday more intense methods of CIA interrogation are acceptable in dealing with terrorism and he praised the broad powers granted law enforcement under the USA Patriot Act.

During a question-and-answer session at an Iowa campaign stop, Romney was asked about aggressive interrogation of those in U.S. custody. In recent years, questions have arisen as to whether the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques cross the line into torture and abuse, such as a practice known as water-boarding. ...

"I support tough interrogation techniques, enhanced interrogation techniques, in circumstances where there is a ticking time bomb, a ticking bomb," Romney said. "I do not support torture, but I do support enhanced interrogation techniques to learn from terrorists what we need to learn to keep the bombs from going off."

Romney answered questions about torture during a Republican debate in May but his answers Friday expanded on the issue.

The former Massachusetts governor also praised President Bush for enactment of the Patriot Act. Critics of the law contend that the government has invaded Americans' privacy using the newfound powers of the act, such as the Justice Department's authority on wiretapping.

"Our president, for all the criticism he receives, has kept America safe these last six years, and he has done it by: One pursuing the Patriot Act, which has given us the intelligence information we needed to find out who the bad guys were and get them out before they got us, and No. 2, when al-Qaida was calling America, he made sure someone here was listening," Romney said. "And No. 3 ... when terrorists were detained, were captured, he made sure we interrogated them."

Romney was beginning a two-day trip through western and northern Iowa, seeking the support of conservative voters by continuing his focus on values. He stressed the importance of enforcing obscenity laws, getting tough on retailers who sell violent video games to kids and education to reduce the number of unwed mothers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Unitary Executive Run Amok

This is really special:

Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.

The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.

Under federal law, a statutory contempt citation by the House or Senate must be submitted to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, "whose duty it shall be to bring the matter before the grand jury for its action."

But administration officials argued yesterday that Congress has no power to force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges in cases, such as the prosecutor firings, in which the president has declared that testimony or documents are protected from release by executive privilege. Officials pointed to a Justice Department legal opinion during the Reagan administration, which made the same argument in a case that was never resolved by the courts. ...

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."

"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all." ...

Yesterday, a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to lay the groundwork for contempt proceedings against White House chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, following a similar decision last week against former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers. ...

Under long-established procedures and laws, the House and Senate can each pursue two kinds of criminal contempt proceedings, and the Senate also has a civil contempt option. The first, called statutory contempt, has been the avenue most frequently pursued in modern times, and is the one that requires a referral to the U.S. attorney in the District.

Both chambers also have an "inherent contempt" power, allowing either body to hold its own trials and even jail those found in defiance of Congress. Although widely used during the 19th century, the power has not been invoked since 1934 and Democratic lawmakers have not displayed an appetite for reviving the practice.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bush Issues Executive Order "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq"

Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as amended (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)(IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.)(NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,

I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that, due to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by acts of violence threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, it is in the interests of the United States to take additional steps with respect to the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, and expanded in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004. I hereby order:

Section 1. (a) Except to the extent provided in section 203(b)(1), (3), and (4) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(1), (3), and (4)), or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,

(i) to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of:

(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;

(ii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or

(iii) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.

(b) The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section include, but are not limited to, (i) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order, and (ii) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

Sec. 2.
(a) Any transaction by a United States person or within the United States that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.

(b) Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.

Sec. 3. For purposes of this order:

(a) the term "person" means an individual or entity;

(b) the term "entity" means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization; and

(c) the term "United States person" means any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States.

Sec. 4. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.

Sec. 5. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that, because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render these measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1(a) of this order.

Sec. 6. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order. The Secretary of the Treasury may redelegate any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government, consistent with applicable law. All agencies of the United States Government are hereby directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order and, where appropriate, to advise the Secretary of the Treasury in a timely manner of the measures taken.

Sec. 7. Nothing in this order is intended to affect the continued effectiveness of any rules, regulations, orders, licenses, or other forms of administrative action issued, taken, or continued in effect heretofore or hereafter under 31 C.F.R. chapter V, except as expressly terminated, modified, or suspended by or pursuant to this order.

Sec. 8. This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.



July 17, 2007.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Another Good Reason ONDCP Should Be Shuttered

The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, an overt propaganda arm of the government, was used to assist GOP political candidates during the 2006 election season.

White House officials arranged for top officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to help as many as 18 vulnerable Republican congressmen by making appearances and sometimes announcing new federal grants in the lawmakers' districts in the months leading up to the November 2006 elections, a Democratic lawmaker said yesterday.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said documents obtained by his panel suggest that the appearances by the drug control officials were part of a larger White House effort to politicize the work of federal agencies that "may be more widespread than previously known."

Waxman cited a memo written by former White House political director Sara M. Taylor showing that John P. Walters, director of the drug control office, and his deputies traveled at taxpayer expense to about 20 events with vulnerable GOP members of Congress in the three months leading up to the elections. ...

(A) 1994 law bars the agency's officials from engaging in political activities even on their own time. ...

In Waxman's letter to Taylor yesterday, he asked Taylor to voluntarily appear at a deposition July 24 and possibly testify before his committee the following week. He said the panel wants her to explain a memo she wrote indicating that Walters and his deputies made trips at the behest of the White House political office in the months prior to the crucial midterm elections.

"I recognize that federal political appointees have traveled to events with members of Congress in prior administrations," Waxman wrote in his letter to Taylor. "What is striking about your memo to ONDCP is the degree of White House control, the number of trips and the agency involved." ...

(I)n the three months immediately leading up to the 2006 election, Walters or his deputies held events almost exclusively with GOP officials, many of whom were embroiled in tough reelection campaigns.

Two were held with then- Sen. James M. Talent of Missouri, who was defeated last November. At one of those stops, Walters announced that four Missouri counties had been designated part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which brings $500,000 in federal funding to help local law enforcement efforts, Waxman said. It was one of several grant announcements made while drug policy officials were appearing with GOP candidates.

Appearances also were held with Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio in Columbus and with then-Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana in South Bend. Pryce narrowly won reelection, while Chocola lost in November.

"You included no Democrats or Independents in your memo of suggested travel for director Walters," Waxman said in his letter to Taylor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

DEA Intimidation Tactics in L.A.

Raising the stakes in the federal government's war against medical marijuana, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has warned more than 150 Los Angeles landlords that they risk arrest and the loss of their properties if they continue renting to cannabis dispensaries.

The two-page letter sent last week by Timothy J. Landrum, DEA special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office, has whipped up worries among landlords and dispensary operators in a region that has seen a proliferation of the businesses in the last two years.

"I'm devastated," said Lisa Sawoya, who left her lucrative job selling high-tech hospital equipment to open a dispensary 18 months ago in Hollywood. "My landlord believes in cannabis as medicine. But they're taking the letter very seriously. So I'll be closing my doors at the end of this month."

Sarah Pullen, a DEA spokeswoman in Los Angeles, said the purpose of the letters was to "educate" property owners at risk because they were housing marijuana dispensaries.

"By renting their property to individuals violating fed drug laws, they are in and of themselves violating federal law," Pullen said. "These are definitely meant to serve as a notice. What might happen as to the continuing investigations, we'll just have to see."

The DEA move has focused entirely on Los Angeles. Activists suspect that the logistics and timing — more than a decade after state voters legalized medical marijuana with the passage of Proposition 215 — is intended to thin the ranks of Los Angeles dispensaries on the eve of new city regulations. A proposed city ordinance would cap and regulate the number of outlets, which now number more than 400.

Medical marijuana activists say most of the landlords take the threat seriously and have asked the dispensaries to move out.

"Raiding dispensaries and arresting patients hasn't worked to end medical marijuana, so the DEA is trying a new tactic and claiming a new victim in this war," said Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access, a group that supports medical marijuana.

Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws said the DEA crackdown won't stop patients' marijuana use. Instead, he said, they could be driven to find drugs in the illegal market, potentially putting themselves at risk.

In recent years, courts have upheld the federal government's ability to seize assets. After the DEA raided the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center in 2001, the federal government seized more than $300,000 that West Hollywood had loaned the center to purchase its building.

Gieringer said the most likely outcome of Landrum's letter would be numerous evictions and shutdowns followed by a few select forfeiture prosecutions "to scare remaining landlords."

Hap Kent, who runs Therapeutic Medicinal Health Resources in Sherman Oaks, said he hoped that the DEA would consider letting dispensaries operate for another six months, so patients weren't immediately pushed out on the streets.

"I don't want to put my landlord in jeopardy. I refuse to do that," said Kent, whose dispensary serves patients with AIDS, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and other serious afflictions. "All we want is an amicable amount of time."

Though the possibility of eviction looms for many of the dispensaries, Kent sees a possible silver lining — a political outcry that could get the state to finally respond to voters' wishes and take on the role of directly supplying medical marijuana.

"That's the way it should have been from the beginning," he said.

Monday, July 16, 2007

House Intelligence Committee as Portal to Shady Earmarks

An internal investigation that the House Intelligence Committee has refused to make public portrays the panel as embarrassingly entangled in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

The report, a declassified version of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, describes the committee as a dysfunctional entity that served as a crossroads for almost every major figure in the ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department.

The document describes breakdowns in leadership and controls that it says allowed Cunningham — the former congressman (R-Rancho Santa Fe) who began an eight-year prison term last year for taking bribes and evading taxes — to use his House position to steer millions of dollars to corrupt contractors.

When the committee's investigation was completed last year, the Republican-controlled panel would not release the results; now that the committee is controlled by Democrats, it still will not release the findings.

The report provides the most detailed account to date of how former CIA Executive Director Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, whose indictment on charges of defrauding the government was recently expanded, allegedly used committee connections to advance his career at the agency.

And the report sheds new light on the roles of senior committee aides, including retired CIA case officer Brant Bassett, who had ties to Cunningham and Foggo as well as to contractors accused of paying the congressman millions of dollars.

Overall, the document provides a penetrating look into how the committee itself became central to the scandal, describing an atmosphere in which senior aides were deeply troubled by Cunningham's actions but nevertheless complied with his requests out of fear.

But the report and committee members' ongoing disagreement over whether it should be released also reflect the political currents still swirling around the scandal.

For all its finger-pointing at staffers, the document fails to address whether other committee members were aware of Cunningham's abuses or were culpable. For instance, the report avoids any scrutiny of former Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), who was chairman of the panel when Cunningham's most egregious abuses occurred. Goss went on to serve as CIA director, from September 2004 to May 2006.

Democrats complained bitterly a year ago when Republicans blocked release of a declassified version of the final report. But two weeks ago, several Democrats joined Republicans to block the report's release only to other members of Congress. Five Democrats objected to keeping the report secret.

Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), who assumed leadership of the committee after Democrats won control of Congress last fall, said some Democratic members were reluctant to release a document that singled out staff members for criticism.

"My view was that the report was an internal review, principally of staff activity, and that the full report — with all of the names of staff — was not intended for dissemination beyond the committee," Reyes said. "The important thing is that the committee took the review seriously and incorporated changes" designed to prevent future abuses.

Congressional sources said Reyes and other Democrats had initially voted to let other members of Congress see the document, but reversed course after a fierce protest by the panel's ranking GOP member, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan.

"They are so nervous about this report being out," said one congressional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Members oppose putting this thing out because you read this and the natural question is: 'Did you know this, and what did you do about it?' I don't think any members wanted that scrutiny."

The latest vote was prompted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a critic of the so-called earmarks practice that allows members to slip special funding provisions into broader bills. Earmarks were one way Cunningham steered contracts to associates.

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Hoekstra, stressed that the investigation found no wrongdoing by staffers or other members, and said the findings were never intended to be released.

"The classified, internal documents of this committee should have remained just that," Ware said. "The decision by a member or staff, against a bipartisan vote of the committee, to disclose this information is beyond the pale and raises concerns about trust on the committee."

The report's principal author said in an interview that the terms under which he was hired to conduct the investigation prevented him from examining lawmakers' roles.

"There was an agreement as to what they wanted to look at, and that was not anything that could be looked at under the sun," said Michael Stern, a former attorney in the House counsel's office who was hired by the committee to lead the internal probe. "The language did not include the culpability or potential involvement of other members."

Stern said that the full, 59-page report he prepared a year ago was classified, but that he also provided the committee a 23-page version that had been scrubbed of classified material. The Times obtained the declassified version.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

His Condition Seems Worse Than We Thought

From a WaPo review of a new book about Dick Cheney by Stephen F. Hayes:

Hayes also interviewed Bush, who offers little insight but provides a stream of typically fractured syntax. Here is the president on his differences with Cheney -- whose daughter Mary is a lesbian -- over the subject of gay marriage: "My only ask was that if his daughter doubted my tolerance to her orientation that I would hope that he would help make it clear to Mary that this is a -- I was just worried about -- the reason I'd federalized the issue is because I was worried about the courts' defining the issue and that we'd end up with de facto marriage that was not traditionally defined, I guess is the best way to put it."

Hayes, of the Weekly Standard, seems to have been so intent to demonstrate access to the president that he neglected to do the merciful (and professional) thing which would have been to paraphrase the poor man's quote, or to edit it out altogether.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Cheney Impeachment as Necessary First Act

Four more members of the U.S. House signed on this week as cosponsors of H. Res. 333, the measure that outlines articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney for actively and systematically seeking to deceive citizens and Congress about an alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and an alleged relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and for openly threatening aggression against Iran.

Congressman Bob Filner, the chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, added his name, along with another veteran Democratic representative from California, Sam Farr.

The additional cosponsorships from Washington Democrat Jim McDermott, a Vietnam-era veteran who has been one of the House's sharpest critics of the war in Iraq, and Virginia Democrat James Moran bring the number of supporters for the articles to 14, including sponsor Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

House Members are backing impeachment for a number of reasons, including anger with Cheney's involvement with manipulations of intelligence regarding Iraq, illegal spying on Americans and the promotion of torture, as well his recent attempt to avoid scrutiny by claiming that the Office of the Vice President was not part of the executive branch. And then there was President Bush's decision to commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff and co-conspirator in moves to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for exposing the deceptions that led to war.

The founders were very clear about the fact that abuses of the presidential authority to pardon or otherwise lift the burden of the law from subordinates was an impeachable offense. And a number of House members who take constitutional matters seriously have spoken up for impeachment since the commutation of Libby's sentence.

As Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. said after Bush commuted the sentence of a former aide who could connect the dots outlining presidential and vice presidential wrongdoing, "In her first weeks as leader of the Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi withdrew the notion of impeachment proceedings against either President Bush or Vice President Cheney. With the president's decision to once again subvert the legal process and the will of the American people by commuting the sentence of convicted felon Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, I call on House Democrats to reconsider impeachment proceedings."

That's an increasingly popular sentiment among Congressional Democrats, who are breaking with Pelosi to speak the "i" word.

It is an even more popular sentiment among the American people.

According to recent polling by the American Research Group, 54 percent of Americans want Cheney impeached. Among Democrats, that number rises to 76 percent. A majority of self-described independents back action to hold the vice president to account, as do a striking 17 percent of Republicans. With conservatives such as former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein coming out strongly for Cheney's impeachment, the numbers of Republicans who are pulling for accountability is likely to grow.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hayden's Grim Briefing To Iraq Study Group

From Bob Woodward:

Early on the morning of Nov. 13, 2006, members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered around a dark wooden conference table in the windowless Roosevelt Room of the White House.

For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said.

Later that morning, around the same conference table, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden painted a starkly different picture for members of the study group. Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

"The government is unable to govern," Hayden concluded. "We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function." ...

In the eight months since the interview, neither Hayden nor any other high-ranking administration official has publicly described the Iraqi government in the uniformly negative terms that the CIA director used in his closed-door briefing. ...

Hayden's description of Iraq's dysfunctional government provides some insight into the intelligence community's analysis of Maliki and the situation on the ground. Five days before his testimony, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley had written a memo to Bush raising doubts about Maliki's ability to curb violence in Iraq, but his assessment was not as bleak as Hayden's.

Bush's own optimistic statement to members of the study group did not reflect the viewpoint of his CIA director. But a statement from another administration official interviewed by the panel the same day -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- took it into account.

Asked by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a member of the study group, if she was aware of the CIA's grim evaluation of Iraq, Rice replied, "We are aware of the dark assessment," but quickly added: "It is not without hope."

A spokesman for the CIA, Mark Mansfield, disputed this account of Hayden's testimony to members of the study group. "That is not an accurate reflection of what Director Hayden said at that meeting, nor does it reflect his view, then or now," Mansfield said.

A senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden's session with the Iraq Study Group said that Hayden told the panel his assessment was "somber" and acknowledged that Hayden had used the term "irreversible." But the official insisted that Hayden instead said, "The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term, because of the world views of many of the [Iraqi] government leaders, which were shaped by a sectarian filter and a government that was organized for its ethnic and religious balance rather than competence or capacity."

But another senior intelligence official confirmed the thrust and detail of Hayden's assessment, saying that the intelligence out of Iraq this month shows that the ability of the Maliki government to execute decisions and govern Iraq remains "awful."

Hayden, 62, a four-star Air Force general and career intelligence officer, has a reputation as a candid briefer. Since 2003, the CIA, which has more than 500 personnel in Iraq to assist in providing intelligence and analysis, has offered the most pessimistic view of any intelligence agency of both the Iraqi government's performance and the situation on the ground there. ...

A spokesman for the CIA, Mark Mansfield, disputed this account of Hayden's testimony to members of the study group. "That is not an accurate reflection of what Director Hayden said at that meeting, nor does it reflect his view, then or now," Mansfield said.

A senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden's session with the Iraq Study Group said that Hayden told the panel his assessment was "somber" and acknowledged that Hayden had used the term "irreversible." But the official insisted that Hayden instead said, "The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term, because of the world views of many of the [Iraqi] government leaders, which were shaped by a sectarian filter and a government that was organized for its ethnic and religious balance rather than competence or capacity."

But another senior intelligence official confirmed the thrust and detail of Hayden's assessment, saying that the intelligence out of Iraq this month shows that the ability of the Maliki government to execute decisions and govern Iraq remains "awful."

Hayden, 62, a four-star Air Force general and career intelligence officer, has a reputation as a candid briefer. Since 2003, the CIA, which has more than 500 personnel in Iraq to assist in providing intelligence and analysis, has offered the most pessimistic view of any intelligence agency of both the Iraqi government's performance and the situation on the ground there.

But the government itself was responsible for some of that violence, the CIA official said. "The Ministry of Interior is uniformed death squads, overseers of jails and torture facilities," he said. "Their funds are constantly misappropriated."

In his testimony, Hayden said that the United States had fundamental disagreements with Maliki's Shiite-dominated government on some of the most basic issues facing Iraq.

"We and the Iraqi government do not agree on who the enemy is," Hayden said, according to the written record. "For all the senior leaders of the Iraqi government, Baathists are the source of evil. There is a Baathist behind every bush."

Several participants in the interview described Hayden as dismayed by the startling level of violence in the country but skeptical of the ability of Iraqi forces -- either the military or the police -- to do anything about it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sara Taylor To Face Judiciary Committee

Sara Taylor is scheduled for her turn in the barrel today.

Sara Taylor, the former White House political director, has agreed to answer some questions as a "willing and cooperative private citizen," during testimony about the United States attorney firings last year when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee later today.

But, as a former presidential adviser, she will also honor the president's invocation of executive privilege to keep quiet about "White House consideration, deliberations, or communications, whether internal or external, relating to the possible dismissal or appointment of United States attorneys," according to a written copy of her opening statement provided by her lawyer's office. Those parameters were set forth in a letter to Ms. Taylor's attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, from the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding.

Ms. Taylor acknowledges in the statement that differences may emerge about what falls under Mr. Fielding's parameters and that, "This may be frustrating to you and me." ...

Under Mr. Fielding's guidance Ms. Taylor would not be able to answer the key questions expected from the committee about the firings and the involvement of Mr. Bush’s political team and his top strategist, Karl Rove.

In her written testimony Ms. Taylor said she would not take it upon herself to disobey the president's request during today's hearing but said she would defer to the courts if it came to that in the future.

"While I may be unable to answer certain questions today," Ms. Taylor's opening statement reads, "I will answer those questions if the courts rule that this Committee's need for the information outweighs the president's assertion of executive privilege."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gonzales as Serial Prevaricator

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse," Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. ...

The reports also alerted Gonzales in 2005 to problems with the FBI's use of an anti-terrorism tool known as a national security letter (NSL), well before the Justice Department's inspector general brought widespread abuse of the letters in 2004 and 2005 to light in a stinging report this past March. ...

Each of the violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government's surveillance activities. The format of each memo was similar, and none minced words. ...

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, "I think these documents raise some very serious questions about how much the attorney general knew about the FBI's misuse of surveillance powers and when he knew it." A lawsuit by Hofmann's group seeking internal FBI documents about NSLs prompted the release of the reports.

Caroline Fredrickson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new documents raise questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress at a moment when lawmakers were poised to renew the Patriot Act and keenly sought assurances that there were no abuses. "It was extremely important," she said of Gonzales's 2005 testimony. "The attorney general said there are no problems with the Patriot Act, and there was no counterevidence at the time."

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Questionable Claim of Iraq Course Change

This article reflects the point of view of some of the more realistic members of the administration, but does not accurately portray Bush and Cheney's operative mode of denial in dealing with the current situation.

And we all know whose opinion will carry the day. Hint: it is the Fantasists, not the Realists.

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

Mr. Bush and his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until after Sept. 15, when the top field commander and the new American ambassador to Baghdad are scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the troop increase that the president announced in January. But suddenly, some of Mr. Bush's aides acknowledge, it appears that forces are combining against him just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war's future and financing.

Four more Republican senators have recently declared that they can no longer support Mr. Bush's strategy, including senior lawmakers who until now had expressed their doubts only privately. As a result, some aides are now telling Mr. Bush that if he wants to forestall more defections, it would be wiser to announce plans for a far more narrowly defined mission for American troops that would allow for a staged pullback, a strategy that he rejected in December as a prescription for defeat when it was proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

"When you count up the votes that we've lost and the votes we're likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim," said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record about internal White House deliberations.

That conclusion was echoed in interviews over the past few days by administration officials in the Pentagon, State Department and White House, as well as by outsiders who have been consulted about what the administration should do next. "Sept. 15 now looks like an end point for the debate, not a starting point," the official said. "Lots of people are concluding that the president has got to get out ahead of this train."

In a sign of the concern, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates canceled plans for a four-nation tour of Latin America this week and will stay home to attend meetings on Iraq, the Pentagon announced yesterday. ...

Officials describe the meetings as more of a running discussion than an argument. They say that no one is clinging to a stay-the-course position but that instead aides are trying to game out what might happen if the president becomes more specific about the start and the shape of what the White House is calling a "post-surge redeployment."

The views of many of the participants in that discussion were unclear, and the officials interviewed could not provide any insight into what Vice President Dick Cheney had been telling President Bush.

They described Mr. Hadley as deeply concerned that the loss of Republicans could accelerate this week, a fear shared by Mr. Rove. But they also said that Mr. Rove had warned that if Mr. Bush went too far in announcing a redeployment, the result could include a further cascade of defections — and the passage of legislation that would force a withdrawal by a specific date, a step Mr. Bush has always said he would oppose.

"Everyone's particularly worried about what happens when McCain gets back from Iraq," one official said, a reference to the latest trip to Baghdad by Senator John McCain, who has been a stalwart supporter of the "surge" strategy. Mr. McCain's travels, and his political troubles in the race for the Republican nomination for president, have fueled speculation that he may declare the Iraqi government incapable of the kind of political accommodations that the crackdown on violence was supposed to permit.

The expressed concern about the opinion of John McCain is laughable.

A more embarrassing display of preventable self-immolation than McCain's recent performance would be difficult to imagine.

Michael Jackson comes to mind.

Once someone so thoroughly discredits themselves, it becomes impossible for their next act to summon up enough interest to remain relevant.

Besides, with Bush and minions trumpeting the imminent danger of "Al Qaeda" following us back from Iraq if we leave, no one should be expecting a course change until the U.S. Army breaks down from being over-extended (now predicted for Spring 2008).

Some believe that the increasing Republican political angst over the war will result in a change of heart for the administration. Folks who think this to be the case must remind themselves of the "Unitary Executive" theory which governs decisions at the highest level.

What would ordinarily be constraints upon the office of the president -- including an impending revolt from his own party -- have been redefined into insignificance.

"In a Democracy, the people get the government they deserve." --Alexis de Tocqueville

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Appeals Court Throws Out Suit Over Warrantless Spying

A divided federal appeals court yesterday dismissed a case challenging the National Security Agency's program to wiretap without warrants the international communications of some Americans, reversing a trial judge's order that the program be shut down.

The majority in a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled on a narrow ground, saying the plaintiffs, including lawyers and journalists, could not show injury direct and concrete enough to allow them to have standing to sue.

Because it may be impossible for any plaintiff to demonstrate injury from the highly classified wiretapping program, the effect of the ruling was to insulate it from judicial scrutiny. Thus, the program's secrecy is proving to be its best legal protection.

The majority did not rule on the merits of the case, though the appeals court judge who wrote the lead opinion, Judge Alice M. Batchelder, said the case had provoked "a cascade of serious questions." She listed five, including whether the program violated a 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, along with the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. ...

A number of other challenges to the program have been consolidated before a federal judge in San Francisco, and the federal appeals court there, the Ninth Circuit, will hear an appeal from one of the judge's preliminary rulings next month.

Some of the plaintiffs in that case contend that they have been personally injured by the program, which if proved could give them standing to sue, even under yesterday's ruling. Those plaintiffs, an Islamic charity and two of its lawyers, say they have seen a classified document confirming that their communications were actually intercepted. ...

The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We are deeply disappointed," the group's legal director, Steven R. Shapiro, said in a statement, "by today's decision that insulates the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails."

Mr. Shapiro said the A.C.L.U. was weighing its options, including the possibility of appealing to the Supreme Court.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sen. Domenici's "Shift" Is Nearly Meaningless

Sen. Pete Domenici is a GOP hack who is deeply implicated in pressuring the ousted U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in the direction of politically motivated prosecutions of Democrats during the last election cycle.

And anyone stupid enough to be -- only now -- concluding that the Iraq War is a catastrophe is a fool.

Yet his newfound opposition to the Republican war is being treated as a big deal. It is said to be a meaningful sign that the worm is turning for President Bush.

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

I see a panicking GOP that is reluctantly (and hesitatingly) exploring the unfamiliar territory of less-than-complete warmongering.

Domenici's newsmaking shift in position does not call for a U.S. troop withdrawal. He simply is joining a chorus that is attempting to disassociate his Party from responsibility for the ongoing carnage in Iraq.

Signing on to a bill endorsing last December's Iraq Study Group recommendations isn't exactly an earth-shaking development.

On the bright side, he will get to hear about his disloyalty and cowardice from Bush's core -- the 23% of people who are unredeemably authoritarian -- those who haven't a clue about what it means to be an American.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Some Perspective On The Libby Commutation

From San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford:

So there you have it. Bush shrugs and smirks and then commutes the easy soft-focus sit-on-your-ass-all-day-and-knit white-collar prison sentence of a hollow political lackey who, in turn, took a bullet for his sneering mafia thug of a boss, Dick Cheney, who in turn was complicit (along with lead flying monkey Karl Rove) in the appallingly illegal outing of a CIA operative, which itself was a tiny but particularly nasty link in the giant chain of lies and deceptions undertaken to lead our wary and tattered nation into an unwinnable impossible costly brutally violent war that will now last, if current estimates are correct, until the goddamn sun explodes.

You have to laugh. You have to laugh because if you do not laugh you will likely be overcome by a mad desire to stab yourself in the eye with a sharp feral cat and/or shoot yourself in the toe with a high-powered staple gun, over and over again, all while tearing out pages of the United States Constitution and crumpling them into tiny little balls and hurling them into the smoldering firepit of who-the-hell-cares as you shiver in the corner and swig from a bottle of Knob Creek and wail at the moon. Or maybe that's just me.

But really, you do have to laugh at the vicious antics this administration, and perhaps Dick Cheney in particular, that most nefarious molester of U.S. law and ignorer of all political integrity and deeply homophobic father of a creepily lesbian daughter and overall gruntingly guff sneerer at all moral principle, masterful mocker of everything you somehow still manage to think, even in your most despondent and ethically disillusioned state, that American politics is somehow supposed to be about.

For it was Cheney, you well know, who yanked Bush's puppet strings in order to get Libby off the hook. It was Cheney who whispered sweet, oozing nothings into Dubya's ear to convince him to screw the goddamn law and mock the American jury system and further lock down America's standing as the most corrupt and least accountable nation in the entire developed world.

What, are you surprised by all this? Of course you're not. It is, of course, all about the cover-up, all about preventing Libby from revealing the real criminals in all this, about Cheney's nefarious role in the Plame case, all about ensuring the cabal remains intact and unassailable and throbbing with misprision.

It was so cute as to be actually damaging to the soul. Bush actually ambled forth and said that, while he "respects the jury" in the Libby case, the 2.5 year sentence was simply "too harsh." Baby, if 30 months in a comfy well-stocked rape-free Martha Stewart-decorated facility for compromising national security is too harsh, I've got a draconian little thing called the Patriot Act to sell you, cheap.

Here's a swell side note: You know who gets harsher sentences than 30 months in white-collar prison, George? Pot dealers. That's right. The average sentence for a convicted marijuana dealer in California is 3.3 years. In real prison, George, not that namby-pamby Club Fed where Scooter would've played badminton and sipped tea. Hell, in places like Oklahoma and Alabama, you can get a life sentence for possessing a single marijuana bud, which is ironic indeed, given how if you live in Oklahoma or Alabama, there is nothing that would serve your miserable id better than to be deeply and thoroughly stoned every single day and twice on Sunday. But that's another column.

Just a hint of perspective, George. See, we all know you drank like a monosyllabic fish and were rumored to enjoy your share of premium flake during all those years you were skipping poli-sci class in college as you snorted money from the silver spoon you were born with, so maybe you can appreciate this viewpoint. Or, you know, maybe not.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"Excessive"? Not

In commuting the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush said that the former vice presidential aide had suffered enough and that the 30-month prison term ordered up by a federal judge was "excessive."

But records show that the Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Libby's. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice — one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March — got some prison time. According to federal data, the average sentence defendants received for that charge alone was 70 months.

Just last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 33-month prison sentence for a decorated Army veteran who was convicted of lying to a federal agent about buying a machine gun. The veteran had a record of public service — fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War — and no criminal record. But Justice Department lawyers argued his prison term should stand because it fit within the federal sentencing guidelines.

That Bush chose to make an exception for a political ally is galling to many career Justice Department prosecutors and other legal experts. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday the action would make it harder for them to persuade judges to deliver appropriate sentences.

The critics included some Republicans who said Bush's decision did not square with an administration that had been ardently pro law-and-order. "It denigrates the significance of perjury prosecutions," John S. Martin Jr., a former U.S. attorney and federal judge in New York, said of the commutation.

On Tuesday, Bush, speaking to reporters after visiting with wounded military personnel at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, refused to rule out the possibility that he might later grant Libby a full pardon. That would wipe out the felony conviction and allow Libby to retain his law license.

"As to the future, I rule nothing in or nothing out," Bush said — his first public comments on the case since announcing the commutation late Monday.

Sentencing experts said Bush's action appeared to be without recent precedent. They could not recall another case in which someone sentenced to prison had received a presidential commutation without having served any part of that sentence. Presidents have customarily commuted sentences only when someone has served substantial time.

"We can't find any cases, certainly in the last half century, where the president commuted a sentence before it had even started to be served," said Margaret Colgate Love, a former pardon attorney at the Justice Department. "This is really, really unusual."