Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Veteran Investor Quits Greenback

Legendary investor Jim Rogers has made a decision to quit the dollar and shift his investments into currencies including China's yuan.

The 65-year-old Rogers said he placed great trust in the Chinese yuan alongside the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc since the US economy was "in recession":
"I live in Asia. It is really not that strange that I am selling out of the US dollar," Rogers told The Daily Telegraph.

"The US economy is undoubtedly in recession," he added. "Many parts of industry are actually in a state worse than recession. If it were not for [Federal Reserve Governor Ben] Bernanke putting huge amounts of money into the market, the stock market would probably be down much more than it is."

Expressing satisfaction with the Shanghai Composite Index closing at 5843 points, Rogers said, "I do not want to sell Chinese stocks. I want to own them forever and I want my daughter to own them."

Rogers ranks among the world's best-known investment figures.

Happy Hauntings

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bush's Latest Recipients of a Presidential Medal of Freedom

Press Release from the White House:
President George W. Bush today announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civil award. Established by Executive Order 11085 in 1963, the Medal may be awarded by the President "to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." President Bush will honor these recipients at a White House ceremony on Monday, November 5, 2007.

Gary S. Becker has broadened the spectrum of economics and social science through his analysis of the interaction between economics and topics such as education, demography, and family organization. His work has helped improve the standard of living for people around the world.

Oscar Elias Biscet is a champion in the fight against tyranny and oppression. Despite being persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs, he continues to advocate for a free Cuba in which the rights of all people are respected.

Francis S. Collins has revolutionized genetic research. Under his leadership, the Human Genome Project mapped and sequenced the full human genome and greatly expanded our understanding of human DNA.

Benjamin L. Hooks has dedicated his life to equality, opportunity, and justice. He is a pioneer of the Civil Rights movement, and his efforts to extend the full promise of America to all its citizens have helped bring our Nation closer to its founding ideals.

Henry J. Hyde has served America with distinction. During his career in the House of Representatives, he was a powerful defender of life and a leading advocate for a strong national defense and for freedom around the world.

Brian P. Lamb has elevated America's public debate and helped open up our government to citizens across the Nation. His dedication to a transparent political system and the free flow of ideas has enriched and strengthened our democracy.

Harper Lee has made an outstanding contribution to America's literary tradition. At a critical moment in our history, her beautiful book, To Kill a Mockingbird, helped focus the Nation on the turbulent struggle for equality.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has helped heal a country torn apart by conflict through perseverance, personal courage, and an unwavering commitment to building a more hopeful future for her homeland. The first woman elected president of an African nation, she has worked to expand freedom and improve the lives of people in Liberia and across Africa.

Apparently the Bush administration likes the coverage and focus it's been getting on C-Span these last years. I don't how any self-respecting legitimate journalist would accept this award. For shame, Brian Lamb.

Court Decision (Exxon Valdez) Reaction

"We should have a collective invitation for the Exxon personnel to come kick over the rocks on our beaches down there in Cordova and see the continued and devastating effect … instead of making their decisions in a corporate boardroom somewhere in Texas.” - Gov. Sarah Palin

"Ship owners are not liable for punitive damages based upon conduct by the ship-master who disregarded the owner’s rules and policies.” - Exxon Mobil Corp.

"We have had 6,000 victims who have passed away who have never seen any real justice. The spill tore the social fabric out of this community.” - Tim Joyce, Cordova mayor

"I just can’t image the Supreme Court letting Exxon walk away from this thing, but they very well may and what a sad day it will be.” - Roland Maw, executive director of United Cook Inlet Drift Association, a commercial fishing group

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Indicator That Bush's War on Terror is Bogus

Auditors find Security Upgrades at Several Nuclear Sites Are Lagging

More than six years after 9/11, more than a year outraged American citizens said "no!" to the Bush administration's approval of the Dubai Ports International deal, after billions of dollars have been spent toward securing America from another terrorist attack, our airports are no safer, nor are our railways, bridges, highways, dams, water or food supplies, chemical plants, nor our nuclear power plants. The NY Times reports:
More than a year after Congress told the Energy Department to harden the nation’s nuclear bomb factories and laboratories against terrorist raids, at least 5 of the 11 sites are certain to miss their deadlines, some by many years.

The Energy Department has put off security improvements at some sites that store plutonium because it plans to consolidate the material at central locations, but the Government Accountability Office said in a Senate briefing that that project was also likely to lag. A copy of the briefing materials was provided to The New York Times by a private group, the Project on Government Oversight, which has long been pushing for better security at the weapons sites.
Danielle Brian, the group’s executive director, said that although the deadline set by Congress was tight, if the Energy Department “had taken seriously consolidating and making this an expedited effort, they wouldn’t be having these problems now.”

Robert Alvarez, an adviser to the energy secretary in the Clinton administration, said there was wide agreement that centralizing the fuel was a good idea. But Mr. Alvarez added, “There’s a lot of pushback about moving fissile materials from a site, because then you lose a portion of your budget and prestige.”

The Energy Department declined requests for an interview, but Michael Kilpatrick, a deputy chief at the department’s Office of Health, Safety and Security, said in a statement that the steps under way were “further enhancements and better protection to some of the most secure facilities in the country.”

But Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has taken a particular interest in nuclear security, said in a statement, “The department seems to think that the terrorist threat to its nuclear facilities is no more serious than a Halloween prank, as evidenced by its failure — more than six years after the 9/11 attacks — to do what it must to keep our stores of nuclear-weapons-grade materials secure.” Mr. Markey said the delay was unsurprising but unacceptable.

One site that will miss its deadline by years is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which holds a large stock of weapons-usable uranium. The laboratory plans to dilute the uranium, but that will take until 2015, the auditors found.

Two other sites that will miss their deadlines are operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for weapons security. The agency was established in 1999 after a number of security breaches in the weapons complex, and in January its director was forced to resign because of other security lapses.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Energy Department changed its “design basis threat,” the description of the attacking force against which the weapons sites should prepare their defenses. The details of this design basis threat are classified, but the new definition specifies a larger and more capable group of attackers.

To emphasize the importance of the preparations, Congress wrote into law that the Energy Department sites should submit plans on how the department would meet the requirements. Recognizing that much of the department’s work runs far behind schedule, Congress specified that if a delay were necessary, it would have to be approved by the secretary or deputy secretary of energy.

An unclassified version of the Energy Department’s first report to Congress, in July 2006, said that more than $420 million had been spent in the previous three years in an “aggressive” program. Among the changes was giving security officers armored vehicles and large-caliber weapons. That change reduced “the need to hire more security officers to account for the expected attrition that would be a natural result of the increased adversary force.”

The department has rewritten its design basis threat several times. Mr. Kilpatrick said in his statement that all sites now met the 2003 version of the design basis threat and were working toward the current version, set in 2005.

The Energy Department told Congress in 2006 that six sites would meet the 2008 deadline. But the accountability office said that one of those, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would not make the deadline.

The Energy Department said work at the five other sites would be completed later; those are the Nevada Test Site, the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Y-12, a weapons site in Tennessee.

The G.A.O. said in July that the Idaho National Laboratory would not be done until 2013, four years later than the Energy Department’s estimate.

Americans authorized Congress and this president to spend our fortune shoring up our vulnerabilities to acts of terrorism, only to see the money spent on a war that makes more enemies for us with each passing day. It's hard to believe that the Bush administration has any concerns about terrorism when its chief objective has been to transfer America's wealth to its corporate cronies.
After learning that Bush had been illegally wiretapping prior to 9/11/01 and

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Step by Step, Inch by Inch, Bush Moves Closer to War in Iran

With the nation's attention fixed on the wildfires ravaging California, Bush submits a massive supplemental request for more money, but not for any weapons necessary for fighting in Iraq.

The most recent previous step along Bush's plan to go to war in Iran was getting a unit of Iran's military designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Senate. That secured, and under cover of California's catastrophic fires, Bush submitted a supplemental appropriations bill and used his bully pulpit to turn up the pressure on Congress to pass it, when there is no immediate need to do so. Congressional Quarterly reports:
Some Democrats are worried that President Bush’s funding request to enable B-2 “stealth” bombers to carry a new 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bomb is a sign of plans for an attack on Iran.

Buried in the $196.4 billion supplemental war spending proposal that Bush submitted to Congress on Oct. 22 is a request for $88 million to modify B-2 bombers so they can drop a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a conventional bomb still in development that is the most powerful weapon designed to destroy targets deep underground.

A White House summary accompanying the supplemental spending proposal said the request for money to modify B-2s to carry the bombs came in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” The summary provided no further details. The White House and the Air Force, in response to queries, did not provide additional clarification.
Previous statements by the Defense Department and the program’s contractors, along with interviews with military experts, suggest the weapon is meant for the kind of hardened targets found chiefly in Iran, which Bush suspects of developing nuclear weapons capability, and North Korea, which already has tested a nuclear device.

Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers to use diplomacy to resolve tensions with Iran over its nuclear program. But his request for funding to deliver the new bunker buster comes amid a sharp escalation of tough White House rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program in recent days.

On Oct. 18, Bush said a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III.” Three days later, Vice President Dick Cheney warned of “serious consequences” if Tehran continued to enrich uranium.

Against that backdrop, the proposed funding for bunker busters has some in Congress worried.

James P. Moran, D-Va., a senior member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he did not believe the MOP could be used in Iraq or Afghanistan and cited Iran as the potential target for the bomb. He said he would oppose the funding.

“That’s a clear red flag,” Moran said.

Jim McDermott, D-Wash., an outspoken critic of Bush’s war policies, said the funding request was the latest of many signs that indicated Bush was contemplating an attack on Iran. McDermott said such a scenario was his “biggest fear between now and the election.”

“We are not authorizing Bush to use a 30,000-pound bunker buster,” he said. “They’ve been banging the drums the same way as they did in 2002 with Iraq.”

Stealth Delivery

The Boeing Co., in conjunction with Elgin Air Force Base in Florida, has been developing the Massive Ordnance Penetrator for several years and first tested the bomb in March. The 15-ton bomb would be dropped by B-52 or B-2 bombers.

In June, the Northrop Grumman Corp., maker of the B-2, won a $2.5 million contract from the Air Force to retro fit the bat-winged, stealth bombers so they could drop the new weapon. The new funding, if approved, would significantly expand that initiative.

The B-2 made its battlefield debut during the Kosovo War in 1999. It is optimal for use against sophisticated enemy air defenses because its radar-evading surface is difficult to detect.

In interviews Tuesday, military experts said the new weapon was not designed for the kind of counterinsurgency campaign being conducted by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said the MOP could prove useful against other targets, notably underground Iranian facilities that are said to be producing nuclear weapons materials.

“A weapon like this is designed to deal with extremely hard and buried targets such as you would find in Iran or North Korea,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the conservative military think tank the Lexington Institute, who is also a consultant for some defense contractors.

“Clearly, in the case of North Korea, the likelihood of military action is receding as the Pyongyang government becomes more tractable,” said Thompson, referring to recent progress in diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs.

John Pike, an expert on defense and intelligence policy with, said the MOP could be used against Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

“It’ll go through it like a hot knife through butter,” Pike said. He noted that the B-2 would be the best aircraft to deliver the bomb “if you want it to be a surprise party.”

It is not clear how quickly the new weapon could be ready for delivery by a B-2 if the $88 million were enacted. A spokesman for Northrop Grumman declined to provide a time frame.

Not all Democratic lawmakers oppose the weapon. Non-nuclear bunker busters have emerged in recent years as favorites of Democrats concerned about Bush administration’s earlier plans to conduct research on nuclear models.

“We need to have this as a conventional weapon,” said Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “It adds to our deterrent.”

A Muzak Presidency That Would Be Hillary

The Guardian's Michael Tomasky Interviews Hillary Clinton

This is what you get when both the interviewer and subject play it safe, and say absolutely nothing substantive.

Michael Tomasky writes:
I have interviewed Hillary Clinton a handful of times since our initial meeting in 2000, during her first Senate race, when I must have seen her give 50 - 100 speeches en route to her thrashing of Republican opponent Rick Lazio.

She is a much more fluid politician today than she was in the fall of 1999, certainly. But she is still not known as an especially expansive interview subject. She has a reputation for avoiding actually answering the question, and reverting to a pre-ordained script, to a degree even greater than your average politician.

These qualities were on display at times in our chat. When I asked, for example, about the Democratic Congress' failure to cut off funding for the war, she went into a critique of Republican legislators' unwillingness to break with President Bush and said "the political reality is we don't have the votes".

The trick, then, I thought, would be to ask some germane but slightly offbeat questions in the hope that she hasn't already been asked them a thousand times and might say something new. I began with three such questions on foreign policy-related issues, and overall, her answers gave a somewhat new picture of Clinton in that in each case, the candidate who has spent years cultivating a relatively hawkish foreign policy image notably did not give the most hawkish answer she might have.
On executive power, I pointed out that if elected she would be entering the White House with far more power than her husband had as a result of moves by Bush and Dick Cheney to invest a degree of unilateral power in the executive branch that some find dangerous. "Well, I think it is clear that the power grab undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration has gone much further than any other president and has been sustained for longer," Clinton said. "Other presidents like Lincoln have had to take on extraordinary powers but would later go to the Congress for either ratification or rejection."

She continued: "There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution. There were other actions they've taken which could have obtained congressional authorisation but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle."

Here I asked whether a sitting president, once invested with such powers, could really give some of them up in the name of constitutional principle. Clinton said: "Oh, absolutely, Michael. I mean that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that."

Moving to Iraq, I asked whether she felt that war fit within the tradition of cold war liberalism that we associate with Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson. This question has been intensely debated among liberal war supporters and opponents since 2003, and how one answers it-especially if one is a Democrat-gives some indication of how one views the morality of pre-emptive or preventive war, and thus, of how one might make future foreign policy decisions. Many liberal war supporters have argued that the fight against terrorism is analogous to the cold war battle with the Soviet Union.

Clinton seemed to reject this. "It's hard to take what was a philosophy with respect to the use and containment of power during the cold war and try to shoehorn it into a post-cold war context," she said. "So I don't really think there is an easy or satisfying answer to that."

Most interesting was Clinton's answer to my question about whether terrorists hate us for our freedoms, or whether they have specific geopolitical objectives. Bush and other administration officials have said repeatedly that terrorists hate us for our freedoms. The implication of this premise, of course, is a fight to the death that is never over until the president says it's over (which in turn requires that we trust the president with enormous unilateral powers). It was one of those premises on which, in the days right after September 11, we were all supposed to agree.

Clinton clearly takes a different view: "Well, I believe that terrorism is a tool that has been utilised throughout history to achieve certain objectives. Some have been ideological, others territorial...And I think we've got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raisons d'etre of terrorists."

She added, "I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush, which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what it is we were up against when it comes to those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they're seeking."

So it's not, I asked, helpful to America's fight to say they hate us for our freedoms? "Well, some do," Clinton said. "But is that a diagnosis? I don't think it's proven to be an effective one."

Clinton has run, it is almost unanimously agreed, a brilliant campaign to this point. Having closely watched her slowly and methodically woo New Yorkers over a 16-month period in 1999 and 2000, allaying their concerns and getting them to submit finally to her undeniable competence and intelligence, I can say that I see much the same kind of process unfolding in its early stages this year. The lead she has steadily built up in the national polls among Democrats, however relevant to the selection process they may or may not be, is testament to this.

Still, of course, many questions remain about both her electability and how she would govern if elected. I'd love to have been able to go through all of these matters in detail, but time was running short, so I just chose to focus on one thing, having to do with how she would govern.

One major concern of liberals about Clinton is her preternatural caution as a politician-her general unwillingness to stick her neck out and risk political capital in behalf of a progressive policy goal that wasn't a safe issue. I asked her to name one issue during her Senate tenure on which she'd done this. Answer: "Well, I think, you know, voting against funding. What did we get, 12, 13, 14 votes on that?" She was referring to a vote last May to make emergency supplemental appropriations to the Iraq war effort. The measure passed 80-14. Clinton and her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, both voted no, announcing their votes very late in the process.

This, of course, wasn't really what I meant. By the time of this vote, she was in full presidential campaign mode and trying to establish her bona fides with the party's anti-war base. So the political risk inherent in this vote was small. Indeed it was Joe Biden, who was the only senator/presidential candidate to vote yea, who risked something politically, whatever one thinks of his vote substantively.

After I followed up, Clinton went into a defence of how progressive her voting record was; but again, this wasn't what I meant. I was asking about examples of leadership. So the answer to the question was that there really wasn't one thing that she could think of on which she'd taken a risk in behalf of a progressive policy end.

For many Democratic voters, this is the heart of the continuing Clinton conundrum. She is running on a reasonably progressive platform, especially with regard to health care, and even on issues like labour and trade, where she has staked out positions somewhat to her husband's left. Some of her answers to me on foreign policy suggest that she could depart more strongly from the neoconservative agenda than some sceptics might assume ("one of the lessons that I think we all should take out of the last six-and-a-half years is that ideologically driven foreign policy that is not rooted in a realistic assessment of the world as we find it today is not likely to result in any positive outcome").

But at the end of the day there remains the question of how aggressively she would pursue some of her more laudable goals as president. Passing universal health care and bringing the war in Iraq toward its conclusion will both need to be done early in her tenure. Both will require enormous risks of political capital and courageous leadership, especially considering how intensely her political opponents are likely to fight her. As a senator, aware that she is a lightning rod for the right wing, she has tended to work behind the scenes, letting colleagues take the lead.

That's worked well for her. But the difference between the Senate and the White House is that a president has no colleagues. "Change is just a word," she told me, "if you don't have the strength and experience to make it happen." She meant the sentence as a knock on Barack Obama, but they will be words for President Hillary Clinton to live by as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Study: Steep Decline in Oil Production Brings Risk of War & Unrest

· Output peaked in 2006 and will fall 7% a year
· Decline in gas, coal and uranium also predicted

The Guardian reports:
World oil production has already peaked and will fall by half as soon as 2030, according to a report which also warns that extreme shortages of fossil fuels will lead to wars and social breakdown.

The German-based Energy Watch Group will release its study in London today saying that global oil production peaked in 2006 - much earlier than most experts had expected. The report, which predicts that production will now fall by 7% a year, comes after oil prices set new records almost every day last week, on Friday hitting more than $90 (£44) a barrel.

"The world soon will not be able to produce all the oil it needs as demand is rising while supply is falling. This is a huge problem for the world economy," said Hans-Josef Fell, EWG's founder and the German MP behind the country's successful support system for renewable energy.

The report's author, Joerg Schindler, said its most alarming finding was the steep decline in oil production after its peak, which he says is now behind us.
The results are in contrast to projections from the International Energy Agency, which says there is little reason to worry about oil supplies at the moment.

However, the EWG study relies more on actual oil production data which, it says, are more reliable than estimates of reserves still in the ground. The group says official industry estimates put global reserves at about 1.255 gigabarrels - equivalent to 42 years' supply at current consumption rates. But it thinks the figure is only about two thirds of that.

Global oil production is currently about 81m barrels a day - EWG expects that to fall to 39m by 2030. It also predicts significant falls in gas, coal and uranium production as those energy sources are used up.

Britain's oil production peaked in 1999 and has already dropped by half to about 1.6 million barrels a day.

The report presents a bleak view of the future unless a radically different approach is adopted. It quotes the British energy economist David Fleming as saying: "Anticipated supply shortages could lead easily to disturbing scenes of mass unrest as witnessed in Burma this month. For government, industry and the wider public, just muddling through is not an option any more as this situation could spin out of control and turn into a complete meltdown of society."

Mr Schindler comes to a similar conclusion. "The world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life."

Jeremy Leggett, one of Britain's leading environmentalists and the author of Half Gone, a book about "peak oil" - defined as the moment when maximum production is reached, said that both the UK government and the energy industry were in "institutionalised denial" and that action should have been taken sooner.

"When I was an adviser to government, I proposed that we set up a taskforce to look at how fast the UK could mobilise alternative energy technologies in extremis, come the peak," he said. "Other industry advisers supported that. But the government prefers to sleep on without even doing a contingency study. For those of us who know that premature peak oil is a clear and present danger, it is impossible to understand such complacency."

Mr Fell said that the world had to move quickly towards the massive deployment of renewable energy and to a dramatic increase in energy efficiency, both as a way to combat climate change and to ensure that the lights stayed on. "If we did all this we may not have an energy crisis."

He accused the British government of hypocrisy. "Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have talked a lot about climate change but have not brought in proper policies to drive up the use of renewables," he said. "This is why they are left talking about nuclear and carbon capture and storage. "

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Department of Business and Enterprise said: "Over the next few years global oil production and refining capacity is expected to increase faster than demand. The world's oil resources are sufficient to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable future. The challenge will be to bring these resources to market in a way that ensures sustainable, timely, reliable and affordable supplies of energy."

The German policy, which guarantees above-market payments to producers of renewable power, is being adopted in many countries - but not Britain, where renewables generate about 4% of the country's electricity and 2% of its overall energy needs.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

If It Was 45 Years Ago, We'd Be Watching This on Ed Sullivan

Before 60 Minutes was standard Sunday night viewing (or ER on Thursdays), The Ed Sullivan Show was how families across America got ready for a new week of work and school. Every Sunday night between 8:00-9:00 p.m., families gathered around a television set in their living room to watch acts like this one:

Raymond Crowe, Unusualist

"The surest sign of age: Yearning for simpler times."

Telecoms Getting Paid Big Taxpayer $$ to Let Feds Invade Your Privacy Without Court Orders

What Does Uncle Sam Pay to Read Your E-Mail?

ABC News reports:
If you cringe when your read your monthly Internet or phone bill, take heart: Uncle Sam probably does too.

According to an internal Comcast cable company document, the giant cable-Internet-phone provider charges the government $1,000 nearly every time the FBI or other intelligence or law enforcement agency wants to surveil a person's e-mail or digital phone account.

Comcast provides cable-based communications service to millions of Americans. A company spokeswoman told ABC News "our first priority is our customers' privacy, but we want to balance that with the legitimate needs of law enforcement."

On top of its "start-up" fee, Comcast charges state and federal authorities $750 a month to maintain electronic surveillance, according to the document, which was obtained by the nonprofit Secrecy News Web site.

The fees are charged for nearly all law enforcement or intelligence surveillance requests. In cases involving child exploitation, Comcast waives the fees, the document states.
In addition to those surveillance services, Comcast can also provide state and federal authorities with customer billing information for a fee, according to the 35-page document, entitled "Law Enforcement Handbook." The company strives to respond "within eight to ten days" to government requests, the handbook states.

Depending on the type of information an agency wants, it can submit a letter of request, a criminal warrant, obtain a court order, submit a secret intelligence warrant or use a controversial "National Security Letter," according to the handbook.

The document sheds light on the quiet cooperation some communications companies give government authorities, at a time when aspects of that relationship are coming under fire.

Communications companies are required by law to provide law enforcement access to customer information and records that are needed for criminal investigations, as well as for certain intelligence operations.

The Democrat-led Congress, however, is turning up the heat on the Bush administration and major telecommunications carriers for a domestic spying operation involving phone and Internet customers that many people, including former Justice Department officials, believe operated outside the law.

Little is known about the effort, which the White House has since named the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," other than that it apparently involved the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) and carriers like AT&T and Verizon, which provided the government with customers' phone records.

Congressional leaders have said the Bush administration has steadfastly refused to provide details on the program, although the White House has said it had "fully briefed" them.

In letters to Congress released yesterday, carriers AT&T, Verizon and Qwest declined to discuss the program. Qwest has previously stated it declined to participate in the program, despite overtures from the administration.

There have been no reports that Comcast, which provides digital phone service to 3.5 million people, has been involved in the TSP.

The Comcast handbook, dated September 2007 and stamped "Comcast Confidential," does not say how many requests for surveillance assistance Comcast has received.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chain of Errors Blamed for Nuclear Arms Going Undetected

An Air Force inquiry says weapons officers failed five times to check missiles before they were flown across the country to another base.

The LA Times reports:
Air Force weapons officers assigned to secure nuclear warheads failed on five occasions to examine a bundle of cruise missiles headed to a B-52 bomber in North Dakota, leading the plane's crew to unknowingly fly six nuclear-armed missiles across the country.

That August flight, the first known incident in which the military lost track of its nuclear weapons since the dawn of the atomic age, lasted nearly three hours, until the bomber landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in northern Louisiana.

But according to an Air Force investigation presented to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Friday, the nuclear weapons sat on a plane on the runway at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota for nearly 24 hours without ground crews noticing the warheads had been moved out of a secured shelter.

"This was an unacceptable mistake," said Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne at a Pentagon news conference. "We would really like to ensure it never happens again."

If only there was this same attitude toward that Mess O'Potamia.
For decades, it has been military policy to never discuss the movement or deployment of the nuclear arsenal. But Wynne said the accident was so serious that he ordered an exception so the mistakes could be made public.

On Aug. 29, North Dakota crew members were supposed to load 12 unarmed cruise missiles in two bundles under the B-52's wings to be taken to Louisiana to be decommissioned. But in what the Air Force has ruled were five separate mistakes, six missiles contained nuclear warheads.

According to the investigation, the chain of errors began the day before the flight when Air Force officers failed to inspect five bundles of cruise missiles inside a secure nuclear weapons hangar at Minot. Some missiles in the hangar have nuclear warheads, some have dummy warheads, and others have neither, officials said.

An inspection would have revealed that one of the bundles contained six missiles with nuclear warheads, investigators said.

"They grabbed the wrong ones," said Maj. Gen. Richard Newton, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff in charge of operations.

After that, four other checks built into procedures for checking the weapons were overlooked, allowing the plane to take off Aug. 30 with crew members unaware that they were carrying enough destructive power to wipe out several cities.

Newton said that even though the nuclear missiles were hanging on the B-52's wings overnight without anyone knowing they were missing, the investigation found that the Minot's tarmac was secure enough that the military was never at risk of losing control of the warheads.

The cruise missiles were supposed to be transported to Barksdale without warheads as part of a treaty that requires the missiles to be mothballed. Newton said the warheads are normally removed in the Minot hangar before the missiles are assigned to a B-52 for transport.

The Air Force did not realize the warheads had been moved until airmen began taking them off the plane at Barksdale. The B-52 had been sitting on the runway there for more than nine hours, however, before they were offloaded.

Newton did not say what explanation the Minot airmen gave investigators for their repeated failure to check the warheads once they left the secured hangar, saying only that there was inattention and "an erosion of adherence to weapons-handling standards."

Air Force officials who were briefed on the findings said investigators found that personnel lacked neither the time nor the resources to perform the inspections, indicating that the weapons officers had become lackadaisical in their duties.

One official noted that until the Air Force was given the task of decommissioning the cruise missiles this year, it had not handled airborne nuclear weapons for more than a decade, implying that most of the airmen lacked experience with the procedures.

The Air Force has fired four colonels who oversaw aircraft and weapons operations at Minot and Barksdale, and some junior personnel have also been disciplined, Newton said. The case has been handed to a three-star general who will review the findings and determine whether anyone involved should face court-martial proceedings.

Despite the series of failures, Newton said, the investigation found that human error, rather than inadequate procedures, were at fault. Gates has ordered an outside panel headed by retired Gen. Larry D. Welch, a former Air Force chief of staff, to review the Pentagon's handling of nuclear weapons.

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Texas Ranks 2nd in Teachers Sanctioned for Sexual Misconduct

The Associated Press reports:
From Aug. 4 to Aug. 17, an assistant band director was arrested, a former substitute teacher was convicted and an ex-middle school teacher was sentenced.

The three men — one in suburban Fort Worth, one in suburban Dallas and one in Austin — each faced charges of sex crimes against students.

It was a typical two weeks in Texas.

A review by The Associated Press shows Texas is No. 2 in the nation in the number of teachers sanctioned for sexual misconduct. Texas Education Agency records indicate at least 200 teachers have active sanctions on their certifications for sexual misconduct that occurred between 2001 and 2005. At least 50 more certified teachers faced sex crime allegations, but had their sanctions lifted or have decisions pending.
More than 1,300 certified teachers in Texas received sanctions from 2001-05 because of allegations that ranged from the mundane to the macabre. They included mail fraud and violating open records, as well as kidnapping and attempted murder, according to TEA records.

"And that's just what we hear about," said Peggy Bittick, a Houston attorney whose client says she was sexually assaulted in school. "There are so many kids who never report what happens to them."

The Texas figures were gathered as part of a seven-month investigation in which AP reporters sought records on teacher discipline in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Across the country, sexual misconduct allegations led states to take action against the licenses of 2,570 educators from 2001 through 2005. That figure includes licenses that were revoked, denied and surrendered.

Young people were victims in at least 69 percent of the cases, and the large majority of those were students.

Nine out of 10 of those abusive educators were male. And at least 446 of the cases the AP found involved educators who had multiple victims.

There are about 3 million public school teachers in the United States.

The Texas figures seem typical of what's happening nationally. While the overall percentage remains low, sexual misconduct cases happen on a regular basis — despite legal statutes and extensive training covering ethical behavior.

"It just keeps showing up," Bittick said. "We need more and more education and more and more scrutiny. We have to have everyone be accountable."

Most states, including Texas, have legal statutes that deal with teachers who cross the line. In 2003, Texas lawmakers added a new crime to the penal code: improper relationship between an educator and student, a second-degree felony.

And almost all college education programs cover proper, ethical behavior "explicitly," said Mike Sacken, an education professor at Texas Christian University who refers to transgressions as "border crossings."

Education has helped. While they don't dismiss the problem as trivial, most experts say teachers probably are misbehaving today about as often as they did in years past.

"If you just watch Lifetime, you think this happens in every high school in America every 15 minutes," Sacken said. "The huge majority of teachers and students never experience this."

Still, such "border crossings" can have devastating consequences. Bittick, the Houston attorney, said her client was 14 at the time of her alleged assault. Her client had been a troublemaker, Bittick said, but her behavior deteriorated afterward and she ended up in Texas' youth prison system.

The trouble she experienced are "all linked to this happening," Bittick said. The teacher's aide in question was acquitted in court. Bittick's client has since filed a lawsuit, which is pending.

Such cases eventually land on the desk of Chris Jones, a senior counsel in the Office of Investigations at the TEA. His office deals with two types of cases most often, he said: ethics complaints and sexual misconduct.

"When I went to high school, the same type of misconduct went on but nobody cared," Jones said. "I think there is a lot more awareness and a lot more reporting. People are more aware, more likely to get caught and more likely to be reported."

Computers and telephones have been crucial to Jones' work as lead investigator. Electronic records — such as text messages, e-mails or phone records — are often the best evidence in sexual misconduct cases.

"Quite frankly, a lot of these cases are consensual and the student will protect the educator," Jones said. "I have prosecuted several cases where the student has denied the relationship, but we have love letters, cell phone records, computer chats, and will prosecute on that basis."

Anecdotal evidence suggests the most likely perpetrators are young teachers or those who are highly involved in sports or student groups.

Earlier this year, a suburban McKinney substitute teacher testified that he showed students pornographic pictures, took topless photos of a 15-year-old female student and romantically pursued an underaged girl. The teacher, who was convicted of indecency with a child, said it didn't occur to him that his actions were inappropriate. He said he only considered his reputation as a "cool teacher."

It is often coaches, drama teachers and club advisers, Sacken said, who face sexually charged allegations.

"You're driving in cars to places," Sacken said. "You're seeing them at school at 7 at night when nobody's there. You have to be more disciplined in making sure students know where boundaries are."

Jones, who sends his children to public schools and praises the "vast majority" of teachers as ethical, said the state must come down hard on those who are not.

"It's a tough job," he said. "I deal with some allegations that, frankly, are disturbing. As a parent, I hate to think this type of thing occurs."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

U.S. House Fails to Overturn Bush's Veto On Kid's Health

Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow discuss Democrats' failure to override Bush's veto:

Reuters reports:
The Democratic-led U.S. Congress on Thursday challenged President George W. Bush on children's health care and lost, setting the stage for an emotionally charged confrontation with Republicans in the 2008 elections.

The U.S. House of Representatives, in a 273-156 vote, failed to overturn Bush's veto of a plan to expand a popular health program to cover an additional 10 million children.

The vote fell 13 short of the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a presidential veto, giving Bush a victory but one Democrats are likely to use against his Republicans, even though many supported the bill, as they try to solidify their congressional majority.
"In the coming days, Democrats will not back down and we will insist on providing health care coverage to these 10 million children," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, after the vote said Congress intends to send Bush another bill in the next two weeks that covers the same number of youngsters.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in an interview he was "optimistic" the administration and Congress could work out their differences. The administration's goal is to sign-up 500,000 more eligible low-income children, he said.

The bill vetoed by Bush would have raised tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35 billion dollars over five years to provide health care for as many as 10 million children, compared to the 6.6 million currently enrolled.

Backers of the bill said the current $25 billion, five-year funding level and Bush's proposal to provide an extra $5 billion would not be enough even to cover the current number of children.

The battle over the program, which provides health coverage to children of families unable to afford insurance but who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid health care program for the poor, has been intense and sometimes emotional.

"It's too bad that they are voting to harm children for really a bunch of petty grievances," Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat, said of Republicans who voted to sustain Bush's veto.

The bill is support by medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But Republicans have said the legislation was a stepping stone to government-run health care and that they also want to be sure that the program's benefits are not extended to higher income families and illegal immigrants.

The bill's backers had complained that many of the administration's arguments were misleading because the legislation did not allow coverage to illegal immigrants and discouraged states from including higher income families.

The administration accused Democrats of playing politics.

"As it is clear that this legislation lacks sufficient support to become law, now is the time for Congress to stop playing politics and to join the president in finding common ground to reauthorize this vital program," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.

Health care is becoming a major issue in campaigns for next year's presidential election and Republicans who voted with Bush have been pummeled by television and radio ads sponsored by unions and liberal advocacy groups., the liberal online political action group, announced a new ad campaign targeting six Republicans who voted to sustain Bush's veto.

The bill represented a compromise between Democrats and a group of Senate Republicans.

Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who helped write the compromise, said in a statement that he would work with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate to get a bill "that can do one of two things, either get a presidential signature or enough votes in the House of Representatives."

Mukasey says, "Bush Can Ignore the Law"

On Chuck Schumer's Recommendation, Democrats Expected To Vote For Bush's Nominee For Attorney General
The Washington Post reports:
Attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey suggested today that the president could ignore federal surveillance law if it infringes on his constitutional authority as commander in chief.

Under sharp questioning about the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program, Mukasey said there may be occasions when the president's wartime powers would supersede legal requirements to obtain a warrant to conduct wiretaps.

In such a case, Mukasey said, "the president is not putting somebody above the law; the president is putting somebody within the law. . . . The president doesn't stand above the law. But the law emphatically includes the Constitution."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was "troubled by your answer. I see a loophole big enough to drive a truck through."
During a second day of hearings on his nomination, Mukasey defended several of the Bush administration's most controversial legal policies, prompting a drop in temperature in his previously warm relations with Democrats on the committee.

Mukasey, for example, endorsed the administration's views of expansive presidential authority in the use of executive privilege, saying it would be inappropriate for a U.S. attorney to press for contempt charges against a White House official protected by a claim of executive privilege.

Mukasey also demurred when he was repeatedly asked whether a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding constitutes unlawful torture. Mukasey had strongly condemned the use of harsh interrogation tactics yesterday and said that the president could not order treatment that violated constitutional prohibitions.

But Mukasey said he could not elaborate on what techniques might be allowed, and specifically refused to answer questions from Democrats about whether waterboarding specifically was unconstitutional, saying he did know enough about what the technique entailed.

"If it is torture as defined by the Constitution, or defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized," Mukasey said.

Mukasey's remarks stood in sharp contrast to his comments during his first day of testimony yesterday, when he stopped short of embracing the Bush administration's legal views on several important topics and criticized its policies or legal reasoning in several areas.

The apparent shift prompted criticism from several committee Democrats, who largely showered Mukasey with praise yesterday and have predicted that he will be easily confirmed to replace former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales.

During a break in testimony, Leahy told reporters that he was concerned about a "sudden change" in Mukasey's answers regarding the limits of presidential power.

"There were far clearer answers yesterday than there were today," Leahy said.

Yesterday, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) pressed Mukasey on the limits of federal surveillance law with little success. Today, after Mukasey more clearly embraced the argument that such a law might infringe on presidential authority, Feingold complained that Mukasey had gone from being "agnostic" to holding a "disturbing view."

"You suggest that I've gone overnight from being an agnostic to being a heretic; I haven't," Mukasey responded, though he did not elaborate.

Mukasey also amplified his opposition to a proposed federal shield law for journalists, which has been approved by the Judiciary Committee in the wake of several high-profile cases in which reporters were jailed or threatened with contempt charges for refusing to divulge sources. Mukasey said that the current system has worked "passably well" and that any problems could likely be solved by changes to internal Justice Department rules.

Mukasey, who worked briefly as a wire service reporter and later represented media organizations as an attorney in private practice, echoed Bush administration arguments that such a law could be used to protect journalists who also are acting as spies or terrorists.

Yesterday, Mukasey said that he would chart an independent path for the Justice Department after Gonzales's tumultuous tenure, testifying that he would not be afraid to disagree with the president and would resign rather than implement policies that he believed violated the Constitution.

Mukasey also said the president cannot use his powers as commander in chief to override prohibitions against using torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading conduct in the interrogation of prisoners.

"Are you prepared to resign if the president were to violate your advice and in your view violate the Constitution?" asked Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Mukasey responded: "That would present me with a difficult but not a complex problem. I could either try to talk him out of it or leave."

These and other strongly worded remarks reflected the former federal judge and prosecutor's desire to position himself as an independent legal thinker who, unlike Gonzales, has no long-standing ties to the current White House. "I'm not a bashful person, and I'm not going to become a bashful person if I'm confirmed," Mukasey said late in the day.

But Mukasey also declined to directly answer some questions related to controversial surveillance, detention and interrogation issues, and he suggested that in some policy areas his views might differ little from those of his predecessor.

During a sparring session with Feingold, for example, Mukasey declined to say whether the president could order a violation of federal surveillance law.

Mukasey said he could not provide an informed analysis without being briefed on the classified program but noted that some lawyers think the law does not entirely limit the president.

"I find your equivocation here somewhat troubling," Feingold responded.

Mukasey also expressed conservative views on social issues as divergent as obscenity and immigration, saying he would consider more robust prosecution of those caught being in the country illegally.

Most of the committee's Democrats, including Leahy, yesterday nonetheless repeated earlier predictions that Mukasey will be confirmed easily and with strong bipartisan support. "I'm encouraged by the answers," Leahy told reporters.

Yesterday's session was interrupted for several hours by a congressional ceremony for the Dalai Lama.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had recommended that the White House nominate Mukasey, said Mukasey needs to rescue the Justice Department from its "greatest crisis since Watergate."

Much of the praise for Mukasey was accompanied by barely disguised swipes at Gonzales. "I think it's time for a steady hand, for a professional," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Schumer was more critical, saying Gonzales "was not much more than a potted plant" as attorney general.

Gonzales, a longtime friend and confidant of President Bush, resigned in August amid allegations that he bowed to White House demands in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and on controversial national security policies, and then misrepresented his role during testimony on Capitol Hill.

Gonzales, who has hired a private defense attorney, is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he lied to Congress or improperly tried to influence a congressional witness.

Democrats had earlier threatened to hold up the Mukasey hearings until they received more documents from the White House related to congressional investigations of the prosecutor firings and other issues. Those demands were put on hold, but Democrats say they will not abandon their probes.

Mukasey avoided a question about whether he would allow a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges against the White House if it refused to hand over the documents at issue, as Justice Department procedures provide.

Mukasey, 66, was calm and soft-spoken during much of his testimony, witnessed in the hearing room by family members and friends, including former FBI director Louis J. Freeh. Leahy and other lawmakers described Mukasey as candid and direct compared with Gonzales, who was widely accused of giving vague and evasive testimony.

When questioned about a Justice Department legal opinion issued early in the Bush administration, and since rescinded, that narrowly defined the acts that constitute torture, Mukasey replied differently than Gonzales had at his own confirmation hearing in early 2005.

Although Gonzales had repudiated that document, he repeatedly declined to directly answer questions about the limits of executive branch legal authority to undertake harsh interrogation methods that could be used on terrorism suspects. Mukasey said flatly that the president's commander-in-chief powers do not give him the authority to order torture or cruel treatment, which are prohibited by U.S. laws and international treaties.

At the same time, Mukasey essentially agreed with Gonzales's contention that a president can find a law unconstitutional.

While Gonzales had strongly defended the detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mukasey called it a "black eye" for the United States because "we are detaining people apparently without end." He also suggested that it would be difficult to close Guantanamo Bay soon and defended an earlier comment that prisoners there were treated better than many U.S. citizens.

Under questioning from Leahy, Mukasey promised to recuse himself from any investigations that might touch on the GOP presidential campaign of former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a longtime friend and political ally. Mukasey also vowed to limit contact between Justice Department officials and "political figures," and to discourage bringing charges close to an election.

In response to questions about rising crime rates, Mukasey said he would consider reallocating resources for anti-gang programs and other efforts. The Justice Department has diverted funds and personnel from crime-fighting to focus on counterterrorism and immigration cases, shortchanging anti-gang and anti-crime efforts.

"We can't turn our society into something not worth preserving in order to preserve it," he said.
Code for, "We're going to use the unlimited police state capabilities that Congress gave the executive branch for combating terrorism against any and all that we deem to be our enemies. That includes Democrats, blacks, hispanics, liberals."

How Difficult Is It To Answer?

Democrats on Senate Judiciary committee ask Michael Mukasey, "Is this torture?"

The Associated Press reports:
In an intense exchange Thursday with three Democrats, President Bush's nominee for attorney general left the door open for allowing a terrorism-era interrogation technique that simulates drowning.

Michael Mukasey, a retired federal judge, issued highly-conditioned statements that so-called waterboarding violates the Constitution only if it is defined as torture.

The answer is unclear.
In an executive order this summer, Bush allowed the use of some harsh interrogation techniques but his administration refused to say whether waterboarding was among them. Congress has banned waterboarding as part of a detainee treatment law.

During Thursday's proceedings, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin probed for Mukasey's opinion.

"I'm hoping that you can at least look at this one technique and say: that clearly constitutes torture, it should not be the policy of the United States to engage in waterboarding," said the Illinois Democrat.

"It is not constitutional for the United States to engage in torture in any form, be it waterboarding or anything else," Mukasey replied.
That sounds clear, doesn't it? But wait...
Under subsequent questioning by Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mukasey said the practice of waterboarding, if defined as torture, can't be permitted by the president.

"If it is torture as defined by the Constitution, or defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized," Mukasey said.
Okay, now you've lost me. And apparently, the member of the committee as well...
Judiciary Committee members, most lawyers themselves, have little tolerance for parsing after earlier hearings in which then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on dozens of occasions either did not answer questions or blamed a faulty memory for not answering them.

"Is waterboarding constitutional?" pressed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. "It either is or it isn't."

Mukasey again demurred, saying he doesn't know what's involved in the technique.

"If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional," the nominee replied.

"I'm very disappointed in that answer," Whitehouse said. "I think it's purely semantics."

The president himself has repeatedly said "We don't torture" and argued that intense interrogations are sometimes necessary to elicit information about terrorist plots.

The White House suggested Thursday that Mukasey's answers were vague because he does not know the specifics of the program.

"Judge Mukasey is not in a position to discuss interrogation techniques which are necessarily classified," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "He would only be read-in to classified programs after being confirmed."

So far, Mukasey has told senators he will reject any White House meddling in Justice Department matters and resign if his legal or ethical concerns about administration policy are ignored. He also said he's resistant to passing a law shielding reporters from being forced to reveal their sources, saying it would be much easier to fix internal Justice Department practice if need be.

Majority Democrats, aided by some Republicans, have urged passage of a media shield because they say it would protect reporters and government whistleblowers who reveal improper or illegal official activity. Fifty news outlets, including The Associated Press, support the legislation.

The Bush administration has issued a veto threat, saying that subpoenas for reporters are relatively rare and that a shield would make it harder to track down leakers of classified information.

Mukasey said that he has reservations about the legislation because it sets too high a legal threshold for prosecutors to meet to overcome the shield. Proving that the disclosure is needed to prevent an attack is difficult in advance, the nominee said Wednesday.

The measure also pending defines a journalist too broadly and might inadvertently protect, for example, bloggers who are also spies or terrorists, Mukasey said.

And yet when all is said and done, apparently Mukasey is a "shoo-in."

Patrick Leahy: "Intel Committee About to 'Cave' on Surveillance & Telecom Immunity"

The Hill reports:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday condemned Intelligence Committee Democrats for brokering a deal with the White House that would provide retroactive immunity for telephone companies that assisted the Bush administration’s controversial warrantless wiretapping program.

At the second day of confirmation hearings for President Bush’s Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey, Leahy warned that “the Intelligence Committee is about to cave on this,” citing pressure from the White House and press reports suggesting the administration had gotten its way.

“[Administration officials] know that it was illegal conduct and that there is no saving grace for the president to say, ‘Well, I was acting with authority,’ ” said Leahy. “Otherwise there wouldn't be so much pressure on us to immunize illegal conduct by either people acting within our government or within the private industry.”
Leahy’s remarks signal that a bipartisan accord to overhaul the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), reached Wednesday by the Intelligence panel’s leaders and the White House, could divide Democrats and hit a roadblock on his panel as well. The Intelligence Committee marks up the bill Thursday afternoon, after which it will be referred to Judiciary, where more Democrats have openly opposed retroactive immunity language.

His comments also come as House Democratic efforts to overhaul the law are falling into disarray, after House Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to force leaders to pull the Democrats’ FISA rewrite from the floor late Wednesday.

Attempting to resolve a central point of contention, Senate Intelligence panel Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) reportedly reached a deal Wednesday with Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to give full retroactive immunity to telephone companies if they can demonstrate they were cooperating lawfully with the secret wiretapping program when suits were levied against them.

Not all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee appeared to share Leahy’s concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence panels, signaled she was likely to support the bipartisan approach.

“At this stage, it is a bipartisan bill,” Feinstein said. “I’m absolutely convinced that the only way we can legislate on this is on a bipartisan basis. This bill so far is bipartisan — that’s good news.”
When Dianne Feinstein says, "It's a bipartisan bill," she means that DINOs are in agreement with it, and not that it reflects any Democratic values, which happen to be the values of the majority of people in the state that elected her. Unfortunately, Feinstein isn't up for reelection until 2012 (should she choose to run again at age 79), so constituents only recourse is to flood her offices with mail and phone calls pressuring her to represent the people of California as they wish to be represented.
During the hearing, Democrats launched fresh criticism at Mukasey’s interpretation of FISA. After the nominee indicated that Bush was not acting illegally by going beyond that statute in authorizing eavesdropping without court warrants, Leahy called that argument “a loophole big enough to drive a truck [through].”

Whether the president is acting illegally “would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country,” Mukasey said.

And all we hear is Mukasey is a shoo-in to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General.

Dodd Did It!

Chris Dodd Places "Hold" on FISA Bill

Today Senator Dodd will send a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid informing him that he will be placing a hold on FISA legislation that includes amnesty for telecommunications companies who enabled the President's assault on the Constitution by providing personal information on their customers without judicial authorization.

Take action and add your name to the list of people who don't want the Senate to provide telecom companies with amnesty for violating Americans' civil liberties. Stand with Chris Dodd today.

In our democratic republic, there are very few times when We, The People, get a say. This is one of them.

We've wanted our members of Congress to do our bidding, restore the Constitution and the repair the damage that the Bush-Cheney regime have inflicted and stand up to the Republican machine. Finally, ONE Democrat is doing it. If we want to see more of it, we've got to weigh in and do it now by giving what we can to Chris Dodd's presidential campaign. That's what all other Democrats will be watching.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

As The Pieces Come Together, A Picture Emerges

From early on in Bush's Iraq war (actually, as soon as it got out that Bush eschewed General Shinseki's plan for a ground force exceeding 300,000 troops, intending instead to do it "on the cheap,"), I knew (and wrote) that the plan was a permanent occupation of Iraq. And the only way for the U.S. to remain in Iraq would be if Iraq remained in chaos.

After 9/11, Congress gave Bush everything that he asked for - there was no need to do it "on the cheap." And if anybody were to complain about what it was costing, Bush and Cheney had the ready answer that "Iraq's oil would pay for it all, as well as Iraq's reconstruction." Bush and Cheney set out to keep the Sunnis, Shi'ia and Kurds at war with each other, and within their numbers Bush would claim Al Qaeda's presence (despite the fact that AQ1, as they are called, are teenagers from neighboring states), numbering fewer than 1500, to justify to the American people the ongoing war on terror.

At Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar writes:
The ultimate nightmare for White House/Pentagon designs on Middle East energy resources is not Iran after all: it's a unified Iraqi resistance, comprising not only Sunnis but also Shi'ites.

"It's the resistance, stupid" - along with "it's the oil, stupid". The intimate connection means there's no way for Washington to control Iraq's oil without protecting it with a string of sprawling military "super-bases".

The ultimate, unspoken taboo of the Iraq tragedy is that the US will never leave Iraq, unless, of course, it is kicked out. And that's exactly what the makings of a unified Sunni-Shi'ite resistance is set to accomplish.
Papa's got a brand new bag

At this critical juncture, it's as if the overwhelming majority of Sunnis and Shi'ites are uttering a collective cry of "we're mad as hell, and we won't take it anymore". The US Senate "suggests" that the solution is to break up the country. Blackwater and assorted mercenaries kill Iraqi civilians with impunity. Iraqi oil is being privatized via shady deals - like Hunt Oil with the Kurdistan regional government; Ray Hunt is a close pal of George W Bush.

Political deals in the Green Zone are just a detail in the big picture. On the surface the new configuration spells that the US-supported Shi'ite/Kurdish coalition in power is now challenged by an Iraqi nationalist bloc. This new bloc groups the Sadrists, the (Shi'ite) Fadhila party, all Sunni parties, the partisans of former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, and the partisans of former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. This bloc might even summon enough votes to dethrone the current, wobbly Maliki government.

But what's more important is that a true Iraqi national pact is in the making - coordinated by VicePresident Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, and blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani himself. The key points of this pact are, no more sectarianism (thus undermining US strategy of divide and rule); no foreign interference (thus no following of US, Iran, or Saudi agendas); no support for al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers; and the right to armed resistance against the occupation.

Last Friday Grand Ayatollah Sistani finally confronted the occupation in no uncertain terms. Via Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala'i, his representative in the holy city of Karbala, Sistani called for the Iraqi parliament to rein in Blackwater et al, and most of all the "occupation forces". He has never spoken out in such blunt language before.

For his part Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), one of the two key, US-supported Shi'ite parties in government, is back in Baghdad after four months of chemotherapy in Tehran. But it's his son, the affable Ammar al-Hakim - who was the acting SIIC leader while his father was away - who's been stealing the limelight, promising that the party will do everything in its power to prevent those US super-bases being set up in Iraq. Up to now SIIC's official position has been to support the US military presence.

Ammar al-Hakim even went to Ramadi on Sunday to talk to Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, brother of the late Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the former leader of the tribal coalition Anbar Awakening Council who was killed by a bomb last month. It was the first time since the invasion and occupation that a SIIC leader went to hardcore Sunni Anbar province. Ammar al-Hakim glowingly described the dead sheikh as "a national hero".

Most interesting is that Ammar al-Hakim was flanked by none other than feared Hadi al-Amri, the leader of the Badr Brigades - the SIIC militia trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, that in fact comprises the bulk of death squads involved in the avalanche of sectarian killings.

Ammar al-Hakim may now be against permanent US bases and in favor of Sunni-Shi'ite union. But although he now says he is against federalism, he's actually in favor of "self-governing regions". That makes him for many Iraqis a partisan of "soft partition" –- just like US congressmen. He qualifies the central government in Baghdad as "tyrannical".

For their part the Sunni Arab sheikhs in Anbar are totally against what would be a Western Iraq provincial government - possibly encompassing three, majority-Sunni provinces, Anbar, Salahuddin and Nineveh.

If on one Shi'ite side we have Ammar al-Hakim from SIIC, on the other side - literally - we have Muqtada al-Sadr. The same day Ammar al-Hakim was courting the tribal sheikhs, pan-Islamic Muqtada was saying he was against any soft partition or provincial governments. That's exactly what the sheikhs like to hear.

So now, in theory, everyone in the Shi'ite galaxy seems to want (more or less) the same thing. Tehran worked very hard to forge the recent peace pact between the al-Hakim family and the Sadrists. SIIC and Sistani are now explicitly saying that a unified Iraq must rein in the Pentagon and throw out the occupation - that's what Muqtada had been saying all along. Tehran and Tehran-supported SIIC must obviously have seen which way the Shi'ite street wind was blowing, so now we have a new, anti-sectarian, anti-occupation SIIC.

But it will require concentric halos of forgiveness for Sunnis to forget that the Badr Brigades have been responsible for a great deal of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, have cynically collaborated in synch with both the US and Iran, and have been focused on building a virtually independent "Shi'iteistan" in southern Iraq.

'We want you out'

Away from the Anbar sheikhs, the Sunni front is also moving fast. Last week six key, non-Salafi jihadist resistance groups, on a video on al-Jazeera, officially announced their union under the "Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance". They are the Islamic Army in Iraq, the al-Mujahideen Army, Ansar al-Sunna, al-Fatiheen Army, the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI), and Iraqi Hamas.

The whole process has been on the move since early summer. The council has a 14-point program. The key point is of course guerrilla warfare as the means to throw the occupiers out. A very important point - deriding the usual Pentagon rhetoric - is that the council is fiercely against al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers. The council also rejects all laws and the constitution passed under the occupation; calls for an interim government; defends Iraq's territorial integrity and rejects sectarianism.

It has been the Sunni Arab guerrillas that have virtually defeated the US in Iraq. And what's even more remarkable is that, unlike Vietnam, this has not been a unified resistance of Sunnis and Shi'ites.

A very important issue concerns a group that decided not to be part of the council: the 1920 Revolution Brigades. The brigades are basically Iraqi nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. They totally reject any sort of collaboration with the US.

But they may join the council in the near future. In a statement released in early September, the brigades stressed what an overwhelming majority of Sunnis agree on: "The democrats have a chance to end this conflict in a face-saving solution for the US, by first declaring that they recognize the factions of the Iraqi resistance as the representatives of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Republic. After which a negotiating team would be arranged to negotiate your troop withdrawal, compensation for Iraq, and matters of future interest. It is only through the Iraqi resistance that a solution may be born."

Or else, it's "variable, adaptable and reversible asymmetric warfare that will set the standard for years and years to come".

And there's still more - the coordinated, "new Ba'ath" front: 22 resistance groups, under the command of former Saddam star Izaat al-Douri, already seriously talking with the Iyad Allawi bloc - thus part of the nationalist front - and dictating their conditions, which include a resistance ceasefire in exchange for a precise US timetable for withdrawal.

As far as all the key Sunni and Shi'ite factions in Iraq are concerned, they all agree on the basics. Iraq won't be occupied. Iraq won't hold permanent US military bases. Iraq won't give up its oil wealth. And Iraq won't be a toothless pro-Israel puppet regime.

As far as a concerted Iraqi resistance is concerned, the only way is up. What a historic irony that would be - before the Bush administration is finally tempted to attack Iran, it may have to face a true benchmark imposed on it in Iraq.

Blackwater's Eric Prince "Won't Allow Arrests"

The Washington Times reports:
A defiant Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince said yesterday he will not allow Iraqi authorities to arrest his contractors and try them in Iraq's faulty justice system.

"We will not let our people be taken by the Iraqis," Mr. Prince told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. At least 17 of 20 Blackwater guards being investigated for their roles in a Sept. 16 shooting incident are still in a secure compound in Baghdad's Green Zone and carrying out limited duties.
Two or three others have been allowed by the State Department to leave the country as part of their scheduled rotation out of Iraq and are expected to return.

"In an ideal sense, if there was wrongdoing, there could be a trial brought in the Iraqi court system. But that would imply that there is a valid Iraqi court system where Westerners could get a fair trial. That is not the case right now," said Mr. Prince.
Yet Saddam Hussein could get a fair trial under this system.
Mr. Prince also expressed his disappointment that the State Department has not come to the company's defense, even though it has never lost a State Department client in years of protecting them.

"For the last week and a half, we have heard nothing from the State Department," said Mr. Prince. "From their senior levels, their PR folks, we've heard nothing — radio silence.

"It is disappointing for us. We have performed to the line, letter and verse of their 1,000-page contract," he said. "Our guys take significant risk for them. They've taken a pounding these last three years."

A number of Blackwater contractors, most of whom come from military and law-enforcement backgrounds, have been killed in action or grievously wounded in Iraq while running more than 16,500 security missions in the past three years.

Iraq's government, outraged by the Sept. 16 incident in which up to 17 Iraqis were killed as Blackwater staff tried to clear a crowded traffic circle, has accused the U.S. firm of unprovoked and random killings. Blackwater says its men were defending themselves after coming under fire.

The State Department has since ordered that cameras be placed in Blackwater security vehicles and that Diplomatic Security agents accompany Blackwater staff on missions. Mr. Prince said his company had recommended both those steps in 2005 and that the proposals were "buried" by the department.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded yesterday that Blackwater leave Iraq and pay $8 million to the family of each of the 17 victims. Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Salim said the American guards responsible should stand trial in Iraq, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Mr. Prince, a 38-year-old former Navy SEAL, said if there was any evidence of wrongdoing, his employees could be tried in the United States by a jury of their peers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He said the hostility toward Blackwater was partly driven by partisan politics from the Democrat-led Congress and the news media.

"The far left was unsuccessful in attacking [Army Gen. David H.] Petraeus and defunding the war, forcing a pullback of the U.S. troops," he said. "I think part of the strategy might be to undermine some other part of the support infrastructure, and that would be contractors that are an important part of the supporting package there in Iraq."

He said the scrutiny by Congress, which Democrats say is aimed at better oversight, may have backfired.

"What has happened in the last six to nine months is we've seen the U.S. government, [Department of Defense] in particular, awarding a lot more work to non-U.S. companies ... because it is harder to drag those guys before Congress," Mr. Prince said.

"And there is less oversight, there is less accountability, there is less visibility into those operations."

Mr. Prince has been caught in a partisan crossfire since shortly after last year's election, when a trial lawyer targeting Blackwater lobbied then-House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, for hearings on the "extremely Republican" company.

Mr. Prince emphasized that his guards are proven professionals, recruited on the basis of their prior military, special operations and law-enforcement experiences.

"They go through extensive vetting, training, 160 plus hours of security training, psychological evaluations, security clearances, background checks" and cultural training, he said.

Iraqis and other expatriate security companies on the ground in Iraq have complained that Blackwater guards have been overly and unnecessarily aggressive in their attitudes.

O, to have a boss who wouldn't allow me to get arrested.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Max Cleland Debates Karl Rove, Be There!

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports:
Let the following serve as a lesson to organizers of the current snoozers that somehow pass for presidential debates:

First, take a controversial learning institution. Say, Regents University in Virginia, founded by evangelical politician and broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Pick two pairs of debaters. Put former U.S. senator Max Cleland and retired Army general Barry McCaffery on one side. Set up ex-White House guru Karl Rove and former Florida governor Jeb Bush opposite them.

Toss in a question: “Should America bring democracy to the world?”

Then let the feathers fly, leaving the preservation of civilization to a single moderator, PBS journalist Charlie Rose.

This will happen on Oct. 26. Witnesses will be charged $40. Splatter sheets will be provided to occupants of the first three rows.

So far as we know, this will be the first time Rove and Cleland have met. Many supporters of Cleland believe that Rove — during Cleland’s unsuccessful re-election campaign — was behind the TV ad that paired the triple-amputeed, Vietnam veteran with an image of Osama bin Laden.

Rove was asked about it as he exited the White House last month. “We’ve got better things to do than write television ads in Senate campaigns in Georgia,” President Bush’s brain said.

White House to Give Senate Panel Surveillance Program Documents

The Washington Post reports:
The White House agreed yesterday to give Senate intelligence committee members and staff access to internal documents related to its domestic surveillance program in a bid to win Democratic lawmakers' support for the administration's version of an intelligence measure.

The move was meant in part to defuse a months-long clash between Congress and the Bush administration over access to legal memoranda and presidential decisions underpinning the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which allowed the government to eavesdrop without court warrants on communications between people in the United States and abroad when one of the parties is a terrorism-related suspect.
Some of the documents had been demanded by Senate Judiciary Committee members as a condition for considering the administration's nomination of former judge Michael B. Mukasey as the nation's 81st attorney general. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, dropped that condition weeks ago but said yesterday that he still wants to see the documents.

Leahy told reporters after a meeting with Mukasey yesterday that he nonetheless expects Mukasey "to be confirmed" after a nomination hearing today, at which Mukasey is to be escorted into the room by Leahy and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Mukasey is to be formally introduced by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer indicated after meeting separately with Mukasey yesterday that he expects the judge to promise to undertake a review of the department's legal justifications for the administration's counterterrorism policies, which are the subject of some of the documents made available to intelligence committee staff and members for review at the White House.

Mukasey has indicated that he strongly supports the administration's counterterrorism effort.

Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who also sits on the Judiciary panel, said however that when one of her staff members reviewed the documents, "he wasn't impressed." She added that she was unsure whether the documents the staff member saw were exactly what Leahy was seeking.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (Mo.), the intelligence committee's ranking Republican, was more positive. "We're getting the information I think we need."

But House Democrats, who plan to vote today on a bill that would restrict domestic surveillance powers more tightly than the administration wants, complained yesterday that they should have been permitted the same access.

"Although even these materials are far short of the information that Congress has requested for more than a year on this crucial subject, we are extremely disappointed that the available information is being withheld from the House," Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said in a letter yesterday to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding.

Besides trying to quiet congressional accusations of a coverup, the administration wants in particular to win support for a legal provision providing immunity for telecommunications companies that have been sued for violating privacy rights when they assisted the government's domestic surveillance effort.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that administration officials "routinely meet with members of Congress and their staffs to provide them with information they need when they are considering and drafting legislation." In this case, he said, members of the Senate intelligence panel "requested access to certain materials to assist their consideration" of relief for the companies.

In addition to seeking documents related to the surveillance program, Leahy has sought internal legal opinions related to torture issues involving terrorism suspects and testimony from White House advisers connected to the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Leahy said his questioning at the hearing today will be aimed at eliciting statements from Mukasey about the legality of torturing terrorism suspects and threats to the independence of federal prosecutors that impinge on their efforts to pursue cases regardless of political sensitivities. "How are you going to clean up this mess?" Leahy said he probably will ask Mukasey.

Mukasey has already sought to assure lawmakers in private that he will not let politics intrude on the department's decisions. "He will be light-years better than his predecessor," Leahy said, referring to former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned in late August after making a series of statements about the attorney firings and surveillance programs that were disputed by his former colleagues and lawmakers from both parties.