Sunday, December 30, 2007


Judge halts Oregon's gay partnership law

Sarah Skidmore, AP News: A federal judge on Friday placed on hold a state domestic partnership law that was set to take effect Jan. 1, pending a February hearing.
The law would give some spousal rights to same-sex couples.

Opponents asked U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman to intercede after the Oregon secretary of state's office ruled in October that they had failed to collect enough valid signatures on a referendum to block the law.

The Oregon measure covers benefits related to inheritance rights, child-rearing and custody, joint state tax filings, joint health, auto and homeowners insurance policies, visitation rights at hospitals and others. It does not affect federal benefits for married couples, including Social Security and joint filing of federal tax returns.

After the Legislature approved the domestic partnership law this year, gay rights opponents launched an effort to collect enough signatures to suspend the law and place it on the November 2008 ballot for a statewide vote.

But state elections officials said this fall that the effort fell 116 valid signatures short of the 55,179 needed to suspend the law.

In court Friday, Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes the measure, said the state's review process was flawed, disenfranchising citizens who had signed petitions.

The state's largest gay rights group, Basic Rights Oregon, criticized the judge's decision.

"It's unfair our families once again are bearing the brunt of this ongoing struggle," said Jeana Frazzini, a spokesman for the group.

Eight other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples — Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay couples to marry.

LSB: Any doubt that had a gay rights organization fallen 116 valid signatures short of the 55,179 needed to reconsider a hate crimes law that this judge would not have intervened? Bits

LSB: A number of interesting items to read here:
“The chairmanship of the party is a position often occupied by martyrs and we do not know how long my father will be able to keep this position,” he said. “When I return I promise to lead the party as my mother wanted me to.”

By late 2002, interrogators were recycling videotapes, preserving only two days of tapes before recording over them, one C.I.A. officer said. Finally, senior agency officials decided that written summaries of prisoners’ answers would suffice.

Still, that decision left hundreds of hours of videotape of the two Qaeda figures locked in an overseas safe.

Clandestine service officers who had overseen the interrogations began pushing hard to destroy the tapes. But George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, was wary, in part because the agency’s top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, advised against it, current and former officials said.

Yet agency officials decided to float the idea of eliminating the tapes on Capitol Hill, hoping for political cover. In February 2003, Mr. Muller told members of the House and Senate oversight committees about the C.I.A’s interest in destroying the tapes for security reasons.

The tapes recorded a program “so closely guarded that President Bush himself had agreed with intelligence officials’ advice that he not be told the locations of the secret C.I.A. prisons.”

As ThinkProgress reported in December, Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann,
the legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly refused to call the hypothetical waterboarding of an American pilot by the Iranian military torture.

Williams’ resignation follows on the heels of several high profile issues relating to the JAG corps. In 2006, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift was passed over for promotion and forced out of the Navy after he vigorously defended Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. And just this month, the Bush administration planned to take control of the promotion system for military lawyers, a plan which was dropped due to the uproar it caused in the military and in Congress.

Huckabee: ‘I Don’t Know’ If People Are ‘Born’ Gay, But It’s A ‘Choice’ To Act Gay On NBC’s Meet The Press this morning, host Tim Russert asked former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee if he believed “people are born gay or choose to be gay?” “I don’t know whether people are born that way,” responded Huckabee, “but one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice.”

Huckabee conceded that “people who are gay say that they’re born that way,” but added that he believed that “how we behave and how we carry out that behavior” is more important. (Watch it here.)

As ThinkProgress has noted before, Huckabee has a record of using the power of government to discriminate against the choices that gay Americans make in their private lives. As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee pushed to strengthen the state’s anti-sodomy laws in order to “protect the traditional family structure”:
In 1997, Huckabee requested an amendment to a state Senate bill stating “that it is Arkansas public policy to prohibit sodomy to protect the traditional family structure.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/23/1997]
Huckabee is also fervent in his efforts to deny gay men and women the right to choose to marry the ones they love. Recently, he told GQ that “civilization” may not survive if “what marriage and family means” is “rewritten” to allow gay marriage.
Russert also pressed Huckabee on his comparison of homosexuality to necrophilia, which he described as “publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations.” Huckabee claimed that he was not saying they were “equivalent,” but was only “pointing out” that they “are deviations from what has been the traditional concept of sexual behavior.”

U.S. seen internationally as an ‘Endemic Surveillance Society.’ In the recently released annual survey of worldwide privacy rights by Privacy International and EPIC, the United States has been downgraded from “Extensive Surveillance Society” to “Endemic Surveillance Society.” As Glenn Greenwald notes, this is “the worst possible category there is for privacy protections, the category also occupied by countries such as China, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia.” In general, “the 2007 rankings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance of privacy safeguards.”

Dumbest. Legal Arguments. Ever.

Steven Benen, The Carpetbagger Report: It’s hardly a secret that the Bush administration has treated the rule of law as some kind of punch line for the better part seven years now, but Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has done the political world a tremendous service by documenting the “Administration’s Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.”

Now, if you’re like me, you may generally avoid these end-of-the-year Top 10 lists. But this one’s a must-read. Most reasonable people who take the law seriously would be humiliated by any of one of these arguments — but the president’s lawyers not only made all of these absurd arguments, they did so in just the last 12 months.

All 10 are worth considering in detail, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope: Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we’d been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we’d been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.
  • Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive: Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the 30-month prison sentence was “excessive.” In fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, Libby’s sentence was perfectly appropriate and consistent with positions advocated by Bush’s own Justice Department earlier this year.
  • The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch: We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders.

Remember, these weren’t just silly talking points repeated on Fox News; these were official legal arguments presented in formal settings, all of which were either false, ridiculous, or both.

U.S. Troops to Head to Pakistan

William M. Arkin, Beginning early next year, U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units, according to defense officials involved with the planning.

These Pakistan-centric operations will mark a shift for the U.S. military and for U.S. Pakistan relations. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the U.S. used Pakistani bases to stage movements into Afghanistan. Yet once the U.S. deposed the Taliban government and established its main operating base at Bagram, north of Kabul, U.S. forces left Pakistan almost entirely. Since then, Pakistan has restricted U.S. involvement in cross-border military operations as well as paramilitary operations on its soil.

But the Pentagon has been frustrated by the inability of Pakistani national forces to control the borders or the frontier area. And Pakistan's political instability has heightened U.S. concern about Islamic extremists there.

According to Pentagon sources, reaching a different agreement with Pakistan became a priority for the new head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric T. Olson. Olson visited Pakistan in August, November and again this month, meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen. Tariq Majid and Lt. Gen. Muhammad Masood Aslam, commander of the military and paramilitary troops in northwest Pakistan. Olson also visited the headquarters of the Frontier Corps, a separate paramilitary force recruited from Pakistan's border tribes.

Now, a new agreement, reported when it was still being negotiated last month, has been finalized. And the first U.S. personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan by early in the new year, according to Pentagon sources.

U.S. Central Command Commander Adm. William Fallon alluded to the agreement and spoke approvingly of Pakistan's recent counterterrorism efforts in an interview with Voice of America last week.

"What we've seen in the last several months is more of a willingness to use their regular army units," along the Afghan border, Fallon said. "And this is where, I think, we can help a lot from the U.S. in providing the kind of training and assistance and mentoring based on our experience with insurgencies recently and with the terrorist problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we share a lot with them, and we'll look forward to doing that."

If Pakistan actually follows through, perhaps 2008 will be a better year.

LSB: From where are these troops coming? We don't have enough troops available to allow them adequate time at home between their tours, so are we eliminating tours or starting a draft?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bush to veto pay raise for the troops. Merry Christmas!

John Aravosis (DC), Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bush announced today that he's going to veto the Defense Authorization bill. This is legislation that's already passed Congress, and that the administration had no problem with. Now, suddenly, Bush is against it and is going to veto it, threatening pay raises for the troops and more.Part of what troubled Bush about the legislation is that it would permit US troops to seek compensation for having been tortured by Saddam during the first Gulf War.
The provision that is causing problems would have allowed the victims of the executed Iraqi dictator Saddam to seek compensation in court, Democrats said. The Iraqi government has warned that former U.S. prisoners of war from the first Gulf War might cite this legislation in an attempt to get money from the Iraqi government's reported $25 billion in assets now held in U.S. banks, they say.

Nice. Now who hates the troops? (And how much do you want to bet that the Democrats will fail to capitalize on this issue?)

Putting aside for a moment how unprofessional it is to announce a veto of legislation AFTER it's passed, rather than objecting to it prior to its passage, I think something more is up here. Bush is struggling to be relevant, so he needs to keep vetoing legislation, anything he can get his hands on, to show how "strong" he is. And all the better that it's a defense bill. The Democrats are scared to death of anything dealing with "defense," so the more Bush blusters, the more they cringe and fall back. By creating an issue out of nothing, and nowhere, Bush will again get the Dems to "cave" and will prove that not only is he "strong" on defense, but they're "weak" on defense - even though this is a non-issue. This is the legacy of the Dems constantly caving on every issue, especially defense issues. If you refuse to fight back, don't be surprised that the bully continues to find new ways to kick sand in your face.

LSB: Why does the President hate our troops?

Taking our eyes off the prize

Thomas E. Ricks and Robin Wright, Washington Post:
... U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan's growing turbulence.

"The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied," said

J. Alexander Thier, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

U.S. military officers and other defense experts do not anticipate an immediate impact on U.S. operations in Afghanistan. But they are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan, which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban has strengthened and expanded its operations.

Unrest in Pakistan and increasing fuel prices have already boosted the cost of food in Afghanistan, making it more likely that hungry Afghans will be lured by payments from the Taliban to participate in attacks, a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

Associated Press: Transcript of alleged al-Qaida intercept.

A transcript released by the Pakistani government Friday of a purported conversation between militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is referred to as Emir Sahib, and another man identified as a Maulvi Sahib, or Mr. Cleric. The government alleges the intercepted conversation proves al-Qaida was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

LSB: Where is Osama? In Afghanistan. (We think, but then who really knows, as the information the public gets second-hand from intelligence sources has already been filtered and amended by Cheney et all.) If we knew that Osama and Saddam were not in cahoots - and we did, but it didn't fit Bush's plan to control the oil fields in Iraq for his petroleum buddies - then we might have put our energy and resources in Afghanistan and not involved ourselves in Iraq. Sure Iraq would still be led by a malicious dictator (not that he was then or now the only tyrant in the world, just the one with the oil fields), but a dictator who had control of his borders and who did NOT have nuclear weapons to threaten the U.S. By diverting our attention and resources to Iraq (and by continuing to do so), we failed to effectively fight the war in Afghanistan, and without a stable situation in Afghanistan we’ve effectively allowed the terrorist free reign in this part of the world. And where are the nukes we should worry about? In Pakistan. If the intercept of the al Qaeda operatives is true, then Bush needs to explain why we’ve been ignoring the terrorists (remember when he closed the investigation into Osama and moved military assets to Iraq?) and instead has been concentrating on an unwinnable civil war in Iraq. The assassination of Bhutto by al Qaeda and the instability we’re seeing in Pakistan is a result of taking our eyes off of the terrorists, and has resulted in a less secure America. This will be the Bush legacy. Now explain to me how the Democratic candidates don’t really understand the threats from al Qaeda?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fears Of Civil War After Bhutto's Assasination

LSB: Is this yet another civil war for which the White House Fuck-ups will send more U.S. troops? (Not their sons and daughters, of course.) Rioting in Pakistan's major cities is good news for the Taliban! No doubt more U.S. funding will be sent to prop up the Musharraf's regime in order to keep the nukes safe. How many more billions will it take? BTW, where's Bin Laden and how much easier does this chaos allow him to move about the country? Oh, and in addition to the effect on the stock market, there is this bit of news from "[Oil] prices rose earlier because of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister." It's hard to see at this point how this is Bush's fault (at least for a few more news cycles when the leaks start to happen), but this ought to speak to the electorate to vote in the primaries for someone with foreign policy experience. Hilary has a built in advisor in Bill, but she comes with a lot of baggage; Biden and Dodd have the most foreign policy experience; Richardson gave the wrong answer (sorry, that's two for you, so you're no longer my choice); but it was Edwards that got a call from Musharraf today, so maybe his previous meetings with foreign leaders puts him ahead of the pack. I hope the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have been paying attention and will vote for Edwards.

Canadian Press: Former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister of an Islamic nation, was assassinated in an attack at an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi. She was 54.

"She's dead,'' a Bhutto aide, Imran Hayat, said today as he sobbed in a telephone interview from Rawalpindi General Hospital. Rioting began as her supporters gathered outside the hospital.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Bhutto died in the blast or was shot by the bomber before he blew himself up, Bhutto spokesman Farhatullah Babar told state-run television. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Cheema said earlier in a phone interview that she was killed in the bombing. At least 15 other people were also killed and more than 60 were injured, police said.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the killing and appealed for calm in a statement broadcast on state television, after rioting broke out in cities across Pakistan. In Rawalpindi, where the army has its headquarters, shops were torched and Bhutto's backers clashed with police. Unrest broke out in her hometown, Larkana, while in Lahore there were reports of gunfire from some parts of the city, Pakistan's AAJ television reported.

"It was Benazir Bhutto that posed the main threat to pro- Musharraf parties,'' Farzana Shaikh, Pakistan analyst at the London-based Chatham House foreign policy institute, said in a phone interview from Montpellier, France. "Long-term it raises very, very serious questions about the stability of Pakistan.'' (More)

Sky News: Fears Of Civil War After Bhutto Killing. As Benazir Bhutto's supporters riot outside her hospital deathbed, governments and citizens from all over the world are reacting with grief at her assasination.

Acting Secretary General of her party Riaz Khan said: "This is a very tragic incident. It has left a very black hole for Pakistan's masses. Benazir Bhutto was the voice of the Pakistani people. She was killed while Musharraf was sitting there."

Sitting quietly next to her dead body in hospital, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said that he "vowed to fight your war".

His brother Shabbas Sharif said: "I'm shellshocked. It's very bad for this country. Whoever has done this has done the biggest disservice to Pakistan."

He added: "The government must resign, Musharraf must go home, they must hold a very transparent enquiry into Benazir's killing."

The Russian foreign ministry said it feared the country could descend into terrorism or civil war...

Sky's Asia correspondent Alex Crawford said: "It is almost impossible to imagine how much turmoil this is going to cause within Pakistan. There is going to be team of people who will want to avenge her death. There will be team of people who want to capitalise on the turbulence after her death." ...

Fox Business: Wall Street Opens Bearish on Data, Bhutto Death. The market was hit by a series of bad economic and geopolitical news to help spin stocks into the red shortly before the opening bell...

Fears that the economy is slowing were bolstered by a paltry rise of 0.1% in durable goods orders, or items expected to last more than three years. The gauge was far below the 3% increase expected by economists interviewed by Thomson Financial.

Also, news that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a homicide bombing at a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan pushed futures lower as well. She was shot in the neck during the aftermath of the bombing.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said jobless claims rose by 1,000 last week. It represents the third rise for initial claims in the last four weeks. The quarterly average now stands at the highest level since the third quarter of 2004.

Continuing jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 15 increased by 75,000 to a level unseen since November 2005.

The financials were hurt by more predictions of forthcoming write-downs related to subprime exposure.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Over 1,000 Lawyers Demand Investigation into Unconstitutional and Criminal Activity by the Bush Administration

We are lawyers in the United States of America. As such, we have all taken an oath obligating us to defend the Constitution and the rule of law…. We believe the Bush administration has committed numerous offenses against the Constitution and may have violated federal laws…. Moreover, the administration has blatantly defied congressional subpoenas, obstructing constitutional oversight …. Thus, we call on House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to launch hearings into the possibility that crimes have been committed by this administration in violation of the Constitution…. We call for the investigations to go where they must, including into the offices of the President and the Vice President. – American Lawyers Defending the Constitution

From the Left: Over one thousand lawyers – including former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein – have signed onto the above statement demanding wide-ranging investigative hearings into unconstitutional and potentially criminal activity by the Bush administration. (more)

LSB: I'll be refraining from any lawyer jokes for a while... until someone does something really stupid and I'll be forced to comment.

Can any good come out of the Nataline Sarkisyan tragedy? Hello Iowa

John Amato, Crooks and Liars: Many C&Lers have followed the horrifying story of Nataline Sarkisyan. She was denied a liver transplant by health care giant CIGNA because they called it “experimental.” (Play the video here.)
CIGNA has ignored this medical decision and calls the transplant “experimental” as justification for denying the treatment. CIGNA’s refusal of Nataline’s liver transplant—overruling the urgent appeals of an array of doctors and nurses—is indicative of the failures of the new healthcare plan sponsored by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fabian Nunez. That plan, which is actively supported by CIGNA, requires every single Californian to purchase insurance products from companies like CIGNA, but does not address the problem of denial of care evident in this situation.

After a protest led by the California Nurses Association along with family and friends turned the heat up on CIGNA, they finally approved the life saving procedure, but…

In a stunning turn around, insurance giant CIGNA has capitulated to community demands, and protests that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee helped to generate, and agreed to a critically needed liver transplant for Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old girl in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center…

…they acted too late and she died.

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee today
blasted insurance giant CIGNA for failing to approve a liver transplant one week
earlier for listen to 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, who tragically died last
night just hours after CIGNA relented and agreed to the procedure following a
massive national outcry.

An editorial by the Houston Chronical called CIGNA’s decision to deny the teen a liver transplant until it was too late “Heartless.”

As California and the nation debate how to institute universal health insurance coverage for citizens, the Sarkisyan case indicates that more must be done than
simply covering everyone with a policy. All too frequently, insurance company bureaucrats are making medical judgments that should be left in the hands of a
patient’s physician…

If the staff at the UCLA transplant unit approved Nataline’s procedure, that should have been the end of the discussion. For universal health coverage to be meaningful, such decisions must be taken out of the hands of insurance adjustors and placed with an impartial arbiter whose interest is the welfare of the patient rather than a corporation’s balance sheet.

Will the tragedy that struck Nataline Sarkisyan and her family because health care giant CIGNA initially refused a life saving medical treatment become an important story for the voters in Iowa as they begin the process that will determine which candidate will represent each party in the upcoming Presidential election?

Republican voters may face the same situation as the Sarkisyan’s. The CIGNA’s of the world could care less if a family filled out a GOP loyalty oath or did the Pledge of allegiance to President Bush.

How Healthy is Your Medical Credit Score?

billw, Crooks and Liars. Dallas Morning News:

Mortgage lenders aren’t the only ones showing more interest in your credit score these days – the health industry is creating its own score to judge your ability to pay. […]

The score is already raising questions from consumer advocacy groups that fear it will be checked before patients are treated. People with low medical credit scores could receive lower-quality care than those with a healthy medFICO, they argue.

Your life usually isn’t at stake when a credit report turns up something negative, but in this case it very well might be. To some extent these types of decisions have already been being made by some hospitals, like when they just dump indigent patients on skid row, but this can only make it easier for other hospitals to make similar decisions for even more people. While a person’s overall credit score is largely based on voluntary purchases which one typically has some control over (assuming there isn’t an error), health care debt is largely involuntary. Even someone lucky enough to have health insurance can suddenly find themselves overwhelmed with debt they cannot afford through no fault of their own. A study two years ago found that “34% of U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 face problems with medical bills or have medical debt, although 62% of those individuals have health insurance.”

So, what do you think will happen once the hospital finds out your “medical credit score” doesn’t measure up?

Bushie Whiney Excuses for Breaking the Law

Bush wants an appointment, and Harry Reid is preventing that appointment of Steven Bradbury. Bradbury is the architect of the legal justifications for many of the scandalous Bush Administration policies, including denying habeas corpus and justifying waterboarding. Bush loves his torture guy Bradbury, and wants to put him into a recess appointment job Bradbury is already holding illegally.

Steven Reynolds, The Bush Administration has been breaking the law for a while now. According to the 1998 Vacancies Reform Act, they cannot keep a non-Senate-confirmed in an “Acting” role for longer than 210 days without being confirmed. This was pointed out to the Bush Administration in an October letter sent by several Senators, including Kennedy, Feingold and Durbin (from TPM Document collection). No action on bringing forth a new appointee, of course. The good background is over there on TPMmuckraker, including why Mr. Bradbury will never be confirmed by the Senate:

Throughout 2006, Bradbury argued forcefully that the Supreme Court’s rejection of the administration’s military tribunals in terrorism cases was incorrectly decided. He argued that Geneva Conventions language barring “humiliating and degrading treatment” was hopelessly vague, and subject to “uncertain and unpredictable application.” He was a leading advocate of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which revoked habeas corpus for terrorism detainees. He authored an opinion immunizing ex-White House counsel Harriet Miers from testifying in the U.S. attorneys investigation. And, most infamously, he apparently authored secret memoranda reauthorizing torture techniques, including waterboarding.
Why is this important? Well, the Senate is in session this Christmas, and the Republicans are whining. The Senate will be in session for thirty seconds or so because Harry Reid is tired of recess appointments, and because Harry Reid has decided to draw the line at Steven Bradbury, a torture apologist, being appointed as Assistant Attorney General. Here’s some of that Republican whining from Peter Baker of the Washington Post (reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer):

The White House, unsurprisingly, views it differently. From its perspective, the Senate warped the equation by routinely holding up even unobjectionable nominees for political reasons or no discernible reason at all. More than 165 nominations are pending, White House officials said, so the recess appointment becomes a necessary corrective tool to fill vacancies and keep government moving.

“The Senate’s role is to advise and consent, not attack and condemn,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. “This harassment of nominees turns away qualified people who would otherwise want to serve their country. This is just another example of the breakdown of Congress under this leadership.”

Of course, the White House doesn’t address the Senate distaste for Steven Bradbury at all, though the article by Baker details the bargain Harry Reid offered up, the confirmation of dozens and dozens of nominees in exchange for Bush pulling the Bradbury nomination. Yeah, this amazing Christmas Day session of the Senate is there for one reason, to keep a torture advocate from being appointed permanently by the President. The President’s people, of course, won’t discuss Bradbury at all.

I say Reid should make some more moves this extended session in order to prevent the recess appointment. After all, Bradbury is still illegally in the job, and the Bush Administration, last I heard, has not answered why they are breaking the law with Bradbury, completely unconfirmable, still in that position. Surely this is contempt of the law, or contempt of Congress, or something like that. I’m thinking this Imperial Presidency needs to be challenged more forcefully. Still, it is nice to see that Harry Reid is working to prevent Bush Administration chicanery, even if it is just to prevent permanent appointment of a man illegally already in the “Acting” role.

And, as always, it’s good to point out yet another example of Bush Administration whining. But let’s make sure to get this straight. Bush himself is being petulant here. He wants his waterboarder, even in the midst of reports of records of this torture technique being destroyed. Bush knows there is no chance of Bradbury ever getting confirmed, and with a controversy concerning the CIA tapes being erased, there’s not even much chance that any Republicans will vote for the guy. That’s petulance, not principle, unless, of course, Bush’s principle is that he wants every man who defends him on the use of torture to get a permanent job in this administration. So, not just whining, but petulance, and once more the Bush Administration looks far more like an overtired four year old protesting a bedtime than it does a duly elected group serving our interests.

Dickheads of the Year

Bill Maher's picks for the biggest assholes of 2007:

  • Michael Vick, former QB for the Atlanta Falcons
  • Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater
  • Bob Murray, Utah mine owner
  • Sen. Larry Craig, not gay
  • Sen. David Vitter, whoremonger
  • College Republicans
  • “The Solid Quarter” (25% of Americans who will never desert GWB)
  • The Asshole Who Shot Up Virginia Tech
  • Congressional Democrats
  • Alberto Gonzales, Former AG
  • Michael Mukasey, Current AG
  • Pres. George W. Bush
  • Rudy Giuliani, Candidate

LSB: How did Dick “The Dick” Cheney escape this list? Anyway, I found this list yesterday, but decided in the spirit of the season to hold it for a day. Gone soft I guess.

A holiday downer

Thoreau, Unqualified Offerings: The LA Times has a profile of an Iranian dissident who had spent time in an infamous prison. Three things leap out. None of these things are new, not even to me, but they are important, and so worth reinforcing again and again.

(1) They fear him. Though they have power and oil money and guns, they fear a non-violent student who dares to say things that they don’t like. Speech and ideas are powerful. And that should give all of us hope. Though our situation is nothing like his, though we live under a regime that is (usually) less openly brutal to its citizens, a place where speech of every kind is (usually) far less risky, we also despair that there is nothing to be done. Perhaps we are right to despair. Perhaps our regime is stronger than the one he lives under because ours does not fear speech.

But just when I start to despair that nothing can be done, that perhaps IOZ is right, I remember that even our regime works (more subtly) to narrow the range of acceptable discourse. In the end, I think our regime fears ideas just as much as Iran’s. The difference is that our regime has found more subtle responses to speech and ideas, and is better at (usually) ignoring speech and ideas. Still, deep down they fear it. That means something. Perhaps it doesn’t mean enough, but it means something. And I will cling to it.

(2) Their interrogations aren’t so different from the stories that have leaked out from our secret prisons. OK, they differ from the water-boarding stories that have gotten so much attention, in that these interrogations are far less clinical and controlled than the waterboarding procedures that have been given so much deliberate attention. But go beyond the rare and high profile stories, and look at all of the people who have been beaten, put in stress positions, and driven crazy with all sorts of psychological tricks, and you’ll see yet another example of the same tactics at work. This is nothing new, but like many well-known points it needs constant reiteration. The same regime that claims to be so superior to Iran seeks the unchecked power to behave like Iran’s secret police.

(3) They know that what they are doing is wrong. Which means that they have no excuse.

Before he left Evin his interrogators asked him to pardon them for their sins. He scoffed.

“Here is the sentence I told my interrogators on the last day: ‘If I had seen you in the streets before I was arrested, I would not consider you qualified to carry manure.’ I told them they understood nothing of Islam and I could not pardon. ‘That’s not important,’ they said, but their faces were filled with anger.”

We are often told that the people who do our government’s dirty work are patriots who reluctantly do these dirty deeds for the good of all, while the people who do the dirty work of other regimes are unrepentant thugs. The truth is that they are busy lying to themselves; they are just desperate men in denial. Zamanian saw the cracks in the armor. He saw how desperate they were for an excuse. This goes back to the fact that they are afraid of speech and ideas.

None of these things are new. They aren’t new to others. They aren’t even new to me. But they’re important, and hence worth pointing out again and again.

Townsend: fear of subpoenas ‘crippling’ White House In an interview with the NY Times, President Bush’s outgoing homeland security aide Francis Fragos Townsend said she was concerned about “the acrimony” that hangs over Bush’s last year in office. “I find it both offensive and crippling,” she said. “When both career people and political people are worried about getting subpoenaed, it’s hard to get a lot accomplished.” Steve Benen responds, “Oh, those poor, poor White House officials. If only Congress would go back to ignoring the administration’s scandalous, sometimes criminal, behavior, the president and his aides would find it much easier to go about their business without the fear of accountability.”

  1. If only those subpoenas ever amounted to anything. I swear, to get the public’s reaction to any testimony the White House gives, Bush himself would have to rape a dog on the white house lawn in a dress. And even then, the KGB, er, RNC would cast it off as stress from being such a great defender of freedom -_-
  2. When I break a lot of laws and torture the F@ck out of people and shred the Geneva Conventions… you know... ** sniff sniff ** I feel worried too. What’s a dictator to do these days? huh?
  3. In the words of Michelle Malkin: Boo frickin’ hoo!
  4. aWWWWWW, she’s doing what the right-wing does best – portray themselves as victims…
  5. Funny how when you and the people you work with break the law those darn subpoenas come in. How inconvenient. We should just ignore all these scandals by the Fox Republicans like we should have ignored Watergate…
  6. Isn’t a central tenet of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism that if you’re not guilty, you should have no problem with someone secretly looking into your phone calls, e-mails, the books you buy and borrow, etc.? Well, then I have to ask — if Townsend and her fellow “loyal Bushies” have done nothing wrong, then why do they fear oversight? In a trial, Townsend’s words and actions would be considered “consciousness of guilt” and could be used to demonstrate that she had actually committed a criminal act.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Santa Sessions

LSB: I'm staying in the spirit today and saving my rants for tomorrow. Enjoy the videos!

Festivus, for the rest of us

A Very Star Wars Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Congress Cuts HIV Prevention Funding

Michael Crawford, Bloggernista: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been sitting on data that shows that nearly 50% more Americans are infected with HIV than originally estimated which makes this the perfect time for Congress to cut funding for HIV prevention. The cuts occurred in an omnibus spending bill that will fund 14 federal agencies for 2008.

Among its provisions are just under $2.2 billion for the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which funds services for people with AIDS provided by states, cities, and private AIDS groups, and $692 million for the CDC’s HIV prevention programs, which got $695 million in the 2007 fiscal year.

Included in the Senate version of the bill was an additional $40 billion for the Iraq war. That makes total sense right? Let’s spend more money to blow stuff up and continue a completely unnecessary war rather than spending money to educate Americans on how to prevent becoming infected with HIV. Read more.

Huckabee Faces A Rush Limbaugh Barrage

Will Thomas, The Huffington Post: Before today, radio host Rush Limbaugh has -- in his own words -- "studiously avoided" attacking presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. That silence ended today, after an anonymous Huckabee "ally" was quoted trashing Rush as a DC insider who is secretly rooting for a President Hillary Clinton.

"The Huckabee campaign is trying to dumb down conservatism in order to get it to conform with his record," Limbaugh said today, during an extended session of Huckabee-bashing.

The Huckabee camp, perhaps inadvertantly, set off the fire yesterday when Marc Ambinder published this quote from someone aligned with the campaign:
Rush doesn't think for himself. That's not necessarily a slap because he's not paid to be a thinker--he's an entertainer. I can't remember the last time that he has veered from the talking points from the DC/Manhattan chattering class. If they were praising Huckabee, he would be too.
Ouch. If that weren't enough to peeve the king of AM radio, the quote ends:
Bill Clinton made Rush a megastar. Having another Clinton back in power would make him the Leading Voice of the Opposition once again.

The who-said-what debate has gone back a forth a bit, with people questioning the identity of this anonymous and audacious figure. The comments have also opened the door to a barrage of criticism from Rush. National Review live-blogged most of the "discussion" of Huckabee, which you can find here and here. These quotables from Rush will give you a flavor:

"Who is this campaign to decide who is and who is not conservative? I hadn't heard of Huckabee in any serious manner before this campaign began. Believe me, I know who the conservatives are and aren't."

"Stop with this Clintonian spin."

"McCain's starting to look better than this guy, and that's saying something."

Huckabee's campaign is scrambling to catch up with Limbaugh. According to campaign manager Chip Saltsman:

"We have nothing but respect for Rush Limbaugh and know that he's a big part of the conservative movement in this country. That's one person's opinion in DC, but it doesn't represent the view of the Huckabee campaign. I can only hope we'll get a chance to talk to Rush and make sure that he knows that's not coming from us."

With all the criticism he has been facing from other conservatives, can Mike Huckabee survive the Limbaugh onslaught? Perhaps, if only because starting Monday, Rush is in reruns until after Iowa.

LSB: Wow - a face off between the dittoheads and the evangelicals! Those who are both (the majority?) must be feeling a bit bi-polar.

Ex-CIA Agent In Hot Water For Going Public With U.S. Torture Practices

Logan Murphy, Crooks and Liars: CNN:

The CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate whether former operative John Kiriakou illegally disclosed classified information when he talked about the waterboarding of a terrorism suspect, government officials say.

That revelation has prompted new calls for investigations on Capitol Hill.

The Bush administration appeared in U.S. District Court on Friday to answer a
judge’s questions about the tapes’ destruction.

Speaking to CNN last week, Kiriakou said that U.S. interrogators drew valuable information from al Qaeda captive Abu Zubayda by “waterboarding” him. But Kiriakou said the procedure amounts to torture and should be stopped. Read on…

Certainly took them long enough to come after Kiriakou. Whenever others have come out with information that is damaging to the administration, the smears start almost immediately. Larry Johnson points out that Kiriakou never actually witnessed waterboarding, but just a sweet face to make the idea that we’ve waterboarded palatable. So as that useful tool for the Bush administration, I don’t know that anything will come of this investigation.

California Sues Over EPA Waiver

Nicole Belle, Crooks and Liars: Usually, when someone applies for a waiver of some legislation, it’s because they are unable to comply with the standards set. Not so when it comes to the EPA air quality standards and the state of California. California has been on the forefront of combatting smog since the 70s when we had nearly daily smog alerts. And since 1975, California has requested and received a waiver from federal EPA standards, because our standards were stricter.

But then we got the Bush administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency today denied a waiver that would have allowed California and at least a dozen other states to impose their own stricter vehicle tailpipe emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

“The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules — to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles,” EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in a statement.

The decision is a victory of sorts for auto makers, who opposed state-by-state

In November, California sued to force the Environmental Protection Agency to rule whether the state can put its strict vehicle tailpipe emissions standards into effect.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state would “sue again and sue again and sue again” in order to get approval to put in place tough new fuel economy regulations.

Why is it that Republicans trumpet “states’ rights” until it actually benefits the states?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mitt X

Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish: Here's the latest on Mitt and MLK. Thirty years ago, Romney's version of the story was even more figurative:

Mitt Romney went a step further in a 1978 interview with the Boston Herald. Talking about the Mormon Church and racial discrimination, he said: "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."

Yesterday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom acknowledged that was not true. "Mitt Romney did not march with Martin Luther King," he said in an e-mail statement to the Globe.

State Dept Document from 2005 Shows Fraud in Blackwater's Iraq Contract

Spencer Ackerman, TPMmuckraker: A report prepared for the State Department's inspector general in January 2005, and obtained by TPMmuckraker, shows Blackwater's accounting system for its no-bid, multimillion dollar Iraq contract was "not considered adequate for accumulating costs on government contracts."

The report is an audit of Blackwater's contract prepared by the accounting firm of Leonard H. Birnbaum. It has been referred to by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (pdf) and in a 2006 story in The Nation, but has not been made publicly available until now. It was obtained by TPMmuckraker after we filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October with the State Department for Blackwater-related documents. You can read the 2005 State Department report in our Documents Collection here.

Much of the document is redacted -- including any description of how Blackwater's accounting system in Iraq operated, as well as any numerical figure for the size of the contract. (In 2004, the year that the report covers, Blackwater held contracts from the federal government totaling $48 million, of which the State Department contract was a portion.) But the unredacted portion of the report finds problems with how Blackwater tallied its labor costs, its overhead-expense costs, and its indirect costs. It also found that Blackwater cited its profit from the contract as a cost it incurred, and billed the government for it -- resulting in what the report called "a pyramiding of profit."

The State Department was under a massive time-crunch in mid-2004 to stand up its new Baghdad embassy as the Coalition Provisional Authority went out of business that June. As a result, State Department logistics official William Moser explained to Congress, State opted to sign a no-bid contract for diplomatic security services with the company already on the ground: Blackwater. "We did not like doing a sole source award for Blackwater," Moser told the House oversight committee in October. No wonder: Blackwater, apparently, took advantage of the opportunity.

Yet despite its own internal watchdog's finding of fraudulence in Blackwater's Iraq contract, months later, the State Department re-signed a deal with the company to provide security for U.S. diplomats.

Cheney Repeatedly Met With Auto Execs Before White House Killed California’s Emissions Law Before EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson “answered the pleas of industry executives” by announcing his “decision to deny California the right to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles,” auto executives directly appealed to Vice President Cheney. EPA staffers told the LA Times that Johnson “made his decision” only after Cheney met with the executives.

On multiple occasions in October and November, Cheney and White House staff members met with industry executives, including the CEOs of Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler. At the meetings, the executives objected to California’s proposed fuel economy standards:

In meetings in October with Mr. Cheney and sessions with White House staff members, auto executives made clear that they were concerned not just about the fuel economy measures in the bill but also about the California proposal for stricter emissions standards.
Johnson explained his decision to thwart California by saying that the new energy bill, which the auto industry supported and President Bush signed into law on Wednesday, “made the proposed California standards unnecessary.” One EPA staffer says Johnson’s decision was part of Cheney’s deal with the industry execs brokered at the meetings:

“Clearly the White House said, ‘We’re going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we’re done, the deal is done,’” said one staffer.
Since taking office, Cheney has taken “a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business” while undermining any real action to combat climate change. For example, he stacked the Committee on Environmental Quality with industry heavyweights, killing Bush’s 2000 campaign promise to place caps on carbon emissions. In 2001, his infamous energy task force also ordered the EPA to “reconsider” a rule requiring stricter pollution controls on power and oil refinery plants.

More recently, since February, Cheney has also quietly maneuvered to exert increased control over environmental policy by federal agencies — particularly the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

LSB: The man keeps on giving! What a tool!

Evidence Mounts Of White House Ties To New Hampshire Phone Jamming Scheme On the morning of election day 2002, repeated hang-up calls assaulted six phone lines tied to the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Three Republican operatives, including consultant Allen Raymond, eventually ended up in jail for their involvement in the phone jamming scheme. A fourth, former RNC offical James Tobin, will begin a second trial in February.

In his new book, Raymond alleges that the scandal goes “to the top of the Republican Party” because “the Bush White House had complete control of the RNC” and there was no way such a risky tactic wouldn’t have been “vetted by” Tobin’s “high-ups”:
“The Bush White House had complete control of the RNC, and there was no way someone like Tobin was going to try what he was proposing without first getting it vetted by his high-ups,” Raymond wrote in How To Rig an Election, a book set for publication next month. “That’s if Tobin, rather than one of his bosses, had even thought of the ploy himself - which seemed unlikely.”
Phone records obtained in a civil suit brought against the NH GOP by the NH Democratic Party show that “Tobin made 22 calls to the White House political office in the 24 hours before and after the jamming” while the Republican National Committee has paid over $6 million in legal fees for Tobin.

Yesterday, McClatchy reported that “senior Justice Department officials” delayed prosecuting Tobin “until after the 2004 election” as part of an effort to protect the GOP “from the scandal until the voting was over“:

However, the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told McClatchy that senior Justice Department officials slowed the inquiry. The official didn’t know whether top department officials ordered the delays or what motivated those decisions.

The official said that Terry O’Donnell, a former Pentagon general counsel who was representing Tobin, was in contact with senior department officials before Tobin was indicted.

Marcy Wheeler notes that Tobin’s lawyer, Terry O’Donnell, is also “Dick Cheney’s long-time personal attorney.”

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey today, requesting documents and answers about the case.

Paul Kiel has more here.

Pentagon drops plan to control military lawyer promotions. Last weekend, the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage reported that the Bush administration was “pushing to take control of the promotions of military lawyers.” The plan, which was being driven by Pentagon counsel William Haynes, would have allowed “politically appointed lawyers in the Pentagon” to veto the appointment or promotion of any member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Today, Savage reports that the Bush administration has dropped the plan after “retired JAGs loudly objected to the proposal.”

President Bush Continues Assault On Christmas During his end-of-year press conference this morning, President Bush joined with “secular progressives” in the right wing’s contrived War on Christmas, wishing reporters a “Happy Holidays.” Watch it here.

Bill O’Reilly and Focus on the Family have been waging an aggressive campaign to pressure people to use “Merry Christmas.” In the past, O’Reilly has argued that saying “Happy Holidays” to people “absolutely does” offend Christians.

This latest affront is part of George and Laura’s three-year assault on Christmas. Bill, looks like you may have prematurely declared mission accomplished.

UPDATE I: No mention of Christmas in Bush’s holiday message to the troops either. ("Laura and I wish you a joyful holiday season.")

UPDATE II: At the end of her press conference this morning, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice teamed up with “secular progressives” in the War on Christmas, cheerily wishing reporters a “Happy Holidays everybody!” Watch it here.

Bloomberg And Hagel Holding Regular Calls

Sam Stein, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel have been conducting regular, private phone conversations over the past few months in an effort to "feel each other out" for a possible presidential run, sources have told the Huffington Post.

The development feeds speculation that the two men could mount a third-party White House ticket. And while the maverick Republican and the independent mayor have met in the past, the ongoing conversations provide the clearest indication yet that they are considering such a move. (more)

LSB: Good idea, or just the 2008 spoiler version of Ralph Nader? ("Welcome to the White House, President Guiliani.") Bloomberg could bankroll an entertaining campaign, and Hagel got my respect for his Johnny-come-lately war votes. The bottom line, however, is that these are two - albeit somewhat disenfranchised - Republicans who will most likely fill their cabinet with Republican minions fresh from GWB Charm School. What are their positions Iraq, health care reform, tax reform, the economy, the budget deficit and other important matters the next President will face? These men have not yet been thoroughly vetted by the national press, and we need to know more about them and what direction they would take the country. Remember the excited anticipation of Fred Thompson? After a few months of snoozing he is out of steam. That may not happen with these two, but until they declare their candidacy the thought of this pairing is nothing more than an intriguing idea.

Giuliani Secretive As Mayor

Michael R. Blood, When a mayor of New York leaves office, little goes out the door but memories _ unless he's Rudy Giuliani. Government rules discourage the city's most powerful officeholder from departing with more than token gifts collected on the job.

Ed Koch, mayor from 1978 to 1989, recalls keeping some neckties. His successor, David Dinkins, walked away with knickknacks from his desk, including a crystal tennis ball and a collection of photographs documenting his meetings with celebrities and business icons.

When Giuliani stepped down, he needed a warehouse.

Under an unprecedented agreement that didn't become public until after he left office, Giuliani secreted out of City Hall the written, photographic and electronic record of his eight years in office - more than 2,000 boxes.

Along with his own files, the trove included the official records of Giuliani's deputy mayors, his chief of staff, his travel office and Gracie Mansion - the mayor's residence that became a legal battlefront during his caustic divorce.

The mayor made famous - and very wealthy - in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has long described his City Hall as an open book.

In a Republican presidential candidates' debate last week, Giuliani asserted: "My government in New York City was so transparent that they knew every single thing I did almost every time I did it. ... I can't think of a public figure that's had a more transparent life than I've had."

But the public record, as reviewed by The Associated Press, shows a City Hall that had a reputation of resistance - even hostility - toward open government, the First Amendment and the public's access to simple facts and figures.

"He ran a government as closed as he could make it," said attorney Floyd Abrams, a widely recognized First Amendment authority who faced off against city lawyers when Giuliani sought to shut the Brooklyn Museum of Art because the mayor considered a painting sacrilegious.

Giuliani's decision to commandeer his historical records in late 2001, as he prepared to leave office, was just one of many episodes during his term, both in and out of the courtroom, that demonstrate his efforts to control, withhold or massage information to advance his agenda and hobble critics. (See the litany of abuses here.)

Help Wexler Impeach Cheney

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL): "The charges are too serious to ignore. There is credible evidence that the Vice President abused the power of his office, and not only brought us into an unneccesary war but violated the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens. It is the constitutional duty of Congress to hold impeachment hearings." He has over 100,000 signatures already and hopes to have 250,000 by New Year's Day. Sign his petition here.

A Crippling Legacy

Nicole Belle, Crooks and Liars: Vanity Fair offers a sobering look at the costs that we — and our children and their children — will pay for the last eight years of Bush/Cheney economics.

The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris-or even the Yukon-becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands-or so he says-that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

We may not be in a recession… but the signs of inflation are worsening everyday.

Post-Torture America: Do You Feel Safer?:

The Rude Pundit: When we talk about the actions of our government, we often forget that what we are discussing is what is being done in our name as American citizens, whether we like it or not. We are told that heinous acts are committed by our government for our good, to keep us safe and secure. For instance:
Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni citizen, says he was arrested and tortured in Jordan and was eventually given to CIA custody, flown to Afghanistan, and interrogated, for 19 months total, until, never charged with anything, he was released. On his transfer to CIA custody, Bashmilah says, "They started tearing down my clothes, from above all the way down. And I was being stripped completely naked. They started taking pictures from all directions. And they also started to beat me on my sides and also my feet. And then they put me in a position similar to the position of prostration in Muslim prayer, which is similar to the fetal position. And in that position, one of them inserted his finger in my anus very violently." That was done to an innocent man. It was done in your name. It was done because the government told you it wants to keep you safe.

Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian refugee, arrested in Pakistan, based on the waterboarded information of Abu Zubaydah that Mohammed was in league with Jose Padilla to light a dirty bomb, sent to Morocco on a CIA flight, now a Gitmo resident, says of his treatment, "They took a scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute watching. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming... They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over." Now, Mohammed's lawyer wants to make sure any photos of his client's torture are not destroyed. This was done in your name. It was done because the government told you it wants to keep you safe.

Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen was abducted and held in Macedonia and Afghanistan, says about his transfer to a jail, "I was dragged out of the car, pushed roughly into a building, thrown to the floor, and kicked and beaten on the head, the soles of my feet, and the small of my back. I was left in a small, dirty, cold concrete cell. There was no bed and one dirty, military-style blanket and some old, torn clothes bundled into a thin pillow." A couple of months later, he was dumped on a road in Germany, never charged with anything. In October, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case he brought against the CIA because of "state secrets." This was done in your name. It was done because the government told you it wants to keep you safe.

All of it, all the waterboarding, all the denial of hearings, all the torture done by other countries at our behest, all the abuses at Guantanamo, and more, all of it was done in your name. It was done because the government wants to keep you safe.

Through all of it, we were told it was not only legal, it was necessary, it was for us, it kept us safe, even if they never showed us how. Which brings us to the destruction of those CIA interrogation videos in 2005. The more we learn, including now the White House attorneys' involvement, the more we can see: that it was done not for you. It was done for them. It was to keep them safe.

You and your safety stopped figuring into the equation a long, long time ago. The rest has been a desperate scramble to justify themselves, again and again, no matter who has to suffer.

LSB: Emphasis added by me.

A great mix of blogs at

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Who Would Jesus Torture? Harold Meyerson asks the question that's on every secular liberal's mind: How is it that the political mobilization of Christianity in the United States seems to have gotten us so much torture, aggressive warfare, and xenophobia? Where [did] the humane, universalistic ethic of the Gospels go?

MOJO BLOG: Thanks to Bush, America is Both Rubber and Glue. From CNN: Torture House, Mass Graves Found in Iraq. Given our own "torture houses," the tapes of which we've illegally (not to mention, immorally) erased, how exactly is an American to process such an article? I feel myself going all Derrida and po-mo: that article is clearly meant to stimulate feelings of shock, awe, horror, disbelief etc... But how can an American legitimately muster such feelings when we, too, now are torturers and propogandists?

RUBBER HOSE: "Please go away!" Quoteth the WaPo: Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month. Ever since people started asking, Iraqis have consistently told pollsters that they view the U.S. led occupying forces as part of the problem, not part of the solution, and want them to leave.

TOO SENSE: "I Will Not Be Treated Like A Slave." All the cameras there and the New Orleans police didn't think twice about escalating their use of force against the protesters, who are fighting to keep their homes. I'm all for mixed income housing; it reduces crime and gives people who are struggling something to work towards. But when you demolish people's homes and refused to give them something to come back to, it's really a form of ethnic cleansing.

ACLU BLOG: White House Heavily Involved in CIA Tape Destruction This is just another case of Bush administration officials trying once again to hide their criminal activity. The White House cannot be trusted to investigate itself and at this point, only an independent prosecutor can fully investigate the matter without the Justice Department attempting to influence the process.

BALKINIZATION: Willful Blindness The persistent theme of stories about the CIA tape destruction is that countless government officials "advised" the CIA not to destroy the tapes - but no one actually instructed the CIA not to do so... In the category of "shoes that were bound to drop eventually," we now learn from the New York Times that -- surprise! -- the matter was discussed by not only Harriet Miers, but also John Bellinger (when he was NSC General Counsel), White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and, of course, David Addington.

DOWN WITH TYRANNY: The emperor has no clothes. Well, at least the Washington Post has a columnist pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. "At a year-end press conference this morning, President Bush staved off questions about White House complicity in the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, refusing even to flatly deny that he was personally involved. Bush also declined to say whether he thought the destruction of the tapes was right or wrong."

PM CARPENTER: The See-It-Yourself Autocracy Kit When I saw the NYT's headline yesterday morning about destroyed tapes, my instant reaction was: Yeah, so what? ... And that's as sad a commentary on our present course as it gets. Just another White House crime, another revelation of autocratic corruption, a few more felonies to be buried under a mound of executive-privilege claims -- felonies soon lost and forgotten amid a vast swirl of executive malefactions and to be swept away by the ticking clock. Ho-hum. Just another morning in America.

BOOMAN TRIBUNE: What If McCain Can't Save the GOP? It's impossible to know whether this story has any legs, but John McCain has lawyered up. And a presidential candidate lawyering up on the eve of the first caucus is certainly a concern: "What is being done to John McCain is an outrage," Bennett said in an interview. Bennett said he sent prepared answers yesterday to written questions submitted by New York Times reporters who have spent weeks investigating questions about whether the senator did favors for a Washington lobbyist or her clients.

Who is Really Running Congress - Vince McMahon?

Telecom immunity. A rollover on Iraq funding. George Bush’s continued petulance. Political gamesmanship. It’s enough to make an ordinary citizen give up on the political process in America. The thing is, none of this is really new — in fact, Vince McMahon perfected the “art of the show” in professional wrestling a long time ago. The political theater in Washington isn’t so very much different…

Richard Blair, In November, 2006, the GOP was overcome by a wave of anti-Iraq and anti-Bush sentiment, and a not-ready-for-prime-time Democratic Party was given majority control of both houses of congress. Thinking back to 2006, the Dem leadership was fairly confident all year that the GOP was extremely vulnerable in many House races, and it turned out that they were right, particularly after the Mark Foley scandal blossomed in the latter stages of the 2006 campaign. What was surprising, though, was that everything broke in the right direction (Foley, the Macaca moment, Conrad Burns connections to Abramoff, etc.), and Dems also took control of the U.S. Senate.

Happy days were here again, right? The Dems would listen to the electorate, and force the Bush regime to accept changes to policies in Iraq, un-stonewall criminal investigations that had been bottled up in limbo, and generally start America back on the right path.

A funny thing happened on the way to FantasyLand™. George Bush not only didn’t back down America’s commitment to Iraq, he escalated our involvement. And instead of challenging the least popular President in U.S. history, again and again the leadership of the Democratic Party did not listen to the electorate, but rather, turned completely tone deaf to the constituency that put them in control of the legislative branch of the government.

When illegal act after illegal act came to light, Chairmen of respective House and Senate committees made a lot of noise, heat, and light. And then did nothing. One of the more disheartening spectacles I witnessed during the course of the past year was watching John Conyers, heretofore a hero of progressives, sleepwalk through one hearing after another. I thought that, of all the Dem Committee Chairs, Rep. Conyers was the pit bull that was needed to get to the bottom of 7 years of Executive Office malfeasance. Damn, was I wrong. But it wasn’t just Conyers. It was Waxman. Rangel. Skelton. Reyes. The list seems endless.

It became a game. They issued subpoenas. The GOP promptly ignored the subpoenas (or flat out lied, and demonstrably lied through their teeth in testimony). There have been exactly zero “contempt of Congress” citations. No one is behind bars. Rove is still pulling strings in the White House. White House counsel Fred Fielding continues to ignore requests and strongly worded letters from the Democratic Party leadership who are demanding records, witnesses, and other evidentiary matter.

The Plame investigation went nowhere. The U.S. Attorney investigation went nowhere. Torture investigations went nowhere. Illegal wiretapping investigations went nowhere - in fact, these investigations went so far nowhere that the Dem leadership was (and still is) willing to offer retroactive immunity to the willing participants (telecom companies) in this illegal activity in order to pass a FISA bill after the first of the year. One after another, the scandals that surfaced flared briefly, inspiring momentary outrage, but then flamed out just as quickly.

It has been like the Democratic Party revolution of 2006 didn’t even happen.

Bush has only become more petulant. The Republicans continue to paint the Democratic Party as anti-American, terrorist supporting, politically motivated, partisan wieners. And even in the minority, the GOP continues to control the media bully pulpit.

Never, ever, have I witnessed such a weak-kneed bunch of lilly livered “leaders” trying to run the country. Sure, a few things have been accomplished, but in reality, Nancy Pelosi’s much ballyhoo’d “first one hundred hours” was little more than a publicity stunt. Her most memorable act has been taking impeachment off of the table.

Harry Reid has got to go. There are times that I’ve been supportive of his actions in the Senate, but most of those came during his tenure as Minority Leader, not when he was elevated to the majority. The final straw came earlier this week when he actually allowed the FISA bill, with telecom immunity intact, come up on the floor of the Senate. Thank the gods for Chris Dodd’s tenacity in ensuring that this travesty of a bill was shelved until at least the first of the year.

And today? The U.S. House of Representatives passed the latest Iraq funding bill, $70 billion worth, without so much as a peep, an attempt to attach conditions, a timetable for withdrawl, nothing. They again gave the least popular President in U.S. history everything he wanted.

I used to think that the answer was to elect a Dem to the office of President next year, but the more that I watch the crop of the current candidates, only two even begin to stand out as the type of person who will really shake things up. One of them is John Edwards, and I like his positions almost across the board. The other is Ron Paul - who I could support simply from the standpoint of his desire to shake things up, regardless of many of his positions that I detest. Unfortunately, both are so far outside of the Beltway Class that it’s doubtful if either could have a lasting impact.

A Democratic Party President, though, isn’t going to cause his or her colleagues in the legislative branch to suddenly grow a set of cast iron cajones. Let’s be clear about something. There is no way that the current administration should be allowed to walk away free from their involvement in the high crimes and misdemeanors that have been perpetrated against the American public (and indeed, humanity) over the past seven years. But I fear that’s exactly what’s going to happen, regardless of who’s running the show after 2008 because of the Washington insider culture of quid pro quo.

When Bush leaves office in January, 2009, his list of pardons is, by default, going to smash the records of his predecessors. But is it really going to make any difference what he does on the way out the door? No.

Hell, maybe that’s the super-double-secret Democratic Party strategy. Don’t seek indictments against anyone in the current administration, because if any one of the current suspects are convicted between now and the end of the Bush regime, they’re just going to be Libbyed as Bush takes his last ride on Air Force One. Wait until the new President is sworn in, and then go after the crooks.

I know, I know. I’m dreaming.

Which brings me full circle back to the original question in the title of this article — Who is really running congress right now? I ask, because it sure doesn’t appear to be the scared rabbits in the Dem leadership. But, then, maybe it wasn’t the GOP leadership running the show in the previous years, either.

It all comes back to an old axiom, that Dems and the GOP are two sides of the very same coin. A new Senator or Congresscritter may first step into office with the best of intentions, but are then quickly assimilated into the congressional collective. A newly elected representative operating under the Capitol dome for the first time is understandably quite intimidated, and doesn’t get the choice committee assignments (or future party backing) by rocking the establishment boat too vigorously.

The new representative sees visions of Mr. Smith going to Washington vanish pretty rapidly, and a degree of pragmatism settles in — if the pork isn’t brought home to the state by the representative, chances are that a second term isn’t very likely. Pork isn’t going to flow without cooperation, quid pro quo, and coloring within the lines of acceptable congressional wisdom (which is largely bi-partisan). Party insiders won’t work to reelect the non-conformist, in fact, to the degree that they’re willing to see an opposition candidate elected who might play “inside baseball”. That’s just the way things work in the Beltway.

So, we can rant and rave about Reid and Pelosi and Boehner and Hoyer and McConnell all day long, and it isn’t going to make much difference. At the end of the day, they’re all basically playing for the same team, and their primary job is to push the agendas that are given to them by the real controllers. The foot soldiers in the House and the Senate are there to play along, for the most part, and collect a paycheck - and fatten their resumes for the big lobby payday in advance of the time when either they tire of the game or get forced out the door.

It’s kind of like professional wrestling, in that regard. Most of what we see and hear from Washington is well scripted, with the outcome all but assured. Every now and then, a Christopher Dodd will step out of the shadows and challenge the status quo - but you can bet, for the most part, that Dodd’s outspoken response to the FISA outrage was (again) an expected part of an ongoing, orchestrated production.

There was no time for such orchestration today. The House members want to get out of town, and they had to do something with the Iraq funding bill. Rather than squawk, or put on a staged fight for timeline and withdrawal amendments that had no chance of going anywhere, they just voted “yes”.

Because it’s what they were told had to be done if they wanted to make that 5:30 flight.