The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Voters unhappy with Bush and Congress

Voters unhappy with Bush and Congress
Wed Oct 17, 2007 4:32pm EDT

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deepening unhappiness with President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress soured the mood of Americans and sent Bush's approval rating to another record low this month, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

The Reuters/Zogby Index, which measures the mood of the country, also fell from 98.8 to 96 -- the second consecutive month it has dropped. The number of Americans who believe the country is on the wrong track jumped four points to 66 percent.

Bush's job approval rating fell to 24 percent from last month's record low for a Zogby poll of 29 percent. A paltry 11 percent gave Congress a positive grade, tying last month's record low.

"There is a real question among Americans now about how relevant this government is to them," pollster John Zogby said. "They tell us they want action on health care, education, the war and immigration, but they don't believe they are going to get it."

The dismal assessment of the Republican president and the Democratic-controlled Congress follows another month of inconclusive political battles over a future path in Iraq and the recent Bush veto of an expansion of the program providing insurance for poor children.

The bleak mood could present problems for both parties heading into the November 2008 election campaign, Zogby said.

"Voter turnout could still be high next year, but the mood has turned against incumbents and into a 'throw the bums out' mindset," Zogby said.

The national telephone survey of 991 likely voters, conducted October 10 through October 14, found barely one-quarter of Americans, or 26 percent, believe the country is headed in the right direction.

The poll found declining confidence in U.S. economic and foreign policy. About 18 percent gave positive marks to foreign policy, down from 24 percent, and 26 percent rated economic policy positively, down from 30 percent.

A majority of Americans still rate their personal financial situation as excellent or good, although the number dipped slightly this month to 54 percent from 56 percent. In August, 59 percent rated their finances as excellent or good.

"Americans are still feeling good about a number of things in their lives, but not about the government's leadership," Zogby said. "They are giving up on this government."

The Index, which made its debut last month, combines responses to 10 questions on Americans' views about their leaders, the direction of the country and their future. Index polling began in July, and that month's results provide the benchmark score of 100.

A score above 100 indicates the public mood has improved since July. A score below 100 shows the mood has soured, and a falling score like the one recorded this month shows the nation's mood is getting worse.

The RZI is released the third Wednesday of each month.

In the 2008 White House race, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York tightened her grip on the top spot in the Democratic nomination race with the support of 46 percent, up from 35 percent last month.

Her top rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, was at 25 percent, moving up slightly from last month's 21 percent. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina was third with 9 percent, and about 12 percent of Democratic voters were unsure of their choice.

Among Republicans, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani expanded his lead over Fred Thompson, the former senator and Hollywood actor. Giuliani led Thompson 28 percent to 20 percent, compared to last month's 26 percent to 24 percent.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney jumped from 7 percent to 14 percent and moved past Arizona Sen. John McCain into third place. McCain fell from 13 percent last month to 8 percent.

More Republicans, 18 percent, said they had not made up their mind, leaving room for more shifts in the field. "We still have one in five Republicans undecided. That race is really up in the air," Zogby said.

A majority of voters asked about former Vice President Al Gore said he should not run for the White House in 2008 despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize. About 51 percent said he should not enter the race and 40 percent said he should.

The Nobel award on Friday came halfway through the polling period. The Gore question was asked of 485 likely voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The rest of the national survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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Don't think of a sick child

Don't think of a sick child

President Bush wants to leave American families to the mercy of profit-run healthcare -- a practical and moral failure.

By George Lakoff and Glenn W. Smith

Oct. 20, 2007 | George W. Bush doesn't want you to think of a sick child. Not Graeme Frost. Not Gemma Frost. Not Bethany Wilkerson. Not any of the real children affected.

He wants you straining your eyes on the fine print of policies, puzzling over the nuances of coverage -- whether you can afford premiums for basic, catastrophic, comprehensive or limited health insurance. Last week on "Real Time With Bill Maher," even Tucker Carlson kind of got it right, saying, "No one child is a metaphor -- he's a kid!" That's the point. They're all kids, each one, one by one. The question is, do you care?

The actuaries don't. And can't. Health insurance companies make their money by denying care. They maximize profit by authorizing as little care as they can get away with. That's what all those administrative costs -- as high as 30 percent -- and all that paperwork are mostly about. It takes a lot of people to justify denying care.

It's the opposite of the way the market is supposed to work: Make more money by delivering more product. The health insurance industry makes more money by delivering less product. It maximizes profits by minimizing care.

Profit-run medicine is not, and cannot be, full care. What is needed is patient- and doctor-run medicine. The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is just that. Our children need care. Our doctors provide it. The government handles the transactions, period. And we pay a lot less and get a lot more, because there are virtually no administrative costs and no profits being taken by outsiders.

Profit-maximizing insurance, as opposed to doctor-provided care, forces the nation to choose among its children: who will get care and who won't, who will suffer and who won't, who will live and who will die.

Bush and his conservative allies don't want us to see sick children, just as they don't want us to see those bodies in bags coming back from Iraq. They're in the habit of sweeping our human casualties under the rug.

But Americans are a compassionate people. We do care about sick children. We do care about our dead and wounded vets and their families. We do care about victims of Hurricane Katrina. Empathy and compassion are what this country is about. America is about caring for one another, about being in the same boat, about being a national family. It is not about profiting from someone else's suffering, especially if that someone else is a child.

Government in America has a sacred moral mission to protect us, its citizens. Protection means more than the military and the police. It means worker protection, consumer protection, environmental protection and Social Security. And it means health security.

President Bush warns us against "government-run" healthcare, which is anything but government run. In SCHIP, the government doesn't deliver care, it enables it. It directs payments. Bush wants to leave the nation's children -- and the rest of us -- to the mercy of profit-run healthcare. The reason we need SCHIP is that profit-run healthcare has failed.

When children in your family fall sick, you don't look away. You make sure they are cared for and get better. That's the way the American family should also work.

George Lakoff and Glenn W. Smith are senior fellows at the Rockridge Institute in Berkeley, Calif.

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CBS confirms 2006 Raw Story scoop: Plame's job was to keep nukes from Iran

CBS confirms 2006 Raw Story scoop: Plame's job was to keep nukes from Iran
10/20/2007 @ 12:43 pm
Filed by Muriel Kane and Dave Edwards

CBS News has confirmed, in advance of a 60 Minutes interview with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame to be run this Sunday, that Plame "was involved in operations to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons."

"Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys, basically, did not get nuclear weapons," Plame told 60 Minutes. Plame also indicated that her outing in 2003 had caused grave damage to CIA operations, saying, "All the intelligence services in the world were running my name through their databases" to see where she had gone and who she had met with.

RAW STORY first revealed Plame's Iran mission and the damage done to CIA operations by her outing in a February 13, 2006 story by Raw investigative editor Larisa Alexandrovna, titled "Outed CIA officer was working on Iran, intelligence sources say." In that article, Alexandrovna wrote:

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program. ...

Intelligence sources would not identify the specifics of Plame's work. They did, however, tell RAW STORY that her outing resulted in "severe" damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation. ...

Three intelligence officers confirmed that other CIA non-official cover officers were compromised, but did not indicate the number of people operating under non-official cover that were affected or the way in which these individuals were impaired. None of the sources would say whether there were American or foreign casualties as a result of the leak.

A few months following Alexandrovna's groundbreaking revelations, MSNBC's David Shuster reported that he had also been told by his own sources of Plame's involvement in an Iran operation and the damage done by her outing.

CBS states further that Plame "was involved in one highly classified mission to deliver fake nuclear weapons blueprints to Tehran. It was called Operation Merlin, and it was first revealed in a book by investigative reporter James Risen."

Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, was published in October 2006, eight months after Alexandrovna's initial reporting. Risen discussed Project Merlin in the book but did not mention that Plame had been part of it.

Reached on Saturday morning, Alexandrovna said she had known of Project Merlin when she wrote her 2006 article but was not allowed to discuss the operation, as per her agreement with sources, just the country involved. "I cannot confirm or deny that Plame was connected with Project Merlin, only that I was aware of it," Alexandrovna told Raw.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Gonzales Investigated Subordinates Who Were Likely to Testify Against Him

Gonzales Investigated Subordinates Who Were Likely To Testify Against Him

Murry Waas

Alberto Gonzales was briefed extensively about a criminal leak investigation despite the fact that he had reason to believe that several individuals under investigation in the matter were potential witnesses against him in separate Justice Department inquiries.

While Attorney General, Gonzales oversaw the probe into the disclosure of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program to the New York Times. However, many of those under scrutiny in that investigation were likely to be crucial witnesses about whether Gonzales himself had violated the law while promoting the program as White House counsel and testifying about it to Congress.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine is currently investigating whether Gonzales gave false or misleading testimony about the eavesdropping program while under oath.

Earlier, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) attempted to investigate whether Gonzales and other government attorneys acted within the law in authorizing and overseeing the program. President Bush personally intervened in the spring of 2006 to shut down that investigation by preventing OPR investigators from gaining the necessary security clearances.

Senior federal law enforcement privately question the propriety of Gonzales receiving such sensitive information about subordinates being scrutinized in one inquiry when those same individuals were likely to be witnesses about alleged misconduct by Gonzales for the other investigations.

A senior law enforcement official said, "Most of the people who have been looked at [during the leak investigation] are never going to be charged. Most did nothing wrong."

Yet, during the course of the leak investigation, the official said, people were asked about their contacts with the press, whether they disagreed with aspects of the Bush administration's eavesdropping program, and even their personal politics. The official said that special care should have been taken in briefing Gonzales -- a political figure who also was the nation's chief law enforcement official -- and indeed was to some degree. But the fact that some of those investigated had information about potential wrongdoing against Gonzales was even worse.

Of serious concern, the law enforcement official said, was that the "investigative files in the [leak] case are the equivalent of raw intelligence files for someone like Gonzales."

Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University, said in an interview that Gonzales's conduct was improper.

"Gonzales should have stayed out of the leak investigation once it began to focus on potential witnesses against him. By overseeing it, Gonzales put himself in a position to hurt the careers and reputations of subordinates whose cooperation was needed in the separate investigation of him. They are likely to recognize this added vulnerability -- it's hard enough as it is to provide evidence against your boss -- which will in turn intimidate them from saying anything that invites retribution from Gonzales."

Charles Wolfram, a professor emeritus of ethics at Cornell University Law School, similarly said, "As a matter of legal ethics, Gonzales had a clear conflict of interest. It seems to be flat out wrong that he should be supervising and getting information about people taking shots at him at witnesses in these other investigations."

How much of a serious concern was it to law enforcement officials that Gonzalez continued to oversee an investigation of people who have accused him of wrongdoing?

Gonzales' own legal team preemptively leaked word this month that the former Attorney General had retained George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general during the first Bush administration, to defend him during various investigations of his own conduct by the Justice Department and Congress.

Gonzales' attorneys were reportedly concerned that the Justice Department's Inspector General might send a criminal referral to the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section or even recommend the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Gonzales. (The Inspector General does not have authority to prosecute crimes himself.)

As a result of the briefings that Gonzales received during the leak probe, he now has an advantage that no private citizen under investigation could conceivably have: access to government records about his accusers even while investigations of him are ongoing.

"What happens if the Inspector General is going to come out with a report, or worse, refer to someone?" said the senior federal law enforcement official who criticizes Gonzales' briefings. "If not the first thing, then it is the second thing any good attorney is going to want to know: What do you have to discredit your accusers? What do we have to give to the press?" In this instance, the official pointed out, "You have a former attorney general being represented a federal deputy attorney general. You have people who understand how to play this game better than anyone.

"The question then is whether Alberto Gonzales is going to be able to say to his own attorney, 'I can't tell you what I learned about my own accusers. That would have been an abuse of my authority as Attorney General.'"

* * * * *

Do witnesses against Gonzales feel intimidated in the way that law enforcement officials and ethics experts say might be the case?

Some former government officials who have been questioned as part of the leak probe, as well as attorneys representing officials questioned, said as much in interviews for this story. None wanted to speak for the record because they did not want to anger prosecutions investigating them or their clients.

But at least one former Justice Department official, who was questioned during the leak probe, has spoken out publicly: Jack Goldsmith, who, as head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, questioned the legality of some aspects of the warrantless surveillance program, and directly clashed with Gonzales over the program when Gonzales was White House counsel.

Goldsmith declined to be interviewed for this story. But in his recently published memoir of his time serving in the Bush administration, "The Terror Presidency", Goldsmith disclosed that he been subpoenaed by FBI agents last April to testify under oath about the leak probe before a federal grand jury.

"What angered me most about the subpoena I received," Goldsmith wrote, was "the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department that had issued it... I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in he face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House counsel Gonzales, David Addington [Vice President Cheney's then-counsel], and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

"It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program."

* * * * *

In response to such concerns, Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department's National Security Division, said via email: "I'm sorry, but we will not be able to provide you any comment whatsoever on the ongoing leak investigation."

White House press secretary Dana Perino also declined comment on the propriety of Gonzales' continued involvement in the leak probe, any information he might have given President Bush about the probe, and conversations between Bush and Gonzales to shut down the OPR probe.

"The White House does not comment on private conversations that the president has with his senior advisers and his Cabinet. And that has been, and will continue to be, our standard operating procedure," Perino said. "The attorney general is one such close adviser to the president."

Perino also asserted that the discussions between Bush and Gonzales were appropriate because "the terrorist surveillance program is a highly classified national security tool to fight the global war on terror."

Terwilliger, Gonzales' attorney, did not return phone calls seeking his comment for this story.

* * * * *

During much of the same time that Gonzales oversaw the leak investigation, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility was attempting to conduct an entirely separate investigation into whether Gonzales and other government attorneys acted within the law in approving and overseeing the eavesdropping program.

President Bush personally intervened in spring 2006 to shut down that particular investigation by not allowing OPR investigators to be granted the necessary security clearances. Gonzales has told Congress that Bush consulted with him on the matter, and that Gonzales actually advocated that the security clearances be granted so the OPR probe could continue -- but that Bush overrode that advice.

The OPR inquiry was shut down not long after the head of OPR, Marshall Jarrett, had informed superiors that his team was about to interview witnesses and review records that would directly contradict sworn testimony to Congress by Gonzales, according to Justice Department records and interviews. The testimony in question was Gonzales's assertion that there had been no "serious disagreement" within the Bush administration regarding the legality of the eavesdropping program.

It is unknown exactly when Gonzales learned that his own conduct would be a focus for OPR investigators, but Jarrett first complained to his superiors in a Jan. 20, 2006 memo that his investigation was being stymied because of the delay in obtaining security clearances. In the same memo, Jarrett named specific witnesses he wanted to interview and documents he wanted to review. Those witnesses and documents indicated that senior Justice Department officials had reservations about the legality of some aspects of the administration's eavesdropping program.

Two weeks after Jarrett asked for his security clearances, on Feb. 3, 2006, Gonzales appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was asked whether anyone within the Bush administration had raised questions about the legality of the eavesdropping program.

Gonzales said: "There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the President has confirmed."

Of course, it would later become famously known that there were indeed a score of top Justice Department officials who had very serious disagreements with Gonzales over the legality of the program.

Gonzales has denied having purposely mislead Congress. (His explanation of why his testimony is truthful is included in this New York Times story.)

But three senior government officials -- former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Goldsmith -- have all since testified before Congress that they disagreed sharply about legal aspects of the eavesdropping program. Comey and Goldsmith have publicly described the intense confrontation when Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card pressed a severely ill John Ashcroft to reauthorize the program from his hospital bed at George Washington University Medical Center. (Watch video of Comey's testimony here.)

Goldsmith, who was in the hospital room at the time, described the scene to the New York Times:

"Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest. All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn't appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter that they were asking about and that , in any event, he wasn't the attorney general at he moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die."

* * * * *
But none of this was known when the OPR investigation was effectively terminated -- or at least not known officially, because Jarrett could not question Comey or Goldsmith without security clearances.

On March 21, 2006, six weeks after Gonzales's notorious testimony, Jarrett took his case directly to the no. 2 official at the Justice Department, then-Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, according to Department records. Some time subsequently, President Bush, after consulting with Gonzales, apparently made the final decision to deny OPR security clearances to continue.

In his memo to McNulty, Jarrett pointed out that others throughout the Justice Department and elsewhere in government, often with less pressing needs. were routinely granted clearances regarding the eavesdropping program.

Jarrett noted, for example, "the Criminal Division's request for the same security clearances for a large team of attorneys and FBI agents that was investigating who initially leaked details of the NSA eavesdropping program to the New York Times."

In contrast to the nettlesome Jarrett, both Bush and Gonzales were determined to ferret out who in government leaked details of their eavesdropping to the media. No resources were to be spared. Security clearances were readily granted.

Jarrett also noted in the same memo that clearances were being granted even to Department employees handling routine Freedom of Information requests, as well as private citizens on a presidential board, while he and his staff were denied them:

"We have also learned that individuals involved in the Civil Division's response to legal challenges to the NSA program and responses to Freedom of Information Act litigation have received the same clearances. And.. five private individuals who made up the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have en granted authorization to receive the clearances in question."

Regarding the clearances apparently granted to the president's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Justice Department officials told me in interviews that ordinarily private citizens on such boards are considered much greater security risks than full-time civil service government employees, such as Jarrett and his staff. Unlike government employees, they do not risk the loss of their jobs or pensions or the ends of their careers if they are caught leaking.

The board's only Democratic member, former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Davis, resigned his position in May. In his resignation letter, Davis alleged that "at least some administration officials and a majority of the board" believe that the board should be "wholly part of the White House staff and political structure, rather than an independent oversight entity." [Disclosure: Davis once briefly represented me in a minor legal matter as a private attorney.]

Was Marshall Jarrett more of a potential security risk than Freedom of Information officers and private citizens sitting on private boards? In considering that question, one should consider his resume:

Jarrett has been a career federal prosecutor and administrative officer of the Department of Justice for twenty seven years. He was a First Assistant U.S. Attorney in West Virginia. He was the head of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia. He also served a stint as the deputy chief of the Justice Department's elite Public Integrity Section, which oversees the prosecution of political corruption cases.

* * * * *

Although Jarrett's investigation was closed down, the Inspector General's investigation is apparently just getting underway. The attorney general who once oversaw an investigation largely of officials of his own Justice Department is under investigation himself with the witnesses being those Gonzales once pursued.

And one of Jarrett's major obstacles is now moot: the White House already granted security clearances to the Inspector General's office in 2006 for other inquiries regarding the administration's eavesdropping program. Thus, it did not need new ones when it undertook its more recent inquiry as to whether Gonzales misled Congress about the program.

If the fears of Gonzales's new legal team are well-founded, the major question ultimately facing the Inspector General is whether to ask the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section to begin a formal criminal inquiry, or even to suggest the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Such an inquiry may not focus narrowly on whether Gonzales made misleading statements to Congress. It could examine the termination of the OPR investigation by President Bush, and whether Gonzales informed Bush that he was a focus of the OPR probe. It could examine whether Gonzales misused information he learned from the leak probe to squash dissent from his own subordinates or influence their potential testimony about him.

Because of the involvement of President Bush, the appointment of a special prosecutor may not be as remote as many believe.

According to one senior career federal law enforcement official, not directly involved in the probe: "That could prove to be a nightmare for this administration that they could have never imagined."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

McConnell versus truth

McConnell versus truth

Mitch McConnell can't have it both ways.

He can't luxuriate in a reputation for personal caution and political control, yet claim he knew nothing about the role his office tried to play in sliming a Baltimore boy and his family when they came forward in support of the SCHIP health care expansion.

By now you know the story: Twelve-year-old Graeme Frost and his sister, Gemma, suffered severe brain injuries in a 2004 car crash and got help from the SCHIP program -- all within the rules, as it turned out, much to the chagrin of would-be right-wing spoilers.

Graeme spoke out when President Bush vetoed the SCHIP expansion bill, which the Republican minority in the House is expect to kill today.

A McConnell aide, Don Stewart, admits he sicced reporters on the Frosts when "trusted" bloggers began to question their authenticity as an income-qualified CHIP program participant. But he says he quickly called off the dogs when he decided there wasn't a story there after all, because the family's situation was legitimate. Mr. Stewart told The Courier-Journal he explained all that to his boss on Thursday.

So Sen. McConnell was deliberately untruthful the next day, when he told WHAS-TV's Mark Hebert, "There was no involvement whatsoever." The senator will object to any suggestion of lying, but what else is it when you knowingly misrepresent facts?

It's clear what Mitch McConnell knew and when he knew it. It's clear he deceived the public when he answered Mr. Hebert as he did about the e-mail sent by his press agent.

Mr. McConnell is so used to Washington-style gamesmanship and inside-the-beltway rules that he has forgotten what constituents back in Kentucky want: the simple truth.

They want that every bit as much as they want the bags of tax money he sends home.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let Them Eat Vacation

Let Them Eat Vacation
by DHinMI
Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 01:21:37 PM CDT

George W. Bush, ironist:

Bush Exhorts Congress to Work Harder

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Wednesday accused Congress of dragging its feet on key pieces of legislation, urging quick action on budget and children's health measures.

Yeah, that’s right, Bush says Congress isn’t working hard enough. His proof? That they haven’t passed legislation on children’s health care...except, of course, they have, with bipartisan support, and he vetoed it, so now Congress has to waste valuable time trying to override his veto of wildly popular legislation wanted by almost everyone outside the GOP’s dead-ender base. And if Bush sticks to his threats, he will be vetoing dozens of bills sent to him by Congress.

But should Bush be criticizing the Congress for not accomplishing enough or not working hard enough? It’s certainly true that on the most important matter facing the country and on the minds of most voters, the war in Iraq, Democrats have disappointed. But outside of Iraq, the House and Senate Dems have delivered on many of the promises they made to voters. And it’s certainly not true that Congress isn’t working, as they’ve broken the one-year record for most roll call votes cast in a year, and they’ll be casting many more. And there are certainly a lot of Republicans who think the House is working hard; in fact, Republican members of Congress have been complaining that they’re being forced to work too hard.

But that just deals with whether it’s fair to level those charges against Congress. But does Bush have any right to complain about someone else not working hard enough?

Bush on Track to Become Vacation President

President Bush tries to set an example for Americans whenever he can, in terms of physical fitness, faith, optimism and a certain overall moral rectitude. He also sets an excellent example on taking vacation.

On Thursday, Bush left for a weekend in Kennebunkport, Maine, and his family's summer compound, Walker's Point. On Monday, he heads to his Crawford retreat, where he has spent all or part of 418 days of his presidency, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News White House correspondent and meticulous record-keeper...

The presidential vacation-time record holder is the late Ronald Reagan, who tallied 436 days in his two terms. At 418 days, and with 17 months to go in his presidency, Bush is going to beat that easily...

Still, all this governmental time off is more than most Americans are taking. A recent survey by Yahoo Hot Jobs found nearly half of American workers did not take all of their vacation days last year.

Bush, on his 10th visit to Kennebunkport as president (according to Knoller), is scheduled for lunch Saturday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, on the issue of vacation, at least, Bush is much like a pleasure-seeking Frenchman. According to, French workers get about 39 days off a year and generally take all but one.

Bush: I Don't Remember What I Was Doing in 1981

In an attempt to decipher President Bush’s views on the recent Israeli airstrike inside Syria, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory asked the president at a press conference this morning whether he agreed with Israel’s decision to bomb the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad in 1981. Bush responded:

Ah, Dave, you know I don’t remember what I was doing in 1981. I was living in Midland, Texas. I don’t remember my reaction that far back.

To refresh Bush’s memory, in 1981, his twin daughters Barbara and Jenna were born. His father was vice president of the United States. And Bush was struggling as the head of a failing oil exploration company called Arbusto. The Washington Post reports:

Arbusto’s balance sheets showed that at the end of 1981, it had little more than $48,000 in the bank and more than half of all its assets consisted of “accounts receivable,” money owed to it by others. At the same time, the company owed almost $300,000 in bank loans and close to $120,000 to other creditors.

At that time, Bush received an infusion of cash from a number of sources, including from longtime friend James R. Bath who was handling the finances for the bin Laden family.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Real Iraq We Knew

The Real Iraq We Knew

By 12 former Army captains
Tuesday, October 16, 2007; 12:00 AM

Today marks five years since the authorization
of military force in Iraq, setting Operation Iraqi Freedom in motion.
Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it
was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles.

Army captains who served in Baghdad and beyond, we've seen the
corruption and the sectarian division. We understand what it's like to
be stretched too thin. And we know when it's time to get out.

does Iraq look like on the ground? It's certainly far from being a
modern, self-sustaining country. Many roads, bridges, schools and
hospitals are in deplorable condition. Fewer people have access to
drinking water or sewage systems than before the war. And Baghdad is
averaging less than eight hours of electricity a day.

institutional infrastructure, too, is sorely wanting. Even if the
Iraqis wanted to work together and accept the national identity foisted
upon them in 1920s, the ministries do not have enough trained
administrators or technicians to coordinate themselves. At the local
level, most communities are still controlled by the same autocratic
sheiks that ruled under Saddam. There is no reliable postal system. No
effective banking system. No registration system to monitor the
population and its needs.

The inability to govern is exacerbated at all levels by widespread corruption. Transparency International
ranks Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And,
indeed, many of us witnessed the exploitation of U.S. tax dollars by
Iraqi officials and military officers. Sabotage and graft have had a
particularly deleterious impact on Iraq's oil industry, which still
fails to produce the revenue that Pentagon war planners hoped would pay
for Iraq's reconstruction. Yet holding people accountable has proved
difficult. The first commissioner of a panel charged with preventing
and investigating corruption resigned last month, citing pressure from
the government and threats on his life.

Against this backdrop,
the U.S. military has been trying in vain to hold the country together.
Even with "the surge," we simply do not have enough soldiers and
marines to meet the professed goals of clearing areas from insurgent
control, holding them securely and building sustainable institutions.
Though temporary reinforcing operations in places like Fallujah, An
Najaf, Tal Afar, and now Baghdad may brief well on PowerPoint
presentations, in practice they just push insurgents to another spot on
the map and often strengthen the insurgents' cause by harassing locals
to a point of swayed allegiances. Millions of Iraqis correctly
recognize these actions for what they are and vote with their feet --
moving within Iraq or leaving the country entirely. Still, our colonels
and generals keep holding on to flawed concepts.

U.S. forces,
responsible for too many objectives and too much "battle space," are
vulnerable targets. The sad inevitability of a protracted draw-down is
further escalation of attacks -- on U.S. troops, civilian leaders and
advisory teams. They would also no doubt get caught in the crossfire of
the imminent Iraqi civil war.

Iraqi security forces would not be
able to salvage the situation. Even if all the Iraqi military and
police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their
346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at
will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again,
corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving
generals and support the very elements that will battle each other
after we're gone.

This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality
we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of
command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian
leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our
generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis
prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their
families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able
to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and
duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for
compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq
immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it
will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

This column was written by 12 former Army captains: Jason Blindauer served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Elizabeth Bostwick served in Salah Ad Din and An Najaf in 2004. Jeffrey Bouldin served in Al Anbar, Baghdad and Ninevah in 2006. Jason Bugajski served in Diyala in 2004. Anton Kemps served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Kristy (Luken) McCormick served in Ninevah in 2003. Luis Carlos Montalván served in Anbar, Baghdad and Nineveh in 2003 and 2005. William Murphy served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Josh Rizzo served in Baghdad in 2006. William "Jamie" Ruehl served in Nineveh in 2004. Gregg Tharp served in Babil and Baghdad in 2003 and 2005. Gary Williams served in Baghdad in 2003.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Paul Krugman - Gore Derangement Syndrome

Gore Derangement Syndrome

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet — and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of — who else? — George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Frank Rich - The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us

The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “Syriana” by way of “Chinatown.” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

This potential scenario is just one example of why it’s in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self-governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long-metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.

Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished,” for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that “America will not abandon the Iraqi people,” he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.