Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Monday, December 31, 2007

US presidential candidates pledge support to Pakistani dictator

By Patrick Martin
31 December 2007

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The response of the leading US presidential candidates to the December 27 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto has been to pledge continued American support to the Musharraf military dictatorship, with little more than lip service to the democratic rights of the people of Pakistan.

While offering a variety of criticisms, either of US government policy or of their rivals for the presidential nomination, both Democrats and Republicans embraced the basic framework of the Bush administration’s approach, which views the Musharraf regime as the most reliable guarantor of the interests of US imperialism in the region.

Not one of the candidates so much as mentioned the likelihood that the military regime itself organized the murder of Bhutto, either on direct orders from Musharraf himself or by sections of the military-intelligence apparatus, which maintains close ties to Islamic fundamentalist groups.

The Republican candidates cited the apparent suicide bombing as another example of terrorist attacks going back to 9/11, and each sought to posture as the future commander-in-chief most determined to continue the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who have focused their campaigns on terrorism and the war in Iraq, respectively, were the most fervent in seeking to whip up popular fear for their own political benefit.

Giuliani rushed out a statement calling the Bhutto assassination a “reminder that terrorism anywhere—whether in New York, London, Tel Aviv or Rawalpindi—is an enemy of freedom.” His campaign also unveiled a new television commercial including footage of the 9/11 attacks.

McCain openly sought to exploit the event politically, raising the Pakistani events repeatedly in campaign appearances in Iowa. He boasted of his personal acquaintance with Bhutto and Musharraf, declaring that Bhutto’s murder “may serve to enhance those credentials or make people understand that I’ve been to Waziristan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him.”

He told reporters in New Hampshire that he continues “to believe Musharraf has done a pretty good job, done a lot of the things that we wanted him to do.” McCain called the Pakistani dictator “personally scrupulously honest,” although he heads one of the most corrupt regimes on the planet, in which top military officers routinely end their careers as multimillionaires.

Another leading Republican, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, issued a self-contradictory statement asserting that no one knew who was responsible for Bhutto’s assassination, while at the same time blaming “global, radical, violent jihadism.”

The Republican frontrunner in Iowa, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, provided the most parochial response to the Bhutto killing, attempting to link it to the issue of illegal immigration in the United States, an issue on which he has been under fire from his rivals for being insufficiently reactionary.

He claimed that unrest in Pakistan was particularly troubling because “we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities, except those immediately south of the border.”

Huckabee followed up this bizarre assertion—the total number of Pakistanis detained for illegal entry into the US was only 660 over the most recent four-year period—with a series of verbal slips, for which Huckabee was flayed in the press, by warning, “the immigration issue is not so much about people coming across to pick lettuce or make beds, it’s about people who can come with a shoulder-fired missile and can do serious damage and harm to us.”

On the Democratic side of the presidential contest, there were equally brazen efforts to use the Bhutto assassination to score points based on past experience in national security matters. Former senator John Edwards announced that he had spoken with Musharraf on the telephone after the killing, while Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, cited his own past declarations that nuclear-armed Pakistan is “the most dangerous nation on the planet.”

One Democrat, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, called for Musharraf to step down and urged the Bush administration to halt all military aid to Pakistan. He went so far as to link Bhutto’s murder to Musharraf’s declaration of martial law, but when questioned by reporters, Richardson endorsed the consensus view that Al Qaeda terrorists, and not Musharraf, were responsible for the assassination.

Richardson said, “Some of my Democratic opponents have misplaced faith in Musharraf. Like the Bush administration, they cling to the misguided notion that Musharraf can be trusted as an ally to fight terrorism.” This formulation suggests that Musharraf’s main offense was an inadequate military effort against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, not his brutal suppression of the democratic rights of the Pakistani people.

The two Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, each used the Bhutto assassination to argue that the Bush administration had become too preoccupied with the war in Iraq to conduct an effective foreign policy in Afghanistan, South Asia or the world in general.

Clinton noted her past acquaintance with Benazir Bhutto, and criticized the Bush administration for a policy that “put way too much emphasis on Musharraf instead of dealing with broader Pakistani society.” But she declined to endorse Richardson’s call for the removal of Musharraf.

Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, addressed the issue in apocalyptic language, telling a meeting in Iowa Saturday that unforeseen catastrophes like the Bhutto killing made it necessary to select “a leader who is strong and commanding and convincing enough ... to deal with the unexpected.”

“There is a better than 50 percent chance that sometime in the first year or 18 months of the next presidency, something will happen that is not being discussed in this campaign,” he said. “And if you’re not ready for that, then everything else you do can be undermined. You need a president that you trust to deal with something that we will not discuss in this campaign.”

Obama cited the Bhutto assassination to bolster his argument that Ms. Clinton was too closely associated with the Bush administration’s foreign policy because of her vote in 2002 to authorize the war in Iraq. “I’ve been saying for some time that we’ve got a very big problem” in Pakistan, Obama said. “We were distracted from focusing on them.” The war in Iraq had “resulted in us taking our eye off the ball” in terms of the struggle against Al Qaeda, he concluded.

Despite his posture as a candidate of “change,” Obama’s position is virtually identical to that espoused by the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry, who argued that the war in Iraq was a diversion from the more important “war” against Al Qaeda and terrorism, which a Democratic administration would wage more effectively than the Republicans. Last summer Obama caused a brief political stir when he advocated a US invasion of Pakistan to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy Taliban and Al Qaeda forces hiding out in the border region.

All of the major presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, stand on a common platform of defending American imperialism. Some Democrats, like Richardson and Obama, emphasize diplomacy and dialogue; others, like Clinton and the Republicans, are more open supporters of military action. But their fundamental goal is the same: upholding the strategic and economic interests of the American financial aristocracy.

See Also:
Bhutto assassination heightens threat of US intervention in Pakistan
[29 December 2007]
In wake of assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bush administration rushes to defense of Musharraf
[28 December 2007]

Kudos to Paul Krugman, one of the nation's best minds

The Great Divide

Yesterday The Times published a highly informative chart laying out the positions of the presidential candidates on major issues. It was, I’d argue, a useful reality check for those who believe that the next president can somehow usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

For what the chart made clear was the extent to which Democrats and Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes.

On one side, the Democrats are all promising to get out of Iraq and offering strongly progressive policies on taxes, health care and the environment. That’s understandable: the public hates the war, and public opinion seems to be running in a progressive direction.

What seems harder to understand is what’s happening on the other side — the degree to which almost all the Republicans have chosen to align themselves closely with the unpopular policies of an unpopular president. And I’m not just talking about their continuing enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The G.O.P. candidates are equally supportive of Bush economic policies.

Why would politicians support Bushonomics? After all, the public is very unhappy with the state of the economy, for good reason. The “Bush boom,” such as it was, bypassed most Americans — median family income, adjusted for inflation, has stagnated in the Bush years, and so have the real earnings of the typical worker. Meanwhile, insecurity has increased, with a declining fraction of Americans receiving health insurance from their employers.

And things seem likely to get worse as the election approaches. For a few years, the economy was at least creating jobs at a respectable pace — but as the housing slump and the associated credit crunch accelerate and spill over to the rest of the economy, most analysts expect employment to weaken, too.

All in all, it’s an economic and political environment in which you’d expect Republican politicians, as a sheer matter of calculation, to look for ways to distance themselves from the current administration’s economic policies and record — say, by expressing some concern about rising income gaps and the fraying social safety net.

In fact, however, except for Mike Huckabee — a peculiar case who’ll deserve more discussion if he stays in contention — the leading Republican contenders have gone out of their way to assure voters that they will not deviate an inch from the Bush path. Why? Because the G.O.P. is still controlled by a conservative movement that does not tolerate deviations from tax-cutting, free-market, greed-is-good orthodoxy.

To see the extent to which Republican politicians still cower before the power of movement conservatism, consider the sad case of John McCain.

Mr. McCain’s lingering reputation as a maverick straight talker comes largely from his opposition to the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which he said at the time were too big and too skewed to the rich. Those objections would seem to have even more force now, with America facing the costs of an expensive war — which Mr. McCain fervently supports — and with income inequality reaching new heights.

But Mr. McCain now says that he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Not only that: he’s become a convert to crude supply-side economics, claiming that cutting taxes actually increases revenues. That’s an assertion even Bush administration officials concede is false.

Oh, and what about his earlier opposition to tax cuts? Mr. McCain now says he opposed the Bush tax cuts only because they weren’t offset by spending cuts.

Aside from the logical problem here — if tax cuts increase revenue, why do they need to be offset? — even a cursory look at what Mr. McCain said at the time shows that he’s trying to rewrite history: he actually attacked the Bush tax cuts from the left, not the right. But he has clearly decided that it’s better to fib about his record than admit that he wasn’t always a rock-solid economic conservative.

So what does the conversion of Mr. McCain into an avowed believer in voodoo economics — and the comparable conversions of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani — tell us? That bitter partisanship and political polarization aren’t going away anytime soon.

There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.

If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr. Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there is no common ground between the parties.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Cuts Iraqi Food Rations by Half--Population will starve

Saddam Provided More Food Than the U.S.

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Dec 27 (IPS) - The Iraqi government announcement that monthly food rations will be cut by half has left many Iraqis asking how they can survive.

The government also wants to reduce the number of people depending on the rationing system by five million by June 2008.

Iraq's food rations system was introduced by the Saddam Hussein government in 1991 in response to the UN economic sanctions. Families were allotted basic foodstuffs monthly because the Iraqi Dinar and the economy collapsed.

The sanctions, imposed after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, were described as "genocidal" by Denis Halliday, then UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. Halliday quit his post in protest against the U.S.-backed sanctions.

The sanctions killed half a million Iraqi children, and as many adults, according to the UN. They brought malnutrition, disease, and lack of medicines. Iraqis became nearly completely reliant on food rations for survival. The programme has continued into the U.S.-led occupation.

But now the U.S.-backed Iraqi government has announced it will halve the essential items in the ration because of "insufficient funds and spiralling inflation."

The cuts, which are to be introduced in the beginning of 2008, have drawn widespread criticism. The Iraqi government is unable to supply the rations with several billion dollars at its disposal, whereas Saddam Hussein was able to maintain the programme with less than a billion dollars.

"In 2007, we asked for 3.2 billion dollars for rationing basic foodstuffs," Mohammed Hanoun, Iraq's chief of staff for the ministry of trade told al-Jazeera. "But since the prices of imported foodstuff doubled in the past year, we requested 7.2 billion dollars for this year. That request was denied."

The trade ministry is now preparing to slash the list of subsidised items by half to five basic food items, "namely flour, sugar, rice, oil, and infant milk," Hanoun said.

The imminent move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the rationing system. But it has already caused outrage in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

"The monthly food ration was the only help from the government," local grocer Ibrahim al-Ageely told IPS. "It was of great benefit for the families. The food ration consisted of two kilos of rice, sugar, soap, tea, detergent, wheat flour, lentils, chick-peas, and other items for every individual."

Another grocer said the food ration was the "life of all Iraqis; every month, Iraqis wait in queues to receive their food rations."

According to an Oxfam International report released in July this year, "60 percent (of Iraqis) currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 percent in 2004."

The report said that "43 percent of Iraqis suffer from absolute poverty," and that according to some estimates over half the population are now without work. "Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards. Child malnutrition rates have risen from 19 percent before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to 28 percent now."

While salaries have increased since the invasion of March 2003, they have not kept pace with the dramatic increase in the prices of food and fuel.

"My salary is 280 dollars, and I have six children," 49-year-old secondary school teacher Ali Kadhim told IPS. "The increase in my salary was neutralised by an increase in the price of food. I cannot afford to buy the foodstuffs in addition to the other necessary expenses of life."

"The high increase in food prices led people to condemn the delays in the ration every month," Salah Kadhim, an employee in the directorate-general of health for Diyala province told IPS. "The jobless just cannot afford to buy food."

"The food ration still represents a big part of the domestic budget," Muneer Lafta, a 51-year-old employee at the health directorate told IPS. Without the ration, she said, families have to go to the market. Because Iraqi families are large, usually six to 12 people, shopping for food is simply unaffordable.

"I and my wife have five boys and six girls, so the ration costs a lot when it has to be bought," 55-year-old resident Khalaf Atiya told IPS. "I cannot afford food and also other expenses like study, clothes, doctors."

People in Baquba, living with violence and joblessness for long, are now preparing for this new twist.

"No security, no food, no electricity, no trade, no services. So life is good," said one resident, who would not give his name.

Many fear the food ration cuts can spark unrest. "The government will commit a big mistake, because providing enough food ration could compensate the government's mistakes in other fields like security," a local physician told IPS. "The Iraq will now feel that he, or she, is of no value to the government."

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East)

Dog’s life has its responsibilities

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Resident scholars at Unsolicited Opinions. org, the prestigious think
tank where this column originates, strive to avoid controversy during
the holiday season. Many readers are strung out to begin with,
particularly those who have succumbed to the latest trend headlined in
the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times: driving the family
dog halfway across the country to visit his or her human “relatives.”
The Times reports that in “dog-personspeak,” your parents are your dog’s
“grandparents.” I guess that’d make your brothers and sisters their
“uncles” and “aunts,” their children the dog’s “cousins,” and so forth.
Exactly what to call the tramp who broke up your cousin Dwayne’s
marriage isn’t clear. Judging by those interviewed for the feature,
humans fluent in dog-person-speak appear to inhabit a timeless Dick and
Jane and Spot world where divorce and family strife are unknown.

At least, that is, until Cody Bear, the beloved Labrador retriever,
arrived uninvited for Christmas. Alas, Cody Bear’s “uncle’s” fiancée
turned out to be allergic to dogs and broke out in hives, eventually
precipitating, according to Cody Bear’s doting “mom,” a “family blowup
between my brother and I... [that ] resulted in my mother not speaking
to me for two months and my brother for four.”

And this is different from non-canine Christmas visits how?

In many families, some sarcastic pedant would correct “Mom’s” grammar,
asking how somebody too polite to say “between my brother and me” could
be rude enough to bring the damn dog without an invitation, and a
classic holiday grudge match would be under way.

Even so, the six resident scholars at Unsolicited Opinions. org,
including all five Canine Americans, agree that blaming Cody Bear is
unduly harsh. Most Labradors would have merrily retrieved every
ball-like ornament on the Christmas tree, eaten half the gifts and
regurgitated the wrapping paper on the rest. We’d say Cody Bear’s family
got off easy. You get hives, you scratch them. What’s the big deal?

We also find little fault with Dude, an honest dog’s dog—more
“authentic” and “comfortable in his own skin,” as political pundits say,
than all 237 presidential candidates combined. Taken uninvited to a
garden-party wedding, Dude allegedly leapt into an ornamental pond,
tracked mud across elegant white-upholstered sofas and ate the hors
d’oeuvres. Upon receiving an apology note with a paw print, the Times
reports, the bride quit talking to her former friends.

Well, la-di-dah.

Agreed, the paw print is sickeningly hyper-cute. But we’re confident
that Dude was coerced.

Misunderstandings like these arise, we resident scholars agreed, where
there’s a confusion of realms. On our picturesque rural campus, for
example, everybody’s got his or her duties. I make the coffee, write the
columns, keep the supper dishes filled and clean up occasional

The basset hounds inspect the stables, play chase, supervise nap time
and prevent furniture from levitating. We haven’t had a couch float away
since Fred and Beverly joined our staff. Not even the time that Fred
vanished over the ridge pursuing a white-tailed deer, spending three
days wandering Highway 60 until a kindly neighbor who knows everybody in
the county ascertained his approximate whereabouts by phone.

The Fort Smith shelter where we found Fred warned that he was bad to
roam. He no longer ventures outdoors without his radio tracking collar.
But can anybody produce a better example of Canine American can-do
spirit and determination than a basset hound chasing a deer? We think
Fred belongs on a postage stamp, proudly recumbent on a (non-white)

Fred did once accompany me on an August sabbatical. I phoned an old
friend at his Montana ranch.

“I’m thinking of driving up for a visit and bringing two basset hounds,”
I said.

“Excellent,” he replied.

After about a week of Fred’s stealing food off the counters (he’s short,
but long ), raiding the trash (the container he can’t open doesn’t
exist), not to mention climbing the fence and lighting out for the Crazy
Mountains, my friend pronounced his verdict.

“He’s an amusing fellow,” Ansel said, “but an annoying house guest.”

The two Great Pyrenees are in charge of security. It’s simple enough.
Any fourlegged individual with sharp teeth who’s personally unknown to
them gets escorted off the premises with prejudice. We don’t see much of
the Paris Hilton type hereabouts, but anybody tempted to visit our
picturesque campus should be forewarned: The Pyrenees are apt to mistake
little bug-eyed, purse-riding, toenail-painted, rhinestone-wearing
yappers for rats or opossums, and that’s worse than being a coyote.
Finally, there’s Buffy, the spaniel. Indoors, Buffy thinks she’s my wife
and growls whenever the human one hugs me. Around the barn, like her TV
namesake, she morphs into her secret identity as Mudpie, the spaniel
superhero, perfuming herself with horse manure like all the rest. On the
Times ’ Web site, many overcivilized metropolitan readers wrote
persnickety comments about dirty, smelly dogs. On this point, all six
resident scholars were unanimous: Mere cleanliness is highly overrated.

—–––––• –––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author
and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Bhutto killed by Assassin's Bullet

As the news begins to take the shape of evidence, I believe we will find the bloody hands of Musharrif pulled the trigger.
Benazir Bhutto: From the Oxford Union to her Last Rally in Rawalpindi

The world is debating the political fallout from Benazir Bhutto's assassination -- from fear of chaos in Pakistan to the impact of her death in Iowa. There is already no shortage of analysis about the national security implications of her death, but I want to write about the young woman I met in England before she became a player on the world stage.

She was at Oxford. I was at Cambridge. And by a strange coincidence I became president of the Cambridge Union and she became president of the Oxford Union. The anomaly of two foreign women heading the two unions meant that we ended up debating each other around England on topics ranging from British politics to broad generalities about the impact of technological advance on mankind.
an e-mail from our news editor Katherine Zaleski: "Benazir Bhutto killed by bombing." As we found out afterwards she was killed by an assassin's bullet
 blog it

Monday, December 24, 2007

Hillary's campaign urges vote on wrong day

clipped from

Clinton urges Iowa voters to caucus on wrong day

DES MOINES (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton may have shot herself in the foot trying to get Iowa voters to pledge support to her -- she is encouraging them to caucus on January 14, 11 days too late.
At a rally featuring her husband, former President Bill Clinton on Saturday, campaign workers asked supporters to sign and mail cards that said "Yes! I'm an Iowan for Hillary" with their contact information as well as other supportive friends.

One small problem. In the upper right-hand corner of the card, it says "I, _____, pledge to support Hillary Clinton at my precinct caucus on January 14, 2008."

Unfortunately, that's 11 days too late. The Iowa caucuses are January 3 and organization is key to getting voters to go to the events and support their preferred candidate.

at Bill Clinton's second event on Saturday the cards had the wrong date crossed out and replaced with the correct date.
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White House, CIA hid torture tapes from 9/11 Commission

By Joe Kay
24 December 2007

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The CIA withheld videotapes of the abuse of suspected Al Qaeda members from the 9/11 Commission despite repeated requests for information on interrogations directed to top CIA and White House officials, according to the executive director of the commission. The CIA has acknowledged that in November 2005, more than a year after the requests were made, it destroyed tapes of CIA interrogations of two alleged Al Qaeda leaders, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The history of the commission’s interactions with the CIA on the issue is outlined in a memo from the executive director of the commission, Philip Zelikow, to the chairman, former Republican governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, and the vice chairman, former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton. The memo is dated December 13, 2007 and was released to the news media on Friday. (See “An analysis of the 9/11 Commission memo on interrogation tapes.”)

Zelikow’s account is a damning indictment of White House and CIA officials, and it comes from a prominent Republican with close ties to the intelligence establishment. (Zelikow served on the National Security Council in the administration of the senior George Bush and co-authored a book with current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice). According to the memo, in 2003 and 2004 the commission made “repeated requests for very detailed information about the context” of the CIA interrogations, including those of the two individuals whose interrogations were recorded on the destroyed videotapes.

Videotapes of the interrogations would have clearly been relevant to the inquiry. However, according to Zelikow, the commission was never informed of the existence of the videotapes and was allowed access only to CIA summaries of the interrogations. Zelikow indicated that withholding the information was likely illegal, but he concluded, “Further investigation is needed to determine whether these nondisclosures violated federal law.”

Among those named by Zelikow as involved in the discussions with the 9/11 Commission were: Alberto Gonzales, who was then the White House counsel and would later take the post of attorney general, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone, CIA Director George Tenet, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence John McLaughlin.

The CIA responded to the memo over the weekend with a series of lies and obfuscations. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said that the tapes would have been turned over if the commission had asked for them. “Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active,” he said. Mansfield did not explain how the tapes could be requested if there was no acknowledgement until this month that they even existed.

The New York Times, in an article on Saturday, reported that in interviews with Hamilton and Kean, the commission leaders “said their reading of the [Zelikow] report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.”

Zelikow’s memo is further evidence that the refusal to inform the 9/11 Commission of the existence of the tapes and subsequent decision to destroy them were part of a high-level cover-up of the administration’s policy of using sadistic methods in interrogations that are clearly banned under international and national laws against torture. Last week, the New York Times reported that at least four senior administration lawyers were involved in discussions on whether or not the tapes should be destroyed. The discussions were held between 2003 and 2005, the very period when the 9/11 Commission was making requests for documents on interrogation.

The four lawyers named by the Times include Gonzales; Harriet Miers, Gonzales’ successor as White House counsel; David Addington, counsel and later chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney; and John Bellinger III, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. The Times cited one former intelligence official as saying that there was “vigorous sentiment” among some of the lawyers that the tapes should be destroyed.

The fact that, at the very least, Gonzales—a close Bush confidant—participated in both discussions strongly suggests that Bush and Cheney themselves were aware of and acquiesced in the concealment and subsequent destruction of the tapes. During the same period as the 9/11 Commission investigation, several federal courts issued orders for the preservation of evidence relating to the interrogation and possible torture of prisoners held by the US.

A conspiracy at the top

It is almost certain that Bush was aware of the videotapes from the very beginning, and it is quite possible that he personally viewed at least some of them. When Zubaydah was arrested in 2002, he was seen within the administration as a test case for “harsh interrogation techniques”—i.e., torture—which Bush was eager to implement.

An article in the Times of London on Sunday (“CIA Chief to Drag White House into Torture Cover-Up Storm) cited Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA, as saying it was impossible that Jose Rodriguez, the former head of clandestine operations at the CIA, acted on his own. Rodriguez has been named in the media as having given the order to destroy the tapes.

“If everybody was against the decision, why in the world would Jose Rodriguez—one of the most cautious men I have ever met—have gone ahead and destroyed them?” Cannistraro asked.

There are indications that Rodriguez may implicate the White House when he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee next month. Rodriguez requested and was granted a subpoena to compel his testimony, which will likely be accompanied by immunity from prosecution for what he says.

The newspaper also cited Larry Johnson, another former CIA official, as strongly implicating the White House. “The CIA and Jose Rodriguez look bad, but he’s probably the least culpable person in the process,” Johnson said. “He didn’t wake up one day and decide, ‘I’m going to destroy the tapes.’ He checked with a lot of people and eventually he is going to get his say.”

“It looks increasingly as though the decision was made by the White House,” Johnson said. The Times of London reported that Johnson “believes it is ‘highly likely’ that Bush saw one of the videos, as he was interested in Zubaydah’s case and received frequent updates on his interrogation from George Tenet.”

New York Times national security correspondent James Risen, in his 2006 book State of War, cites one well-placed source as telling him: “‘George Bush was taking a very personal interest in the Zubaydah case’ in 2002. When George Tenet told Bush that no information had yet been gleaned from Zubaydah because he was too groggy from painkillers, Bush is said to have replied, ‘Who authorized putting him on pain medication?’”

The torture of Zubaydah was initiated soon after this conversation, and the treatment of Zubaydah then became a precedent for the torture of other prisoners—at secret CIA prisons, at Guantánamo Bay and later at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Tenet, in his 2007 book, At the Center of the Storm, records that when Zubaydah was captured, “we opened discussions within the National Security Council as to how to handle him.” The NSC includes the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of defense, and other top officials. The suggestion that there was such high-level involvement in the interrogation of Zubaydah renders absurd the notion that administration officials were not aware that it was being videotaped.

It should be recalled that the infamous “torture memo,” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to justify illegal interrogation methods, was produced on August 1, 2002, in the midst of the CIA’s interrogation of Zubaydah. The memo was written partially in response to CIA concerns that methods ordered by the administration could subject intelligence agents to future prosecution.

The revelation of the existence of the torture tapes and their destruction has become a focal point of intense divisions within the political and intelligence establishment.

In a separate development, the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, illegally disclosed classified information when he told the media earlier this month that water-boarding had been used against Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou said he considered water-boarding to be torture, but he has also sought to legitimize such methods, saying the treatment of Zubaydah was necessary to “save lives.”

Kiriakou speaks for elements within the agency who insist that top administration officials authorized all aspects of the interrogation. Kiriakou’s attorney, Mark Zaid, issued a warning to the Justice Department. He told the Washington Post, “If they do pursue [an investigation into his client], they will open a Pandora’s box that will put the spotlight on whether the interrogations were lawful, and the extent to which they have been fully revealed by federal officials.”

Under these conditions, the administration is seeking to contain a scandal that threatens to get out of its control and that of leading congressional figures from both parties who are also complicit in the cover-up.

Last week, Bush continued his obfuscation over his knowledge of the tapes’ destruction. At a Thursday White House press conference, an Associated Press reporter posed the following question: “There’s ambiguity in the statement that you have no recollection about the existence and destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes. Why can’t you say yes or no about the tapes and their destruction?”

Bush replied by merely repeating that his “first recollection” of the tapes is when CIA Director Michael Hayden spoke to him about them earlier this month. The White House has avoided making any direct statement that this was, in fact, the first time Bush heard about the tapes. It has stonewalled reporters’ questions with the statement that the White House will not speak about the matter because of ongoing internal investigations by the CIA and the Justice Department.

In a hearing before the US District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, the government urged Judge Henry Kennedy to deny a motion for a hearing into the destruction of the videotapes. Kennedy issued a court order in 2005 directing the government to preserve all evidence related to the interrogation of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. Lawyers for Guantánamo prisoners petitioning his court for a review of their detention are arguing that the destruction of the videotapes may have violated the judge’s order.

The government repeated its argument that it “would be unwise and imprudent” for the judge to investigate further, pending the government’s own investigations. Joseph Hunt, a lawyer for the government, issued a promise that the court would be informed of any results of this self-investigation, and inform the court if any rules were violated.

Hunt also argued that the tapes were immaterial to the case at hand, since the individuals involved in the taped interrogations—Zubaydah and al-Hashimi—were not at Guantánamo Bay at the time of the court order.

Whether or not they were at Guantánamo Bay, they may well have named or otherwise provided information about the defendants whose case is before the court. Even if the people who appear on CIA tapes did not say anything that directly pertains to the defendants, documentary evidence that the US tortured people under interrogation and used the information extracted to conduct their military prosecutions would be highly damaging to the drumhead military commissions operating at Guantánamo.

All of these revelations—and there can be no doubt that the truth goes far beyond what has been revealed so far—demonstrate a level of criminality that exceeds Watergate, Iran-contra and other past scandals.

The administration is depending heavily upon the Democratic Party to prevent the scandal from spiraling out of control. Calls for investigations have thus far been extremely muted, and they will be held largely under the control of Democratic legislators who have known about the tapes and the CIA torture program for years.

See Also:
Bush administration moves to block inquiries into CIA’s destruction of torture tapes
[17 December 2007]
CIA director testifies behind closed doors on destroyed tapes
[12 December 2007]
Both parties supported US interrogation program
[10 December 2007]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nightmare Before Christmas

Christmastime is bonus time on Wall Street, and the Gucci set has been blessed with another record harvest.

Forget the turbulence in the financial markets and the subprime debacle. Forget the dark clouds of a possible recession. Bloomberg News tells us that the top securities firms are handing out nearly $38 billion in seasonal bonuses, the highest total ever.

But there’s a reason to temper the celebration, if only out of respect for an old friend who’s not doing too well. Even as the Wall Streeters are high-fiving and ordering up record shipments of Champagne and caviar, the American dream is on life-support.

I had a conversation the other day with Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. He mentioned a poll of working families that had shown that their belief in that mythical dream that has sustained so many generations for so long is fading faster than sunlight on a December afternoon.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners for the Change to Win labor federation, found that only 16 percent of respondents believed that their children’s generation would be better off financially than their own. While some respondents believed that the next generation would fare roughly the same as this one, nearly 50 percent held the exceedingly gloomy view that today’s children would be “worse off” when the time comes for them to enter the world of work and raise their own families.

That absence of optimism is positively un-American.

“These are parents who cannot see where the jobs of the future are that will allow their kids to have a better life than they had,” said Mr. Stern. “And they’re not wrong. That’s the problem.”

Record bonuses on Wall Street at a time when ordinary working Americans are filled with anxiety about their economic future are signs that the trickle-down phenomenon that was supposed to have benefited everyone never happened.

The rich, boosted by the not-so-invisible hand of the corporate ideologues in government, have done astonishingly well in recent decades, while the rest of the population has tended to tread water economically, or drown.

A study released last month by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that “for most Americans, seeing that one’s children are better off than oneself is the essence of living the American dream.” But for the past 40 years, men in their 30s, prime family-raising age, have found it difficult to outdistance their dads economically.

As the Pew study put it: “Earnings of men in their 30s have remained surprisingly flat over the past four decades.” Family incomes have improved during that time largely because of the wholesale entrance of women into the work force.

For the very wealthy, of course, it’s been a different story. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top 1 percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005.

What seems to be happening now is that working Americans, and that includes the middle class, have exhausted much of their capacity to tread water. Wives and mothers are already working. Mortgages have been refinanced and tremendous amounts of home equity drained. And families have taken on debt loads — for cars, for college tuition, for medical treatment — that would buckle the knees of the strongest pack animals.

According to Demos, a policy research group in New York, “American families are using credit cards to bridge the gaps created by stagnant wages and higher costs of living.” Americans owe nearly $900 billion on their credit cards.

We’re running out of smoke and mirrors. The fundamental problem, the problem that is destroying the dream, is the extreme inequality pounded into the system by the corporate crowd and its handmaidens in government.

As Mr. Stern said: “To me, the issue in America is not a question of wealth or growth, it’s a question of distribution.”

When such an overwhelming portion of the economic benefits are skewed toward a tiny portion of the population — as has happened in the U.S. over the past few decades — it’s impossible for the society as a whole not to suffer.

Americans work extremely hard and are amazingly productive. But without the clout of a strong union movement, and arrayed against the mighty power of the corporations and the federal government, they don’t receive even a reasonably fair share of the economic benefits from their hard work or productivity.

Instead of celebrating bonuses this Christmas season, too many American workers are looking with dread toward 2008, worried about their rising levels of debt, or whether they will be able to hang on to a job with few or no benefits or how to tell their kids that they won’t be able to help with the cost of college.

It’s not the stuff of which dreams are made.

Severe food shortages, price spikes threaten world population

By Naomi Spencer
22 December 2007

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

Worldwide food prices have risen sharply and supplies have dropped this year, according to the latest food outlook of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency warned December 17 that the changes represent an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift in the global food system, threatening billions with hunger and decreased access to food.

The FAO’s food price index rose by 40 percent this year, on top of the already high 9 percent increase the year before, and the poorest countries spent 25 percent more this year on imported food. The prices for staple crops, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, all rose drastically in 2007, pushing up prices for grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products and spurring inflation throughout the consumer food market.

Driving these increases are a complex range of developments, including rapid urbanization of populations and growing demand for food stuffs in key developing countries such as China and India, speculation in the commodities markets, increased diversion of feedstock crops into the production of biofuels, and extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters associated with climate change.

Because of the long-term and compounding nature of all of these factors, the problems of rising prices and decreasing supplies in the food system are not temporary or one-time occurrences, and cannot be understood as cyclical fluctuations in supply and demand.

The world reserves of cereals are dwindling. In the past year, wheat stores declined 11 percent. The FAO notes that this is the lowest level since the UN began keeping records in 1980, while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that world wheat stocks may have fallen to 47-year lows. By FAO figures, the falloff in wheat stores equals about 12 weeks worth of global consumption.

The USDA has cautioned that wheat exporters in the US have already sold more than 90 percent of what the department had expected to be exported during the fiscal year ending June 2008. This has dire consequences for the world’s poor, whose diets consist largely of cereal grains imported from the United States and other major producers.

More than 850 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger and other associated miseries of extreme poverty. According to the FAO, 37 countries—20 in Africa, 9 in Asia, 6 in Latin America, and 2 in Eastern Europe—currently face exceptional shortfalls in food production and supplies.

Those most affected live in countries dependent on imports. The poorest people, whose diets consist heavily of cereal grains, are most vulnerable. Already the poor spend the majority of their income on staple foods—up to 80 percent in some regions, according to the FAO. Ever-rising prices will lead to a distinct deterioration in the diets of these sections of the population.

The food crisis is intensifying social discontent and raising the likelihood of social upheavals. The FAO notes that political unrest “directly linked to food markets” has developed in Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. In the past year, cereal prices have triggered riots in several other countries, including Mexico, where tortilla prices were pushed up 60 percent. In Italy, the rising cost of pasta prompted nationwide protests. Unrest in China has also been linked to cooking oil shortages.

In addition to the cost of imports, war and civil strife, multiple years of drought and other disasters, and the impact of HIV/AIDS have crippled countries’ food supply mechanisms.

Iraq and Afghanistan both suffer severe shortfalls because of the US invasion and ongoing occupation. North African countries are hard hit by the soaring wheat prices because many staple foods require imported wheat.

Countries of the former Soviet Union are facing wheat shortages. People there spend upwards of 70 percent of their incomes on food; the price of bread in Kyrgyzstan has risen by 50 percent this year and the government released emergency reserves of wheat in the poorest areas to temporarily ease the crisis.

In Bangladesh, food prices have spiraled up 11 percent every month since July; rice prices have risen by nearly 50 percent in the past year.

Central American countries saw a 50 percent increase in the price of that region’s staple grain, corn. Several countries in South America have also been impacted by the high international wheat prices, compelling national governments to dispense with import taxes. The government in Bolivia, for example, has dispatched the military to operate industrial-scale bread bakeries.

All national governments are keenly aware of the possibility of civil unrest in the event of severe food shortages or famine, and many have taken minimal steps to ease the crisis in the short term, such as reducing import tariffs and erecting export restrictions. On December 20, China did away with food export rebates in an effort to stave off domestic shortfalls. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Argentina have also implemented export controls.

But such policies cannot adequately cope with the crisis in the food system because they do not address the causes, only the immediate symptoms. Behind the inflation are the complex inter-linkages of global markets and the fundamental incompatibility of the capitalist system with the needs of billions of poor and working people.

The volatility of the financial markets, driven by speculation and trading in equity and debt, intersects with the futures and options markets that have a direct bearing on agricultural commodity markets. As the housing market in the United States collapsed, compounding problems in the credit market and threatening recession, speculation shifted to the commodities markets, exacerbating inflation in basic goods and materials. The international food market is particularly prone to volatility because current prices are greatly influenced by speculation over future commodity prices. This speculation can then trigger more volatility, encouraging more speculation.

Future grain prices are a striking example of this disastrous cycle. On December 17, speculation on wheat and rice for delivery in March 2008 forced prices to historic highs on the Chicago Board of Trade. Wheat jumped to more than $10 a bushel on projections of worsening shortages and inflation. This level is double the $5-a-bushel price of wheat at the beginning of 2007.

Japan, the largest wheat importer in Asia, announced December 19 that it may raise wheat prices by 30 percent. The same day, Indian government officials warned of impending food security problems. These were due, according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to “clouds on global financial markets following the sub-prime lending crisis.”

Soybean and corn prices have also been pushed up to 34-year and 11-year highs, respectively, on the projected shortages and demand for biofuel. These new trading levels become the agricultural benchmarks for subsequent trading, and, as the Financial Times put it December 17, have the consequence of “raising inflationary pressure and constraining the ability of central banks to mitigate economic slowdown.”

Higher fuel costs ultimately lead to higher food prices, via higher shipping charges, particularly for nations that import a large proportion of their staple foods. Shipping costs for bulk commodities have increased by more than 80 percent in the past year and 57 percent since June, according to the Baltic Exchange Dry Index.

The FAO report noted that the enormous increase in freight costs has had the effect of dis-integrating the world market in certain regions because many import-heavy countries have opted to purchase from closer suppliers, resulting in “prices at regional or localized levels falling out of line with world levels.”

The rising oil price not only affects the costs of transportation and importation. It also has a direct impact on the costs of farm operation in the working of agricultural and industrial processing machinery. Moreover, fertilizer, which takes its key component, nitrogen, from natural gas, is also spiking in price because of the impact of rising oil prices on the demand and costs of other fuels. By the same token, as oil prices rise, the demand for biofuel sources such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans also rises, resulting in more and more feedstock crops being devoted to fuel and additives production.

In the US, the use of corn for ethanol production has doubled since 2003, and is projected by the FAO to increase from 55 million metric tons to 110 million metric tons by 2016. The US government is more ambitious. On December 19, President Bush signed a new energy bill into law which contains a mandate for expanding domestic biofuel production five-fold over the next 15 years, to more than 36 billion gallons a year. Already a third of the US corn harvest is devoted to ethanol production, surpassing the amount of corn bound for the world food markets.

As more US cropland is devoted to ethanol-bound corn, other major agricultural regions are struggling with weather disasters associated with climate change. Australia and the Ukraine, both significant exporters of wheat, have suffered extreme weather that damaged crops. A prolonged drought in southern Australia has curtailed farming to such a degree that many farmers have sold their land.

Current research suggests that as temperatures rise over the next fifty years by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius, poor countries may lose 135 million hectares (334 million acres) of arable land because of lost rainfall. In new studies published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have cautioned that this estimate may be conservative, and that the impact of climate change on food production has been over-simplified.

According to NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies researcher Francesco Tubiello, complications of climate change on the world food supply may be far worse than previously predicted: “The projections show a smooth curve, but a smooth curve has never happened in history. Things happen suddenly, and then you can’t respond to them.”

Tubiello’s research focuses on extreme weather events that have devastated entire crops when they coincided with germination and blossoming periods, as was the case with Italy’s corn crop in 2003. Tubiello noted that corn yield in the Po valley growing region fell to 36 percent following a heat wave that raised Italy’s temperatures 6 degrees over the long-term average.

In addition to the survival thresholds of plants, researchers have begun studying the effects of higher temperatures on the physiology and diseases of livestock, as well as the spread of pests, molds and viruses native to tropical zones. Goddard Institute research has suggested that bluetongue, a viral disease of cattle and sheep, will move outward from the tropics into regions including southern Australia. According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, higher temperatures will lead to higher infertility in livestock and lower dairy yields.

The implications of these studies are that farming adaptations such as hardier crops and shifts in planting times may initially mitigate anticipated global warming. Yet over the coming decades, the stress of climate change on the food supply will also intensify in abrupt and catastrophic ways for which the capitalist system and its ruling elites are entirely unprepared and which they are unable to prevent.

See Also:
Inflation surge hits consumers, compounds global banking crisis
[20 December 2007]
Food prices rise, living standards fall for US families
[8 December 2007]

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Man of the Year" Putin takes Bush Down on Iraq mess

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin has said that the events of the last years show the great mistake committed by the US when it invaded Iraq.
Russia considered such a decision was wrong from the start, and there is no solid argument now to change our criteria, Putin told Time magazine who named him 'Person of the Year' on Wednesday.
Putin: US made big mistake in Iraq
The Russian president said the Iraqi people, though a small population, are proud, and took the US-UK military occupation as a particular offense to their country, creating problems never seen in that country before.
Putin said he had differences with US President George W. Bush, particularly his arguments that he cannot set a concrete time limit for withdrawal of foreign troops.
Putin said the best thing to do is remove the troops as soon as possible to leave control with the local authorities.
 blog it

Thursday, December 20, 2007

GoPpigs know they don't have to Filibuster-Reid just caves in

Instead of requiring GoPpigs to talk when they Filibuster, gutless Harry just says "eff it" and pulls the bill. His excuse? Can't get 60 votes. So the GOP gets off scott free and says gutless Harry can't get enough votes!
clipped from

Journalistic balance vs. truth

As Steve Benen detailed yesterday, a new study from the Campaign for America's Future found that Republicans have broken the single-term record for filibusters this year already, with more than a year to go in the session:

* Ending the disastrous occupation of Iraq.

* Providing health insurance to millions more kids.

* Empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

* Taking away handouts to Big Oil so we can invest in renewable energy.

* Repealing the effective ban on embryonic stem cell research.

* Investing more in health research.

* Making it easier for workers to join unions.

* Investing more in fighting poverty and training workers.

Reid has been accused, by Republicans and Democrats alike, of filing these so-called cloture motions to cut off debate very, very quickly, rather than letting the Senate continue to work its will through debate and amendments. This is a "record" that Reid and Republicans both should take "credit" for
 blog it

The Senate doesn't see much of Sen. Obama

He refuses to take a stand on anything, voting PRESENT instead of yes or no. Is this a leader?
clipped from
Clinton’s Hill helpers bash Obama over ‘present’ votes
Congressional members supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) ripped into Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a conference call with reporters Thursday that was set up by the campaign.

Democratic Reps. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.), Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio) all joined Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson on the call to hit Obama for the number of “present” votes he cast while in the Illinois state Senate.
After The New York Times published a story Thursday reporting that Obama voted “present” — instead of yes or no — almost 130 times, the Clinton campaign and her congressional surrogates told reporters that Obama’s record was an indication that he is not a strong leader and unwilling to take a stand.
 blog it
Cool Kids determined to take Hillary down
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This column doesn’t make political endorsements or predictions. Its
prevailing orientation, however, is progressive. But because I’ve lived
in Arkansas since 1972, I’ve long been acquainted with Sen. Hillary
Clinton. How well I know her is probably best illustrated by a chance
encounter in October 1991. It was one of the oddest days in recent
Arkansas history. That morning, we’d learned that the Arkansas Gazette
had capitulated in Little Rock’s bitter newspaper war. It would
henceforth be known as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, its politics as
firmly Republican as the old Gazette’s were Democratic. Several friends
had lost their jobs. That afternoon, Arkansas and Texas would play their
last football game in the old Southwest Conference. David was losing
Goliath, the end of an era. My wife and I attended a pre-game barbecue
hosted by her former boss, then U.S. Sen. David Pryor, maybe the most
popular man in Arkansas. Anyway, here came the Clintons. At the time,
Bill Clinton was engaged in a ludicrous statewide pilgrimage asking
voters’ permission to run for president. He’d vowed not to during his
1990 re-election campaign.

Warm-hearted Arkansas patriot that she is, Diane gave him a big smile
and said, “Go for it.” Transplanted New Jersey wiseacre that I am, I
turned to Hillary Clinton and said, “Have y’all lost your minds? This
will be the end of your private lives forever.”

Politics interests me as a spectator sport, but I can’t fathom running
for office. Three fund-raisers a week would leave me begging for mercy.
Actually, shaving three consecutive days might do it. As the woman, I
figured Hillary as the sensible one, captive to her husband’s vaulting

How little I knew, either about the personal costs of running against
the Republican attack machine or Hillary’s own will to power. We had a
brief, animated conversation about the epic dishonesty of the press,
specifically a local figure she’d famously gotten off Bill’s back by
seeking his advice.

“The problem,” she said, “is that it never ends. His ego can’t be
satisfied. It’s never enough.”

I got the impression, possibly mistaken, that she thought the national
press would function more responsibly. Alas, it’s far worse. Politicians
can’t risk filing libel suits; hence, Washington is a virtual free-fire

How many times did reporters touting the bogus Whitewater scandal
predict Hillary’s indictment?

But it’s my wife who really has insight into Hillary’s character and
personality. They worked together when Hillary served on the governing
board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane always mentioned two
things: how diligently Hillary worked to advance children’s health
issues, and how nice it was being treated as a colleague and equal by
the governor’s wife, who never pulled rank.

What really endeared her to Diane, however, was Hillary’s empathy during
a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, my wife was
emotionally strung out, barely functional, a shadow of her professional
self. Little grace touches meant a lot.

Hillary never failed to express concern. Her questions made it clear
that our troubles had been on her mind. How were the new medications
working? Were we satisfied with Dr. X? Had we thought about consulting
Dr. Y? It was no big thing. She simply acted like a friend at a time
when Diane needed all the friends she could get.

(And no, I wasn’t a political journalist then. This wasn’t about me. It
was about two mothers.)

As a consequence, Diane will hear nothing against Hillary Clinton. She’s
traveling to New Hampshire at her own expense to campaign for her. She
doesn’t recognize the calculating shrew portrayed in the national press.
Me, I don’t participate in politics at any level. But I wouldn’t stop
her if I could.

Anyway, here’s my question. Ever since the Oct. 30 Democratic debate in
which moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams abandoned all pretense
of evenhandedness, repeatedly inviting John Edwards and Barack Obama to
characterize Hillary as a two-faced opportunist, it’s clear that the
Cool Kids at Beltway High are determined to take her down. Both rivals
were foolish or ambitious enough to play along. Obama cleverly puts it
this way: “We’ve had enough of... triangulation and poll-driven
politics. That’s not what we need right now.” Yet their voting records
are extremely similar. Obama also claims he’s beyond partisanship. “I’m
not an ideologue, never have been,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “ Even
during my younger days when I was tempted by... more radical or
left-wing politics, there was a part of me that always was a little bit
conservative in that sense; that believes that you make progress by
sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody’s concerns,
seeing other people’s points of views and then making decisions. ”
Hence, my question: Exactly what’s the difference between wicked
triangulation and praiseworthy compromise? Isn’t it a distinction
without a difference?

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crooked Politicians All

Congress votes to fund war, bows to Bush on domestic policy

By Bill Van Auken
19 December 2007

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

The Democratic-led US Senate voted by a wide margin Tuesday night to approve $70 billion to continue funding the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, without seeking to impose any conditions or pass any proposals for withdrawing a single soldier from either country. The vote came as the body also approved a $516 billion domestic budget bill passed a day earlier by the House.

With just days to go until Congress begins its holiday recess, the Democratic leadership has once again orchestrated a legislative capitulation to the White House that will ensure that the war in Iraq—which they claim to oppose—continues, while making no major substantive changes in the domestic agenda set by the Bush administration.

The House on Monday passed the domestic spending bill by a comfortable margin of 253 to 154, despite charges by the Republican leadership that the measure contained an excessive amount of “earmarks,” specific funding mandates for pet projects sought by legislators for their home districts.

While the Republicans, echoed by the mass media, have denounced the budget as “bloated,” the package, which encompasses spending plans for every federal agency outside of the Defense Department, fails to even keep up with inflation. The total amount included in the so-called omnibus bill is only slightly more than the $506.9 billion approved last week for the Pentagon (this does not count another $189.4 billion approved for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs. That measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, with only three “no” votes in the Senate and by a margin of 370 to 49 in the House. Virtually nothing was said on either side of the aisle about a “bloated” Pentagon or excessive arms spending.

In a second measure drafted by the House Democratic leadership, $31 billion was provided for the US military operations in Afghanistan. While the measure included a proviso that this money should not be spent on the Iraqi occupation, it also provided for some of the money to be used for body armor and “force protection items” for troops in Iraq, which could have provided a significant loophole for money to be spent there. This bill was narrowly approved in a largely party-line vote, with 206—predominantly Democrats—in favor and 201 against.

The bill, which was crafted as a symbolic show of opposition to the war, in reality provided a guarantee that the money would be there to continue the colonial-style repression in Iraq. As the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, “Army operations accounts would benefit from an infusion of about $17.8 billion in new funds, enough money to avoid major disruptions through April and allow time for a fuller debate in the spring on the future of the US commitment in Iraq.”

All but five House Republicans opposed the measure, however, because it did not include money explicitly budgeted for the Iraq war. Bush had vowed to veto any spending legislation that failed to include funds for Iraq.

After getting only 43 votes to end debate on a motion to approve the House legislation (60 are required), the Senate went through the motions Tuesday night of debating two resolutions linking the Iraq war spending to calls for troop withdrawals.

The first, offered by Senator Russell Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin) would have required the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, with the rather considerable exception of those deployed to protect US “infrastructure,” to train Iraqi forces, to carry out “counter-terrorism” operations or to protect any of these other forces. These provisions would mean tens of thousands of American soldiers and marines continuing to occupy the country indefinitely. This amendment went down to defeat by a margin of 71-to-24, getting four less votes than when it was last brought before the Senate.

A second amendment, offered by Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, proposed no timetable, but merely a non-binding “goal” of beginning to reduce US forces in Iraq—something that has already happened as a result of the “surge” running out of units to replace those whose deployments are coming to an end. Levin stressed in his speech to the Senate that there was “no inconsistency whatsoever” in voting for his amendment and also voting to continue funding the war. This toothless “sense of the Senate” bill, which had several Republican sponsors, received 50 votes, with 45 voting against. Having failed to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to close debate, it was effectively killed.

This left the final measure, which had been promised to the White House, an amendment sponsored by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and “Independent Democratic” Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, providing $70 billion for the military interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill included neither any conditions nor restrictions on where the money would be spent, providing the Bush administration with the “blank check” that Democrats had previously forsworn. This amendment passed by a vote of 70 to 25, meaning that only half of the Senate’s Democrats opposed unconditional funding of the Iraq war.

The funding, which would pay for the wars until May or June, brings the total amount spent on both US interventions to $670 billion.

Based on the tacit understanding with the Congressional Democrats that this measure would indeed be passed, Bush gave an upbeat assessment of the budget process Monday that was starkly at odds with his repeated previous threats to veto any legislation that failed to meet his conditions on war funding and spending restraints.

“I’m pleased to report that we’re making some pretty good progress toward coming up with a fiscally sound budget—one that meets priorities, helps on some emergencies and enables us to say that we’ve been fiscally sound with the people’s money,” Bush declared in a speech on the economy delivered to a Rotary Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

House Republican leaders had initially condemned the domestic spending bill and called upon Bush to veto it. House Minority Leader John Boehner (Republican, Ohio) accused the Democrats of trying to “pile billions in worthless pork onto the backs of our troops.”

In addressing their own supporters, however, the Republicans were more candid. “This bill is a bigger disappointment to the Democrats than we would have expected, given that they do control both the House and the Senate,” Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Republican, Missouri) told a group of right-wing bloggers at the Heritage Foundation. “This Congress has spent more time in Washington, voted more times, and produced less, than any Congress in decades.”

This assessment was confirmed by a number of Democrats. Representative David Obey (Democrat, Wisconsin), the head of the House Appropriations Committee, called the budget “totally inadequate to meet the long-term investment needs of the country.” Saying that the voters who gave the Democrats majorities in both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections had delivered a mandate to end the Iraq war and shift domestic priorities, Obey acknowledged that “we’ve failed” on both counts.

The web site “Politico” quoted a senior Democratic Senate aide as asking, “Where is everything we fought for? Where is our backbone? What’s the point of being in charge and spending months writing these bills if we just end up folding to the administration?”

The Wall Street Journal estimated that the Democrats had given up 80 percent of the funding that they had originally sought to add to the budget, bowing to Bush’s threat to veto any bill that exceeded his spending cap. They succeeded only in adding on various amounts by declaring them “emergency funding.” The largest of these included $3.7 billion for veterans care and $2.7 billion to fund a stepped up crackdown on immigrants through border security and worksite enforcement.

Capitulating to the White House, the Democrats abandoned their bid to amend reactionary legislation barring US aid for international family planning programs that offer abortions. They also shelved promised changes in the draconian measures barring US travel and trade with Cuba and a provision demanding that federal contractors pay union-scale wages on disaster relief projects, such as those on the Gulf Coast.

The Democrats also abandoned their proposal to roll back massive tax breaks for the profit-swollen US energy conglomerates. Included in the domestic spending plan is a provision which allows the US Energy Department to guarantee loans to energy companies for nuclear projects and the development of liquid coal production. Also jettisoned was a plan to fund an expansion of children’s health care programs with a hike in tobacco taxes.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada) took exception to Republican claims of victory in the much-publicized budget showdown. “Who’s winning?” Reid asked. “Big oil, big tobacco...The American people are losing.” This unarguable conclusion is ultimately an expression of the firm corporate control exercised over both major parties.

With the Senate having carried through its part of the bargain with Bush by adding the $40 billion to continue the carnage in Iraq, the two separate pieces of legislation—domestic spending and war funding—will go back to the House. In this elaborately choreographed charade, the bulk of the Democrats will then be able to vote against the money for Iraq—thereby attempting to boost their sagging antiwar pretenses—while the measure would be assured passage by a solid Republican “yes” vote backed by an adequate Democratic minority.

Once completed, this cynical arrangement will mark the third time since assuming control of Congress nearly a year ago that the Democrats will have provided the votes to continue funding the war in Iraq after proclaiming their determination to bring it to a halt.

What has emerged in this denouement of the so-called budget showdown is the fundamental unity of both major parties, whatever their tactical differences, on a policy of continuing war abroad and attacks on the conditions of life and basic rights of working people at home.

See Also:
Lieberman's endorsement of McCain exposes bipartisan support for war
[18 December 2007]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bush administration moves to block inquiries into CIA’s destruction of torture tapes

By Joe Kay
17 December 2007

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The Bush administration has taken aggressive steps to undermine congressional and judicial inquiries into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing the torture of at least two prisoners. The move is only the latest demonstration of the administration’s lawlessness and contempt for democratic and constitutional norms.

The tapes in question recorded hundreds of hours of interrogation of two alleged Al Qaeda members, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both captured by the CIA in 2002. Among the techniques used on the prisoners was water-boarding, a notorious torture method involving the near-drowning of the prisoner. Earlier this month, CIA director Michael Hayden acknowledged that the intelligence agency had destroyed the tapes in November 2005.

Since that admission, it has become clear that the Bush administration and leading congressmen of both parties knew about the CIA torture program and the existence of the tapes for years before the tapes were destroyed. The White House and officials in the Justice Department and CIA are now implicated in both the crime of torture and possible obstruction of justice and perjury in relation to the tapes’ destruction.

Even as it works to squelch inquiries into past torture, the White House and its congressional allies have moved to block a bill that would ban the CIA from using “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including water-boarding, in the future. Senate Republicans are using a procedural technicality to strip language from a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would require the CIA to follow the same rules as the US military. Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it gets through the House and Senate.

Late last week, the administration indicated that it would not cooperate with inquires announced by the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in the House and Senate.

In a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Michael Mukasey made the absurd declaration that any cooperation with congressional investigations would raise questions as to the independence of the Justice Department’s own inquiry. “At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice,” Mukasey wrote. Therefore, “I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter.”

Thus Mukasey, in Orwellian fashion, defends bowing to political pressure from the White House in the name of “resisting political pressure.”

The Senate committee had requested from Mukasey an account of the Justice Department’s role in and knowledge of the tapes’ destruction. Mukasey was confirmed as attorney general with the support of several key Democratic leaders last month, despite his refusal to condemn water-boarding as torture. Among those voting for Mukasey were key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee—Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles Schumer of New York.

Also last week, the House Intelligence Committee requested testimony from CIA officials, including Jose Rodriguez, the former head of clandestine operations who has been named as the individual who authorized the tapes’ destruction, and John Rizzo, the top lawyer at the CIA. The committee has also requested that the CIA turn over documents and e-mails relating to the decision to destroy the videotapes.

The Justice Department responded with a December 14 letter to the committee requesting that it delay any investigation in order to avoid “significant risks” to the joint inquiry being organized by the department and the CIA. The White House also instructed the CIA not to cooperate with congressional requests for information.

The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes, and the ranking Republican, Peter Hoekstra, issued a joint statement declaring, “Parallel investigations occur all the time, and there is no basis upon which the attorney general can stand in the way of our work.” They threatened to “use all the tools available to Congress, including subpoenas” to continue the congressional investigation.

The administration is also moving to scuttle court requests for information on the tapes’ destruction. Lawyers in one case before the US District Court for the District of Columbia filed a motion asking Judge Henry Kennedy to determine whether the destruction of the tapes constitutes a violation of a 2005 order by the judge. The court at that time ordered the government to preserve all evidence regarding the interrogation and torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The Justice Department submitted a brief on Friday evening warning that any request for information “could potentially complicate the ongoing efforts to arrive at a full factual understanding of the matter.” A judicial inquiry is “both unnecessary and potentially disruptive,” the department declared.

The government is claiming that the tapes are not relevant to the investigation because the prisoners in question were not at Guantánamo Bay at the time of the order. The judge could nevertheless rule that the destruction was a criminal act because the videotapes were of likely significance to a legal case. The Bush administration did not acknowledge the existence of secret overseas CIA prisons, where the two alleged Al Qaeda operatives were tortured, until late 2006, when both Zubaydah and al-Nashiri were transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

In a separate court case filed last Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked a federal judge in New York to find the CIA in contempt for violating a 2004 court order requiring the CIA to turn over or account for all documents relating to the interrogation of prisoners in US custody, regardless of their location.

“These tapes were clearly responsive to the Freedom of Information Act requests that we filed in 2003 and 2004, and accordingly the CIA was under a legal obligation to produce the tapes to us or to provide a legal justification for withholding them,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “By destroying these tapes, the CIA violated the statute as well as an order of the court. In the circumstances, it would be entirely appropriate for the court to hold the agency in contempt.”

In addition to these cases, the CIA likely violated the law in withholding the videotapes from the 9/11 Commission and from the court involved in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was ultimately convicted of participating in the planning for 9/11. The tapes were destroyed shortly after a judge in the Moussaoui trial requested that the CIA turn over videotapes of the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects.

The Bush administration is using the same pretext—the existence of an ongoing investigation—to justify its refusal to make any public comments on the tapes, aside from the declaration that Bush “has no recollection” of the tapes or their destruction.

The administration is essentially arguing that because it is investigating itself and possible crimes that it committed, no other investigations can proceed.

The position of the Bush administration on the current scandal is in line with its previous assertions of unconstrained executive power and the rejection of any accountability for its actions. A major constitutional crisis is possible, though the White House is once again counting on leading Democrats—themselves complicit in the CIA torture program—to back down.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and Democrat Jane Harman, former ranking Democrat on the committee, said their committee would proceed with their investigation despite opposition from the White House and the Justice Department. Hoekstra repeated the threat to subpoena CIA officials to compel their testimony. In the event of a subpoena, the administration might invoke executive privilege, as it has done in the past, to block testimony.

While indicating that the committee would defy the White House, Hoekstra focused most of his ire on the CIA and the intelligence apparatus. “I think it’s important for Congress to hold this community accountable,” he said. “The CIA did not tell us about the existence of these tapes. They did not tell us that they were going to be destroyed.” Hoekstra said of the CIA that “they don’t believe they are accountable to anybody. They don’t believe that they are accountable to the president.”

Hoekstra’s statement that Congress was never informed of the tapes was immediately contradicted by Harman, who noted that “Congress—specifically, I—warned them not to destroy the videotapes” in 2003. Harman and other leading members of both parties were informed of the CIA’s intention to destroy the tapes, but did nothing to inform the American people about the existence of the tapes or the existence of the CIA torture program.

Both Harman and Hoekstra have rejected the appointment of a special prosecutor, which a few Democrats have called for. Harman voiced concern, however, that any investigation carried out solely by the Justice Department and the CIA would be widely perceived as a whitewash.

“On a bipartisan basis,” she said, “the House Intelligence Committee wants to get to the bottom of this and isn’t going to back off for the attorney general here, who I think...may be doing something that won’t give the public confidence that it was a full and fair investigation.” She and Hoekstra reflected concerns within the political establishment that without a congressional investigation, the demand for a special prosecutor will grow.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, voiced similar concerns on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“It’s entirely possible there was nothing illegal on those tapes,” he said. “It’s even entirely possible that their destruction was not illegal. But the way they’re going about this makes it look like they’re trying to hide something which may embarrass them when, by being more forthcoming, they could avoid that.” His statement amounted to a plea to the White House that it stop stonewalling and instead cooperate in a joint whitewash.

In their appearance on the CNN program, Bayh and Republican Senator Kit Bond both rejected the naming of a special prosecutor.

Whatever conflicts may develop between Congress and the White House over the destruction of the tapes, both the Democrats and the Republicans are agreed on the need to obscure the fundamental issue involved: that the CIA, with the sanction of both parties and under the direction of the White House, engaged in torture in violation of international and domestic law.

See Also:
CIA director testifies behind closed doors on destroyed tapes
[12 December 2007]