Think at your own risk.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The hypothetical situation room

Nothing can stop Chris Matthews, Norah O'Donnell and our old friend Wolf Blitzer from chasing down the Democratic angle to the Jack Abramoff scandal-fest. Said Wolf today during a news-break from the Alito hearings, to a reporter covering today's news of two possible Congressional indictments:
WOLF (paraphrasing): What are the chances that there will be some Democrats who are indicted in this case?
Well, Wolf, it depends. If Alberto Gonzalez makes the decision, I'm sure he'll go out on a limb and attempt to indict a Democrat or two in order to make Ken Mehlman's talking points seem credible. But if the JD follows Abramoff's money -- all of which went to Republicans, I wouldn't hold your breath. You see, it has alredy been firmly established that no Democrats -- that would be NONE -- took money from Black Jack. But let's not let the truth get in the way of CNN and MSNBC's "fair and balanced" reporting ...

Update: Wolf just characterized Republicans as questioning the nominee and Democrats as "nibbling away" at his nomination. Unbelievable...

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Yeah, yeah, says you...

Cuban-Americans in Miami resuscitate their annual threat to withhold their votes from the Republican Party over the repatriation of 15 Cuban migrants.

Here was the same threat in 2003 (also here), before Bush increased his share of the Hispanic vote in Florida by an estimated 7 percent. News flash: much of that vote is weighted down by Cuban-Americans, who are, and will likely remain, solidly Republican. Believe me, I wish it weren't so, and worked closely with a great group here in Miami determined to get more Cuban-Americans to take a realistic look at what they're getting from the GOP in exchange for their votes. Let's not kid ourselves that the latest bleating from the elected Cuban-American lobby here in South Florida is anything but useless noise from a group who feels neglected since the GWOT grabbed all of Dubya's attention and left them hanging...

Note to "Cuba lobby" -- regime change against Fidel ain't happening. You've already got the best immigration deal campaign money can buy (ask the Haitians) and until your leadership gets serious about spreading the votes around, the GOP is going to keep on treating you the way the Dems treat Black people: like crap that turns into roses six weeks before Election Day.

Related: Carl at Simply Left Behind asks (and answers) the question whether Jeb will pitch an Elian-style fit over the return of the refugees...

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And the children of Israel looked upon Mad Marion, and gagged

Okay, so if God zapped Ariel Sharon as punishment for dividing the land of Israel, but Sharon is getting better ... but Israel is now dissing Pat Robertson; the guy God supposedly shares his hit-list with ... doesn't it follow that either:

A) There is no God...
B) There is a God, but he likes Ariel Sharon a whole heckuva lot better than Pat Robertson, or
C) There is a God, and the Israelis have his phone number too...


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What the public wants, part 2

More poll numbers on the issue of domestic spying. Richard Morin hawks up an ABC-WaPo poll which finds the usual partisal split:

Most Americans said they have paid close attention to the controversy over the program, and a bare majority of those surveyed, 51 percent, said it is an acceptable way to fight terrorism, while 47 percent said it is not. Beneath those overall findings, however, were sharp partisan divisions.

Among Republicans, 75 percent said the Bush program is acceptable, while 61 percent of Democrats said it is unacceptable.

Independents called the program unacceptable by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

More generally, two in three Americans said it is more important to investigate possible terrorist threats than to protect civil liberties. One-third said the respect for privacy should take precedence. [65%-32%]

Republicans overwhelmingly favored aggressive investigation, with more than four in five saying that is their preference, while Democrats were split 51 percent to 47 percent on which should take precedence. Independents favored relatively unfettered pursuit of possible terrorism by nearly 2 to 1.

The poll sample of 1,001 adults broke down this way: 31 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican, 34 percent independent, 5 percent other and 1 percent absolute idiots with no opinion. The poll had more conservatives than in the past 10 or so polls, with 37 percent of respondents identifying themselves as such vs. 20 percent liberals and 40 percent moderates.

What's also interesting is that the percentage of those who "strongly disapprove" of "the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president" was 39 percent, ten points higher than the percentage who strongly approve. 52 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling "ethics in government" vs. 45 percent who approve.

On the WOT, Bush gets better markes -- 53 percent approve and 45 percent do not. (55 percent disapprove of how Congress is doing its job and only 41 percent approve there). Read the tabs for the poll yourself here.


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I'd hate to be his kid

In day three of his confirmation hearings, Samuel Alito fielded a softball about what experiences have shaped him (the old "Tell us: who is Sam Alito?" gambit). He said that when he looks at a case, he has to think of his own family members or people he knows and admires who may have been in the same situation at some point in time -- whether in the area of discrimination, or being an immigrant, etc. He also said in cases involving a child, he has to think of his own child and how he would want his child treated under similar circumstances.

So, um... Sam ... about that 10-year-old girl getting strip searched...

Tags: , Politics, SCOTUS, Law, News, ,

Best Love Life EVER: Celebrity Wife-Swap Edition

In Hollywood, Skank + Ho equals... Baby! ... and with that, Brangelina join the ranks of all-time Hollywood hussies and the men who ditch their wives for them... No more waiting, here are the charts:

At number five: our red hot, do-gooding duo, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for shoving Friends star Jennifer Anniston aside while she was still married to Brad, even as Angelina continues to refuse to speak to her dad, Jon Voight, because he cheated on her mom -- and all this while giving great face in those fabulous photo ops with starving kids from Africa ... you GO girls!

At number four: super-cyclist Lance Armstrong and girl rocker Cheryl Crow, who scooped up Lance before the ink was dry on his divorce from the wife that nursed him through brain cancer! Somebody call the cycling commission: this romance is on steroids!

At number three: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck (otherwise known as Bennifer 1.0), for taking speed dating while married to a new level... J.Lo ditched husband number one, Ojani Noa, to hang with P. Diddy (sorry, P. Diddy's once and future live-in girlfriend, Kim Porter...), then dumped Diddy to marry Chris Judd, then skated on Judd to almost marry Ben Affleck! But Brad got the last laugh, jumping ship on La Lopez before the wedding to bust up those two cute kids from Alias (giving us Bennifer 2.0). It's enough to give you a brain freeze!

At number two: America's sweetheart, Julia Roberts, for snatching Danny Moder out from the deathgrip of that wife of his after going through more co-stars than a snuff-film actor... not so pretty, woman!

And at number one: who can top them? Britney and Kevin! Mr. Blackwell's tacky, over-the-hill Lolita traded in Justin Timberlake for the deadbeat on Shar Jackson's couch -- while Jackson was eight months pregnant with Kevin's second child! Now who got the short end of that stick...?

Congratulations, Shar! Whitney and Bobby may be bathing in crack water and Ashton Kutcher may be married to his mother, but you're having the best love-life ever...!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mr. Lonely

The Times will apparently report that Jack Abramoff is now po, broke 'n lonely ... meanwhile, more info on just how hard Tom DeLay worked for his former pal. And BradBlog has news on one of Bad Jack's other pals: Bob Ney -- and his curious connection to the good people at Diebold...

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More spying on Quakers

RawStory has what it says is proof that the NSA has joined the FBI in spying on American peace groups, including a Baltimore Quaker group opposed to the war in Iraq. Here's the link to the documents the writer, a Marilyn Senate candidate named Kevin Zeese.

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Sam's Club: Orrin Hatch on 'magnificence'

Orrin Hatch just told Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room that Democrats on the judiciary committee were "blown away" by Samuel Alito's "magnificent" performance so far. Well Orrin, someone was "blown" in that hearing... but it wasn't the Democrats. Mr. Alito -- your cigarette, sir. ...


Tags: , Politics, SCOTUS, Law, News, ,

What the public wants

The AEI's John Schneider on CNN just cited a new CNN/USAT poll showng a slight majority of Americans favoring Bush's warrantless spying gambit, with the majority produced by an 80-20 Republican split in favor of the president's policy. But hang on -- here is a contemporaneous poll by CBS, which shows that Americans oppose the idea of wiretapping random Americans in order to fight terrorism (not willing beats willing 68-28), even when they don't believe their own phones or emails would be bugged. The differenct, as this poll shows, is when you throw in that the specific Americans being tapped are "suspected" of terrorist activity. Then the vote flipped to willing over not williing 69-26.

The poll also shows the public views the Democrats as more capable (42% to 33%) of "writing laws which help the government find terrorists without violating the average person's rights." And when asked: "Which concerns you more right now -- that the government will fail to enact strong anti-terrorism laws, or that the government will enact new anti-terrorism laws which excessively restrict the average person's civil liberties?" respondents said they feared the loss of liberties over the failed strong laws by 46-38.

There's also this gem:

"During wartime, some presidents have either received or assumed special war powers, which give the president more authority to act independently when he feels it is necessary. In the current campaign against terrorism, is it a good idea or a bad idea for the president to have the authority to make changes in the rights usually guaranteed by the Constitution?"
Answer: Good idea - 36%, bad idea - 57%. In December it was 64-29 the other way.

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P.S.: Your novel sucks

P.J. O'Roarke hates Wonkette's novel. Wizbang makes a snippet of O'Roarke's gutter-sniping their quote of the day. I'd thank them for the tip, but I'm not sure I entirely care about Wonkette's novel ... no, wait, now I'm sure. I don't care.

What is interesting, though, is how Wonkette subtly altered something that used to be considered fundamental to blogging: personal voice. Wonkette, to my knowledge, was the first "persona" blog -- one in which someone is hired to blog as a character created by someone else. By the way, Ana Marie Cox has since quit Wonkette to ... um ... write novels... (don't tell P.J. -- especially if there are sharp objects nearby...) Her part will now be played by a guy.

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Brokeback Committee Room

10:18 a.m. The answer is 'no': Samuel Alito is shifting in his chair with more twtichery than George W. Bush. How is it that he was unable to answer Sen. Patrick Leahy's very simple, straightforward question: is there any circumstance under which the president can, as the Bush Justice Department asserted in what's called the "Bybee Memo" (often dubbed the "torture memo") that the president, as commander in chief, can in wartime set aside any law passed by Congress which he thinks impedes his power to "wage war" (including relaxing the rules on torture) and can immunize anyone under his command to set aside those laws as well, without the fear of prosecution?

The answer, for any sane person, is no. But Alito didn't give that answer. He babbled on about circumstances and specifics he'd need in order to decide... man, those are the circumstances and specifics! If you think there are ever, ever any circumstances under which the president can ignore the law, and then go further, to immunize others to disobey the law ... my God, man, what court do you think you're applying to? This is no star chamber you're trying to get onto, dude, this is the SUPREME COURT of the UNITED STATES! No, the president can't set aside the law or immunize others to do so!!! You don't have to be a judge, or even a freaking lawyer to know that...! Jesus, Mary and Joseph!!!


Leahy gave Alito several chances to extricate himself, citing the case of Bushes illustrious signing memo on the clearly decided issue of torture, opposition to which passed overwhelmingly in Congress. Alito hedged again, saying such cases fall into the "twilight zone" of cases under Justice Jackson's "third scenario," wherein the executive asserts powers in contravention to a clear expression of Congressioonal will. Huh? I don't see the twilight. If the Congress says "don't do it" and passes a statute, the president is duty bound to uphold it. But Alito couldn't bring himself to say that. Stunning.

10: 25 a.m.: Leahy is now quizzing the illustrious judge on his membership in the organization Concerned Alumni of Princeton, an illustrious organization that opposed to expansion of Princeton's entrance rules to include women and minorities, and which was so far off, even Bill Frist diagnosed it as wack-job. Alito is trying to claim he doesn't remember being a part of the group (the same way he doesn't remember saying he'd recuse himself on cases regarding a couple of financial services firms, I suppose...) and then he tried to blame his membership on Princeton's ill treatment of the ROTC. Give me a break...

10:40 a.m.: ... Oh, look, Orrin Hatch is putting on his Supreme Court knee pads to save Alito from the CAP flap... typical Hatch tough question: "did you enjoy your time in the ROTC?" "You're an extremely ethical man, aren't you, judge?" "Golly, you're really a swell guy. Can I be on top next time...?" Jeez...

11: 10: Wrap time. Show's over for now. Would somebody please get Orrin Hatch some mouthwash and a $20 bill ...? He's got to be exhausted...

11:21 a.m.: Kennedy is questioning Alito on the Vanguard recusal problemita now. BTW here's something that's actually interesting: According to ThinkProgress, Sen. Lindsey Graham has not only made up his mind on Alito (he's for him) he also helped coach the judge for these hearings. If that's true, that could be an ethics violation -- not that the GOP-run Senate punishes ethics violations ...

11:41 a.m.: Kennedy basically took Alito to the woodshed on the "gestapo-like" strip search of a ten-year-old girl, which Alito alone upheld in the case of Doe v. Groody. He's now quizzing Alito on not only never meeting an aspect of police power he didn't like, but also of believing in the almost unlimited power of the president. On the strip search, Alito claims that "I'm not happy about the strip search of a 10-year-old girl" and that his dissent only had to do with his belief that the warrant authorized authorities to search "anybody on the premises" of the targeted drug dealer. But he didn't seem particularly upset about it, either. Here's what Alito said during the hearing of that case:

''Why do you keep bringing up the fact that this case involves the strip search of a 10-year-old child?" Alito said, according to Solomon, lawyer for the girl.
Why, indeed. Maybe because every other judge on the Third Circuit, including the now Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, found the search of the child to be inappropriate and not authorized by the warrant, that's why. And because it's pretty freaking outrageous, Sam... You do think strip searching little girls is outrageous... right...?

Update: Kennedy quizzed Alito on the judge's previous statements about the "unitary executive" -- Armando at Kos has more about what that means... And staying with Kennedy for a moment, John Hinderaker at Powerline continues to stretch the boundaries between madman and fool. See if you can guess who he's talking about in this passage (courtesy of a Hinderaker fan at GOPbloggers):

Their logic can't withstand the most elementary scrutiny, and their leader is a dimwit who, after being thrown out of Harvard for cheating, graduated last in his law school class. While a law student, he endured the humiliation of being arrested by a highway patrolman while cowering in the back seat of his car, pretending not to be the driver. He subsequently drove off a bridge, thereby drowning a young woman whose only crime was assuming that he was a competent escort. She probably could have been saved if he had gone for help, but instead of trying to rescue her, he spent the night looking for someone who would pretend to have been the driver of the car, discussing legal strategies with his family's advisers, and trying to establish an alibi. And now Ted Kennedy purports to sit in moral judgment over a brilliant, self-effacing public servant like Sam Alito.
Were you thinking George W. Bush? Close... Never mind that the man Hinderaker would follow into the abyss is perhaps our most dim-witted president in 43 tries, has a history of lawbreaking consistently fueled by alcohol, likely broke the laws against the use of illicit drugs, dodged his military service during the Vietnam war despite having secured a cushy spot hermetically sealed from the draft, and who is alleged to have only cleaned up this act -- supposedly -- at the tender age of 40. That's not even to mention what Hinderaker's war hero has wrought at his present age, as president. Why anyone still listens to Powerline's resident nut-job is beyond me...

11:55 a.m.: Oh, Chuck Grassley is up now. He just said "we want to prove that these allegations (the Vanguard recusal issues) are absurd..." Yes, that's your job, Chuck. Pass the knee pads on over, Orrin!

12:10 (side note): Just surfed over to Michelle Malkin's place. Seems she's making the most of her brown bag lunch... "Kennedy blah blah spftt! drinking ... red face... pfgthhtwt! ack!"

Back to the hearings, Grassley isn't as solicitous as Orrin Hatch with his softballs. He's asking Alito to expound upon what Constitutional principles guide him on deciding where the judiciary fits into the process...

12:44 p.m.: Alito is now attempting to answer Sen. Joe Biden's 4,942-word question... it's about Alito's apparently lax attitude toward employment discrimination...

2:50 p.m.: Took a bit of a break. CPSAN's back on now. Sen. Herb Kohl is taking on the nominee on the issue of abortion, and Alito is defending his judicial finding that women can be required by law to notify their husbands before getting an abortion. Not sure this is the Dems' best argument against him, but there it is ...

3:45 p.m.: Missed it, but I'll definitely have to grab a transcript of Mike DeWine's anti-abortion rant. Sedatives people, sedatives. Diane Feinstein is questioning Alito now, focusing on the commerce clause.

4:17 p.m.: Jeff Sessions of Alabama is taking his turn larding up Sam Alito. I think it's safe to say the Republicans' conduct during these hearings has been nothing short of embarrassing. Not a single salient question was asked between them. Laudatory statements about the nominee stated in the form of a question doesn't sound like a hearing to me. It sounds like a coronation. If the Democrats were harsh, good. Something is needed to balance the back-slapping, obsequious love-bombing that passed for questioning on the other side. The closest thing to active participatioon on the GOP side was Arlen Specter's gentle questioning of Alito on the issue of presidential power. These Senators -- in whose hands the future of the Supreme Court and in some ways, the balance of power between the three branches of government -- rests in part, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

4: 32 p.m.: Back to Sessions just walked Alito through a civics lesson on the varying powers of the federal branches of government (long story short, the president can't cut the Supreme Court members' pay). Then he expounded on the notion of liberal "judicial activism" forcing a liberal social agenda down Americans' throats (we'll just ignore the mostly Republican make-up of the Court for about a generation...) Sessions just asked if judges allowing personal, social or other beliefs to colour their rulings could ultimately undermine public respect for the law. Nice softball over center plate. What Sessions hasn't addressed is why, if he sees such dangers on the horizon, Sessions and his ideological bretheren are so keen to impose an abortion ban on that same public, based on their personal, social and "other" beliefs... Having tossed the ball around for a bit, now it's on to that kiddie strip search.

5:10 p.m.: Russ Feingold brings up the practice sessions. Feingold asked Alito whether in his "moot court" practice sessions preparing for the confirmation hearings, the subject of the president's legal bases for wiretapping around FISA came up. Pity Feingold probably is barred by the Senate rules from addressing who was at those sessions, to the possible embarrassment of his colleague Mr. Graham ...

More on Alito and the wiretapping here. Feingold is staying on this point/

5:19 p.m.: Okay, this long and torturous process just paid off. Russ Feingold just took his Republican colleagues to task for dismissing questions about Alito's failure to recuse in the Vanguard and other cases as "ridiculous" and "a joke." He also said that (paraphrasing) "I think the idea of insulating yourselves and insulating the nominee is not conducive to the kind of hearings that this chairman and this ranking member intended for this committee." He added that asking questions -- including some unpleasant questions -- of the nominee "is our job" -- something the GOP members ought to remember from time to time.


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Is Bush the man to stop Alito?

An LA Times writer suggests that Bush administration's power grab may be the Democrats' best weapon in opposing the nominee. As a genuine Libertarian once told me, the framers designed the constitution to be competitive -- with each branch jealously guarding its prerogatives and pushing back against the other two. Even the GOP Senate at some point, will recall that it, and not the executive, is the first branch of government. It remains to be seen if enough Republicans choose their power over their president. Here's the article, and the key point:

... no one expects Alito to be as effective testifying as Roberts was.

But to defeat Alito, Senate Democrats will need more than a clutch of 20-year-old policy memos and unsettling judicial opinions. They will have to portray Alito as a genuine threat to some core American value — and not merely to the right to privacy, on which all the moves and countermoves are already choreographed.

President Bush's decision to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans in apparent violation of the statute regulating spying for national-security purposes raises a constitutional issue of staggering importance. In undertaking this program — and other policies on the use of torture, detention and the designation of enemy combatants — in its prosecution of the war on terror, the administration asserts an inherent constitutional authority to commit acts that Congress has explicitly deemed criminal.

The question of whether the president is, to put it bluntly, above ordinary law whenever he invokes his constitutional authority as commander in chief will have to be decided by the Supreme Court. Whether it will transform the political landscape remains unclear. But it may be the only issue on which Alito is truly vulnerable. He is on record supporting a very broad view of presidential authority and, as a judge, has shown great deference to the acts of executive branch officials, including advocating legal immunity for the attorney general against lawsuits charging him with illegal wiretapping.

Alito will resist questions on these matters on grounds that presidential authority will be the subject of cases on which he would sit.

But the president's power to flout the will of Congress in secret, and solely on his say-so, should be an issue of transcendent importance. If Senate Democrats pursue it, Alito may face the prospect of separating himself from the president who nominated him or risk a filibuster.


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Sam Alito's creative memory

Sam Alito pleaded ignorance on his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Well, Sam, here's a refresher.

  • You seemed to remember joining the organization in 1985, when you cited your membership as a reason for the Reagan justice department to promote you (the organization folded a year later) ...
  • You have to this day, including during today's hearings, never disavowed the group, despite its long history of extreme views on the "comingling of the sexes" and races...
  • The organization was founded in 1972 (the year you graduated from Princeton, coincidentally...) on the following basis, according to Wikipedia:
Among other things, the group opposed the university's switch to coeducation from an all male model as well as the policy of affirmative action designed to increase minority attendance at the Ivy League institution. Generally speaking, the group in its early years regarded itself as a defender of an all male, explicitly Christian Princeton.
  • The group also published a magazine, with these tidbits that students at other colleges in your day, including Joe Biden and Bill Frist, remember quite well:
"Prospect" was founded in October 1972 by the then-newly-formed CAP, which was co-chaired by Asa Bushnell '21 and Shelby Cullom Davis '30. The latter, who was the University's largest donor at the time, was a strong traditionalist, firmly opposed to the many of the new directions Princeton was taking, including coeducation.

He wrote in "Prospect": "May I recall, and with some nostalgia, my father's 50th reunion, a body of men, relatively homogenous in interests and backgrounds, who had known and liked each other over the years during which they had contributed much in spirit and substance to the greatness of Princeton," according to an account in "The Chosen," a book by Jerome Karabel on the history of admissions at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

"I cannot envisage a similar happening in the future," Davis added, "with an undergraduate student population of approximately 40% women and minorities, such as the Administration has proposed."
  • What the Prospect writers and founders apparently failed to write much about, was the ROTC, ostensibly your reason for joining the group...
  • The CAP records are neatly tucked away in the Library of Congress archives. Might you support releasing them?

More on Alito's record regarding the broad area of "discrimination" here and here. And by the way, don't look for the National Association of Woman Lawyers to stand up on behalfof Alito. They declined to support his nomination...


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Iran breaks the seals

Nuclear work under way...

Things people say when they're on the Fox News Channel

"I said if I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t do it. I don’t think I made any mistake at all. She was not – I don’t believe she was an undercover agent, I never have. The CIA never told me that it would cause any damage, because I don’t think it would. So that is not the regret. But it’s caused me a lot of difficulty. In this town, if you’re perceived as being in trouble, people run away from you. So just from the standpoint of self-protection near the end of your career, I probably would have just as soon not done it."

-- Douchebag of Liberty Robert Novak, lying his ass off about the Valerie Plame leak -- and expressing his concern for the one thing that truly matters to a journalist at the end of the day: self-preservation -- on "Hannity and Colmes" Monday.

Meanwhile, from Crooks and Liars we get a new word for the lexicon: Hannidate...


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American journalist kidnapped in Iraq

A freelance journalist was abducted in Iraq on Saturday and her Iraqi translator was killed, but apparently not before he was able to tell "soldiers" -- U.S. or Iraqi, not sure -- about the kidnapping... So far, the abduction of Jill Carroll has received little play in the States. (The story hits the WaPo and other U.S. papers Tuesday). Carroll was on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, which apparently wanted the story held (she was grabbed on Saturday. The AFP version of the story ran in international papers and websites on Saturday.) The Monitor has issued this statement for Tuesday:

Jill Carroll, a freelance writer currently on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted in western Baghdad on Saturday morning, local time. Her Iraqi interpreter was fatally wounded in the kidnapping. Her Iraqi driver escaped unharmed. At this point, no one has claimed responsibility.

Jill, 28, is an established journalist who has been reporting from the Middle East for Jordanian, Italian, and other news organizations over the past three years. In recent months, the Monitor has tapped into her professionalism, energy, and fair reporting on the Iraqi scene. It was her drive to gather direct and accurate views from political leaders that took her into western Baghdad's Adil neighborhood on Saturday morning.

The Monitor joins Jill's colleagues - Iraqi and foreign - in the Baghdad press in calling for her immediate and safe release.

"Jill's ability to help others understand the issues facing all groups in Iraq has been invaluable. We are urgently seeking information about Ms. Carroll and are pursuing every avenue to secure her release," says Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim.
...along with its own verson of the story:

"I saw a group of people coming as if they had come from the sky," recalled Ms. Carroll's driver, who survived the attack. "One guy attracted my attention. He jumped in front of me screaming, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' with his left hand up and a pistol in his right hand."

One of the kidnappers pulled the driver from the car, jumped in, and drove away with several others huddled around Carroll and her interpreter, said the driver, who asked not to be identified. "They didn't give me any time to even put the car in neutral," he recounted.

The body of the interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was later found in the same neighborhood. He had been shot twice in the head, law enforcement officials said. There has been no word yet on Carroll's whereabouts.

The kidnapping occurred within 300 yards of the office of Adnan al-Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni politician, whom Carroll had been intending to interview at 10 a.m. Saturday local time, the driver said.

Mr. Dulaimi, however, turned out not to be at his office, and after 25 minutes, Carroll and her interpreter left. Their car was stopped as she drove away. "It was very obvious this was by design," said the driver. "The whole operation took no more than a quarter of a minute. It was very highly organized. It was a setup, a perfect ambush."

The kidnapping marked the end of a very bloody week in Iraq, including the deaths of a dozen American servicemen and civilian contractors. It also comes just after a French hostage was freed and amid the revelation that a German woman recently freed from captivity in Iraq may have been a government spy.

What a week.


Tags: , , Middle East, War, Kidnapping, Foreign Policy, Spies, Spying


"Thanks, Keith..."

Miss MSNB-Fabulous had the big Farris Hassan interview (long story short, rich Iraqi kid flies to Baghdad, gets in danger, goes to food market, can't speak Arabic without book, family contacts get him the bomb sources Reuters would envy...). Among the revelations in an otherwise rote interview: Hassan initially contacted Fox News from his bunker at the Palestine Hotel, where he holed up to be near other Western journalists once he realized it was way too dangerous to trapse around Baghdad with his American accent and Nike sneakers showing.

The Fox producer Hassan contacted for help basically blew him off -- twice. Had the Foxie been more savvy, FNC would have had the Farris scoop all to itself. As it turned out, Hassan got his help -- got his work published, and got his story told -- by the Associated Press. Rita seemed to enjoy rubbing it in the noses of his or her former colleagues at the Dear Leader's official spokeschannel. And I enjoyed it right along with him/her.

(...I'm telling you this show is like a chocolate sandwich -- you know it's bad for you and you definitely can't stand it everyday or you'd be sick, but when it's good... it's good...)

Part two of the M-Fab interview is tomorrow after Keith (sweet Jesus, no more Norah O'Donnell sitting in at Hardball, though, guys... I'm out of Shiraz and I can barely put up with Matthews ...)

More headlines from the House of Keith (who also dissed the Foxies something lovely last night, come to think of it... about those "Keen Eddie" ratings...) But I digress:

And a few from Fox News:
  • Oh, sweet President .. oh, sweet Dow!
  • John Gibson: Harry Belafonte is a f--ing TRAITOR!!! (Now get me my Dubya plushie doll so I can go to sleep...)
  • Brit Hume exclusive: Ted Kennedy is a f--ing TRAITOR!!! (Are those my RNC talking points there under your desk? Thanks, I need them for the next segment...)
  • Cavuto: Al those whiners pouting for "more mine regulations" just 'cause a few non-union guys bought it are f---ing TRAITORS!!!
  • O'Reilly: You think you know more about Iraq than me, buddy? I was in combat in Iraq, okay...?
  • Greta: Who's missing in the Caribbean this week... anybody...?
Ahem. That's all for now folks. Back to you, Norah...


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Monday, January 09, 2006

Impeach the bastard! ... No, not that bastard, the other one (and other tales of leaky woe)

Tony Blair's still in the thick weeds over Iraq ... He has been for some time.

Maybe that's why two Labor MPs saw fit last year to defy his order not to release the transcripts of a meeting between Mr. Blair and George W. Bush in which Mr. Bush reportedly talked/joked/or whatever, about bombing the Al-Jazeera television network. The two MPs apparently passed the docs on initially to an American -- who at the time declined to release them ahead of the 2004 election. They wound up being published by the Daily Mirror. (Boy, if they hate Al-Jazeera, the Bushies are really gonna despise Hamas TV...)

The American recipient was John Latham, a 71-year-old retired electrical engineer from San Diego and a contributor to the DNC. I'm sure we'll hear more about him forthwith.

By the way, interestingly enough, of the two men charged with actually leaking the document -- David Keogh and Leo O'Connor -- neither is an MP. ... The trial for the non-MP leakers resumes Tuesday.

Tags: , Middle East, War, Terrorism, Foreign Policy, Impeachment, Tony Blair, UK, Leaks

Oh God it's Norah ...

Turning off Hardball now. The news can wait for Keith Olbermann at 8...

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Der spy games

Remember the German woman who was kidnapped and briefly held hostage by Iraqi insurgents? Get this:

Corridors of Power: The lady was a spy
UPI Chief International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Susanne Osthoff, the German archeologist kidnapped by Iraqi gunmen on Nov. 25 and released before Christmas was connected with her country's intelligence service, the BND, and had helped arrange a meeting with a top member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida, possibly Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi himself, according to well informed German sources Sunday.

The sources confirmed German press reports that the 43-year-old woman had worked for the BND in Iraq on a freelance basis, and had for some time even stayed in a German intelligence safe house in Baghdad.

A convert to Islam and a fluent Arabic speaker, Osthoff had lived in Iraq for over a decade, and was at one time married to an Iraqi. Archeology is a classic intelligence cover: T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) posed as an archeologist in the Middle East in the early part of the last century. But archeology is Osthoff's real profession. One Washington-based German source said Osthoff had been working on arranging a rendezvous with an al-Qaida member on behalf of a German intelligence agent in Iraq. Whether the meeting ever took place has not been revealed, but another source in Berlin, reached by telephone, said experts believed that the kidnapping may have been the work of a rival group, possibly within the same organization.

A day after Osthoff's release, the Germans had quietly freed and sent home to his native Lebanon Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Hezbollah militant serving a sentence for killing a U.S. Navy diver in a hijacked TWA jetliner in 1985. Berlin officials denied any connection between Osthoff's release and Hamadi's after serving only 19 years of a life sentence. They said Hamadi had qualified for parole and the decision to free him had been taken by the state government in North Rhine Westphalia, where he was being held, not the Federal government. He was captured in Frankfurt in 1987 for his part in hijacking the TWA jetliner and killing the American navy diver, who was a passenger on the plane. The United States requested Hamadi's extradition, but the Germans refused, and instead tried and convicted him.

But both German sources said the real deal involving Osthoff's release had been the payment of a ransom to her terrorist captors by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The ransom and Hamadi's release could well constitute a double embarrassment for Merkel on her scheduled "maiden" visit to Washington next week. Washington has always opposed pay ransom money on the grounds that it encourages more kidnapping.

Although Merkel has carried on her socialist predecessor Gerhard Schroeder's policy of staying out of Iraq, German intelligence is operating in the area, cooperating with U.S. counterparts both on the ground and in Washington, the sources said.

Kind of puts a fresh new spin on the release of that TWA hijacker, which outraged family members of Navy Seabee Robert Dean Stethem, who was killed by the hijackers and dumped onto the tarmac in Lebanon, where the plane ws diverted. At the time, the German government denied any link between the release of Hamadi and the relase of Osthoff, but curiously, the U.S. did not raise a particularly big stink. From the December 21 L.A. Times:
[State Department spokesman Sean ] McCormack said U.S. officials knew of plans to release Hamadi before he was sent to Lebanon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not personally intervene, he said.

(Hamadi was arrested at the Frankfurt airport two years later with explosives in his bag, Germany refused to extradite him to the U.S. because of our good old, useful death penalty.)

Meanwhile, Bluto, blogging at Jawa, has the back story on the release of a French hostage.

Tags: , , Middle East, War, Terrorism, Foreign Policy, Spies, Spying

Holy crap

Maybe there'll be a fillibuster of the Alito nomination ... Then again, maybe God will simply smite the Democratic members of the committee...

Tags: , , Politics, SCOTUS, Law, News, Religion, Religious Right

Finally! A reason to love Howard Dean

HoDo tore Wolf Blitzer a new one on a recent edition of the "Situation Room." Read the transcript here, but more importantly, watch the video.... Courtesy of Past Peak by way of Atrios). The rub: Sorry Ken Mehlman Wolf Blitzer, there are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff. (snicker...)


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Farris has better intel than the CIA

Farris Hassan's big adventure in the Mideast apparently included a sit-down chat with members of Hezbollah, the political/terrorist group, in Beirut...

"I had to travel through alleyways and I finally walked - this was in the southern Shiite section of Beirut, the poorest section. So walking through alleyways, going up crooked staircases with bullet holes in the walls. And there was no sign saying, this is the Hezbollah office, of course not," Farris Hassan tells MSNBC's Rita Cosby in an interview airing tonight. ...

... For the two-hour meeting with the militant group's head of media relations - arranged by family friends Farris stayed with in Beirut - the teen says he posed as an American student writing a sympathetic article about Hezbollah, a group known to support Palestinian suicide bombers.

"I actually sort of nailed him on one point. He told me that Palestine belongs to the Palestinians because they've been there for centuries and all the Jews there should go back to Europe.

"And I told him, well, the Christians have been in Lebanon long before the Muslims, and 50 years ago, they were indisputably the majority. Under your same premise, shouldn't the Shiite newcomers return to their homelands?"

Farris claimed they shared a hearty laugh after the man realized "he, in fact, was stumped" by the kid's logic.
Cue the NSA wiretaps on Farris and his "family friends..."

Anyway, at least he's sorry:

A sheepish Farris, 16, also tells Cosby he's been racked with guilt about the worry he caused his parents, and he worries about "copycats."

"I will feel so guilty if some copycats go to Iraq and cause the military all kinds of trouble. And God forbid one of them gets their head cut off," he said.

...or their phones tapped by the Bushies...


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The awful truth

From UPI editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave: unfortunately, history proves it hands down -- violent insurgency and terror often works to achieve political goals.

Commentary: Murder rewarded

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., in a recent TV interview, said murder was never a winning strategy and the sooner Iraqi insurgents understand this, the quicker peace will return.


It would be interesting to find out where and how Gen. Casey derived such a notion and from which history books. This reporter, over the past 50 years, has covered a number of insurgencies where torture and assassination were indeed the weapons that delivered spectacular victories to the insurgents.

Algeria's FLN (National Liberation Front) murdered French settlers for eight years and achieved what for the insurgents was a spectacular victory in 1962: the forced evacuation of one million French settlers, most of them born in Algeria and who had never so much as visited metropolitan France, and the exit of 500,000 French soldiers.

South Africa's ANC (African National Congress) murdered white South African civilians and tortured to death those who betrayed them. In the 1980s, the ANC "necklaced" thousands by forcing them to drink gasoline, and then placing a gasoline-filled tire around their necks that was set on fire. The ANC achieved victory: the end of the country's racist apartheid regime.

In Kenya (1952-59), the Land Freedom Army terrorists, dubbed Mau Mau, murdered innocent white farmers. Africans who declined to swear an oath of allegiance were tortured to death -- and the man who inspired them from prison became independent Kenya's first president: Jomo Kenyatta.

Ordered by the Central Committee of the North Vietnamese Communist Party in 1959, the Vietcong was created in South Vietnam, which then embarked on a campaign of torture and murder to cower fence-sitters to join the cause of the "National Liberation Front." As we remember all too painfully, Vietnamese Communists eventually (16 years later) defeated the world's most powerful nation.

The Phoenix program, launched by the U.S. in South Vietnam, was a campaign of targeted assassinations of suspected Vietcong cadres.

Before Fidel Castro's 1959 victory in Cuba, murder and torture were part of the arsenal that overthrew the Batista regime. Assassination was an integral part of Sandinista strategy that chased the Somoza regime out of Nicaragua.

The Israelis say Hezbollah had nothing to do with their strategic withdrawal from southern Lebanon. But any journalist who was covering the Middle East at that time knows about that particular cause and effect. Hezbollah was murdering Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon.

Israel's decision to withdraw from Gaza was a no-brainer. But what finally convinced Prime Minister Sharon the time had come to evacuate 8,500 Israeli settlers was the murder of innocent Israeli settlers by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel also responded with "targeted killings" of individual leaders of these two terrorist organizations.

In Palestine as early as 1938, Menachem Begin's Irgun was setting off random bombs in Arab market places that slaughtered scores at a time. This was repeated again after World War II.

Yitzhak Shamir and his smaller and more disciplined "Stern Gang" (also known as the LEHI organization) despised Irgun as a bunch of "talented thugs" and Begin as a "blowhard." They focused on the targeted assassination of British intelligence officers and their support staff. And Shamir, who assassinated Eliyahu Gil'adi, a friend suspected of treason, rose rapidly from the rank and file to become one of LEHI's three top commanders.

It was terrorism that convinced the British their mandate was unsustainable. Both Begin and Shamir served as Prime Ministers in the state of Israel they fought to create.

From imperial Russia in 1917 to Eastern Europe after World War II to Cuba in 1959 to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1975 to Nicaragua and Afghanistan in 1979, communists seized power by assassination of political opponents and the murder of innocent civilians to consolidate their absolute power. Communist China, in Mao's "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76), about 5 percent of the then population of 800 million, or 40 million people, was killed.

In the American War of Independence, George Washington fought a clean war. He was merciful and refused to shed innocent blood. But in the south, the same war was a merciless civil war. American Tories and Patriots slaughtered each other viciously. One tactic was even to decapitate entire families and leave their heads on their own mantelpiece.

In some 6,500 wars in 5,000 years of recorded history, cold-blooded murder and assassination of political and military leaders, has been an integral part of a winning strategy.

The inherent question, then, is why should things be any different in Iraq? What does the present admnistraton know that history does not? It seems to me that the neocons should have paid better attention in history class. We can still perhaps put down the Iraqi insurgency, but we can't sustain a long term occupation of that country -- no matter how lofty we try to hoist the ultimate goals of "freedom" and "democracy."

The cry of "give me liberty or death" may be all-but dead in this country, where a majority of terrified and psychologically terrorized Republicans are ready to cede every available liberty they've got if their president will only keep them safe from "the terrorists!" but elsewhere around the world, it still applies.

Tags: , Middle East, War, Terrorism, Foreign Policy

Just as tragic, not as hyped

28 Americans have been killed in Iraq since last Thursday -- deaths just as tragic and senseless as those of the miners in West Virginia, but unfortunately, deaths America -- or at least the American media, -- seems increasingly numbed to...

Tags: , , , Middle East, War, Terrorism, Foreign Policy, Media

Caution on the Alito poll

The ABC-WaPo poll showing most Americans favoring Sam Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court has some interesting caveats. Apparently, most of those polled gave Bush's nominee the thumbs up because they think he's a moderate who won't overturn Roe v. Wade... From ABC News:
Fifty-three percent of Americans want the Senate to confirm Alito to the Supreme Court, 27 percent oppose his confirmation, and 20 percent are undecided. Support for Alito has not changed substantially from when his nomination was first announced in late October; in terms of public sentiment, he's in about the same position as John Roberts was at the opening of his hearings to become chief justice.

Interest in the Alito hearings is also in line with early interest in the Roberts' nomination: Sixty percent plan to pay close attention to the Senate proceedings, with about one in five saying they'll be following them "very closely." Among the reasons people are likely to tune in is to hear what, if anything, Alito may say about abortion-rights cases, particularly the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Asked how they think Alito will handle abortion cases if he's confirmed, 38 percent say they think he'll leave Roe as is, a quarter believes he'll vote for greater restrictions, and 18 percent say he'll likely vote to overturn Roe entirely. The remaining 18 percent say they don't know how he'll vote.

And many seem to project their own attitudes onto Alito: Fifty-eight percent say the way they expect him to vote on Roe is the same way they'd want him to vote.

Expectations for Alito's handling of abortion cases link directly to support for his confirmation: About two-thirds of those who think he'll vote to either limit Roe or leave it intact support him, whereas a majority of those who think he'll vote to overturn the decision oppose his nomination. Previous polling indicates majority support for Roe, but also substantial support for the court's making it harder for women to get abortions — 42 percent in the last month's ABC/Post poll.

Also interesting to note: Alito's support among independents is at just 47 percent, just seven percentage points higher than his support among Democrats...

For that reason, don't expect Alito's confirmation hearings to be the relative love-fest John Roberts was treated to in the Judiciary Committee. He's going to get grilled on everything from civil rights to abortion to presidential power. And if the Democrats can succeed in bloodying him up on any of these issues, particularly the latter two, there is a slim but existant chance that he could go the way of Robert Bork, or at least escape the committee hearings without a recommendation.

Tags: Tags: , , Politics, SCOTUS, Law, News,

The biggest tragedy of all

With the funerals for the 11 dead WVA miners beginning over the weekend, the families are also having to cope with what might be the cruelest cut of all. Their loved ones were less than one hour's unobstructed walk away from safety. From Saturday's New York Times:
It is perhaps the most heartbreaking question raised by a heartbreaking accident. Did 12 miners die deep inside the Sago Mine because, instead of trying to walk to safety after an explosion, they waited for help that took too long to arrive?

They apparently had enough oxygen in their respirators to last an hour or more and no wall of debris blocked their escape, mine company officials said. They could not have known it, but there was breathable air inside the mine, possibly just 2,000 feet away.

Cut off from communications with the outside, surrounded by thick smoke and deep darkness, they might have believed a fire was raging ahead of them, or that the mine roof was in danger of collapsing. They might have become disoriented by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Whatever the answer, they did what the textbooks instruct: they built a simple barricade out of plastic cloth in an alcove 13,000 feet from the mine portal and hunkered down to wait for help. That help arrived more than 40 hours later, when all but one were dead.

"If they had been able to walk another 1,500 feet, they might have made it," said Dennis O'Dell, the health and safety administrator for the United Mine Workers of America, who helped in the rescue.

Autopsies by the state's chief medical examiner found that the 12 miners died of carbon monoxide intoxication, John Law, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said Friday.

An anonymous poster to JuiceeNews made the same chilling point last week:
EXCLUSIVE: A first-hand account of the West Virginia mine
Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

I thought you might want a first hand account of what happened with the mining tragedy in WV. The incident occurred just 30 minutes from where I am from in West Virginia….Both my Uncle and my cousin were underground in the mine when the explosion occured. Fortunately, both were able to make it out, as they weren’t as far down as the 12 that were involved. All of this information is coming directly from my Uncle via my aunt.

First of all, apparently, the miscommunication arose from a man who happened to pick up cell phone conversations from the command center on his home scanner. Apparently, the transmission was broken up, and he mistakenly took that the 12 were alive. My cousin’s father in law was on the rescue crew that found the 12. He said that when he found them, they were all sitting in a circle holding hands, and all were dead except one.

According to my uncle, had the 12 tried, they could have walked out of the mine after the explosion occurred. There was no cave in or blockage in the mine. He says that most likely they checked their air monitors and decided that an explosion had occurred and that either it was too safe to try to walk out or that their way would be blocked. So instead, they built the barricade and tried to wait it out. My uncle and cousin were to go on the first car with the 12, but the car was full and they weren’t able to get on, which saved their lives. Instead, they got on the 2nd car, which was some ways behind the 1st. ...
Very chilling, as is the news that one of the miners kept a log that chronicled the miners' ordeal hour by hour...

Add to that the slowand cumbersome rescue operation, and you have a clear recipe for tragedy. Here's hoping the one survivor pulls through, and that the likely brief moment when America pays attention to the dirty and dangerous job of getting our energy prompts some changes.

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Happiness is...

...increasingly rare...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Dwindling legal arguments for the Bush faithful

From today's WaPo:
Report Rebuts Bush on Spying
Domestic Action's Legality Challenged

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 7, 2006; Page A01

A report by Congress's research arm concluded yesterday that the administration's justification for the warrantless eavesdropping authorized by President Bush conflicts with existing law and hinges on weak legal arguments.

The Congressional Research Service's report rebuts the central assertions made recently by Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales about the president's authority to order secret intercepts of telephone and e-mail exchanges between people inside the United States and their contacts abroad.

The findings, the first nonpartisan assessment of the program's legality to date, prompted Democratic lawmakers and civil liberties advocates to repeat calls yesterday for Congress to conduct hearings on the monitoring program and attempt to halt it.

The 44-page report said that Bush probably cannot claim the broad presidential powers he has relied upon as authority to order the secret monitoring of calls made by U.S. citizens since the fall of 2001. Congress expressly intended for the government to seek warrants from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before engaging in such surveillance when it passed legislation creating the court in 1978, the CRS report said.

The report also concluded that Bush's assertion that Congress authorized such eavesdropping to detect and fight terrorists does not appear to be supported by the special resolution that Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which focused on authorizing the president to use military force.

"It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here," the authors of the CRS report wrote. The administration's legal justification "does not seem to be . . . well-grounded," they said.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has pledged to hold hearings on the program, which was first revealed in news accounts last month, and the judges of the FISA court have demanded a classified briefing about the program, which is scheduled for Monday.

"This report contradicts the president's claim that his spying on Americans was legal," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who asked the CRS to research the issue. "It looks like the president's wiretapping was not only illegal, but also ensnared innocent Americans who did nothing more than place a phone call."
And this:
Some law professors have been skeptical of the president's assertions, and several said yesterday that the report's conclusions were expected. "Ultimately, the administration's position is not persuasive," said Carl W. Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on constitutional law. "Congress has made it pretty clear it has legislated pretty comprehensively on this issue with FISA," he said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "And there begins to be a pattern of unilateral executive decision making. Time and again, there's the executive acting alone without consulting the courts or Congress."

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the report makes it clear that Congress has exerted power over domestic surveillance. He urged Congress to address what he called the president's abuse of citizens' privacy rights and the larger issue of presidential power.

"These are absolutely central questions in American government: What exactly are the authorities vested in the president, and is he complying with the law?" Rotenberg said.

The report includes 1970s-era quotations from congressional committees that were then uncovering years of domestic spying abuses by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI against those suspected of communist sympathies, American Indians, Black Panthers and other activists. Lawmakers were very disturbed at how routinely FBI agents had listened in on U.S. citizens' phone calls without following any formal procedures. As they drafted FISA and created its court, the lawmakers warned then that only strong legislation, debated in public, could stop future administrations from eavesdropping.

"This evidence alone should demonstrate the inappropriateness of relying solely on executive branch discretion to safeguard civil liberties," they wrote. The lawmakers noted that Congress's intelligence committees could provide some checks and balances to protect privacy rights but that their power was limited in the face of an administration arguing that intelligence decisions must remain top secret.
Meanwhile, Rasmussen or no Rasmussen (and with the superior methodology of AP/Ipsos...) the majority of Americans get it just fine.
Over the past three weeks, President Bush and top aides have defended the electronic monitoring program they secretly launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as a vital tool to protect the nation from al-Qaida and its affiliates.

Yet 56 percent of respondents in an AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to first get a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.

Agreeing with the White House, some 42 percent of those surveyed do not believe the court approval is necessary.

"We're at war," Bush said during a New Year's Day visit to San Antonio. "And as commander in chief, I've got to use the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people. ... It's a vital, necessary program."

According to the poll, age matters in how people view the monitoring. Nearly two-thirds of those between age 18 to 29 believe warrants should be required, while people 65 and older are evenly divided.

Party affiliation is a factor, too. Almost three-fourths of Democrats and one-third of Republicans want to require court warrants.
I'm proud of you, America (well, at least 56 percent of you...) Thank God there's still a majority who believe in fundamental liberty and the freedoms this country was founded on. ...Next?

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DeLay out as Majority Leader...

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Quote of the week -- and they call him the smart brother...

"Yeah, but I don't think it should actually be part of the curriculum," Bush responded. "And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum." -- Jeb Bush on whether he believes in Darwin's theory of evolution.
Read more about the once and future Article II King here...

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The 'uh-ohs' keep coming

Who's the guy from The Hotline who's always on MSNBC dismissing the idea of Democrats making electoral gains from the woes of the president and the GOP? Maybe he should sit out the next few episodes of "Hardball..."
WASHINGTON - In an ominous election-year sign for Republicans, Americans are leaning sharply toward giving Democrats control of Congress, an AP-Ipsos poll finds. Democrats are favored 49 percent to 36 percent.

The poll was taken this week as Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to tax evasion, fraud and corruption charges and agreed to aid a federal investigation of members of Congress and other government officials.

President Bush’s job approval remains low — 40 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll. About as many approve of his handling of Iraq, where violence against Iraqis and U.S. troops has surged. ...

... About a third of the public, 34 percent, approves of the job Congress is doing, and nearly twice as many, 63 percent, disapprove, according to the poll of 1,001 adults taken Jan. 3-5. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Public opinion of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress has been mixed, recent polling found.
Which might not matter so much -- and clearly, it's way too early for this to be concrete -- except that:
In the Senate, 33 seats will be on the ballot in November, 17 of them currently in Democratic hands, 15 controlled by Republicans, and one held by Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont independent. Democrats now have 44 Senate seats and need to pick up seven to gain a majority, six if Vermont independent Bernie Sanders replaces Jeffords.

All 435 House seats are on the ballot this fall, and Democrats need to pick up at least 15 to become the majority party and take control of the House.
The only issue remaining is non-competitive seats -- but if the present environment extends through the summer, it could all depend on what the meaning of "competitive" is...

What Republicans have to worry about is that every voter who isn't a hard-core Republican -- and that means the all important swing voters -- could very well be moved by an argument that we need divided government in order to curb the corruption and rot in Washington, and in order to force bi-partisan solutions to the big problems facing us, particularly in Iraq. If the Dems make that argument persuasively: vote for divided government -- vote Democrat... and if enough Republicans are brought low by the Abramoff-DeLay scandal taint, a change in the lower, and especially the upper, chambers is very much a possibility.

Of course, the other side could be energized by the notion of John Conyers chairing the judiciary committee...

While this poll feels like a blockbuster, the fact is, the public has been trending Democrat in the preferences for Congress since last Fall. Take a look at the trends for yourself.

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On shaky ground

Legal analysts from the Congressional Research Service say the administration (and its apologists') legal justification for the NSA's spying on American callers is mad shaky...
...two attorneys in the organization’s legislative law division, Elizabeth Bazan and Jennifer Elsea, say the justification that the Justice Department laid out in a Dec. 22 analysis for the House and Senate intelligence committees “does not seem to be as well-grounded as the tenor of that letter suggests.”

The National Security Agency’s activity “may present an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” Bazan and Elsea write in the 44-page memo.

Bush and his top advisers have defended the program, which allowed the highly secretive agency to eavesdrop without court approval on international calls and e-mails of people who were inside the United States and suspected of communicating with al-Qaida or its affiliates.

The Bush administration says it was legal under Article 2 of the Constitution, which grants presidential powers, and Congress’ September 2001 authorization to use military force to conduct the war on terror.

But the memo concludes: “It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has ... authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion.”

Apparently the administration isn't the only one sporting a bogus legal theory, however. ThinkProgress calls out Michelle Malkin on her big, fat, legal stretch, and for a brief, shining moment, she relents...

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GOP: It's what's for dinner

Looks like Randy "Duke" Cunningham wore a wire and agreed to implicate others before he went down in disgrace. Damn it's getting hot in D.C. ...

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News from the Animal Farm...

A vendor to the IRS tracked the political affiliations of taxpayers under investigation in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The states involved: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Been audited lately? I guess if you don't quite pay your taxes you'd better be a Republican, if you know what's good for you...

The NSA not only conducted illegal surveillance on U.S. callers, it reportedly later destroyed the evidence for fear of what Congress would do if it found out, and out of a fear of lawsuits (and that nasty process that goes with them: discovery)... Doesn't sound like an agency acting under the clear Constitutional authority of the president to me... Says Truthout:
NSA lawyers advised the agency to immediately destroy the names of thousands of American citizens and businesses it collected shortly after 9/11 in its quest to target terrorists in this country. NSA lawyers told the agency that the surveillance was illegal and that it could not share the data it collected with the CIA or other intelligence agencies.

The lawyers said the surveillance could result in numerous lawsuits from people identified in the surveillance reports, two former US officials told the Houston Chronicle in an October 27, 2001, report, and was illegal despite any terrorist threat that existed in the days following 9/11.

By law, the NSA cannot spy on a US citizen, an immigrant lawfully admitted to this country for permanent residence, or a US corporation. But, with the permission of a special court, it can target foreigners inside the United States, including diplomats.
According to Raw Story, a secret military operation under the direction of Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone sought to score a public relations coup by finding missing Gulf War pilot Scott Speicher (his supposed captivity apparently being yet another of Chalabi's lies) and to "solve" the no WMD problem in Iraq even ahead of securing the country...

By the way, the NSA is denying it spied on CNN staffers including Christiane Amanpour. More accurately, the agency says no such reporters were targeted for surveillance, which doesn't necessarily mean their conversations weren't monitored, just that they weren't the primary targets of the eavesdropping, right?
The senior official said that from time to time NSA surveillance overseas "inadvertently" acquires recordings or copies of communications involving Americans -- or what the government calls "U.S. persons," which includes most U.S. residents and employees of American companies. By law, however, such materials are required to be erased or destroyed immediately, the official said.
CNN seems pretty eager to knock this story down, don't they? I'd be interested to see what NBC's investigation digs up...

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Contempt of Congress?

Bush's writ of bypass on the torture memo pisses off John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham. (HT to Mike Votes) From yesterday's Boston Globe:

John W. Warner Jr., a Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, issued a joint statement rejecting Bush's assertion that he can waive the restrictions on the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment against detainees to protect national security.

''We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," the senators said. ''The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law."

Separately, the third primary sponsor of the detainee treatment law, Senator Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told the Globe in a phone interview that he agreed with everything McCain and Warner said ''and would go a little bit further."

''I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any . . . law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified," Graham said. ''If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations' leaders from doing the same."

The White House did not return calls yesterday about the senators' statements. On Friday, in signing the ban on torture, Bush issued a ''signing statement," saying he would interpret the restrictions in the context of his broader constitutional powers as commander in chief. A ''signing statement" is an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

A senior administration official later confirmed that the president believes the Constitution gives him the power to authorize interrogation techniques that go beyond the law to protect national security. But in enacting the law, Congress intended to close every loophole and impose an absolute ban on all forms of torture, no matter the circumstances, Graham said.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said the senators' statements ''mean that the battle lines are drawn" for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government.

''The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he's conducting war," Golove said. ''The senators are saying: 'Wait a minute, we've gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.' "

Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, said the senators' statement should send a clear warning to military and CIA interrogators that they would be subject to criminal prosecution if they abuse a detainee.

''That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress," she said. ''And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel inhuman and degrading treatment is illegal."

But Golove said that it is politically unlikely that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales would prosecute an official for taking an action Bush ordered him to take. Still, he said, Congress has a number of tools for compelling the president to obey the law. Congress can withhold funds for programs. It can subpoena administration officials to testify under oath. It can pass stricter laws or block legislation Bush needs. In an extreme and politically unlikely scenario, it can impeach the president.

This is a continuation of the Bush administration strategy, supported by the likes of Judge Sam Alito, of setting aside any law that he feels impedes his eternal "war powers," and by issuing statements that seek to interpret the laws he's signing.

Hopefully the Congress will push back hard against what looks like a blatant attempt to dismiss the authority of Congress in the passing of laws and to grab the judiciary's power to interpret them.


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Bush's 5-minute mixer

The New York Times account of Bush's "historic" confab with geriatric secretaries of state and defense includes a little bit of attitutde:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 - Colin Powell said nothing - a silence that spoke volumes to many in the White House today.

His predecessor, Madeleine Albright, was a bit riled after hearing an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former secretaries of state and defense about how well things are going in Iraq. Saying the war in Iraq was "taking up all the energy" of President Bush's foreign policy team, she asked Mr. t Bush whether he had let nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control, and Latin America and China policy suffer by benign neglect.

"I can't let this comment stand," Mr. Bush shot back, telling Ms. Albright and the rare assembly of her colleagues, who reached back to the Kennedy White House, that his administration "can do more than one thing at a time."

The Bush administration, the president insisted, had "the best relations of any country with Japan, China and Korea," and active programs to win alliances around the world.

That was, according to some of the participants, one of the few moments of heat during an unusual White House effort to bring some of its critics into the fold and give a patina of bipartisan common ground to the strategy that Mr. Bush has laid out in recent weeks for Iraq.
and a whole lot of nothing, all for a grand total of 5-10 minutes of face-time with Dubya:

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes this morning for interchange with the group - which included three veterans of another difficult war, the one in Vietnam: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger. Then the entire group was herded the Oval Office for what he called a "family picture."

Those who wanted to impart more wisdom to the current occupants of the White House were sent back across the hall to meet again with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. But, as several of the participants noted, by that time Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had gone on to other meetings. ...

... Lawrence Eagleburger, a secretary of state under the first President Bush, told reporters that Mr. Bush had come in for some criticism but that it had been mild. "When you are in the presence of the president of the United States, I don't care if you've been a devout Democrat for the last hundred years, you're likely to pull your punches to some degree," Mr. Eagleburger said.
And this helps get us closer to "total victory" in Iraq, how...?

Update: Brad DeLong tags the WaPo for its kitten purr version of the five minutes at the photo op with George story (sorry Van de Hei, you deserve this spanking...)

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A day in the life of the new Iraq

The death toll in the latest Iraqi violence surge rises over 140, including 11 U.S. troops ...

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The nuclear blueprint that got away

Did the CIA inadvertently start Iran down the path to nuclear proliferation? Yet another bombshell allegation from the book to get hold of right about now, by James Risen. Mike Votes lists more of Risen's incredible claims on his blog.

Meanwhile, Iran skips a crucial meeting with the IAEA...

Related: Will the U.S. attack Iran? Wayne Madsen (scroll down), Times of India, Al-Jazeera, The New Yorker, Global Research Center all vote "yes"...

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The Chronicles of Marion II: Fire in the Holy Land

Hello friends, it's me, Pat Robertson again ... and I'm often on TV! Isn't that exciting!!???

I'm coming to you today from deeeeep within an Appalachian mine ... I like to come down here on occasion, because my good friends in the Bush administration tell me the fresh air is good for my concentration! Isn't it wonderful how they care so much about my well-being!!!??? Sometimes I get the feeling they'd like me to just stay down here and concentrate for years, and years, and years and never come out ...

Anyway, it looks like our loving God has put out a contract on another unbeliever. And I'm sorry to say that my good friend Ariel Sharon is feeling the pimp slap of God's unchanging hand, for trying to divide the Lord's real estate with those heathens in the Gaza Strip! Now I'm not wishing by buddy Ariel ill -- but just like Hugo Chavez, the entire state of Pennsylvania and the other blasphemers on God's ethereal hit list, he hath sinned and now must taste the danger!!!

I love saying that -- "taste the danger..." it makes me feel so ... well... dangerous!!! ...

So friends, what have we learned today? If God gives you a beach house, don't go letting in the sand... If he blesses you with a double-wide trailer, don't drive it into a Wal-Mart parking lot and start selling sandwiches out of the convenience hatch. It just isn't Christian! And neither is all this Commie talk about sharing, and peace and living together side by side. Sounds like a scene from that gay cowboy movie to me. Not that I'd know anything about that... (blink blink blink)

Well, friends, that's all for now! Don't forget to watch me on TV, where I often sell salad dressing and occasionally dress up like the Mad Hatter and dance around the studio in just my underwear! Oh, I'm just joshing you, friends... Except about the dressing. ...

... And remember, God loves you! (well not all of you but you know who you are...) Deal with it!

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Why bug Christiane?

Besides Christiane Amanpour's complaints about the media's self-censorhip during the run-up to the Iraq war, Attytood speculates on why she might become a target of the Bush spy-op:

...Well, given the current administration's views on civil liberties and Arabs,the most cynical answer we could offer is because she is of Iranian descent. But while her father was an Iranian airline executive, Amanpour was born in London and mostly raised there, attending Catholic schools, and her family fled Iran in 1979 "during the Islamic Revolution."

Not exactly a terrorist profile.

The least cynical answer would be because her recent reporting would have brought her into direct contact with members of al Qaeda. In August 2002, not long after Bush began to authorize the warrantless spying program, Amanpour worked with CNN's Nic Robertson on a special that was billed as an inside view of al-Qaeda....

Then there is the issue of Amanpour's husband, Jamie Rubin, former official in the Clinton administration State Department. You may have forgotten (we did, frankly), but Rubin re-emerged in 2004 -- as a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry. Do husbands and wives use the same telephones and computers? Is the Pope German?

But frankly, the concept that scares us the most, as a journalist, goes back to that lovely quote from the Fox News spokeswoman at the very top of this post -- and the episode that inspired it. Because Christiane Amanpour was highest profile, and also the most forceful, critic of the media's pliency toward Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

Here's what she said in Sept. 2003:

"I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."

The next day, Fox blasts her as an "al-Qaeda spokeswoman." And two years later, we are left to wonder if she was spied upon by the American government.


We sure hope so.
Indeed. So was Ms. Amanpour a target of "FIRSTFRUITS" -- a CIA-turned-NSA domestic eavesdropping program targeting journalists, as Wayne Madsen alleges? And what about Madsen's other claims:

New information provided to WMR expands on our initial reports about the Bush administration using NSA to spy on politicians, including phone conversations between then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson concerning diplomatic back channels to North Korea's UN ambassador. Informed sources also report that Arizona Republican Senator John McCain was also subject to NSA eavesdropping. Of particular interest to the White House was McCain's actual commitment to Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign, evidence his Indian Affairs Committee collected on GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff's tribal casino activities, and details of McCain's medical condition. McCain is recovering from skin cancer...
I'd write it all off as tin-foil stuff, but why does so much of it seem to come back to the 2004 campaign? Clearly the idea that the administration might have wiretapped its political foes, or even the Kerry campaign, is floating around the blogosphere, and I think it's a legitimate question. Since we don't know who was being wiretapped, and the Bush administration asserts to right to wiretap at will, with no warrants, anyone it suspects of "communicating with the enemy" during this endless war on terror, how do we know they didn't turn their terror-focused operation on domestic enemies?

Just asking...

Update: Inquiring minds in Congress also want to know...

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Myers, you're doing one heck of a job...

Nice of Dubya to hook up failed (but Medal of Freedomed!) former Joint Chiefs chairman Dick Myers' niece and other cronies with recess appointments to jobs they're not even remotely qualified for. Some things never change...

Update: Reax in Bloggerville --

-- Malkin: the Myers appointment stinks ...
-- National Review's The Corner: it What a mad world it is when Malkin agrees with ...
-- Kos: Hear ye, Hear ye.... King George hath hereby dissolved the Congress...
-- Debbie Schlussel: unhappy New Year...
-- Religious Ron in Texas: Not quite losing his Bush religion, but not pleased ...
-- Digger at Digger's Realm is pissed (and he's got some helpful links on pest control and gardening...)

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The whistleblower speaks up

The NSA whistleblower (one of a dozen, according to James Risen's blockbuster book -- other tidbits from MikeVotes here) wants to testify before Congress.

A former National Security Agency official wants to tell Congress about electronic intelligence programs that he asserts were carried out illegally by the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Russ Tice, a whistleblower who was dismissed from the NSA last year, stated in letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees that he is prepared to testify about highly classified Special Access Programs, or SAPs, that were improperly carried out by both the NSA and the DIA.

"I intend to report to Congress probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer with the National Security Agency and with the Defense Intelligence Agency," Mr. Tice stated in the Dec. 16 letters, copies of which were obtained by The Washington Times.

The letters were sent the same day that the New York Times revealed that the NSA was engaged in a clandestine eavesdropping program that bypassed the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The FISA court issues orders for targeted electronic and other surveillance by the government.

...The letters were sent to Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican. Mr. Roberts is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Mr. Hoekstra is chairman of the House counterpart.

The plot thickens...


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Military intelligence

The Mystery Pollster has interesting news about the opinions of active-duty servicemen as fleshed out in a 2005 Military Times poll. The rub:
It shows that while morale remains high, "support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military's professional core." Those last few words are critical. As we will see the Military Times readership comes disproportionately from those who have made the military their career and - as the Military Times article correctly stresses - "should not be read as representative of the military as a whole." However, as a consistent, standardized sampling of opinion among the "professional core" of the military, it is worthy of our attention.
And something to consider:
However, the response rate alone is less important than the possibility of any response bias. In other words, were the 70% who did not return their survey different from those who did, and if so, how different were they? That question is, of course next to impossible to answer or quantify, since as usual we know nothing about the non-respondents. However, the Military Times article includes this bit of information which should at least serve as a caution:
As in the previous two years, Military Times Poll respondents were reluctant to express opinions, even anonymously, about the commander in chief or his policies. About one in five refused to say whether they approved of the president's performance on Iraq or overall.
"That's my boss," Army Lt. Col. Earnestine Beatty said in a follow-up interview. "I can't comment." Kohn said he worried that asking such questions of military members and publishing the results could tarnish the military's image as a nonpartisan institution.
Whether any such reluctance affected the response rate or created any sort of response bias is, again, something we can only speculate about. However, Trowbridge points out that among respondents, the reluctance to answer questions was evident mostly on questions about George Bush, Congress or the military brass. On other questions, such as those about morale, the "don't know" percentages were in the single digits.
That said, what were the results?
Approval of the president’s Iraq policy fell 9 percentage points from 2004; a bare majority, 54 percent, now say they view his performance on Iraq as favorable. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60 percent, among active-duty readers of the Military Times newspapers. Though support both for President Bush and for the war in Iraq remains significantly higher than in the public as a whole, the drop is likely to add further fuel to the heated debate over Iraq policy. In 2003 and 2004, supporters of the war in Iraq pointed to high approval ratings in the Military Times Poll as a signal that military members were behind President Bush’s the president’s policy.

The poll also found diminished optimism that U.S. goals in Iraq can be accomplished, and a somewhat smaller drop in support for the decision to go to war in 2003.
And these additional tabs:
• Positive feelings about Congress, civilian and uniformed Pentagon leaders and the media all fell.

• Respondents also were less likely than in the past to believe other segments of the country viewed the military favorably. In 2004, 37 percent said civilians viewed the military very favorably; that fell to 24 percent this year. Last year, 77 percent said politicians saw the military very or somewhat favorably; 63 percent said so this year.

• There was somewhat more support for opening military service to openly homosexual Americans: 59 percent said open homosexuals should not be allowed to serve, down six points from last year.

• Opposition to the draft fell slightly, from 75 percent last year to 68 percent this year.

• Nearly two-thirds said the military is stretched too thin to be effective, though that figure is down substantially from two years ago.

• Job satisfaction and approval of pay, health benefits, training and equipment remain high — though in many cases, the support is less enthusiastic than in past years, based on responses.

• For the first time in the three-year history of the poll, more than half of respondents said they had deployed in support of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But few of those shifts appear as significant as those on the president.
How to spin those findings in Bush's favor?

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The Mystery Rasmussen

... while we're on the subject of the Mystery Pollster, check out his breakdown of the Rasmussen effect, whereby Bush's job approval ratings appear to levitate over those reported in all other polls...

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The Bloggies are coming!

Go on over and vote!

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NBC News: don't ask, don't transcribe

Correction:Caught by AmericaBlog, stumbled on by me via Eric Jaffa at SpeakSpeak News: NBC News busted for a major "oopsie..." Apparently the network altered the transcript of an "NBC Nightly News" interview by Andrea Mitchell of NYTimes reporter James Risen. Here's how it went, according to Jaffa:
Andrea Mitchell interviewed him for the January 3 edition of “NBC Nightly News.” The interview was longer then the video which NBC aired. NBC put the transcript of the full interview online, but then took out part of it.

The deleted portion:
Andrea Mitchell: You don’t have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

James Risen: No, no I hadn’t heard that.
How NBC explains the deletion:
Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on ‘NBC Nightly News’ nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.

(Same story updated with NBC's confirmation that they're investigating the possible Amanpour-tapping by TV Newswer, ht to ThinkProgress) ... Now you may recall that Ms. Amanpour, probably CNN's best overseas journalist, had been critical of the news media's conduct during the Iraq war, including her own cable outfit. Amanpour claimed about a year ago that the press succumbed to a "climate of "fear and self-censorship" fostered by the Bush administration and its self-appointed mouthpiece, Fox News, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

If she was wiretapped, which again, we can't know because the administration conducted its surveillance without even informing the FISA court, it would give more credence to the Wayne Madsen scenario described in this previous post, whereby several journalists including Risen and Sy Hersh (not to mention menbers of Congress and even employees at the NSA) were targeted by administration espionage programs. Tin foil hattery? Maybe. But remember that this crowd even felt the need to spy on Quakers, Catholic relief workers and vegans...

Update: Read AmericaBlog's update here, in which John Aravosis takes us down the logic path if the Amanpour wiretap allegation turns out to be true...

Why would Bush do this? Because, as I reported a few weeks ago, journalists have some of the best contacts out there and it's not unusual for journalists to talk to both sides of the story, or in this case, the good guys and the "evil doers." What a better, if not illegal, way to find the terrorists and their associates?

But before you say "yeah, go for it," consider the implications of tapping Christiane Amanpour's phones:

1. Such a wiretap would likely include her home, office, and cell phones, and email correspondence, at the very least.

2. That means anyone Christiane has conversed with in the past four years, at least by phone or email, could have had their conversation taped by the US government.

3. That also means that anyone who uses any of Christiane's telephones or computers (work or home) could also have had their conversation bugged.

4. This includes Christiane's husband, former Clinton administration senior official Jamie Rubin, who was spokesman for the State Department.

5. Jamie Rubin was also chief foreign policy adviser to General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign, and then worked as a senior national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

6. Did Jamie Rubin ever use his home phone, his wife's work phone, his wife's cell phone, her home computer or her work computer to communicate with John Kerry or Wesley Clark? If so, those conversations would have been bugged if Bush was tapping Amanpour. ...
Read on, it gets worse...


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Update: Ariel Sharon - 'serious but stable'

...the description fits the current medical condition of the Israeli prime minister, but also his person. For Israelis, the qualities that provoked dread in bleeding hearts like me clearly elicited a sense of safety and stability. Whatever happens next, all that's certain is uncertainty now.

To stiplate: I have never been a fan of Ariel Sharon. He remains, in my mind, a rather thuggish figure, eternally linked to the Sabra and Shatila massacres, which by rights should have driven him from public life. He also is the "father" of the disastrous (and still expanding) settlement movement that has brought Israel to the brink of self-destruction by shipping religious militants from Brooklyn and Europe along with impoverished Russian jews into the occupied territories in order to hold onto "Biblical real estate" that the United Nations, and essentially everyone but the United States (both political parties) says belongs to the Palestinians -- and by holding onto 2 million Palestinians who don't want to be ruled by them... (I also have a more personal reason: Sharon and the Israeli governments close involvement with Apartheid South Africa and the training of rebels in my father's country, the then-Zaire, during the 1980s when Sharon was defense minister...)

That said, I agree with those who say that without Sharon (and even if he survives his massive stroke, it's highly unlikely he'll return as P.M.) peace between the Israelis and Palestinians has less of a chance than ever. The Israeli left is commendable in my opinion, but it has no credibility where it counts: with Israelis. Likudniks like Netanyahu are just plain scary. Maybe it really does take a former tough guy general to finally figure out a way to make peace.

In many ways, the two "old men" of the occupied terrotories -- Yasser Arafat and Sharon --have pretty much had their thumbs on the scales of peace in that region for as long as I've been alive and aware. How ironic that the the death of the one with the Nobel Peace Prize was seen as opening the door, while the grave injury of the one reviled by many, especially in Europe and of course, across the Arab world, could very well shut it. In the end, neither man got the job done for his people. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are understandably nervous today.

Original post: Israel's Ariel Sharon was rushed to the hospital earlier and is now said to have suffered a major stroke. Ehud Olmert has taken over Sharon's duties as prime minister ... this could obviously be a major development if Sharon's condition -- described as "grave" -- does not improve...


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If there's nothing to explain...

The Bushies will brief the FISA judges on the FISA-free surveillance program previously unknown to most of them...

Several judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said they want to hear directly from administration officials why President Bush believed he had the authority to order, without the court's permission, wiretapping of some phone calls and e-mails after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Of serious concern to several judges is whether any information gleaned from intercepts by the National Security Agency was later used to gain their permission for wiretaps without the source being disclosed.

The court is made up of 11 judges who, on a rotating basis, hear government applications for surveillance warrants. But only the presiding judge, currently Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, was notified of the government eavesdropping program. One judge, James Robertson, who also serves on the federal bench in Washington, resigned his seat on the surveillance court in protest shortly after the wiretapping was revealed by the New York Times in mid-December.
Perhaps the administration simply wants to explain their reading of Article II to the judges...
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Jane Harman pulls no punches...


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Padilla's odyssey continues

The Supremes release him to the Justice Department on the grounds that he is now charged in traditional civilian criminal court, without ruling on the subject of the administration's right to detain and charge him on secret, "wartime" terrorism charges...


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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The dirty five-dozen?

The caution flags of various NBC news analysts such as Pete Williams aside, the Jack Abramoff snitch list appears to be growing, not shrinking, from the initial 12. The magic number today: 60 Congressmen potentially tied up in Abramoff's Gordian knots, according to the Wall Street Journal (exerpted here by RawStory).

Not that this number is new. Bloggers back in November were quoting a Newsweek reporter, Eamon Javers, whose sources were pegging the number at five-dozen. And the DNC at that time was naming two Virginia Congressmen, Eric Cantor and Virgil Goode (both Republicans) as being embroiled in the scandal. Following the Scanlon plea a couple of months ago, the WSJ and other papers fingered Tom DeLay, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, Rep. John Doolittle of California, and Senator Conrad Burns of Montana as potential targets of a wider probe. And of course there's Denny Hastert, Bill Frist and the heads of every Senate and House committe, all Republicans, all juicy bribe targets I'd think...

The California list of possible targets includes Doolittle, House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, Rep. Mary Bono (wife of the dearly departed Sonny), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Rep. Jerry Lewis (no relation to the comedian), and of course, our old buddy, disgraced former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

So how high will this thing go? As the Christian Science Monitor points out for Thursday's edition:
It's not a crime to accept contributions from lobbyists. It's a bribe only if there's evidence of an agreement to perform an official act in exchange. But the political damage can go further.

"Careers usually end when the indictment is brought, whether [the accused] are cleared or not. Very few survive an election, once an indictment has been brought," says Stanley Brand, a Washington defense attorney who advised House Speaker Tip O'Neill during the 1978 ABSCAM bribery case, an FBI sting operation that convicted five House members and a senator.

Many on Capitol Hill say the Abramoff affair could eclipse ABSCAM. With Abramoff's help, federal prosecutors say, they are unraveling an "extensive" corruption scheme. While prosecutors have not disclosed the number of lawmakers under investigation, speculation runs from a half-dozen to as many as 60. At least a dozen FBI field offices are now involved in the investigation.
Meanwhile, Howard Fineman sums up the winners and losers in the Abramoff scandal. (Hint: third party politics and John McCain -- UPGRADE! Karl Rove, Tom DeLay and Dennis "the figurehead" Hastert -- DOWNGRADE!)

...Plus, as politicians all over D.C. scramble to jettison their Abramoff cash and erase his number from their cell phones, Dubya dumps $6,000 but keeps $92,000 in Abramoff "pioneer" bucks. How's that work? (Wanna know who's dumping what? Click here. Yes, I counted 14 Dems out of 62 dollar dumpers on the list, including Hillary, Dick Durbin, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan. But that list is just of those who are dumping funds, not the much more important upcoming list of the investigated and indicted. Sorry, Limbaugh old boy, but I'll go out on a limb and say most of those folks will be with the GOP...)

More on that in a bit. For now, back to Bush and Jack. Scott McClellan makes like Bush barely knows the guy. He should read his Newsweek magazine:
the Bush-Cheney campaign is returning only a fraction of the campaign contributions it received with Abramoff connections. During the 2004 campaign, Abramoff was a top fund-raiser for the Bush re-election effort, raising more than $100,000 for the campaign. While exact figures on how much he raised for the campaign aren’t known, Abramoff told The New York Times in July 2003—months before active fund-raising began—that he had already raised $120,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “And I haven’t even started making phone calls,” the lobbyist told the Times. An Orthodox Jew, Abramoff was considered an important intermediary between Jewish groups and the Bush campaign, which worked heavily to make inroads with the voting bloc. When fund-raising began for Bush's re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent Seattle radio host and activist, urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.

For now, the Bush-Cheney campaign has no plans to donate or return funds raised by Abramoff from other individuals. “At this point, there is nothing to indicate that contributions from those individual donors represents anything other than enthusiastic support for the [Bush-Cheney] re-election campaign,” RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.

Yet Abramoff’s ties to the administration extended well beyond campaign checks. In 2001, Bush tapped the lobbyist as a member of his Presidential Transition Team, advising the administration on policy and hiring at the Interior Department, which oversees Native American issues. Abramoff’s former top aide, Susan Ralston, currently serves as the top aide to Karl Rove, one of the president’s closest political advisers. Still, the White House has moved to put distance between Bush and Abramoff. On Wednesday, McClellan called Abramoff’s actions “outrageous” and reiterated to reporters that Bush was not friends with the lobbyist and does not recall ever meeting him—though he said it was possible that Bush met Abramoff at a fund-raising function or at a White House holiday party. (According to McClellan, Abramoff was a guest at three White House Chanukah receptions.) When asked about Abramoff’s contacts with other White House officials, McClellan said, “I don’t keep track of staff.”
Of course you don't, Scott. You're far too busy figuring out which ongoing investigations the president is willing to comment on to pay attention to all the people charging their clients $25,000 a pop for face time with the president or arranging $9 million White House confabs for the President of Gabon... (By the way as to Rush's rather sad direct lifting of Ken Mehlman's talking point that "We know for a fact he spread money around to both parties," Newsweek's Wolffe reports that "While Abramoff personally only wrote checks to Republicans, his clients gave to both parties, including Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, Mary Landrieu and Byron Dorgan. " (The Hotline puts it even more bluntley here, saying Abramoff "never gave a penny to Democrats or Democrat committes... True -- he encouraged or "directed," as the Washington Post says, his clients to give generously to politicians of parties, which they did. And several associates who worked closely with Abramoff were, indeed, "equal money dispenser[s]" as Bush said. But not Abramoff himself...") An important distinction and not surprising given that some of his clients likely wanted to court certain Democrats on certain issues. Reiterating, somehow I doubt we'll say many Democratic names in the final scandal tally. Abramoff was a hardcore GOP activist, not an equal opportunity player, no matter whom his cliens donated money to...)

More from the Hotline Blog Wednesday:
Some of the "Abramoff-related" money linked to Dems comes from Greenberg Traurig's political action committee. Greenberg is a huge bipartisan legal/lobby firm. It regularly gives money to members of both parties.

Abramoff had no hand in the PAC's donation distribution, according to Greenberg. So is Greenberg money really Abramoff money? (To be fair, the same question can be posed to Dems who say Greenberg contributions to GOPers are inherently tainted.)
True, true, true. BTW there's more evidence of the Bush-Abramoff "non-relationship" relationship here, here and here.

As for what the Jack Attack was doing with all that money he skimmed from his "troglodyte" Indian gaming clients? Well apparently, he was shipping part of the loot off to extremist settlers in the West Bank to "fight the Intifada." Nice.


- The Alternet Abramoff Primer
- George Bush's Wise Guys: Bush mega-fundraisers Noe, Abramoff, Reed, and the Wyly Brothers all under federal investigation)


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A swing and a miss

Dick Cheney plays the "warrantless spying could have stopped 9/11" card -- and comes up snake-eyes...

As part of an effort to sell Americans on the administration's recently disclosed program to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and people overseas without a warrant, Cheney told a small group of conservatives at the Heritage Foundation that instead of being able to "pick up" on the terrorist plot "we didn't know they were here plotting until it was too late."

But Cheney did not mention that the government had compiled significant information on the two suspects before the attacks and that bureaucratic problems -- not a lack of information -- were primary reasons for the security breakdown, according to congressional investigators and the Sept. 11 commission. Moreover, the administration had the power to eavesdrop on their calls and e-mails, as long as it sought permission from a secret court that oversees clandestine surveillance in the United States.

The bigger problem was that the FBI and other agencies did not know where the two suspects -- Cheney's office confirmed that he was referring to Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar -- were living in the United States and had missed numerous opportunities to track them down in the 20 months before the attacks, according to the Sept. 11 commission and other sources.

In his speech, scheduled as part of a White House offensive to defend the recently disclosed surveillance program, Cheney painted an ominous portrait of U.S. security without the controversial practice. Critics said the surveillance has been unconstitutional, carried out without explicit congressional approval or court oversight. The administration said it gained broad powers from a congressional resolution after Sept. 11.

Cheney said the National Security Agency program, combined with the expanded surveillance powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act, has saved lives -- and thwarted terrorist attacks.

"No one can guarantee that we won't be hit again, but neither should anyone say that the relative safety of the last four years came as an accident," Cheney said. "America has been protected not by luck but by sensible policy decisions."

What Dick forgot to mention was that had U.S. intelligence agencies known where the two terrorists in question were, they could easily have wiretapped them, tailed them, bugged their apartments and much more -- using the FBI. Or they could have gotten a good old FISA warrant and tapped away through the NSA. But, of course, that would have prevented the president from "protecting us from the terrarests!!!"

Sorry WaPo, please continue:

Cheney said if the administration had the power "before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon."

Even without the warrantless domestic spying program, however, the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies had important clues about the Sept. 11 plot and the hijackers before the attacks, according to media reports and findings by Congress and the commission.

For example, the NSA intercepted two electronic messages on Sept. 10, 2001, that warned of the attacks -- but the agency failed to translate them until Sept. 12. The Arabic-language messages said "The match is about to begin" and "Tomorrow is zero hour," intelligence officials said.

U.S. intelligence sources have said that NSA analysts were unsure who was speaking on the intercepts but that they were considered a high enough priority for translation within two days.

Cheney's apparent reference to Alhazmi and Almihdhar is also incomplete, leaving out the fact that several government agencies had compiled significant information about the duo but had bungled efforts to track them.

According to the Sept. 11 commission's report, released in 2004, the NSA first identified Alhazmi and Almihdhar in December 1999, passing the information to the CIA but conducting no further research.

In 2000, the CIA failed to place Alhazmi and Almihdhar on a watch list despite their ties to a terrorist summit in Malaysia. The CIA also mishandled efforts to follow them after the summit and failed to share information about them with the FBI, including the crucial fact that both men had U.S. visas, the commission found.

By late August 2001, the FBI finally had information that Almihdhar had recently entered the United States. But the search for the suspected al Qaeda operative was treated as routine and assigned to a rookie agent, according to the commission report.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert who heads Rand Corp.'s Washington office, said it is unclear what communications could have been intercepted if the FBI and other agencies did not know where Alhazmi and Almihdhar were.

Hoffman also said Cheney's comments ignore the breadth of the government failures before the attacks, which were due to structural problems rather than a single missed lead.

"It's not that legislation was lacking; it was a systemic failure," he said.
A systemic failure on Mssrs. Bush and Cheney's watch, I might add...


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The ex-secretary bail-out option?

According to Debka:
In an unconventional move, the White House has invited all living secretaries of defense and state to White House on Thursday for discussion with Bush about Iraq policy...
Interesting if confirmed...

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Operation Homefront

Robwire thinks he's found an example of the Pentagon's domestic propaganda program involving U.S. troops home on leave from Iraq. Read the story from the Roanoake (VA) Times and judge for yourself.

(Meanwhile, milbloggers who aren't down with the program apparently aren't blogging for long...)


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The 'A-bomb' part two

Abramoff's next plea: five counts of fraud and conspiracy in a Florida case involving gambling boats, a dead guy named Gus and more than one member of Congress (hold me, Tom DeLay!). Related: Slate's John Dickerson on the Jack Attack...

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About that coal mine...

The right is in fully sympathy with the families of those poor miners, as they should be. But some are also blaming the media for the mess the mining company's spokespeople made of the initial blunder that led family members to think all but one miner had survived, followed by the horrifying revelation that all but one of the 13 miners had perished. On the radio this morning, the fill-in host for Laura Ingraham lashed out at one miner family member who declared she'd defninitely be suing.

I'm not one to defend the mainstream media. I know they can be headline graveling, administration toadying putzes at times. But not all the time. And in this case, I'm with TV Newser in saying they were only part of the problem (and not the biggest part) despite their typical saturation coverage, which probably provoked the over-eagerness on the part of spokespeople to get the "good news" out.

Pity, though, that few on the right have the temerity to criticize International Coal Group, the company that owned that clearly unsafe mine, which had been cited 21 times last year alone, for allowing combustible materials to build up in the area where men were working miles below the ground. There were 273 citations for safety violations at the mine in just the last two years. (Michelle Malkin inches toward criticizing the company, and has a roundup of RW blogosphere reax).

So who is this stellar example of the efficiencies of the Ownership Society? Here's a bit of what the company had to say about itself in a June 15, 2005 SEC filing:

The company was formed by WLR and other investors in May 2004 to acquire and operate competitive coal mining facilities. As of September 30, 2004, ICG, Inc. acquired certain key assets of Horizon through a bankruptcy auction. These assets are high quality reserves strategically located in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin, are union free, have limited reclamation liabilities and are substantially free of other legacy liabilities. Due to our initial capitalization, we were able to complete the acquisition without incurring a significant level of indebtedness. Consistent with the WLR investor group's strategy to consolidate profitable coal assets, the Anker and CoalQuest acquisitions further diversify our reserves. On or about the same time as the Anker and CoalQuest acquisitions, we will complete a corporate reorganization. With the proceeds of this offering, we expect to retire substantially all of our debt, including debt assumed through the Anker and CoalQuest acquisitions, and, thus, we will be strategically well-positioned.
In fact, the company is being modest. It acquired Sago and the other Appalachian mines union-free after bankruptcies forced those mines to void their union contracts. A contract spelling out safe working conditions sure would have come in handy for those 13 men trapped 2 miles below ground in a soup of carbon dioxide...

Family members of the dead miners have been telling the news media they and their loved ones knew the mine wasn't safe. That didn't deter International Coal, which had the benefit of being regulated by its friends in the Bush administration; friends like former coal industry executive and lobbyist David Lauriski, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety, who, along with ex-mining industry bigwig Gail Norton at Interior, is one of several former energy industry honchos at work in the regulatory agencies of the president government. According to the folks at the Project for the Old American Century:

Shortly after taking office, Lauriski bragged to a group of coal industry executives that his regulatory agenda "is quite a bit shorter than some past agendas." Indeed, death warrants usually tend towards brevity. Part of Lauriski's abbreviated agenda is to reduce the number of times a mining company has to sample coal dust levels inside the tunnels, a move that is certain to increase incidence of black lung disease. And yes, Lauriski wants to get rid of the chest X-ray program that tests miners for black lung disease. Lauriski also wants to slash the number of mine inspectors by 25 percent.
Nice work if you can get it. There's also this guy:

Stan Suboleski: Mine Safety and Health Review Commission

Suboleski is an executive with the A.C. Massey Coal Company which, according to the United Mineworkers, has one of the worst safety records in the industry. Massey is also the company responsible for the annihilation of more than 70 miles of streams in eastern Kentucky when 300 million gallons of coal sludge spilled from one of its mines. It was the worst ecological disaster in the US since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Stan's appointment was a recess appointment, meaning that his appointment was made during a senate recess, freeing him from requiring senate confirmation hearings.

I suppose we should be thankful that at least this time, Mr. Bush didn't say the company heads and regulators were doing one heck of a job... Dubya's tender words for the families aside, his administration is the one that initiated new rules that quadrupled the amount of coal dust mining cmpanies could legally expose their employees to (oh, what a little Bush pioneering can do). And clearly all those citations and fines from the government agencies supposedly regulating the coal mining industry came to dust at International Coal. They kept right on trucking without fear of real reprisals from the friendly regulators at the Bush administration, and their workers -- with no union contract to back them up -- had two choices: go into the mine and take their chances, quit, or get fired.

Unfortunately, they don't have those choices anymore.

Mind you, I'm not saying that unions are perfect. But there are certain industries -- particularly those of the 19th and 20th century variety -- that still need them. This is one.

Update: Here is the single most ridiculous thing I think I've ever read. Ever. I'm not even sure why I'm linking to it. Wow. We really do have some pieces of work down here in Florida... Dude, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you just posted that to get Michelle Malkin's attention.

Also, California Conservatives beautifully captures the uneasy feeling I've long associated with getting one's news from Geraldo.

Update 2: ThinkProgress has more on the administration's absentee oversight of the coal industry...

Update: Apparently, Mr. Lauriski is no longer doing one heck of a job. Got himself in a little jam over some no-bid contracts it seems ... go figure... No replacement has been named so far...

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Trust us. We're only listening to terrorists...

Do you really believe that the Bush administration's clearly broad-based domestic spying program, between the Pentagon, FBI and NSA, was really limited to listening in on 500 or so al-Qaida sympathizers chatting away on their cell phones to their handlers in Harare? If you do, stop reading. You've already gone down the rabbit hole. If you have doubts, read on.

Remember this from the May 2 edition of Newsweek?

Spying: Giving Out U.S. Names

The National Security Agency is not supposed to target Americans; when a U.S. citizen's name comes up in an NSA "intercept," the agency routinely minimizes dissemination of the info by masking the name before it distributes the report to other U.S. agencies. But it's now clear the agency disseminates thousands of U.S. names. U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton told a Senate confirmation hearing he had requested that U.S. names be unmasked from NSA intercepts on a handful of occasions; the State Department said he had made 10 such requests since 2001, and that the department as a whole had made 400 similar requests over the same period. But evidence is emerging that NSA regularly supplies uncensored intercepts, including named Americans, to other agencies far more often than even many top intel officials knew.

According to information obtained by NEWSWEEK, since January 2004 NSA received—and fulfilled—between 3,000 and 3, 500 requests from other agencies to supply the names of U.S. citizens and officials (and citizens of other countries that help NSA eavesdrop around the world, including Britain, Canada and Australia) that initially were deleted from raw intercept reports. Sources say the number of names disclosed by NSA to other agencies during this period is more than 10,000. About one third of such disclosures were made to officials at the policymaking level; most of the rest were disclosed to other intel agencies and, perhaps surprisingly, only a small proportion to law-enforcement agencies. Civil libertarians expressed dismay at the numbers. An official familiar with NSA procedures insisted the agency maintains careful logs of all requests for U.S. names and doles out such info only after agency officials are satisfied "that the requester needs the information [and that it's] necessary to understand the foreign intelligence or assess its importance."

—Mark Hosenball
Okay, stop there for a moment, and consider that we now know that the NSA initiated its domestic spying operations on its own, in contravention to the rules in the very Reagan executive order the then head of the agency cited as justification -- and before going to the president.

And now, consider this story from a D.C. independent investigative journalist named Wayne Madsen, which if true, is even more explosive than the NSA spying itself (note, WMR in the piece below stands for "Wanye Madsen Report"):

NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, journalists, and members of Congress

By Wayne Madsen

NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, and their journalist and congressional contacts. WMR has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA), on the orders of the Bush administration, eavesdropped on the private conversations and e-mail of its own employees, employees of other U.S. intelligence agencies -- including the CIA and DIA -- and their contacts in the media, Congress, and oversight agencies and offices. [emphasis added]

The journalist surveillance program, code named "Firstfruits," was part of a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) program that was maintained at least until October 2004 and was authorized by then-DCI Porter Goss. Firstfruits was authorized as part of a DCI "Countering Denial and Deception" program responsible to an entity known as the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC). Since the intelligence community's reorganization, the DCI has been replaced by the Director of National Intelligence headed by John Negroponte and his deputy, former NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden.

Firstfruits was a database that contained both the articles and the transcripts of telephone and other communications of particular Washington journalists known to report on sensitive U.S. intelligence activities, particularly those involving NSA. According to NSA sources, the targeted journalists included author James Bamford, the New York Times' James Risen, the Washington Post's Vernon Loeb, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the Washington Times' Bill Gertz, UPI's John C. K. Daly, and this editor [Wayne Madsen], who has written about NSA for The Village Voice, CAQ, Intelligence Online, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

In addition, beginning in 2001 but before the 9-11 attacks, NSA began to target anyone in the U.S. intelligence community who was deemed a "disgruntled employee." According to NSA sources, this surveillance was a violation of United States Signals Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The surveillance of U.S. intelligence personnel by other intelligence personnel in the United States and abroad was conducted without any warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The targeted U.S. intelligence agency personnel included those who made contact with members of the media, including the journalists targeted by Firstfruits, as well as members of Congress, Inspectors General, and other oversight agencies. Those discovered to have spoken to journalists and oversight personnel were subjected to sudden clearance revocation and termination as "security risks."

In 2001, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rejected a number of FISA wiretap applications from Michael Resnick, the FBI supervisor in charge of counter-terrorism surveillance. The court said that some 75 warrant requests from the FBI were erroneous and that the FBI, under Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller, had misled the court and misused the FISA law on dozens of occasions. In a May 17, 2002 opinion, the presiding FISA Judge, Royce C. Lamberth (a Texan appointed by Ronald Reagan), barred Resnick from ever appearing before the court again. The ruling, released by Lamberth's successor, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelley, stated in extremely strong terms, "In virtually every instance, the government's misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court's orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors . . . How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court."

After the Justice Department appealed the FISC decision, the FISA Review court met for the first time in its history. The three-member review court, composed of Ralph Guy of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Edward Leavy of the 9th Circuit, and Laurence Silberman [of the Robb-Silberman Commission on 911 "intelligence failures"] of the D.C. Circuit, overturned the FISC decision on the Bush administration's wiretap requests.

Based on recent disclosures that the Bush administration has been using the NSA to conduct illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, it is now becoming apparent what vexed the FISC to the point that it rejected, in an unprecedented manner, numerous wiretap requests and sanctioned Resnick.

Note that Risen, along with fellow Timesman Eric Lichtblau, is one of the journos who first blew the lid off the NSA spy scandal, and Hersh has bedeviled the administration from day one. If Risen was been under surveillance, it's possible the administration already has a good idea who leaked the NSA story to him for his belated NYT story and more importantly, his book.

In that case, regarding who the administration will now target in its investigation of the spy scandal leak? The obvious place to begin would be Risen, and the righties are clearly hoping Bush investigators at Alberto Gonzalez's Justice Department will use the Judy Miller precedent to jail him (nice spelling out of the differences betweent the two cases here and here). And since only a small universe of people in and out of the administration were read into the program, the pool of "suspects" is small, including those NSA agents ordered to carry out the wiretaps.
So where to go next if you're the administration? Consider Madsen's front pager from his web-site yesterday:

January 3, 2006 -- Recent revelations that it was then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey who said that Bush's use of NSA to target U.S. persons by going around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was illegal and refused to approve the wiretaps point to a high level Bush administration official or officials being involved with the "leak" of the so-called classified surveillance program.

Comey is an old friend and New York federal prosecutor colleague of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the illegal leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's name and cover company to the media. It was Comey who recommended Fitzgerald for his special prosecutor job and placed a protective firewall between him and the political leadership of the Justice Department.

There is some speculation about whether Comey was one of the whistleblowers for the NSA surveillance story. If the Bush administration decides to go after Comey that will put them at loggerheads with Fitzgerald, resulting in a showdown within the Justice Department between career prosecutor and political hacks like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Comey is now a Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Lockheed Martin. That would place him in a potentially tenuous position since Lockheed Martin is a top Pentagon and intelligence agency contractor and neocons are rife in both the Defense Department and the intelligence community.

Recent word from NSA is that long time employees of the agency are livid that its signals intelligence has been misused by the neo-cons for political purposes. The bottom line: expect more leaks.

CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor is reporting that the "leak" of the wiretap program is very serious according to his intelligence sources. However, the Bush administration asked the New York Times over a year ago to sit on the story about the surveillance "program," meaning the Bush White House knew there was a leak for at least a year but waited until the publication of the New York Times story to begin a criminal probe. This is an indication that the criminal probe is as much a political misuse of government assets as is the NSA surveillance.

NSA sources report that the head of security for the agency is actively investigating possible leakers at the Fort Meade headquarters, continuing a witch hunt and purge that began prior to 911. The head of NSA security is Kemp Ensor. It is not known if the two Ensors are related.
Madsen has been around for awhile, and his previous targets have included Karl Rove and what he calls Bush's "Christian blood cult." But while he's definitely no friend of the Bushies, Madsen is no kook. He's a former Naval officer who once worked for the NSA. He also is or was a senior fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), described as "a non-partisan privacy public advocacy group in Washington, DC." and with whom he has advised members of Congress on security matters. As a freelance investigative journalist (and columnist), he obviously has sources. We'll see if his allegations begin to filter out into the MSM...

The administration has clearly known for over a year about Risen and Lichtblau's knowledge of the NSA program -- the NY Times told them about it -- but they waited until now to pursue this supposedly dire and important investigation into the leak. Why? And why, for the umpteenth time, did they go around the FISA court? Was there something even they knew was shady about their requests, like, perhaps, the targets included American journalists and members of Congress? None of this is proven of course, but then, nothing is known about whom the administration wiretapped. The information is supposedly so sensitive it can't be revealed. We are supposed to trust President Bush, that he is telling the truth when he says the targets were all "communicating with the enemy."

Well, I don't trust him. At this point, why would anyone?

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On whose authority?

The right has been very disciplined in its "The Constitution gives him the power" defense of the President's NSA spying gambit (and equally disciplined in failing to provide a single shred of evidence from the text of the Constitution to support the meme). But now, the latest from the House of Lichtblau at the Times suggests that the NSA may have acted, not on the president's supposed authority, but on the authority of someone called Lt. Gen. Hayden. So AJ and company, does Article II also give General Hayden the authority to spy on Americans without a warrant...? From today's NYT:

Files Say Agency Initiated Growth of Spying Effort


WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 - The National Security Agency acted on its own authority, without a formal directive from President Bush, to expand its domestic surveillance operations in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to declassified documents released Tuesday.

The N.S.A. operation prompted questions from a leading Democrat, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who said in an Oct. 11, 2001, letter to a top intelligence official that she was concerned about the agency's legal authority to expand its domestic operations, the documents showed.

Ms. Pelosi's letter, which was declassified at her request, showed much earlier concerns among lawmakers about the agency's domestic surveillance operations than had been previously known. Similar objections were expressed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, in a secret letter to Vice President Dick Cheney nearly two years later.

The letter from Ms. Pelosi, the House minority leader, also suggested that the security agency, whose mission is to eavesdrop on foreign communications, moved immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks to identify terror suspects at home by loosening restrictions on domestic eavesdropping.

The congresswoman wrote to Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then head of the N.S.A., to express her concerns after she and other members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees received a classified briefing from General Hayden on Oct. 1, 2001, about the agency's operations.

Ms. Pelosi, then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said, "I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting."

The answer, General Hayden suggested in his response to Ms. Pelosi a week later, was that it had not. "In my briefing," he wrote, "I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust N.S.A.'s collection and reporting."

It is not clear whether General Hayden referred at the briefing to the idea of warrantless eavesdropping. Parts of the letters from Ms. Pelosi and General Hayden concerning other specific aspects of the spy agency's domestic operation were blacked out because they remain classified. But officials familiar with the uncensored letters said they referred to other aspects of the domestic eavesdropping program.

Bush administration officials said on Tuesday that General Hayden, now the country's No. 2 intelligence official, had acted on the authority previously granted to the N.S.A., relying on an intelligence directive known as Executive Order 12333, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. That order set guidelines for the collection of intelligence, including by the N.S.A.

"He had authority under E.O. 12333 that had been given to him, and he briefed Congress on what he did under those authorities," said Judith A. Emmel, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. "Beyond that, we can't get into details of what was done."

So what is Executive Order 12333? Have a look for yourself. It mainly spells out the duties of various governmental agencies and heads of agencies involved in intelligence gathering, including the CIA, Departments of State and Defense and the NSA. In Part 2 of the order, however, we get to the meat of the matter:
Conduct of Intelligence Activities

2.1 Need. Accurate and timely information about the capabilities, intentions and activities of foreign powers, organizations, or persons and their agents is essential to informed decisionmaking in the areas of national defense and foreign relations. Collection of such information is a priority objective and will be pursued in a vigorous, innovative and responsible manner that is consistent with the Constitution and applicable law and respectful of the principles upon which the United States was founded.

2.2 Purpose. This Order is intended to enhance human and technical collection techniques, especially those undertaken abroad, and the acquisition of significant foreign intelligence, as well as the detection and countering of international terrorist activities and espionage conducted by foreign powers. Set forth below are certain general principles that, in addition to and consistent with applicable laws, are intended to achieve the proper balance between the acquisition of essential information and protection of individual interests. Nothing in this Order shall be construed to apply to or interfere with any authorized civil or criminal law enforcement responsibility of any department or agency.

2.3 Collection of Information. Agencies within the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain or disseminate information concerning United States persons only in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General, consistent with the authorities provided by Part 1 of this Order. Those procedures shall permit collection, retention and dissemination of the following types of information:

(a) Information that is publicly available or collected with the consent of the person concerned;

(b) Information constituting foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, including such information concerning corporations or other commercial organizations. Collection within the United States of foreign intelligence not otherwise obtainable shall be undertaken by the FBI or, when significant foreign intelligence is sought, by other authorized agencies of the Intelligence Community, provided that no foreign intelligence collection by such agencies may be undertaken for the purpose of acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons;

(c) Information obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation;

(d) Information needed to protect the safety of any persons or organizations, including those who are targets, victims or hostages of international terrorist organizations;

(e) Information needed to protect foreign intelligence or counterintelligence sources or methods from unauthorized disclosure. Collection within the United States shall be undertaken by the FBI except that other agencies of the Intelligence Community may also collect such information concerning present or former employees, present or former intelligence agency contractors or their present or former employees, or applicants for any such employment or contracting;

(f) Information concerning persons who are reasonably believed to be potential sources or contacts for the purpose of determining their suitability or credibility;

(g) Information arising out of a lawful personnel, physical or communications security investigation;

(h) Information acquired by overhead reconnaissance not directed at specific United States persons;

(i) Incidentally obtained information that may indicate involvement in activities that may violate federal, state, local or foreign laws; and

(j) Information necessary for administrative purposes.

In addition, agencies within the Intelligence Community may disseminate information, other than information derived from signals intelligence, to each appropriate agency within the Intelligence Community for purposes of allowing the recipient agency to determine whether the information is relevant to its responsibilities and can be retained by it.
Sounds like Reagan knew a hell of a lot more about the Constitution than the wingers who supposedly revere him.

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A corruption scandal of his own

Bush's friend Ariel Sharon has his own corruption scandal going, regarding illegal foreign donations to his political campaigns. The Larouchies at Executive Intelligence Review in 2003 sought to expose Americans who've paid into Sharon's coffers and there are some interesting names on the list, including Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn, Bush family crony Henry Kravis and Estee Lauder cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder. (The Guardian in 2004 had more info on the scandal and Bloomberg updated the case yesterday). Interesting...

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