Category Archives: i am a terrorist

1048

Who Runs the CIA? Outsiders for Hire.
July 8, 2007
By R.J. Hillhouse

Red alert: Our national security is being outsourced.

The most intriguing secrets of the “war on terror” have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers. They’re about the mammoth private spying industry that all but runs U.S. intelligence operations today.

Surprised? No wonder. In April, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell was poised to publicize a year-long examination of outsourcing by U.S. intelligence agencies. But the report was inexplicably delayed — and suddenly classified a national secret. What McConnell doesn’t want you to know is that the private spy industry has succeeded where no foreign government has: It has penetrated the CIA and is running the show.

Over the past five years (some say almost a decade), there has been a revolution in the intelligence community toward wide-scale outsourcing. Private companies now perform key intelligence-agency functions, to the tune, I’m told, of more than $42 billion a year. Intelligence professionals tell me that more than 50 percent of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) — the heart, brains and soul of the CIA — has been outsourced to private firms such as Abraxas, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

These firms recruit spies, create non-official cover identities and control the movements of CIA case officers. They also provide case officers and watch officers at crisis centers and regional desk officers who control clandestine operations worldwide. As the Los Angeles Times first reported last October, more than half the workforce in two key CIA stations in the fight against terrorism — Baghdad and Islamabad, Pakistan — is made up of industrial contractors, or “green badgers,” in CIA parlance.

Intelligence insiders say that entire branches of the NCS have been outsourced to private industry. These branches are still managed by U.S. government employees (“blue badgers”) who are accountable to the agency’s chain of command. But beneath them, insiders say, is a supervisory structure that’s controlled entirely by contractors; in some cases, green badgers are managing green badgers from other corporations.

Sensing problems — and possibly fearing congressional action — the CIA recently conducted a hasty review of all of its job classifications to determine which perform “essential government functions” that should not be outsourced. But it’s highly doubtful that such a short-term exercise can comprehensively identify the proper “blue/green” mix, especially because contractors’ work statements have long been carefully formulated to blur the distinction between approvable and debatable functions.

Although the contracting system is Byzantine, there’s no question that the private sector delivers high-quality professional intelligence services. Outsourcing has provided solutions to personnel-management problems that have always plagued the CIA’s operations side. Rather than tying agents up in the kind of office politics that government employees have to engage in to advance their careers, outsourcing permits them to focus on what they do best, which boosts morale and performance. Privatization also immediately increased the number of trained, experienced agents in the field after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Even though wide-scale outsourcing may not immediately endanger national security, it’s worrisome. The contractors in charge of espionage are still chiefly CIA alumni who have absorbed its public service values. But as the center of gravity shifts from the public sector to the private, more than one independent intelligence firm has developed plans to “raise” succeeding generations of officers within its own training systems. These corporate-grown agents will be inculcated with corporate values and ethics, not those of public service.

And the current piecemeal system has introduced some vulnerabilities. Historically, the system offered members of the intelligence community the kind of stability that ensured that they would keep its secrets. That dynamic is now being eroded. Contracts come and go. So do workforces. The spies of the past came of age professionally in a strong extended family, but the spies of the future will be more like children raised in multiple foster homes — at risk.

Today, when Booz Allen Hamilton loses a contract to SAIC, people rush from one to the other in a game of musical chairs, with not enough chairs for all the workers who possess both the highest security clearances and expertise in the art of espionage. Some inevitably lose out. Any good counterintelligence officer knows what can happen next. Down-on-their-luck spies begin to do what spies do best: spy. Other companies offer them jobs in exchange for industry secrets. Foreign governments approach them. And some day, terrorists will clue in to this potential workforce.

The director of national intelligence has put our security at risk by classifying the study on outsourcing and keeping the truth about this inadequately planned and managed system out of the light. Much of what has been outsourced makes sense, but much of the structure doesn’t, not for the longer term. It’s time for the public and Congress to demand the study’s release. More important, it’s past time for the industry — an industry conceived of and run by some of the best and brightest the CIA has ever produced — to come up with the kind of innovative solutions it’s legendary for, before the damage goes too deep.


Sheehan weighs run against Pelosi
Anti-war mother backs Bush’s impeachment
July 8, 2007

Cindy Sheehan, the soldier’s mother who galvanized the anti-war movement, said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unless she introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.

Sheehan said she will run against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 as an independent if Pelosi does not seek by July 23 to impeach Bush. That’s when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting next week from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.

“Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “We hired them to bring an end to the war. I’m not too far from San Francisco, so it wouldn’t be too big of a move for me. I would give her a run for her money.”

Messages left with Pelosi’s staff were not immediately returned. The White House declined to comment on Sheehan’s plans.

She plans her official candidacy announcement Tuesday. Sunday wrapped up what is expected to be her final weekend at the 5-acre Crawford lot that she sold to California radio talk show host Bree Walker, who plans to keep it open to protesters.

Sheehan announced in late May that she was leaving the anti-war movement. She said that she felt her efforts had been in vain and that she had endured smear tactics and hatred from the left, as well as the right. She said she wanted to change course.

She first came to Crawford in August 2005 during a Bush vacation, demanding to talk to him about the war that killed her son Casey in 2004. She became the face of the anti-war movement during her 26-day roadside vigil, which was joined by thousands. But it also drew counter-protests by Bush supporters, many who said she was hurting troop morale.

Disenchantment with Democrats
Sheehan, who has never held political office, recently said that she was leaving the Democratic Party because it “caved” in to the president. Last week, she announced her caravan to Washington, an undertaking she calls the “people’s accountability movement.”

“I didn’t expect to be back so soon, but the focus is different than it was before,” Sheehan said Sunday. “Instead of talking and making accusations, we’re going into communities and talking to the people who’ve been hurt by the Bush regime. We’re finding out how we can help people.”

Sheehan, who will turn 50 on Tuesday, said Bush should be impeached because she believes he misled the public about the reasons for going to war, violated the Geneva Convention by torturing detainees, and crossed the line by commuting the prison sentence of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. She said other grounds for impeachment are the domestic spying program and the “inadequate and tragic” response to Hurricane Katrina.

Libby was convicted of lying and obstructing justice in an investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

Sheehan said she hopes Pelosi files the articles of impeachment so Sheehan can move onto her next projects, including overseas trips for humanitarian work. But if not, Sheehan said she is ready to run for office.

“She let the people down…”
“I’m doing it to encourage other people to run against Congress members who aren’t doing their jobs, who are beholden to special interests,” Sheehan said. “She (Pelosi) let the people down who worked hard to put Democrats back in power, who we thought were our hope for change.”

Pelosi was elected to the House in 1987 and became the first female speaker in January.

Sheehan said she lives in a Sacramento suburb but declined to disclose which city, citing safety reasons. The area is outside Pelosi’s district, but there are no residency requirements for congressional members, according to the California secretary of state’s office.


Bush rips Democratic lawmakers’ failures
July 7, 2007
By JENNIFER LOVEN

President Bush accused Democratic lawmakers on Saturday of being unable to live up to their duties, citing Congress’ inability to pass legislation to fund the federal government.

“Democrats are failing in their responsibility to make tough decisions and spend the people’s money wisely,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “This moment is a test.”

The White House has said the failure of a broad immigration overhaul was proof that Democratic-controlled Capitol Hill cannot take on major issues. “We saw this with immigration, and we’re seeing it with some other issues where Congress is having an inability to take on major challenges,” said spokesman Tony Fratto.

The main reason the immigration measure died, however, was staunch opposition from Bush’s own base — conservatives. The president could not turn around members of his own party despite weeks of intense effort.

The immigration bill was the top item on Bush’s domestic agenda. With its demise, Bush was left to focus on the annual appropriations process and reining in federal spending.

Twelve annual spending bills dole out approximately one-third of the federal budget. They must be passed each year by Congress, before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, but lawmakers began considering this year’s batch just in mid-June. The House has passed half and the full Senate has not yet taken up any.

“Democrats have a chance to prove they are for open and transparent government by working to complete each spending bill independently and on time,” Bush said. “I urge Democrats in Congress to step forward now and pass these bills one at a time. ”

Democratic leaders say they are behind because an emergency spending measure funding the war in Iraq came first. They also had to pass an omnibus measure cleaning up last year’s appropriations mess. Then, the Republicans who then controlled Congress failed to pass into law a single spending bill for domestic agencies save the Homeland Security Department — a situation that brought little complaint from Bush.

With the Senate and House now in Democratic hands, this year’s bills are producing skirmishes with the White House that also are causing delays. Almost every domestic bill already has attracted a veto threat because it exceeds Bush’s proposed budget in certain areas.

All told, Democrats plan spending increases for annual agency budgets of about $23 billion above the White House budget request. Bush put it in terms of a five-year outlook, and said their budget plan would be $205 billion bigger than his over that period, and would include “the largest tax increase in history” by allowing some of his tax cuts to expire as planned.

The president said Democrats are embracing “the failed tax-and-spend policies of the past,” and vowed to stand firm for fiscal restraint. Republican lawmakers have pledged to support him and sustain any vetoes.

“No nation has ever taxed and spent its way to prosperity,” Bush said. “And I have made it clear that I will veto any attempt to take America down this road.”

The president also applauded a new jobs report, which showed employers adding 132,000 jobs, paychecks growing solidly and the unemployment rate staying at a low 4.5 percent in June.

Bush said the evidence that the once listless economy is regaining energy is a result of his insistence on lowering taxes and spending.

“Democratic leaders in Congress want to take our country down a different track,” he said.


Senator’s Number on Escort Service List
July 10, 2007
By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for “a very serious sin in my past” after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called “D.C. Madam.”

Vitter’s spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

“This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,” Vitter said in the statement. “Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there – with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”

The statement containing Vitter’s apology said his telephone number was on old phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates before he ran for the Senate.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was accused in federal court of racketeering by running a prostitution ring that netted more than $2 million over 13 years, beginning in 1993. She contends, however, that her escort service, Pamela Martin and Associates, was a legitimate business.

Vitter, 46, a Republican in his first Senate term, was elected to the Senate in 2004. He represented Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District in the House from 1999 to 2004.

Vitter and his wife, Wendy, live in Metairie, La., with their four children.

Palfrey’s attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, told the AP, “I’m stunned that someone would be apologizing for this.” He said Palfrey had posted the phone numbers of her escort service’s clients online Monday, but he did not know whether Vitter’s number was among them. Vitter’s statement was sent to the AP’s New Orleans bureau Monday evening.

Palfrey’s Web site contains 20 compressed files of phone records, dating from August 1994 to August 2006. No names are listed, only phone numbers. Palfrey wrote on the Web site that she believed a disk containing the records had been pirated, and wrote that she was posting the records “to thwart any possible distorted version and to ensure the integrity of the information.”

Silas Lee, a political analyst and pollster in New Orleans, spoke Monday about the possible political impact on Vitter.

“In the short term, I think the issue will dominate the discourse for a few days and weeks, and though he’s up for re-election in 2010, it should dissipate by then,” Lee told WWL-TV in New Orleans.

“But for some of his very conservative constituents, it might not be as easy. In their mind and eyes, they may not be able to forgive. The majority may overlook it in time depending on his job performance and how sincere voters believe he wants them to forgive him.”

Earlier this year Palfrey, 51, of Vallejo, Calif., asked the Supreme Court to delay the criminal case against her – a request the court denied in May. Her attorney had argued that it was unfair to proceed against Palfrey because her assets remain seized in a civil forfeiture case, meaning she lacks the money to hire an attorney of her choice.

Randall Tobias, a senior official in the State Department, resigned in April after ABC News confronted him about his use of the escort service. He admitted that he had hired women to come to his Washington condo and give him massages but denied that he had sex with the escorts.

Palfrey threatened for months to release her client list, which led prosecutors to accuse her of trying to intimidate potential witnesses.

Contending that her escort service was legal, Palfrey revealed details of its operation on ABC’s news magazine “20/20” on May 4. At the time, ABC said it could not link any information provided by Palfrey to members of Congress or White House officials but did find links to prominent business executives, NASA officials and at least five military officers.

Prosecutors contend that Palfrey knew the 130 women she employed over 13 years were engaged in prostitution. She claims that she operated a “legal, high-end erotic fantasy service” and that the women signed contracts in which they promised not to have sex with clients. The service charged a flat rate of $275 for 90 minutes, she said.

Palfrey pleaded guilty to pimping charges in 1991 and was sentenced to 18 months in a California prison.


Bush denies Congress access to aides
July 9, 2007
By LAURIE KELLMAN

President Bush directed former aides to defy congressional subpoenas on Monday, claiming executive privilege and prodding lawmakers closer to their first contempt citations against administration officials since Ronald Reagan was president.

It was the second time in as many weeks that Bush had cited executive privilege in resisting Congress’ investigation into the firings of U.S. attorneys.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding insisted that Bush was acting in good faith in withholding documents and directing the two aides — Fielding’s predecessor, Harriet Miers, and Bush’s former political director, Sara Taylor — to defy subpoenas ordering them to explain their roles in the firings over the winter.

In the standoff between branches of government, Fielding renewed the White House offer to let Miers, Taylor and other administration officials meet with congressional investigators off the record and with no transcript. He declined to explain anew the legal underpinnings of the privilege claim as the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees had directed.

“You may be assured that the president’s assertion here comports with prior practices in similar contexts, and that it has been appropriately documented,” Fielding wrote.

Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House panel, left little doubt where the showdown was headed.

“Contrary to what the White House may believe, it is the Congress and the courts that will decide whether an invocation of executive privilege is valid, not the White House unilaterally,” the Michigan Democrat said.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the posturing was a waste of time and money and a distraction from the questions at hand: Who ordered the firings, why, and whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should continue to serve or be fired.

Specter, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Democrats’ threat of taking the standoff to court on a contempt citation was spurious because the prosecutor who would consider it is a Bush appointee.

“On a case like this, does anyone believe the U.S. attorney is going to bring a criminal contempt citation against anyone?” Specter said in a telephone interview. “The U.S. attorney works for the president and it’s a discretionary matter what the U.S. attorney does.”

Historically, such standoffs over executive privilege are resolved before the full House or Senate votes on referring a congressional contempt citation to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. But rather than cooling off over the July 4th holiday, Bush and Democrats returned from the weeklong break closer to a legal confrontation.

The last contempt finding Congress sought to prosecute was against former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle in 1983. The Democratic-led House voted 413-0 to cite her for contempt for refusing to appear before a House committee. She was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge but was convicted of perjury in a separate trial.

Just before Congress left town, Bush invoked executive privilege on subpoenas lawmakers filed for any documents Taylor and Miers received or generated about the firings. On Monday, Bush again invoked privilege on the women’s scheduled testimony for this week. Through their attorneys, Bush instructed the pair not to testify on the firings.

Lawmakers said they had plenty of questions to ask the women outside the privilege claim.

Both officials were included on e-mails about the firings released earlier this year by the Justice Department, and Miers at one point suggested the firings of all 93 federal prosecutors. Taylor also could have sent e-mails on a Republican National Committee account outside the White House, according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who insisted those communications were not covered by executive privilege.

The dispute squeezes Miers and Taylor between the president’s instructions and the possibility of being held in contempt of Congress. Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, but Leahy said he expects Taylor to appear before his panel Wednesday, as scheduled. It was unclear if Miers would appear before Conyers’ committee the next day.

Fielding invoked executive privilege in dismissing a Monday morning deadline set by Conyers and Leahy for the White House to explain and list which documents it was withholding from their committees.

“We are aware of no authority by which a congressional committee may `direct’ the executive to undertake the task of creating and providing an extensive description of every document covered by an assertion of executive privilege,” he wrote.

Bush’s counsel, a veteran of executive privilege disputes, cloaked his tough rejoinder to the Democratic committee chairmen in gentlemanly language. But his message was unequivocal: The White House won’t back down.

He argued that the committees’ “open-ended” investigation into the firings had no constitutional basis, in large part because the president has the right to hire and fire his own political appointees.

Fielding cast the impasse as a natural constitutional tension between branches of government and complained that Leahy, D-Vt., and Conyers had accused the White House of acting in something other than good faith. He called for “a presumption of goodwill on all sides.”

Democrats didn’t bite.

“The president seems to think that executive privilege is a magic mantra that can hide anything, including wrongdoing,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ 2008 election campaign operation.


Gonzales was told of FBI violations
After getting report, attorney general said he knew of no wrongdoing
July 10, 2007
By John Solomon

As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.

Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The acts recounted in the FBI reports included unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.

The reports also alerted Gonzales in 2005 to problems with the FBI’s use of an anti-terrorism tool known as national security letters (NSLs), well before the Justice Department’s inspector general brought widespread abuse of the letters in 2004 and 2005 to light in a stinging report this past March.

‘In the context’ of inspector general reports
Justice officials said they could not immediately determine whether Gonzales read any of the FBI reports in 2005 and 2006 because the officials who processed them were not available yesterday. But department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that when Gonzales testified, he was speaking “in the context” of reports by the department’s inspector general before this year that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act.

“The statements from the attorney general are consistent with statements from other officials at the FBI and the department,” Roehrkasse said. He added that many of the violations the FBI disclosed were not legal violations and instead involved procedural safeguards or even typographical errors.

Each of the violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government’s surveillance activities. The format of each memo was similar, and none minced words.

“This enclosure sets forth details of investigative activity which the FBI has determined was conducted contrary to the attorney general’s guidelines for FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection and/or laws, executive orders and presidential directives,” said the April 21, 2005, letter to the Intelligence Oversight Board.

The oversight board, staffed with intelligence experts from inside and outside government, was established to report to the attorney general and president about civil liberties abuses or intelligence lapses. But Roehrkasse said the fact that a violation is reported to the board “does not mean that a USA Patriot violation exists or that an individual’s civil liberties have been abused.”

Two of the earliest reports sent to Gonzales, during his first month on the job, in February 2005, involved the FBI’s surveillance and search powers. In one case, the bureau reported a violation involving an “unconsented physical search” in a counterintelligence case. The details were redacted in the released memo, but it cited violations of safeguards “that shall protect constitutional and other legal rights.” The second violation involved electronic surveillance on phone lines that was reinitiated after the expiration deadline set by a court in a counterterrorism case.

The report sent to Gonzales on April 21, 2005, concerned a violation of the rules governing NSLs, which allow agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations to secretly gather Americans’ phone, bank and Internet records without a court order or a grand jury subpoena. In the report — also heavily redacted before being released — the FBI said its agents had received a compact disc containing information they did not request. It was viewed before being sealed in an envelope.

Gonzales received another report of an NSL-related violation a few weeks later. “A national security letter . . . contained an incorrect phone number” that resulted in agents collecting phone information that “belonged to a different U.S. person” than the suspect under investigation, stated a letter copied to the attorney general on May 6, 2005.

At least two other reports of NSL-related violations were sent to Gonzales, according to the new documents. In letters copied to him on Dec. 11, 2006, and Feb. 26, 2007, the FBI reported to the oversight board that agents had requested and obtained phone data on the wrong people.

‘I was upset…’
Nonetheless, Gonzales reacted with surprise when the Justice Department inspector general reported this March that there were pervasive problems with the FBI’s handling of NSLs and another investigative tool known as exigent circumstances letters.

“I was upset when I learned this, as was Director Mueller. To say that I am concerned about what has been revealed in this report would be an enormous understatement,” Gonzales said in a speech March 9, referring to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. The attorney general added that he believed back in 2005, before the Patriot Act was renewed, that there were no problems with NSLs. “I’ve come to learn that I was wrong,” he said, making no mention of the FBI reports sent to him.

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “I think these documents raise some very serious questions about how much the attorney general knew about the FBI’s misuse of surveillance powers and when he knew it.” A lawsuit by Hofmann’s group seeking internal FBI documents about NSLs prompted the release of the reports.

Caroline Fredrickson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new documents raise questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress at a moment when lawmakers were poised to renew the Patriot Act and keenly sought assurances that there were no abuses. “It was extremely important,” she said of Gonzales’s 2005 testimony. “The attorney general said there are no problems with the Patriot Act, and there was no counterevidence at the time.”

Some of the reports describe rules violations that the FBI decided not to report to the intelligence board. In February 2006, for example, FBI officials wrote that agents sent a person’s phone records, which they had obtained from a provider under a national security letter, to an outside party. The mistake was blamed on “an error in the mail handling.” When the third party sent the material back, the bureau decided not to report the mistake as a violation.

‘Overcollected’ evidence
The memos also detail instances in which the FBI wrote out new NSLs to cover evidence that had been mistakenly collected. In a June 30, 2006, e-mail, for instance, an FBI supervisor asked an agent who had “overcollected” evidence under a national security letter to forward his original request to lawyers. “We would like to check the specific language to see if there is anything in the body that would cover the extra material they gave,” the supervisor wrote.

Sometimes the FBI reached seemingly contradictory conclusions about the gravity of its errors. On May 6, 2005, the bureau decided that it needed to report a violation when agents made an “inadvertent” request for data for the wrong phone number. But on June 1, 2006, in a similar wrong-number case, the bureau concluded that a violation did not need to be reported because the agent acted “in good faith.”

1040

I think war is a dangerous place.
     — George W. Bush

Our enemies…never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
     — George W. Bush

Our nation is somewhat sad, but we’re angry. There’s a certain level of blood lust, but we won’t let it drive our reaction. We’re steady, clear-eyed and patient, but pretty soon we’ll have to start displaying scalps.
     — George W. Bush

If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.
     — George W. Bush

I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.
     — George W. Bush

…the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.
     — George W. Bush

Free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.
     — George W. Bush

We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace.
     — George W. Bush

Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously–and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.
     — George W. Bush

These people are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi citizens, and they want us to leave…I think the world would be better off if we did leave…
     — George W. Bush (on Iraqi Insurgency)

I respect the jury’s decision.
     — George Bush, seconds before changing the decision of the jury


NYC man held for reciting 1st Amendment
July 2, 2007
By TOM HAYS

Reverend Billy says he wants the New York Police Department to get right with the Constitution.

The performance artist — a cross between a street-corner preacher and an Elvis impersonator (but blond) — was arrested on harassment charges last week while reciting the First Amendment through a megaphone in Manhattan’s Union Square. On Monday, he donned his trademark white suit and returned to the scene of his alleged sin to demand that police repent.

“It feels so good to be back on the very spot where I was denied my First Amendment rights by reciting the First Amendment,” he told reporters over the din of an NYPD helicopter hovering overhead.

Reverend Billy, whose real name is Bill Talen, was joined by women in red choir robes who sang a hymn version of the amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Other activists distributed an amateur videotape of his arrest.

Eyes closed and hands raised, the pretend pastor whooped, “Bill of Rights-elujah!”

Talen, 57, has spent years using his mock persona as a fire-and-brimstone evangelist to rail against consumer culture — what he portrays as the Disneyfication of Manhattan. He was arrested this year on misdemeanor trespassing charges for protesting at a Starbucks; that case is pending.

His latest run-in with the law began after he turned up to support people gathering in Union Square last Friday for the monthly Critical Mass bike ride asserting cyclists’ rights.

The NYPD has aggressively policed the rides, arguing that they can interfere with traffic and threaten public safety. Advocates for Critical Mass have accused police of infringing on the riders’ constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly.

The video shows Talen preaching the “44 beautiful words of the First Amendment” to a visibly annoyed congregation of police commanders huddled a few feet away. At one point, an officer approaches and warns him that his sermon is breaking the law.

“What’s the law?” Talen asks.

“Harassment,” the officer answers.

When Talen persists, another officer comes up behind him and slaps on handcuffs. When being put in a police van, the satirist shouts, “We have a right to peaceful assembly!”

Talen was held overnight before being released without bail. A criminal complaint alleges he harassed police officers by approaching them and “repeatedly shouting at such officers through a non-electric bullhorn.”

Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, appearing with Talen on Monday, called on prosecutors to drop the charges.

“The arrest was a false arrest,” Siegel said. “What Reverend Billy did last Friday night does not constitute illegal conduct.”

Prosecutors declined to comment. The New York Police Department, contacted Monday evening, said it had no comment.


White House won’t rule out Libby pardon
July 3, 2007
By MATT APUZZO

The White House on Tuesday declined to rule out the possibility of an eventual pardon for former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. But spokesman Tony Snow said, for now, President Bush is satisfied with his decision to commute Libby’s 2 1/2-year prison sentence.

“He thought any jail time was excessive. He did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail,” Snow said.

Snow said that even with Bush’s decision, Libby remains with a felony conviction on his record, two years’ probation, a $250,000 fine and probable loss of his legal career. “This is hardly a slap on the wrist,” Snow said.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to prison, declined Tuesday to discuss the case or his views on sentencing. “To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday’s events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president’s commutation decision, which would be inappropriate,” the judge said in an e-mail.

With prison seeming all but certain for Libby, Bush on Monday spared the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. His move came just five hours after a federal appeals court panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. The Bureau of Prisons had already assigned Libby a prison identification number.

Snow was pressed several times on whether the president might eventually grant a full pardon to Libby, who had been convicted of lying and conspiracy in the CIA leak investigation. The press secretary declined to say anything categorically.

“The reason I’m not going to say I’m not going to close a door on a pardon,” Snow said, “Scooter Libby may petition for one.”

“The president thinks that he has dealt with the situation properly,” he added. “There is always a possibility or there’s an avenue open for anybody to petition for consideration of a pardon.”

Bush’s decision was sharply criticized by Democrats. Republicans were more subdued, with some welcoming the decision and some conservatives saying Bush should have gone further.

“The president’s getting pounding on the right for not granting a full pardon,” Snow suggested.

Asked whether Cheney had weighed in on the decision to commute Libby’s sentence, Snow said, “I don’t have direct knowledge. But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I’m sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views.”


Experts: Terror suspects not brainwashed
July 3, 2007
By THOMAS WAGNER

Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s No. 2. George Habash of the PLO. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman in Gaza. All trained as doctors — as did at least seven suspects in the failed bomb attacks in Britain.

The general public often is shocked to see that doctors — the world’s healers — can become militants or even terrorist killers. But some experts believe it is part of a socio-economic trend in which wealthy families highly educate their sons, who sometimes become radical and have the education they need to become leaders.

“People often assume that terrorists are poor, disadvantaged people who are brainwashed or need the money. But the ones who actually perpetrate violence without handlers and manipulation are highly intelligent by necessity,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.

“It’s only the smart ones who will survive security pressures in a subversive existence. Sometimes they are doctors, a profession that provides a brilliant cover and allows entry to countries like Britain,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

At least five of the eight suspects in the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, were identified as doctors from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and India, while staff at a Glasgow hospital said two others were a doctor and a medical student.

“It sends rather a chill down the spine to think that people’s values can be so perverted,” said Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the British government.

“It means obviously that you can’t make any assumptions, or have any preconceptions about the kind of people who might become terrorists. It does mean that you widen the net, obviously,” she said on BBC-TV.

Newspapers carried headlines such as “Dr. Terror,” “Doctor Evil” and “Terror cell in the NHS,” the country’s National Health Service.

“It’s really shocking,” said Elaine Paige, an office manager in London. “Given what doctors do in clinics and operating rooms, how could they want to destroy lives?”

But Robert Courtney, a designer in the British capital, said: “Nothing surprises me these days.”

“People from all walks of life are being pushed toward violence by the horrible situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel and Palestine,” he said.

If doctors were leading the cell that plotted the attacks — which Prime Minister Gordon Brown said were “associated with al-Qaida” — it wouldn’t be a first. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian who trained as a doctor, is Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, and he often speaks out in audio tapes on behalf of al-Qaida in favor of groups such as Hamas in Gaza.

Three doctors have played prominent roles in militant Islamic groups in Gaza in recent years. Mahmoud Zahar, one of the main Hamas leaders, was the personal physician of the founder of the group, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Zahar became a Hamas spokesman and leader in the late 1980s alongside his mentor. Yassin, a paraplegic, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004.

Yassin’s successor was Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a pediatrician. He was killed by an Israeli airstrike shortly after Yassin. He was introduced to radical Islam during his medical studies in Cairo.

Also, the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi, received his medical degree in Cairo in 1980. He returned to Gaza and formed the militant group a year later.

Habash, who trained as a pediatrician in a family of Christian Palestinian merchants, founded and led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was behind a spate of aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said people often wrongly conclude that a good education and prosperity works against development of terrorists.

“The Sept. 11 bombers were better educated than the average person,” said Kramer, who also is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank. “Educated people have long been drafted to fight in jihadi causes. For example, many mujahadeen fighting the Russians in Afghanistan were highly educated engineers and doctors.”

Whatever happens in the fast-moving investigation of Britain’s terrorist attacks they already have opened a debate about the country’s reliance on foreign doctors.

For years, foreign physicians who lived outside the European Union could travel to Britain on a regular visa — without a job offer or a work permit — and find employment with the National Health Service for up to three years.

That freewheeling system was designed to help Britain cope with a doctor shortage. Last year the regulations were tightened — not out of concern for security but because Britain needs fewer foreign doctors. But today’s National Health Service clinics and hospitals still rely heavily on them.

According to figures supplied by the General Medical Council, a regulatory agency, 37 percent of the 238,739 doctors practicing in Britain trained and qualified as physicians overseas. That includes 27,558 doctors from India, 6,634 from Pakistan, 1,987 from Iraq and 184 from Jordan, the agency said.


and, finally, this comes under the category DUH!

if they don’t remember where osama bin laden, then they might just as well create another one… you can’t have too many osama bin ladens hanging around…

Armed Sunnis: gains now, risks later
July 3, 2007
By ROBERT H. REID

The U.S. tactic of using armed Sunni tribesmen in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq offers short-term gains to weaken the insurgency, but could set the stage for a full-scale sectarian civil war when the Americans begin to draw down their forces.

The danger that these alliances of convenience could backfire becomes all the greater if Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders fail to achieve genuine political reconciliation — the key to ending the conflict.

Instead, signs point to further polarization, despite some progress hammering out deals on sharing the oil wealth and returning many former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs. Parliament could take up the oil bill as early as Wednesday.

“If anything, the use of Sunni tribes in the West has created new forms of Sunni versus Shiite polarization,” former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman told a House committee last week.

Nevertheless, U.S. military officials insist the strategy is working to quell the violence, especially in Anbar province. The western desert region — threaded by the Euphrates River — had been largely written off as a haven for insurgents. But major Sunni tribal leaders agreed to come together to fight al-Qaida in Iraq late last year.

Since then, al-Qaida in Iraq has been mostly driven out of Anbar’s main population centers, according to Marine Brig. Gen. John Allen, the deputy commander for U.S. forces in western Iraq. Those include longtime troublespots such as Ramadi, Haditha and Fallujah that had been the major strongholds of the Sunni insurgency.

Encouraged by the shift in Anbar, U.S. commanders have sought to replicate the model in Diyala province northwest of Baghdad — the scene of an ongoing offensive to regain control of the provincial capital of Baqouba.

Breakaway members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, an insurgent group led by former Saddam backers, serve as scouts and intelligence gatherers, identifying al-Qaida hideouts.

“They are tired of al Qaida and the influence of al Qaida in their tribes and in their neighborhoods,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, the U.S. commander for Baghdad, told reporters last week. “And they want them cleaned out and they want to form an alliance in order to rid themselves of this blight.”

U.S. officials insist they aren’t actually arming the Sunni tribesmen but simply utilizing them. Nearly every household in Iraq has at least one weapon and the country is awash in guns.

“We’ve given them a little ammo, some flares, but mostly humanitarian aid. We’re not arming these guys, we’re just changing the direction they’re pointing their guns in,” Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. ground forces commander, said last month.

Regardless of where the weapons come from, the risk is that the Sunni tribesmen won’t cooperate with the Shiite-led central government if they succeed in crushing their al-Qaida rivals. The effort could end up simply creating new Sunni militias, further undermining the authority of an already weak central government.

In rural areas, tribal loyalty is often stronger than allegiance to the national government, especially when the central administration is weak.

“There’s no question that the people with guns in Iraq are looking after their own self-interest,” said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “And they don’t have any sentimental attachment to the central government in Baghdad.”

Mindful of that risk, the Shiite government’s initial reaction to arming Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere was cool. Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said arming Sunnis was simply creating new militias.

Later, al-Maliki said his remarks were misunderstood and that the program should be carried out “under the supervision of Iraqi authorities and through the government.”

But the effort to arm the Sunnis grew in part out of U.S. frustration with Iraqi officials, notably in the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.

U.S. officers had complained privately that they had found Sunnis willing to join but the Shiites at the ministry in Baghdad would not authorize the slots.

“We’ve been forced to go beyond the central government because the central government’s reach doesn’t extend much beyond the Green Zone, and local police are often extensions of militias in any event,” Alterman said. “We’ve been forced to cut out the middleman because there’s no effective middleman to be had.”

The success of the program will likely depend on whether the Iraqis make progress in reaching power sharing agreements among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities. That would reinforce a sense of national cohesion — which the country now lacks.

Prospects for lasting agreements appear uncertain. The main Sunni political bloc has refused to attend Cabinet meetings to protest an arrest warrant against a colleague. Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite faction has also suspended its participation in government.

Those issues would have to be resolved before meaningful agreements can be struck.

Frederick Kagan, a former West Point professor and senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, acknowledges that the Americans and Iraqis must be careful to ensure that the Sunnis are eventually integrated into the security forces.

But Kagan believes the gamble is worth it.

“We are serving as the bridge between the Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders and the Shia government,” Kagan wrote in The Weekly Standard. “Before the end of last year, there were virtually no Sunnis willing to step on that bridge. Now, five months into the surge, tens of thousands are walking on it.”


1031

The Rich Are Making the Poor Poorer
A bloated overclass can drag down a society as surely as a swelling underclass. A great deal of the wealth at the top is built on the low-wage labor of the poor.
June 13, 2007
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Twenty years ago it was risky to point out the growing inequality in America. I did it in a New York Times essay and was quickly denounced, in the Washington Times, as a “Marxist.” If only. I’ve never been able to get through more than a couple of pages of Das Kapital, even in English, and the Grundrisse functions like Rozerem.

But it no longer takes a Marxist, real or alleged, to see that America is being polarized between the super-rich and the sub-rich everyone else. In Sunday’s New York Times magazine we learn that Larry Summers, the centrist Democratic economist and former Harvard president, is now obsessed with the statistic that, since 1979, the share of pretax income going to the top 1 percent of American households has risen by 7 percentage points, to 16 percent. At the same time, the share of income going to the bottom 80 percent has fallen by 7 percentage points.

As the Times puts it: “It’s as if every household in that bottom 80 percent is writing a check for $7,000 every year and sending it to the top 1 percent.” Summers now admits that his former cheerleading for the corporate-dominated global economy feels like “pretty thin gruel.”

But the moderate-to-conservative economic thinkers who long refused to think about class polarization have a fallback position, sketched out by Roger Lowenstein in an essay in the same issue of the New York Times magazine that features Larry Summers’ sobered mood.

Briefly put: As long as the middle class is still trudging along and the poor are not starving flamboyantly in the streets, what does it matter if the super-rich are absorbing an ever larger share of the national income?

In Lowenstein’s view: “…whether Roger Clemens, who will get something like $10,000 for every pitch he throws, earns 100 times or 200 times what I earn is kind of irrelevant. My kids still have health care, and they go to decent schools. It’s not the rich people who are pulling away at the top who are the problem…”

Well, there is a problem with the super-rich, several of them in fact. A bloated overclass can drag down a society as surely as a swelling underclass.

First, the Clemens example distracts from the reality that a great deal of the wealth at the top is built on the low-wage labor of the poor. Take Wal-Mart, our largest private employer and premiere exploiter of the working class: Every year, 4 or 5 of the people on Forbes magazine’s list of the ten richest Americans carry the surname Walton, meaning they are the children, nieces, and nephews of Wal-Mart’s founder.

You think it’s a coincidence that this union-busting low-wage retail empire happens to have generated a $200 billion family fortune?

Second, though a lot of today’s wealth is being made in the financial industry, by means that are occult to the average citizen and do not seem to involve much labor of any kind, we all pay a price, somewhere down the line. All those late fees, puffed up interest rates and exorbitant charges for low-balance checking accounts do not, as far as I can determine, go to soup kitchens.

Third, the overclass bids up the price of goods that ordinary people also need — housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires’ horse farms displace the rural poor and middle class. Similarly, the rich can swallow tuitions of $40,000 and up, making a college education increasingly a privilege of the upper classes.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the huge concentration of wealth at the top is routinely used to tilt the political process in favor of the wealthy. Yes, we should acknowledge the philanthropic efforts of exceptional billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates.

But if we don’t end up with universal health insurance in the next few years, it won’t be because the average American isn’t pining for relief from escalating medical costs. It may well turn out to be because Hillary Clinton is, as The Nation reports, “the number-one Congressional recipient of donations from the healthcare industry.” And who do you think demanded those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — the AFLCIO.

Lowenstein notes, that “if the very upper crust were banished to a Caribbean island, the America that remained would be a lot more egalitarian.”

Well, duh. The point is that it would also be more prosperous, at the individual level, and democratic. In fact, why give the upper crust an island in the Caribbean? After all they’ve done for us recently, I think the Aleutians should be more than adequate.


Resegregation Now
June 29, 2007

The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.

Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation’s driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn’t always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously.

Yesterday, the court’s radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the majority’s fifth vote, reined in the ruling somewhat by signing only part of the majority opinion and writing separately to underscore that some limited programs that take race into account are still acceptable. But it is unclear how much room his analysis will leave, in practice, for school districts to promote integration. His unwillingness to uphold Seattle’s and Louisville’s relatively modest plans is certainly a discouraging sign.

In an eloquent dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explained just how sharp a break the decision is with history. The Supreme Court has often ordered schools to use race-conscious remedies, and it has unanimously held that deciding to make assignments based on race “to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society” is “within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities.”

Chief Justice Roberts, who assured the Senate at his confirmation hearings that he respected precedent, and Brown in particular, eagerly set these precedents aside. The right wing of the court also tossed aside two other principles they claim to hold dear. Their campaign for “federalism,” or scaling back federal power so states and localities have more authority, argued for upholding the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., programs. So did their supposed opposition to “judicial activism.” This decision is the height of activism: federal judges relying on the Constitution to tell elected local officials what to do.

The nation is getting more diverse, but by many measures public schools are becoming more segregated. More than one in six black children now attend schools that are 99 to 100 percent minority. This resegregation is likely to get appreciably worse as a result of the court’s ruling.

There should be no mistaking just how radical this decision is. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said it was his “firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.” He also noted the “cruel irony” of the court relying on Brown v. Board of Education while robbing that landmark ruling of much of its force and spirit. The citizens of Louisville and Seattle, and the rest of the nation, can ponder the majority’s kind words about Brown as they get to work today making their schools, and their cities, more segregated.


plus:
Failed States Index Scores 2007 from the Fund For Peace… it’s instructive to note that the United States is not in the “Sustainable” category, but in the “Moderate” category… i bet most people you ask wouldn’t know that…

1030

White House, Cheney’s office subpoenaed
June 28, 2007
By LAURIE KELLMAN

The Senate subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office Wednesday, demanding documents and elevating the confrontation with President Bush over the administration’s warrant-free eavesdropping on Americans.

Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee also is summoning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss the program and an array of other matters that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs, committee chairman Patrick Leahy announced.

Leahy, D-Vt., raised questions about previous testimony by one of Bush’s appeals court nominees and said he wouldn’t let such matters pass.

“If there have been lies told to us, we’ll refer it to the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney for whatever legal action they think is appropriate,” Leahy told reporters. He did just that Wednesday, referring questions about testimony by former White House aide Brett Kavanaugh, who now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The escalation is part of the Democrats’ effort to hold the administration to account for the way it has conducted the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The subpoenas extend the probe into the private sector, demanding among other things documents on any agreements that telecommunications companies made to cooperate with the surveillance program.

The White House contends that its search for would-be terrorists is legal, necessary and effective — pointing out frequently that there have been no further attacks on American soil. Administration officials say they have given classified information — such as details about the eavesdropping program, which is now under court supervision — to the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress.

Echoing its response to previous congressional subpoenas to former administration officials Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, the White House gave no indication that it would comply with the new ones.

“We’re aware of the committee’s action and will respond appropriately,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “It’s unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation.”

In fact, the Judiciary Committee’s three most senior Republicans — Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, former chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — sided with Democrats on the 13-3 vote last week to give Leahy the power to issue the subpoenas.

The showdown between the White House and Congress could land in federal court.

Also named in subpoenas signed by Leahy were the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The four parties — the White House, Cheney’s office, the Justice Department and the National Security Council — have until July 18 to comply, Leahy said. He added that, like House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., he would consider pursuing contempt citations against those who refuse.

Gonzales, in Spokane, Wash., on Wednesday to discuss gang issues with local officials, said he had not seen the subpoena documents and could not comment on them directly.

“There are competing institutional interests,” Gonzales said.

The Judiciary committees have issued the subpoenas as part of a look at how much influence the White House exerts over the Justice Department and its chief, Gonzales.

The probe, in its sixth month, began with an investigation into whether administration officials ordered the firings of eight federal prosecutors for political reasons. The Judiciary committees subpoenaed Miers, one-time White House legal counsel, and Taylor, a former political director, though they have yet to testify.

Now, with senators of both parties concerned about the constitutionality of the administration’s efforts to root out terrorism suspects in the United States, the committee has shifted to the broader question of Gonzales’ stewardship of Justice.

The issue concerning Kavanaugh, a former White House staff secretary, is whether he misled the Senate panel during his confirmation hearing last year about how much he was involved in crafting the administration’s policy on enemy combatants.

The Bush administration secretly launched the eavesdropping program, run by the National Security Agency, in 2001 to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspected of having terrorist links. The program, which the administration said did not require investigators to seek warrants before conducting surveillance, was revealed in December 2005.

After the program was challenged in court, Bush put it under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established in 1978. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.

The subpoenas seek a wide array of documents from the Sept. 11 attacks to the present. Among them are any that include analysis or opinions from Justice, NSA, the Defense Department, the White House, or “any entity within the executive branch” on the legality of the electronic surveillance program.

Debate continues over whether the program violates people’s civil liberties. The administration has gone to great lengths to keep it running.

Interest was raised by vivid testimony last month by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey about the extent of the White House’s effort to override the Justice Department’s objections to the program in 2004.

Comey told the Judiciary Committee that Gonzales, then-White House counsel, tried to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft to reverse course and recertify the program. At the time, Ashcroft lay in intensive care, recovering form gall bladder surgery.

Ashcroft refused, as did Comey, who temporarily held the power of the attorney general’s office during his boss’ illness.

The White House recertified the program unilaterally. Ashcroft, Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller and their staffs prepared to resign. Bush ultimately relented and made changes the Justice officials had demanded, and the agency eventually recertified it.

Fratto defended the surveillance program as “lawful” and “limited.”

“It’s specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans’ civil liberties,” Fratto said. “The program is classified for a reason — its purpose is to track down and stop terrorist planning. We remain steadfast in our commitment to keeping Americans safe from an enemy determined to use any means possible — including the latest in technology — to attack us.”


but…

Bush won’t supply subpoenaed documents
June 28, 2007
By TERENCE HUNT

President Bush, in a constitutional showdown with Congress, claimed executive privilege Thursday and rejected demands for White House documents and testimony about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

His decision was denounced as “Nixonian stonewalling” by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush rejected subpoenas for documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. The White House made clear neither one would testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas.

Presidential counsel Fred Fielding said Bush had made a reasonable attempt at compromise but Congress forced the confrontation by issuing subpoenas. “With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation.”

The assertion of executive privilege was the latest turn in increasingly hostile standoffs between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the Iraq war, executive power, the war on terror and Vice President Dick Cheney’s authority. A day earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered subpoenas to the offices of Bush, Cheney, the national security adviser and the Justice Department about the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

While weakened by the Iraq war and poor approval ratings in the polls, Bush has been adamant not to cede ground to Congress.

“Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Bush’s assertion of executive privilege was “unprecedented in its breadth and scope” and displayed “an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow weighed in with unusually sharp criticism of Congress. He accused Democrats of trying “to make life difficult for the White House. It also may explain why this is the least popular Congress in decades, because you do have what appears to be a strategy of destruction, rather than cooperation.”

Over the years, Congress and the White House have avoided a full-blown court test about the constitutional balance of power and whether the president can refuse demands from Congress. Lawmakers could vote to cite witnesses for contempt and refer the matter to the local U.S. attorney to bring before a grand jury. Since 1975, 10 senior administration officials have been cited but the disputes were all resolved before getting to court.

Congressional committees sought the documents and testimony in their investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ stewardship of the Justice Department and the firing of eight federal attorneys over the winter. Democrats say the firings were an example of improper political influence. The White House contends that U.S. attorneys are political appointees who can be hired and fired for almost any reason.

In a letter to Leahy and Conyers, Fielding said Bush had “attempted to chart a course of cooperation” by releasing more than 8,500 pages of documents and sending Gonzales and other officials to Capitol Hill to testify.

The president also had offered to make Miers, Taylor, political strategist Karl Rove and their aides available to be interviewed by the Judiciary committees in closed-door sessions, without transcripts and not under oath. Leahy and Conyers rejected that proposal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said the House and Senate panels should accept Bush’s original offer.

Impatient with the “lagging” pace of the investigation into the U.S. attorney firings, Specter said he asked Fielding during a phone call Wednesday night whether the president would agree to transcripts on the interviews. Fielding’s answer: No.

“I think we ought to take what information we can get now and try to wrap this up,” Specter told reporters. That wouldn’t preclude Congress from reissuing subpoenas if lawmakers do not get enough answers, Specter said.

Fielding explained Bush’s position on executive privilege this way: “For the president to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisers and between those advisers and others within and outside the Executive Branch.”

This “bedrock presidential prerogative” exists, in part, to protect the president from being compelled to disclose such communications to Congress, Fielding argued.

In a slap at the committees, Fielding said, “There is no demonstration that the documents and information you seek by subpoena are critically important to any legislative initiatives that you may be pursuing or intending to pursue.”

It was the second time in his administration that Bush has exerted executive privilege, said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. The first instance was in December 2001, to rebuff Congress’ demands for Clinton administration documents.

The most famous claim of executive privilege was in 1974, when President Nixon went to the Supreme Court to avoid surrendering White House tape recordings in the Watergate scandal. That was in a criminal investigation, not a demand from Congress. The court unanimously ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes.


because…

Following Bush Signing Statements, Federal Agencies Ignore 30 Percent Of Laws Passed Last Year
June 18, 2007

Federal agencies ignored 30 percent of the laws Bush objected to in signing statements last year, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office. In 2006, President Bush issued signing statements for 11 out of the 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress, claiming a right to bypass a total of 160 provisions in them.

In a sample set of 19 provisions, the GAO found that “10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine.”

The report, which was requested by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-WV), gives the first indication of the impact that President Bush’s signing statements have had on the enforcement of laws passed by Congress.

In a statement, Byrd said the report shows the Bush administration’s desire to grab as much power as possible:

The White House cannot pick and choose which laws it follows and which it ignores. When a president signs a bill into law, the president signs the entire bill. The Administration cannot be in the business of cherry picking the laws it likes and the laws it doesn’t. This GAO opinion underscores the fact that the Bush White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people’s branch of government to the sidelines….We must continue to demand accountability and openness from this White House to counter this power grab.

Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements challenging over 1,100 laws, claiming that he has the right to bypass them if they interfere with his alleged presidential powers. Though signing statements have been utilized by most presidents, Bush has used them to object to more laws than all previous presidents combined.

Here are a few of the laws Bush has controversially issued signing statements about:

– In 2005, after Congress passed a law outlawing the torture of detainees, Bush issued a signing statement saying that he would “construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief,” which experts say means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions.

– In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Administration in response to FEMA’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina. When Bush signed the law, he issued a statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions and appoint a FEMA chief based on whatever qualifications he wanted.

– In 2006, Bush signed a statement saying he would view a ban on “the transfer of nuclear technology to India if it violates international non proliferation guidelines” as “advisory.” Indian newspapers reported that the government of India took note of Bush’s statement, “raising the possibility it would not take the ban seriously.”

The GAO report makes a point of noting that although “the agencies did not execute the provisions as enacted,” it cannot necessarily be concluded that “agency noncompliance was the result of the President’s signing statements.” It does, however, provide creedence to claims that confusion created by differing congressional and presidential interpretations of laws could lead increased laxity in the proper enforcement of the law.

UPDATE: “We expect to continue to use statements where appropriate, on a bill-by-bill basis,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.


and this is part of the reason why…

Within the architecture of denial and duplicity: The Democratic Party and the infantile omnipotence of the ruling class
June 26, 2007
By Phil Rockstroh

Why did the Democratic Congress betray the voting public?

Betrayal is often a consequence of wishful thinking. It’s the world’s way of delivering the life lesson that it’s time to shed the vanity of one’s innocence and grow-the-hell-up. Apropos, here’s lesson number one for political innocents: Power serves the perpetuation of power. In an era of runaway corporate capitalism, the political elite exist to serve the corporate elite. It’s that simple.

Why do the elites lie so brazenly? Ironically, because they believe they’re entitled to by virtue of their superior sense of morality. How did they come to this arrogant conclusion? Because they think they’re better than us. If they believe in anything at all, it is this: They view us as a reeking collection of wretched, baseborn rabble, who are, on an individual level, a few billion neurons short of being governable by honest means.

Yes, you read that correctly: They believe they’re better than you. When they lie and flout the rules and assert that the rule of law doesn’t apply to them or refuse to impeach fellow members of their political and social class who break the law, it is because they have convinced themselves it is best for society as a whole.

How did they come by such self-serving convictions? The massive extent of their privilege has convinced them that they’re the quintessence of human virtue, that they’re the most gifted of all golden children ever kissed by the radiant light of the sun. In other words, they’re the worst sort of emotionally arrested brats — spoiled children inhabiting adult bodies who mistake their feelings of infantile omnipotence for the benediction of superior ability. “I’m so special that what’s good for me is good for the world,” amounts to the sum total of their childish creed. In the case of narcissists such as these, over time, self-interest and systems of belief grow intertwined. Hence, within their warped, self-justifying belief systems, their actions, however mercenary, become acts of altruism.

The elites don’t exactly believe their own lies; rather, they proceed from neocon guru Leo Strauss’ dictum (the modus operandi of the ruling classes) that it is necessary to promulgate “noble lies” to society’s lower orders. This sort of virtuous mendacity must be practiced, because those varieties of upright apes (you and I) must be spared the complexities of the truth; otherwise, it will cause us to grow dangerously agitated — will cause us to rattle the bars of our cages and fling poop at our betters. They believe it’s better to ply us with lies because it’s less trouble then having to hose us down in our filthy cages. In this way, they believe, all naked apes will have a more agreeable existence within the hierarchy-bound monkey house of capitalism.

This may help to better understand the Washington establishment and its courtesan punditry who serve to reinforce their ceaseless narrative of exceptionalism. This is why they’ve disingenuously covered up the infantilism of George W. Bush for so long: Little Dubya is the id of the ruling class made manifest — he’s their troubled child, who, by his destructive actions, cracks the deceptively normal veneer of a miserable family and reveals the rot within. At a certain level, it’s damn entertaining: his instability so shakes the foundation of the house that it causes the skeletons in its closets to dance.

By engaging in a mode of being so careless it amounts to public immolation, these corrupt elitists are bringing the empire down. There is nothing new in this: Such recklessness is the method by which cunning strivers commit suicide.

Those who take the trouble to look will comprehend the disastrous results of the ruling elites’ pathology: wars of choice sold to a credulous citizenry by public relations confidence artists; a predatory economy that benefits 1 percent of the population; a demoralized, deeply ignorant populace who are either unaware of or indifferent to the difference between the virtues and vicissitudes of the electoral processes of a democratic republic, in contrast to the schlock circus, financed by big money corporatists, being inflicted upon us at present.

Moreover, the elitists’ barriers of isolation and exclusion play out among the classes below as an idiot’s mimicry of soulless gated “communities” and the pernicious craving for a vast border wall — all an imitation of the ruling class’s paranoia-driven compulsion for isolation and their narcissistic obsession with exclusivity.

Perhaps, we should cover the country in an enormous sheet of cellophane and place a zip-lock seal at its southern border, or, better yet — in the interest of being more metaphorically accurate — let’s simply zip the entire land mass of the U.S. into a body bag and be done with it.

What will be at the root of the empire’s demise? It seems the elite of the nation will succumb to “Small World Syndrome” — that malady borne of incurable careerism, a form of self-induced cretinism that reduces the vast and intricate world to only those things that advance the goals of its egoistical sufferers. It is a degenerative disease that winnows down the consciousness of those afflicted to a banal nub of awareness, engendering the shallowness of character on display in the corporate media and the arrogance and cluelessness of the empire’s business and political classes. It possesses a love of little but mammon; it is the myth of Midas, manifested in the hoarding of hedge funds; it is the tale of an idiot gibbering over his collection of used string.

What can be done? In these dangerous times, credulousness to party dogma is as dangerous as a fundamentalist Christian’s literal interpretation of the Bible: There is no need to squander the hours searching for an “intelligent design” within the architecture of denial and duplicity built into this claptrap system — a system that we have collaborated in constructing by our loyalty to political parties that are, in return, neither loyal to us nor any idea, policy or principle that doesn’t maintain the corporate status quo.

Accordingly, we must make the elites of the Democratic Party accountable for their betrayal or we ourselves will become complicit. The faith of Democratic partisans in their degraded party is analogous to Bush and his loyalists still believing they can achieve victory in Iraq and the delusion-based wing of the Republican Party that, a few years ago, clung to the belief, regardless of facts, that Terri Schiavo’s brain was not irreparably damaged and she would someday rise from her hospital bed and bless the heavens for them and their unwavering devotion to her cause.

Faith-based Democrats are equally as delusional. Only their fantasies don’t flow from the belief in a mythical father figure, existing somewhere in the boundless sky, who scripture proclaims has a deep concern for the fate of all things, from fallen sparrows to medically manipulated stem cells; rather, their beliefs are based on the bughouse crazy notion that the elites of the Democratic Party could give a fallen sparrow’s ass about the circumstances of their lives.

In the same manner, I could never reconcile myself with the Judea/Christian/Islamic conception of god — some strange, invisible, “who’s-your-daddy-in-the-sky,” sadist, who wants me on my knees (as if I’m a performer in some kind of cosmic porno movie) to show my belief in and devotion to him — I can’t delude myself into feeling any sense of devotion to the present day Democratic Party.

Long ago, reason and common sense caused me to renounce the toxic tenets of organized religion. At present, I feel compelled to apply the same principles to the Democratic Party, leading me to conclude, as did Voltaire regarding the unchecked power of the Church in his day, that we must, “crush the infamous thing.”

Freedom begins when we free ourselves from as many illusions as possible — including dogma, clichés, cant, magical thinking, as well as blind devotion to a corrupt political class.

I wrote the following, before the 2006 mid-term election: “[ . . . ] I believe, at this late hour, the second best thing that could come to pass in our crumbling republic is for the total destruction of the Democratic Party — and then from its ashes to rise a party of true progressives.

“[ . . . ] I believe the best thing that could happen for our country would be for the leaders of the Republican Party — out of a deep sense of shame (as if they even possessed the capacity for such a thing) regarding the manner they have disgrace their country and themselves — to commit seppuku (the act of ritual suicide practiced by disgraced leaders in feudalist Japan) on national television.

“Because there’s no chance of that event coming to pass, I believe the dismantling of the Democratic Party, as we know it, is in order. It is our moribund republic’s last, best hope — if any is still possible.”

I received quite a bit of flack from party loyalists and netroots activists that my pronouncement was premature and we should wait and see.

We’ve waited and we’ve seen. Consequently, since the Republican leadership have not taken ceremonial swords in hand and disemboweled themselves on nationwide TV, it’s time we pulled the plug on the Democratic Party, an entity that has only been kept alive by a corporately inserted food-tube. In my opinion, this remains the last, best hope for the living ideals of progressive governance to become part of the body politic.