Health Insurance Co's
Saturday, June 18, 2005
New York Daily News
Spitzer in turf war over probe
Friday, June 17th, 2005
State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said he has evidence banks broke state civil rights laws and called a suit by a U.S. regulator seeking to "join" efforts by a lender's group to block his mortgage probe, "shameful."
The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and a group of banks the agency oversees filed separate suits against Spitzer, asking a federal judge to stop him from investigating whether lenders charged blacks and other minorities excessive mortgage rates.
"It's unconscionable that the OCC would help the banks it regulates draft litigation to shield them from reasoned enforcement of consumer protection," Spitzer said in a statement.
The Comptroller and the Clearing House Association, which represents commercial banks, contend that Spitzer lacks legal authority to investigate mortgage lending. They say only a federal banking regulator may conduct such an inquiry.
The banks say state oversight will add to their regulatory burden. Spitzer in April launched an investigation into the mortgage lending practices of at least three banks - JPMorgan Chase, HSBC and Wells Fargo.
It's his first foray into consumer banking after probes of the securities, mutual fund and insurance industries over practices he claimed were abusive.
Spitzer said that evidence already disclosed by the banks "appears to show a significant racial disparity that could violate" New York's civil rights laws.
'The OCC agrees with the banks' stance. Last month Julie Williams, acting head of the agency, said she told Spitzer that his interference may "disrupt and impede" her agency's probe of discriminatory lending.
In January, the OCC issued a ruling asserting that it is the primary regulator of national banks.
At a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court, a lawyer from Spitzer's office said the attorney general had agreed to hold off, at least until Monday, before issuing subpoenas.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:58 PM
NY Daily News
Yankel's kin to get 1.25M
By NANCIE L. KATZ
and MONIQUE EL-FAIZY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Nearly 14 years after Yankel Rosenbaum was killed in the Crown Heights race riots, the city agreed yesterday to pay $1.25 million to settle a civil suit and to acknowledge that poor care at a city hospital contributed to his death.
"It's an important development today that they accepted responsibility," said Yankel's older brother, Norman Rosenbaum. "The loss is in no way diminished. The pain remains."
The Rosenbaum family had turned down a previous $1 million settlement offer from the Health and Hospitals Corp. that didn't admit mistakes at Kings County Hospital.
Yesterday, the family got the statement they had sought for so long.
"Kings County Hospital recognizes that diagnostic and treatment errors made during the emergency room care provided to Yankel Rosenbaum in the hours after his stabbing played a role in his death," HHC said yesterday. "We extend our condolences to the Rosenbaum family."
Yankel Rosenbaum, a Hasidic scholar and doctoral student from Australia, was stabbed four times on Aug. 19, 1991, after he was spotted by a furious mob that formed after a Hasidic driver accidentally struck and killed 7-year-old Gavin Cato, an African-American boy. Rosenbaum had just left his house to get a haircut and was unaware that riots had broken out in his predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhood.
After the stabbing, Rosenbaum was alert enough to identify his attacker, Lemrick Nelson, 16 at the time, for police and was conscious when he arrived at the hospital. But Kings County staff failed to detect one of Rosenbaum's stab wounds, an error that likely led to Rosenbaum's death, according to a 1991 state report.
The civil suit was filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court in 1991 but couldn't be heard until all the criminal cases against Rosenbaum's assailant had been resolved.
Nelson was acquitted of murder in 1992, but the Rosenbaums pushed the U.S. attorney to pursue a civil rights case. He was convicted and sentenced to a 19-year federal prison term in 1997. That conviction was overturned in 2002; a year later another jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 10 years, most of which he had already served. Nelson was freed last year.
Originally published on June 17, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:55 PM
What's the Matter With Ohio?
By PAUL KRUGMAN
The Toledo Blade's
reports on Coingate - the unfolding tale of how Ohio's Bureau of
Workers' Compensation misused funds - deserve much more national
attention than they have received so far. For one thing, it's an
entertaining story that seems to get weirder by the week. More
important, it's an object lesson in what happens when you have
one-party rule untrammeled by any quaint notions of independent
In April, The Blade reported that the bureau, which provides financial
support for workers injured on the job, had invested $50 million in
Capital Coin, a rare-coin trading operation run by Tom Noe, an
influential Republican fund-raiser.
At first, state officials angrily insisted that this unusual use of
state funds was a good investment that had nothing to do with Mr. Noe's
political connections. An accounting investigation revealed, however,
that Mr. Noe's claims to be running a profitable business were
fictitious: he had lost millions, and 121 valuable coins were missing.
On June 3, police raided the Colorado home of Michael Storeim, Mr.
Noe's business associate, and seized hundreds of rare coins. After
changing the locks, they left 3,500 bottles of wine, valued at several
hundred thousand dollars, in the home's basement.
On Monday, Mr. Storeim told police that someone had broken into his
house over the weekend and stolen much of the wine, along with artwork,
guns, jewelry and cars. As I said, this story keeps getting weirder.
Meanwhile, The Blade uncovered an even bigger story
a hedge fund managed by MDL Capital, whose chairman had strong
political connections. When this investment started to go sour, the
bureau's chief financial officer told another top agency official that
he had been told to "give MDL a break."
By October 2004, state officials knew that MDL had lost almost the
entire investment, but they kept the loss hidden until this month.
How could such things happen? The answer, it has become clear, lies in
a web of financial connections between state officials and the
businessmen who got to play with state funds.
We're not just talking about campaign contributions, although Mr. Noe's
contributions ranged so widely that five of the state's seven Supreme
Court justices had to recuse themselves from cases associated with the
scandal. (He's also under suspicion of using intermediaries to
contribute large sums, illegally, to the Bush campaign.) We're talking
about personal payoffs: bargain vacations for the governor's chief of
staff at Mr. Noe's Florida home, the fact that MDL Capital employs the
daughter of one of the members of the workers' compensation oversight
board, and more.
Now, politicians and businessmen are always in a position to do each
other lucrative favors. Government is relatively clean when politicians
are sufficiently afraid of scandal to resist temptation. But when a
political machine controls all branches of government, and those
officials charged with oversight are also reliably partisan,
politicians feel safe from investigation. Their inhibitions dissolve,
and they take full advantage of their position, until the scandals
become too big to hide.
In other words, Ohio's state government today is a lot like Boss
Tweed's New York. Unfortunately, a lot of other state governments look
similar - and so does Washington.
Since their 1994 takeover of Congress, and even more so since the 2000
election, Republican leaders have sought to make their political
dominance permanent. They redistricted Texas to lock in their control
of the House. Through the "K Street Project" they have put lobbying
firms under partisan control, starving the Democrats of campaign funds.
And they are, of course, trying to pack the courts with partisan
In effect, they're trying to turn America into a giant version of the
elder Richard Daley's Chicago.
These efforts have already created an environment in which politicians
from the right party and businessmen with the right connections
believe, with good reason, that they have immunity.
And politicians who feel that they can exploit their position tend to
do just that. It's a likely bet that the scandals we already know
about, from Coingate to Tom DeLay's dealings with the lobbyist Jack
Abramoff, are just the tip of the iceberg.
The message from Ohio is that long-term dominance by a political
machine leads to corruption, regardless of the policies that machine
follows or the ideology it claims to represent.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:41 AM
Red Cross hits back at U.S. Republican critic
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hit back at a U.S. Republican report which questioned its impartiality, dismissing the accusations as false and unsubstantiated.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger vowed the Swiss-based agency would stick to its principles of neutrality and expressed confidence the United States would remain its top donor.
A policy adviser for the U.S. Senate Republican majority said this week the ICRC had lost its impartiality and was advocating positions at odds with U.S. interests.
'The paper's purpose appears to be to discredit the ICRC by putting forward false allegations and unsubstantiated accusations,' Kellenberger told a news briefing.
The humanitarian agency has visited foreign terrorism suspects held by U.S. forces in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of its regular operations.
Kellenberger denied ICRC staff had compared U.S. soldiers to Nazis and that the organisation had leaked any confidential reports submitted to U.S. authorities on its prison visits.
A confidential ICRC memorandum which appeared in the New York Times last November accused the U.S. military of tactics 'tantamount to torture' on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay – an accusation rejected by the Pentagon.
The ICRC regularly pays extensive visits Guantanamo Bay, which holds 520 people detained during the 2001 U.S. war to oust al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban from Afghanistan and in other operations in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
It also visits 10,000 inmates in Iraq and a few weeks ago visited deposed leader Saddam Hussein.
Kellenberger, a former Swiss diplomat, stressed the 'good and trustful relations' with the U.S. government, despite 'differences of view'.
The United States had contributed 167 million Swiss francs ($131 million) towards the ICRC's 940-million-franc budget last year, making it the largest contributor once again.
'It is even likely that the American contribution will be higher this year than last year,' he said.
The report was written by Dan Fata, who directs national security studies for the Republican Policy Committee, a group chaired by influential Senator John Kyl.
It accused the ICRC of reinterpreting international law 'so as to afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as the military personnel of countries like the United States, who have signed the Geneva Conventions'.
But Kellenberger said the ICRC's independence was key to getting access to civilians and detainees caught up in conflicts. It deploys 12,450 aid workers in 79 countries.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:32 AM
The New Republic Online
by Michelle Cottle
Post date: 06.17.05
I've never been comfortable with the idea of a military draft--considerably less so since I became a mom. For all the arguments in favor of sharing the burden of national defense, I shudder at the thought that some day my sweet son could be shipped off to fight in a foreign conflict that turns out to be as poorly planned, dishonestly sold, and abysmally mismanaged as the current bloody mess in Iraq.
But opposing a draft on purely selfish grounds doesn't exactly make one glow with pride or patriotism. As such, I've always taken great comfort in the fact that military professionals are generally opposed to conscription, too, but for pragmatic, performance-based reasons. These are, after all, the people presumably in the best position to know what serves the needs of our armed forces. Among the most compelling and commonly cited of their objections are the deep personal commitment and higher quality of recruits provided by an all-volunteer force--with the latter advantage becoming ever more vital as our military becomes ever more reliant on high-tech weapons systems that require bright, well-trained personnel to operate.
Unfortunately, since the late 1990s, the military--particularly the Army--has been having trouble meeting its recruiting goals, leading to a decline in the quality of recruits. As noted by The Washington Monthly (for which resurrecting the draft has long been a pet cause) between 1992 and 1999 the percentage of enlistees deemed "high quality" dropped from 74 percent to 59 percent. Thanks to the nightmare in Iraq, that situation has grown dramatically worse in recent months. As revealed both by independent media reports and the military's own recruiting data, the Army in particular is being forced to use some pretty desperate tactics to come anywhere close to meeting its (already scaled back) recruiting targets. In the process, the service is undercutting many of the arguments against a draft and highlighting some of the most troubling features of our all-volunteer force.
First and most importantly, the quality of our troops is in jeopardy. The news of late has been filled with accounts of how stressed-out Army recruiters have been breaking all the rules in order to meet their monthly quotas. Reported violations have included Colorado recruiters coaching a prospective enlistee on how to fake a high school diploma and cheat on his drug test; a Houston recruiter threatening to have a prospect arrested if he didn't show up at the recruiting station; and an Ohio recruiter signing up a young man with a documented history of mental illness. According to The New York Times, the Army's own stats show that substantiated cases of recruiting improprieties rose more than 60 percent between 1999 and 2004. Confronted with this new round of abuse charges, the service actually suspended recruitment for a day in order to reinstruct its personnel on the ethical dos and don'ts of enlistment.
Just as troubling as the anecdotal evidence of misconduct by recruiters is the general lowering of standards. This year the number of Army enlistees without a high school diploma rose from 8 to 10 percent, the maximum level allowed. Similarly, the number of enlistees scoring in the lowest acceptable category on the military's vocational aptitude test also has risen to meet the Army's upper limit of 2 percent of recruits.
But the Army has been compelled to do more than just stretch its quality standards to the limit. Now, rather than a 2-year minimum enlistment, recruits are being offered a shortened stint of only 15 months. This abbreviated enlistment, experts warn, means an abbreviated training period and less-prepared troops being shipped off to combat. Of course, these days the Army is increasingly employing its "stop loss" program, which involuntarily keeps soldiers on active duty beyond their agreed-upon enlistment period. So it's entirely possible that these less well-trained soldiers will wind up spending a full two years in the service anyway, regardless of what their recruiters promised them.
These sorts of shenanigans do not seem to be helping. May was the fourth consecutive month in which the Army missed its recruitment target (by a full 25 percent this time), even after having lowered its monthly goal from 8,050 to 6,700. The Army National Guard and Reserve are having similar problems despite upping the eligible enrollment age from 35 to 39.
Its back against the wall, the Army has resorted to that most reliable of incentives: money. Just recently, the service doubled its signing bonus to $40,000. From a certain perspective, this could be cheered as recognition of the invaluable service our recruits are providing their country. The less rosy view is that the Army is dangling increasingly irresistible bribes in front of cash-strapped young people--intensifying the existing inequity of a military where the non-wealthy do the dangerous job of safeguarding the freedoms of the more privileged, who in turn have the luxury of not volunteering to get their asses blown up. The creation of a mercenary fighting force, many of whose members signed on because they had few other life options, cannot be what military professionals have in mind when they sing the praises of an all-volunteer corps.
With the military's operational objections to the draft being eroded by its own policies, all those soaring, idealistic arguments in favor of national service start to gain ground: the fundamental justness of expecting all Americans to share in the greatest of citizenship burdens; the need to foster a shared sense of national purpose among young people from all walks of life; the need for the nation's elites to better understand the military, if only to make well-informed decisions about its structure and function. And when you check out the sorts of draft proposals that have been floated in recent years--which include assigning most conscripts (as opposed to volunteer recruits) to support jobs rather than combat posts or combining the draft with a mandatory national service program that makes military service just one of several options--the idea starts to look frighteningly sensible.
Indeed, if the military's manpower crisis continues apace, and the lower quality and quantity of recruits starts to undermine our national security, basically the only argument that will soon be left against the draft is that it is politically infeasible. But this would require effectively admitting that we are determined to let an unrepresentative slice of America shoulder our defense burden (and inadequately at that) just to avoid pissing off affluent, politically potent soccer moms--like me. I'm not sure how long even our utterly politically self-serving congressmen could compromise our collective security on such shaky grounds--especially with no end in sight to the war in Iraq, much less the broader war on terror. And my own maternal fears notwithstanding, I'm not sure how long I would want them to.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:30 AM
Detroit Free Press
Schiavo and the charlatans
BY BRIAN DICKERSON
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
June 17, 2005
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he had no regrets.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he had no apologies.
And Dr. Bill Hammesfahr, the neurologist who assured millions of TV viewers that Terri Schiavo's condition was eminently treatable, said he had no comment.
It's understandable that all three men were at a momentary loss for words this week when they learned that a postmortem examination of Schiavo's withered brain had demolished virtually every claim they'd made about her medical condition last March. (You know, back in the good ol' days when the scientists hadn't quite caught up with the propagandists, and when shameless opportunists like Frist, DeLay and Hammesfahr could score hours of free airtime just by uttering Schiavo's name.)
But how, in the name of decency, can they square their previous statements about Schiavo with what we now know to be true?
Here, for the record, is a reminder of what each man did say:
Frist, speaking on the Senate floor March 17: "Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she (Schiavo) does respond."
DeLay, in a March 18 speech to the Family Research Council: "One thing God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America. That Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death for two weeks -- I mean, in America that's going to happen if we don't win this fight."
Hammesfahr, in a March 21 interview on Fox News: "Terri is completely aware and conscious and responsive. She is like a child with cerebral palsy. We have kids in the Pinellas County school system every day that are much worse than her, that we're educating."
Now, after an unusually thorough autopsy, we know that each of these assertions was certifiably brain-dead.
Schiavo could not have been responsive, much less "lucid," when congressional Republicans decided to make her the hapless poster child for their "culture of life" campaign. Her brain had atrophied to half its normal size, and neither her doctors, nor the Pinellas County public schools offered her any hope for recovery.
What's in order now for these bloviating charlatans is a triple serving of humble pie.
For Frist, I suggest something like this: "I apologize to Michael Schiavo, and to other Americans who may have erroneously concluded, based on my representations as a licensed physician, that Mr. Schiavo misled the public about his wife's medical condition."
For DeLay: "Another thing God has brought us is irrefutable evidence that I am utterly out of my depth when it comes to assessing neurological damage. I won't do it again."
And for Hammesfahr: "As the autopsy results make clear, my prognosis for Terri Schiavo's recovery was utterly fanciful. (And yes, I lied about having been nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine.)"
The facts speak for themselves, of course. But couldn't Frist, DeLay and Hammesfahr at least acknowledge them?
Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:28 AM
Expect terrorists to bring war to us
June 17, 2005
BY ANDREW GREELEY
In May there were 90 suicide bombings in Iraq. That means that 90 young Arabs, mostly from Saudi Arabia, smuggled themselves into Iraq through Syria, fastened a jacket of explosives around their bodies and blew themselves up in search for Islamic martyrdom, killing scores of other Muslims in the process. The war in Iraq, billed as an essential component of the war on terror, is creating more terrorists.
It is not unreasonable to expect that other young men will soon be destroying themselves in this country as they blow up Americans in shopping malls and restaurants and hospitals and churches. The chickens of the criminal war in Iraq will come home to roost. No matter that the majority of Americans disapprove of the war. It is too late for that now.
Since the end of the World War II, the United States has fought three "small" wars -- Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq. We lost all three of them and for the same reason -- hubris. We were the most powerful nation on Earth, we had the most advanced military technology, we could easily overcome the local peasants with their crude weapons. Then we found ourselves trapped in the Big Muddy with no easy way out.
The Arab martyrs have an effective strategy: Kill Iraqis to turn them against Americans. Americans are responsible for the chaos. If they leave, maybe it will end.
Our most recent exercise in hubris is by far the worst, the most irresponsible, the most appropriate to indict those responsible as war criminals. We could knock over Saddam Hussein with a small army, the locals would dance in the street and strew flowers on our tanks. Secretary Rumsfeld, the Robert McNamara of our day, repealed the Powell Doctrine that we should attack only with overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy. Colin Powell must have known that this was folly but, good soldier that he is, he did not resign or become the Deep Throat of the present administration. However, good soldiers can also be war criminals. Both Rumsfeld and Powell were criminally negligent in their failure to consider the obvious possibilities for catastrophe after a quick and easy military victory.
The president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the coterie of "neocon" intellectuals around them, desperately wanted a war with Iraq even before the World Trade Center attack. The neocons whispered that the way to Jerusalem was through Baghdad, never thinking that suicide bombings could migrate from Jerusalem to Baghdad. None of these wise men bothered to worry about the aftermath of the war. The president is a risk-taker, we are told now, as he battles for his harebrained plan to reform social security. The invasion of Iraq was a risk, a big risk the potential costs of which were never seriously estimated. That's what happens when you have a reckless Clint Eastwood type for president. Are not the president and his immediate advisers war criminals for rashly plunging the country into the Big Muddy once again?
John F. Harris in his book Survivor describes in detail President Clinton's agonizing reluctance to engage in military action overseas. There were so many contingencies, so many things that might go wrong. The current administration has never worried about such problems. Convinced of our indomitable might, ignorant of the lessons of history, unconcerned about what might go wrong, it plunged blithely into the Bid Muddy. The rationalizations of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's involvement in the World Trade Center attack were false.
Now the president, dismissing the revelations about the weapons of mass destruction (the vice president apparently still believes them) is content to say that he still thinks the United States has done "the right thing." However, the majority of Americans and even some Republicans want the United States out of Iraq. The military says it will take four years to train an effective Iraqi army. The Big Muddy gets deeper.
But what about the majority that once supported the war? Blinded by anger at the World Trade Center attack and terrified by terrorism, are they responsible for all the blood in Iraq? Will they be responsible for the Saudi martyrs who will begin to ravage this country? Were the Germans responsible for Hitler?
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:26 AM
Chronic insecurity under Bush
President Bush has gotten a lot of mileage out of talking up the job
he's done to protect Americans in the war against terrorism. When it
comes to implementing key security reforms, though, his administration
has put in a lousy performance. This week, the Senate Homeland Security
Committee criticized the White House for missing
headlines> its deadlines for half a dozen national security reforms
that would make the country safer, including imposing stricter port
protections and creating a national transportation security plan.
In a letter to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, senators Susan
Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. -- the committee's chair
and ranking Democrat, respectively -- chastised the administration for
its failure to take action. "In the war on terrorism delay can be a
form of failure," the senators wrote, and "the consequences of failure
According to the Associated Press, the administration also blew its
deadlines for increasing aviation security staff, and for funding a
civil liberties panel to oversee counterterrorism investigations. The
latter has angered civil-liberties advocates, who blame the
administration for empty talk about prioritizing the panel, but taking
no timely action. Muslim immigrants in America, including a 16-year-old
continue to suffer the consequences.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is having some
administrative troubles of its own.
According to an article entitled
"Hemorrhaging Money for Homeland Security" in this week's Der Spiegel
have been on a two-year spending spree, stocking up on a lot of largely
useless inventions that purport to protect Americans.
"To this day, the harbor nuclear detectors are incapable of
distinguishing between bombs and kitty litter or bananas, leading
frustrated customs officials to simply shut them off," the German
magazine reported. "The new $1.2 billion explosives detectors for the
Transportation Security Administration, a part of Homeland Security,
are equally unreliable."
Despite the fact that the department's 2005 budget is a whopping $50
billion, the article noted that "only four of the Department of
Homeland Security's 33 homeland protection programs are considered
effective." But department secretary Michael Chertoff isn't letting the
private sector's poor track record interfere with doing big business;
at a recent meeting of 400 security industry executives, he told the
crowd, "We need you to make America a safer place."
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:24 AM
Dick Durbin takes Gitmo head on
The debate over the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo -- and the
rhetoric -- continues to escalate.
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Richard J.
Durbin of Illinois ripped into the Bush administration, citing an FBI
report describing prisoners chained to the floor in the fetal position
without food or water and sometimes kept in extreme temperatures. "If I
read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent
describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control,"
Durbin said, "you would most certainly believe this must have been done
by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or
others -- that had no concern for human beings."
Needless to say, those comparisons set off a firestorm of criticism on
the political right, and from the White House. Bush spokesman Scott
McClellan said it was ''beyond belief'' that Durbin would compare the
treatment of so-called enemy combatants at Guantánamo to the killing of
millions of innocent people by oppressive governments. ''I think the
senator's remarks are reprehensible," he said. "It's a real disservice
to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold
our values and our laws."
The senior Democrat stood by his comments, saying Thursday that it was
"just plain wrong" to say he was diminishing past horrors. He said he
was comparing interrogation techniques that the FBI reported on at
Guantánamo with those in foreign detainee camps.
But he also seemed to back off a bit from his statements on the Senate
floor. According to Friday's Washington Post, Durbin said his words had
been misinterpreted as an attack on the U.S. military, adding that he
didn't even know who was in charge of the particular interrogation
cited in the FBI agent's account. "Sadly, we have a situation here
where some in the right-wing media say I've been insulting men and
women in uniform," he said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."
Durbin also acknowledged that the regimes to which he'd referred had
committed horrors far beyond the techniques he was condemning at
Guantánamo. But he said it was "no exaggeration" to suggest that the
techniques cited in the FBI report were not acceptable in a democracy.
"This is the kind of thing you expect from repressive regimes but not
from the United States," he said.
Durbin's pointed comments and the crosscurrents
couple weeks seem evidence enough that things have gone terribly wrong
with U.S. practices against prisoners -- and not just at Guantánamo.
(Does anyone recall Abu Ghraib?) There's probably plenty more we don't
know about when it comes to the U.S. government using explicitly
anti-democratic tactics in the war against terrorism, information
buried in the name of protecting national security -- though there's
plenty that we already do know about. Durbin's comments may have been
pushing the envelope, but with good reason: As time drags on and the
horrifying allegations of abuse pile up, no less than the core
principles of American democracy may be at stake.
Of course, the White House doesn't see it that way. Last weekend, Vice
President Dick Cheney made a point of saying that Guantánamo or no,
international opinion of the U.S. is in perfectly fine shape, while
Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, a close ally of the Pentagon,
talked up the prison facility's fine dining
Cheney may have more than one reason to whitewash what's happening at
Gitmo. As it happens, his former company, Halliburton
build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence at the
U.S. military base in Cuba.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:21 AM
Bush’s great unraveling
by George Ochenski
Hate to say we told you so
If recent polls are any indication, the Bush administration is losing ground on virtually every front, from an outright rejection of Bush’s Social Security plan to a growing ennui with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American people seem to have had it with the swaggering braggadocio of Bush, Cheney and their coterie of propagandists, Bible-thumpers and cover-up specialists. Slowly but surely the Bush presidency, heavy with secrecy, fraud and deceit, is beginning to fray at the edges, gradually unraveling toward the historical infamy it so well deserves.
For those who have criticized this administration from the outset, it’s tough not to say we told you so. In fact, though characterized as naysayers at best and unpatriotic traitors at worst, things have turned out pretty much the way many predicted, especially in regard to the spurious and costly invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just last week the death toll of American soldiers in Iraq passed the 1,700 mark—and that doesn’t count the many who have been grievously wounded in body and mind, to say nothing of the estimated 100,000 Iraqi casualties.
And for what? While Cheney promised the nation last week that the Iraq insurgency was “on its last legs,” American generals are on record saying just the opposite. Not only is the insurgency far from weakened, as one general put it: “We can’t kill them all. For every one we kill, we create three more.” In Afghanistan, now that the Taliban is gone the opium trade is surging. Besides killing American soldiers on an almost daily basis, this supposed new bastion of democracy can now claim the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest producer of opium poppies.
These kinds of “victories” are not lost on the American public. While the U.S. mainstream media certainly deserve criticism for their whitewashed coverage of Bush’s phony “War on Terror,” even Fox News can’t spin the results of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into positive poll numbers. In the latest Washington Post-ABC poll, almost 60 percent of Americans now believe those wars are no longer worth the effort. That’s a 20-point reversal in public sentiment from a year ago.
Foreign military adventurism aside, Bush is doing no better at home in his effort to privatize Social Security. After a 60-day nationwide tour in front of pre-screened friendly audiences, Bush succeeded only in driving down the numbers of people who support his amorphous plan to let Wall Street pick the pockets of Americans’ long-standing retirement fund. The latest AP-Ipsos poll found a mere 37 percent now support Bush’s plan, with 59 percent disapproving.
The same poll found big trouble for George W.’s leadership legacy, with just 35 percent saying the country is on the right track. Meanwhile, his handling of domestic issues receives approval percentages in “the high 30s and low 40s,” with Americans pegging Bush on the economy, for instance, at only 43 percent approval.
These kinds of numbers, and the almost impossible odds of radically improving the situations that spawned them, are reverberating through Washington. The Republican-controlled Congress that has pushed the Bush agenda through with little regard for process or legitimacy has earned the public’s enmity, as reflected in its miserable 31-percent approval rating. That means more than two of every three Americans think Congress is doing a bad job—not a pleasant reality check for those who have to go home and face the citizens in the next election cycle.
As for the blustering, swaggering Bush, with an approval rating at his all-time low of 43 percent, stuffing through any kind of a second-term agenda—let alone his wildly ambitious plans to turn everything from energy policy to social security over to his corporate cronies—is going to be tough. Perhaps the clearest indication of the problems are the increasing numbers of Republicans in Congress who are stepping forth with demands for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. Like “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” the albatross of Bush’s blunders appears to be too much weight for even staunch Republicans to carry around their necks.
In fact, it would appear that the rats are already starting to abandon G.W. Bush’s presidency. Paul Wolfowitz, one of the infamous planners of the ill-fated Iraq war, has given up his role as military advisor and sidled on over to the World Bank as the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate toward all-out civil war.
Or how about Montana’s former governor-turned-big-business-lobbyist, Marc Racicot? Having previously bailed from his positions with the Republican National Committee and his chairmanship of the Bush-Cheney campaign, just this week Racicot made the leap from the Texas law firm of Bracewell and Guiliani—where he lobbied for such luminaries as Enron and Burlington Northern—to his new position as president of the American Insurance Association. Reports say Racicot’s latest D.C. jump will land him with a nice 7-figure salary. Although it certainly won’t remove him from secret deal-making in the back rooms of the Bush administration, it will provide a media buffer to his former presidential proximity.
While Bush goes down the tubes of history, Racicot floats away on a raft of money, hoping to accomplish such notable goals as the “extension of the national terrorism insurance program,” “addressing lawsuit abuse,” and “modernizing the [insurance] industry’s regulatory system.” In Bush-Racicot speech, “modernizing” regulations simply means gutting them.
The great unraveling of the Bush regime was predictable. After all, you can only expect a house built on lies and deception to last so long. Unfortunately, the residual effects of this administration will be with us far longer than W. himself, as the pollution, loss of personal privacy and freedom, and trillions in national debt are passed on to future generations.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:19 AM
By Chris Floyd
Published: June 17, 2005
As we all know, President George W. Bush is the most morally upright individual ever to set foot in the White House: a sober, righteous man of God. Yet this very rectitude obscures the fact that he is also one of the great wits of our time, a subtle and sophisticated ironist who has turned the dull business of governance into a highly refined comedic art.
With Shavian brio, Bush sends up the bourgeois pretension that words have meanings and actions have consequences. His specialty is the ironic reversal, known by old-time vaudeville gagsters as the "Orwell Twist." For example, you take a man who concocts justifications for torture, kidnapping and the exaltation of presidential authority beyond the reach of law -- and you make him the chief law enforcement officer of the land! It might look easy, but try doing it with a straight face, the way Bush introduced his criminal accomplice Alberto Gonzales as the new Attorney General. It takes real talent to pull off that kind of deadpan.
Or how about this gem? You steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the public treasury to secretly prepare for a war you've been planning for many years; you tell your closest ally months in advance that the invasion is on, come hell or high water; you unleash a massive bombing campaign against the target months before the war; you deceitfully manufacture and massage evidence to build a bogus case for launching an unprovoked act of aggression against an opponent who has already met all your demands -- and then you tell the world that you only wanted peace! What yocks, eh? Not even Groucho Marx could match such comic subversion.
The list -- and the Twist -- goes on and on: fostering a "culture of life" through capital punishment, gulag murders and "extrajudicial killings" by presidential fiat; spreading "compassionate conservatism" by gutting aid for the poor, the sick, the weak and the old; naming corporate polluters as environmental guardians; promoting "democracy" by coddling despots; "fighting terrorism" by spawning more terrorists -- it's a comedy cornucopia!
But Bush's satiric masterpiece, equal to "Annie Hall," "The Philadelphia Story" or even "Herbie Goes Bananas," might well be his appointment of nuclear war advocates to oversee -- wait for it -- arms control! Ain't that a hoot? Looney-fringe types who oppose arms treaties, want to build more nukes and use them "pre-emptively," even in "non-nuclear combat scenarios," are put in charge of all the pacts and programs to control and eliminate nuclear weapons! Thus "arms control" becomes "Armageddon" in the wacky jargon of Bush-speak. We haven't seen this kind of witty wordplay since the old "Arbeit Macht Frei" gag that the Bush Family's business partners pulled at Auschwitz back in the day.
But we said Bush was subtle. Almost no one has noticed his June 1 appointment of Robert Joseph as the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. Joseph takes the place of John Bolton, the warmongering blowhard and serial fabricator whom Bush has chosen to be the United States' walrus-moustachioed face to the world at the UN. (Yet another masterstroke of wit from the Maestro: Bolton is copiously on record as despising the UN.) Although Joseph is cut from grayer cloth -- while still sporting plenty of nasal foliage, which is obviously a requirement for this baggy-pants role -- he is probably even more dangerous than his tempestuous predecessor, as Tom Barry of the International Relations Center reports.
Joseph has been a key player in the "nuke 'em all and let God sort 'em out" school of international diplomacy since his early minioning days in the diseased bowels of the Reagan administration. He came into his own after the Crawford clown-master seized power in 2000, serving as a "special assistant" to the president, in charge of destroying the ABM treaty, that 30-year bulwark against nuclear conflict. He was also instrumental in fashioning Bush's maniacal "Nuclear Posture Review," which calls for the production of "low-yield, precision-guided nuclear weapons" that can actually be used in combat, or in "pre-emptive" strikes at, well, basically anybody the president decides might pose a vague threat against "American interests" somewhere down the line.
But increasing the risk of global nuclear annihilation isn't enough for jolly old Joseph; he also has a fondness for biological and chemical weapons. Along with nukes, they make up a Holy Trinity of WMD that "have substantial utility" in the "international environment," he writes. And he doesn't just want user-friendly WMD to be "a permanent feature" of life on earth; he's keen on militarizing the heavens as well -- pre-emptively and unilaterally, natch. And it goes without saying that he opposes any attempts to place limits on U.S. testing and deployment of mass-death weapons.
That's "arms control," Bush-style, for you: a perfect joke. Yet Joseph's merry pranks don't stop there; he was also responsible for pushing one of the many big lies -- sorry, funny stories -- in Bush's pre-invasion propaganda blitzkrieg: the pure hokum about Saddam's nonexistent search for African uranium to fuel his nonexistent nuclear program. As with so many others, Joseph's egregious intelligence "failure" has been rewarded with honors and promotion. Because of course it was no failure at all; it was a well-played pantomime, faithfully following the script of Bush's war-crimes comedy.
Lurking behind all this cynical katzenjammer is the grinning skull of the Bush death-cult: a mad but all-too-plausible dream of conquest, loot and unlimited dominion. For this dream, the cultists have already murdered countless thousands and are gambling with the very life of the world itself. With these comedians, the joke is always on us.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:17 AM
NYT Pulls A Gannon on Downing Street
At [Thursday’s] press briefing, Scott McClellan made the assertion that if you opposed the Iraq War, well, you don’t really count. The President doesn’t care what you have to say. Apparently neither does the New York Times. The stalwart of the “liberal media” covered the Conyers hearings with the headline “Antiwar group says leaked British memo shows Bush misled public on his war plans.” The lede to the article makes a point of stressing the type of people behind these dubious hearings:
Opponents of the war in Iraq held an unofficial hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday to draw attention to a leaked British government document that they say proves their case that President Bush misled the public about his war plans in 2002 and distorted intelligence to support his policy.
It isn’t until later in the article that the NYT bothers to mention that the hearings were being chaired by no less than the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
The paper goes on to say that “the hearing and other events…reflected antiwar sentiment re-energized” by the British memos and as well as plummeting support for the war in Iraq. Of course, they don’t bring up the fact that the current state of the war in Iraq is another possible explanation for the “re-energized” antiwar sentiment.
Funny enough, the article does point out how McClellan responded to inquiries about the hearing. But then they play his lapdog one more time: “Activists have accused mainstream news organizations of playing down the document’s significance, even as antiwar bloggers have seized upon it as evidence.” Silly activists.
One of the witnesses at the hearing was John Bonifaz. A constitutional lawyer, Bonifaz is the founder and general counsel for the National Voting Rights Institute. Furthermore, he used to work with the Center for Responsive Politics and his writings have been published in both the Yale Law and Policy Review as well as the Columbia Law Review. How did the NYT sum up all his accomplishments? “John Bonifaz, anti-war activist.”
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:11 AM
Friday, June 17, 2005
June 17, 2005
Quote of the Day
"If Frist issued them a clean bill of health, we implore them to get a second opinion."
-- Lexington Herald-Leader editorial, to ex-patients of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), noting his Senate floor diagnosis of Terri Schiavo's condition was completely wrong. The Los Angeles Times also notes Frist "has come under renewed fire" for his comments.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:35 PM
Ed Klein Rapes the National Discourse
You’ve probably heard -- because some people will print anything -- the allegations in Ed Klein’s latest piece of garbage, The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She'll Go to Become President. The most trumpeted one is also the most outlandish, based on the kind of sourcing that would make Jayson Blair proud -- that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill raped Hillary.
Some have already been asking what is going to fill the sleaze slot in the news now that the Michael Jackson Reality Show has had its season finale. Sadly, there’s a good chance it’s going to be filled by Klein. The real title of his book should be: The Truth About Ed Klein: What He Does, Who Helps Him Do It, and How Far He’ll Go to Make a Buck.
God knows I’ve had plenty of disagreements with Hillary -- especially on Iraq. But what Klein is doing is disgusting. It has nothing to do with Hillary’s politics -- and everything to do with feeding the right-wing sleaze machine.
This bears no relation to legitimate political reporting -- and should not be treated as such. In fact, if there’s a rape involved in this book, it’s Ed Klein’s attempted rape of the public discourse.
But with the help of bloggers (and as you’ll see from the links below, they’ve been at it already), Klein’s book can be seen for what it is: a sordid, slimy attempt to make a buck while helping advance a sordid, slimy political agenda.
So let’s look at some of the people behind this garbage machine. The book is currently being offered for free on NewsMax.com if you buy a subscription to their magazine. One of NewsMax’s main investors? Richard Mellon Scaife, who funded the Arkansas Project, set up to try to destroy the Clintons in the 90s. NewsMax was also behind the ugly smear campaign against George Soros.
Klein was interviewed for the site by one of NewsMax’s “pundits,” John LeBoutillier. According to LeBoutillier: “Because Ed Klein and I are friends, we have been talking about this book for almost two years.” LeBoutillier is also the founder of something called the StopHillaryPAC. How convenient…
Then there’s Rush Limbaugh, who disgracefully peddled another piece of junk from the book, albeit in a way that he no doubt thought was very cute:
"I've got some interesting, juicy details on this book on Hillary by Ed Klein, but I'm not going to be the first to mention them. I'm not going there. It will come out eventually. It has to do with sexual orientation, and I'm not going to be the one...”
The leak of the book's claims of "revolutionary lesbianism" to the Daily Mail follows a time-tested strategy of using Fleet Street as a dumping ground for ludicrous claims, which the mainstream U.S. media would not report. But which, once published in England, can quickly make their way back to the States via right-wing outlets.
And how about the book’s publisher, Sentinel? According to the New York Post, Sentinel spokesperson Will Weisser “said he hoped that The Truth About Hillary would do to Clinton what the Swift Boat Veterans’ bestseller did to Kerry.”
And then there’s the garbage man himself, Ed Klein, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer described as “a recovering journalist” who “practices genetics and psychoanalysis, all predicated on a towering cream puff of assumptions”.
Let’s send him -- and his toxic trash -- back to reporter rehab. He’s clearly fallen way, way off the wagon… and into the gutter.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:23 PM
Jun 17, 8:13 PM EDT
Security Breach Could Expose 40M to Fraud
By JOE BEL BRUNO
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- A security breach of customer information at a credit card transaction company could expose to fraud up to 40 million cardholders of multiple brands, MasterCard International Inc. said Friday.
The credit card giant said its security division detected multiple instances of fraud that tracked back to CardSystems Solutions Inc., which processes credit card and other payments for banks and merchants.
The compromised data included names, banks and account numbers - not addresses or Social Security numbers, said MasterCard spokeswoman Sharon Gamsin. Such data could be used to steal funds but not identities.
It was the latest in a series of security breaches affecting valuable consumer data at major financial institutions and data brokers in an increasingly database-driven world.
The breach appears to be the largest yet involving financial data, said David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"The steady stream of these disclosures shows the pressing need for regulation of the industry both in terms of limitation in the amount of personal information that companies collect and also liability when these kinds of disclosures occur," Sobel said.
A flurry of disclosures of breaches affecting high-profile companies including Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and DSW Shoe Warehouse has prompted federal lawmakers to draw up legislation designed to better protect consumer privacy.
CardSystems was hit by a virus-like computer script that captured customer data for the purpose of fraud, Gamsin said. She said she did not know how the script got into the system. The FBI was investigating.
MasterCard, which said about 14 million of its own cards were exposed, first announced the breach in a news release late Friday afternoon, saying it was notifying its card-issuing banks of the problem.
Under federal law, credit card holders are liable for no more than $50 of unauthorized charges, and many card issuers including MasterCard will even waive the $50.
Reached on his cell phone, CardSystems' chief financial officer, Michael A. Brady, said: "We were absolutely blindsided by a press release by the association."
He refused to answer any questions and referred calls to the company's chief executive, John M. Perry, and its senior vice president of marketing, Bill N. Reeves. A message left for Perry and Reeves at the company's Atlanta offices was not immediately returned.
CardSystems processes less than 0.5 percent of American Express' domestic transactions, said company spokeswoman Judy Tenzer. She said a small number of its cardholders were affected, though she did not have an exact figure.
"We are aware of the situation, we're closely monitoring it and we do have an investigation under way," Tenzer said.
Discover Financial Services Inc. said it was aware of the situation and would not say whether any of its cards were involved. Visa USA and a large issuer of cards, MBNA Corp., did not immediately calls seeking comment.
CardSystems, which has a processing center in Tuscon, Ariz., has been in business for more than 15 years and handles transactions for more than 115,000 small to mid-sized businesses, according to the company's Web site. The company says it processes transactions worth more than $15 billion annually.
Sobel said the fact that the latest breach involved a third party "indicates that this is a shadowy industry where the consumer never really knows who is going to be handling and using their personal information," he added. "Presumably, the affected consumers thought they were dealing with MasterCard."
Earlier this month, Citigroup said United Parcel Service lost computer tapes with sensitive information from 3.9 million customers of CitiFinancial, a unit that provides personal and home loans.
There have also been breaches involving other kinds of sensitive data.
ChoicePoint Inc. said in February that thieves using stolen identities had created 50 dummy businesses that pulled data including names, addresses and Social Security numbers on as many as 145,000 people.
In March, LexisNexis Inc. disclosed that hackers had commandeered a database and gained access to the personal files of as many as 32,000 people.
The company has since increased its estimate of the people affected to 310,000. Information accessed included names, addresses and Social Security and driver's license numbers, but not credit history, medical records or financial information, corporate parent Reed Elsevier Group PLC said in a statement.
"Hardly a week goes by without startling new examples of breaches of sensitive personal data, reminding us how important it is to pass a comprehensive identity theft prevention bill in Congress quickly," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
AP writers Anick Jesdanun, Adam Geller, Harry Weber, Ted Bridis, Arthur Rotstein and Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:15 PM
Democracy Is a 'Bad Word:' Microsoft Censors Blogs at Its New Chinese Portal
By Elaine Kurtenbach
AP Business Writer
SHANGHAI, China (AP) -- Chinese bloggers, even on foreign-sponsored sites, better chose their words carefully -- the censors are watching.
Users of the MSN Spaces section of Microsoft Corp.'s new China-based Web portal get a scolding message each time they input words deemed taboo by the communist authorities -- such as democracy, freedom and human rights.
"Prohibited language in text, please delete," the message says.
However, the restrictions appear to apply only to the subject line of such entries. Writing them into the text, with a more innocuous subject heading, seems to be no problem.
Microsoft's Chinese staff could not be reached immediately for comment. However, a spokesman at the tech giant's headquarters in Seattle acknowledged that the company is cooperating with the Chinese government to censor its Chinese-language Web portal.
Microsoft and its Chinese business partner, government-funded Shanghai Alliance Investment, work with authorities to omit certain forbidden language, said Adam Sohn, a global sales and marketing director for MSN.
But he added, "I don't have access to the list at this point so I can't really comment specifically on what's there."
Online tests found that apart from politically sensitive words, obscenities and sexual references also are banned.
MSN Spaces, which offers free blog space, is connected to Microsoft's MSN China portal. The portal was launched on May 26, and some 5 million blogs have since been created, Microsoft said.
The Chinese government encourages Internet use for business and education but tries to ban access to material deemed subversive.
Although details of the authorities' efforts are kept secret, users of many China-based Web portals are prevented from accessing sites deemed subversive by the government.
A search on Google for such topics as Taiwan or Tibetan independence, the banned group Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama or the China Democracy Party inevitably leads to a "site cannot be found" message.
Internet-related companies are obliged to accept such limitations as a condition of doing business in China. And government-installed filtering tools, registration requirements and other surveillance are in place to ensure the rules are enforced.
Recently, the government demanded that Web site owners register with authorities by June 30 or face fines.
Sohn said heavy government censorship is accepted as part of the regulatory landscape in China, and the world's largest software company believes its services still can foster expression in the country.
"We're in business in lots of countries. I think every time you go into a market you are faced with a different regulatory environment and you have to go make a choice as a business," he said. "Even with the filters, we're helping millions of people communicate, share stories, share photographs and build relationships. For us, that is the key point here."
The consequences of defying government limits can be severe: at least 54 people have been jailed for posting essays or other content deemed subversive online.
The international media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has protested the online limits, sending letters to top executives of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and other companies urging them to lobby Beijing for greater freedom of expression.
"In terms of the reality of the situation, those business deals are going to continue as globalization expands," said Tala Dowlatshahi, a spokeswoman for the group. "But we want to make sure that pressure is being put on the companies to pressure the Chinese government to ensure a more democratic process."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:18 AM
Democrats want more 'Downing Street memo' data
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some congressional Democrats, brandishing a document known as the "Downing Street Memo," are insisting that the White House provide more information about what led to the decision to go to war in Iraq.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were conducting a public forum Thursday, prompted by documents that have surfaced from inside the British government about pre-war planning.
The so-called "Downing Street memo" says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.
The "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," says the memo, recounting a July 23, 2002 meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team. The meeting took place just after British officials returned from Washington.
U.S. officials and Blair deny the assertion about intelligence and facts being "fixed," a comment which the memo attributes to the chief of British intelligence at the time. The meeting took place eight months before the invasion of Iraq.
Conyers pointed to statements by Bush in the run-up to invasion that war would be a last resort. "The veracity of those statements has — to put it mildly — come into question," he said.
The London Sunday Times disclosed the contents of the memo May 1.
Bush should respond to questions raised by the Downing Street memo, says a letter signed by Conyers and over 90 other members of Congress, as well as a half-million Americans.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the memo on Thursday and indicated that no one in the White House plans to respond to the letter.
"This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," he said.
The Sunday Times also reported on an eight-page briefing paper prepared for Blair which concludes that the U.S. military has given "little thought" to the aftermath of a war in Iraq.
The briefing paper of July 21, 2002 says that a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise and that "as already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
Find this article at:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:38 AM
Democrats Urge Inquiry on Bush, Iraq
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
Amid new questions about President Bush's drive to topple Saddam Hussein, several House Democrats urged lawmakers on Thursday to conduct an official inquiry to determine whether the president intentionally misled Congress.
At a public forum where the word "impeachment" loomed large, Exhibit A was the so-called Downing Street memo, a prewar document leaked from inside the British government to The Sunday Times of London a month and a half ago. Rep. John Conyers (news, bio, voting record) of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, organized the event.
Recounting a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's national security team, the memo says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.
"The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," one of the participants was quoted as saying at the meeting, which took place just after British officials returned from Washington.
The president "may have deliberately deceived the United States to get us into a war," Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said. "Was the president of the United States a fool or a knave?"
The Democratic congressmen were relegated to a tiny room in the bottom of the Capitol and the Republicans who run the House scheduled 11 major votes to coincide with the afternoon event.
"We have not been told the truth," Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Baghdad a year ago, told the Democrats. "If this administration doesn't have anything to hide, they should be down here testifying."
The White House refuses to respond to a May 5 letter from 122 congressional Democrats about whether there was a coordinated effort to "fix" the intelligence and facts around the policy, as the Downing Street memo says.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Conyers "is simply trying to rehash old debates."
Conyers and a half-dozen other members of Congress were stopped at the White House gate later Thursday when they hand-delivered petitions signed by 560,000 Americans who want Bush to provide a detailed response to the Downing Street memo. When Conyers couldn't get in, an anti-war demonstrator shouted, "Send Bush out!" Eventually, White House aides retrieved the petitions at the gate and took them into the West Wing.
"Quite frankly, evidence that appears to be building up points to whether or not the president has deliberately misled Congress to make the most important decision a president has to make, going to war," Rep. Charles Rangel (news, bio, voting record) of New York, senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said earlier at the event on Capitol Hill.
Misleading Congress is an impeachable offense, a point that Rangel underscored by saying he's already been through two impeachments. He referred to the impeachment of President Clinton for an affair with a White House intern and of President Nixon for Watergate, even though Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment.
Conyers pointed to statements by Bush in the run-up to invasion that war would be a last resort. "The veracity of those statements has — to put it mildly — come into question," he said.
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson said, "We are having this discussion today because we failed to have it three years ago when we went to war."
"It used to be said that democracies were difficult to mobilize for war precisely because of the debate required," Wilson said, going on to say the lack of debate in this case allowed the war to happen.
Wilson wrote a 2003 newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. After the piece appeared someone in the Bush administration leaked the identity of Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, exposing her cover.
Wilson has said he believes the leak was retaliation for his critical comments. The Justice Department is investigating.
John Bonifaz, a lawyer and co-founder of a new group called AfterDowningStreet.org, said the lack of interest by congressional Republicans in the Downing Street memo is like Congress during Nixon's presidency saying "we don't want" the Watergate tapes.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:36 AM
U.S. Democrats cite British memo in Bolton fight
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats rejected a Republican compromise over John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador on Thursday and cited a British report backing their view that the Bush administration hyped intelligence on Iraq before the 2003 invasion.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, scheduled a procedural vote on Monday to try to break the deadlock. Democrats said they had enough votes to stall the nomination until the White House turns over information they demanded on Bolton, but Republicans hoped they would be viewed as obstructionists.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid demanded a full accounting of whether Bolton exaggerated assessments of several countries' weapons programs, a key issue in the long-stalled nomination.
"All over the news the last few days has been concerns about weapons of mass destruction by virtue of the memo that was discovered," the Nevada Democrat said, referring to the so-called "Downing Street memo."
The July 2002 memo, prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said President Bush had already decided to invade Iraq and intelligence was being made to fit that policy.
"Concerns about this administration hyping intelligence and Great Britain hyping intelligence cannot be dismissed lightly," Reid said, adding that it "is no small matter for us to learn whether Mr. Bolton was a party to other efforts to hype intelligence."
Bush and his aides, including Bolton, justified the invasion by saying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were a threat to the United States, but no such weapons have been found.
Bolton met at the Capitol with top Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who told him he "needs to convince Vice President (Dick) Cheney to provide the information" they sought on preparations for testimony Bolton gave Congress on Syria's weapons and on classified National Security Agency intercepts, according to a statement from Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.
Bolton, the top U.S. diplomat for arms control and a fierce critic of the United Nations, is a favorite of conservatives and failure to get him confirmed would be a setback for Bush.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "some of the Democratic leaders who have already voted against John Bolton are not interested in a reasonable compromise. They are simply interested in continuing with stall tactics."
Republicans would need to pick up two more Democrats in the 100-seat chamber to get the 60 votes required to end debate on Bolton and go to a confirmation vote, if they kept all of the senators they had in a previous vote.
If they can get beyond the procedural hurdle, Republicans, who hold a 55-45 Senate majority, are confident they will have the simple majority needed to confirm Bolton.
Bush could appoint Bolton during Congress' July 4th holiday recess if the Senate remains deadlocked. That appointment would last through the end of this Senate session in 2006.
But a recess appointment would be viewed as a political retreat. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key Bolton backer, said he had not heard that suggested by administration officials.
In a bid to get more support, Senate Republicans tried to act as intermediaries to get some of the information on Bolton that Democrats are demanding, but the administration has refused to turn over.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said on Wednesday he confirmed with U.S. Intelligence Director John Negroponte that key officials known to have had confrontations with Bolton over intelligence assessments were not mentioned in National Security Agency intercepts Bolton had sought.
Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said that should answer Democrats' questions on whether Bolton sought the intercepts to spy on or punish bureaucratic rivals. Critics have accused Bolton of bullying subordinates.
But Democrats said they still did not have internal e-mails and memos leading up to testimony Bolton gave on Syria's weapons, and the information on the intercepts was inadequate.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:30 AM
The New York Times
Bush's Support on Major Issues Tumbles in Poll
By ROBIN TONER and MARJORIE CONNELLY
Increasingly pessimistic about Iraq and skeptical about President Bush's plan for Social Security, Americans are in a season of political discontent, giving Mr. Bush one of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and even lower marks to Congress, according to the New York Times/CBS News Poll.
Forty-two percent of the people responding to the poll said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job, a marked decline from his 51 percent rating after of the November election, when he embarked on an ambitious second term agenda led by the overhaul of Social Security. Sixteen months before the midterm elections, Congress fared even worse in the survey, with the approval of just 33 percent of the respondents, and 19 percent saying Congress shared their priorities.
Despite months of presidential effort, the nationwide poll found the public is not rallying toward Mr. Bush's vision of a new Social Security that would allow younger workers to put part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Two-thirds said they were uneasy about Mr. Bush's ability to make sound decisions on Social Security. Only 25 percent said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling Social Security, down slightly from what the poll found in March.
Moreover, 45 percent said the more they heard about the Bush plan, the less they liked it. The survey also found the public shared the growing skepticism in Washington about Mr. Bush's prospects for success on Social Security, with most saying they did not think Mr. Bush would succeed.
Still, Mr. Bush continued to have majority support for his handling of the war on terrorism - 52 percent - one of his strengths throughout his 2004 re-election campaign.
Mr. Bush's approval rating is below the historical pattern for June in the first year of a second term: President Clinton's stood at 60 percent and President Reagan's at 59 percent. But that could reflect, in part, the much greater partisan polarization in modern politics, underscored by the 71 percentage point gap between Mr. Bush's approval rating from Democrats and Republicans in the recent poll. Nicolle Devenish, White House communications director, dismissed the significance of the poll, saying Mr. Bush believes that following polls is equivalent to a dog chasing its tail. "We have advanced a broad agenda, and will continue to advocate the people's priorities," she said.
On Iraq, months of continued turmoil, insurgent attacks and casualties appear to have taken a further toll on public attitudes. Looking back, 51 percent said they thought the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, while 45 percent said military action was the right thing to do. That reflects only a slight erosion from findings by CBS News throughout the spring, but a marked turnaround from 2004, when pluralities tended to think it was still the right thing to do.
Moreover, only 37 percent said they approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, down from 45 percent in February. A strong majority of Americans now say the effort by the United States to bring stability and order to Iraq is going badly - 60 percent, up from 47 percent in February.
The latest poll was conducted by telephone June 10 through Wednesday with 1,111 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
In general, the survey found Americans in a darker mood. In one key measure, only 33 percent said they thought the country was on the right track, while 61 percent said it had gone off in the wrong direction. Similar results were found by CBS News in April and May, but that measure of national optimism was markedly better last November. There was little change in the way Americans rate the current condition of the American economy - 54 percent say it is very or fairly good. But the number of Americans who say the economy is getting worse is growing, to 36 percent from 30 percent in February.
When asked an open-ended question about the most important problems facing the nation, Americans cited the economy and jobs, war and terrorism at the top of the list. Social Security, which has consumed an enormous amount of political energy this spring, did not make the top six, suggesting voters have a different view of political priorities than the Republican-controlled Congress and the White House.
The public's view of Congress dropped sharply earlier this year, and has hovered at unusually low levels since March, according to CBS News Polls.
The sharpest drop in Congressional approval in recent months occurred among Republicans. In February, 54 percent of Republicans said they approved of the way Congress was doing its job; in the most recent poll, that had dropped to 40 percent. Some analysts suggest that Congress is paying the price for months of intense partisan struggle over judicial nominations and the decision to intervene in the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo.
Christine Weisman, a 54-year-old Republican homemaker in Reading, Pa., said in a follow-up interview, "They're not getting anything done. They don't seem to be able to come together on anything." She added, "It's all a political thing and they're forgetting the basic needs of the people."
Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "The American people know instinctively that we have major problems and we've got a Congress that is not attending or dealing with them." As the party in control, Republicans should be held responsible, Mr. Emanuel said, although he added that the 2006 midterms were far too distant for predictions.
Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the old truism still held: "People are not enamored, maybe, of the institution of Congress, but they love their congressman." He added, "My advice to the policy makers around Congress is to continue to get the work done, and make sure that as we get the work done, people know about it."
Mr. Bush faces a very resistant public when it comes to his Social Security proposals. He recently embraced a solvency plan that would cushion the lowest income workers from any benefit cuts, but a majority in the survey said they still believed Mr. Bush's general plan would most benefit high income people.
He has spent months trying to explain the virtues of private investment accounts, but public opinion on them remains very divided. Forty-five percent said those accounts were a good idea, 50 percent a bad idea, the same breakdown found in the survey in January.
People like the idea that the accounts could be inherited and that they could result in more money for retirement; both arguments boost support for the accounts. But the idea that these accounts could lead to huge amounts of government borrowing - to finance the transition costs - resulted in a very negative response, as did the idea that the accounts would be accompanied by a cut in the guaranteed government benefit.
Americans also recognized that Mr. Bush has a Social Security plan and the Democrats in Congress do not. A majority said they would like to see the Democrats offer a plan and not simply oppose Mr. Bush's.
But most said they did not think Mr. Bush's plan for private accounts would do anything for the system's long-term solvency.
Mr. Bush's approval rating in the Times/CBS Survey is one of a series of recent national polls that registered difficulties for Mr. Bush. The Associated Press-Ipsos Poll found Mr. Bush with a 43 percent approval rating; Gallup with 47 percent, and the Washington Post/ABC News Poll at 48 percent.
Fred Backus contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:29 AM
Halliburton to build new $30 mln Guantanamo jail
Thu Jun 16, 2005 7:20 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Halliburton Co. unit will build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States is holding about 520 foreign terrorism suspects, the Defense Department announced on Thursday.
The announcement comes the same week that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the jail after U.S. lawmakers said it had created an image problem for the United States.
Critics have decried the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees, whom the United States has denied rights accorded under the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war. The prison was called "the gulag of our times" in a recent Amnesty International report.
An air-conditioned two-story prison, known as Detention Camp #6, will be built at Guantanamo to house 220 men. It will include exercise areas, medical and dental spaces as well as a security control room, the contract announcement said.
The contract announcement did not specify whether the new prison would also hold foreign terror suspects.
Under the deal with the Norfolk, Virginia-based U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic, the work is to be wrapped up by July 2006. It is part of a larger contract that could be worth up to $500 million if all options are exercised, the Defense Department said.
The project is to be carried out by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Services of Arlington, Virginia. It includes site work, heating ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical work, the Pentagon said.
The first prisoners arrived at the prison camp in January 2002 after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
The Pentagon has said about 520 detainees from more than 40 countries are being held at the prison, without giving a precise figure.
Rumsfeld said on Tuesday U.S. taxpayers had spend more than $100 million on construction costs and no other facility could replace it.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:27 AM
White House rejects call for Iraq pullout
Thu Jun 16, 2005 10:11 PM ET
By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Critics of the Iraq war proposed a congressional resolution on Thursday calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal in a reflection of growing American unease, but the White House and the Pentagon rejected the idea.
The resolution, backed by North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones and Hawaii Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, calls for the Bush administration to develop a plan by the end of this year to pull out all American troops from Iraq and to begin the withdrawal by Oct. 1, 2006.
Jones said U.S. forces had removed Saddam Hussein, given Iraqis a chance at democracy and were training their military.
"After they're trained, what else should the goals be? Do we want to be there for 20 years or 30 years?" he said.
The resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives as White House aides said President Bush planned a more determined effort to defend the Iraq war amid growing public doubts.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said setting a withdrawal date would send the wrong message to Iraqi insurgents.
"This message would say to the terrorists: 'All you have to do is wait until that day when our troops leave and then you can start carrying out those attacks and just hold out."' he said.
The resolution is not expected to get far in the Republican-led Congress, which, although critical of aspects of the war, has supported the president's efforts.
About two-dozen House Democrats held their own hearing on a British government memo that said that by July 2002 U.S. intelligence was being "fixed" around a policy that would inevitably lead to war with Iraq. U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003.
"If these disclosures are true ... they establish a prima facie case of going to war under false pretenses," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who led the forum.
Conyers showed up at the gates of the White House with several other members of Congress to deliver the signatures of 122 congressional Democrats and 560,000 citizens on petitions seeking a response on the memo.
"We want an answer to our letter and if we have to send him 1 million signatures or 10 million, we're going to keep collecting them," said Conyers, who asked to deliver the bundles of documents in person but was told by White House staff members to pass them through the gate.
Dozens of protesters shouted "Let Conyers in" as they carried signs that said: ""Bushame on you. You lied, they died."
THE PENTAGON AND THE PUBLIC
At the Pentagon, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the military's Joint Staff, also did not support a deadline and expressed disappointment over opinion polls showing waning American support for the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Bush is facing some of the most pessimistic views on Iraq since launching the war two years ago. A new CBS/New York Times poll said 60 percent of Americans thought things were going badly for the United States in Iraq rather than well. Fifty-one percent now think the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, the poll found.
Bush's job approval rating was just 42 percent, down from a 51 percent rating in the aftermath of the November election, according to the poll of 1,111 people conducted in the past week. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Bush will host Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at the White House on June 24 and deliver a speech about Iraq on June 28 to mark the first anniversary since the transfer of sovereignty from a U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis.
The Bush administration has offered a conflicting picture of events in Iraq.
Vice President Dick Cheney asserted recently that the Iraqi insurgency, which is killing dozens of people daily with brazen suicide attacks, was in its "last throes." Bush has offered a more sober picture while stressing progress is being made. (Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Charles Aldinger)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:25 AM
Nellie B: USDA Prime
Remember "This is Karen Ryan, reporting" and President Bush's promise that the government wouldn't pump out any more of what the GAO criticized as "covert propaganda"? Yeah, and he also said that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and was a threat to Americans.
The new news about fake news comes courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, reporting that the US Department of Agriculture has produced and distributed more than three dozen TV and radio spots promoting the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a proposal controversial even with many Republicans. "I can't imagine how any senator or House member from ag country could stand up and vote against CAFTA," one spot quotes USDA secretary Mike Johanns. "It makes no sense to me. It's voting against our producers."
Rural communities have long relied on the USDA for news: that's part of its mission, providing information on the latest agricultural research and the like. But in between the updates on new corn varieties and poultry ailments, many of the smaller and more cash-strapped rural broadcasters are running the pro-CAFTA spots unedited, except for removing the USDA tagline at the end to make them look like news reports. Anti-CAFTA politicians are crying foul, or at least calling such "news reports" propaganda.
As for unequivocal propaganda -- y'know, psychological warfare from the US Special Operations Command -- the government outsources that stuff, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va. We could be spending some $100 million "for the [three selected] firms to produce print articles, video and audio broadcasts, Internet sites and novelty items, like T-shirts and bumper stickers, for foreign audiences." The war on terror waged on a bumper sticker?
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:11 AM
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The New York Times
June 15, 2005
The Interactive Truth
By STACY SCHIFF
It used to be that the longest unprotected border in the world was that between the United States and Canada. Today it's the one between fact and fiction. If the two cozy up any closer together The National Enquirer will be out of business.
More than 60 percent of the American people don't trust the press. Why should they? They've been reading "The Da Vinci Code" and marveling at its historical insights. I have nothing against a fine thriller, especially one that claims the highest of literary honors: it's a movie on the page. But "The Da Vinci Code" is not a work of nonfiction. If one more person talks to me about Dan Brown's crackerjack research I'm shooting on sight.
The novel's success does point up something critical. We're happier to swallow a half-baked Renaissance religious conspiracy theory than to examine the historical fiction we're living (and dying for) today. And not only is it remarkably easy to believe what we want to believe. It's remarkably easy to find someone who will back us up. Twenty-five years ago George W. S. Trow meditated on this in "Within the Context of No Context." Then it indeed appeared that authority and orthodoxy were wilting in the glare of television. Have we exterminated reason in the meantime?
If you are 6 years old and both your parents read one online, you can be forgiven for not knowing what a newspaper is. You would also be on to something. The news has slipped its moorings. It is no longer held captive by two-inch columns of type or a sonorous 6 p.m. baritone. It has gone on the lam. Anyone can be a reporter - or a book reviewer, TV star, museum guide, podcaster or pundit.
This week The Los Angeles Times announced its intention to exile the square and stodgy voice of authority farther yet. The paper will launch an interactive editorial page. "We'll have some editorials where you can go online and edit an editorial to your satisfaction," the page's editor says. "It's the ultimate in reader participation," explains his boss, Michael Kinsley. Let's hope the interactive editorial will lead directly to the interactive tax return. On the other hand, I hope we might stop short before we get to structural engineering and brain surgery. Some of us like our truth the way we like our martinis: dry and straight up.
Kinsley takes as his model Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, and which grows by accretion and consensus. Relatedly, it takes as its premise the idea that "facts" belong between quotation marks. It's a winning formula; Wikipedia is one of the Web's most popular sites. I asked a teenager if he understood that it carries a disclaimer; Wikipedia "can't guarantee the validity of the information found here." "That's just so that no one will sue them," he shrugged. As to the content: "It's all true, mostly."
What if we all vote on the truth? We don't need to, because we will be overruled by what becomes a legend most: entertainment. Twenty-one percent of young Americans get their news from comedy shows. Journalism once counted as the first draft of history. Today that would be screenwriting. As Frank Rich reminds us, the enduring line from Watergate - "Follow the money" - was not Deep Throat's. It was William Goldman's. And "Show me the money" was Cameron Crowe, not President Bush.
Evidently Deep Throat himself carped, pre-Watergate, that newspapers failed to get to the bottom of things. Of course apocrypha have always had staying power. That story about the cherry tree was a lie. Especially in unsettled times, we love conspiracy theories. They are comforting and safe. You can go out with a conspiracy theory after dark and not worry about foul play. Before Oliver Stone there was Shakespeare, although he generally had the good grace to let a century or two go by before he contorted history.
What is new is our odd, bipolar approach to fact. We have a fresh taste for documentaries. Any novelist will tell you that readers hunger for nonfiction, which may explain the number of historical figures who have crowded into our novels. Facts seem important. Facts have gravitas. But the illusion of facts will suffice. One in three Americans still believes there were W.M.D.'s in Iraq.
And that's the way it is.
Maureen Dowd is on book leave.
Stacy Schiff, the author of "A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America" and a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a guest columnist for two weeks.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:21 AM
The New York Times
Comedian for Senator? Don't Laugh
By DAVID CARR
MINNEAPOLIS, June 13 - The swells who showed up before Al Franken's speech at a Democratic fund-raiser to down finger food and punch were thrilled to see him, all the more so because he continues to make threatening noises about running for the Senate here in 2008.
A former writer and performer for "Saturday Night Live" and more recently a radio host on Air America, Mr. Franken has used his outsider status to hurl humor-based invective and indignation at the powers that be, but he is considering becoming part of what he so frequently assails.
On Saturday evening he worked the crowd as if being accosted by strangers in a sweltering tent redolent of meatballs was his idea of a good time.
It can get mighty personal mighty fast for a native son whom everyone seems to know.
"I jumped ya twice in Thief River Falls," said a middle-age woman in greeting at the pre-speech party in a tent next to the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota here. The seeming inference of long-ago sexual congress would cause deep blushing elsewhere, but it actually meant that Faith Rud and Mr. Franken had bonded in a far more profoundly Minnesotan way: she had used jumper cables to revive his Volkswagen bus on a cold night long ago after a college gig.
Mr. Franken, who left Minnesota at age 22 but has made a habit of coming back frequently, has suggested he may move his radio show to the state sometime next year. His delivery manages to be caustic and laconic, an unhurried savaging of all that is conservative and Republican, all wrapped up to a trumpeted call to arms.
"In this country, we are going through a very dark period," he told his audience, "and someday your grandchildren are going to ask what you did, and you are going to tell them, 'I worked my butt off,' " he said, exhorting the audience to work to turn out the current administration. He is a public person who likes his public and enjoys a microphone. (He was heckled last week for going on too long while accepting an award from Talkers magazine.)
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura have already demonstrated that star power can create its own legitimacy in politics, but given Mr. Franken's penchant for going over the top and staying there, he may serve as a test of just how far a celeb-pol can go and still have a valid shot at being elected. A ferocious, unreconstructed liberal, he may show up for the troops as part of U.S.O. tours, but he believes that the war they are fighting is little more than a criminal conspiracy at the highest reaches of government. Mr. Franken can give a speech. He knows the issues. But could he be too partisan for politics?
"There is an intersection between humor and truth," said Sandra Yue, who attended the speech. "He has a sincerity and commitment that I think people will respond to." Before and after the speech at the University of Minnesota here, many people thanked him for rushing back to Minnesota after Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash to campaign for Walter F. Mondale as the senator's successor. The effort failed, and Norman Coleman, a Republican, ended up in the Senate. Mr. Franken and others believe the seat rightfully belongs to the Democrats.
"Aren't you sick of Republican lectures about family values?" he said, mentioning Rush Limbaugh's battles with prescription drugs and Bill O'Reilly's alleged penchant for using the phone to titillating ends. (A sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Mr. O'Reilly was settled last year.)
The prospect of a comedian running for the office sparks belly laughs in some and genuine interest in others.
"Al is no better or no worse, no more or less qualified, that anyone else who has expressed interest in running in 2008, although that is a long way away," said John Van Hecke, campaign manager for the Minnesota House Democratic caucus. "Al says what a lot of people are thinking, but says it in a way that is a lot funnier than almost anyone."
A spokesman for Senator Coleman said that his office would not comment on a potential opponent in a race that is a few years away.
Mr. Franken continues to hedge his bets, partly because Air America seems to be gaining some traction.
"I am not sure that I am running yet," he said, sitting in the concert hall's green room before his appearance. "Part of the calculus is where the radio show goes. I don't want to leave them in the lurch."
There would not seem to be much of a fit between Mr. Franken and his re-adopted home state. Minnesota Nice, as it is called, means that when the woman serving coffee at Caribou, the local doppelgänger of Starbucks, asks how you are doing, she really wants to know. Although Mr. Franken is affable and sports a backpack jammed with wonky articles and books, he is not exactly Minnesota Nice. His last book was titled "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," and he spends enormous amounts of time on his three-hour radio show truth-squading and savaging various people on the right.
Then again, Minnesota is a place of enormous, and not easily explained, contradictions. A place where lions of the Democratic party - Hubert H. Humphrey and Eugene J. McCarthy - once strode the earth, it takes voting very seriously, with a 79 percent turnout in the 2004 general election. Yet in 1998 it elected a professional wrestler to run the state. Minnesotans, who show up in droves at the state fair to marvel at seed art and butter sculptures but also show up en masse at the legitimate theater, are their own darn thing. So frequently cast as droll practitioners of the art of common sense, they have displayed some fairly atavistic tendencies, electing Mr. Ventura out of nowhere as both a slap and a jolt to the system. In their own quiet way, they remain mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.
On Saturday the crowd of about 500 Minnesotans was hungry for Grade A red meat with a side of invective, and Mr. Franken did not disappoint. He pointed out that he had been married for 30 years and said, "If I get in a debate with Norm Coleman, I plan on asking him, 'Don't you want two people to have what you and your wife have?' " He paused as the roar grew in acknowledgement of the fact that Senator Coleman and his wife, Laurie, spend significant amounts of time apart because of her acting career.
The laughter filled Mr. Franken with glee, but in the next moment, he choked up while talking about touring with the U.S.O. He is surprisingly raw, breaking down when he mentions his father and, minutes later, screaming with indignation when he talks about money that has gone missing that was intended for redevelopment in Iraq. In that sense he is not remarkably different from Senator Wellstone, known to rattle a lectern with his sheer volume.
"I'd like to think that somebody like me, who says what he thinks and gets his facts right, has a place in politics," Mr. Franken said much later on Saturday, sitting in the Brave New Workshop comedy club on the south side of Minneapolis, where he started performing while in high school. Mr. Franken grew up in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb, and was admitted to Blake, a competitive and expensive prep school, because, he said, "they needed some Jews to get their SAT scores up."
Minnesotans, as Garrison Keillor has pointed out, are plenty smart in general, just not too fond of showing it off. They are more than willing to invite a prodigal back to the potluck supper that is life here, and to lampoon their own cartoonish dimensions at the same time. At the end of Mr. Franken's speech, he received a thunderous ovation - and a special gift from Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a Democratic state representative from Minneapolis.
She presented him with a Crock-Pot, along with some advice: "Nothing says 'I care' quite like wild-rice hot dish for the neighbors."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:15 AM