Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Dinner With Clinton

Huffington Post
Elayne Boosler
My Dinner With Clinton

January 19, 2007 -- Las Vegas Review-Journal: Host Of This Year's WH Correspondents Dinner Claiming He Was Told To Go Easy On Bush...

Head Of WH Correspondents Assoc: "We Didn't Say Go Easy, We Said "'Singe, Don't Burn'"...

And therein lies the difference in character of administrations. Whatever you think of this White House, you can now add "weenies" to the list. They control the press (you know what Al Jazeera means in English? Fox News), the message, the congress (until now, hopefully), the legal system (Guantanamo, military tribunals, whom lawyers can and cannot defend), the "artistic interpretation" of the Constitution (what is it, Swan Lake?) the bills passed by congress (illegal signing statements, or singeing statements, hey, maybe that's why they said singe), appointments (John Bolton, reactionary right wing judges, all appointed by executive decree while congress was in recess), the limiting of young girls' lives and opportunity (gutting Title IX by executive decree, no access to birth control, abstinence only teaching that doesn't work), etc. etc. But now they've just gone too far!!! Telling a comedian what he can and cannot say?

This is the biggest bunch of cowards to come down the pike since that guy dressed as a woman and got into one of the lifeboats as the Titanic was sinking. You sure can tell none of these White House big shots ever served in the military; afraid of a comedian? And one on social security at that? (Which explains why they would be afraid of him. Maybe they fear he's going to ask Bush to explain the "health care plans" debacle for seniors, or why the government won't negotiate price with drug companies).

When Bill Clinton was elected president, I was the first comedian chosen to entertain at the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner. It was May, 1993, one hundred days into his first term, and there was enough kindling in those three months to burn down Washington. Janet Reno had just blown the hostage situation in Waco, Texas, and 74 members of the Branch Davidians, men, women, and children, were dead. The Tailhook scandal had just come to light; U.S. Navy pilots were accused of drunken sexual abuse of their female comrades, and civilians, at their Las Vegas convention. Clinton had announced that to bring down the deficit he was, yes, raising taxes. The Republican congress was already dead set against any progress on his watch; he got no cooperation on his proposed health care, budget, or economic policy reforms.


These were raw, sensitive, explosive issues. There was a private cocktail party before the dinner. I thought that meant about a thousand people stuffed into a room, so I went down late. I walked into the room. It was a dozen people. Bill Clinton and a handful of young guys... and me. The president saw me. "Elayne's here! Get Jim. You have to see this!! This guy does the greatest Ross Perot!!" And over came Jim, and did his Ross Perot, and it was perfect, and we all laughed a lot. And we told jokes. And laughed some more. Hillary came in from giving a graduation speech in Washington. She was in a long gold gown, with long gold hair swept up in an intricate, beautiful do. In came Al Gore and Tipper. We talked, we laughed. The head of the White House Press Association entered, told us how to line up to enter and go to the dais where we would all be eating dinner before the speeches started. (I ate dinner with them first. On the dais. It was Bill, Hillary, Al Gore, Tipper, and me. I felt like the SAT sample question. What does not belong at this table?)

So here's my point. With the most combustible confluence of events ever to befall a new president, not once, ever, did anyone say to me, "Go easy. Don't burn". No one told me what to say or not say. In all that pre-dinner opportunity for someone to attempt to censor me, it never came up.

And I did mention all of it onstage, because that's the job. And Clinton laughed, and winced, and laughed. And the audience laughed, and booed, and laughed, and booed. And the press lambasted me the next day, because that seems to be part of the tradition. No matter who the comedian is that year, the Washington press deems her/him inappropriate, out of line, whatever.

Rich Little doesn't have to burn George W. Bush. He'll burn all right.


The Administration is Playing a Shell Game With Its Unconstitutional Warrantless Wiretapping

Huffington Post
Miles Mogulescu
The Administration is Playing a Shell Game With Its Unconstitutional Warrantless Wiretapping

The Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program has represented one of its most egregious claims of unfettered executive power and a threat to our constitutional democracy. It spit in the face of both the FISA Act requiring warrants for such wiretapping and the constitutional protections of free speech, privacy and separation of powers.

Before the election, the Bush administration claimed that this program was vital to protect the security of the nation and criticized critics as being soft in the war on terror.

Recently, a Federal District Court ruled the program illegal and unconstitutional. A Federal Appeals court is set to review the case in two weeks and could issue a precedential opinion holding the program illegal, a decision that could only be overturned by the Supreme Court. A new Democratic Congress is likely to hold hearings with the possibility of legislation specifically requiring case by case warrants.

In that context, the Justice Department suddenly announced on Wednesday that it had received sanction for such wiretapping from a single FISA judge in a secret proceeding. Questioned by Senators on Thursday, Attorney General Gonzales refused to reveal whether the FISA judge had approved only a specific wiretap or had approved a wider program of wiretapping. Although the FISA judge offered to supply her decision to the Senate, Gonzales refused, claiming the decision was classified.

This is part of the Bush administration's continuing shell game to keep its unprecedented and unconstitutional claims of executive power away from oversight by Congress or review by the normal Federal court system.

On the eve of the Supreme Court's review of the case of Jose Padilla, Padilla was transferred to the criminal system, thus preventing a Supreme Court ruling. After the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that an enemy combatant has the right to challenge his detention in court, the administration freed Hamdi and sent him to Saudi Arabia rather than face further judicial proceedings. In a much quoted passage from her decision in the Hamdi case, Justice Sandra Day O'Conner stated, "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

In connection with the NSA wiretapping case, the administration maintains still maintains that is free to operate without court approval and had referred the case to the secret FISA judge on a strictly voluntary basis. President Bush denied that there had been any change in the NSA program except that it had been blessed by the FISA judge. According to Bush, "the reason it's important that they [the FISA judge] verify the legalities of the program is it means its going to extend, make it extend beyond my presidency." In other words, Bush wants to make his unprecedented claims of executive power permanent.

It is essential that the Judiciary Committee continue to aggressively pursue this matter in spite of Secretary Gonzales's stonewalling. Senators must insist that they be provided with all relevant information. If necessary, Congress must pass new legislation spelling out the exact procedures the administration must follow to obtain a warrant.. It is equally important that the Federal Appeals Court hear the case until it can determine the specifics of the administration's procedures and the degree to which the administration continues to maintain the right to wiretap without a case by case warrant..

The Bush administration has over and over threatened our constitutional democracy with claims of unfettered executive power--the future of the country demands that it be stopped.


Democratic House votes to protect interns

Democratic House votes to protect interns
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Friday to better protect its teenage interns in response to an Internet sex scandal that helped Democrats win control of the U.S. Congress last November.

A day after the House wrapped up its "first 100-hour" legislative agenda in less than half that time, it moved to prevent a repeat of the seedy Republican affair.

On a vote of 416-0, the House approved legislation to add a former intern and a parent of a current intern to the House board that oversees its internship program.

The bill also would require the board to meet regularly and seek bipartisanship by stipulating that each party is equally represented with two House members. The majority party now gets two board seats, the minority one.

Last September, Republican Mark Foley of Florida abruptly resigned from the House after it was disclosed he had sent sexually provocative electronic messages to interns, also known as pages.

The scandal mushroomed after it became known that a number of senior Republicans and aides had received warnings about Foley, prompting charges of a cover-up that damaged the party in the 2006 congressional elections.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, hailed passage of the bill "to protect pages who are in the House's care."

"The Democratic majority will also work to oversee the program and enforce these new rules vigorously, which is key to the success of this program and the safety of our young people," Hoyer said.

On Monday, the House will again focus on ethics when it considers a bill to deny congressional pensions to members convicted of a felony, such as bribery.

In accordance with current law, the punishment will not be retroactive. That means former Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail on Friday for political corruption, would be able to keep his pension.

Republicans groused that much of the legislation so far had been jammed through the House without them getting a chance to shape it. But Democrats were delighted that many Republicans joined them in voting for the popular efforts.

They included legislation to raise the minimum wage, cut in half interest rates on federal student loans, reduce subsidies to big-oil companies, lower prescription drug prices and strengthen America's security.

While tougher fights are certain ahead on such matters as the Iraq war, global warming and immigration reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the early accomplishments.

"These successes are just the beginning. We have set a tone for the 110th Congress that is one of cooperation, consensus and compromise," said Pelosi, a California Democrat.


Supreme Court to decide case on broadcast political ads

Supreme Court to decide case on broadcast political ads
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide the reach of a federal law that bans certain broadcast advertisements before an election, a case with important implications for the 2008 presidential and congressional campaigns.

The justices said they would decide a case involving an anti-abortion group called Wisconsin Right to Life in its free-speech challenge to a key part of a 2002 federal campaign finance law that seeks to limit the influence of money in politics.

That part of the law bans corporations, unions and special interest groups from using unrestricted money to run television or radio ads that refer to a candidate for federal office two months before a general election or one month before a primary election.

Wisconsin Right to Life argued the ban should not be applied to three ads it wanted to run in 2004 to criticize Sen. Russell Feingold for supporting efforts to block confirmation of several of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.

Because Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, was running for re-election at the time, the ads were prohibited. Feingold had coauthored the landmark campaign finance law with Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

The ads urged people to call Feingold and the state's other senator, Democrat Herb Kohl, to urge them to oppose filibusters of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.


A federal court panel ruled last month that the ads were not election ads covered by the law, but were general issue ads that did not aim to influence voters.

"The language in ... the advertisements does not mention an election, a candidacy or a political party, nor do they comment on a candidate's character, actions or fitness for office," U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote in the opinion.

The law's supporters warned the ruling could create a big loophole by allowing thinly disguised issue ads that really are for or against a candidate.

The Bush administration, representing the Federal Election Commission which administers the campaign finance laws, appealed to the Supreme Court.

Four members of Congress -- Sen. McCain and Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Martin Meehan of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays -- also appealed. They said the ruling threatened to create a large class of ads exempt from the law.

The Supreme Court could set important rules in deciding whether such ads will be allowed and how judges should decide such cases.

Attorneys for Wisconsin Right to Life said the Supreme Court should decide the key factors for determining when ads involve "grass-roots lobbying" and are exempt from the law.

The high court is expected to hear arguments in late April and to decide the case by the end of June, well in advance of the primaries for the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

In 2003, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote upheld key parts of the campaign finance law. But it has allowed challenges on how the law is applied in specific cases, like the one from Wisconsin.

The court's four liberals, along with moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, voted to uphold the law. She has retired and been replaced with Justice Samuel Alito, who could join the court's four other conservatives to limit the law's reach.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Ohio County Rigged 2004 Recount

Prosecutor: Ohio County Rigged Recount
Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Three county elections workers conspired to avoid a more thorough recount of ballots in the 2004 presidential election, a prosecutor told jurors during opening statements of their trial Thursday.

Witnesses testified that, two days before a planned recount, selected ballots were counted so the result would be determined.

"The evidence will show that this recount was rigged, maybe not for political reasons, but rigged nonetheless," Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said. "They did this so they could spend a day rather than weeks or months" on the recount, he said.

Elections have fallen under greater scrutiny since the 2000 presidential election when recounts of paper ballots in Florida dragged on for weeks and the U.S. Supreme Court became involved.

Defense attorneys said in their opening statements that the workers in Cuyahoga County didn't do anything out of the ordinary.

"They just were doing it the way they were always doing it," said defense attorney Roger Synenberg, representing Kathleen Dreamer, a ballot manager.

Charged with various counts each of election misconduct or interference are Jacqueline Maiden, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections' coordinator, who was the board's third-highest ranking employee when she was indicted last March; Rosie Grier, assistant manager of the board's ballot department; and Dreamer. The most serious charge faced by each is a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison, Baxter said.

Baxter made no claim about whether mishandling the recount could have affected the presidential election.

Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry and hold on to the White House in 2004. Statewide, Bush won by about 118,000 votes out of 5.5 million cast. Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik sought the recount and complained about its procedure.

In Cuyahoga County, a Democratic stronghold where about 600,000 ballots were cast, the recount did not have much effect on the results. Kerry gained 17 votes and Bush lost six.

Ohio law states that during a recount each county is supposed to randomly choose 3 percent of its ballots and tally them by hand and by machine. If there are no discrepancies in those counts, the rest of the votes can be recounted by machine.

If there is a difference, the county must randomly recount 3 percent of the ballots a second time. All the county's ballots must be recounted by hand if there is a second discrepancy, but if there isn't, all the ballots can be recounted by machine.

Baxter said testimony in the case will show that instead of conducting a random count, the workers chose sample precincts for the Dec. 16, 2004, recount that did not have questionable results to ensure that no discrepancies would emerge.

"This was a very hush operation," Baxter said.

It's unlikely another recount would be ordered because of the court case, which voting rights advocates have used as an example of flaws with the state's recount laws. There were allegations in several counties of similar presorting of ballots for the recounts that state law says are to be random.


Holocaust survivors owed as much as $175 bln: study

Holocaust survivors owed as much as $175 bln: study
By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Holocaust survivors are still owed between $115 billion and $175 billion in restitution despite six decades of efforts to return everything the Nazis stole, from their homes to businesses, a new study said on Thursday.

In the last decade, restitution efforts intensified due to the end of the Cold War, as well as public pressure spurred by new reports of the extent of Nazi looting and an uproar over efforts by Swiss banks to conceal victim accounts, said the study's author, international economist Sidney Zabludoff.

The study was prepared for Jerusalem-based Jewish Political Studies Review and made available to Reuters.

"At least $115-$175 billion (at 2005 prices) remains unreturned despite numerous clear and explicit international agreements and country promises made during World War Two and immediately thereafter," the study said.

European nations have pledged $3.4 billion in restitution payments, though only about half of that was paid by 2005.

This slow pace reflected how quickly the restitution push faded after 2002, when the United States stopped squeezing European governments and public attention waned, said Zabludoff, a former White House, Treasury Department and CIA official.

"No additional noteworthy Congressional hearings were held, efforts by U.S. state regulators diminished sharply and there were unfavorable court cases" on insurance claims, the study said.

During the entire post-war period, only about 20 percent of the assets looted from Europe's Jews was returned, he said.


Restitution is a complicated task because the Nazis were such thorough looters. And many of the people who survived the Holocaust, which killed 6 million of their relatives and friends, lost all ownership records.

The Nazis forced many Jews to sell their homes and everything they owned, from furniture to companies, often at "far less than prevailing market values," Zabludoff said.

And at the war's end, the Soviets confiscated "large amounts of stocks and bonds" from the Reichsbank in Berlin that belonged to Europe's Jews, he added.

Zabludoff's research has reopened clashes between survivors' advocates over how best to aid elderly Holocaust survivors in Europe, the United States and Israel, some of whom are extremely poor.

"Things are moving much too slowly," said Menachem Rosensaft, a New York lawyer who founded the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

In contrast, Elan Steinberg, the World Jewish Congress' former executive director who helped push Switzerland, Germany and Austria into large settlements, faulted the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

The conference, which negotiates with Germany and distributes its Holocaust reparations, should pay out its more than $1 billion of reserves much more quickly, Steinberg said.

He added that individual survivors should get the money, not hospitals and agencies that also aid other people.

"What I and many Holocaust survivors think is that they are holding onto a mountain of cash while Holocaust survivors are going hungry and sick and are approaching the end," he said.

However, conference spokeswoman Hillary Kessler-Godin said only about $275 million of the $900 million of reserves it had at the end of 2005 has not been earmarked to pay property claimants and providers of services, like home care.

That means the money runs out in about three years, she said, adding the conference hopes fund-raising and more restitution payments will carry it through.


U.S. tells China concerned by satellite-killer test

U.S. tells China concerned by satellite-killer test
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, Australia and Canada have voiced concerns to China over the first known satellite-killing test in space in more than 20 years, the White House said on Thursday.

"The U.S. believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "We and other countries have expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese."

Using a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile, the test knocked out an aging Chinese weather satellite about 537 miles above the Earth on January 11 through "kinetic impact," or by slamming into it, Johndroe said.

Canada and Australia had joined in voicing concern, he said. Britain, South Korea and Japan were expected to follow suit, an administration official added.

On a visit to New York, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia raised concerns with the Chinese some days ago.

"So far, the answer from the foreign affairs people in China, including the ambassador in Canberra, is that they are not aware of the incident and they are getting back to us," Downer told reporters.

"What we don't want to see is some sort of spread, if you like, of an arms race into outer space. The danger there is that you get into a situation where other countries, including the U.S. I suppose, would have to start to look for ways to protect satellites in space," he said.

"The other concern is that the debris from the destroyed satellite could hit other satellites and damage (them)," Downer said.

The last U.S. anti-satellite test took place on September 13, 1985. Washington then halted such Cold War-era testing, concerned by debris that could harm civilian and military satellite operations on which the West increasingly relies for everything from pinpoint navigation to Internet access to automated teller machines.

According to David Wright of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, the satellite pulverized by China could have broken into nearly 40,000 fragments from 1 cm to 10 cm or up to 4 inches, roughly half of which would stay in orbit for more than a decade.

On the day of the test, a U.S. defense official said the United States was unable to communicate with an experimental spy satellite launched last year by the Pentagon's National Reconnaissance Office. There was no immediate indication that that was a result of the Chinese test.


Aviation Week & Space Technology, the first to report the test, cited space sources as saying a Chinese Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite, launched in 1999, was destroyed by an antisatellite system launched from or near China's Xichang Space Center in Sichuan Province.

The capability demonstrated by China was no surprise to the Bush administration, which revised U.S. national space policy in October to assert a right to deny space access to anyone hostile to U.S. interests.

The United States has been researching satellite-killers of its own, experimenting with lasers on the ground that could disable, disrupt and destroy spacecraft.

Marco Caceres, a space expert at the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia, said China's test could bolster a host of costly military space programs, almost all of which are over budget and behind schedule.

"They are going to use this for as much as they can," he said, referring to Pentagon officials. Major corporate beneficiaries could be Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., which build U.S. communications, surveillance and early warning satellites, Caceres said.

(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Florida and Michelle Nichols in New York)


Gonzales defends Bush's revised domestic spying

Gonzales defends Bush's revised domestic spying
By Thomas Ferraro and Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fended off lawmakers on Thursday who demanded to know why the administration took more than five years to obtain court approval of its war-time domestic spying.

"I somewhat take issue ... with (Republican) Senator Arlen Specter's innuendo that this is something we could have pulled off the shelf and done in a matter of days or weeks," Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This is a very complicated application. We worked on it a long time."

Gonzales announced an abrupt end to the warrantless electronic surveillance program on Wednesday, just two weeks after Democrats took control of the U.S. Congress, promising investigations and legislation to bring the program in line with the law.

Critics have charged that President George W. Bush overstepped his authority after the September 11 attacks with the domestic spying program as well as other measures such as holding terrorism suspects indefinitely without charges, and interrogations that some said amounted to torture.

Gonzales said the Justice Department had recently reached an agreement with a secret court, which gives out warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that would allow swift approval to monitor international communications.

Specter of Pennsylvania, who headed the Judiciary Committee when Congress was controlled by Republicans the past two years, said the administration should have moved faster to get court approval of the spying.


"I cannot help but conclude that there hasn't been a sufficient sense of urgency on behalf of the Department of Justice to get this job done faster," Specter said.

Gonzales said after the 2001 attacks, the administration looked at the 1978 FISA law, which requires court approval to spy on U.S. citizens inside the United States.

"We all concluded, there's no way we can do what we believe we have to do to protect the country under the strict reading of FISA," he said.

Senators demanded details about the agreement the Justice Department reached with the FISA court. They cited a letter from FISA's presiding judge stating that the court would have no objections to giving the committee confidential information, but that it would be up to Justice to provide it.

Gonzales was noncommittal, prompting Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, to ask: "Are you saying you might object to the court giving us decisions that you've publicly announced?"

Gonzales said, "There's going to be information about operational details about how we're doing this that we want to keep confidential."

Bush ordered the National Security Agency in late 2001 to conduct the program to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without a warrant, if those wiretaps were made to track suspected al Qaeda operatives.

When the program was first disclosed in December 2005, it drew fire from Democrats and some Republicans in Congress who charged it violated the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Bush insisted he had inherent war-time presidential powers to order the spying program. However, Gonzales said the Justice Department stepped up efforts to bring it under FISA.

In a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday, Gonzales said the program would not be renewed. Instead electronic surveillance would be subject to approval from the secret but independent FISA court, as demanded by critics.

Leahy told Gonzales, "The issue has never been whether to monitor suspected terrorists, but doing it legally and with proper checks and balances." Leahy added, "This reversal is a good first step."


Senate votes to clean up how it does business

Senate votes to clean up how it does business
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new Democratic-led U.S. Senate resolved a stalemate on Thursday and overwhelmingly passed legislation to toughen its lobbying and ethics rules in an effort to clean up how lawmakers do business.

The bipartisan bill, approved on a 96-2 vote, became the first passed by the Senate since the 110th Congress convened two weeks ago. It would ban gifts from lobbyists, strengthen restrictions on travel and prohibit former lawmakers from lobbying Congress for two years.

The measure would also deny pensions to senators convicted of bribery, publicly identify the sponsors of any special projects slipped into massive spending bills and require disclosure of negotiations by any senator for a job in the private sector.

Democrats won control of Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans in last November's elections, promising to end "a culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill that involved a number of influence-peddling scandals in recent years.

Senate passage came after Republicans lifted a procedural roadblock. They reached an agreement with Democrats over a proposed amendment to cut wasteful spending.

The measure now goes for needed concurrence to the U.S. House of Representatives, which adopted similar rule changes earlier this month.

"This is the toughest reform bill in the history of this body as it relates to ethics and lobbying," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

"This is a classic example of bipartisanship ... at its best," said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who sponsored the bill with Reid.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Paul Light of New York University's John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress. "But the real question is will it be enforced."


Republicans had pushed an amendment to the bill to permit a president to single out specific spending or tax provisions in bills approved by Congress, and then ask that lawmakers go back and delete them.

Democrats refused to allow a vote on the proposal as an amendment to the ethics bill, many complaining it amounted to an unlawful presidential encroachment on congressional powers.

But to clear the way for passage of the overall bill, Democrats agreed to give Republicans a vote on it when they consider next week an increase in the minimum wage.

A decade ago, the Supreme Court ruled as unlawful "line-item veto" power for presidents, saying it crossed into congressional authority. Backers contend the proposed provision would comply with the law. Critics disagreed.

The Senate rejected a proposed amendment that would have created an independent Office of Public Integrity to investigate the ethical conduct of members.

The proposal was backed by public watchdog groups, but critics argued such probes should be left to the Senate's Ethics Committee.

The Senate approved an amendment that would prohibit spouses of senators from lobbying Congress -- unless they were a lobbyist at least a year before election of the member or were a lobbyist for at least a year prior to their marriage.

"Democrats are taking down the 'For Sale' sign on the Capitol and putting up a new sign: 'Under New Management,'" said Assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin.


Lawmakers seek to bar U.S. attack on Iran

Lawmakers seek to bar U.S. attack on Iran
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives pushed legislation on Thursday to prohibit a U.S. attack on Iran without congressional permission.

The effort, led by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who in 2005 joined calls from many Democrats for a phased U.S. withdrawal from the Iraq war, came as lawmakers voiced concerns the Bush administration might provoke a confrontation with neighboring Iran.

"The resolution makes crystal clear that no previous resolution passed by Congress" authorizes a U.S. attack on Iran, Jones told reporters, referring to the 2002 vote by Congress authorizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The joint resolution would have to be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President George W. Bush to acquire the force of law. It would waive the congressional authorization only if Iran attacked the United States or its armed forces, or if such an attack was "demonstrably" imminent.

So far, Jones' resolution has 11 co-sponsors in the 435-member House.

At the White House, Bush, asked whether there were any U.S. plans to take action against Iran, told Sinclair Broadcasting: "I have made it clear that if they're moving weapons inside Iraq that will hurt the cause of democracy and more particularly hurt our soldiers, we'll take care of business there.

We're not going to let them," he said on Thursday. "I made that abundantly clear the other day in my speech."

Bush's comment echoed remarks last week when he accused Iran and Syria of allowing the use of their territory for launching attacks inside Iraq.

The White House has since made clear the plan was to disrupt weapons supply lines inside Iraq and that the United States was not preparing for military action against Iran or Syria.

Rep. Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, said that while he did not trust Iran or its intentions in the Middle East, he also did not trust the White House.

Meehan said the resolution on Iran was needed because the Bush administration had "lied so many times" in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Concerns about a U.S. attack against Iran increased after the United States moved an additional aircraft carrier into the Gulf region and the Bush administration told Arab allies it would do more to contain Tehran.

The legislation's backers said they hoped Democratic leaders in the House would advance their resolution in coming months, possibly as part of Iraq war funding legislation or other Iraq-related measures.


House seeks more oil royalties, kills tax breaks

House seeks more oil royalties, kills tax breaks
By Chris Baltimore and Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new Democratic-led House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday aimed at "Big Oil" that would roll back some industry tax breaks and force energy companies to pay more drilling royalties, valued at $14 billion over 10 years.

Passage of the bill by a vote of 264-163 capped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100-hour agenda, which included measures to raise the minimum wage, lower student loan interest rates and bolster homeland security.

The $14 billion raised from the additional royalties and repealed tax breaks would fund research for renewable energy sources. The measure must be approved by the Senate and the president before it becomes law.

It is unclear if President George W. Bush would sign the measure. He supports repealing some of the tax breaks but opposes renegotiating royalty contracts.

Going after major integrated U.S. oil firms like Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips has been a top priority for the House Democratic leadership, which says the companies' record profits have come at the expense of U.S. motorists paying high gasoline prices.

"The oil and gas industry is extraordinarily well established and well off," said House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer. "It does not need the American taxpayer's help to be successful or to make a dollar."


Republican opponents said the bill would raise U.S. energy costs, and Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri called it "a win for OPEC," referring to the group of oil-exporting nations that produces over a third of the world's oil.

About half the bill's savings comes from eliminating a lower tax rate on oil companies, which will bring in about $6.5 billion from 2007 to 2016, according to a congressional estimate. The lower tax rate had been given to all U.S. manufacturers in 2004, including oil companies.

The rest of the money would come from a "conservation fee" on oil and gas production that the bill would impose on energy companies that refused to renegotiate faulty leases signed in 1998 and 1999. That would raise about $7.6 billion.

Republicans and U.S. oil and gas industry groups said such measures would hurt U.S. consumers by making it more expensive to find and produce domestic supplies.

"In reality, the only people it punishes is the American people," said Rep. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican and former House speaker.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said the bill would require U.S. consumers to import more oil from U.S. nations like Iran and Venezuela, which are both OPEC members and foes of U.S. policy.

"If you care about our children, stop sending the money to (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez," Rogers said.

Bush has said big oil companies do not need government help amid historically high oil prices, but opposed forcing energy companies to renegotiate faulty drilling contracts, which as written would allow energy companies to avoid paying about $10 billion in royalties.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh)


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bush won't reauthorize U.S. eavesdropping program; Will follow substitute measure approved by Secret court

Bush won't reauthorize U.S. eavesdropping program
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush has decided not to renew a program of domestic spying on terrorism suspects, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Wednesday, ending a tactic criticized for infringing on civil liberties.

Gonzales said electronic surveillance will be subject to approval from a secret but independent court, which Democrats in Congress and other critics have demanded during more than a year of fierce debate.

"The president has determined not to reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires," Gonzales wrote in a letter to congressional leaders that disclosed the administration's shift in approach.

Bush has reauthorized the program every 45 days, and the current authorization is mid-cycle, a senior Justice Department official said. Gonzales said a recent secret-court approval allowed the government to act effectively without the program.

The program, adopted after the September 11 attacks, allowed the government to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without a warrant, if those wiretaps were made to track suspected al Qaeda operatives.

Critics have said the program violated the U.S. Constitution and a 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which made it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without the approval of the special surveillance court.

Gonzales said a judge on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on January 10 approved a government proposal allowing it to target communications into and out of the United States when probable cause exists that one person is a member of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization.

The court's judges provide an independent review of the administration's requests for warrants for eavesdropping.


He reiterated the administration's position that the program has been legal, but said the government will now have the ability to act with sufficient "speed and agility."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the new rules approved by the court addressed administration concerns.

"The president will not reauthorize the present program because the new rules will serve as guideposts," Snow said.

Gonzales' letter came the day before he was scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the Democrats now in power were expected to question him closely about the program.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the judiciary committee's chairman, welcomed Bush's decision.

"We must engage in all surveillance necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, but we can and should do so in ways that protect the basic rights of all Americans including the right to privacy," he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and a judiciary committee member, said, "Why it took five years to go to even this secret court is beyond comprehension."

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, said, "It is regrettable that these steps weren't taken a long time ago."

Last year a federal judge in Detroit ordered the Bush administration to stop the surveillance because it violates Americans' civil rights.

The Bush administration has appealed the ruling to a federal appeals court, where the case is pending. The administration immediately told the court of Bush's decision.

Gonzales said the administration began exploring options for seeking FISA court approval for the program in the spring of 2005, well before it was publicly disclosed at the end of that year, creating a firestorm of criticism.

He did not give details of the court's orders.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro, Deborah Charles and Tabassum Zakaria)


Senate Republicans vote against Ethics, lobbying reform bill

Ethics, lobbying reform bill stalls in U.S. Senate
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two weeks after the U.S. Senate convened with Democrats and Republicans vowing to work together for the public good, they bitterly split on Wednesday over how to clean up the scandal-rocked U.S. Congress.

The Democratic-led Senate failed to end a Republican procedural roadblock that has stalled a bipartisan bill to revamp the Senate's ethics and lobbying rules.

On a 51-46 vote, the Senate fell 14 short of the 65 votes needed to end more than a week of debate and move toward a vote on passage of the sweeping measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he would try again on Thursday to muster the two-thirds majority vote needed to end debate on proposed rules changes.

Reid said if Democrats again fell short, he would decide what to do next. He could turn to other legislation. "There are a number of alternatives," Reid told colleagues.

A Reid spokesman said if Republicans again prevail in preventing a vote on passage, they will have to spend the next two years "defending why they voted against ethics reform."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said "I still hope we can finish this bill. We are not that far away from completion."

Democrats won control of Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans in the November elections, promising to end "a culture of corruption" on Capitol Hill marked in recent years by influence-peddling scandals.

Senate Democrats and Republicans promised bipartisanship when the new Congress convened on January 4. But that spirit turned into partisan finger-pointing over who knew best how to proceed with the bill to increase accountability and public disclosure in the legislative process.

Republicans demanded that before the Senate vote on the reform measure, it consider a proposed amendment to permit a "line item veto," which would allow a president to single out specific spending or tax provisions in bills approved by Congress and ask that lawmakers go back and delete them.

Congress would then have the opportunity to override him.

Reid opposed such a vote, and along with fellow Democrats accused Republicans of trying to kill the overall bill.

"Attaching an unrelated measure to this bipartisan bill is an obvious attempt to derail passage of the strongest ethics reform legislation" in three decades, Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Barack Obama of Illinois said in a statement.

Republicans denied trying to kill the bill. But they insisted the proposed amendment be considered promptly.

The stalled measure would generally ban gifts and trips from lobbyists, double to two years a ban on lobbying by former lawmakers and require disclosure of any negotiations by members for a job in the private sector.

In addition, it would require public disclosure of the sponsors of pet projects, such as local roads and bridges, often slipped into giant spending bills.


Detainee letters show window into Guantanamo life

Detainee letters show window into Guantanamo life

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the 14 "high value" detainees transferred last year from secret CIA prisons to the U.S. military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, says in a letter to his wife she should not dwell on the thought of his return, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

"If I come back, it will be a miracle of God," terrorism suspect Majid Khan, 26, says in the handwritten letter to his Pakistani wife, published on an Urdu language Web site operated by the BBC, the newspaper reported.

The letter and three others to relatives in Maryland were the first substantial communication from any of the 14 prisoners who spent time in CIA prisons before being transferred to Guantanamo in September, the Post said.

Khan, a Pakistani national, wrote that he is held in solitary confinement, is allowed to leave his cell "to get sunburn" for one hour each day and he sometimes talks with other inmates through cell walls, the newspaper reported.

Other than those particulars, the letters contained few details of his confinement, the Post said.

The letters, redacted by military censors, were delivered to Khan's relatives through the International Committee of the Red Cross, the newspaper said.

The U.S. government has denied Khan and other high-value detainees access to lawyers, arguing in court filings that CIA interrogation methods to which they were subjected are among the most sensitive national security secrets, the Post reported.

As a result, little is known about the arrests, detentions or interrogations of the 14 captives, the Post said.

The newspaper reported that U.S. officials say Khan, a Pakistani national, took orders from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States and also a high-value prisoner at Guantanamo.

Khan's brother in suburban Baltimore, Mahmood Khan, told The Washington Post the family was releasing the letters it received last month in order to draw attention to the case.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

McCain Was Against War In Iraq Before He Was For It

Huffington Post
Cliff Schecter
McCain Was Against War In Iraq Before He Was For It

So I began looking through some old newspaper clippings on the Gulf War for some research I have been doing, and you just wouldn't believe what I happened across. Featured prominently in one article from August of 1990, was a senator named John McCain, the "maverick" or "straight talker" if you will, who tells it like he sees it and sees it like he imagines Teddy Roosevelt would have.
But has he once again flip flopped on his views (see evolution, gay rights, Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, his feelings about Jerry Falwell, etc.).

First let's get back to today's version of Mr. Mccain. You may now know him as just about the most belligerent war hawk, a truly insane warmonger among a group of Brawny Paper men named Jon Kyl, Joe Lieberman and Mitch McConnell. Also known as the only lunatics openly supporting Bush's De-Iraqification via more troops from American families he would never stoop to meet with or probably run into in daddy's country club in Kennebunkport.

But let's get back to McCain. Mr. Consistency himself has been a stalwart supporter of our foray into the Middle East. And of course of escalating our troop presence, which just so happens not to find among their ranks any member of his immediate family.

He was an honorary co-chair (with who else but Joe Lieberman?) on the Committee on the Liberation of Iraq, whose mission in 2002 is kind of evident if you reread that name. Since then, you could call him one of the war's biggest cheerleaders. According to Dean Broder:

...there is nothing nuanced about his position on the Iraq war. In speeches on and off the Senate floor and in countless television interviews, McCain has argued that it was right to remove Saddam Hussein and that the United States and its allies must remain in Iraq until conditions are created for a stable, secure Iraqi government...When I interviewed him in his office the other day, he even used the pejorative phrase "cut and run" to describe those now calling for a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.

His view on Bush's escalation in his own words is "I believe that together these moves will give the Iraqis and Americans the best chance of success." He's echoed this point many times, as an AlterNet piece pointed out, "McCain yelled at Baker and Hamilton [of the Iraq Study Group] last week because they didn't like his proposal to increase troop strength in Iraq by a number somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand."

He understands more Americans will die in Iraq because of his support for escalation, as he pointed out in a FoxNews interview in September, when he said "It's very serious. The situation is deteriorating. There's certain to be more casualties. It's for a noble cause. It's tough going between now and the election. We have the will and ability to prevail."

Finally, McCain's willing to stand up to the American people, even if they don't support his war, to do what's right. "I understand the polls show only 18 percent of the American people support my position. But I have to do what's right... In war, my dear friends, there's no such thing as compromise. You either win or you lose."

So where am I going with all this? Well, get out your flux capacitor and go back to 1990. Here is what John McCain had to say then, regarding using U.S. troops in the Gulf War. You could call it startling.

If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood. [New York Times Aug 19, 1990]

Ahh, there's nothing so refeshing as the sweet melody of straight talk.

Ok, so let's break this down.

The Gulf War was far from perfect in many respects, but we had allies from around the world sending troops (including Syria and Egypt)and it was largely bankrolled by Japan and Saudi Arabia. There was an actual response to Iraqi aggression and we had an American leader not stupid enough to go into Baghdad. Yet, under these circumstances, Sir McCain thought that American casualties in Iraq were not acceptable and that support at home among members of Congress and the people would erode (and he actually cared about what people thought)and therefore US ground troops should simply not be a part of the equation (he still, of course, eventually supported the Gulf War Resolution).

Quite an amazing transformation, isn't it (especially for a man who was also in favor of pulling out of Beirut in 1983 and skeptical of using force in Somalia and Bosnia initially)? It couldn't have anything to do with electoral politics could it?

To further bring home this point, will be releasing television ads in New Hampshire and Iowa, also known as McCain's two paths to paradise, pointing out his many flip flops on war and his weak case for escalation.

But in the meantime, just read this quote one more time, and tell me this man has not become a pathetic political shill, willing to sell his soul and the lives of the people who have supported him for his white whale, the presidency:

We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.


$1.2 Trillion - The cost of the Iraq War so far; What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy

The New York Times
What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy

The human mind isn’t very well equipped to make sense of a figure like $1.2 trillion. We don’t deal with a trillion of anything in our daily lives, and so when we come across such a big number, it is hard to distinguish it from any other big number. Millions, billions, a trillion — they all start to sound the same.

The way to come to grips with $1.2 trillion is to forget about the number itself and think instead about what you could buy with the money. When you do that, a trillion stops sounding anything like millions or billions.

For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

All that would be one way to spend $1.2 trillion. Here would be another:

The war in Iraq.

In the days before the war almost five years ago, the Pentagon estimated that it would cost about $50 billion. Democratic staff members in Congress largely agreed. Lawrence Lindsey, a White House economic adviser, was a bit more realistic, predicting that the cost could go as high as $200 billion, but President Bush fired him in part for saying so.

These estimates probably would have turned out to be too optimistic even if the war had gone well. Throughout history, people have typically underestimated the cost of war, as William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, has pointed out.

But the deteriorating situation in Iraq has caused the initial predictions to be off the mark by a scale that is difficult to fathom. The operation itself — the helicopters, the tanks, the fuel needed to run them, the combat pay for enlisted troops, the salaries of reservists and contractors, the rebuilding of Iraq — is costing more than $300 million a day, estimates Scott Wallsten, an economist in Washington.

That translates into a couple of billion dollars a week and, over the full course of the war, an eventual total of $700 billion in direct spending.

The two best-known analyses of the war’s costs agree on this figure, but they diverge from there. Linda Bilmes, at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and former Clinton administration adviser, put a total price tag of more than $2 trillion on the war. They include a number of indirect costs, like the economic stimulus that the war funds would have provided if they had been spent in this country.

Mr. Wallsten, who worked with Katrina Kosec, another economist, argues for a figure closer to $1 trillion in today’s dollars. My own estimate falls on the conservative side, largely because it focuses on the actual money that Americans would have been able to spend in the absence of a war. I didn’t even attempt to put a monetary value on the more than 3,000 American deaths in the war.

Besides the direct military spending, I’m including the gas tax that the war has effectively imposed on American families (to the benefit of oil-producing countries like Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia). At the start of 2003, a barrel of oil was selling for $30. Since then, the average price has been about $50. Attributing even $5 of this difference to the conflict adds another $150 billion to the war’s price tag, Ms. Bilmes and Mr. Stiglitz say.

The war has also guaranteed some big future expenses. Replacing the hardware used in Iraq and otherwise getting the United States military back into its prewar fighting shape could cost $100 billion. And if this war’s veterans receive disability payments and medical care at the same rate as veterans of the first gulf war, their health costs will add up to $250 billion. If the disability rate matches Vietnam’s, the number climbs higher. Either way, Ms. Bilmes says, “It’s like a miniature Medicare.”

In economic terms, you can think of these medical costs as the difference between how productive the soldiers would have been as, say, computer programmers or firefighters and how productive they will be as wounded veterans. In human terms, you can think of soldiers like Jason Poole, a young corporal profiled in The New York Times last year. Before the war, he had planned to be a teacher. After being hit by a roadside bomb in 2004, he spent hundreds of hours learning to walk and talk again, and he now splits his time between a community college and a hospital in Northern California.

Whatever number you use for the war’s total cost, it will tower over costs that normally seem prohibitive. Right now, including everything, the war is costing about $200 billion a year.

Treating heart disease and diabetes, by contrast, would probably cost about $50 billion a year. The remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations — held up in Congress partly because of their cost — might cost somewhat less. Universal preschool would be $35 billion. In Afghanistan, $10 billion could make a real difference. At the National Cancer Institute, annual budget is about $6 billion.

“This war has skewed our thinking about resources,” said Mr. Wallsten, a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group. “In the context of the war, $20 billion is nothing.”

As it happens, $20 billion is not a bad ballpark estimate for the added cost of Mr. Bush’s planned surge in troops. By itself, of course, that price tag doesn’t mean the surge is a bad idea. If it offers the best chance to stabilize Iraq, then it may well be the right option.

But the standard shouldn’t simply be whether a surge is better than the most popular alternative — a far-less-expensive political strategy that includes getting tough with the Iraqi government. The standard should be whether the surge would be better than the political strategy plus whatever else might be accomplished with the $20 billion.

This time, it would be nice to have that discussion before the troops reach Iraq.


34,452 Iraq Civilians Said Killed in '06

34,452 Iraq Civilians Said Killed in '06
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Twin car bombs tore through a leading Baghdad university as students left classes Tuesday in the deadliest attack in Iraq in nearly two months, and the United Nations reported 34,452 civilians were slain last year, nearly three times more than the government reported.

A total of 142 Iraqis were killed or found dead Tuesday, in what appeared to be a renewed campaign of Sunni insurgent violence against Shiite targets. The sharp uptick in deadly attacks coincided with the release of U.N. figures that showed an average of 94 civilians died each day in sectarian bloodshed in 2006.

The blasts wrecked two small buses as students at Al-Mustansiriya University were lining up for the ride home at about 3:45 p.m., according to Taqi al-Moussawi, a university dean. At least 65 students died.

The attackers stationed a man wearing a suicide belt in the expected path of fleeing students to take even more lives, but he was spotted and shot by security men before he could blow himself up, the dean said.

"The only guilt of our martyred students is that they pursued education. They belong to all religions, sects and ethnic groups," said an angry al-Moussawi, himself a Shiite. "The terrorists want to stop education. ...Those students had nothing to do with politics."

After the explosions, a rescue worker and three men in civilian clothes scrambled through the debris to carry a charred victim away in a sheet. Firefighters in yellow helmets examined the charred wreckage of an bashed-in, overturned minivan.

The university's well-shaded campus occupies several square blocks in north central Baghdad, a mostly Shiite area. The school ranks second among institutions of higher education in Iraq. Founded in 1963, it was named after one of the oldest Islamic schools, established in the 13th century during the Abbasid dynasty that ruled the Muslim world. Thousands attend the university, known especially for its colleges of science, literature and education.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed the attack on "terrorists and Saddamists" seeking revenge for Monday's hanging of two of Saddam Hussein's top aides, convicted with him for the slaying of 148 Shiite men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt in the northern town of Dujail.

The violence Tuesday against Shiites may signal a campaign by Sunni insurgents to shed as much blood as possible before the deployment of 21,500 more American troops. Most of the additional U.S. troops will be used to back up the Iraqi army in a security sweep to rid the capital of Sunni and Shiite gunmen.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Kuwait for a meeting with eight Arab nations to discuss ways to keep Iraq from sliding into civil war, sought to lower any expectations that the troop buildup would quickly pacify the country.

"Violent people will always be able to kill innocent people," she said. "So even with the new security plan, with the will and capability of the Iraqi government and with American forces to help reinforce Iraqi forces, there is still going to be violence."

She said the U.N. civilian death figures differ from others. "But whatever the number of civilians who have died in Iraq - and there obviously are competing numbers - but whatever the number is, it's too many," she said.

Tuesday's death toll at the al-Mustansiriya bombings made it the single most deadly attack against civilians in Iraq since Nov. 23, when a series of car bombs and mortar attacks by suspected al-Qaida in Iraq fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City Shiite slum killed at least 215 people.

Nov. 23 remains Iraq's deadliest day since the Associated Press began tracking civilian deaths in April 2005. The second deadliest day came on Sept. 14, 2005, with 178 deaths. The report Tuesday of 142 Iraqis killed makes it among the deadliest days, but not all those deaths were confirmed to have occurred on Tuesday.

The U.N. civilian casualty count for last year was announced in Baghdad by Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq in Baghdad. He said 34,452 civilians died - an average of 94 a day - and 36,685 were wounded.

But Dr. Hakem al-Zamili, Iraq's deputy health minister, told The Associated Press the United Nations may be using unreliable sources for its casualty count. "They might be taking the figures from people who are opposed to the government or to the Americans," he said. "They are not accurate." He said he would provide Iraqi government figures later this week.

In early January, a compilation of Iraqi government figures put last year's civilian deaths at just 12,357. The numbers are gathered monthly by the AP from reports by three Iraqi agencies.

When asked about the difference, Magazzeni said the U.N. figures were compiled from information obtained through the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad.

He criticized the government for allowing much of the violence to go unpunished, saying urgent action was needed to re-establish law and order in the country to prevent its slide into all-out civil war.

"Without significant progress in the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," he warned.

The U.N. report also said that 30,842 people were detained in the country as of Dec. 31, including 14,534 held in U.S. military-run prisons.

At least 470,094 people throughout Iraq have been forced to leave their homes since the bombing of an important Shiite shrine, the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, in February, the U.N. accounting said.

The report said the violence has disrupted education by forcing schools and universities to close, as well as sending professionals fleeing from the country.

In a summary of the report posted on its Web site Tuesday, UNAMI said Iraq's women were particularly vulnerable, citing cases where young women were abducted by armed militia and late discovered sexually assaulted, tortured or murdered. In many cases, the agency said, families refuse to retrieve the bodies out of shame.

As bombs detonated at Al-Mustansiriya University on Tuesday, there were a series of other attacks on Shiite neighborhoods in central Baghdad.

A bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded in a used auto and motorcycle parts market in a Shiite neighborhood. As people rushed to aide the victims of the first blast, a suicide car bomber drove his car into the crowd. Fifteen people died.

Raid Abbas, a 26-year-old who received shrapnel wounds in the attack said he went to the market because the city had been quieter over the past two weeks.

"Shortly after midday, I heard an explosion. Motorcycles were flying in the air, people were falling dead and wounded," he said from his hospital bed.

About 45 minutes later, gunmen riding two motorcycles and in a van fired on another outdoor market in a mainly Shiite neighborhood near Sadr City. Police said at least 11 people were killed.

Of the 142 Iraqis killed or found dead Tuesday, 124 died in Baghdad. Police said they had been unable to complete their tally of dumped corpses in the eastern half of the city because of violence there.


Baghdad bombs kill 105

Baghdad bombs kill 105
By Claudia Parsons and Alastair Macdonald

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Bombers killed 70 people, many of them young women students, at a Baghdad university on Tuesday, one of the city's bloodiest days in weeks.

In all, at least 105 were killed in bombings and a shooting in the capital on a day when the United Nations said more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians died in violence last year. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in northern Iraq.

The Shi'ite prime minister blamed the latest bloodshed in Baghdad on followers of Saddam Hussein. His fellow Sunni Arabs are angry at the botched execution of two aides on Monday, two weeks after the ousted leader was himself hanged to sectarian taunts from official observers, captured on an illicit video.

In Washington, President Bush said the Iraqi government had "fumbled" Saddam's execution by making it look like a revenge killing.

Saying he had expressed disappointment to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Bush told PBS television: "I was pleased with the trials they got. I was disappointed and felt like they (Iraqi officials) fumbled the -- particularly the Saddam Hussein -- execution."

Outside the Mustansiriya University in central Baghdad, a car bomb tore through students, most of them women, gathered

waiting for vehicles to take them home. A suicide bomber then walked into a crowd at a rear entrance, killing more.

"The followers of the ousted regime have been dealt a blow and their dreams buried forever," Maliki said in a statement. "So Saddamists and terrorists now target the world of knowledge and committed this act today against the innocent students of Mustansiriya University."

The Education Ministry, whose employees and students have been frequent targets of what the United Nations report called Islamic extremists, issued a public appeal for blood for the 110 wounded and said the university would close until next week.

The bombings bore the marks of Sunni Arab insurgents. Many Sunnis were outraged by the latest hanging following a trial for crimes against humanity, and they saw the decapitation of Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti by the noose as an act of revenge, not the mishap the Shi'ite-led government said it was.

34,000 DEAD

The United Nations, in its latest two-monthly human rights report on Iraq, said data from hospitals and morgues put the total civilian death toll for 2006 at 34,452 -- 94 each day.

Comparable figures for previous years were not available but officials agree sectarian bloodshed has surged in the past year.

"Without significant progress on the rule of law, sectarian violence will continue indefinitely and eventually spiral out of control," the U.N. human rights chief in Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, told a news conference.

Of the 6,376 civilians killed in the last two months of 2006 -- 3,462 in November and 2,914 in December compared with a high of 3,702 in October -- three out of four were killed in Baghdad.

Maliki's government, which branded the last U.N. report as grossly exaggerated, has since banned its officials from giving casualty figures and the United States, which has run Iraq for four years, declined to vouch for the U.N. data.

Maliki and Bush are preparing a security crackdown in Baghdad, involving Iraqi and about 20,000 American reinforcements, which is widely portrayed as a last chance to avert a civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites that could draw in Shi'ite Iran and Arab states on opposing sides.

Leaders of the Shi'ite majority say the plan to stifle militants with extra force, lasting six months or more, must break Shi'ite militias as well as Sunni rebels. Maliki has made that pledge before but Americans critical of Bush's new troop increase say they are skeptical he can deliver this time.

The White House said on Tuesday a planned non-binding congressional resolution against Bush's U.S. troop increase in Iraq could send a signal that America is divided on the war.

Some Bush critics on Capitol Hill think a non-binding vote is not enough. One Democrat with presidential ambitions, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, will unveil legislation on Wednesday demanding congressional approval for Bush's troop increase, Dodd's office said.

The Shi'ite deputy speaker of parliament said the new Iraq plan's failure would mean an end to American support for the system that has given Shi'ites their first taste of real power in the Sunni-dominated Arab world for centuries.

"One consequence may be a collapse of government," Khaled al-Attiya told Reuters. "I think all the Shi'ite parties are now aware of how dangerous the issue is. still supporting the political process and the government. But I don't think that if this plan doesn't work...he can continue."

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Aseel Kami, Ahmed Rasheed, and Huda Majeed in Baghdad; Matt Spetalnick, Tabassum Zakaria, Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell in Washington)


Senate Votes to Disclose Pet Projects

Senate Votes to Disclose Pet Projects
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate voted Tuesday to shine more light on thousands of expensive pet projects buried in legislation every year after the new Democratic majority bowed to a successful push by Republicans to make new disclosure rules even tougher than originally planned.

The vote was 98-0 to require senators to reveal the water projects, hiking trails, defense contracts or tax breaks for specific industries they insert in legislation. That unanimity came five days after Democrats, holding a slim majority, were thwarted by a GOP-led rebellion in advancing their own version of "earmark" reform.

Bringing transparency to earmarks is a major objective of the ethics and lobbying reform legislation that the Senate has been debating since the new congressional session began.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who last week led opposition to the Republican approach, lauded the final product, saying it "combined the best ideas from both sides of the aisle."

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the author of the amendment to the ethics bill, said the ability of the two sides to come together on the issue was "a good signal for the new Congress."

DeMint last Thursday proposed that the Senate adapt for its bill the more expansive definition of an earmark previously approved by the House. Under that definition, an earmark subject to public disclosure would include special projects tucked in federal agency budgets, such as a Pentagon contract, as well as nonfederal projects such as state parks and municipal museums. The definition in the original Senate bill would have applied only to nonfederal entities.

"Specifically, federal earmarks will be disclosed as well as those earmarks contained in committee reports that are not written in the text of a bill," DeMint said.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., DeMint's ally on the issue, said the Democratic approach would catch less than 5 percent of the almost 13,000 earmarks that made it into legislation last year.

Democrats countered that making public disclosures of every project designated by federal agencies was unworkable. But after Democratic leaders failed in an attempt to kill the DeMint provision, Reid on Friday acknowledged moving too quickly on the issue and pledged to work with DeMint to strengthen his amendment.

The Senate first voted 98-0 to accept changes to the DeMint amendment offered by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would make it more difficult for legislators to slip in tax breaks that help a single company or a limited number of people.

Lawmakers would also be required to post their earmarks on the Internet 48 hours before a vote.

The Senate on Tuesday also approved, by voice vote, an amendment that would bar lawmakers from including earmarks in the classified parts of a bill or a conference report without language in unclassified terms describing the project, funding levels and the sponsor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsor of the amendment with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., now serving an eight-year prison term for accepting bribes from defense contractors, over a five-year period used classified reports to gain some $70 to $80 million in earmarks that helped his friends.

The Senate is trying to finish work on the ethics and lobbying bill, which seeks to restrict the ability of lobbyists to shower meals, gifts and travel on lawmakers, by the end of this week.


The bill is S. 1

On the Net: Congress:


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

50 Active-Duty Officers To Deliver Petition Against More Troops To Congress

Wall Street Journal
Grumbling in the Ranks

Vocal opposition to President’s Bush’s strategy of sending more than 20,000 additional troops to help secure Iraq has grown to include some of the troops themselves.

A group of more than 50 active-duty military officers will deliver a petition to Congress on Tuesday signed by about 1,000 troops calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. “Any troop increase over here will just produce more sitting ducks, more targets,” said Sergeant Ronn Cantu, who is serving in Iraq.

Under the 1988 Military Whistleblower Protection Act, active duty military, National Guard, and Reservists may communicate with any member of Congress without fear of reprisal, even if copies of the communication are sent to others.


George McGovern's Last Hurrah

Huffington Post
Al Eisele
George McGovern's Last Hurrah

Former Sen. George McGovern gave one hell of a speech at the National Press Club in Washington last Friday, but it didn't seem to get much attention.

The 84-year old South Dakota Democrat and 1972 presidential candidate, whose antiwar campaign was snowed under by Ronald Reagan, gave another scorching antiwar speech, this time against the Iraq war.

He said he hopes to live to be 100 because he wants to "get American soliders out of the Iraqi hellhole Bush-Cheny and their neo-conservaitve theorists have created in what was one called the cradle of civilization. "

McGovern, who served 18 years in the Senate before losing his seat to Republican Jim Abdnor in 1980, hasn't been heard from much lately, but he was definitely front and center as he challenged President Bush by directly addressing him with "some impertinent questions."

McGovern, whose own military credentials are unassailable -- he flew 35 missions as a B-25 pilot in World War II -- asked a series of 16 questions of Bush, ranging from "How can you sleep at night knowing that 3,014 young Americans have died in a war you mistakenly ordered?," to "... after such needless death and destruction, first in the Vietnamese jungle and now in the Arabian desert, can you order 21,500 more American troops to Iraq?"

In one of the more powerful passages, he referred to his own star-crossed campaign against Nixon's -- and Lyndon Johnson's -- futile war in Vietnam. "During the long years between 1964 and 1975 when I fought to end the American war in Vietnam ... my four daughters ganged up on me one night. 'Dad, why don't you give up this battle? You've been speaking against this crazy war since we were little kids.' ... In reply, I said, 'Just remember that sometimes in history even a tragic mistake produces something good. The good about Vietnam is that it is such a terrible blunder [that] we'll never go down that road again.'"

Then he added, "Mr. President, we're going down that road again. So, what do I tell my daughters? And what do you tell your daughters?"

McGovern, who now teaches at Dakota Wesleyan University, asked Bush if he's kept his "oath of office to uphold the Constitution when you use what you call the war on terrorism to undermine the Bill of Rights" and "seize and imprison suspects without charge, sometimes torturing them in foreign jails?"

McGovern was also flogging his new book, "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," written with William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago professor of Middle East studies. He asked me afterwards if he was "too tough on Bush?" (I covered him for many years as a Washington correspondent for the Aberdeen, S.D. News-American and other Knight-Ridder Newspapers).

I said, "Hell no, Senator. You're not as tough on him as some Republicans, including Chuck Hagel."

I don't know if McGovern's impassioned speech against another war that he, and much of the nation, now sees as a tragic mistake of the same magnitude at Vietnam and a misuse of America's military, economic and moral power, will have much effect, but I salute him for his courage.

As he said in concluding, "Perhaps, Mr. President, you should ponder the words of a genuine conservative, England's 19th century member of Parliament, Edmund Burke: 'A conscientious man whould be cautious in how he dealt in blood"."


My Thoughts On Our President

Huffington Post
Cliff Schecter
My Thoughts On Our President

Each week I write a column/rant at AMERICAblog called Cliff's Corner--containing a touch of satire and a sprinkle of indignation. This week I explored the always evident nature of our president's idiocy, escalation in the Middle East and whether our Commander-in-Chief should be removed from office, should he ignore the limits placed on his warmaking by the legislative branch.

The Week That Was 1/12/2007

Another week. More preposterousness to report.

Wow, it was really difficult deciding what to pen this piece about this week. In fact, it took me as long to ponder this as it took Mayor America to nix the existence of his kids from his second marriage from his presidential exploratory committee website. In other words, two seconds. He also left out his first wife, who was also his second cousin (really). That last one I don't get. I'd have thought marrying a cousin would appeal to the GOP base.

Yet, what I really want to talk about is that craven, bed-wetting, Quayle-level competent, self-indulgent, Wonder Bread, little frat-brat. You may know him as George Bush. To all those conservatives, Independents, conservative Democrats and members of the Free Society of Teutonia who voted for him, who now realize how dangerously stupid and stupidly dangerous he is, I say welcome to the party.

But I'm sorry, I can't help but say this very plainly: What the hell took you so long? Why was it so hard in 2000 to see this man's utter lack of accomplishment, his past playing a less charming, cerebrum-lesioned version of Dean Martin in the rat pack--who wasted most of the time on various potions and powders while dodging the draft, getting in mano e manos with dear old dad and running business after business into the very ground where he couldn't find oil if he were Jed Clampett hanging out with the Getty family.

Who didn't see that interview where he couldn't name the President of India, the speech where he thought Social Security wasn't a federal program and read stories of his playing video golf for hours each day as governor of Texas?

Yeah, but we were told, he would be a great guy to have a beer with! Of course he would, he's a goddamn drunk.

The man was also a male cheerleader. I mean c'mon! Here's one for you--give me an F! Give me a U! Give me a C! Give me a K! Give me a U! Give me a P! What's that spell!?!

So now, because so many people couldn't see what was right in front of their faces (with an assist from Democratic "consultants"), we have this walking-almost-talking intellectual colostomy bag finding ways to start wars with Syria and Iran, when he can't even win the one he already committed high crimes & misdeameanors to get us into.

Start a war with Iran, and a thousand attacks will bloom from Hezbollah cells around the world. I'm sure John Ashcroft has already stopped flying commercial again.

If this man ignores Congress, and does go to war with Iran, it is very simple. He must be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House like he's Ted Haggard being pulled away from an episode of Queer as Folk, or Condi from Monday Night Football.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

How Presidential Eulogies Influence Future Funerals


And What Do You Want To Be?


He Promised


There Will Be Caualties


Thin Ice


NY Times Joins Right-wing Outlets in Twisting Boxer's Comments, Ignoring White House Delinquency in New Iraq Plan

Huffington Post
Brad Friedman
NY Times Joins Right-wing Outlets in Twisting Boxer's Comments, Ignoring White House Delinquency in New Iraq Plan

The Once-Great Paper Misrepresents the Facts, Quotes Only Rightwingers and Misrepresents Some of them to Suggest They are 'Liberal'

PLUS: An Invitation to Bill O'Reilly...

The New York Times today, joins the White House, the disingenuous Rightwing media and blogs and even several unnamed supposed non-Rightwingers in purposely misconstruing Sen. Barbara Boxer's question to Condi Rice at last Thursday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Bush's new policy to escalate troop commitment in Iraq.

I reported on the controversy over the phony Boxer/Rice brouhaha yesterday here, after originally calling on a Congress member to ask the very question that Boxer asked (and which the Times ignored) last Sunday and again after Bush's speech on Wednesday night in the face of his supporting, yet callous, comments on the new policy that "we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties."

If the way in which the Times twisted the facts of the event was not done on purpose, the only alternative then is that the reporters who covered it, Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker, and the editors who allowed the article to go through, are utterly incapable of even the simplest intelligent analysis of a critical and relevant news event and, frankly, shouldn't be working for a paper as still-important to this country as the New York Times.

Picking up on the phony controversy over the prelude to Boxer's question of whether the White House had "an estimate of the number of casualties we expect from this surge?" -- the stunning answer from the Secretary of State, if she's to be believed, is that no, they did not -- the Times joined Fox "News" and NYPost and the other wingnut outlets in both twisting Boxer's comments and forwarding the unsupported notion that there was some sort of personal slur built into them.

The Times quotes Boxer's "offending" phrase -- one that even Rice admits not being offended at, until after White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow suggested the comments were "outrageous" later on -- as follows:

During the Thursday hearing, Ms. Boxer told Ms. Rice: "You're not going to pay any particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family."

Wow! The height of personal rudeness! Boxer really smacked down Rice for not being married and having no children! A comment which several suddenly-"feminist" Rightwing outlets characterized as "One Great Leap (Backwards) for Womankind!" just after Snow called, coincidentally called it a "great leap backward for feminism" in his official response.

Problem is, the way the Times characterized the "controversy" in the graf reposted above leaves out the rest of Boxer's comment and thus takes it completely out of context. Here's what she actually said in the lead up to her important all-but-ignored question and response from Rice:

BOXER: Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.

Even Rice admitted in her comments to the Times that "It didn't actually dawn on me that she was saying, 'you don't have children who can go to war'."

Of course it didn't actually "dawn on" you, Ms. Rice. Because it didn't actually happen that way.

At least until Tony Snow took the opportunity to brilliantly turn the focus away from both Rice's answer revealing that the White House hadn't bothered to measure the cost in increased deaths to U.S. troops before announcing their new policy ("Senator, I don't think that any of us, uh, have a number. That, of expected casualties.") and from the fact that both Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate committee were highly critical of the White House escalation plan for the Iraq War.

Snow's comments, of course, were the marching orders to the various Rightwing outlets who were all too happy to twist Boxer's comments in the very same way. They all "reported" the exchange in the same phony context the following day (as I previously described here.)

While attacking the messenger to completely distract from the message is a time-honored and well-expected tactic from this White House and their sycophant supporters, it continues to be distressing to see the once-great "Paper of Record" irresponsibly pick up that ball and run in the same disingenuous direction. Who needs Judith Miller?

To make matters worse, not only did the Times manage to only quote the mangled "analysis" of "Conservative" blogs and commentators in their coverage of the exchange, they even misrepresented a group which, at the first blush of the Times description of them, would seem indicate that they would have been an ally of Boxer's.

Appearing to defect from support of the Democratic Senator is a group called Project 21. The Times characterized the statement of a member of the group this way:

"I am deeply appalled by Senator Barbara Boxer's cruel and callous attack on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice," said Deneen Borelli, a fellow with an organization called Project 21, which describes itself as a "leading voice in the African-American community."

Oh, man! Boxer's in trouble now! Even the usually Democratic-leaning African-American community has turned their back on her and is attacking her scurrilous personal slur directed at Rice!

But wait. The group which the Times says "describes itself as a 'leading voice in the African-American community' actually describes itself -- on every single page on their website! -- as "The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives."

Their homepage, featuring a photo of Utah's Republican Senator Orrin Hatch warmingly embracing an unnamed African-American man reports that their members have been interviewed by one Rightwing media outlet after another, including The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times.

Great job, New York Times! Rupert Murdoch couldn't have slimed Boxer better himself! And, in fact, he didn't! While we expect that kind of insidious tactic from Murdoch and friends, apparently we should have learned long ago to expect no better from you.


Finally, in the Times' penultimate graf, they refer to "some Democratic Senate staffers" who "complained privately that Ms. Boxer's exchange with Ms. Rice allowed the Bush administration to turn the tables on Iraq critics and sidestep the larger issue of the almost uniform opposition to the president's new plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. soldiers to Iraq."

Of course, the Times didn't bother to give a single name for any such "Democratic Senate staffers" and given their tortured reporting and misrepresentations in the rest of the article, I'd suggest there is every reason to be dubious that such "privately complaining Democratic Senate staffers" actually exist.

If they do exist, however, then they too are guilty of the same thing that "reporters" Cooper and Shanker and the Times editors are guilty of: Either being cowardly irresponsible knee-jerk reactionists or, perhaps worse, purposely choosing to keep themselves so uninformed that they become little more than tools for a set of disingenuous Rightwing dead-enders and propagandists who are increasingly desperate enough that they are willing to slime and attack anybody who dares question the indefensible policies of the Bush White House.

And a note to Mr. O'Reilly:

On Friday, you were simply outraged by Boxer's comments and completely ignored (to nobody's surprise) the actual point revealed by the exchange that the White House hasn't bothered -- again, if Rice is to be believed -- to make the appropriate considerations in setting a new policy for the War in Iraq. Since you've tried a great deal, of late, on both radio and television to give the impression that you've been critical of Bush's lack of appropriate planning for the war and the way in which he's carried it out, don't you think that White House's admission that they have not bothered to consider the additional cost in blood to our troops before committing them in this "new way forward" in Iraq ought to be worth pointing out to your many viewers and listeners?

As I was the one -- or, at least the only one that I know of -- to call on a member of the media or Congress to ask the question that Boxer asked, I hope you'll feel free to invite me onto your show to discuss the matter. You may feel as free as you wish to yell indignantly in my direction about the issue, just as you did with whoever those two women were that you had on to supposedly defend Boxer. Just as long as you leave my mic on long enough for me to yell back -- not indignantly, however -- just with the facts of the matter.

Such facts, on the O'Reilly Factor as well as the New York Times, would be a welcome relief from the regular garbage that both such outlets regularly perpetrate on the American public. It might even succeed in keeping us from making things still worse in Iraq, and even more disturbingly, from running in with eyes wide shut to yet another phony war -- this time in Iran.

My Email address is, Mr. O'Reilly. I look forward to hearing from you. Even if I have the feeling that I won't.

New York Times Public Editor, Byron Calame:
Letters to the Editor:


No Oversight on Katrina? Joe Lieberman gives the president a pass on Katrina.
No Oversight on Katrina?
Joe Lieberman gives the president a pass on Katrina.
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

Jan. 11, 2007 - Sen. Joe Lieberman, the only Democrat to endorse President Bush’s new plan for Iraq, has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Lieberman’s reversal underscores the new role that he is seeking to play in the Senate as the leading apostle of bipartisanship, especially on national-security issues. On Wednesday night, Bush conspicuously cited Lieberman’s advice as being the inspiration for creating a new “bipartisan working group” on Capitol Hill that he said will “help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror.”

But the decision by Lieberman, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to back away from the committee's Katrina probe is already dismaying public-interest groups and others who hoped the Democratic victory in November would lead to more aggressive investigations of one of the White House’s most spectacular foul-ups.

Last year, when he was running for re-election in Connecticut, Lieberman was a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of Katrina. He was especially dismayed by its failure to turn over key records that could have shed light on internal White House deliberations about the hurricane, including those involving President Bush.

Asserting that there were “too many important questions that cannot be answered,” Lieberman and other committee Democrats complained in a statement last year that the panel “did not receive information or documents showing what actually was going on in the White House.”

Among the missing material: the record of a videoconference in the White House Situation Room in which former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown said he warned senior officials about the dire situation in New Orleans, but was greeted with “deafening silence.” Also missing: records believed to include messages and conversations involving the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and their top aides during the days in late August and early September 2005 when the Katrina disaster was unfolding and thousands of city residents were flocking to overcrowded shelters and hanging onto rooftops awaiting rescue.

But now that he chairs the homeland panel—and is in a position to subpoena the records—Lieberman has decided not to pursue the material, according to Leslie Phillips, the senator’s chief committee spokeswoman. “The senator now intends to focus his attention on the future security of the American people and other matters and does not expect to revisit the White House’s role in Katrina,” she told NEWSWEEK.

Phillips said that Lieberman may still follow up on some matters related to Katrina contracting. But in listing the Connecticut senator’s top priorities for the panel, she cited other areas, such as reform of homeland-security agencies and legislation promoting tighter security at U.S. seaports. Asked whether Lieberman’s new stand might feed complaints that he has become too close to the White House, Phillips responded: “The senator is an independent Democrat and answers only to the people who elected him to office and to his own conscience.”

But in the view of White House critics, the Katrina fallout is far from over. They view the missing White House material, along with contracting foul-ups and abuses, as an important part of the story of the disaster that befell a major American city. “Katrina was perhaps the government's biggest failure ever,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a liberal watchdog group. “For the Congress not to be willing to stand up to the White House and demand to know who's accountable is a total abdication of their responsibility. How serious about oversight are they if they're not willing to flex their muscle over this one? Wasn't the election about holding the government accountable? Congress has the power for oversight, and the mandate. Does it have the will?”

Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Louisiana Democrat who participated in House investigations on Katrina last year, also said the Katrina disaster needs further inquiry and that he will continue to push for such a probe in the House. “It is still important to my constituents—many of whom lost everything, including their loved ones—that we learn from the mistakes so that they aren't repeated,” he said. “We deserve to know what happened."

In the House, both Democrats and the GOP majority on the Government Reform Committee last year also expressed frustration with White House refusals to turn over internal records related to Katrina. But as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to keep committees on a tight leash, it is not at all clear that House leaders will be more assertive than Lieberman plans to be in the Senate. A congressional official familiar with the agenda of Rep. Henry Waxman, the House panel’s new chairman, said that trying to force the White House to surrender Katrina material was still a "possibility." But Waxman and his committee have not yet made any decisions on what the government-reform committee will investigate, other than that Waxman's first priorities were to probe "waste, fraud and abuse," according to a congressional aide who, like other sources, asked not to be identified talking about internal matters.

Still, Lieberman’s more accommodating position is likely get more attention, especially because of the Connecticut Democrat's increasingly close relationship with the White House. No sooner did President Bush finish his speech Wednesday night than Lieberman put out a statement applauding Bush for his “courageous course”—a notable comment, given the lukewarm response the president’s speech received from many leading Republicans.

The “bipartisan working group” on national-security issues that Bush cited in the speech was inspired by a proposal that Lieberman and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins made late last year. The plan: to have top committee chairs and ranking members meet regularly with the White House, according to Marshall Wittmann, the chief spokesman in Lieberman’s office. Wittmann says Lieberman is trying to take on the role that Henry (Scoop) Jackson played in the 1960s and 1970s—a tough “national security” Senate Democrat who was willing to cross party lines to work closely with Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. “That’s the tradition he is following,” Wittmann said.