Thursday, November 30, 2006

NYT: Iraq panel to recommend troop pullback

NYT: Iraq panel to recommend troop pullback

A much-discussed independent panel will recommend that U.S. troops in Iraq be withdrawn, according to an article that will appear on the front page of The New York Times.
"The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that would call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stopped short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal," write David E. Sanger and David S. Cloud, citing sources close to the group.

The report by the panel, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, will be given next week to the President. Sanger and Cloud indicate that the report avoids "a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Bush, but [makes] it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended."

The article says that Bush will be urged to start troop withdrawal soon, the "implicit message" being that it should begin in 2007. As for the American combat brigades presently in Iraq, it was unclear whether they "would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries."

Excerpts from the article follow...
...[P]eople involved in the debate, representing different points of view, agreed to outline [the report's] conclusions in broad terms to address what they said might otherwise be misperceptions about the findings. Some said their major concern was that the report might be too late.
Even as word of the study group's conclusions began to leak out, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said two or three battalions of American troops were being sent to Baghdad from elsewhere in Iraq to assist in shoring up security in the capital.
As described by the people involved in the deliberations, the bulk of the report by the Baker-Hamilton group focused on a recommendation that the United States devise a far more aggressive diplomatic initiative in the Middle East than Bush has been willing to attempt so far, including direct engagement with Iran and Syria. Initially, those contacts might take place as part of a regional conference on Iraq or broader Middle East peace issues like the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they would ultimately involve direct, high-level talks with Iran and Syria.

Bush has rejected such contacts until now, and he has also rejected withdrawal, declaring in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday that while he will show flexibility, "there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

From Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington

Bush's $500 Million Library: Shouldn't We Know Who His "Megadonors" Are? (56 comments )
Comedy writers and lovers of the absurd all across America have a bounce in their step today, buoyed by news that President Bush is looking to raise half-a-billion dollars to build his legacy-burnishing presidential library.
The idea of Uncurious George building a $500 million shrine to his disastrous presidency is the political equivalent of a whoopee cushion; a veritable laff riot.

The punchlines write themselves:

A George W. Bush Library? What's it going to house, 100,000 copies of The Pet Goat -- with some Shakespeares and a Camus thrown in for good measure?

Will there be a Heckuva Job Memorial Wing saluting W's sterling political appointments? A Hurricane Katrina Photo Gallery, with each image housed in its own airplane window frame? An exact recreation of Dick Cheney's secure undisclosed location (try to step inside and a recording of the Veep tells you to "Go fuck yourself!")?

Will visitors to the Iraq War Wing be handed rose-colored glasses before entering and having flowers thrown at their feet? Or will they don blinders as they stagger forward, sinking deeper into a man-made quagmire?

Will there be exhibits on waterboarding, illegal wiretapping, and the quaintness of the Geneva Conventions? A room devoted to the nobility and greatness of the Hanging Chad? A holographic image of Osama bin Laden (try and grab him and he slips right through your hands)? The Abu Ghraib Game Room (must be over 18 to enter)?

At Bush 41's Presidential Library, there is a twelve-foot piece of the Berlin Wall, which came down during his presidency. Will 43 try to recreate the finest moment of his presidency by bringing in a pile of Ground Zero rubble? This would be an interactive feature, allowing visitors to climb atop the pile, grab a megaphone, and take a crack at uttering the best unscripted line of his time in office: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

Presidential libraries are traditionally archives dedicated to preserving the written record of a presidency. President Clinton's library, for example, has over 75 million pages of paper documents. But since two hallmarks of W's administration have been an obsession with secrecy and a clamping down on the release of government documents, that part of the library might be a little vacant. Of course, this can be balanced out by the over 750 (and counting) presidential signing documents Bush has used to circumvent Congress and run the country by Oval Office fiat. Might take a whole wing to house all of those.

Even so, $500 million is a mighty high price tag for a presidential library. In comparison, Clinton's cost $165 million, which was more than double the tab for Bush 41's.
So why is Bush 43 shooting for half-a-bil? According to an insider, the amount is "so much bigger than anything that's been tried before. But the more you have, the more influence [on history] you can exert."

In other words, it's going to take a hell of a lot of money to try and perform the political alchemy of turning Bush's legacy of tragic failure into something future generations won't need a gas mask and an air sickness bag to study.

So where is the $500 million going to come from?

According to the New York Daily News, Bush fundraisers hope to raise half their goal -- $250 million -- in "megadonations" of $10 million to $20 million from "wealthy heiresses, Arab nations, and captains of industry."

Wealthy heiresses? Somehow I just can't picture Bush putting on an ascot and turning into a Beltway version of The Producers' Max Bialystock, chasing rich old ladies around the Oval Office, trying to romance them out of a seven-figure check. Or maybe the Bush Twins are closer to Paris Hilton and Ivanka Trump than we know.

On the other hand, I get the Arab nations part -- it's a family tradition: the Sultanate of Oman, the King of Morocco, the Emir of Qatar, the Bandar bin Sultan family, the state of Kuwait, and a sheik from the United Arab Emirates (Dubai Port flashback!) all kicked in to help build Poppy Bush's library.

As did a whole host of "captains of industry" -- including Kenny Boy Lay. RIP.
Which brings us to the real problem with this story: people just don't give money -- especially not "megadonations" -- for no reason. Megadonors always expect a quo in return for their legacy-polishing quid.

Don't forget, Marc Rich's ex-wife Denise had donated $450,000 to President Clinton's presidential library fund in the two years prior to Clinton's last-day-in-office pardon of the billionaire fugitive.

Bush 43 may be a lame duck, but he still has two years left in which he can throw open the doors of the White House favor bank. So it's especially troubling that the names of donors to his library don't have to be made public.

That's right, captains of industry, Arab nations, wealthy heiresses, and anyone else with very deep pockets will be able to curry $10 million or $20 million worth of goodwill with the president of the United States -- and no one need know.

Whatever happened to the concept of government transparency?

It would be one thing if Bush waited until he was out of office before hanging a For Sale sign on the Oval Office. But if he insists on going for the gold while he's still president, the least he can do is make sure the public knows who is contributing to his library fund.


GOP’s Specter On Wiretapping Program: “For Every Day That Passes, There’s An Invasion Of Privacy That Could Be Cured”…

Justice watchdog to review wiretapsDoJ to probe agency's use of info gathered by gov't in warrantless tap program.

Investigation: Sensitive Nuclear Plant Info Available In Public Libraries…

NBC News: Situation In Iraq Can Now Be “Characterized As Civil War”...

Bush Wants $500 Million To Build His Legacy Library...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Protester immolation virtually unnoticed

By ASHLEY M. HEHER, Associated Press Writer

Sun Nov 26, 5:24 PM ET

Malachi Ritscher envisioned his death as one full of purpose.

He carefully planned the details, mailed a copy of his apartment key to a friend, created to-do lists for his family. On his Web site, the 52-year-old experimental musician who'd fought with depression even penned his obituary.

At 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 3 — four days before an election caused a seismic shift in Washington politics — Ritscher, a frequent anti-war protester, stood by an off-ramp in downtown Chicago near a statue of a giant flame, set up a video camera, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.

Aglow for the crush of morning commuters, his flaming body was supposed to be a call to the nation, a symbol of his rage and discontent with the U.S. war in Iraq.

"Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country," he wrote in his suicide note. "... If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."

There was only one problem: No one was listening.

It took five days for the Cook County medical examiner to identify the charred-beyond-recognition corpse. Meanwhile, Ritscher's suicide went largely unnoticed. It wasn't until a reporter for an alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader, pieced the facts together that word began to spread.

Soon, tributes — and questions — poured in to the paper's blogs.

Was this a man consumed by mental illness? Or was Ritscher a martyr driven by rage over what he saw as an unjust war? Was he a convenient symbol for an anti-war movement or was there more to his message?

"This man killed himself in such a painful way, specifically to get our attention on these things," said Jennifer Diaz, a 28-year-old graduate student who never met him but has been researching his life. Now, she is organizing protests and vigils in his name. "I'm not going to sit by and I can't

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Oregon Expected To Approve Civil Unions In '07

Oregon Expected To Approve Civil Unions In '07
(Salem, Oregon) Oregon same-sex couples are anxiously awaiting the start of the 2007 session of the Legislature and the return of legislation that would allow civil unions in the state.

Firm Ends Bias Suit With Trans Worker
(Denver, Colorado) A Denver transsexual says she is preparing to return to her old job after settling a discrimination suit with the company she worked for.

Gay Positive Priest Confident In Advance Of Monday's Canadian Byelection
(Repentigny, Quebec) Two political outsiders are fighting for places in Parliament in federal byelections Monday - one to advance Quebec independence, the other to make Canadian history.

New Christian Coalition Leader Quits In Dispute Over, Gays, Abortion
(Orlando, Florida) The minister elected to take over as president of the Christian Coalition of America said he will not assume the role because of differences in philosophy.

Gay Porn Star Extradited In Colorado Murder
(Denver, Colorado) A 25-year old man who appeared in more than a dozen gay adult films was returned to Denver early Friday after he waived extradition from Arizona in the murder of a wealthy Colorado businessman.

Leafs, NHL OK Uniforms, Logos For Gay Movie
(Toronto, Ontario) It's time to start laughing about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Romney Asks Court To Order Anti-Gay Amendment Put To Voters
(Boston, Massachusetts) Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney asked the state's highest court Friday for an order placing a proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage on the ballot without the approval of the legislature.

80% Support Gay Couples In Ireland
(Dublin) More than 80 percent of the Irish public believe same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples, but they are divided on how that should be done.

FL-13: More Evidence of Ballot Design Issues

FL-13: More Evidence of Ballot Design Issues

From the Miami Herald:

The same electronic ballot design flaw implicated in more than 18,300 Sarasota nonvotes might have caused problems for South Florida voters in two well-publicized Cabinet races. Both Broward and Miami-Dade counties recorded more than 34,000 nonvotes in their elections for attorney general and chief financial officer, according to election results from each county's Supervisor of Elections office. The problem was worse in precincts with many older voters. In both counties, the two Cabinet races appeared at the bottom of a voting screen with the higher-profile race for governor and lieutenant governor -- a contest in which seven sets of candidates nearly filled the screen. All races on the page were listed under a general heading.

QED in my estimation. Not software issues is Sarasota - ballot design issues.

A Tiny Revolution

A Tiny Revolution: Why did Australian wheat executives know we were going to invade Iraq 13 months before American citizens did? Was it because AWB was paying miIliions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime in exchange for securing wheat contracts under the UN's oil-for-food contract in a direct breach of UN sanctions?

With Friends Like These......

With friends like these…

jamesdobson-haggard.jpg James Dobson on Larry King:

If anything should show the public that Dobson is a charlatan, this appearance should. He dumped his good old buddy Ted Haggard in a NY minute as soon as Ted got into trouble. He only spoke to him one time. That's compassion for you. I guess he needs to keep as much free time to bash gays as possible.

Video-WMP Video-QT

KING: How's he doing?

DOBSON: I don't know. I haven't talked to him since it happened.

KING: Oh you haven't?

DOBSON: I talked to him the day that the news broke and I have not talked to him since then.

Later on in the segment he tries to define what causes homosexuality to Larry King. He says his opinion is a wee bit controversial, but I say it's bat shit crazy. And this ladies and gentlemen—is a leader of the Christian world.
(Read the rest of this story…)

'Diebold Cannot be Trusted to Run Elections in America'

EXCLUSIVE: Whistleblower Stephen Heller Says 'Diebold Cannot be Trusted to Run Elections in America'
Plea Deal for 'Wobbly Felony' Conviction, 3-Years Probation, May be Reduced to Misdemeanor after One Year of Good Behavior

In an exclusive statement sent to The BRAD BLOG earlier today excoriating the privatization of America's voting system, whistleblower Stephen Heller says, "Diebold has shown they cannot be trusted to run elections in America."

He oughta know.

As we reported last night, Heller pled guilty yesterday in an agreement with Los Angeles prosecutors, after his arrest earlier this year on felony charges related to his release of attorney-client privileged documents he obtained while working as a temporary word-processor at Diebold's law firm, Jones Day.

The agreement, which required him to sign an apology, pay $10,000 in restitution, and not discuss the documents he released, may also allow Heller's felony conviction to be reduced to a misdemeanor charge after one year of "good behavior."

As well, in exchange for Heller's signed apology and commitment not to discuss the documents themselves (which are already publicly available since he released them originally to both the media and Election Integrity activists), Jones Day signed an agreement that they would not sue him in civil court in the matter.

In a phone call this afternoon, Heller explained Diebold's enormously powerful law firm — where he had worked at night while pursuing an acting career by day — had informed him that they'd planned to convert any criminal felony conviction in the case into a civil suit. Had the case gone to trial, he explained, and been successful, Jones Day had promised a lawsuit claiming losses of "well over a million dollars." Such a suit "would have left my wife and I impoverished for the rest of our lives," Heller says.

He went on to tell us that the plea deal conviction was characterized by his attorneys as a "wobbly felony" — one that will likely be reduced to a misdemeanor after a year, as long as he "doesn't do anything bad." He quickly added, "which I have no intention of doing."

A court date of Nov. 15th, 2007, has been set to review the case in order to determine if the sentence will be reduced and, among other things, allow Heller to have his right to vote in California restored!

"Yes, I am now a disenfranchised voter as a convicted felon," he told us today with no small amount of irony in his voice.

Despite California having decertified Diebold voting systems in 2004 after Heller's release of documents showing the voting machine company had violated state law and that they may have been planning to lie about it to state officials — and even after the state and election watchdog eventually agreed to settle a fraud complaint with Diebold for $2.8 million dollars in the bargain — Heller is, for the moment, unable to vote in the Golden State due to his conviction.

All of this, of course, despite those who've denounced the arrest of Heller on the grounds that they believe, as we do, that he is an heroic whistleblower who exposed important information — illegally or otherwise — because it was in the best public interest of the country.

California does have a "Whistleblower Law," which prevents employers from exacting retribution against an employee who "has reasonable cause to believe that the information [being released] discloses a violation of state or federal statute." That law, unfortunately, doesn't seem to apply to apparently over-zealous County Prosecutors such as Los Angeles's Steve Cooley.

Heller has promised that he will share "the whole story" with us in a Guest Blog special to The BRAD BLOG after the holidays.

In the meantime, however, his agreement at least does not keep him from speaking his mind about Diebold, electronic voting, or the private corporatization of our public democracy. Earlier today, Heller followed up on his promise of last night and emailed us the following statement with his opinions of the current state of our electoral system in America:

In my view, Diebold has shown they cannot be trusted to run elections in America. We must not allow a private corporation to run our elections for us in secret, using secret machines and secret software. The only thing secret about our elections should be the secret ballot.

I urge all Americans to insist Congress enact Federal legislation requiring that all voting machines must have a voter verifiable paper ballot, be run on open source software code, be subject to inspection by independent computer experts, and that each election have a random sample ballot recount. Only then will we have a chance of restoring true integrity to American elections.

The BRAD BLOG wishes to express our deepest and most heart-felt gratitude to Heller for his courageous and selfless act of civil disobedience. As bad as our electoral system is now…and make no mistake, it is in tatters…we shudder to ponder the state we'd currently be in without patriots like Heller who continue to fight for free, fair, honest, and transparent elections in America — at no small cost to either themselves or their families.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The do-it-yourself impeachment tool for John Q. Citizen

Bush Impeachment Effort Gains Traction
The do-it-yourself impeachment tool for John Q. Citizen

John L. McFarland

Published 2006-11-24 13:20 (KST)

A nationwide telephone poll was conducted by Zogby International, the highly-regarded nonpartisan polling company. The poll, released on Nov.4, just three days before the election, interviewed 1,200 U.S. adults from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2.

The poll found that 53 percent agreed with the statement, "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment." Forty-two percent disagreed, and five percent said they didn't know or declined to answer. The poll has a +/- 2.9 percent margin of error.

Does it not behoove an international medium like OhmyNews to report not only this momentous fact but what develops out of it in the ensuing months? This "mandateless" election can now be seen in its true light -- as a cry sounding loud and clear throughout the land: "We want our country back."

The establishment corporate media, totally at odds with their behavior in 1998 when they ranted from the housetops for the head of Bill Clinton, have to be characterized in terms of psychopathology:
Catatonia: An abnormal condition variously characterized by stupor, stereotypy, mania, and either rigidity or extreme flexibility of the limbs. It is most often associated with schizophrenia.
Stereotypy: Excessive repetition or lack of variation in movements, ideas, or patterns of speech, especially when viewed as a symptom of certain developmental or psychiatric disorders.
Given the media's self-censorship as they squelch voices calling for impeachment, who would guess that the Bush regime could be indicted on at least seven counts of impeachable behavior -- the "high crimes and misdemeanors" mentioned in the Constitution of the United States ("high" in the sense of the exalted office held by the alleged perpetrator)? Illegitimate, in view of the criminal interference of James Baker in the 2000 election and the obvious theft of Ohio in 2004 thanks to the interference of Karl Rove, the Bush Administration should be referred to as a "regime" and not "the government" or "the executive branch," but I'll let this one slide.

Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshanky state in their recent book The Case for Impeachment, "Presidents are impeached not for violations of law, but for political crimes, for offenses against the people of this country and the principles underlying our democratic system of government," and "for good reason, presidents cannot be indicted, and impeachment is not a criminal procedure."

I believe the failure to differentiate between criminal and political offenses contributes in a major way to the apparent inability of Congressional leaders to make the case against the regime and raise righteous indignation at the grassroots level. This said, there are crimes and constitutional violations that even Republicans should agree call for Bush's impeachment (and in some cases, Cheney's), including:

  • The signing statements - an egregious abuse of power and undermining of the Constitution.
  • The NSA warrantless spying. The case needs to be made that this is a flat-out felony and a breach of the Fourth Amendment, and has already been so ruled by a federal judge.
  • The outing of Valerie Plame, motivated by a sinister goal: the need to discredit someone who was exposing one of the regime's gravest crimes, the faking of evidence for an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
  • Lying the country into war. He must be impeached for this bloody travesty alone.
  • Obstruction and lying to the Congress and the 9-11 Commission - an abuse of power and possibly even an act of treason, in which Bush refused to provide testimony and evidence demanded by the Senate Intelligence Committee and by the 9-11 Commission, and himself refused to testify under oath or with any record being made of his answers, and had members of his administration lie to both bodies. This is a clearly impeachable crime.
  • Bribery. Jack Abramoff visited the White House so often it was practically a second home. This is corruption on the scale of the Harding and Grant administrations and calls for impeachment, not respect.
  • The loss of New Orleans. The president had a duty to initiate drastic emergency action that only he could authorize, and instead he campaigned, played golf, strummed the guitar and entertained Sen. John McCain, while over a thousand Americans were allowed to die and a major U.S. city drowned. That is a clearly impeachable offense.

    Democrats on Nov. 7 gained majorities in at least six new state legislatures: New Hampshire, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This creates six new bodies that citizens can ask to send impeachment charges to the U.S. House of Representatives. Bills that would do that have already been introduced in three state legislatures: Vermont, Illinois, and California. New Jersey activists are hard at work, intent on being the state that comes through. In the rest of the country it will be up to those who voted "no confidence" in the Bush regime to make sure elected Democrats in Congress get the message, by riding them hard to make sure they take aggressive action to put the administration in the dock and rescue the Constitution and the country and be put on notice that we, the people, will also punish cowardice and inaction.

    The Mechanics of Impeachment

    Before the House Judiciary Committee can put together the Articles of Impeachment, someone must initiate the impeachment procedure. Most often, this occurs when members of the House pass a resolution. For the executive branch, only those who have allegedly committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" may be impeached. Although treason and bribery are obvious, the Constitution is silent on what constitutes a "high crime or misdemeanor" (see above). Ex-President Gerald Ford has been quoted as saying that an "impeachable offense is whatever the House decides it to be."

    The impeachment procedure is in two steps. The House of Representatives must first pass "articles of impeachment" by a simple majority. (All fifty state legislatures as well as the District of Columbia city council may also pass articles of impeachment against their own executives). The articles of impeachment constitute the formal allegations. Upon their passage, the defendant has been "impeached."

    Next, the Senate tries the accused. In the case of the impeachment of a president, the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court presides over the proceedings.

    In order to convict the accused, a two-thirds majority of the Senators present is required. Conviction automatically removes the defendant from office.

    Bill Clinton was impeached on Dec. 19, 1998 by the House of Representatives on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (by a 228-206 vote) and obstruction of justice (by a 221-212 vote). Two other articles of impeachment failed: a second count of perjury in the Paula Jones case (by a 205-229 vote) and one accusing Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148-285 vote). He was acquitted by the Senate.

    The corporate media had a bean feast with this. To this day, an overwhelming sense of moral opprobrium still attaches to this man who quibbled over the meaning of "to have sex with." No one ever got pregnant, much less died, as a result of Clinton's deceit.

    On Aug. 4, 2006, congressman John Conyers, ranking Democrat on (now Chair of) the House Judiciary Committee, released the final draft of his report The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retributions, and Cover-ups in the Iraq War, an edited collection of information intending to serve as evidence that the Bush Administration altered intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. It's worth quoting from this report at length to illustrate his about-face as he enters the 110th Congress:

    "In brief, we have found that there is substantial evidence the president, the vice president and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their Administration.
    "There is a prima facie case that these actions by the president, vice-president and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a fraud against the United States; (2) Making false statements to Congress; (3) The War Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of government funds; (5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.

    "While these charges clearly rise to the level of impeachable misconduct, because the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the ability of Members to obtain information directly from the Administration concerning these matters, more investigatory authority is needed before recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of Impeachment. As a result, we recommend that Congress establish a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war detailed in this Report and report to the Committee on the Judiciary on possible impeachable offenses."
    Well, well, well, how times change, and the crying need for leadership now takes a back seat to the crassest of calculations for 2008. Here is Rep. Conyers again after the U.S. electorate issued its clear mandate on Nov. 7, 2006, to bring the Bush regime to task:
    "As many of you also know, I have agreed with Speaker-to-be Pelosi that impeachment is off the table. Instead, we agree that oversight, accountability and checks and balances which have been sorely lacking for the last six years must occur. I have nothing but respect for those who might disagree, but that is where I come out.

    "Having devoted a considerable amount of time and attention to detailing the many abuses of the Bush Administration, I firmly believe that we have brought these matters to the attention of the American people and the mainstream media, and that their verdict was reflected in the elections on Nov. 7. I consider the now famous 'basement hearings' and the issuance of my Constitution in Crisis report to be among the watershed achievements of my more than forty years in Congress."
    Too bad he's willing to throw all this away in jockeying for 2008, but what does the record show regarding parties that have had the intestinal fortitude to put impeachment back on the table? In each of the nine cases in the past when one party has raised impeachment, that party has benefited in the next elections. In other cases when a party has failed to press for impeachment when the grounds for it were widely known, that party has suffered. (Remember Iran Contra?) And look at what just happened on Nov. 7.

    Another method, outlined in "Jefferson's Manual," however, is for individual citizens to submit a "memorial" for impeachment.

    Do-it-Yourself Impeachment

    A little known and rarely used part of the Rules of the House of Representatives ("Jefferson's Manual") actually empowers individual citizens to initiate the impeachment process themselves. "Jefferson's Manual" is an interpretive guide to parliamentary procedure and is included along with the Constitution (remember that?) in the bound volumes of the Rules of the House of Representatives. It is ratified by each congress (including the current one), and has been updated continuously through the history of our democracy (remember that?).

    The section covering impeachment lists the acceptable vehicles for bringing impeachment motions to the floor of the House, but now any citizen can download the DIY Impeachment Memorial and submit it, making it possible for Americans to do what our representatives have been unwilling to do. The idea is for so many people to submit the Memorial that it cannot be ignored.

    There was a precedent in an 1826 memorial by Luke Edward Lawless which was successful in initiating the impeachment of Federal Judge James H. Peck. This can be used as a template for our own "Do-It-Yourself Impeachment." This can be filled out and sent to Rep. Nancy Pelosi now and another copy to your local Representative. Notarization is optional. The Web site is urging as many people as possible to send in another copy on Jan. 15 in order to make the maximum impact on the new Congress.

    The new Congress will likely have to face a grim economic situation, triggered by a drop in housing prices, in addition to the ongoing Iraq War. Failure to address impeachment will only allow the Republicans to shift blame for the downturn on the new Democratic Congress, thus hurting, not helping their chances for 2008. Democrats would be well advised to strike will the iron is hot.
  • Dollar Loses Ground Against Euro

    Euro notes
    Recent economic news has favoured the euro
    The dollar has plunged to its lowest level against the euro since April 2005 amid concerns for the US economy.

    The euro surged to $1.3086 against the dollar, with many other currencies following suit.

    Sterling rose almost 1% to $1.93, the yen hit a two-month high and Russia's rouble rose to a seven-year high.

    Analysts have voiced concerns about the US economy after the White House downgraded its growth forecasts amid a sharp slowdown in the housing market.

    Meanwhile, expectations that the European Central Bank is once again about to raise interest rates gave a lift to the euro.

    Recent figures showing an unexpected rise in German business sentiment - its seventh quarterly rise in a row - also helped. So did French data showing that business confidence held at five-year highs in November.

    However, traders added that thin trade as a result of the US Thanksgiving holiday might have benefited the euro.

    "For the time being, the news flow is favouring the euro. If we close above $1.30 today, the key will be if we reject all of this as a Thanksgiving phenomenon or not," said Ian Gunner, head of foreign exchange research at Mellon Bank.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006

    October Deadliest Month Ever in Iraq

    October Deadliest Month Ever in Iraq
    U.N. Says That Wih 3,709 Civilians Killed, October Deadliest Month in Iraq Since War Began
    By SAMEER N. YACOUB Associated Press Writer

    The Associated Press
    BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United Nations said Wednesday that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the March 2003 U.S. invasion and another sign of the severity of Iraq's sectarian bloodbath.

    The U.N. tally was more than three times higher than the total The Associated Press had tabulated for the month, and far more than the 2,866 U.S. service members who have died during all of the war.

    The report on civilian casualties, handed out at a U.N. news conference in Baghdad, said the influence of militias was growing, and torture continued to be rampant, despite the government's vow to address human rights abuses.

    "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing," the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq report said. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms."

    The report painted a grim picture across the board, from attacks on journalists, judges and lawyers and the worsening situation of women to displacement, violence against religious minorities and the targeting of schools.

    Based on figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry, the country's hospitals and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, the report said October's figure was higher than July's previously unprecedented civilian death toll of 3,590.

    "I think the type of violence is different in the past few months," Gianni Magazzeni, the UNAMI chief in Baghdad, told the news conference. "There was a great increase in sectarian violence in activities by terrorists and insurgents, but also by militias and criminal gangs."

    He said "this phenomenon" has been typical since Sunni-Arab insurgents bombed a major Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

    UNAMI's Human Rights Office continued to receive reports that Iraqi police and security forces are either infiltrated or act in collusion with militias, the report said.

    It said that while sectarian violence is the main cause of the civilian killings, Iraqis also continue to be the victims of terrorist acts, roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, crossfire between rival gangs, or between police and insurgents, kidnappings, military operations, crime and police abuse.

    Asked about the U.N. report, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh called it "inaccurate and exaggerated" because "it is not based on official government reports."

    When asked if there is a government report, al-Dabbagh said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that one "is not available yet but it will be published later."

    Access to the U.N. news conference in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad was blocked for many because the main entrance was closed as U.S. forces were checking for unexploded ordnance in the area, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

    On Tuesday, a car bomb attack inside the Green Zone apparently attempted to kill Iraq's controversial speaker of parliament. The small bomb exploded in the back of an armored car in the motorcade of the Sunni speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, as it was being driven into a parking lot near the Green Zone's convention center, where al-Mashhadani and other Iraqi legislators were meeting, a parliamentary aide said.

    The driver, an American security guard, was slightly wounded. He got out of the vehicle and found other explosive devices planted beneath it, the aide said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    The driver called U.S. soldiers who brought dogs to the scene that detected explosives in another vehicle in the area belonging to al-Mashhadani's motorcade, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman.

    Bomb specialists detonated that car, which set off a series of blasts that caused a fire but injured no one and caused no major damage to nearby structures, Garver said. The blaze was put out by the Green Zone's fire department.

    "Obviously, we take security very seriously so we are investigating this incident," Garver said.
    The serious security breach in the Green Zone which houses the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British embassies and thousands of foreign troops and private contractors forced the Iraqi legislators to stay inside the convention center for several hours until the fire was put out and the area found to be safe, the aide said.

    "We strongly condemn this act," Ammar Wajih, the chief spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni-Arab part in Iraq, told the AP. "To plant a bomb in a heavily guarded place near the parliament building is a big security breach because few authorized persons can enter this area. The aim of this act is to hamper the political process."

    In other developments:
    President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced they will meet Nov. 29-30 in Jordan to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. "We will focus our discussions on current developments in Iraq, progress made to date in the deliberations of a high-level joint committee on transferring security responsibilities, and the role of the region in supporting Iraq," they said in a statement.

    British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said her country's forces may hand over security responsibilities in Basra to Iraqi forces by the spring. It was the first time a government minister had set even a vague target for handing over security in Basra, but officials stressed this was a hope, not a timetable.

    At least 13 Iraqis were killed and six were wounded in attacks by suspected insurgents using drive-by shootings and bombings in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, police said. Coalition forces also said they detained 59 suspected insurgents during raids in Baghdad, Fallujah and south of the capital in the past few days.

    Raad Jaafar Hamadi, an Iraqi journalist working for the state-run al-Sabah newspaper in Baghdad, was killed in a drive-by shooting, police said. The slaying raised to at least 92 the number of journalists killed in Iraq since the war began. Thirty-six other media employees including drivers, interpreters and guards also have been killed, all of them Iraqi except one Lebanese.

    A U.S. soldier died of a non-hostile injuries north of Baghdad on Tuesday and one was killed by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, raising to at least 2,867 the number of U.S. servicemen who have died since the beginning of the war. So far this month, 49 American service members have died. Three other U.S. soldiers were wounded by the bomb in Salahuddin province.

    Indonesia said it would be willing to send peacekeepers to Iraq under a U.N. flag and to encourage other Muslim countries to do the same. Indonesia, which had previously rejected the possibility of sending troops to Iraq, said any long-term solution to the war should include the involvement of the global community.

    Al-Mashhadani, a hard-line Sunni Arab nationalist reviled by many Shiites, was the fourth high-ranking Iraqi government official to be targeted by assailants in recent days.

    Last summer, Shiite and Kurdish parties tried unsuccessfully to oust him as parliament speaker after his comments about the insurgency and regional self-rule angered and embarrassed key political groups. He called the U.S. occupation of Iraq "the work of butchers."

    On Nov. 1, al-Mashhadani had to be physically restrained from attacking a Sunni lawmaker. The speaker had been holding a nationally televised news conference when he lashed out at the legislator, Abdel-Karim al-Samarie, for alleged corruption and failure to attend sessions, calling him a "dog" a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.

    Why the world hates the Jews, and what we can do to respond.

    The Spiritual Roots of Anti-Semitism by Sara Yoheved Rigler

    Why the world hates the Jews, and what we can do to respond.

    Rising anti-Semitism is a hot topic. This month the subject was blazoned across the covers of such disparate magazines as U.S. News and World Report, Tikkun, Commentary, and Foreign Policy. A recent poll in which 59% of Europeans labeled Israel as the primary threat to world peace and a subsequent Italian poll in which 17% thought Israel should cease to exist and 22% declared that Jewish Italian are "not real Italians," has set off an alarm -- and a host of attempts to explain the source of "the world's longest hatred."

    After all, anti-Semitism is more paradoxical than an Escher staircase. As the seminar "Why the Jews?" so aptly points out:

    Jews are hated for being a lazy and inferior race - but also for dominating the economy and taking over the world.
    Jews are hated for being capitalist exploiters - but also for being socialists and communists.
    Jews are hated for their Chosen People mentality - but also for their cringing inferiority complex.

    To that we must add the newest flavor of anti-Semitism: Jews were hated for 2,000 years because they didn't have their own state; now they're hated because they do.
    Natan Sharansky, writing an epic-length article in Commentary, traces the transmogrifications of anti-Semitism from ancient Rome to modern anti-Zionism. His theory for the root of anti-Semitism is that it is the result of Jewish rejectionism of the prevailing religion/morality/mores of the surrounding society. He quotes the Roman historian Tacitus:

    Among the Jews, all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral... The rest of the world they confront with the hatred reserved for enemies. They will not feed or intermarry with gentiles... They have introduced circumcision to show that they are different from others... It is a crime among them to kill any newly born infant.

    And what of Jews who whole-heartedly embraced the prevailing ethos? After all, German Jewry in the century preceding the Holocaust was the most assimilated Jewish community in history (until the present American Jewish community). Before the passage of the Nuremburg laws, forbidding Jews to co-habit with Aryans, the intermarriage rate was 42%. Conversion to Christianity was also widespread, with cultural luminaries such as Heinrich Heine, Felix Mendelssohn, and Gustav Mahler the most prominent examples. This did not, however, prevent the Nazis from burning Heine's books and gassing his descendents.

    Mr. Sharansky explains the phenomenon of targeting non-rejectionist Jews: "The modern Jew was seen as being born into a Jewish nation or race whose collective values were deeply embedded in the very fabric of his being. Assimilation, with or without conversion to the majority faith, might succeed in masking this bedrock taint; it could not expunge it."
    The point is more profound than Mr. Sharansky may realize. What is so "embedded in the very fabric of his being" that a Jew can be sniffed out by anti-Semites even when he looks, dresses, and acts indistinguishably from non-Jews? What is this "bedrock" essence that cannot be expunged, denied, or eradicated even by conversion? Judaism would say: the Jewish soul.


    The Jewish soul, which is really a cell of the collective soul of the Jewish people, is eternal and immutable. Once someone acquires a Jewish soul, either by inheritance from one's mother or by halachic conversion, one can no more renounce one's Jewish soul than one can renounce one's DNA. Souls are not generic. The Jewish soul, like the soul of every nation, has its own specific properties, some of which are compassion, altruism, and shame (the source of Jewish guilt!). The Talmud goes so far as to say that if you see a Jew devoid of compassion, you can legitimately doubt that he's a Jewish soul.

    One of the properties of the Jewish soul is that it cannot bond with any other type of soul. This is why intermarriage is ultimately a denial of one's essence. Marriage is a union of souls, not just bodies and hearts. A Jewish soul cannot unite with a non-Jewish soul any more than a helium atom can bond with any other atom. Not because helium is clannish or racist or snobbish -- or any worse than a hydrogen atom, but because chemical inertness is simply one of its essential properties.


    Assimilation means forfeiting one's own unique Jewish identity and adopting the behavior and values of non-Jews, whether Catholic or communist, Protestant or secular humanist. According to the Torah, God's design for the Jewish people is to be separate, discrete, "a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." (Numbers 23:9)

    Jews are bidden to be "a light unto the nations." (Isaiah 42:6) A light stands separate from that which it illuminates. The Divine charge to the Jewish people is to "be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex. 19:1) This is a mission from which we cannot resign because it is embedded in the Covenant between God and the nation of Israel.

    The Covenant, which God introduced in His promises to the Patriarchs, which was accepted by the entire Jewish nation at Sinai (where all Jewish souls were present), and which was renewed on two other occasions in Jewish history, stipulates the following:

    On God's side, He promised:
    That the Jewish people will never cease to exist (Gen.17:7).
    That He will never totally abandon the Jewish people (Lev. 26:44).
    That the Jewish people will inherent the Land of Israel (Gen.12:7; Gen.15:18).
    On Israel's side, we promised:
    That we will be faithful to God and keep His Torah (Ex.24:7).

    Unlike most covenants, this one is unconditional. Even if Israel reneges on its obligation, God, in the merit of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, will never annul His Covenant with us.
    In her recent book, The New Anti-Semitism, feminist author Phyllis Chesler writes:
    My heart is broken by the cunning and purposeful silence of progressives and academics on the subject of anti-Semitism and terrorism. I write "silence" to be kind. What I'm really talking about is the betrayal of the Jews... by western intellectuals, some of whom are also Jews themselves. Perhaps like me they do not want to give up the larger world in order to retain their religious, racial, and cultural identities as Jews. After all, who willingly wants to wear the yellow star?

    Ms. Chesler is not oblivious to the Covenantal mission of the Jews. A few pages later she describes the Jewish people as "an eternal translator between realms: God's messenger." However, her aversion to "the yellow star," combined with her attraction to "the larger world," define the twin forces that have always drawn some Jews (in smaller or larger numbers) into the black hole of assimilation.

    Since assimilation is antithetical to God's design for the Jewish people, what can God do to keep His promise that the Jews will never become extinct? A cornerstone of Jewish monotheism is the insistence that everything -- everything -- comes from God, the one and only source. At the same time, He has given human beings free choice in the moral realm. Humans may not be able to choose what happens to them, but they are always choosing between right and wrong, good and evil. So, what if all the Jews in any given generation choose to assimilate into extinction?
    That's where anti-Semitism comes in. Anti-Semitism is the Divine equivalent of the parent of a diabetic child locking the cookie jar. A Jew in 15th century Spain or 20th century Germany or 21st century America may want to blend in with the surrounding society, but anti-Semitism is a sealed door, strong and black as iron, which keeps him out -- and separate. Anti-Semitism keeps the Jewish people from dissipating into oblivion.

    The ubiquitous effort to trace the source of anti-Semitism to the Jews remaining different and aloof -- implying that assimilation cures anti-Semitism -- is an inversion of the truth. Assimilation is not the antidote to anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism is the Divine antidote to assimilation.


    The Spanish Expulsion is a case in point. The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, after five centuries of Spanish Jews' flourishing -- professionally, politically, and economically -- was the greatest catastrophe in European Jewish history prior to the Holocaust. As Rabbi Berel Wein described the Expulsion: "The disaster that befell the wealthiest, most sophisticated and stable section of world Jewry plunged the Jewish people everywhere into a state of depression."
    The common understanding of the Expulsion is that Catholic antipathy toward the Jews in Spain grew until, in April, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed the Edict of Expulsion: Jews had the choice to convert, leave, or be burned at the stake. Thus started the Inquisition.
    The true story of Spanish Jewry is quite different. In 1391, a full century before the Expulsion, anti-Jewish violence erupted. The response of large numbers of Jews, including some of the leaders of Spanish Jewry, was to convert to Catholicism. ("After all, who willingly wants to wear the yellow star?") In the course of the next fifty years, more than half of Spain's Jews converted, many of them continuing to secretly practice Jewish rites. As historian Maurice Kriegel writes of the pre-Expulsion period:

    The combination of intimidation with the promise of integration [into Spanish society] was indeed difficult to resist. Members of the Jewish intellectual elite, inclined to a certain philosophical indifference towards the external manifestations of religion, could thus justify their acceptance of baptism... Thus, by the mid-15th century, New Christians outnumbered those who continued to profess Judaism despite persecution and temptation.

    Both the Inquisition and the Expulsion were meant to solve not the Jewish problem, but the problem of the assimilationists, the conversos, who were suspected of secretly adhering to their former religion. According to Paul Johnson's History of the Jews, all of the 700 people (some sources put the figure as high as 2,000) burned by the Inquisition between 1481 and 1489 were conversos. As Johnson writes: "A marrano was thus much more unpopular than a practicing Jew because he was an interloper in trade and craft, an economic threat; and, since he was probably a secret Jew, he was a hypocrite and a hidden subversive too." (p.224)

    The goal of the Expulsion was to eliminate the influence of practicing Jews on the conversos. Again to quote Kriegel: "So long as there was a large and active Jewish community on Spanish soil, they [the Spanish inquisitors] said, all the Inquisition's attempts to deter and punish Judaizing Christians would be of no avail." The conversos were the catalyst that led to the Expulsion, historically and spiritually.

    The Expulsion obliterated the Jews in Spain, but saved Spanish (Sephardic) Jewry. Of the 200,000 overt Jews in Spain in 1492, 150,000 chose to leave. They set up new communities in North Africa, Turkey, Holland, and Palestine. These communities became thriving, creative, energetic centers of Jewish life. The mystic community of Safed in the 16th century, for example, was wholly comprised of descendents of Spanish exiles. What would have happened to those 150,000 Jews if they had been allowed to remain in Spain, a land where waves of conversion had already claimed most Jews, including rabbis and community leaders?

    This is not to say that all the persecution Jews have suffered during our 2,000-year-long exile is the result of assimilation. Suffering can be caused, at times, by many kinds of spiritual lapses, beyond the ability of human beings to discern. The Talmud explicitly states that the destruction of the Second Temple and the concomitant exile, considered the central tragedy of Jewish history, was caused by unwarranted hatred among Jews. (A cautionary statement for our times as well.)

    The concept that God engineers anti-Semitism to ensure the survival of the Jewish people does not mean that anti-Semites are exonerated from the evil they perpetrate. Anti-Semites, like everyone else, have free choice to choose between good and evil, and they bear the responsibility for their choices. However, as the Midrash states, "God has many bears and lions." If not Arab terrorists, there are always some European leaders, academics, assorted anti-Zionists...


    I was recently walking home with my son in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter long after the darkness of night had driven most tourists back to their hotels. Just past the falafel shop, we were detoured by a sign which promised: 3D ART. By the side of the pedestrian walkway, we saw a table sporting a picture of a Jerusalem cityscape propped up on a wooden box. In the box was a special kind of fluorescent light which made the white paint in the picture glow in the dark, creating a three-dimensional effect.

    "How do you do it?" my son asked the young artist.
    "I have special glow-in-the-dark paint," he replied.

    The artist told us that he had just, two months before, made aliyah from South Africa. I could see that he needed a sale, but we had no money, and the young locals sitting around tables by the falafel shop were clearly not art patrons. I opened my mouth to advise him: If you want to sell pictures, you should really set up here during the day, when the tourists are out in full force. They're your natural clientele.

    But before I uttered a word, I realized that these pictures could not be displayed to advantage in daytime. In the light, the special effect would be lost. The particular beauty of these pictures shows up only in the dark.

    Anti-Semitism is an encircling darkness. When Jews view "Kill the Jews" signs at American peace rallies or read a respected academic in the New York Review of Books opining that the Jewish state has no right to exist, we feel fear in the pit of our stomachs. As Ms. Chesler so graphically expresses the dread we all feel: "'Tis a season of blood that's upon us. I knew it from the moment the two Israeli reservists were lynched in Ramallah in the fall of 2000... I wept because I understood that Jewish history was, once more, repeating itself. How foolish I'd been to think that we had finally escaped it."

    The Jewish soul, however, is coated with a special glow-in-the-dark paint. The darkness is not our foil, but our challenge, our opportunity to shine. The purpose of life is to dance in the dark.* Only in the dark does the greatness of a soul manifest. And what of the light? It's there to show us where the stairs are, so we can learn to navigate them. But the soul's true test is when the lights go out.

    Jews must not be intimidated by the venom, the hatred, the calumnies of our enemies. Being popular is not a Jewish value. Being true to God's Covenant is.
    *As heard from Rabbi Leib Kelemen, based on an essay by Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, of blessed memory.

    Author Biography:

    Sara Yoheved Rigler is a graduate of Brandeis University. Her spiritual journey took her to India and through fifteen years of teaching Vedanta philosophy and meditation. Since 1985, she has been practicing Torah Judaism. A writer, she resides in the Old City of Jerusalem with her husband and children. Her articles have appeared in: Jewish Women Speak about Jewish Matters, Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, and Heaven on Earth.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Olbermann Delivers A Special Comment Educating Bush on Vietnam

    Olbermann Delivers A Special Comment Educating Bush on Vietnam


    Keith gives us another great special comment, this time explaining to Bush the lessons he should have learned in his recent trip to Vietnam.

    Video - WMV Video - QT

    Keith: "It is a shame and it is embarrassing to us all when President Bush travels 8,000 miles only to wind up avoiding reality again"

    Sadly Bush didn't learn anything from his trip to Vietnam. Of course I don't think any of us were expecting him to. However, true to Bush form, he will continue to spin anything he can into a reason to stay in Iraq, even when we have people like Henry Kissinger saying that we can not win this war militarily.

    UPDATE: Transcripts below the fold

    (Read the rest of this story…)

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    Bush sees Hanoi in 15 minutes

    Unlike Clinton, Bush Sees Hanoi in Bit of a Hurry

    Stephen Jaffe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    During his visit in 2000, former President Bill Clinton helped Dan and David Evert, behind him, search for the remains of their father, an airman.

    Published: November 19, 2006

    HANOI, Vietnam, Sunday, Nov. 19 — President Bush likes speed golf and speed tourism — this is the man who did the treasures of Red Square in less than 20 minutes — but here in the lake-studded capital of a nation desperately eager to connect with America, he set a record.

    Skip to next paragraph
    Zainal Abd Haim/Reuters

    Laura Bush saw the Temple of Literature with other leaders’ spouses.

    On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

    There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.

    On Sunday morning, Mr. Bush attended an ecumenical church service in an old French-built Catholic basilica to underscore the need for greater religious freedom.

    But the mood of this trip could not have been more different from the visit of another president, Bill Clinton, exactly six years ago this weekend, when he seemed to be everywhere.

    And while the difference says much about the personalities of two presidents who both famously avoided serving in the war here, it reveals a lot about how significantly times have changed — and perhaps why America’s “public diplomacy” seems unable to shift into gear.

    In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

    On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

    “If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

    He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

    Perhaps, but the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”

    Others questioned whether the United States was so fixated on the Middle East that China had been given free rein to spread its influence.

    Here in Vietnam, what has been missing, at least so far, are the kinds of emotional moments of reconciliation that marked Mr. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Clinton took the two sons of the missing airman, Lt. Col Lawrence G. Evert, to a rice paddy in Tien Chau, a tiny town 17 miles northeast of Hanoi. There, they searched for remnants of the colonel’s F-150D Thunderchief, which crashed during a bombing run in 1967. Scores of nearby villagers joined in the effort, and the soil gave up the airman’s bones.

    There will be none of that for Mr. Bush, but he plans to highlight the new Vietnam on Sunday and Monday at its stock exchange in Ho Chi Minh City. Then he moves on to Indonesia for a few hours to meet “civic leaders,” something he did three years ago in a stopover in Bali.

    But Mr. Bush is not staying overnight in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which Washington has portrayed as a critical test in the struggle to promote moderate, democratic Islamic states. The Secret Service said it was too dangerous, so he will spend the night in Hawaii.

    Saturday, November 18, 2006

    Sneak Preview

    I thought I'd show you a sneak preview of my last interview on my tv program Rodeph Emet (Pursuer of Truth) on the Roots of Anti-Semitism. This has not been aired yet and is only a snippet. I'm still doing some editing of the footage.

    Cheney's Halliburton Paradigm for Fraud

    Cheney's Halliburton Paradigm for Fraudby Carl Osgood

    The evidence that the Office of the Vice President was directly involved in arranging government contracts with his former company, Halliburton, is now undeniable: A new report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, "Dollars, Not Sense: Government Contracting Under the Bush Administration," documents that Halliburton, the company run by Dick Cheney before he appointed himself Vice President, is, in fact, the paradigm for the wholesale privatizing, by government contract, of entire chunks of what are properly the activities of the U.S. government itself.

    Just days before Waxman's report was released in June, Judicial Watch released e-mails from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that it had acquired through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, showing that the oil reconstruction contract (known as RIO, for Restore Iraqi Oil) that Halliburton was awarded just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was coordinated with the Office of the Vice President, contrary to the assertions of Cheney himself, as well as numerous other Bush Administration and Pentagon officials.

    Reinforcing the case against Cheney, was an April 2003 episode of the CBS-TV program "60 Minutes," in which the chief counsel of the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to deflect repeated questions about the role of Cheney in awarding the RIO contract to Halliburton.
    According to the Waxman report, Federal contracting grew from $203 billion a year in 2000 to $377.5 billion in 2005, an increase of 86%. "Under President Bush," the report says, "the federal government is now spending nearly 40 cents of every discretionary dollar on contracts with private companies, a record level." Nearly half the growth in discretionary spending during this period was accounted for by the growth in contracting. The Pentagon, not surprisingly, accounted for most of this growth: $133.5 billion spent on contracts in 2000, rose to $270 billion in 2005. The top five contractors in 2005 accounted for $80 billion, or 21% of all Federal procurement spending, with Lockheed Martin at the top of the heap, at $25 billion. The fastest growing contractor, however, is Dick Cheney's Halliburton, which raked in $763 million in 2000, to nearly $6 billion in 2005, an increase of an astounding 672% over the five years. Abuse of the contracting process also climbed, with an even faster rate of growth of non-competitive contracts, which grew 115%, from $67.5 billion in 2000 to $145 billion in 2005.

    The cost to the taxpayers for this windfall, which benefits a relatively small segment of the private sector, has been enormous as well. The report identifies 118 contracts, collectively worth $745.5 billion, issued over the five-year period, that have experienced significant surcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement. The report identifies three major contracting "binges" since 2001: Iraq reconstruction, homeland security, and Hurricane Katrina. "Each initiative has been characterized by extensive waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in contract spending," the report says.

    Use of Non-Competitive Contracts Zooms
    The growth in the use of non-competitive contracts is just one indicator of the mismanagement of contracts under the Bush Administration, but it is a major indicator of the paradigm. Federal acquisition law provides for exemptions from competitive sourcing requirements under certain circumstances, such as an emergency, or if there is only one source for the required service. Under the Bush Administration, however, the growth of such contracts has been faster than the overall growth of contracts, rising from 33% of Federal contract dollars in 2000, to 38% in 2005.
    According to the report, Hurricane Katrina provides a case study of how the exemptions have been stretched to the breaking point. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, it made sense to award contracts non-competitively in order to meet urgent needs. In the month after Katrina, 51% of contract dollars awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were awarded non-competitively. One would expect that that percentage would decline after that; however, in October of 2005, that percentage zoomed up to 93%, and was still at 57% in December.

    So far, prosecutions of those involved in this corruption have resulted in 13 convictions, guilty pleas, or indictments of various government officials, and employees of Halliburton. The most famous case, so far, is that of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) who pleaded guilty last November, to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from two military contractors. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, reports that there are 70 corruption investigations underway in Iraq, 23 of which involve allegations of contract fraud, overcharging, product substitution, or false claims. Another 50 cases have been brought by whistleblowers under the False Claims Act, alleging fraud by contractors operating in Iraq. One of those cases has resulted in a conviction, but the Department of Justice is blocking the remaining cases from going forward by delaying the decision whether or not to participate in these cases. Hurricane Katrina has opened up an even bigger can of worms, with a reported 785 cases of criminal activity, including procurement fraud and abuse, currently under investigation
    Cheney and Halliburton's Iraq Oil Contract

    In 2004, Judicial Watch had uncovered a March 5, 2003 e-mail from an Army Corps of Engineers official in Kuwait reporting that then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary for Policy Doug Feith had approved execution of Halliburton's RIO contract; that Feith had approved it contingent on informing the White House, and that, "We anticipate no issue, since action has been coordinated with VP's office." E-mails in the latest release suggest that Corps of Engineers officials lied about the involvement of Cheney's office after the contract became public.

    On April 22, 2003, CBS's "60 Minutes" taped an interview with Robert Anderson, chief counsel of the Army Corps of Engineers, in which he was asked repeatedly about the role of Cheney in the awarding of the RIO contract to Halliburton. Carol Sanders, who was the chief of public affairs at Corps headquarters, reported in an e-mail the next day to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, that Anderson "asked that we get a note to the Office of the Vice President that during the 60 Minutes interviews, he was asked several times about the connection to the Vice President and he kept reiterating that the decision was made by career civil servants." The assistant secretary (whose name is redacted in the documents) replied that he had forwarded Sanders' message to Dana Perino, a White House official who then forwarded it to Jennifer Millerwise, Cheney's press secretary.

    The Waxman report, in fact, documents numerous cases in which decisions by career contracting officials were overridden by political appointees. In the case of the RIO contract, a Defense Department official in Feith's office by the name of Michael Mobbs (who also was associated with policy on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), decided in November of 2002, that Halliburton should be awarded a task order—a decision made after consulting with Cheney's then-chief of staff Lewis Libby. That task order gave Halliburton the inside track on getting the RIO contract when that was awarded in February of 2003. A career attorney with the Army Material Command objected to the task order because it was outside the scope of the logistics contract. Mobbs overruled the attorney, but the Government Accountability Office later found that the lawyer's position was correct and that the work "should have been awarded using competitive procedures."

    Nor was the career Army lawyer the only official steamrollered on the way to giving Halliburton the RIO contract. Bunnatine Greenhouse, the chief contracting official at the Army Corps of Engineers also objected numerous times, because of the contract's five-year duration, the magnitude of changes Halliburton proposed to the contract, and her observation that the line between Halliburton and government officials had "become so blurred that a perception of a conflict of interest existed." Greenhouse was not only overruled, she was removed from her position and reassigned to a lower-level position with no contracting responsibilities.

    Beltway attacks on Nancy Pelosi

    Beltway attacks on Nancy Pelosi

    The mindless group-think driving the media's caricatures of Nancy Pelosi is truly astounding to behold, even considering the source. She's not even Speaker yet, and they've already pronounced her to be a bitchy, vindictive shrew incapable of leading because she's consumed by petty personal bickering rather than serious and substantive considerations. And all of this is based on nothing.Unsurprisingly, all of this has been concocted by the herd of all-knowing Beltway analysts who fancy themselves to be such high-minded warriors against conventional wisdom even though they are its most obedient vessels.


    The Bush administration has spent six years completely obsessed with personal loyalty to the President and intolerant of the slightest independence. The entire Congress was kept strictly in line for the last five years. Every official who showed the slightest independence was replaced by obedient Bush loyalists. Yet Pelosi does nothing other than support an ally rather than an opponent for the position immediately underneath her, and that makes her some out-of-control egomaniac consumed by personal vanity and emotional impulses.


    Americans just elected new leadership quite deliberately. They are obviously fine with Nancy Pelosi. Republicans tried to make the election be about her -- constantly reminding everyone that a vote for Democrats would mean installing super-liberal Nancy Pelosi and her San Francisco values in power -- and the Democrats won. So voters have no problem with Pelosi. They want Congressional Democrats to take the lead in policy and governance because the Republicans have failed so miserably. I have no idea whether Pelosi will be a good Speaker, but I'm going to withhold judgment until she actually at least starts, and Americans are obviously doing that as well. More

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